Jehu Hank Rigney
By George Foley
Editor’s note: Jehu Hank Rigney was the half brother of Mary E Rigney Foley, George’s paternal great-grandmother. Their father was Elijah Rigney, also, a confederate veteran.
My great uncle Jehu Hank Rigney, born 1840, left his home in Carrol County, Virginia in April 1861, to muster at Lynchburg. Hank got the call early, only two days after the state of Virginia seceded. Hank enlisted four months before his older brother Leander enlisted. The two brothers were privates in the 24th Virginia Infantry Regiment under Col. Jubal Early throughout the duration of the war. Hank’s brother Leander was in and out of the army hospitals for the first few months of service; however they were both together at the first major engagement of the war, 1st Manassas. The 24th and Hank did not see much action as they were kept in reserve however this gave them the vision of what this war was going to be like.
Hank moved with the 24th back to defend Richmond during the Peninsula Campaign. In May of 1862, the 24th Virginia earned their place with the Army of Northern Virginia for their gallant charge at Williamsburg. Hank’s company was originally positioned in the center of the 24th Regt., however, showing great courage and superb drill, Hank’s company C was given the honor of being the second company of the 24th Virginia after Williamsburg. This put him and his company on the far left flank of the regiment. They kept this position through the duration of the war. Suffering many casualties after Williamsburg, Jubal Early sent the 24th VA back to Richmond to recover and prepare for the coming battles after Seven Pines.
All through this time, Hank’s brother Leander was still suffering from ailments and was unfit for duty until late 1862. The next major engagement that my uncle was a combatant was Second Manassas. I have to claim Second Manassas as my favorite engagement to study, read, and visit not only because my ancestor’s footsteps are still metaphorically visible; but from a tactician’s viewpoint, it is quite possibly the best textbook example of a Confederate victory. I would like to think my uncle and his regiment was instrumental in the defeat of the Army of Virginia and General John Pope. Under Colonel Terry, the 24th was on the right flank of Lee’s forces with General Longstreet. General Lee devised a “Hammer and Anvil” plan to catch General Pope in the jaws between his two corps. The 24th assaulted the Union positions on Chinn ridge, and routed the enemy back to Henry Hill where the Army of Virginia was defeated and forced to retreat back towards Washington and the Army of the Potomac.
The 24th then travelled with Lee on the first march into the North. The armies of the south met resistance in a little town called Sharpsburg, Maryland. In this engagement, the 24th Virginia again was held back and did not see much action save for a few volleys at Burnside Bridge and midday to the right of the sunken road. Between the Peninsula Campaign and the battle at Sharpsburg (Antietam), Col. Jubal Early was promoted to divisional command after his wounding at Williamsburg, Colonel Terry assumed command of the 24th.
As the Army of Northern Virginia retreated from Maryland, Leander met his brother back in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The 24th now in Pickett’s Division held fast and did not see action during the engagement at Fredericksburg and remained in Fredericksburg during the battle of Chancellorsville.
1863 brought a lot of change for the Army of Northern Virginia. They have just seemingly defeated the Army of the Potomac many occasions, but suffered the loss of their greatest hero, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. With the boost in morale, Lee took his army north, through Maryland and into Pennsylvania.
After hundreds of miles, many nights, and many battles, Hank and his brother Leander were headed to Gettysburg; little did they know how significant the next few days would be. Sometime on June 28th, 1863, Hank’s brother Leander decided enough was enough. Leander was picked up for desertion or straggling by a Pennsylvania unit. He was taken to Camp Harris, a temporary outpost for housing POWs. There the last known document in regards to Leander’s whereabouts was stated as “Released to work for the US government”. In a few years of my research I found that many prisoners were released to serve in military regiments for the Union. Most of them were not assigned to combat units and were put in reserve regiments whose duties were more on the lines of physical labor and providing needed supplies to the army. I have found that there is a potential Leander Rigney that was killed near Cold Harbor from either the 74th Pennsylvania Regiment or 123rd.
I can imagine Hank was distraught as he never heard from his brother again, but he marched on with the cause still in his heart. The 24th Virginia in Kemper’s Brigade of Pickett’s Division, we can all imagine what the next few days would bring. Hank arrived with his unit on the field on July 3rd, prepared for the largest assault on American soil. Hank along with almost 13,000 men assembled on Seminary Ridge. Hank’s company from the 24th and one from the 38th Virginia were deployed as forward guard and marksman alongside the artillery during the massive cannonade that preceded the charge. Here, Hank lost his hearing as was injured due to the concussion of all the cannon; however he still joined his unit when the infantry charge began. Hank, along with all his Virginian brethren assaulted the Union position on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s Division made the left oblique march and suffered many casualties due to enfilading fire from artillery and small arms; however they made it just west of the copse of trees, otherwise known as the Bloody Angle. Not much is known of the whereabouts of individual men or units, however it is assumed that after the charge failed and broke, that men regrouped back near Spangler’s, Hank was one of them.
Beaten and broken, my Uncle Hank retreated with the Army of Northern Virginia back home and resupplied in Richmond. Hank and the 24th were sent south to North Carolina to defend the salt mines that enabled the south to preserve their meats and feed their army. After a full year, the 24th returned to Petersburg to defend the city. For the most part, the 24th Virginia did not see much action or otherwise unengaged during the duration of the unit’s post in the city. However, General Lee called up his troops to make a run towards Appomattox Virginia, and the 24th and Hank went with him.
Being run down by troopers on horseback, the 24th fought valiantly all the way to Appomattox. However, Hank’s journey was cut short. The 24th Virginia, with about 50 men and no officers were engaged with cavalry at a train depot called Sutherland Station. At this point, Hank’s service with the army changed to that of survival and imprisonment. My uncle Hank was captured here along with 20 other men from his unit and sent back to Maryland, Point Lookout. In prison until July of that year, Hank finally was sent home after taking the oath of allegiance. From there my Uncle Hank walked 370 miles on foot back home to his family in Carrol County, Virginia.
My Uncle lived a full life after the war, having multiple children. He moved to Newcomb, Tennessee in the late 1800s. He applied for his pension in 1914 and died four years later. He is buried somewhere in Newcomb Cemetery, however over the years his headstone has been lost or destroyed and it is my charge to restore a monument to my ancestor and my cause to be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, to remember great men like my Uncle Hank and many others that sacrificed everything so they could live in a world without tyranny.