History of the 21st Georgia
The 21st Georgia was mustered into Confederate service between June and August of 1861. The companies that made up the 21st came from the counties surrounding Atlanta westward towards the Alabama border. Upon its entrance into the Confederate service, the regiment was transferred to Richmond for further training.
It was not long after its arrival in Richmond that the regiment was transferred to the command of Stonewall Jackson as part of his Army of the Valley. As part of this organization, it took part in the historic “Valley Campaign” as a part of Trimble’s Brigade. It was during this campaign that the unit took part in the Battles of Winchester and Cross Keys.
In June of 1862, Jackson’s army was called back to Richmond by the new commander, General Robert E. Lee. The series of battles that followed came to be known as the Seven Days Battle. The 21st performed gallantly at Gaines Mills (1st Cold Harbor) and Malvern Hill. Having pushed McClellan’s Army of the Potomac from the gates of Richmond, Lee now swung his army or Northern Virginia northward.
Approaching the railroad junction of Manassas, the 21st and the 21st North Carolina of Trimble’s brigade were the lead regiments in the attack which captured the Union supply depot. The unit also played a critical role in holding the railroad cut against repeated Union assaults. At one point, out of ammunition, the men of the 21st beat back Union attacks with rocks. Though holding the line and capturing Union guns, the 21st suffered a 76% aggregate casualty rate in the Battle of 2nd Manassas. its determination led Jackson to mention them in his battle report stating that "it was the most heroic action of the war.” It also led to Trimble’s promotion.
Having pushed aside the Union forces in Northern Virginia, the army continued into Maryland. At Antietam, the 21st fought at the Dunker Church, the East Woods, Mumma farm and on the edge of the cornfield. In his book, Landscape Turned Red, Stephen Sears called the 21st “those adventuresome Georgians.”
In December of 1862, it was the 21st which again came forward to help save the day by plugging the hole in Jackson’s line during the Battle of Fredericksburg. After Fredericksburg, the army was reorganized and the 21st became part of Dole’s Brigade. In July of 1863, the 21st was engaged on the first day of Gettysburg becoming one of the few Confederate units to actually get into the town itself.
In early 1864, the 21st Georgia and the 21st North Carolina were detached from the main army for duty on the coast of North Carolina. While there, they took part in the Battles of New Bern and Plymouth. At Plymouth, they captured a Union fort along with 3000 Union Prisoners.
As Union pressure mounted, they were recalled to the Richmond area to take part in the Second Battle of Drewrey’s Bluff. Soon afterward, Grant began his movements that would take him into the wilderness and Spotsylvania. Knowing the reputation of the 21st Georgia and the 21st North Carolina, Lee specifically asked “that my two twenty-firsts be sent to me.” Company E of the 21st arrived at Spotsylvania in time to take part in the defense of the “horseshoe.” As the army maneuvered, the 21st took part in the Battle of 2nd Cold Harbor where Dole was killed and Cook took over command of the brigade.
The army soon found itself in the lines at Petersburg. However, in July of 1864 the 21st was once again on the move. It was sent with Jubal Early on his raid into Maryland. During this raid, the 21st took part in the Battles of Monocacy and Fort Stevens. Thus it became one of the few Confederate units to get within sight of the U.S. Capital Building and actually fire some rounds at Lincoln who was observing the Battle at Fort Stevens. Back in Petersburg, the 21st took part in the last great offensive of the Army of Northern Virginia during the attack on Fort Steadman. In fact, the 21st penetrated the Union lines to such an extent that it was forced to pull back because it had outdistanced the rest of the Confederate forces. As the army retreated, the unit fought its way towards Appomattox Court House hoping to meet up with the supply trains and link up with General Johnston’ forces in North Carolina. That was not to be. At Appomattox, the 21st paroled just 53 men, all that was left of the regiment that had fought so gallantly.
It has been claimed that the 21st Georgia was in more engagements than any other regiment. Of all the regiments in the Civil War, North and South, the 21st Georgia was third in the number of most men killed in battle. The regiment that lost the greatest number was the 8th New York, and they were killed by the 21st Georgia (History of the Doles-Cook Brigade).
The story of the 21st was not over. Surprisingly, it was the women of the 21st who took up the banner. Elizabeth Camp Glover, wife of Lt. Col. Thomas Glover, Co. A, felt that recognition should be extended to the men who fought. Consequently, she organized the first reunion of Confederate veterans ever held. This soon became a tradition that lasted into the 1930’s with the last reunion being held in Richmond, Virginia.
Updated February, 2014