NAME: John Hamilton Skelton
HIGHEST RANK: Major
UNIT: 16th Infantry Regiment, Georgia Volunteers, Company C, “Hartwell Infantry”
SERVICE RECORD: Formed and commanded Company C on July 13, 1861. Regimental commander as of November 1863. Fought at Yorktown, Lee’s Mill, Seven Days, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor and Petersburg.
John Hamilton Skelton was born in 1827 in what was then Elbert County, Georgia, but is now Hart County. His parents were Jabez and Julia Davis Skelton, and his grandparents were John and Rebecca Harbour Skelton, all of Hart County. He studied law in the office of a Judge Rice and his brother, James E. Skelton, in Marietta, Georgia. After finishing his studies in 1858, he practiced in Hartwell, Georgia, for three years.
He was secretary of the Hart County Convention that elected and sent delegates to the State Convention in Milledgeville in January 1861. It was at this convention that the Ordinance of Secession from the Union was signed. His brother James was one of the two signatories from Hart County.
On July 13, 1861, John formed Company C of the 16th Georgia Infantry and became its first captain and commander. Made up of men from Hartwell, the unit became known as the “Hartwell Infantry.” The regiment was sent to Virginia in the spring of 1862 during the Peninsula campaign and joined the Army of Northern Virginia during the Seven Days’ battles as part of Brig. Gen. Howell Cobb’s Brigade in Magruder’s Division. By the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, the 16th Georgia was part of McLaws’ Division in Lt. Gen. James Longstreet’s First Corps. John was captured at Fredericksburg and paroled for exchange 13 days later.
At Gettysburg McLaws’ Division was part of the bloody fighting in the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield on July 2, 1863. After Hood’s Division delivered the initial blow, McLaws’ Division moved forward en echelon around 5 p.m. The 16th Georgia was part of Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford’s Brigade and acted as a second attack wave behind the brigades of Brig. Gens. William Barksdale and Joseph Kershaw.
Promoted to major, John took command of the regiment in November 1863. His brother Wiley was promoted to captain. The 16th Georgia went west with Longstreet when Robert E. Lee sent him to assist in that theater. It took part in the sieges at Chattanooga and Knoxville, but was not engaged at Chickamauga.
By the beginning of the Overland campaign in May 1864, the 16th Georgia was back in Virginia. John was captured again near New Market in August 1864. He was sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C., then to Fort Delaware Prison outside Delaware City, Del. He was released in July 1865 by presidential order.
After returning home from the war, he married and had 10 children, seven boys and three girls. In 1867 he represented Hart County at the State Constitutional Convention, and served as a reading clerk in the state legislature for two terms. He was solicitor of Hart County Court from 1865 until several years later when the court was abolished, and also served as the mayor of Hartwell from 1868-70. In 1888-89 he was a state representative from Hart County.
John Skelton died in 1893 at the age of 66 after suffering from several illnesses for a number of years. The minister of the Hartwell First Baptist Church officiated at his funeral. The Superior Court was adjourned, and officers of the court attended. Pallbearers were selected from the lawyers in attendance, all of whom had been John’s personal and professional friends.
Originally published in the July 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.