PRIVATE HENRY ELLIS THAIN BECOMES MOST RECENT CONFEDERATE MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT (by Hu Daughtry)
I first learned of Private Henry Thain – by accident. While furiously and recklessly spinning my way through a microfilm reel of “Confederate Pensioners Of Bulloch County, Georgia,” I mysteriously landed upon one of those ancient images which just happened to bear his name. In all honesty, I became so consumed and enthralled by what I saw, I neglected to continue my search for the other Old Gray Warriors on my list! There was just something special about this one; he really seemed to be a little different than the other “generic Johnny Rebs!”
To begin with, he had been born in Hudson New York on July 15, 1838. My first perplexing question to myself was how (exactly) could a “New York Yankee” become a recipient of a Confederate Pension? Furthermore, he had applied as a bonifide resident of “The Empire State Of The South.” I began to question my eyesight, as well as my mental faculties. Perhaps I needed a break; too much time in the library (even for a life-long library nerd) can definitely take its toll! However, it was all entirely true; my eye balls had not deceived me in any shape, form, or fashion.
There was more. This incredibly intriguing document from 1902 was definitely not “your routine and prototypical pension application.” As was usual and customary, Old Henry had enlisted a witness or two to vouch for his service in The Armies Of Jefferson Davis. He called upon one Julius Morgan of Johnston County, North Carolina. Both Julius and Henry had served in Company A of The First North Carolina Light Artillery. This unit was a vital part of Robert E. Lee’s famed Army Of Northern Virginia. Henry had been a resident of Smithfield, North Carolina when he was officially mustered into this artillery company. This particular battery had originally boasted six guns – captured from The U. S. arsenal at Fayetteville. Ironically, Henry and the other boys of Company A used these very guns “to fire off a salute” to vociferously announce North Carolina’s May 20, 1861 secession from the Union!
Although an amateur scribe, at best, Old Julius had definitely not forgotten about his boyhood pal and former comrade-in-gray. He strongly insinuated that Private Thain was a hero at The Battle Of Gettysburg. He scrawled that 24-year-old Henry had received a special furlough as a reward-of- sorts for gallantry exhibited at the only major conflict to take place in The Keystone State. Nearly forty years later, he still felt “a better soldier never lived!” I seized on this and became even more consumed with the life and times of Henry Ellis Thain! Eventually I would go so far as to actually nominate him for THE CONFEDERATE OF HONOR!
Unsurprisingly, Henry Thain came “from good stock.” His paternal grandmother had been a cousin of General Nathaniel Greene. Nathaniel Greene gets most of the credit for driving the Redcoats, Tories, and other supporters of King George III out of the Southern Colonies during our first war with Great Britain.
The surname “Thain” is Scottish in origin. John Alexander Thain, husband of Deborah Greene Thain, was a whaler. He began his abbreviated journey in life in either England or Scotland circa 1770. Alexander Thain arrived in North America at some point prior to 1791. His initial site of residence in The Western Hemisphere was either Nova Scotia or New England. As captain of his own whaling vessel, he prowled the seas of our continent, searching for the largest mammal on God’s Gargantuan Earth. It is incredibly ironic that he would meet Death deep in the dense forests of Nova Scotia. At the age of 35, while cutting wood, he would fall prey to falling timber. He was survived by a young widow and ten, minor children.
Jethro Thain, father of Henry, was also the captain of his own whaling ship. Young Jethro was probably less than two when his father was killed. However, “whaling was definitely in his blood.” According to several written accounts of Thain Genealogy, Jethro and his whaling crew would often be “out at sea” for three years or more at a time. The business of whaling was, without a doubt, a perilous way to earn a living. Conversely, it could also be quite lucrative and financially rewarding. During the middle portion of the nineteenth century, a barrel of whale oil sold for over seventy dollars. By present-day standards and mediums of exchange, this seventy dollar price-tag equates to approximately 1500 dollars! A man could, indeed, live “high on the hog” for years – should he and his crew be fortunate enough to successfully capture and harpoon one of these mammoth creatures!
At around the mid-point of the nineteenth century, Jethro sold his whaling vessel and settled near The Wilmington, North Carolina area. One of his older brothers, Samuel, was already a resident of this particular locale. Several years later, Jethro, twice a widower, married Amanda Stevens. In addition to being a widow, she was also the mistress of fourteen slaves. So, at the age of fifty or more, Canadian-born Jethro Thain became a small planter and the owner of bondservants. When Lincoln was elected president in November of 1860, Jethro and his four sons (Henry was the youngest) were living and working in Johnston County, North Carolina. They were involved in farming, coopering (the building of barrels), building (carpentry), and to a degree, in the naval stores industry.
Although none were natives of The Southland, all supported secession. In fact, it is interesting to note that Henry volunteered for service in The Armies Of The Confederacy a week or more before North Carolina actually seceded from The Union. By the time The Tar Heel State joined The Confederacy, Henry was a private in an outfit which would come to be known as Company A of The First North Carolina Light Artillery. He was destined to become one of the men who were fortunate enough to fight with Robert E. Lee in that once-indomitable Army Of Northern Virginia.
His compiled service records tell us that he was involved in every major campaign and was present at every known battle in which his battery was involved. Hence, for the most part, he was with Lee’s Army “from beginning to end.” Going one step further, the real truth of the matter was that Henry had been a Confederate Soldier for approximately fourteen months before The Army Of Northern Virginia even came into existence. Manly’s Battery, as Company A was often called, experienced their first engagement near Yorktown, Virginia in April of 1862. In June of 1862, following Seven Pines, they became part of The Army Of Northern Virginia. It is interesting to note that when General Joseph E. Johnston was wounded at Seven Pines, he was taken to the rear on a limber belonging to Manly’s Battery. Consequently, Johnston was replaced by Robert E. Lee and his Army Of Northern Virginia entered the annals of American History.
Some thirteen months later, following The Seven Days Battles Around Richmond, Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, Manly’s Battery began heading north into Maryland and Pennsylvania. By now, it was attached to Longstreet’s Corps, McLaw’s Division. When the long, gray lines began their second quest to win a victory on Northern soil, Private Henry E. Thain and the other Tar Heel farm boys from Johnston and surrounding counties were there. Morale was unusually high; they were on a mission to rain as much death and destruction as humanly possible down upon “the boys in blue.” But, by the time that three-day bloodbath up in faraway Pennsylvania had come and gone, there would be in excess of 51,000 men and boys who had joined the ranks of “the casualties of war.” Some were clad in Rebel Gray; others wore Union Blue. Many were permanent casualties of war. All were Americans. If not for the heroic, unselfish, and superhuman actions of Private Thain, there could very well have been scores more.
Manly’s Battery “set up” at about 2:00 PM on the second day of the hostilities at Gettysburg. Hence, the four guns of Captain Basil Manly’s Company A commenced firing on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. Several written accounts indicate they were the very first to fire upon “The Peach Orchard.” Before the most sanguinary encounter of our struggle against Northern Aggression had ended, this quartet of guns had fired some 1146 rounds at those much-detested forces of The North. I have since learned that The Battle Of Gettysburg was, by far, the greatest artillery duel ever held on North American soil. Before the Gettysburg Campaign was over, Manly’s Battery had fired more rounds than any other battery involved in that colossal conflict (North or South).
History tells us that the early-July temperatures may very well have pushed the mercury past the triple-digit mark. Therefore, this was not only a battle of man against man; it also pitted man against nature. It seems that no matter how much we study and read about our Confederate ancestors, there is just no way to know “how tough things really were!” That much, I am sure of.
Private Henry Thain would perform his magnanimous and immortal act of valor on the third and final day of Gettysburg. It actually appears twice in THE OFFICIAL RECORDS and several more times in other historical tomes relative to “That Late War Between The States.” As alluded to earlier, on the third day of July, 1863, Henry was acting as “the number six man” for one of the guns of his battery. His job was to prepare fuses at one of the limbers. While adjusting a fuse-igniter, it accidentally exploded. Needless to say, this ignited the fuse already in a shell (actually a hollow cannon ball). Thain seized the shell, tucked it beneath his arm, and ran away from the limber and the others in his artillery crew. While racing away from his fellow artillerists, Henry managed to utilize his fingers to remove the rapidly-burning fuse from the shell. Of course, this rendered this “bomb-of-sorts” inert. For this, he would receive a special furlough (length unknown, but believed to have been thirty days) away from the badly-damaged Army Of Northern Virginia.
Nearly two years later, Private Henry Thain was still there. After The Wilderness, Cold Harbor, and the lengthy 10 month siege at Petersburg, the end was drawing near. On the morning of April 9, 1865, the old, grizzled soldiers of Manly’s Battery received orders to bury their four guns, cut the harnesses to pieces, and tear down and burn the gun carriages. Many cried like babies or school girls. One old warrior equated it to “a death in the family.” It was, without a doubt, a Sunday which they would remember …… always.
By midnight, when the carriages had finally “burned away to nothing,” they knew Lee had already surrendered. They responded to the surrender by mounting their remaining horses and riding in the direction of Lincolnton, North Carolina. The men of Manly’s Battery never surrendered; neither were they paroled. I am proud to say “Old Henry was one of them.”
Shortly after the war ended, Henry married one Delia Susan Beasley. She was also a resident of the Smithfield, North Carolina area. In time, they would procreate nine children. Eight would live to the stage of adulthood. One of their younger sons was my wife’s grandfather. It seems I have been withholding information; Henry Ellis Thain was one of my wife’s great-grandfathers. I met her while researching Old Henry and subsequently publishing a collection of narratives which included him.
Around 1872, Henry and his family would move down into The Palmetto State – near Olar, South Carolina. In 1893, Henry, Delia, and some of their offspring would relocate even further south into Bulloch County, Georgia. As a cooper and a builder, Henry tended to follow “the naval stores industry.”
In 1902, the annum he first became a Confederate Pensioner, he attended a Confederate Veterans’ Reunion in Statesboro, Georgia. After all these years, he was still proud to be an Old Rebel!
At some point after 1914, they moved to the diminutive township of Metter, Georgia. By this time, Metter had become the county seat of the new county of Candler. Delia would die here in April of 1916. Eleven months later, The Grim Reaper would also come and whisk Old Henry away. He and Delia were both visited by The Angel Of Death in the very same “dwelling house.” That fine old wooden abode where they met Death is now owned by Dixie Guards’ Historian Ted Lewis. Both are buried at Old Salem (Baptist) Church in rural Candler County.
By becoming the most recent Confederate Medal Of Honor recipient, Private Henry Ellis Thain joins an elite group of less than sixty in number. His name can now be associated with the likes of such Southern Icons and Confederate Legends as Patrick Cleburne, Sam Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Dewitt Jobe, the crew of The CSS H L Hunley, and other stalwart defenders of “The Lost Cause” who went above and beyond the call of duty and whose actions and deeds greatly superseded what was expected of them!
His ceremony is scheduled to be held at Salem Church, here in rural Candler County, on Saturday, July 12, 2008. It will begin at 4:00 PM. Immediately following the service, a reception will be held at the home of Ted Lewis, located in Metter. As mentioned previously, Henry Thain died in this very edifice over nine decades ago. Private Thain’s Confederate Medal Of Honor will be proudly and permanently displayed in The Genealogy Room of The L. C. Anderson Memorial Library in Metter. The public is encouraged to come and share in this event of gargantuan proportions which has been “concealed in the fog of American History for several generations!” Additionally, more re-enactors and artillery pieces are definitely needed! For more Information on this upcoming event, contact Hu Daughtry at email@example.com or at 912 687-6153. To learn more about the life and times of Private Henry Ellis Thain, check out CONFEDERATE TALES OF CANDLER AND CONNECTED COUNTIES by Hu Daughtry.
Perhaps, one day, all can learn the real truths of The Ante-Bellum South.
Researched and Written by:
1st Lt. Commander
SCV Camp # 1942