ENGLISHMEN OF HONOUR
The American Civil War began in 1861, but more than eighty years prior to that, the American States had endured a long fight to claim independence from its status as a British colony. That battle, the War of Independence started in 1775, and America was recognised as an independent nation by the treaty of Paris in 1783. Abraham Lincoln, who became President in 1861, the year of the Civil War, was only the 16th American President.
In the eight decades between independence and the start of the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of immigrants mainly from Britain, Germany, Holland and other European countries, all arrived in America looking for a new life in the land of dreams.
Trade links between the British Isles and the young United States of America were also strong, especially in cotton and other raw materials. Britain was the workshop of the world, exporting everything from nails to locomotives, but the North of America was also becoming increasingly sophisticated. In 1860 the value of steam engines and other machinery in the northern States totaled more than $14 million but in the States that were to make up the Confederacy, it was around $800,000. This disparity of wealth and the sheer scale of agriculture in the South meant that slavery - introduced by the British - was essential to maintain prosperity.
The collision course that was to become America's bloodiest war hod been set. In all, millions of Americans, many first generation immigrants still speaking their native languages, put on uniforms and fought for one side or the other for four long years. The involvement of the country was almost total. In all between 75 and 85 percent of all Southern males and around half of all northerners fought. More than 800,000 men died, with up to two million wounded. Had such a proportion of America's citizens died in World War II, America would have lost over six million men.
In the process, warfare was brought out of the Napoleonic ages into the modern era, setting the scene for the First World War. Telegraphy and modern signaling kept the nation in touch with the armies, and photography provided a complete historical record of almost every man who served, as well as recording all of the major battles. The war correspondent become the precursor to the breaking news story, as he could file his copy and pictures from the battlefield and have them published the next morning; all thanks to the railroad, the camera and the telegraph.
The American Civil War touched the nation as never before; civilians were killed, houses burned and whole communities were uprooted. Women worked as nurses, clerks and in assembling munitions, or took over the running of the farms. The idea of conscription was introduced, and in 1863 there were draft riots in New York, which are depicted in the Leonardo Di Caprio and Daniel Day Lewis blockbuster movie, The Gangs Of New York.
New and ever more deadly weapons were created: the repeating rifle, metal cartridges, the machine gun, the submarine, aerial artillery spotting, and the battleship.
Many English veterans of the Crimea and India migrated to the United States, attracted by adventure and the promise of great wealth, since the 1849 gold rush had made America a land of dreams. Not all Englishmen were former soldiers, however. Some were merchants, some were travellers, and there were others like nineteen year old Private James Horrocks from Bolton, Lancashire, who had left home for personal reasons. In his case to avoid the scandal of a young girl who was pregnant, although he claimed he was not responsible. In one of his letters home to his parents, James wrote:
The Corporal of our detachment is an Englishman and celebrates today the anniversary of Inkerman. He wears his medals on his jacket, including the Victoria Cross with silver bars, possibly the greatest honour an Englishman can earn. He was Sergeant Major in the Rifle Brigade and I can assure you he is by far the best soldier in our company. I find worthy of mention that there are about 20 Englishmen in our Company (about a fifth), and although we are small in proportion, every Sergeant is English excepting the Quartermaster Sergeant who is Scots.
It is inevitable that with such a large proportion of Englishmen joining the Union Army that some would distinguish themselves in action. In fact there were at least 67 English winners of the Congressional Medal of Honour in the American Civil War that are properly documented.
Phillip Baybutt is the first name on that roll of honour. Hewas the 18-year-old son of a Manchester merchant and worked for his father as a teamster (wagon driver). He set sail on a business trip from Liverpool to Boston and arrived in the US in late 1863. When he arrived he was caught up in the whirlwind of a Civil War, the like of which he had never seen.
Deciding to enlist in February 1864, Baybutt had the rare distinction to serve as a member of company A of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. This company was known as the "California Hundred". The original hundred, all veterans of the gold rush and from over a dozen different nationalities, had volunteered in San Francisco to fight for the Union. They soon tired of militia duties in sparsely populated California, guarding railroads and telegraph lines, and with no enemy to fight and little adventure to seek they wrote to the Governor of Massachusetts and offered their services to fight in the east where all of [he action was. They sailed east at their own expense, providing all their own equipment in order to be in the thick of the action. Phillip Baybutt was recruited to fill the ranks of this depleted company.
If Phillip Baybutt had enlisted to seek action and adventure he had joined the right company. The 2nd Massachusetts would find themselves often in action against Mosby's famous band of raiders.
On September 24th 1864 however Mosby was not the issue. A brigade of Confederate Cavalry commanded by Colonel W.H.F. Payne had fallen back to the small town of Luray in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Clearly seeing an opportunity, General Phillip H Sheridan commanded General George Armstrong Custer's two Federal Cavalry Brigades including Colonel Lowell's 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry (with Company A and Phillip Baybutt) to advance on Luray supported by Union Artillery. Somewhere between the Page County border and Luray the clash of Cavalry took place at Yagers Mill.
Heavily outnumbered and outgunned the Confederates were overwhelmed, losing a good number of casualties and prisoners. During the heated melee Phillip Baybutt seized the Regimental Standard of the famous 6th Virginia Cavalry (Black Horse) for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour.
In all by the end of the war the diminutive English volunteer, who stood at only 5 feet 2½ inches tall, had participated in eight major battles and over fifty skirmishes. He had lost two horses killed in action and was himself twice wounded. He had a bad fall later in the Shenandoah campaign, which was to cause him much suffering later in life.
The 2nd Massachusetts went on to Capture Robert E Lee and were present at the surrender at Appomattox Court House. They participated in the Grand Review in Washington DC on May 23rd 1865 and were mustered out at Fairfax Court House and disbanded on August 3rd 1865.
Phillip Baybutt returned home to Manchester and worked in his fathers business. On December 26th 1872 he married Harriet Jones and the former Cavalry Hero went on to raise eight children. In later years Phillip suffered a great deal from the effects of his injuries sustained during the war and applied for a veterans pension, although supported by testimonials from his former comrades this was rejected. Three years later on April 17th 1909, as a direct result of his wartime injuries, Phillip Baybutt now a 63 year old shipping clerk, died from exhaustion. After his death his wife of over thirty years applied for a war widow's pension and received an allowance of $8 dollars per month. Phillip Baybutt was laid to rest in Manchester's Southern Cemetery with a headstone, which did not record his heroic deeds.
In September 2002, the town of Luray erected a Civil War Trail marker to commemorate the battle at Yagers Mill to coincide with the 138th Anniversary of the action. Phillip Baybutt's details were inscribed on the memorial.
As a result of this, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation discovered that Phillip's granddaughter, Edna Baybutt, lives in Manchester today. Subsequently, the US Veterans Administration replaced the family headstone with a special headstone for winners of the Congressional Medal of Honour.
A commemoration of Phillip's heroism took place on 22nd September 2002 at his grave in Manchester's Southern Cemetery. A reenactment group from The 4th Michigan Cavalry (American Civil War Society) provided a guard of honour and fired a salute.
139 years after the battle of Yagers Mill in the Shenandoah, Phillip Baybutt's granddaughter lives quietly in sheltered accommodation in Manchester with a very personal connection to the American Civil War.
Roger Willison-Gray, 4th Michigan Cavalry, Company H
The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, August 2002 and has been updated following the dedication ceremony in September 2002.