On Friday, March 7, 1862, just two weeks after his 18th birthday, Samuel Andrew McGinniss enlisted in the 55th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Company E “The Westmoreland Greys” under the command of Captain J. Bailey Jett at Fort Lowry (Tappahannock).[1]  Andrew’s youngest uncle, John, had been a member of Company E for almost a year.  Andrew was paid a “bounty” of $50 to enlist for a period of 3 years.[2]  He would receive $11 per month in pay and food rations.  In good times, rations included a meat (pork or beef), corn bread, peas, and maybe a few other items in season.  Most times, rations were limited, and Confederate soldiers would have to supplement by using whatever means available to them.  While in camp, it was common to receive some items from home including pickles, preserves, cakes, etc.

Andrew enlisted prior to the Confederate Congress passing the Conscription Act in April 1862.  It was the first act of its kind in American history, and it made all white males between 18 and 35 years of age liable for military service.  By April 2, Andrew was listed as “Absent Without Leave” (AWOL).  But by June of 1862, he was listed present or had approved furlough at each of the musters, until he was paroled in May of 1865.  By late July of 1862, Andrew would have gotten word that his eldest uncle, Richard McGinniss, had died while in service of the 15th Virginia Cavalry.  Two of Richard’s sons, Alexander Washington and Richard Warren McGinniss, also served in the 15th Virginia Cavalry. [3]   Three months later, their youngest uncle, John, died of typhoid in a Richmond Hospital.

The 55th Virginia Infantry was made up of men mainly from Essex, Middlesex, Lancaster, Spotsylvania, and Westmoreland counties.  In all, 1,181 men saw active service, and of those, 306 would die and more would desert.  The 55th averaged ~250 men present at any given time, and given Andrew’s attendance record, he would have been considered a core regular.  The 55th saw action in many of the great battles of the Civil War including the Seven Days Battles, Second Battle of Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.  Andrew was present on the muster rolls for all those battles and more.[4]

Andrew was in the infantry, and his feet would have been his transport.  Family oral history has Andrew remembering, “At Wilderness, I fell in love with Miss Clutterbuck who gave me some sorghum”. He would have walked or “marched” to the battle of Chancellorsville, and then on to Gettysburg and back during a 60-day period in the summer of 1863.  There is no record of Andrew being wounded, captured, or ill, but illness was very common during the war because of the conditions the soldiers endured.  Andrew was issued clothing from the General Hospital at Howard’s Grove in Richmond on Saturday, November 14, 1863.[5]  It is likely that this was after being treated for wounds or illness.  In September 1864, Andrew was promoted to Sergeant by order of the 55th’s commander, Colonel William S. Christian.[6]  In seven months, Lee would surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.  After Lee’s surrender, Andrew traveled from wherever he was back home.

As Andrew traveled home, John Wilkes Booth was fleeing as part of the largest manhunt in the nation’s history.  One can only imagine the chaos of the time and the mixed emotions.  The joy of being home again and the fear of what tomorrow brings had to be accompanied by feelings that Andrew’s personal sacrifice was in vain.  The cause he fought for had been lost, and with it the lives and treasure of so many of his family, friends, and neighbors.

On May 1st, 1865, Andrew was paroled at King George Courthouse, after signing the “Oath of Allegiance,” nearly a month after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.  The paroling officer was First Lieutenant W. J. Keay, of the 16th New York Cavalry Regiment, who was part of the same group of 26 men from the 16th New York, who had found and killed Booth at Garrett’s Farm near Port Royal a few miles away.

[1] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865

[2] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865

[3] History of the 15th Virginia Cavalry, by John Fortier

[4] 55th Virginia Infantry, Richard O’Sullivan

[5] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865

[6] U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865