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Captain Lewis Guy Phillips

By Barrie Almond

(The original text of this article appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) No. 84, August 2007)

American Civil War Round Table UK / UK Heritage / Lewis Guy Phillips

Since I began my research on Captain Lewis Guy Phillips in 1982 it would be remiss of me if I failed to mention help I have received from the National Army Museum in London, the Grenadier Guards Regimental Archivist the Public Records Office in Kew and colleagues in the Civil War Round Table UK. In 1999 when the American Civil War Round Table UK published my article " Vanished Necktie " it told the story of a narrow red and blue striped regimental necktie owned by Captain Lewis Guy Phillips that he and Major John Pelham exchanged as a good luck talisman at the battle of Fredericksburg on December 13th 1862. I was aware at that time that Captain Phillips was serving with the British garrison in Canada but having since discovered the journal of William Wilton Glenn a Confederate sympathiser from Maryland and active in underground trafficking I am now able to relate his experiences during his journey to Fredericksburg and his return journey to Canada.

Arguably the story of Captain Phillips service in Canada began on November 8th 1861 following the interception of the British mail steamer Trent by the Federal warship San Jacinto sailing in international waters off the coast of Havana. On the orders of Captain Charles Wilkes his crew boarded Trent and forcibly detained two appointed Confederate Commissioners on the journey to Britain and France Senators James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana. Having support from the British Parliament, Prime Minister Lord Palmerston declared the seizure a violation of international law and there followed a major diplomatic crisis with the Federal Government in Washington. Despite the intervention of Britain's Ambassador in Washington Lord Lyons the Federal Government delayed the release of the Confederate Commissioners until 1 January 1862 but meanwhile Lord Palmerston had authorised a large contingent of troops to be dispatched to reinforce the British garrison in Canada. The reinforcements sailing from Southampton on 1 December 1861 included the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards and a young officer by the name of Captain Lewis Guy Phillips.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly how many British soldiers serving in Canada supported the Confederacy but according to Wolseley (2002) there was no shortage of enthusiasm among the officers in Canada wanting to observe the Civil War. Having their leave of absence approved Captain Lewis Guy Phillips and Captain Edward Wynne of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards left Montreal on 27th October 1862. Travelling by train through New York and Washington they arrived in Baltimore and made contact with the journalist William Wilton Glenn whose reputation as a Confederate sympathiser had lead to his arrest earlier that year for his pro-southern editorials. Glenn was also active in underground trafficking and agreed to help smuggle Phillips and Wynne through the lines into Virginia. According to Glenn (1976) the smuggling routes varied constantly between the upper and lower Potomac River and the Eastern shore and advised Phillips and Wynne to use caution during their journey to avoid interception from Federal patrols. Having provided references and letters of introduction to government officials in Richmond Phillips and Wynne left Baltimore on 17 October boarding the eastern shore boat across to the Queenstown depot on Kent Island. Transferring to a small sailing boat and helped by the cover darkness they landed on the shoreline of St Mary's County. After taking a short walk across the narrow neck of land they boarded a small rowing boat and crossed the Potomac River to the shoreline of Virginia. The warning from Glenn apparently had been well advised when Glenn learned from Phillips after his return to Baltimore that they had narrowly escaped detection from a Federal river patrol at the point where their rowing boat was approaching the Virginia shoreline. After a nine-day overland journey Phillips and Wynne arrived in Richmond on 26 November. Glenn's letters of introduction to government officials proved expedient gaining Wynne access to the battlefields around Richmond and Phillips with a pass to the headquarters of General Lee whose Army of Northern Virginia at that time were facing General Ambrose Burnside and the Federal Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg.

Heros von Borke (1938) gives a reliable account of Captain Phillips personality and character in his recollections during his time in the headquarters camp. A Prussian by birth von Borke served as General 'Jeb' Stuart's adjutant during the Civil War and recalls how Phillips soon became popular for his willingness to participate in social events and fondly recalls the exchange of his narrow red and blue-striped regimental necktie with Major John Pelham on a cold morning at Fredericksburg 13 December 1862. Hassler (1960) recalls in detail Captain Phillips and Major Pelham sitting around a warm campfire at the headquarters camp of Stuart’s Cavalry Division. The deep snow covered the ground and the raw wind whipped through the trees into a darkness disturbed only by the flickering of distant campfires. Both men had talked long into the night and as they stood to leave the camp fire Phillips handed Pelham his narrow red and blue striped necktie explaining they were his regimental colours and asking Pelham to wear the necktie as a good luck talisman during the battle. In reply Pelham said he would be honoured to wear the ribbon around his hat and that he would return it to Phillips after the battle as a souvenir. At daybreak on 13th December Pelham advanced his horse artillery towards to the Richmond Stage Road on General Jackson's front and at a distance of 500 yards opened up his two guns against three full enemy divisions and checked the advance of one hundred guns and sixteen thousand infantry for over one hour. All along the Confederate line admiring eyes watched this fierce exchange as Pelham rallied his men and the narrow blue and red striped ribbon around his hat flying in the cold breeze. Even when reduced to one gun Pelham declined Stuarts order to withdraw and continued to engage the approaching enemy infantry and artillery. Anxious for Pelham's safety General Stuart sent his final order "Stop firing and withdraw your gun you crazy gallant Pelham".

Darkness was approaching by the time Pelham had returned to the rear and greeting Phillips with a modest smile he returned him his battle stained regimental necktie. There is little doubt that the courage of John Pelham was demonstrated many times during his short military life but there is perhaps no more deserving description of Pelham the man than the sobriquet " the gallant Pelham”. His modesty and humility were never better displayed than on his return to the rear and greeting Phillips with a smile he returned the battle-stained necktie.

By 17 December the battle of Fredericksburg had ended in victory for the Confederates and Phillips and Wynne began their return journey to Canada. They arrived at Leesburg on 27 December, ten days after leaving Fredericksburg and for reasons known only to them they decided to separate. Starting out alone Phillips arrived at the Point of Rocks and crossed the Potomac River in a small rowing boat six hours in front of Wynne. On his arrival back in Baltimore Phillips told Glenn he had deliberately approached the Federal guards at the railway station and it became clear to Glenn he had ignored all his warnings to use caution when travelling through the lines. According to Glenn this was not done without a high degree of risk considering that Phillips had foolishly undertaken to carry highly sensitive documents through the lines including a letter from the Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin addressed to William Gladstone hidden in his boots. As Chancellor of the Exchequer in Palmerston's government there seemed little doubt in Glenn's mind that this letter would have been seriously incriminating for Phillips had he been searched and the letter found. While Glenn was making arrangements for his return passage to Canada Phillips learned his colleague Captain Wynne had been less fortunate on his return journey. He had left Leesburg six hours behind Phillips but when he arrived too late to catch the Baltimore train he went into the tavern across the street to wait for the next train.

Unfortunately for Wynne his appearance aroused suspicion with the Federal guards and they detained him for questioning. Searching his baggage they found a number of sensitive documents including a map drawn by the Confederate topographical engineer Major Jed Hotchkiss and letters from General Longstreet and General Stuart and documents containing his name and that of Captain Phillips. Wynne was arrested and eventually confined in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington on spying charges. Phillips’ departure from Baltimore was indeed timely considering that Federal patrols were now searching for Phillips. By this time however Phillips had already left Baltimore returning to Montreal by way of Washington and New York. Meanwhile Glenn had undertaken to mail his letters and forward his personal trunk to Montreal.

In all probability the legality of Wynne's detainment cannot be questioned having sensitive documents in his possession but his arrest did not deter the British Ambassador in Washington Lord Lyons negotiating with General Henry Halleck for his release claiming that British subjects were protected by the law of neutrality. Regardless of Lord Lyons intervention having spent three days in confinement Wynne decided to escape and with the help of a small breakfast knife he cut his way through a door panel into an adjoining room. After three unsuccessful attempts Wynne finally made his way though the adjoining rooms of the building and climbed onto the roof. Waiting until the guard had moved out of sight he stepped carefully onto the boundary fence and dropped to the ground. Helped by the cover of darkness he walked to the railway station and caught the train to Baltimore arriving at Glenn's house cold and shivering. Wynne eventually returned to Montreal by a circular route travelling by train through Pennsylvania and Ohio and across the border into Canada. On his arrival in Canada the news of Wynne's escape from confinement in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington may have caused some minor embarrassment for the Federal Government when the story was published in the Montreal Commercial Advertiser on 11 February 1863. Both Phillips and Wynne continued their service with the British garrison in Canada until 19 December 1864 and as the Civil War was nearing its closure the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards returned to England. In all probability had it not been for the Trent Affair it is reasonable to assume that Captain Phillips may never have served garrison duty in Canada and in this event he would never have come to know Major John Pelham and his military experiences would otherwise have never been enriched as they were by their meeting at Fredericksburg.

Personal details show that Lewis Guy Phillips was born in London on 9 June 1831 and educated at Eton Public School and Christchurch College Oxford. He became fluent in several languages including ancient and Modern Greek, German, Italian and French. After graduation from Christchurch College he joined the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards on 15 June and was commissioned by purchase Ensign/ Lieutenant. On 24 June 1859 he was promoted to the rank of Captain/ Lieutenant and on 7 August 1867 he received a further promotion to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

On 13 January 1885 while serving garrison duty he received promotion to Colonel and retired on the 18 July that same year aged fifty-four with the honorary rank of brevet Major General.

In the 1880 the Vanity Fair magazine featured a caricature of Lewis Guy Phillips appearing in dress uniform wearing a monocle. He is shown as a tall portly figure standing six foot three inches tall with long side-whiskers in a pose not untypical of a gentleman and intelligent scholar. His death in 1887 aged fifty-six was published in the obituary column of The London Times newspaper.

Although I have found no evidence to indicate the existence of his regimental necktie exchanged with Major John Pelham during the battle of Fredericksburg I prefer to keep faith with the romantic notion that one day its fate will be discovered.


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