Thomas N. Bembry Part II: The War Years

On 14 February 1862, Thomas N. Bembry and his younger brother, Henry L. Bembry, signed on as Privates with the 5th Confederate Florida Infantry, Company F (“Frink’s Guards.”) Two of Sarah’s brothers, Elijah Moses and Aaron signed up for the same unit on the same day. Another brother, Henry F. Simpson, signed up just a few weeks later, on April 30, 1862.

So, five members of the Lowndes County household of 1860 served in the same unit. Only three of these men: Thomas, his brother Henry, and his brother-in-law Henry Simpson would survive the war.

Here is a very brief history of the 5th Florida, from Wikipedia.

The 5th Florida Infantry Regiment served in E.A. Perry’s Florida Brigade alongside the 2nd and 8th Florida. Perry’s Brigade served under Anderson’s Division of Longstreet’s First Corps, of the Army of Northern Virginia.

They fought in the Battles of Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, and Antietam from Aug-Sep 1862. Colonel David Lang took command of the Florida Brigade and led them at Fredricksburg in Dec 1862 and Chancellorsville in May 1863. Under Col. Lang’s command the Florida Brigade fought at Gettysburg in July 1863. They were attached to Picket’s Division, and took part in the famous attack on the Union center on the 3rd day.

After the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania in 1864, the Brigade was joined by the victors of the Battle of Olustee, the 9th, 10th, and 11th Regiments. General Joseph Finegan, the famous commander of Florida forces at Olustee, took command of the Florida Brigade, then known as “Finegan’s Brigade”.

In the last year of war the Florida Brigade fought at Cold Harbor in June 1864 and Petersburg during the winter. The Florida Brigade retreated with the Army of Northern Virginia and surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. By the time of surrender, the regiments were the size of modern day platoons or companies. The 2nd, 5th, and 8th surrendered 68, 53, and 32 men respectively. The 9th, 10th, and 11th surrendered 124, 162, and 23. Most of the 11th had been cut off in the Army’s retreat and had previously surrendered.

Thomas was badly hurt on 13 December 1862 at the battle of Fredericksburg while digging trenches. This resulted in lifelong disability, probably from a spinal cord injury.  His description of the event from his pension application:

During a rainy time and the ground being very slippery, my foot slipped and I fell from the top of the entrenchment to the bottom landing on my back upon one of the large rocks which effected my spine so that I have never been able to do much work since. And my kidneys are also effected and have been since I got hurt as above described.

Confederate dead at Marye's Heights after the Second Battle of Fredericksburg

Confederate dead at Marye’s Heights after the Second Battle of Fredericksburg

I visited the Fredericksburg battlefield, and inquired with the rangers about where the Florida 5th was deployed. As it turns out, they were posted to the steepest section of Marye’s Heights, a ridge overlooking the city, and directly above the famous Sunken Road. This is not within the current battlefield park boundaries, but on the campus of the University of Mary Washington, where present-day Mason and Randolph halls are located. Though this area has been since landscaped, it is still a substantial drop to the rocky wooded area below the ridge—at least 40 feet—followed by another drop to the Sunken Road.  It is no wonder that Thomas was left disabled by this fall.

Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, VA

Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, VA

As a result of this injury, he was sent to Chimborazo Hospital near Richmond on 20 February 1863 for “chronic rheumatism.” He was transferred to nearby Palmyra Hospital on 9 March 1863, where his complaint was listed as”dysentery.” He continued to be listed as furloughed due to illness through August 1863.

He was granted absence with leave from July 30 to August 2 1863, and Aaron Bembry, his son, and only child born during the war years, was born about nine months later!  So, most likely, his transfer to a Tallahassee hospital, where he is listed as present during November and December of 1863, occurred shortly before that trip home.

In January 1864, Thomas was transferred to a “conscript camp” in Madison, Florida. He is listed as “detailed as a convalescent in a conscript camp.” Conscription camps were for training newly drafted Confederate soldiers. Thomas was not a new enlistee, so this may mean that he was on the staff of the camp, being unfit for active duty. From May through October of 1864, he is listed as absent from his unit and “in Hospital, Madison, Fla.” There was no major Confederate hospital in Madison, however, so this supports the theory that he had some light duty at the the camp.

According to Sarah Ann’s later pension application, Thomas was returned to active duty for a brief period near the end of the war, then furloughed again one month before the April 9 surrender at Appomattox due to illness. He signed his oath of allegiance (with an “X”)  to the United States in Madison, Florida on May 14, 1865.

TNBembryWarRecord 12

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