Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Pride of Pennsylvania Painting by Rick Reeves

Big Jim Wilson, A Cavalry Trooper

James A. Wilson a 19 year old Irish miner born in Kilkenny, Ireland lived and worked in Frailey Township. He enlisted in the 7th Penna. Cavalry on October 19, 1861 at Donaldson, Schuylkill County. Known to the members of Company F as “Big Jim”, he advanced quickly through the ranks and attained the rank of Sergeant.

On June 27th 1863 the Seventh Pa. Cavalry made one of the most daring charges against the rebels at Shelbyville, Tenn. During this charge the 7th suffered numerous casualties. One of these men was Pvt. Felix Herb, from Schuylkill County. Herb came upon two rebel prisoners who threw up their arms as if to surrender. When they saw no one coming to his aid, they changed their minds and shot Herb in the forehead and killed him instantly. Seeing this deadly deed, Sgt. Jim Wilson rode over and shot both of the rebels dead, telling his adjutant “The devils shot Felix Herb after they surrendered, so I made short work of them.” Jim was commended for bravery at Shelbyville stating that “He distinguished himself by acts of coolness and daring.”
Another incident that was well remembered by the men of the Seventh was the time when Jim Wilson was acting as a mounted Provost Guard in the city of Huntsville, Ala. One evening Corp. Wilson came upon a group of drunken officers, who were loud and happy. He asked them for their passes, which brought out the response that they could do and go where ever they wanted and that the provost guard could go to hell. Big Jim, not taking to this type of verbal abuse, drew his saber and came down upon the head of a captain, cutting through his hat and making a deep gash on his head. The officers, surprised and sobered by this event, went back to their camp at the double quick. The next day these officers went to the commanding General and demanded punishment for Wilson. The General told the officers that the provost guard must be respected and not resisted and the offending officer must take the consequences. Corp. Wilson was worried about what he had done to the officer and went to his Col. and asked him if something would happen to him for what he had done. Col. Sipes told him he was safe. Jim replied “Be jabbers, I didn’t mane to cut him so hard, but me saber was so sharp it wint through his hat and into his skull as it wud go through a cheese”. Col. Sipes remembered Jim as “The mildest mannered man that ever scuttled ship or cut a throat.”
Jim Wilson would also be remembered for his kindness. On December 22, 1862, a few days after the battle of Stones River a detail of company F was sent out between the lines to meet a flag of truce, and to escort within the Union lines, Mrs. George D. Prentice. The wife of the then brilliant and famous editor of the Louisville Journal, who had been visiting relatives in the south, and had received permission from the commanders of both armies to pass the lines.
It was a bitter cold day and when the detail of the southern army appeared on the scene it proved to be members of the eighth Georgia, crackerjack fighters who were worthy of brave men’s steel.
The Georgians’ uniforms were tattered and torn and they had little or no shoes on their feet. Their condition moving to compassion their enemies of the Northern army, so much so that big Jim Wilson made the rounds of the Seventh’s ranks and the result was that every Georgian soldier went back to his camp well clad and comfortably shod while the knapsacks of the Seventh boys were that much lighter.
This soldierly action so impressed the Georgians that thereafter whenever the two regiments were opposite each other on the contending army lines the 7th’s men would be hailed thusly. “ Who’s on picket thur?” and if the reply was, “The Seventh Penna. Cavalry,” the confederate picket would call out. “No firing from the Eight Georgia tonight,” and there would be none on either side.
Jim Wilson would fight through hundreds of skirmishes and numerous major battles with the Seventh Pa., and would be only wounded one time. On October 14th 1863 while on a mission to Nashville to procure a lot of horses for the regiment, he was shot in the right shoulder by a member of the 18th Michigan that was acting as a provost guard. They were about to arrest a Pvt. Abraham Van dike for being drunk when he fled and was fired upon, only they missed him and hit Jim Wilson in the shoulder. Jim would suffer from the effects of this wound for the rest of his life.
Big Jim would return home after serving three years in the cavalry, and work in the mines. He died and was buried in Branchdale in 1894 at the age of 52.
Pottsville Republican May 12, 1913
The Seventh Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, Its Record, Reminiscence and roster.
Pottsville Miners Journal, William B. Sipes

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