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John Pelham Historical Association

Gallant Pelham's "Gallant Breathed"

First Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, fresh from service in the West, was journeying to Richmond to offer his considerable talents to the new Confederate States of America. With him on the train was James Breathed. He was not associated with the army, but had been practicing medicine in the less civilized areas of the country. However their relationship began, the names of Stuart and Breathed, along with another youth from Alabama, would becane indelibly linked with what became known as the Stuart Horse Artillery.

James Breathed was born on February 13, 1838. He was the son of John W. Breathed and Ana Macgill Williams of "Boyuca," near St. James College in Hagerstown, Maryland. Breathed received his initial education at a military school in Urbana. The school was run by John Robert Jones, who later became a general in the Army of Northern Virginia. The academy was eventually abandoned due to the war, but one of its outbuildings would be used for Stuart's' 'Welcome to Maryland" ball on September 8, 1862.

Breathed entered St. James College, Where he passed his freshman and sophomore classes in one year. He then spent a year with Dr. Charles Macgill, who had been at one time Surgeon General of Virginia. Afterward, Breathed went to Baltimore, entered the office of Dr. Nathan Smith, and enrolled in Maryland University and Medical College from which he graduated in 1858 with a degree in medicine. Though Dr. Smith urged him to remain in Baltimore, Breathed's restless spirit took him out west until 1861, when he returned to Hagerstown. It was on this return trip that he crossed paths with Stuart.

On August, 31, 1861, James Breathed enlisted as a private in Company B, 1st Virginia Cavalry. He was assigned to various duties and won the admiration of his corrmander, Colonel Stuart. Private Breathed was not destined to stay in the cavalry, however. Stuart had been toying with the idea of forming a "flying battery" and Breathed seemed ideal to head it. A private could not command a battery, however, so on November 18th Breathed was appointed a lieutenant of cavalry. Not waiting for the appointment to be confirmed, Stuart transferred "Lieutenant Breathed" to "General Stuart's Artillery" as the first step in establishing the battery.

For unknown reasons, the choice of Breathed was not honored and Colonel W. N. Pendleton sent Stuart Lieutenant John Pelham instead. Pelham immediately began to transpose Stuart's idea of a battery of horse artillery into reality. Pelham became captain of the battery on March 23, 1862, with Breathed securing a lieutenancy at the same time.

Breathed received the same vigorous training as the other men of the battery. Pelham's gaze must have frequently come to rest on the doctor turned artillerist, and he was pleased with what he saw. So was Stuart , for when he made his famous ''Ride around McClellan" in June, 1862, Breathed, with two guns, accompanied him. The young lieutenant struggled, but kept his guns moving with the cavalry columns as they swept around the Union army's flank and rear. The reconnaissance was successful, and Stuart's faith in Breathed was rewarded.

Breathed's career continued to flourish. He was promoted captain on September 22, 1862, to rank fran August 9th. The new captain received command of half of Pelham's old battery (Mathias Henry was given cormmand of the other half) after Sharpsburg. The increase in responsibility which accompanied his new rank did not exhaust his talent or determination.

Perhaps Breathed was not totally happy. While encamped at Orange Court House, he tendered his resignation stating that, "I know I can do better service in another 'arm of service.' " His effort to leave the horse artillery brought forth an avalanche of protests. General Williams C. Wickham wrote, "Strongly disapproved -- Capt. Breathed is the best man for the management of a battery of horse artillery I ever saw. " General Fitz Lee voiced his opinion by writing, ''Disapproved. Capt. Breathed is an excellent officer. He can do no better service in another arm of the service. " Stuart added, 'respectfully forwarded disapproved. I will never consent for Capt. Breathed to quit the horse artillery with which he has rendered such distinguished service except for certain promotion, which he has well earned." These endorsements kept Breathed where he rightfully belonged --in the horse artillery.

What effect Pelham's death in March, 1863 had on Breathed is unknown. Certainly he wore the mourning band as did all the horse artillery and cavalry, but for Breathed the loss may have been felt more deeply. Pelham had been his mentor, his model. Of all the men Pelham trained, Breathed came to be the brightest reflection of his teacher's genius. Breathed in his own right was a superlative soldier, but his talents were greatly enhanced by the training he recelved under Pelham's guidance.

In the months following, Breathed continued to forge his reputation. Chancellorsville saw him under the eye of "Stonewall" Jackson. Brandy Station and the Gettysburg Campaign followed in rapid succession. More and more the horse artillery was called upon to even the odds against an increasingly powerful Union cavalry. The horse artillery camp was attacked by Custer on February 29, 1864. Breathed and R. Preston Chew with scarcely two hundred men bluffed the Union cavalry into retreat, saving the city of Charlottesville from destruction.

Breathed was promoted Major to rank from February 27th. The 1864 Campaign saw him as a corrmander of a battalion of horse artillery. His finest hour of the entire war may have come in the early fighting around Spotsylvania Court House on May 8, 1864, when he single-handedly saved a gun from capture though the enemy shot three horses from under him. Slightly wounded at Yellow Tavern, where Stuart fell, Breathed was more seriously wounded on June 29th in a skirmish. The severity of the wound prompted General Robert E. Lee to send him the following letter:

Head' Qts Anny of Northern Virginia
July 8, 1864

Major James Breathed, Richmond, Va.

I heard with great regret that you were wounded & incapacitated for active duty. I beg to tender you my sympathy, and to express the hope that the anny will not long be deprived of your valuable services. The reports I have received from your superior officers of your gallantry and good conduct in action on several occasions, have given me great satisfaction, and while they increase my concern for your personal suffering, render me more anxious that your health will soon permit you to resume a command that you have exercised with so much credit to yourself and advantage to the service.

Very Respectfully,
Your Obedient Servant,
R. E. Lee,

Breathed survived his wound, but came close to sharing the fate of Major "Jirrmie" Thomson at the Battle of High Bridge on April 6, 1865. Attacked by two Union cavalry officers, Breathed barely escaped with his life thanks to a Sergeant Scruggs of Colonel Munford's staff, who came to his assistance just as on
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