Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A photograph taken of Colonel James Gavin while in uniform during the Civil War is among the glass plate negatives in the Greensburg-Decatur County Library’s collection.

Colonel James Gavin Identified Among Glass Plate Negatives.

Written and researched by Phillip Jackson, Jr.

     Among the Decatur County residents appearing in the glass plate negatives that have
been restored by the Greensburg-Decatur County Public Library is one who I have
identified as James Gavin.

James Gavin was a prominent Greensburg resident, successful lawyer, and Civil War colonel.

James Gavin was born in Butler County, Ohio in 1830. While he was still a young boy, his family moved to Franklin County, Indiana. He found work as a clerk in a store in Brookville as a teen-ager. He then began studying law with a lawyer in Brookville. James Gavin was also a schoolteacher.

In 1851 James Gavin married Martha Tucker. Then in 1852 the Gavins moved to Greensburg where James Gavin began practicing law. James Gavin was very successful as a lawyer. In 1860 James Gavin and his law partner, Oscar Hord, compiled the Indiana laws in a book called The Statutes of the State of Indiana or simply Gavin and Hord’s Statutes.

James Gavin was described this way as a lawyer: “He was a fine lawyer, and whether engaged in the cause of the rich or the poor, he gave it his whole mind and soul and strength.”

At the start of the Civil War, James Gavin flew a flag at his law office on the Greensburg Square and began recruiting volunteers. James Gavin was elected first lieutenant in the three-month enlistment 7th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment and served as the regiment’s adjutant. The responsibilities of a regimental adjutant included being in charge of correspondence and maintaining records of the soldiers in the regiment.

After serving for its three-month enlistment in western Virginia and taking part in some of the earliest battles of the Civil War, the 7th Indiana was reorganized as a three-year regiment. James Gavin became the lieutenant colonel of the three-year 7th Indiana. The colonel of the 7th Indiana, Ebenezer Dumont, was a former United States Congressman. He was promoted to brigadier general. James Gavin was promoted to colonel commanding the 7th Indiana in November, 1861.

While evidently at home in Greensburg on a sick leave from the 7th Indiana, Colonel Gavin helped organize and led the 76th Indiana Infantry Regiment in the summer of 1862. This was a short-term enlistment regiment organized in response to a Confederate raid into southern Indiana. The lieutenant colonel of this regiment was John T. Wilder. He was also home in Greensburg on a sick leave from the 17th Indiana Infantry Regiment, but would soon earn national fame as the commander of “Wilder’s Lightning Brigade.”

Colonel James Gavin rose to command a brigade. He was wounded at least twice in battle.

The most serious wound occurred during the battle of Second Bull Run on August 30, 1862. The 7th Indiana was on the far right of the Union line. The union right retreated and became disorganized. The 7th Indiana lost contact with the rest of its brigade.

After midnight the 7th Indiana encountered another unit that in the darkness could not be identified. “Who are you? Show your colors!” Colonel Gavin called out. But the flag the other force carried could not be identified.

Colonel Gavin ordered the color bearer of the 7th Indiana to wave the National Colors. The other force was a Confederate brigade and fired on the 7th Indiana. Colonel James Gavin was shot in the chest. Colonel Gavin resigned from the 7th Indiana while serving as the commander of a brigade in April, 1863 because of this wound.

But Colonel James Gavin was not finished with serving his country during the Civil War. While still recovering at home in Greensburg from the chest wound he volunteered to serve as the commanding officer of the104th Indiana Infantry Regiment. This was another short-term regiment organized in July, 1863 to pursue Morgan’s Raiders across southern Indiana.

Still later, Colonel James Gavin served as the colonel of the 134th Indiana Infantry Regiment. This was a regiment with a one hundred days enlistment organized to guard a railroad supplying Sherman’s troops during the Atlanta Campaign in the summer of 1864.

James Gavin was a Democrat. He ran for the United States Congress in 1862 but lost. In 1863 he was elected as the Decatur County Clerk. Then in 1865 James Gavin was nominated by President Andrew Johnson to become an official in the Internal Revenue Service, but the United States Senate did not confirm the nomination. James Gavin then returned to the practice of law.

James and Martha Gavin were the parents of four children. Their first child died as an infant in 1853. Their oldest surviving child, Frank Gavin (1854-1936) graduated from Harvard University and became a lawyer and judge.

Another son, William Gavin (1856-1938) became a doctor.

Their daughter, Addie Gavin McCoy (1858-1928) married into the Decatur County pioneering McCoy family.

James Gavin and his family owned the John Wilder Home at 446 East Main Street Greensburg for several years.

Colonel James Gavin died on July 4, 1873. According to his obituary, James Gavin was hospitalized in Cincinnati with a fever. The noise of people celebrating Independence Day and setting off fireworks made him think he was back on the battlefields of the Civil War. He became excited and began shouting orders and had to be restrained. And then he died with what today might be called a severe case of posttraumatic stress disorder.

James Gavin was Decatur County’s most senior Civil War colonel. He was born poor and was a self-made man and successful lawyer. If he had not been wounded at the battle of Second Bull Run and forced to resign while serving as a brigade commander, then he probably would have been promoted to higher rank long before the end of the Civil War.

Mr. Jackson is a guest blogger for the Greensburg-Decatur County Library and has assisted in the identification of the glass negative collection mentioned earlier.

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