The Vanished Necktie
By Barrie Almond
(The original text of this article appeared in 'Crossfire' the magazine of the ACWRT (UK) No. 59, March 1999)
On a cold night in December 1862 two young officers huddled around the campfire at the headquarters camp of General J.E.B. Stuart. Snow covered the ground and the raw wind whipped through the trees as the two men talked the night away, speculating about the outcome of the pending battle that would inevitably occur between the armies of General Robert E. Lee and that of Ambrose Burnside, then lying opposite Fredericksburg.
Captain Lewis Guy Phillips, who was on leave from Her Majesty's Grenadier Guards Regiment, then stationed on the Canadian border, had come to share the comradeship of Lee's army in their fight for Southern independence. Around this campfire sat the pride of Alabama, Major John Pelham, who was destined to become the most brilliant commander of horse artillery during the war.
As the Alabamian and his English friend retired for the night, Captain Phillips handed Major Pelham a narrow red and blue striped ribbon, saying: "Major, this is my good luck necktie which bears my own regimental colours, I'd like you to wear it for luck tomorrow and afterward return it to me as a souvenir" "Certainly I'll be honored to wear it as a band on my hat", (1) replied Pelham, touched by this gesture of friendship.
On December 13, 1862, the might of the Federal army threw itself against Lee's Confederates. On Jackson's front, Major Pelham advanced to the Richmond Stage Road with two guns and, at a distance of 500 yards, he held three full Federal divisions at bay for an hour. Along the Confederate line admiring eyes watched as Pelham, with a single remaining gun, duelled with a hundred guns and 16,000 Federal infantry and checked their advance. "It is glorious to see such courage in one so young!" exclaimed General Lee.
Meanwhile, anxious for Pelham's safety against such great odds, General Stuart requested that the horse artillery withdraw. Only after his ammunition had run out did Pelham heed General Stuart's desperate plea, "Stop firing and withdraw your gun, you crazy, gallant Pelham." With a modest smile, Pelham returned the slightly powder-smoked, blackened ribbon to Captain Phillips.
Captain Lewis Guy Phillips was born in London, June 9, 1831. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, gaining his first commission as Ensign-Lieutenant by purchase on June 15, 1855 at the age of 24. Promoted to the rank of Captain in June 1859, he left London in December of the following year for a tour of duty as part of the British garrison protecting the American border, sailing from Britain on either the Persia or the Great Eastern. He stood 6' 3" and was well educated, speaking German, French, Italian, Latin and Greek. Although no record of his leave appears to exist, he was with General Lee's army at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Captain Phillips learned of Pelham's death during his return trip back to his regiment stationed on the Canadian border. He could not forget Pelham, who was firstly a friend and later a hero. How proud and fortunate he must have felt as he carried with him that narrow red and blue regimental necktie that had flown in the cold breeze at Fredericksburg around the hat band of a legend!
On September 19, 1864, Phillips returned to Britain. He retired from the British Army on July 18, 1885 with the honorary rank of Major General. He lived in London until his death in 1887 at the age of 56. The fate of the necktie is unknown.
© Barrie Almond 1999 & 2001
Any information about Major General Phillips and the lost necktie would be gratefully received by ACWRT (UK) on behalf of the author
(1) William W. Hassier, Colonel John Pelham: Lee's Boy Artillerist (Richmond: Garrett & Massie, Inc.), 1960, pp. 142-43. As published in Volume 2 Number 4 issue of the Cannoneer 1984.