Originally aired on April 25, 1997 - In part 139 of our Civil War series, Virginia Tech history professor James Robertson profiles George Baylor, the author of one of the best memoirs written by a Confederate soldier, Bull Run to Butt Run or Four Years in the Army of Northern Virginia.
#139 – George Baylor
George Baylor was an extraordinary individual in many ways. Born in February, 1843, in what was then Jefferson County, Virginia, he graduated from Dickinson College and took a job teaching at Episcopal High School in Fauquier County. Baylor spent the first year of the Civil War as a private in the 2nd Virginia of the famous Stonewall Brigade.
In March, 1862, he was appointed a lieutenant in Company B, 12th Virginia Cavalry. His father led the company. At the elder Baylor’s capture a month later, George Baylor took command of the unit known as “The Baylor Light Horse”.
The next winter, the 20-year-old officer was captured near Winchester. Baylor underwent brief imprisonments at Fort McHenry, Fort Delaware, and Old Capitol Prison before being exchanged. He returned to the 12th Cavalry and quickly incurred a second battle wound. Just before the end of the war, Baylor became a captain in John Mosby’s battalion of partisan rangers. Baylor led a group, all disguised in Federal uniforms, in what was the last cavalry raid of the war in Virginia.
Parole at Winchester offered a new life for the clear-eyed and mustached veteran. He studied law at Washington College during Robert E. Lee’s presidency of the school. For the next five years, Baylor was an attorney in Kansas City.
Then he moved to Charlestown and formed a law practice that lasted until his partner, William Wilson, left to become president of West Virginia University. Baylor next served four years as prosecuting attorney for what was now Jefferson County, West Virginia. At his death in March, 1902, a Baltimore newspaper committed an oxymoron by declaring that in Baylor’s death, “West Virginia loses one of her most loyal and patriotic sons”.
The former cavalry leader did bequeath a valuable legacy: he published one of the best memoirs written by a Virginia Confederate soldier. The book Bull Run to Bull Run; or, Four Years in the Army of Northern Virginia, appeared in 1900. It was an instant success and commands a high price today in the secondhand book market. Not only is the 418-page volume a clear and faithful chronicle of the several engagements of which Baylor was a part; it is also a highly personal and wonderfully descriptive account by an educated as well as observant soldier.
For example, Baylor wrote in the first autumn of the war about three pickets in his regiment. One dark night, they got into such a loud argument over the legality of secession that Union sentries across the way fired in the direction of the voices and killed one of the Confederates.
Even more moving were Baylor’s words about a November, 1862, skirmish near Halltown, Virginia. Just at the end of the action, his mount buckled from a bullet wound. Baylor dismounted. Then, as he later wrote, “I led the noble animal, which I dearly loved, and whose very life seemed bound to mine by dangers shared and daily companionship, to the roadside, where she laid down on the green turf. Her breathing too plainly indicated that death was near. As her eyes rested on me in fondness and affection, human nature could not resist, and, kneeling down by her side, and clasping my arms around her neck, I wept. When I arose, she was dead. With her life passed away my hopes and aspiration for her whose name she bore. The dream of my young life vanished, and the hopes of the future dissipated.”
By implication, Baylor had named the horse for a sweetheart – or was it possible the horse bore the name of Baylor’s home state? Whatever the answer, the old Confederate cavalryman took it to the grave with him – along with loving memories of an animal.