Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Ricketts cadet saved the life of another soldier during the Civil War. After the Civil War, Cadet Francis Lee Smith, who was severely wounded in battle, married twenty-year-old Janie Lindsay Sutherlin of Danville, Virginia. It was in her father Major William T. Sutherlin’s house that the Confederate cabinet met during the last week of the War before General Robert E. Lee surrendered in April of 1865. Smith and Gen. Lee were actually distant cousins. It is not clear how he met the young lady from Danville.

Francis Lee Smith (“Virginia Military Institute Archives”)

Ricketts and Smith were Virginia Military cadets during the Battle of New Market in Virginia on May 15, 1864. Lucien Cincinnatus “Cooney” Ricketts was a private in Company C. He was detached from his company to serve personally with General Scott Shipp who was in command of the battalion. General John C. Breckinridge gave orders for all mounted to go into the charge dismounted. Ricketts thought that the order did not apply to him. He was the only cadet to be on horseback during the battle.

On February 8, 1910, Col. Francis Lee Smith wrote: “I would like to see recognition for ‘Cooney’ Ricketts, for I thought he acted with great gallantry, mounted on Shaw’s horse, riding ahead and in front of the corps when we became engaged with the enemy. I was put on that horse (after being wounded, of course) and rode him into New Market.”

On the next day following the battle, “Cooney” Ricketts carried the report to General Francis H. Smith, the superintendent in Lexington. Cadet Ricketts reached Lexington on May 17th with the first news of the battle. After the Civil War, Ricketts was later and Prosecutor in Cabell County, West Virginia.

During that battle, Smith was wounded twice in a few minutes. He was shot in the chin and the minie ball entered his mouth, shattered his jawbone and came out of his neck. This ball just missed the carotid artery and the jugular vein. Another shot entered his shoulder and broke his collar bone. It is said that the minie ball was mounted and placed in the VMI museum. Cadet Smith was fortunate to have survived. Many soldiers bled to death or died from infection a week or ten days later from sometimes-minor wounds.