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Brigadier General Elisha Franklin Paxton, P.A.C.S.


Brigadier-General Elisha Franklin Paxton, who fell at Chancellorsville while leading the Stonewall brigade was a native of Rockbridge County, Va., of Scotch-Irish and English descent. His grandfather, William Paxton commanded a company from Rockbridge at the siege of Yorktown in 1781. His father, Elisha Paxton, served in the war of 1812. General Paxton was educated and graduated at Washington College, Va., and at Yale College, and in 1849, at the head of his class in the university of Virginia, was graduated in law. This profession he practiced with much success at Lexington until 1860, when failing eyesight compelled him to seek other occupation. He was engaged in farming near Lexington when the political campaign of 1860 was in progress, and his ardent temperament and strong convictions did not permit him to remain an indifferent spectator of the important events of that year. After the election he advocated the immediate secession of Virginia, and when that action was finally decided upon he sustained his words by deeds of self-sacrifice. He was first lieutenant of the Rockbridge rifles, the first of ten companies to go from that county, and left his home April 18, 1861, for Harper's Ferry. His company was attached to the First Virginia brigade under Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, and at the first battle of Manassas, it formed a part of the Fourth Virginia regiment. In that memorable fight Lieutenant Paxton attracted attention by the conspicuous gallantry which ever afterward distinguished him as a soldier. Subsequently his company was assigned to the Twenty- seventh infantry, of which he was promoted major in October, 1861. In the following spring he became a member of General Jackson's staff, and later was appointed adjutant general and chief of staff, Jackson's corps, army of Northern Virginia. On September 27, 1862, Jackson having well tested his courage and ability, manifested great confidence in him by recommending the volunteer soldier for promotion to brigadier-general and assigned to command of the Stonewall brigade. The appointment was made by President Davis, and General Paxton took charge of the brigade November 15, 1862. His letters show that owning to a deep sense of the responsibilities of the rank and a modest estimate of his own qualifications, he accepted the command with much reluctance; but his subsequent record vindicated Jackson's judgment. He commanded the brigade in but two great battles, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. At the former engagement he handled his troops with skill and promptness, and during part of the 13th occupied the front line of the division of General [William Boothe] Taliaferro, by whom he was particularly mentioned in official report. On May 2, 1863, during Jackson's flank movement he was stationed to guard an important point, the Germanna Junction, from which he was called to the main line the following night, after Jackson had fallen and the command had devolved upon Stuart. Early in the next morning of Sunday, May 3d, the attack was renewed with irresistible vigor, and Paxton led his men through the dense woods against the Federal position. Dismounting, he marched on foot in the front line of his brigade until they came with the enemy's fire, when he was instantly killed by a shot through the breast. Dr. R. L. Dabney relates that when the news of General Paxton's death was conveyed to General Jackson, then on his deathbed, the great commander showed much emotion, "and spoke in serious and tender strain of the genius and virtues of that officer." His loss was mentioned with appreciative reference to his ability and courage in the official report of General Lee. At the time of his death he was thirty-five years of age. His remains now lie within a few feet of his chief in Lexington cemetery.

Source: Evans, Clement, Confederate Military History, Volume III, Confederate Publishing Company, Atlanta, GA, 1899.

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