NAME: George Fennell Newton
HIGHEST RANK: Private
UNIT: 61st Georgia Infantry, Company C “Wiregrass Rifles”
SERVICE RECORD: Joined in September 1861, Company G, 26th Georgia Infantry, which was redesignated Company C (the “Wiregrass Rifles”), 61st Georgia Infantry. Garrison duty along the Georgia coast, Jackson’s 1862 Valley campaign, Seven Days’ battles, Cedar Run, Second Manassas, Antietam (wounded), Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. Wounded and captured at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, paroled, discharged due to wound in December 1863.
George Fennell Newton was born September 21, 1841, at his family farm in Brooks County, Georgia, near the Florida line. He was the eighth child overall, the third of five sons. His father was a blacksmith and farmer who owned between five and 10 slaves. Newton’s father was killed by a lightning bolt in 1857. Probate records reveal that he left behind a prosperous 2,000-acre farm, a burgeoning blacksmith shop, a widow, six slaves and several children still living at home, ranging in age from 4 to 29.
As war commenced, Newton enlisted in Company G, 26th Georgia Infantry, on September 7, 1861. The entire company took the oath from Colonel C.A.L. Lamar in Quitman, Ga. The enlistment was for three years or the duration of the war. This unit was redesignated as Company C, 61st Georgia Infantry, and assigned to garrison duty along the Georgia coast. Newton was variously assigned to Brunswick, Jekyll Island and Bethesda before April 1862. In May, his older brother, Isaac Thomas Newton, enlisted in the same company, known as the “Wiregrass Rifles.”
By June 1862, Lawton’s Georgia Brigade, to which Newton’s regiment belonged, joined Stonewall Jackson’s command in the Shenandoah Valley. From there they marched to the Seven Days’ battles around Richmond, where three of the Wiregrass Rifles were wounded. Isaac Thomas Newton was left behind at the Lynchburg Girls Seminary Hospital due to illness. He died on June 19, 1862, and is buried there. The Wiregrass Rifles went on to fight at Cedar Run and Second Manassas, where one member of the company was killed and eight wounded. At Sharpsburg, the Wiregrass Rifles were part of the fighting in the Cornfield; four men were killed and 14 were wounded, including Newton, who received a flesh wound to the right buttock. The Wiregrass Rifles were in line with Colonel Edmund Atkinson’s counterattack at Fredericksburg, driving back Maj. Gen. George G. Meade’s division. At Chancellorsville, the Wiregrass Rifles helped to pin the main body of the Union forces before Fredericksburg while other Confederate units maneuvered around General Joseph Hooker’s flank. Four men from the company were wounded as it fought to expel the Federals from Marye’s Heights and push them across the Rappahannock on May 5, 1863.
In early June Newton marched with his company to Winchester, Va., then Williamsport, Md., crossing the Potomac at Shepherdstown, in the newly created state of West Virginia, on June 20. They marched to Cashtown, Pa., then through Gettysburg to Wrightsville, where retreating Union forces burned the Susquehanna River railroad bridge. Ultimately, the town was threatened by the fire. Newton’s brigade fought the fire in the town, and is mentioned on a monument erected there by Wrightsville civilians in thanks to these Rebel soldiers.
At Gettysburg, the 61st Georgia was part of Gordon’s Brigade. On the first day’s battle during the Confederate push from Rock Creek toward the county almshouse, Newton received a gunshot wound to the left forearm. He surrendered to Union soldiers in order to obtain treatment for his wound and endured a total of three amputations, as gangrene twice appeared. Ultimately his left arm extended only about two inches above the elbow. Newton signed a parole and returned to his home in Georgia. By Christmas 1863, he had been discharged from the Confederate Army on account of his wounds.
Newton died of pneumonia in 1922, after serving as tax receiver, sheriff and state legislator for several terms. He fathered 10 children and left behind a 9,900-acre farm. He was an active man to the end. At the time of his death he owned a new Dort automobile.
Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.