Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Friends In War & Peace

The two friends posing for this picture, taken on May 31, 1862 are Lt. James B. Washington, of the Confederate Army and (then) Capt. George A. Custer of the United States 5th Cavalry. The two had been friends and classmates at West Point, both Class of 1861. They were serving on opposite sides of the conflict as part of the Peninsular Campaign near Fair Oaks, Viriginia. Lt. Washington, an aide to a Confederate general, was sent as a courier and inadvertently stumbled upon Federal troops who captured him and took him prisoner. When taken to camp, he asked for Custer, who was given permission by General McClellan to treat Lt. Washington as his guest until a prisoner exchange could be negotiated. A camp photographer, James F. Gibson, captured the photo of the two friends sitting together on an upended crate.

Later in the War, after Custer had been promoted to General and was with Sherman in the Shenandoah Valley, he passed by the Washington estate, where the lieutenant's mother still lived. She had taken a vow never to speak to a Yankee, but made an exception when Custer rode through, given he had treated her son with such dignity. She gave a gift to Custer - silver buttons from a coat made for and worn by George Washington. Custer later had one of the buttons made into a piece of jewelry for his bride.

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