Glimpses of Soldiers' Lives: Captain George Riggs Gaither
Prints and Photographs
The first blood of the American Civil War was shed in the Baltimore riot of April 19, 1861, when a secessionist mob attacked soldiers and civilians. George Riggs Gaither tried to restore peace, leading the Howard County Dragoons he captained—a team of landowners from his home county—to assist in restoring order. The Dragoons was a militia from his home county, whose prior experience had mostly consisted of drills and parades for town residents.
But when pressed to swear allegiance to the United States, Gaither, along with most of the Dragoons, turned and headed south. He enlisted with the freshly formed Confederate Army, specifically the 1st Virginia Cavalry, on May 14th, not even a month after the riots subsided. He was soon promoted to Captain in the regiment on July 1st.
On August 27th, at the 2nd Battle of Manassas, Gaither was one of the 89 Confederates taken prisoner (compared with some 4,000 captured or missing Union soldiers). He was exchanged about a month later.
He fought with the regiment during the next year, throughout Maryland and Virginia and at Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg, until ill health forced him to resign on October 1st, 1863. He was hospitalized a month later, on November 15th. Come December, after an apparently quick recovery, he was sent to Europe on an unnamed mission for the Confederacy.
After his return, and the end of the war, Gaither became a cotton trader. He was active in Maryland’s militia for the rest of his life—as Major, then Lieutenant Colonel, and finally the Colonel of the Veterans Corps from 1895 until his death in 1899.
Gaither's ancestors founded Gaithersburg, Maryland. His full-length portrait indicates a degree of wealth and social connections. The photo is a large-format half-plate ambrotype made by the noted photographer Charles R. Rees in Richmond, Virginia.
“George Riggs Gaither.” The American Civil War Research Database. http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=person&id=200365854 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
“1st Virginia Cavalry Regiment.” The American Civil War Research Database. http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/cwdb/cwdb.object.details.aspx?handle=regiment&id=200641 [subscription resource - access inside Library of Congress buildings]
"Oakland Manor Marker." Oakland Manor Marker. The Historical Marker Database. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=5287.
Compiled by: Ann Tyler Moses, Liljenquist Family Fellow, 2012. Last updated 2012 July.