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Five days after Virginia passed the Ordinance of Secession, William Rice, a twenty-seven year old merchant in New Market Town, Shenandoah, Virginia, called a town meeting, raised his own battery and organized what became on April 22nd the 'Eighth Star Artillery'. The name was derived from Virginia, having become the eighth state to secede and the eighth star in the Confederate 1st National Flag.
The battery was placed under the command of General Henry R. Jackson. After failing to drive the Yankees from Virginia during the fall, the Confederate troops withdrew to the crossing of the Greenbrier River where they established Camp Bartow. Yankee Brigadier General Joseph R. Reynolds, in command of the Union forces in the Cheat Mountain region, determined to rout or destroy the Confederate army that sat astride the turnpike at the Greenbrier crossing blocking the way to the east, then press on to Staunton. In all Reynolds mustered about 5,000 men of all arms, infantry, cavalry and artillery.
To the southeast Jackson's forces were firmly entrenched, with gun emplacements, rifle pits, and a series of abatis to protect the flanks. Every advantage of terrain was with the defenders, though he could number only about 1,800 effectives for action. At daylight on the October 3, 1861 the head of the column reached the bridge over the north branch of Greenbrier, about four miles from the Confederate camp, and fought a lively skirmish with pickets posted there. The pickets retreated, followed closely by the advance units, driving them back to the fortified position. The battle opened at about eight o'clock in the morning, when riflemen cleared the outposts. The artillery galloped up and an artillery duel, lasting over four hours followed. The Confederates could not work some of their guns from the prepared positions and were forced to move into the open, with the resultant disablement of three pieces by the superior firepower of the Federals. During the fierce bombardment Captain Rice was struck in the foot which necessitated the amputation of the foot on the field of battle. After four and a half hours of fighting, Reynolds abruptly broke off the engagement and ordered a return to the Cheat Summit fortification. According to the Richmond Dispatch “Captain Rice, while nobly encouraging his men, had his leg carried away by a round shot” and again by General Jackson’s official report "He had been working his piece beautifully for two hours, and too much praise cannot be given him for the deliberate manner with which he loaded and fired his piece; landing and firing by detail for an hour, in the midst of a storm of shot and shell from the enemy, until he was stricken to the earth, severely wounded”.
The battery’s records are not clear, but it appears Captain Rice returned to duty at some point, then ten months after the amputation by cannon ball, Captain Rice tendered his resignation on August 19, 1862 from the camp of the Third Brigade, because he could not properly perform his duties. In his discharge approval, he is referred to as “a gallant officer” by Brigadier General William Taliafferro. I find nothing of note again until March of 1864 when he requests an artificial leg from the manufactory in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Captain married, raised a family, operated a business and was still in New Market in 1900.
Captain Rice’s three-piece uniform was discovered in1960 when a Rice descendant was wearing the uniform in the Apple Festival Parade in Winchester, Virginia. It was purchased off of his back then and there. I was told that he stripped to his underwear and handed over the uniform. Research has indicated that the Rice home still exists in New Market, Virginia and is currently being used as a nursing home. The uniform is one of the very few, true regulation, Confederate grey examples left in existence.
The quality and cut of the uniform is extraordinary, yet the scarcity of materials is demonstrated in the trouser liner being made from reused drapery. Notice the cut of the bottom of the leg which is made to rise over the boot. The condition remains stellar and it is virtually unaltered since the War. Obviously he was not wearing it during the battle, but probably acquired it shortly thereafter.