13 November 2008 by Published in: Union Cavalry 26 comments

Time for another installment in my infrequent series of profiles of forgotten Civil War Cavalrymen. Today, we feature Col. James H. Childs, colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was killed in action at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

Col. James H. Childs James Harvey Childs was born on the 4th of July, 1834, at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father was Harvey Childs, a native of Massachusetts. His mother, Jane Bailey (Lowrie) Childs, was a sister of the Hon. Walter H. Lowrie, late Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. He was educated at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, where he graduated in the class of 1852. He stood six feet tall, was well-proportioned, and enjoyed good health. He was married on the 14th of July, 1857, to Mary H. Howe, eldest daughter of the Hon. Thomas M. Howe, of Pittsburgh.

After graduation, he settled in his home town of Pittsburgh, where he was a civil engineer and a wholesale dry good merchant and manufacturer of cotton goods. He became a prominent and well-respected businessman in the community.

Childs served as first lieutenant of a militia unit, the Pittsburgh City Guards, before the Civil War. When the call was made for troops in that struggle, he promptly tendered his services, and was commissioned first lieutenant of Company K, 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. After his short term of service expired, he became active in recruiting the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was commissioned the new regiment’s first lieutenant colonel on October 18, 1861. On March 12, 1862, before his regiment took the field, he was promoted to colonel when the regiment’s original colonel was transferred to the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

In McClellan’s 1862 Peninsula Campaign, he served with his regiment, the scouting and skirmishing being unusually severe on account of the lack of troops in this arm of the service. His regiment opened the battle at Mechanicsville, during the first of the Seven Days’ engagements, and at Gaines’ Mill and Glendale, was actively employed, proving, in both these desperate encounters what a good regiment he led, as well as the steadfast purpose of its commander.

On evacuating the Peninsula, the regiment moved to Washington, arriving in time to join the Maryland campaign. At Antietam it was attached to Averell’s brigade, and on account of the sickness of General Averell, command of the brigade devolved upon Colonel Childs. The brigade was assigned to the left of the Union line, and after crossing the stone bridge, was posted in support of Clark’s battery, which was heavily engaged. The duty was difficult, and the enemy’s fire proved very destructive. Colonel Childs was upon every part of the field, encouraging his men, and intelligently directing the movements. He had just completed an inspection of the skirmish line and had returned to his headquarters, where he was cheerfully conversing with his staff, when he was struck by a cannonball on the left hip which threw him from his horse, and passed completely through his body.

For a time his mind was clear, and recognizing at once that his wound was mortal, his first concern was for his command. He dispatched Captain Hughes, one of his staff officers, to Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasanton, commander of the cavalry division assigned to the Army of the Potomac, to apprise him of his fall, and another to his regiment’s second-in-command, Lieutenant Colonel Kerr, to request him to assume command of the brigade. He then sent a message to Dr. Marsh, that, “If he was not
attending to anyone whose life could be saved, to come to him, as he was in great pain.” Finally, he called to his side his Assistant Adjutant-General, Captain Henry King, a townsman, and personal friend, to whom he gave brief messages of affection to his wife and three little children. Of the oldest of the three, a boy bearing the name of his maternal grandfather, as if thinking in his dying moments only of his country for which he had perilled and lost his own life, he said: “Tell Howe to be a good boy, and a good man, and true to his country.” Twenty minutes later, he became delirious, and he died a few minutes later, joining the many other brave men who lost their lives on the bloody battlefield of Antietam. His remains were taken home to Pittsburgh, and were buried in Allegheny Cemetery.

After the war, when the Antietam battlefield was marked, Childs received a monument. Located on Maryland Route 34 near Antietam Creek, the simple stone monument says:

At this spot Colonel James H. Childs of the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry in temporary command of Averill’s Brigade fell mortally wounded on the morning of Sept. 17, 1862.

Here’s to forgotten cavalryman Col. James H. Childs, who lost his life at Antietam on the Civil War’s bloodiest day.

Scridb filter


  1. Dave Powell
    Sat 15th Nov 2008 at 4:07 pm

    I saw his marker with Tom Clemens last weekend, when we were exploring the middle bridge area.

    I wanted to look at the regular positions, and Tom – as expected – helped us immensely.

    Dave Powell

  2. Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 1:31 am

    Thanks for this nice piece, Eric. It has prompted me to look into the other fellas in the Gardner photo with Colonel Childs. Like there isn’t enough un-done research to do 🙂

  3. Arthur B. Fox
    Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 10:53 am

    This is really timely for Colonel James H. Childs and his staff are featured on the front cover of my recently (March 2008) published book, Our Honored Dead Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the American Civil War, a 500+ hardback of all the Allegheny County units that fought in the war. Arthur Fox

  4. Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 1:51 pm


    Nice piece. I have a story that is somewhat similar, but about 1st Lt. Ambrose Booton Brown of Co. D, 7th Virginia Cavalry while on the far left of the Confederate line at Antietam/Sharpsburg. There isn’t a lot of information in his service record about the incident, but a postwar account I found shed some light.

    A few men of the regiment were observing from the far left, in what seemed to be a safe distance from the fighting, when a cannonball decapitated the young lieutenant, a former school teacher from Hope Mills (just north of Luray) in Page County, Va. Another trooper who wrote about the incident said that he “was almost in touch of him when he was killed.” Best, Robert Moore

  5. Sun 16th Nov 2008 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks, guys. I’m glad you liked it and found it useful.

    I love doing these profiles. I love giving these long-forgotten cavalrymen a moment in the spotlight.


  6. John Childs
    Fri 06th Mar 2009 at 1:29 am

    The Colonel is my great-great-great grandfather. Doing research here. I possess some of his relics, including his watch and an original Brady print of his portrait at James River. I am intended to inherit his oil on canvas portrait for which he sat at age 19. I had no idea that he was a Miami U grad. Thanks for this entry!

  7. Michael H Childs
    Fri 13th Mar 2009 at 7:02 pm

    My late fathers’ name was James Huey Childs. The resemblance to my uncles and Col. JH Childs is uncanny. Wonder if any of the Penn. Childs’ moved to the south, East Alabama or West Ga.?

  8. Henry
    Thu 02nd Apr 2009 at 12:10 pm

    my great great grandfather served under his command in the battle of Antietam; just found him (grandfather and this fella) on the web and started researching. Wishing i had more time.

  9. Thu 14th May 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Eric, you will be happy to know that Chatham University owns the Howe-Childs Gate House – the home that Mary Howard Howe Childs and her family lived in after the death of Col. Childs. The house, originally built as a cottage c. 1861, is the oldest extant wood frame home in Pittsburgh.

    Your research neatly fills the holes in our history of the Gate House, and so we would like to reprint your history with your permission for permanent display there. Please feel free to contact me.

  10. peter austin
    Tue 28th Jul 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I am another relative (there are many of us from Pittsburgh) – JHC was my great-great grandfather. Howe was my great-grandfather. I’m very interested in your sources (not intending to ask you to betray anything). Did you gather some of the wonderful detail from family members?

  11. James D. Austin
    Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Thankyou Mr. Wittenberg for this compelling story. Please bring us more, if you can.

  12. Bob Zebian
    Thu 30th Jul 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Thank you for the very enjoyable account about a good soldier. My great-grandfather Condy Gallagher was in the 4th PA cavalry. His capture at Warrenton Springs & escape from Andersonville is described in “History of a Cavalry Company: A Complete Record of Company “A”, 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry” by Captain William Hyndman.

  13. Larry Freiheit
    Tue 03rd Nov 2009 at 8:43 am

    What was the source of the details about his mortal wounding at Antietam?

    The ones I have do not give these details.

    Thank you,


  14. Tue 03rd Nov 2009 at 8:50 am


    My main source for the entire biographical sketch was Samuel P. Bates’ Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania, but I had known about his wounding for years. I first heard about it from Ted Alexander in 1993.


  15. Larry Freiheit
    Wed 04th Nov 2009 at 9:21 am


    Found the book online–thank you for the reference. It will be an excellent addition to my chapter for cavalry activity on 17 Sept.


  16. Paul
    Tue 09th Nov 2010 at 1:00 am

    Bob Zebian –

    My great-grandfather John W. Moore also served under Childs in the 4th PA Cavalry, in Company G. Like your ancestor, he was also captured on Oct 12th, 1863 at Sulpher Springs and sent to Andersonville, where he was eventually released near the end of the war. They must have known each other, and were well acquainted with combat, as my grandfathers pension record indicates that he was with the regiment at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Kelly’s Ford, Gettysburg, and various skirmishes before and after the main battles.


  17. Miriam
    Wed 15th Dec 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Bob Zebian and Paul: My great-great grandfather, Benjamin James, also served under Colonel Childs in Company K of the 4th PA Cavalry. He was captured at Sulphur Springs and taken to Libby Prison in Richmond and then on to Andersonville. Based on family records, it appears that he was released from Andersonville a few months before the end of the war. He was with the regiment from the time of it’s formation until he was taken prisoner. My understanding is that few survived imprisonment and I wish I knew more about his time as a prisoner.


  18. Constance Barrett
    Tue 21st Dec 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Can you give me the email of John Childs? I have some old letters belonging to the Childs family that I would like to pass on to him. My great grandmother was Clara Courtney Childs, sister of Col. James Childs.

  19. Larry Myers
    Mon 04th Jul 2011 at 10:18 am

    I am doing research on General James Scott Negley who lived on Ellswroth Ave in East Liberty Pittsburgh. The Childs family is are neighbors of the Negleys and Ada Childs was married to Henry Clay Frick also from Ellswroth Ave.

    If that the case then I do see a connection to South Georgia and the Howe and Huey family.

  20. Geoff
    Thu 14th Jul 2011 at 2:14 am

    To Paul: I think John W. Moore is my relative too.

  21. James Childs
    Sun 11th Mar 2012 at 4:36 am

    I would love to know mor about this man, as he and I carry the same name. I am James Dormon Childs III and I believe this to be a family member. I would love to donate to the rememberance of our good name.

  22. Sat 31st Mar 2012 at 11:27 am

    James, you can reach me via email at my website, or find me on facebook. I have some family letters thanks to Constance above here. In case Constance sees this as well, thank you VERY much for taking the time and effort to track down my brother. The letters have been tremendous.

  23. Pamela Childs Knox
    Sat 23rd May 2015 at 5:08 am

    I believe my family is connected. My father,s name is Ronald Thurman Childs. His father,s name was William Gaines Childs. My father,s oldest brother,s name was Thomas Berry Childs, Healso had a brother named George Childs. His father was Irish and Black American. Looking forward to any information you may have on the family Gaines. I will be sharing this information with my father. My search began by me see an American-Mexican War Site. In this writing was a Col. Thomas Childs from the 1800’s. I also attended college with a James Childs. in the year 1967 in Wilberforce,Ohio but he was from Chicago,Ill.

  24. James p. Childs jr
    Thu 28th Apr 2016 at 3:03 pm

    I was in the calvary and my father and his father where both in the military.. would like to learn more about this man

Comments are closed.

Copyright © Eric Wittenberg 2011, All Rights Reserved
Powered by WordPress