A Civil War Biography

James Jay Archer


Archer was born 19 December 1817 in Bel Air, Maryland. After graduating from Princeton in 1835 he attended Bacon College in Georgetown, Kentucky then studied law at the University of Maryland. He was admitted to the bar and began a law practice. He was commissioned captain of volunteers on 23 February 1847 and fought in the war with Mexico being cited for gallantry at Chaoultepec and brevetted major. The Maryland legislature passed a resolution citing Archer for his service. He was discharged from the army in August 1848 and returned to his law practice. Having acquired a taste for the military he accepted a commission as a captain of the 9th US infantry in March 1855. He served for six years on the northwest frontier, in Washington state and Oregon.

Archer resigned from the regular US army on 14 March 1861 and two days later accepted a captain's commission in the Confederate service. On 2 October 1861 he was appointed colonel of the 5th Texas, a regiment organized in Richmond from independent companies. He commanded the 5th in actions along the Potomac then on the peninsula, attached to John B. Hood's division, seeing action at Eltham's Landing and Seven Pines. Archer was promoted to brigadier general on 3 June 1862 and given command of Robert Hatton's old brigade. Hatton was killed at Seven Pines. Archer commanded the brigade during the Seven Days seeing action at Beaver Dam Creek, Gaines' Mill, and Frayser's Farm. His brigade again saw action at Cedar Mountain, at Second Manassas where his horse was shot from under him, during the capture of Harpers Ferry, at Sharpsburg where he was too sick to ride so he led the brigade from an ambulance, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. On the first day at Gettysburg he was captured becoming the first general officer from the Army of Northern Virginia since Robert E. Lee took command. Archer was imprisoned at Fort Delaware then was sent to Johnson's Island, Ohio where his health continued to deteriorate. On 21 June 1864 he was part of the contingent of Confederate prisoners sent to Charleston Harbor and placed under Confederate fire in retaliation for southern treatment of Union prisoners. He was exchanged in August 1864 and resumed command of his old brigade on 10 August 1864. Archer and his brigade were originally ordered to join the Army of the Tennessee but 10 days later was redirected to rejoin the Army of Northern Virginia. He was given command of his and Henry H. Walker's brigades when the two were temporarily consolidated. Still suffering the effects of his imprisonment, the rigors of the Petersburg trenches proved too much for Archer. He died 24 October 1864 from ill health.

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