In a box of family photographs, I have what is perhaps the only daguerreotype image of my cousin Edward Bagby, who died in 1864 in the Battle of the Crater. The Crater was well known to history, because while the South won, the North caused a massive explosion by digging a tunnel under the Confederate trenches. The dramatic explosion was re-created in the movie Cold Mountain; a clip is below.
Sadly, the Crater Battlefield was the scene of recent looting, an appalling desecration as both Union and Confederate are there and the fighting was the first large appearance of Union troops who were blacks and former slaves.
I was given the photo by my grandfather, whose uncle Edward Bagby Pollard was named in honor of the soldier. Edward Bagby Pollard, a Baptist religion professor at Crozier Seminary of Philadelphia, was apparently born the same year his namesake died. Other than the knowledge that Bagby died during the Battle of the Crater, I didn’t know anything else about the soldier. The infantryman was mostly forgotten to history. I don’t even know if he was blown up, or just died in the bloody mess that was the battle.
Crozier Seminary was an interesting place that educated another Southern Baptist, the late Martin Luther King Jr.
Soldier Edward Bagby would have been the uncle to Virginia Gov. John Garland Pollard, who was born in the same house in King and Queen County. I have a portrait and daguerreotype of his sister, Virginia Bagby, and am grateful to be able to keep their memories alive.
In Virginia in my family, and in spite of the proximity of the Civil War, we never talked much about Confederates or the Civil War. Among so many Virginians, too much obsession over Confederate things was not done. I always found this history gap odd when I was growing up, as there was always an intense interest in Revolutionary history. This was especially odd because a family member, newspaper editor E.A. Pollard, created the myth of The Lost Cause in his Confederate history of the same name.
Going back, there is much history to find. Bagby is listed on National Park Service registers, and in many histories. Some of his letters are apparently in the Virginia Historical Society.
General Bushrod Johnson’s history of the War of the Rebellion mentions him:
It is proper here to state that Captain Preston was wounded and Edward Bagby, aide-de-camp to Colonel Goode, commanding brigade was killed while serving this gun, and that Capt. A.F. Bagby, with Company K, Thirty-fourth Virginia Regiment, then took charge of it and served it with fine effect until near the close of the action.
There is apparently a marker to Bagby at Bruington Baptist Church in King and Queen County. The Free-Lance Star carried this notice from The Religious Herald about a day held in his honor on August 8, 1912. It reads thus:
At old Bruington church, in King and Queen County, there is soon to be held an all-day meeting of unique interest. It will be a missionary and memorial day.
Just forty eight years ago, a young man of unusual ability and character, having just passed his twenty second year, was killed at the battle of the Crater, Petersburg, July 30, 1964. Gen. Bushrod Johnson, in his report of the fierce fighting which followed the explosion of the crater, specially mentions bravery of this young soldier at a critical juncture in the battle. His name was Edward Bagby, son of John Bagby, late of King and Queen, and youngest brother of Revs. Richard Hugh, George F. and Alfred Bagby and of Mrs. John Pollard.
The nephews and friends of the noble young Confederate soldier have erected a handsome monument in his memory, to be unveiled at Bruington on August 8th. In the forenooon Prof. Edward Bagby Pollard, of Crozer Seminary, will preach; in afternoon Hon. Henry R. Pollard, a comrade and friend of Edward Bagby, will deliver a memorial address.
Among those who are to take part are also Dr. Alfred Bagby, Rev. E.B. Bagby, Charles T. and Alfred Bagby Jr. of Baltimore, Capt. Wm. Haynes, Wm. F. Bagby of King and Queen, and others.
The article appears just above a hilarious story of baseball player Eppa Rixey, a star from UVA. Apparently the Phillies had to hire a bodyguard as the Rixey family “object to Rixey playing professional ball” and had sent a man to kidnap him and take him back to Virginia. What a hilarious story, and perhaps evidence that even so long ago, professional sports were very good at hype and P.R.
In a modern twist for Memorial Day, I immortalized Bagby on Instagram.
Below, a view of the explosion from Cold Mountain, the movie