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An Essex Man in Lincoln's Army

by Peter Lockwood.

(The original text of this article appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) Nos. 57 & 58 as 'Sale of Civil War Artefacts' and 'John Carwardine, c 1827 -1889')

A recent auction in this country (June 1998)(1) included items from the American Civil War, the property of John Carwardine, one time British soldier who later crossed the Atlantic to fight for Lincoln and the North.

American Civil War Round Table UK / UK Heritage / Essex Man

The auction catalogue gives an account of his career and lists the interesting artefacts going under the hammer: star items included his .36 Colt percussion revolver, customised with an ivory handle and engraved with his initials; his cavalry sabre; gilt epaulettes; and an album of Civil War photographs. c.1860, the last page with a photograph of Major John Carwardine at the centre of a group of officers.

The auction catalogue, prepared with the assistance of Mitchell Yockelson of the US National Archive in Washington DC and our own Peter Lockwood, states that 'The Carwardine family lived at Colne Priory, Earls Colne for around two hundred years. The red brick Tudor building still stands'.

Like many 18th century county families the sons either went into the church or the army. His father, The Reverend John Carwardine, was rector at Earls Colne, Essex and his uncle, Henry Holgate Carwardine was not only Lord of the Manor - one of two Lordships in the district - he was also a man of social and artistic gifts. He wrote poetry, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and George Romney (1734-1802) were friends and at one stage Romney portraits of the Carwardines hung at the Priory. (2)

John Carwardine joined the army as a young man and when he was 34 enrolled in New York to fight in the American Civil War. Many British soldiers were involved in the conflict, either from a sense of adventure after the Crimea or because they sympathised with the antislavery cause of the Union side. Some fought for the Confederacy.

Carwardine's date of birth is given as 1827 in documents lodged with the US National Archive in Washington, suggesting that he may have knocked two years off his age in order to fight for the Union. He signed up for three years and mustered as a Captain in F Company 6th New York Cavalry on October 24th, 1861. The 6th New York were part of XII Corps (Potomac) commanded by Major General George B 'Little Mac' McClellan. Carwardine was promoted to Major probably before or during the action at Loudoun Heights, Virginia, October 21/22nd 1862. He was mentioned in despatches for this action.

Brigadier General John W Geary, headquarters, second division, XII Army Corps wrote of the skirmish; 'The detachment of cavalry remaining with me (about 200) led by Lt. Colonel McVicar, impetuously charged upon the enemy, who resisted them but a short time then beat a hasty retreat, closely pursued by our cavalry for several miles in a running fight'(3)

His report went on, 'Our cavalry exhibited much bravery in their charge and throughout conducted themselves admirably. Colonel Devlin, their Commander, Lt. Colonel McVicar and Major Carwardine are deserving of much approbation for their display of gallantry and ability. In the charge Lt. Colonel McVicar, who led it, had his horse shot under him and received a bullet through his coat'

Five months after this action Carwardine resigned. In a letter (4) to McVicar written at the headquarters of his unit in New York, Carwardine writes: 'It being expedient that I should visit my home in England on business of some importance, I hereby tender my resignation and respectfully request an honourable discharge from the service of the United States, very respectfully, yr obt servant John Carwardine, March 17, 1863. Major 6th New York Cavalry'. He returned to England, and in 1864 married Henrietta, the daughter of a Cumberland JP.

Carwardine inherited the family estate and became Lord of the Manor. The couple had two sons and a daughter and in 1870 Carwardine became a JP. He died of throat cancer in 1889, aged 62. An obituary (5) recalls how, knowing his days were numbered, he visited workers on his estate and gave them a sovereign each and told them he would not see them again. He was buried next to his father in Earls Colne churchyard.

© ACWRT(UK) 1998 & 2001


(1)'Daily Mail' 3rd June 1998 -The article included photos of John Carwardine in uniform, a picture posing with comrades, and some of the items to be auctioned.

(2) Vide 'Mrs Carwardine and her Son', (1775) Lord Hillingdon Collection (Source: Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia 2000)

(3)'The War of the Rebellion, a Compilation of the Official Records' (Washington 1887, series 1 - volume XIX - in two parts pages 98 & 99 and New York in the War of the Rebellion 1861 to 1866 by Frederick Phisterer, 1912 pages 849 & 855.)

(4) Held at the National Archives, Washington DC

(5)'The Essex Standard', Saturday September 14th, 1889 page 5. 'The Halstead Gazette', Thursday, September 19th, 1889.

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