Fredericksburg150 – That “other guy” on the Confederate right: Capt. Mathias Winston Henry

Posted on December 13, 2012 by


No, not about Southern Unionists or the Valley… but there’s a tie to the Valley… just wait for it a bit.

In Don Troiani’s print, “Bronze Guns and Iron Men”, there is an officer other than John Pelham, just behind the Napoleon, with binoculars in hand.

Image from the marker at Hamilton's Crossing

Image of Troiani’s piece, from the marker at Hamilton’s Crossing. My copy hangs on one of my walls.

To most, it might appear like a section commander… a lieutenant. Not so. That is actually Kentuckian Mathias Winston Henry… one of Pelham’s West Point classmates, and battery commander of the 2nd Stuart Horse Artillery (Pelham’s original battery having been divided into two, of four guns each, after his promotion to major).

Can't find my copy right now, so you'll have to settle for a scan from my book about the 1st and 2nd SHA. This image is from the archives of the USMA.

Can’t find my copy right now, so you’ll have to settle for a scan from my book about the 1st and 2nd SHA. The original of this image of M.W. Henry is in the archives of the USMA.

Unlike Pelham, Henry remained at West Point to graduate (second to the last in his class) in May 1861. Soon after, he was assigned to Carlisle Barracks and Washington, D.C., where he was one of those tasked with training recruits for the Federal army. At least that’s one story I’ve seen. The other suggests that he went west and served briefly in Missouri, under Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, and was even at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, wearing Union blue. Either way, Henry apparently tried to resign based on his Southern attachments, and the U.S. War Department wouldn’t accept it. It’s unclear how he did it, but on August 3, 1861, he seemed to land the golden ticket by citing poor health… and his resignation was accepted.

Within a few weeks, however, Henry had made his way south and received a Confederate commission as a lieutenant of cavalry (officially, February, 1862, but to rank from March, 1861). Seven months later, he had secured a spot on J.E.B. Stuart’s staff, and, by some way (Pelham taking care of an old classmate?), ended up as a section commander in Pelham’s Stuart Horse Artillery. In fact, the first praise for Henry appears after Second Manassas, in Pelham’s report of the action of August 28, 1862. After Pelham’s promotion, in the latter part of September, 1862, Henry was promoted to command of the 2nd Stuart Horse Artillery (while James Breathed was promoted to command the 1st Stuart Horse Artillery). There had actually been speculation, within the command, who would become the commanders of the batteries, but, according to one cannoneer, neither would measure up to Pelham.

And so… that’s enough to lead us up to Henry at Fredericksburg, and the “so what” factor.

The details of the part in which the 2nd SHA played can be found in various books… including my modest work on the 1st and 2nd SHA for the H.E. Howard Series. Still, as events progressed, and only one Napoleon of the battery remained to keep up the work… Henry remained with Pelham and that one gun, and was acknowledged for his noteworthy service that day. John Cheves Haskell later remembered that Pelham “freely gave credit to Henry”. Furthermore, rather than Pelham being the one to refuse to withdraw, it was attributed by Pelham as Henry’s decision. Having only lost two men by the first request to retire, it was Henry, reported Pelham, who justified staying in position on the flank.

Still, here’s a kicker… Henry doesn’t even get honorable mention on the historic marker at Fredericksburg. Eclipsed glory over the years? I can’t quite say, but, moving along…

Three months later, Henry did get what seems to be a generous “nod” for his service (it appears this was Gen. Robert E. Lee’s “thank you”, for service at Fredericksburg), when he was promoted to major and commander of one of the artillery battalions in Gen. John B. Hood’s Division. For Gettysburg fans, the name might finally ring a bell… even if it’s a little one courtesy of this marker on that battlefield.

In 1864, Henry was shifted to the West. Without looking things up, this is where I get rusty on Henry’s war service, so you’ll have to pardon me (maybe Craig would like to jump in on this one, since the western theater doesn’t get by him without a fair shake). In short, Henry was ended the war as a P.O.W. at Salisbury Prison, in North Carolina, from which he was released in July, 1865.

Following the war, Henry must have still felt like he had some fight in him because he was soon bound for Mexico, to offer his services to Maximilian. According to the 1878 West Point reunion booklet, the rank given him wasn’t up to par, so he returned to the U.S. and began work in a real estate firm in St. Louis.  After that, he was commissioned to go to California to superintend a quicksilver mine.

More from that West Point booklet…

This determined his career, and soon afterwards he located himself in White Pine county, Nevada, which residence he maintained…

He held several offices in White Pine county, and had an excellent reputation as a mining engineer. His knowledge of the district was second to that of no one in it. He was the discoverer and original sole owner of the Henry Tunnel, which is probably destined to yield vast returns.

Now, for that tie with the Shenandoah Valley…

It might have been during that short time after Sharpsburg/Antietam, and I think I’ve seen this mentioned… but Mathias Henry appears to have made the acquaintance of a young lady during that time. Certainly, the sequence of events align… considering 1) where the Stuart Horse Artillery was located at about that time, and 2) the interaction between some within that battery and Mr. Nathaniel Burwell (you remember… I mentioned him not long ago), of Clarke County. Anyway, Susan “Susie” Randolph Burwell (born at “The Briars“) was one of Nathaniel’s daughters, and it’s possible that Mathias and Susie struck it off as early as the fall of 1862… maybe. Following his release as a POW, he appears to have returned to Clarke County and proposed. It might seem unusual, but this was the beginning of what would amount to a ten year engagement. Finally, in September, 1875 (though I think I’ve also seen something about the wedding taking place in October, 1874), the two were married. A Henry family history reveals, sadly, that their marriage was shorter than their engagement…

In the winter of 1875, with his bride, an accomplished and charming woman, he returned to Nevada, where, in the wilds of that far-off mountain region, their first child, Juliette [“Julia”], was born. With this child and the mother, in the autumn of 1877, Major Henry visited New York on business connected with his mining interests, and, while temporarily sojourning in Brooklyn, was stricken down, and after an illness of two weeks died of paralysis of the brain on his birthday, 28th day of November, 1877, aged 39. In his death the last male representative of his father passed away. After his death Dorothy [Dorothy Willing Page Burwell “Dora” Henry]… their second child, was born in Virginia. The widow married Dr. Edward Randolph, of Virginia, who soon after died.

West Point classmate Charles McKnight Loeser (who remained a Union man, and eventually secured colonelcy) said of him…

Henry’s was one of those rare, sensitive natures that must be perfectly well known in order to be thoroughly appreciated. Gentle as a women with those he loved, he was as cool as the nether millstone when deadly peril threatened; temperate, even abstemious, in his habits on ordinary occasions, he will long be remembered as among the foremost of the revelers when the occasion was worthy. His sound good sense and his sound good heart will long be remembered by those of us who knew him well, and though there be many whose names are inscribed somewhat higher up on the roll of fame, it is safe to say none shines with a fairer lustre, and the memory of none will be wept longer or more sincerely.

Henry’s grave (along with that of his wife) isn’t but 20 minutes distant from my house. I stopped by to visit the major in October…

Grave of Maj. M.W. Henry, The Old Chapel, Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia

Grave of Maj. M.W. Henry, Old Chapel cemetery, Millwood, Clarke County, Virginia

And there you have it… that “other guy” on the Confederate right, at Fredericksburg.

* I forgot to add a footnote… so, please see the follow-up post regarding the fate of Henry’s Napoleon.