Perhaps a more appropriate title would be The Times of James Rawlinson, for there is indeed very little information about the man himself. He left no writings, no account of his life, and no one chronicled his story for posterity. Although he may not have made any great history for himself, he was a part of that epic American history that shaped our nation and touched our community from 1861-65. If the memory of James Rawlinson can be honored in no better way than to recognize the Company and Regiment he served with during the American Civil War, then we must try.
Born James David Taylor in Aycliff, England, March 20th 1841, he took the name of his stepfather, Abraham Rawlinson, upon arriving with his family in America sometime around 1852-54. Family history says one of James’ sisters died on the voyage and was buried at sea. It is believed the family lived in Iowa before coming to Kansas Territory around 1860. Soon we find the Rawlinson family in Council Grove, where in 1860-61, Abraham and Mary build a stone house at the edge of town on the Santa Fe Trail, where it stands today. Someone better versed in architecture may have an appropriate name for the style of this house, but I would describe it as resembling many of the Pennsylvania stone homes of that period, possibly even German in style. It is also interesting to note that Rawlinson’s house was identical to the Kaw interpreter’s home, built at the same time, south of Council Grove on what is now the Allegawaho Memorial Heritage Park.
There is much history to relate concerning this property, but we want to focus on James Rawlinson’s experience. On September 18th 1861, James, along with ten other men in Council Grove, enlisted in Company E of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry. Right on the front lawn of his home. By May of 1862 James would be found with Co. E, stationed at Aubrey, Ks. It is not likely you’ll find Aubrey on the map; the little hamlet of some dozen homes was located somewhere near Olathe. Most of the original residents of Aubrey had been driven out the previous fall while Unionist refugees from Missouri had settled there. The duty of Co. E at that time was to keep an eye on the border and check any jayhawking and guerilla activity. Occasional drills and reconnaissance were made into Missouri, sometimes bringing back a prisoner from Sterling Price’s army, but mostly things were quiet. Farms and homes had been abandoned all along the Kansas Missouri border.
On the 28th of May, James left Kansas on the steamer Emma heading for St. Louis and ultimately Kentucky. On two separate occasions during this river trip, before reaching St. Louis, two men of the 8th Kansas were lost overboard, both inebriated and falling from the hurricane deck. A man from the 7th Cavalry also went down to be seen no more.
Arriving at Columbus, Kentucky, on the 2nd of June, 1862, James and Co. E were eager to see action. They had missed a number of the ‘big fights’ already and wanted a chance to prove themselves. They’d have to wait a little longer, for now their duty was to ensure the safety of the property and slaves of rebels off fighting in the war.
By August of 1862, James and his company could be found at Eastport, Mississippi, manning the breastworks of the town. The soldiers were allowed to go into town at times to visit the sutlers and merchants and purchase things they might need. Two men from Co. K got drunk and stole from a sutler. Captain Greelish of Co. E was officer of the day and so it was his duty to arrest the two soldiers. They were not difficult to find for they were singing and making a general racket in their tent. The two churlish devils attacked Captain Greelish and took his sword, Greelish in return drew his revolver and shot one scoundrel in the jaw. So, one was sent to the hospital while the other the calaboose. Wash, who had been shot, had just recently gotten out of confinement when this incident happened. He had stolen some personal things from the Quartermaster Sargent and was ordered to one month confinement, during which time he also had to stand on a barrel in front of the guard house four hours each day.
One of the most notable as well as outstanding feats James performed with the 8th Kansas, which earned them the nickname ‘Kansas Greyhounds’ by General Alexander McCook, was their 250 mile march to Nashville in 18 days. The first 206 miles were covered in 9 days with 2 days rest. Most every other regiment arrived at Nashville with mere squads of men remaining, while the 8th only reported 30 men absent.
October 7th 1862, a little over a year after enlisting, James and the 8th get their first taste of battle at Perryville, Kentucky. They were held in reserve the first day, then on the 8th heavy fighting commenced as they supported the 5th Minnesota battery. That evening the 8th Kansas advanced and camped on the battlefield among the dead and dying. It was cold and wet, and they had no overcoats or blankets, nor were they to get any until late November. They continued pursuit of Bragg’s army until they caught up with it at Lancaster, Kentucky on the 14th where they were ordered to halt and not bring on an engagement. Next morning, James’ company were sent out as skirmishers through the town, where they advanced about a mile, killing or wounding 20 rebels while their own company received no casualties.
George Alexander, who had lived with the Rawlinsons and enlisted with James, died of disease at Danville, Ky. following the battle of Perryville. Whether family or friend, George’s relation to the Rawlinsons has never been clear.
The morning of September 19th 1863, 2 years and a day after enlistment, we find James marching with his regiment to the battle of Chickamauga. While yet several miles from the field of battle, the boom of artillery could be heard. Along the road on either side were burning or smoldering fence rails, set on fire the night before to guide the army to battle. The 8th Kansas reached the field around noon and took their position in the center of the 3rd brigade. Old Soldier, the Regiment’s dog, advanced on the enemy and received a wound in the first volley fired. He did not fall back but maintained his position at the front until ultimately receiving a fatal wound. The fighting continued hot and close in the dense thicket and timber, until step by step the Confederates drove the Federal line back. The 8th retreated very stubbornly, carrying their wounded back as they went.
The details of Chickamauga are lengthy to relate here, but in short, over the course of the two day battle the 8th was driven back and pushed forward a number of times until the Federal army finally retreated to Chattanooga. “The 8th suffered over 65% casualties in the two-day battle. Of the 406 men of the regiment who entered the battle 243 were listed as killed, wounded, or missing.” Keep the Flag to the Front, Bill McFarland.
For the next couple months James was holed up in Chattanooga with the rest of the 8th as they waited for assistance from Generals Sherman and Grant, to lift the siege the Rebels had them under. The Confederates held all the high ground around the town and could see everything the Federals were doing. There wasn’t any way the enemy could be surprised. The Federal army began falling in, and at first it was thought they were to parade for General Grant. Turned out, they intended to march out of Chattanooga. As the 8th’s color guard stepped forward to lead the companies through a timber of beech, the eagle head of the flagstaff became caught in overhanging branches. The two corporals on either side grabbed hold of the color bearer to help pull the staff free. When it became clear they could not pull the staff loose without breaking it, they let go the color bearer catapulting him and the flag backward through the air.
There seems to have been some confusion as to what the men were to do. Orders were, to take the rifle pits at the foot of the hill, which the Federal troops did with alacrity. The 8th taking the confederate works at the base of Missionary Ridge. It soon became clear that they could not remain in the rifle pits, for the rebels were shooting down at them. Fortunately, the cannons could not be lowered to such an extreme to be used on them. As with one mind, and without orders from commanding officers, the men started forward up the hill. General Grant was surprised and possibly disturbed when, what he had intended as a diversion turned into an advance on the summit. It was even reported that he had said, “They can never make it.” Each regiment was in competition to reach the ridge first and plant its flag aloft. There may be room for debate, but the 8th Kansas declared they were the first to reach the top and overrun the enemy works. It was an unexpected victory, but then again, the 8th Kansans were uncommon men.
James and another comrade both got furloughed and visited Council Grove on the 14th of March 1864. James’ time at home was short. He was soon back in the ranks soldiering. Eight months after the fatal battle of Chickamauga, a burial detail from the 8th returned to the field to bury the remains of their comrades. Nothing more than skeletons clothed in blue, laying where they fell in battle. It was noted that the confederate dead had been neatly interred.
James and his company would see and do much more before being mustered out. Even after Lee surrendered, and the war considered over, the 8th would be sent down the Mississippi, to Louisiana, across the Gulf to Texas where they served provost duty in San Antonio. Alligators, mosquitoes, alkali water, heat, ankle deep mud and more were to be experienced. Until, November of ’65, the 8th was discharged and headed for home. Christmas was spent in New Orleans. The regiment was treated to a banquet by the citizens of St. Louis, and again at Atchison, ultimately reaching Ft. Leavenworth.
January 9th 1866, James and the remaining men of his regiment were honorably discharged from service at Fort Leavenworth. He returned to Council Grove where, on the 20th of September, he married Lucy Jane Faris. Lucy was from Kentucky, never learned to read, and smoked a pipe. There they lived until 1869-70, later living in Neosho and Wilson Counties. Over the course of their marriage they had 8 children. There are some other pieces of Rawlinson’s life that are hard to make sense of. Oral history tells of one of his sisters abusing their mother presumably to death, after which James took care of two of his little sisters. Around 1884 the Rawlinson family moved to Newton County Missouri where, in June of 1890, James had both bones in his left leg broken by a stallion he was working. He then applied for his veteran’s pension and remained crippled and in poor health the remainder of his life. James Rawlinson died February 3rd 1892 and was buried in Spring Valley Cemetery at Tipton Ford, Newton, Mo.
Knowing so little about the person of James Rawlinson, we can only presume it was because of men like him that the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry became the exceptional regiment that it was. No doubt the 8th Kansas played an integral part in making James the model citizen soldier he was.
 Abraham, Mary, Alice, James, and S. Ann Rawlinson all appear on the 1851 England and Wales census. This suggests James’ name was actually changed prior to coming to America.