Thursday, July 14, 2011

Faces of the Civil War: Wiley S. Boon

Wiley Simeon Boon, who served in the 35th North Carolina Infantry, was killed
at Malvern Hill, near Richmond, on July 1, 1862. (Photo courtesy of Brian Farrell)
An imposing Bowie knife in his hand and a kick-butt expression on his face, Wiley Simeon Boon certainly looked the part of a rebel when he had his photo taken, probably shortly before or after he enlisted in the Confederate army on Sept. 20, 1861.
Wiley S. Boon was listed as a farmer on the 1860 U.S. census. He
and his wife, Ann, 
 had a 10-month-old son, John. (CLICK TO ENLARGE.)

A farmer from Chatham County, near Raleigh, Boon was a private in Co. D, known as the "Haw River Boys," in the 35th North Carolina Infantry.  The regiment was comprised of men from 10 counties, many of them young farmers like Wiley, who was 24 when he enlisted. Boon's home county was mainly agricultural, but its coal mines also helped fuel the Rebel cause.

The 35th North Carolina didn't distinguish itself in its first battle of the Civil War, at New Bern, N.C., on March 14, 1862. According to General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch's official report, the 35th "quickly followed the example of the militia, retreating in the utmost disorder." Lack of leadership from its commanding officers, many of whom were soon replaced, was to blame. (1)

Union artillery fires on the Rebels at Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862, in this sketch
by Civil War artist correspondent Alfred Waud (Library of Congress)
"That it was attributable to want of leadership the Thirty-fifth Regiment did not behave better on this, its first field of battle, is established by the fact, that in every subsequent battle of the war in which it was directly or remotely connected,it never failed to act in such a manner as to deserve and win the encomiums of its commanding officers," Captain William Burgwyn wrote after the war. "And that the conduct of their Colonel and Lieutenant Colonel at New Bern was such as to cause the officers to lose all confidence in their military capacity to lead them, is evidenced by the fact that at the reorganization of the regiment (10 April, 1862), neither of these officers were re-elected ; while the one who had shown both capacity and bravery, the youthful Petway, was advanced higher in command and elected Lieutenant-Colonel." (2)
Confederate troops attacked up this slope at Malvern Hill.

Following the Battle of New Bern, Private Boon's Co. D fought well as a rear guard as Rebel troops retreated to Kinston. "Special praise is due to Company D, commanded by Captain (Hardy) Lassiter, for the alacrity with which they volunteered to defend our retreating columns when the enemy's cavalry was reported to be upon us," Burgywn wrote. (3)

After re-organizing under new leadership in Kinston, the 35th eventually was ordered to join the Army of Northern Virginia defending Richmond during the Seven Days campaign. It was involved in sharp fights near Seven Pines from June 25-28, 1862. But in the final battle of the Seven Days campaign, at Malvern Hill near the James River on July 1, the 35th North Carolina was mauled. (Click here for interactive Malvern Hill panoramas.)

Failing to take out the many Union cannon on a ridge, Robert E. Lee's army made ill-advised  direct assaults on an impregnable position. As Rebel troops emerged from the woods, they were cut to pieces by well-aimed artillery and later canister as some got closer to Union guns. One can only imagine what was going through the mind of Wiley Boon, who surely saw the earlier carnage, as he waited in the woods before moving up the slope of  Malvern Hill with his comrades late that afternoon.
View from Confederate position at Malvern Hill.

"As each brigade emerged from the woods from fifty to one hundred guns opened upon it, tearing great gaps in its ranks, but the heroes reeled on and were shot down by the reserves at the guns which a few squads reached," Confederate General D.H. Hill wrote in his after-action report.

Among the 5,300 Rebel casualties were both commanders of the 35th North Carolina, who were killed in the assault. And somewhere on the expanse of Virginia farmland, Wiley Simeon Boon, the young farmer from North Carolina, lost his life. He left behind a wife, Ann, and a 2-year-old son, John. Boon is probably buried in a unmarked grave somewhere near Richmond, according to Brian Farrell, Boon's great-great grandson.

Although no Civil War-era correspondence from Boon is known to exist, the remarkable tintype above was handed down through Farrell's family through the generations. Farrell, who bears a striking resemblance to Wiley, answered questions about his Rebel relative after contacting me through my blog:

Q: When did you first find out you had a relative who fought during the Civil War?

Farrell: About eight years ago one of my aunts found Wiley’s photo in an old trunk in her attic. She then took a picture of the picture and sent it to me because she thought she saw a resemblance. This actually got my kin on my mom’s side of the family to do a picture search and they found a picture of Eli Griggs, my great-great grandfather on my mom’s side who also served the South in the Civil War. Unfortunately, his photo is when he was an old man. He lost his arm at Marye's Heights at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He was in the artillery in the Army of Northern Virginia.

Brian Farrell of Austin,
Texas  bears a striking
resemblance to his
great-great grandfather.
Q: Have you visited the sites where Simeon served the Confederacy?

Farrell: I have not, but I would love to. I have been to Marye's Heights, which I enjoyed very much.

Q: What's the most interesting story told about Wiley in your family?

Farrell: According to our family history, it is believed that he was eventually promoted to major. If true, that's pretty good considering he started as a private and was a farmer before that and considering how long he survived.

1) Histories of the Several Regiments from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65, Volume 2, Written by Members of the Respective Commands, Edited by Walter Clark, Lieutenant Colonel Seventeenth Regiment N.C.T, Published by the State, 1901, Page 595
2) Ibid, Page 595
3) Ibid, Page 596

1 comment:

  1. Interest pic! Usual weapon of choice is pistols. Thanks for sharing.