A Civil War Biography

Roger Atkinson Pryor

Pryor was born 19 July 1828 near Petersburg in Dinwiddie County, Virginia. He was educated at the Petersburg Classical Academy then at Hampton-Sydney College, graduating in 1845 at the top of his class. He studied law at the University of Virginia and was admitted to the bar in 1849 setting up a practice in Petersburg. In addition to his law practice Pryor worked as the editor of the "Southside Democrat." He would also work as the editor of the "Washington Union" and the Richmond "Enquirer" in 1852 and 1854 respectively.

In 1854 Pryor was appointed a Special United States Minister to Greece. Upon his return in 1857 he established "The South," a sectionalist Washington DC newspaper, and wrote for "The States," a similar DC paper. In 1859 he was elected as a Democrat from Virginia's fourth district to the US House of Representatives to fill the seat vacated by the death of William O. Goode. Pryor would serve in Congress from 7 December 1859 until 3 March 1861. Known as a aggressive and passionate orator, Pryor played a prominent part at the 1860 Democratic convention in Charleston, South Carolina.

Following the presidential election of 1860 Pryor advocated the formation of the southern Confederacy and Virginia's membership therein. He became a volunteer member of General PGT Beauregard's staff in Charleston and was part of the party that visited Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861 with a warning for the fort's commander, Major Robert Anderson, that unless the fort was surrendered it would be fired upon. Popular lore has it that when Captain George S. James was ordered to open fire on the fort, James, a great admirer of Pryor, offered him the honor of firing the first shot which he refused.

Once Virginia seceded Pryor was elected to the Provisional Confederate Congress but resigned to enter military service as the colonel of the 3rd Virginia Infantry regiment. He was elected to the First Confederate Congress and served on the military committee while maintaining his field command. He fought at Yorktown and Williamsburg and was promoted to brigadier general to date from 16 April 1862. He commanded the 5th brigade in James Longstreet's division at Seven Pines and during the Seven Days battles. Pryor commanded the 2nd brigade of Cadmus M. Wilcox's division of Longstreet's Corps at Second Manassas. Pryor took part in the envelopment of Harper's Ferry during the Maryland campaign commanding the 5th brigade of Richard H. Anderson's division which was detached from Longstreet's Corps. At Sharpsburg Pryor commanded Anderson's division reattached to Longstreet's Corps, following Anderson's wounding.

After Sharpsburg Pryor's command was dismantled due to heavy losses and he was sent to Richmond to form an independent brigade to operate south of the James River. Pryor rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia to fight at Chancellorsville. Without an assignment he resigned on 26 August 1863 and offered his services as a scout and intelligence operative with the rank of private. On 27 November 1864 he was captured and sent to Fort Lafayette, New York. He was finally exchanged shortly before the end of the war.

He moved to New York City and wrote anonymously for the New York "Daily News" until 1866 when he again established a law practice. He was a delegate from New York to the Democratic National Convention in 1876. In 1890 he was appointed to the New York Court of Common Pleas at the urging of DANIEL SICKLES, although Pryor was acquainted with, and friends of, many former foes including Winfield S. Hancock, James B. Fry, Henry W. Slocum, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin F. Tracy, Fitz-John Porter, Daniel Butterfield, and George B. McClellan. Pryor was appointed to the New York State Supreme Court in 1894 and retired in 1899 when he reached the established age limit. He was appointed official referee in the appellate division of the New York Supreme Court on 10 April 1912. He served in this capacity until he died on 14 March 1919 in New York City.

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