George Washington Mordecai was just 16 years old when the guns fell silent on Fort Sumter in April 1861. Then on his 17th birthday, his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union, and one month later he joined the Second Company of Richmond Howitzers.
The Howitzer Battalion had left Richmond College for a new camp on May 13, 1861. The artillery men marched down Main Street and camped at Howard’s Grove on the Mechanicsville Turnpike and remained there until they were ordered to join Jeb Magruder’s forces at Yorktown. As the Howitzers prepared to move on May 17, 1861, George Mordecai enlisted as a private — just one month into his 17th year.
By May 26, the 2nd Company of Richmond Howitzers had reached Yorktown determined to keep any Yankee soldiers from ascending the James-York Peninsula and threatening Richmond. On June 4, that threat materialized.
Union General Benjamin Butler and his troops had been stationed at Fort Monroe with the intention of moving up the peninsula when the time appeared right. On June 4, he ordered his troops to move out to Big Bethel, just 15 miles from Yorktown, Magruder’s headquarters. Two days later, Butler’s threat was answered by Magruder’s forces, which included the 2nd Company of Richmond Howitzers...