James Sewall Reed

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James Sewall Reed[1]
Born 3 April 1832
Milton, Massachusetts
Died 22 February 1864
Dranesville, Virginia
Buried at Mattapan, Massachusetts
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch United States Union Army
Years of service 1861–1864
Rank Union army cpt rank insignia.jpg Captain
Unit Massachusetts 2nd Regiment of Cavalry, Massachusetts Volunteers
Commands held Massachusetts Company A "The California Hundred" 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry
CDV image of Captain J. Sewall Reed, likely made in San Francisco prior to the departure of the Cal Hundred for the East.

James "J" Sewall Reed is best remembered as an organizer of a few hundred Californians who fought in the eastern battlefields of the American Civil War as part of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry while most soldiers from California were assigned to Union Army outposts west of the Mississippi River.[1]

Early years[edit]

James was the eldest of three sons of John Reed and Miranda Barker. He was born in Milton, Massachusetts on 3 April 1832. At the age of 17, James and his younger brother George left Boston for the California Gold Rush. The teen-agers arrived in San Francisco Bay in March, 1850, and mined gold in Nevada City, California, until 1852. James became a member of the 1856 San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, and traveled Central America and South America before joining the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858. He returned to Boston in 1859 where he met and married Hattie L. Wales. James returned to San Francisco with his bride in September, 1859; and their son Walter Sewall Reed was born there on 25 January 1861.[1]

Civil War[edit]

Reed joined the California State Militia First Light Dragoons of San Francisco in November, 1861. The Dragoons' patrols of the Central Overland Route seemed unexciting in comparison to the newspaper accounts of civil war battles in the east. In the fall of 1862, a group of Californians from the northeastern United States approached Massachusetts governor John Albion Andrew proposing to supply a company of 100 cavalry volunteers. The governor accepted the volunteers with the stipulation the men would pay for their uniforms, equipment, and ship passage east. A Massachusetts enlistment bounty defrayed part of those costs, and citizens of San Francisco donated some equipment. Reed resigned his commission with the 1st Dragoons to become captain of the California Hundred.[1]

Pre-Civil War image of J. Sewall Reed as a member of the California First Light Dragoons.

The California Hundred sailed from San Francisco aboard the steamship Golden Age on 10 December 1862. After traveling across the isthmus of Panama and arriving in New York aboard the Ocean Queen,[2] the California Hundred were designated company A of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry commanded by Colonel Charles Russell Lowell. Reed and his men went into combat in Virginia in April, 1863. Subsequent California volunteers were designated companies E, F, L, and M of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Men from Massachusetts formed seven more companies. Reed's company participated in a series of engagements with the 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry commanded by John S. Mosby. Reed was one of five Californians killed at the Second Dranesville battle on 22 February 1864.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "J. Sewall Reed". Mike Sorenson. Retrieved 2011-12-22. 
  2. ^ "The California Hundred and California Battalion. Company A; and E, L, F & M of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry". Wayne Edward Sherman. Archived from the original on 2012-04-15. Retrieved 2011-12-23.