Joseph was born April 15, 1839 in Rutherford County NC to Dr Benjamin and Nancy Whiteside Hamilton . Dr Hamilton, son of Audly Hamilton and Letitia Luveney Biggerstaff, was from Rutherfordton, NC and had subsequently moved his family to Dahlonega, Georgia in 1858 to supervise his interests in several gold mines. Dr Hamilton, who was a Methodist minister, was a man of prominence who represented his area at the Milledgeville convention when Georgia seceded from the Union. Although he voted against secession and remained a Union man, his prominence may have helped to secure the Captaincy of a newly formed infantry company called the Blue Ridge Rifles for his son Joseph. This new company marched to Camp McDonald in Cobb County in early July of 1861 where it joined the rifle battalion of the newly organized 4th Ga State Brigade. Young Captain Hamilton was just 22 years old.
In early August 1861, Governor Brown was forced to disband the state brigade and it's components went into Confederate service as the 18th,19th Georgia Infantries and the Phillips Legion. The Legion was comprised of the State brigade's six company rifle battalion and four company cavalry battalion under command of Colonel William Phillips. Captain Hamilton's company was designated Co E in the rifle battalion under command of Lt Col Seaborn Jones. The unit entrained north to Lynchburg, Virginia where they continued their training in August. In early September orders came to join General John B Floyd's army at Sewell Mountain in western Virginia. After suffering horrendous losses to exposure and disease, the Legion was pulled out of the mountains in December and sent to the South Carolina coast in the vicinity of Savannah, Georgia to allow them to recruit and recover. We know that Captain Hamilton suffered a great personal loss during this period as a November 1861 letter from A F Boyd of his company mentions that Capt Hamilton had gone home with the body of his brother, 'Coates' Hamilton. In an ironic twist of fate, 15 year old Coatesworth Hamilton, a cadet at Georgia Military Institute who had been drilling the troops at Camp McDonald, was, at the request of his father, assigned to older brother Joe as a volunteer aide. Dr Hamilton hoped that the youngster would quickly tire of the rigors of the field and return to his studies at GMI. Unfortunately, the firestorm of disease (typhoid, measles and mumps) that swept through the Legion that fall claimed the youngster in November
The first half of 1862 was spent guarding the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, adding replacements to existing companies, and training five new companies that had been added to the Legion that spring. In July, the Legion received orders to proceed to Richmond, Virginia as part of a newly formed brigade under the command of General Thomas F Drayton. After spending a short time near Richmond, Drayton's brigade was assigned to David R Jones Division of Longstreet's Wing of the Army of Northern Virginia and ordered north to assist Stonewall Jackson's Wing in an attempt to defeat John Pope's Federal army before reinforcements from McClellan's army could join him.
On August 23rd 1862 the Legion's infantry battalion was ordered to support a battery during an artillery duel across the Rappahannock River at Beverlys Ford, Virginia. During this action, two members of Captain Hamilton's Co E, Frank McAfee and Archibald Sparks, were killed by artillery fire. They had the dubious distinction of being the Blue Ridge Rifle's first combat casualties. The Legion Infantry was now involved in the grueling, fast paced marches that resulted in the battle of Second Manassas. On August 29, 1862, Drayton's command was assigned to screen Longstreet's far right flank as Longstreet approached the old Manassas battlefield from the west. Aligned against them was the Federal Corps of General Fitz John Porter. As the two forces nervously eyed each other Federal batteries opened and dropped a shell into Cos A and E, killing two men and severely wounding two more. In Co E Private Daniel Simmermon was killed and Cpl W J T Hutcheson was badly wounded. The Legion continued to maintain this flank guard mission until late on August 30th when they were ordered to come up and deliver an attack on the Federal left flank near Henry Hill. Due to confusion, Drayton was late in getting his troops onto the field before dark and did not make the planned attack. Co E suffered no further casualties here.
Turning his army northward, General Lee invaded Maryland, crossing the Potomac River on September 6th. The Legion and, indeed, much of the army had been broken down by hard marching, inadequate food, disease and a lack of footware and 5000 of Longstreet's soldiers had to be left behind at Leesburg. 150 Legion soldiers were included in this number. Pressing forward to Frederick, Maryland the Confederate Army paused there for two days to contemplate their next move. Aware that the 12000 man Federal garrison in his rear at Harpers Ferry had not retreated (as it had been anticipated they would), Lee now split his army up and headed west to surround and capture this post. While this operation was proceeding a division under General D H Hill was left near Boonsboro, Maryland to watch the South Mountain passes while D R Jones' and Evans' divisions were ten miles north at Hagerstown with Generals Lee and Longstreet. Unfortunately for the southerners, the Federal commander, General George B McClellan had come into possession of a copy of General Lee's Special Order 191 which fully detailed his plan to capture Harpers Ferry. Armed with this knowledge, McClellan began to press westward with uncustomary speed and by September 13th was rapidly approaching the South Mountain passes. General D H Hill had two brigades atop the mountain on the morning of the 14th and looking down into the valley to his east quickly realized that he was in major trouble. Putting out a call for more of his own brigades to come up from Boonsboro at the west side of the mountain, he also sent a courier galloping north requesting help from Longstreet at Hagerstown.
Captain Hamilton's men had suffered greatly over the course of the Maryland incursion. Their uniforms in rags, many without shoes, regular rations non existent, troops were regularly dropping out on the line of march as they became sick, exhausted or foraged for food and water. The Legion infantry that had reached Hagerstown on September 12th was much smaller than the organization that had crossed the Potomac just a week earlier and looked forward to a few days of rest. Thus it was with some alarm that the men were called into ranks on the morning of the 14th for a forced march back over the same road they had just traversed from Boonsboro. Nonetheless, Drayton got his men up and moving at the van of the reinforcements with only George T Anderson's small Georgia brigade on the road in front of his own. Reaching the base of the mountain where the road ascended to Turners Gap around noon, Generals Jones, Anderson and Drayton conferred briefly with Lee and Longstreet. Drayton and Anderson were ordered to take their brigades and report to D H Hill at the top of the mountain while D R Jones remained with Lee and Longstreet waiting for the remainder of his brigades to arrive from Hagerstown. The ominous thunder of artillery could be heard ahead as Drayton's tired men hurried along the long steep incline toward Turners Gap.
Arriving at the crest, General Hill promptly escorted the two Georgia brigades almost a mile south on a mountain trail to Fox's Gap where, earlier that day, the Kanawha Divison of the Federal IX Corps had overrun and routed Sam Garland's North Carolina Brigade, killing Garland in the process. Hill had rushed one of his own brigades under George B Anderson (not to be confused with George T Anderson) to stabilize the situation and the fates smiled on Hill as the Federal commander, General Cox, decided to pause his attack to await for three additional IX Corps divisions to come to his support. Thus it was that Captain Hamilton's exhausted company arrived at Fox's Gap with their 1900 compatriots of G T Anderson's and Drayton's brigades between 2 and 3 PM. The battlefield at the gap had assumed an uneasy quiet at this point. The Federals had moved back beyond the woods south of the gap while the 2200 men of G B Anderson's and Roswell Ripley's brigades looked south awaiting the Federal's next move from the natural trench of the Old Sharpsburg road where it crossed the crest of the mountain. General Hill, now having over 4000 troops at hand, decided to attack first. Calling his four brigade commanders together he outlined his plan to align his troops down the west side of the mountain in the Old Sharpsburg Road and then have them attack the Federal's left flank in a giant left wheeling movement which would swing on the "hinge" of Drayton's brigade at the gap itself. Knowing that Federal pressure was also building at Turners Gap and to it's north, Hill placed the Senior brigadier, Roswell Ripley, in command of the attack and headed back to Turner's Gap. While this conference was taking place, G B Anderson's and Ripley's troops had shifted west down the Old Sharpsburg Road to make room for G T Anderson's and Drayton's troops. At this point a critical error occured as the two lead brigades shifted too far west drawing G T Anderson's brigade after them. This caused a 300 yard gap to open between G T Anderson's men and Drayton's troops at the gap. Drayton had gotten his men into position in an L shaped formation at the gap with the 15th SC and 3rd SC Battalion in the Old Sharpsburg Road facing south and the Legion, 51st and 50th Ga along a stone wall facing east with the right of the Legion connecting to the left of the 3rd SC Battalion. Drayton became alarmed as he saw Anderson's men move away to the west, ordered the Legion to "rotate" 90 degrees into the Old Sharpsburg Road and moved the South Carolinians further west. A patrol from the 3rd Battalion had been sent across farmer Wise's field just south of the gap and they now scampered back telling of a heavy Federal presence in and beyond the woods bordering the far end of the field. Around 4PM, observing no Federal activity to the east, Drayton now ordered the 51st and 50th Georgia to repeat the Legion's shift into the Old Sharpsburg Road and ordered the Legion and two South Carolina units to launch their attack southward against the Federals. Why Drayton did not wait for the other two Georgia units to redeploy into the Old Sharpsburg Road to join the initial southern attack is not known. It could be that he wanted his troops to charge across largely open ground and all five of his regiments would not have fit into the the available space. It could also be that he had decided to keep the two "green" Georgia regiments (50th & 51st) in reserve.
What is known is that Drayton had still not been able to reconnect his right with G T Anderson's left when he ordered the Legion and the South Carolinians to the attack. Drayton had been criticized for his tardiness at Second Manassas and he wasn't about to let the same thing happen again.
What Hill and Drayton did NOT know (but should have suspected) was that large Federal reinforcements had arrived during the early afternoon lull in the fighting. In addition to the 3000 remaining men of the Kanawha division that had mounted the morning attack, the 7000 men of Orlando Wilcox's and Samuel Sturgis' divisions had arrived and deployed by 4 PM with the bulk of these troops being located just beyond the woods southeast of the gap with their right near the Old Sharpsburg Road but out of sight of the Confederates. This meant that the Legion, on the left flank of the attacking force headed due south, was moving obliquely across the face of masses of enemy troops to their east or left. Once into the woods east of Wise's field, this problem quickly became evident as men began to fall to enemy fire from the left front. Meanwhile the South Carolinians headed south across Wise's field and house lot ran into the fire of the Ohioans of Cox's division. Further west, G B Anderon's men struggled through the thick mountain laurel attempting to get into attack position while Ripley's troops marched right off the mountain and out of the battle. G T Anderson, hearing the fight break out at the gap, tried to reconnect with Drayton but found Federals had penetrated the opening between the two brigades. This left Drayton's 1300 men at the gap engaged with 10000 Federal troops. Even worse, Drayton had initiated an attack with about 850 of his troops against the same 10000 Federals.
Almost simultaneous with Drayton's attack, the Federals launched their own attack, pressing the Legion northwest out of the woods into Wise's field while Cox's troops forced the South Carolinians to retreat northwards. As previously noted, some of Cox's troops had even managed to work their way around to the west of Wise's farm. Drayton's men were rapidly being boxed in from three sides and men scrambled to get out of Wise's field. Somewhere in this confusion, Captain Hamilton was wounded in the right forearm but, unlike many other unfortunates, did manage to leave the battlefield. The Legion took quite a drubbing in this fight, taking 115 casualties or 40% of those engaged. Hamilton's Co E escaped with the relatively light loss of three men wounded and four captured. The young Captain's wound must have been relatively serious since he did not rejoin the infantry battalion until just after the battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. He was hospitalized during the interval in Lynchburg, Va and appears to also have been furloughed home prior to his return.
The battalion's commanding officer, Lt Colonel Robert T Cook, had been killed December 13th at the battle of Fredericksburg and this resulted in the promotion of Major E S "Sandy" Barcley to Lt Colonel. As the senior company Captain, 23 year old Jospeph Hamilton was promoted to Major on December 18th, 1862. Battalion records for 1863 are sketchy but it appears that young Major Hamilton was in action at Chancellorsville in May. After Lt Colonel Barclay's health broke down due to wounds received at Fox's Gap, Major Hamilton led the command at Gettysburg in July. A roll for September/October 1863 (dated January 14, 1864) shows him "at home wounded". His service record does not show when or where this wound occured but we learn from one of A J Reese's letters that Major Hamilton suffered a broken arm in the ill fated attack on Fort Sanders at Knoxville on November 29th 1863. Family information details this wound as being to his right arm. While at home recovering from his wound, Joe married his sweetheart, Miss Julia A Stokes, on January 13th, 1864. Being wounded seems to have been a harbinger of promotion for young Joe Hamilton. When he returned to the battalion in early 1864, he found that Lt Colonel Barclay had been forced to resign on December 31, 1863 due to the effects of wounds and he was now the Lt Colonel commanding the battalion. He was 24 years of age.
Joe must have been a "lead from the front" sort of officer as he was to be wounded yet again. Coming safely through the vicious fights at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania in May 1864, he suffered a wound to the neck on June 3, 1864 at Cold Harbor. Furloughed for 30 days from a Richmond hospital to Oxford, Ga on June 7th 1864, Hamilton must have suffered complications from the wound as he was still absent at year's end with the approval of a medical examining board.
He did return shortly thereafter however as he is shown "present" on the battalion's final roll dated January 30th 1865. During the final retreat to Appomattox, Lt Colonel Hamilton was captured April 6th 1865 at Sailors Creek along with most of the infantry battalion. First taken to Old Capitol prison in Washington, D C he was then sent north to Johnson's Island prison in Lake Erie in late April. He took the Oath of Allegiance on July 25th 1865 and was released. The young Lt Colonel's Oath lists him as being 25 and as being five foot eight and one half inches tall, of fair complexion with light hair and blue eyes.
Returning to Dalton, Ga (where his family had relocated during the war) he rejoined his wife Julia and settled down to farming and teaching school at Dalton Academy. During these years in Dalton, he and Julia were blessed with four children; sons Tallie and Marvin and daughters Minnie and Annette. In 1875, Joseph, Julia and their four children packed up and moved to southern California. They first settled in Orange, and 18 months later moved to Wilmington, California. Here they were blessed with two more daughters; May Julia born in Orange and Ella born in Wilmington. In 1880 they moved the family to Los Angeles. During this period Joseph earned a living by teaching and farming. His health gradually failed him. No doubt some of his problems were due to his wartime wounds and the exposure and hardships endured with his men. This caused him to retire from active business pursuits in 1889. He spent his remaining years in extensive church activities. On Wednesday June 12th 1907, Joseph Hamilton passed away at his daughter Minnie's home in Los Angeles and was laid to rest there at Rosedale Cemetery. His beloved wife Julia joined him there in January 1915.
The appelation "Boy Colonel" has been assigned to Henry King Burgwyn who was killed in action at Gettysburg but if anyone ever decides to create a "Boy Lt Colonel", Joseph Hamilton would have to be considered!
Phillip's Georgia Legion
Texans in the Civil War