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West Virginia soldier was friend of General George Custer

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James Barroll Washington, who lived at Beall Air in Charlestown, VA (now Charles Town, WV) was a friend and classmate at West Point with General George Armstrong Custer, of Civil War fame and beyond.

Ironically, Washington, the son of Lewis Washington, great grand-nephew of George Washington, was captured by the Union Army at Seven Pines, Virginia on May 31, 1862.

When then Capt. Custer arrived at the prison camp and saw his friend, they spent some time together. It was photographer James Gibson who saw the opportunity to take the enclosed photograph which he thought was symbolic of the entire war. Gibson titled it “both sides and the cause” adding the Negro child to tie the two friends together. The photograph, which appeared as a woodcut in the Harpers Weekly newspaper, became an iconic photograph of the war.

Gibson was a lesser known name of the photographers employed by Mathew Brady. It was Brady’s studio. Brady got the name recognition. But often it was field photographers such as Gibson who actually took the photograph.

In the spring of 1864, when the Union army under General Phil Sheridan invaded Hanover County, Virginia, Washington’s step mother, Ella Bassett Washington, appealed to Custer for help. Her family’s plantation at Clover Lea had been under siege, with Union soldiers stealing chickens and turkeys and striking fear into those who lived there, Miss Ella wrote twice to Custer for assistance, as she realized the General knew her stepson.

General Custer told Miss Ella that he had sent help, but men assigned to offer assistance got lost and never arrived. The general apologized for their ineptness.

Custer, most famous for his Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Bighorn in 1876, is also known for his long flowing red hair and for having graduated last in his graduating class of 1861.

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