Thoughts on Lt. Gatewood’s (Geronimo fame) Confederate AND military roots

Posted on February 17, 2013 by


He’s a warrior. Every bit born in battle. Fighting a lost cause. I’m familiar with the type. My two older brothers and my father fought for the Army of Northern Virginia. My oldest brother was killed. My father was wounded, crippled. After the war, he took me aside and said, ‘You’ll carry the new flag.’ Sent me off to the Academy. First of my family north of the Mason-Dixon line. So, like our friend, I know what it’s like to hate the blue coat.

(See the actual scene, between 3:20 and 3:34).

The clip was from Geronimo: An American Legend (1993).

West Point image of Charles B. Gatewood, known by his classmates as "Scipio Africanus", for his resemblence to the Roman general/statesman. Geronimo knew him as "Nanton Bse-che", meaning "Big Nose Captain".

West Point image of Charles B. Gatewood, known by his classmates as “Scipio Africanus”, for his resemblence to the Roman general/statesman. Geronimo knew him as “Nanton Bse-che”, meaning “Big Nose Captain”.

I know… the movie is twenty years old this year, but… well, it’s bothered me for a while, to think of this part of the dialogue. Not only that, but… Gatewood (and his family) was from the Shenandoah Valley.

Of course, it goes without saying, really… it’s Hollywood, so errors can be expected.

But, let’s set the record straight on Gatewood’s “Confederate” father and brothers, AND on his being from a military family (a claim made, even on the website for Arlington National Cemetery; “Born in Woodstock, Virginia in 1853, he was from a military family.”).

Charles Bare Gatewood (1853-1896) was a son of John Gatewood, Jr. and Emily Dyerle Bare Gatewood. John Gatewood, Jr. was not a “military man”, but a printer and publisher, in Woodstock, “who in 1850 bought out the second edition of Kercheval’s famous History of the Valley.” Gatewood first served as editor of the Tenth Legion, and then later the Shenandoah Herald, from which he retired in November 1868 (when Confederate veteran John H. Grabill purchased it). In addition to his work as a printer/publisher, J.G., Jr. also became active in politics (like his father, John Gatewood, Sr., who represented Shenandoah County in the Virginia house of delegates, 1797-1801, and 1805-1807. John Sr. was also active in a number of other affairs in the Valley), representing Shenandoah in the Virginia house of delegates, 1857-1858, and again from 1861-1863.

With the coming of the Civil War, John Gatewood, Jr. did enroll (June 3, 1861) as commanding officer of the “Tenth Legion Minute Men”… which became Co. C, 33rd Virginia Infantry. Gatewood’s service records indicate that he was probably present at First Manassas/Bull Run, but was absent in the first months of 1862, due to his responsibilities as a member of the house of delegates. When elections (April 21, 1862) within the company came around again, he was elected 1st lieutenant, vice captain. It seems unlikely that he actually saw field service again, and, by the summer of 1862, he submitted his resignation.

John Gatewood's resignation as 1st Lt. of the 33rd Virginia.

John Gatewood’s resignation as 1st Lt. of the 33rd Virginia.

Thomas J. Jackson and Charles S. Winder were the top names to endorse Gatewood's resignation.

Thomas J. Jackson and Charles S. Winder were the top names to endorse Gatewood’s resignation.

So, yes, C.B. Gatewood’s father was a Confederate… and a veteran… at least one battle, but… I think saying that CBG came from “a military family” is a stretch, especially considering the whole citizen-soldier thing, and the short term of John Jr’s service. Also, despite the script of the movie, there is no indication that John Jr. was ever wounded. Sick in camp, and absent sick, for a short while, but not wounded, and most certainly not crippled.

As for C.B. Gatewood’s two older brothers in the Confederate service… well, in fact, CBG was the oldest brother. Samuel Dyerle Gatewood (born 1855) and Dewitt Clinton Gatewood (born 1859) were two and six years younger, respectively… and neither served in the Confederate army.

The Gatewood family as listed in the 1860 census.

The Gatewood family as listed in the 1860 census.

I will add, however, that C.B. Gatewood’s uncle, Wright Gatewood (1820-1888), also served… first as a 1st lieutenant, with Co. H, 146th Virginia Militia (which was disbanded in the spring of 1862), and then, apparently later in the war, in the 62nd Virginia Mounted Infantry (though I can’t seem to find a military record to back the connection to the 62nd).

Now… in that my blog so frequently focuses on Southern Unionists… I can’t go on without mentioning, even if only in passing, yet another “Wright Gatewood”… not the one I mentioned above, but another, who was actually an uncle to John Gatewood, Jr./grand uncle of Charles B. Gatewood.

Wright Gatewood (1795-1882) represented Shenandoah County in the Virginia house of delegates, between 1830 and 1854, and Shenandoah and Page counties, in the Virginia senate, from 1857-1861. In 1877, Wright submitted an application to the Southern Claims Commission. As those who read this blog often probably know… having two people of the same name within the same county does not bode well for a claimant, especially when it comes to testimony that one did not vote for secession, but when the vote “shows” that he (or, actually… a person who happened to have the same name) did. Perhaps I’ll go into depth on Wright Gatewood’s claim on another day.

So, how inaccurate was the short paragraph in the script (and in the Arlington Cemetery website) when it comes to Charles B. Gatewood? Some might think the part about being from a military family is a mater of semantics, but as one who considers himself from a military family… I disagree. First and foremost, his father was a printer/publisher; politician/representative ranked (in my opinion) second; and the military ties… were only brief. As for C.B.G.’s brothers, the movie was totally off the mark.

As for C.B.G.’s time in the Valley, I wish he had written some details about his years of youth in the Valley, especially during the years of the Civil War (he would have been between the ages of 8 and 12), and even years after the war, leading up to the time which he left for the United States Military Academy (he was teaching school in Harrisonburg in 1872). Details of his years after USMA can be found in a number of places, so I won’t delve into that part of his life, and invite folks to look to those other resources.

Oh, one more thing… that quote… “You’ll carry the new flag”. Odd. The “new flag” was something that Charles’ father clearly knew well, having lived under it for over forty years. But then again… it is Hollywood.