I imagine the newly enlisted man-child, Pvt. William Greene Dodson, sitting on a train to Petersburg, in the company of his uncle, Sgt. Benjamin F. Dodson and other Mecklenburg County farmers. The sights, smells and sounds of battle were yet but words from others’ mouths. Would this young man have been excited? Scared? Resolute?
Company B, 34th Virginia Infantry arrived in Petersburg May 1864 as part of Wise’s Brigade, under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, and were charged with the protection of the railroad hub. Greene and Ben would have welcomed the local Citizen’s Militia who helped swell the troops’ numbers to a scant 2,200 bodies. Perhaps Greene wondered what kind of hell he had entered, as he stared at this landscape, stripped of trees, riddled with tunnels, rifle pits and bombproofs. A bleak reality must have confronted the young soldier, even before the first bullets whistled in his ears.
The land of Mecklenburg County, Virginia rolls from pasture to forest to creek. Wild roses and honeysuckle form dense thickets, and glossy leaves of poison ivy climb oak and ash and maple. In the 1860s this was farm country, dependent on bonded black labor to make its red soil produce abundant crops of tobacco, corn, hay. And from her male ranks came soldiers prepared to fight for the right to prosper by the South’s peculiar institution–slavery.
Among these men, in March of 1864, were William Green Dodson, age 18,and his uncle, Benjamin Franklin Dodson, age 37. Digging around in the archived Civil War Service Records within Footnote.com I discovered the elements of Ben and Greene’s 1864 story. I then correlated that keystone data with information from the 1860 Federal Census andthe book Chase City and Its Environsto tell this family tale.
Ben Dodson enlisted 8 March 1862 with Captain Thomas Taylor Pettus, commanding officer, signing his papers in Mecklenburg County. The husband of Delia Boyd Dodson and father of five little ones signed up for the duration of the war.Ben Dodson was mustered in a 3rd Sergeant in the 4th Regiment Virginia Heavy Artillery, which was attached to the command of Brigadier-General Henry Wise. During the Battle of Seven Pines, 31 May-1 June 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia, this unit manned the heavy guns at Drewry’s Bluff, successfully repulsing the advance of the Federal gunboats the Monitor and the Galena. The men of Company B saw action again during the Seven Days Battle, at Frazier’s Farm and Malvern Hill, Virginia 25 June-1 July 1862. The Brigade was then attached to the Department of Richmond and held the lines around the capital until 1863.
Ben Dodson fell ill during that guarding of Richmond. The farmer was furloughed to recover at his home 25 October 1862 and rejoined his company in early 1863.
Ben Dodson led his men throughout the company’s 1863 defense of Charleston, South Carolina’s seacoast, under the command of Colonel John T. Goode, Major John R. Bagby, and Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Harrison, with the regiment attached to the forces commanded by General G. T. Beauregard.
8 March 1864 the 4th Regiment Heavy Artillery was redesignated the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.
On 17 March 1864 Ben received leave to go home to Mecklenburg County for 15 days.
On 15 April 1864 William Greene Dodson enlisted, again,
…with Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry. Captain T. T. Pettus mustered him in as a private, to serve under his uncle, Sergeant Ben Dodson, for the duration of the war.
There are no muster cards on file to shed light on how Greene Dodson went from being a private with Company I, 25th Infantry Battalion in Richmond, December 1863, to being a private with his uncle’s regiment April 1864. I am left with questions: Why did Ben come home? Was he just needing a break? Was he recruiting? Why was Greene home? What words were exchanged between nephew and uncle? Did Sarah feel more or less relieved that her son was joining a close relative’s company?
One thing is certain: Ben and Greene returned to Company B that April 1864 in time to be swept up in General Beauregard’s move toward Petersburg, Virginia. The families would be changed forever by that hot and dusty summer.