Colonel John Richter Jones
by James M. DiRisio
John Richter Jones was born in Salem, New Jersey on October 2, 1803 to the Rev. Horatio Gates Jones, pastor of the Lower Marion Baptist Church and Esther (Richter) Jones. A descendant of respected American patriots, Jones grew up among the elite of Philadelphia’s society. He attended the Germantown Academy, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1821 with high honors. Jones was admitted to the Philadelphia bar on November 17, 1827. He practiced law until 1836, when he was appointed an Associate Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of the City and County of Philadelphia. His term of office ended in 1847.

On March 24, 1841, Jones’ father officiated at the ceremony in which Jones married Ann Eliza (Clay) Laussat, who was born on July 26, 1810 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Jones’ wife was the widow of Anthony Laussat, who had died in 1833. The grandson of the last prefect of French Louisiana, Laussat and Ann (or Anna, as she was sometimes called) had one child, a daughter whom they named Mary Francisca Estella Antoinette Laussat. Ann was the daughter of Joseph and Mary (Ashmead) Clay. Her father was a member of the U.S. Congress before resigning to organize and accept a position in the Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Bank of Philadelphia. Her older brothers, Joseph Ashmead Clay and John Randolph Clay would each become fathers of men (Cecil Clay and Antony Alexander Clay, respectively) who would serve as officers alongside J. Richter Jones in the American Civil War. Jones adopted Mary Francisca Estella Antoinette Laussat and he and Ann took up residence in Jones’ ancestral family home of Roxborough, a suburban area on Philadelphia’s northwest side. In 1842, a daughter whom they named Ella was born to the couple. Three more children were born to the couple. Annie (1844), Horatio Morgan (1847) and Virginia Clay (March 5, 1851).

Jones retired from his position as judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia when his term expired in 1845, but chose to remain in Roxborough. One winter evening, three men broke into their home. These men, whom Judge Jones had sentenced, had been released recently from prison and evidently desired to even the score with Jones. In what was to foreshadow Jones’ intrepidity in the presence of an enemy, he descended the stairs of his home and attacked the intruders with a riding whip loaded with lead. His wife, meanwhile, is said to have bombarded them from the second story with bedroom crockery. The Jones’ combined efforts drove the men off, and the next day, one of the three was found dead in the snow, not far from the Jones’ home. The two other night visitors, however, escaped, and Ann Eliza Jones feared that they would return. His wife’s misgivings about their Roxborough home, as well as burgeoning business interests outside of Philadelphia, convinced Jones to move his family from Roxborough to property he had purchased in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania in 1845. Jones obtained the property—which amounted to about 6,000 acres of pristine rural land, including Lewis Lake—from John J. Adams of Washington, D.C. According to Sullivan County historian George Streby: Judge Jones moved his family to the lake in 1846.

In 1847 he had a post office established there which he named Eagles Mere. This was the origin of the name Eagles Mere. ... Mr. Jones improved his property. He lived in a house Mr. Lewis had built on the cite [sic] where the Emery cottage now stands. At one time he had a settlement containing about 250 people. Mr. Jones took an active part in locating the county seat. He practiced law after the county seat was located and also engaged in farming. On May 11, 1854 Estella Antoinette, Anna’s daughter whom Jones had adopted, married Emile C. Geyelin at St. Stephens’ Church in Philadelphia. Geyelin and Jones shared several business interests in Sullivan County, and the two men remained very close throughout Jones’ life. A man of relative wealth, Jones lived the life of gentleman farmer and land developer, and also practiced law in Sullivan County. A private tutor educated Jones’ children on the vast grounds of his new estate. The 1860 Sullivan County census states that J.R. Jones was a 55-year-old farmer and owned real estate in the county valued at $3,000 and a personal estate of $2,000. No other county resident had assets that even approached Jones’ wealth.

Here, surrounded by his family, his large library and his broad acres, Judge Jones led a life of retirement and ease. Jones felt compelled to raise a regiment to serve in the Union army at the beginning of the American Civil War. He was enrolled for a three-year term of service on August 1, 1861 and began recruiting not only in Philadelphia, but also in Sullivan County. He identified several men to be enrolled as officers and to organize and drill his recruits in Philadelphia, and called upon longtime acquaintance and fellow Sullivan County attorney Henry Metcalf to recruit men in the rugged areas surrounding Eaglesmere. Metcalf enrolled enough men to form a company, which was organized at LaPorte on September 3, 1861. Metcalf led the men to the park in suburban Roxborough that Jones had designated as his camp of rendezvous, and was eventually mustered in as their captain, the organization having received the designation of Company B, 58th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

At one time, Jones may have considered raising a combined arms organization. A recruiting station for the "Artillery Company for Col. J. Richter Jones’ Regiment" was established at 138 South Fourth Street, Philadelphia, but Captain Paul T. Jones, who organized the station on Fourth Street, does not appear on the 58th Pennsylvania’s muster rolls. No battery of artillery ever joined the Regiment. Although he had some early success in filling the required allocations for his companies, by the end of December, recruiting stalled before Jones secured enough men for a regiment. When an organization that Carlton Curtis as the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers was attempting to raise failed to raise enough men, however, the two organizations were joined and on February 13, 1862, Lieut. Pierce mustered Jones into federal service as colonel of the 58th Pennsylvania Volunteers. Philadelphians cheered as Jones led the 58th Pennsylvania from its Roxborough camp on March 8, 1862.

The regiment reported to Fortress Monroe, Virginia several days later. Initially, the men performed routine picket and fatigue duty, but at the beginning of May 1862, Jones led his men as part of a composite brigade under the direction of Maj. Gen. John E. Wool in an expedition against Norfolk, Virginia. When the Confederates evacuated the city, Wool and Jones paraded their troops into the city to receive the surrender from the mayor, and the 58th Pennsylvania’s flag was unfurled upon the Custom House for the remainder of the Regiment’s occupation of the city. After performing several days of provost duty in Norfolk, the 58th Pennsylvania marched to Portsmouth, Virginia, encamping near the Navy Yard and performing guard and picket duty upon the entrenchments. Following the occupation duty, the men of the 58th Pennsylvania went to the Blackwater/Dismal Swamp area of Tidewater Virginia and completed several months of duty, battling mosquitoes and malaria more than any Confederate forces.

Some small skirmishes of note occurred, but Jones and his men were denied the opportunity to play a larger role in the magnificent actions like Antietam and the Seven Days Battles that were taking place outside of their confines. His regiment having been reassigned to Maj. Gen. John G. Foster’s Department of North Carolina in January 1863, Foster immediately placed Jones in command of the strategic outpost line along Batchelder’s Creek, nearly eight miles from the department headquarters in New Bern. While previous commanders had done only the minimum to hold the line, Jones immediately dispatched patrols to the west, toward the Confederate guerrilla base near Kinston. The aggressive posture paid off, and Jones’ regiment, during several skirmishes, took a number of prisoners. Foster noticed this, and on several occasions, he assigned additional regiments of infantry, along with cavalry and artillery, to Jones for his expeditions into the enemy territory. Throughout the winter and spring of 1863, Jones achieved greater successes, until in May, he successfully petitioned to command a brigade-size force during a daring assault on Rebel works that he identified near Gum Swamp, North Carolina.

It appeared that being "commander of the outposts" had become the perfect opportunity for the ambitious Jones to excel. Of Jones, Department of North Carolina historian J. Lewis Stackpole said, An excellent old gentleman…he rarely laid down the sword that he did not take up his well-thumbed copy of Cæsar’s "Commentaries." [Confederate] General [D.H.] Hill sees fit to call him a bold, bad man and a "Comanche." In granting Jones’ wish to make the expedition upon the Confederate works west of the Neuse River, Foster attached Col. Horace C. Lee’s entire 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, XVIII Army Corps (temporarily under the command of Col. G.N. Pierson)—along with detachments of cavalry and artillery—to Jones. Jones’ demonstration began with a rendezvous of the reinforced brigade in the vicinity of the 58th Pennsylvania’s Batchelder’s Creek headquarters on May 21, 1863. Making a night march along two different routes, Jones surprised the 56th North Carolina as the enemy soldiers prepared their breakfasts in what they thought was a secure camp on the morning of May 22. In all, Jones seized 165 prisoners, a 12-pound howitzer with limber and various other stores.

In perhaps his biggest miscalculation, however, the bold Jones ordered his victorious soldiers, after gathering up the prisoners, to rest that afternoon before returning to camp. Soon, Confederates under D. H. Hill swooped down upon the expeditionary force and began to shell Jones’ men with two pieces of artillery. Jones led his men back toward the Batchelder’s Creek lines under the harassing fire of the pursuing Confederates, but failing to reach his entrenchments before dark, he ordered the men to take up temporary lines that evening. The next morning, as Jones led the men back to the safety of their lines, the Confederates resumed their attack. Bates, in his History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, wrote: [One] company left to guard the bridge on the Neuse Road, across Bachelor’s Creek, suddenly found itself confronted by a considerable force, and was hotly engaged. Proceeding hastily to the threatened point with companies F, K and I, [Jones] deployed them as skirmishers, and drove the enemy’s line back across the creek. Boldly crossing [the creek] with his small force, he formed his line of battle, and sent back to camp for a battery.

Turning to go forward with his men, he was shot through the heart by a rebel posted behind the chimney of a house just beyond the bridge, and instantly expired. Some accounts suggest that the Confederates had placed a price on Jones, and D.H. Hill in a correspondence to Confederate Maj. Gen. Whiting on May 27, expressed genuine relief that his soldiers had killed Jones. Hill, a respected Confederate general, paid Jones and the 58th Pennsylvania a great compliment when he wrote, "Jones, the great brigand, was really killed in my chase of him the other day. He was a bold, dangerous, bad man. His work has been that of the Comanche." A member of the 58th Pennsylvania said that when Jones fell, "the Rebels gave a yell of exultation and endeavored to make a dash and get his body, but were repulsed with great loss, for our artillery was now in position and opened fire." A second shot dismounted one of their guns and killed and wounded several Confederate soldiers. The soldier, Private B. A. Green, made an interesting (and unverified) claim at the end of his account of the day’s action: They soon made out that this country was too hot to hold them, as our skirmishers were attacking them on both flanks and in the rear, and the artillery was raining shot and shell into their midst. Reinforcements had also begun to arrive from Newbern, and the Rebels left quicker than they came. Our Colonel had his commission for Brigadier-General in his pocket when he was killed.

It is most likely to this account that the popularly accepted notion that Jones had been promoted to brigadier general can be traced. On May 26, several regiments turned out in full dress to escort Jones’ remains to a steamer. The line formed at department provost marshal Captain Messenger’s house and colonels acted as pall-bearers. Foster himself marched in the procession and expressed his remorse at the loss of Jones by issuing the following:

General Orders, Hdqrs. Dept. Of N. C., Eighteenth A. C. No. 81
New Berne, May 26, 1863

The commanding general, in common with the officers and men of this command, is called upon to mourn the loss of a most gallant officer, Col. J. Richter Jones, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Volunteers, who fell at the head of his regiment on the evening of May 23, whilst repelling an attack on the outposts. Colonel Jones won the admiration of all in this department by the indefatigable, able, and gallant manner with which he filled the arduous duties of commander of the outposts. He died whilst enjoying the triumph of a victory won by his valor and counsel. To the service, to this department, and to his regiment this death has been a sad loss; and to all here, and to those at home whom he loved, the commanding general offers his most sincere sympathy. May his bright example lead many to tread the arduous path of duty with as pure an appreciation of duty and with as firm unswerving tread as he. All flags in this department will be carried at half-mast for the three days following receipt of this order, and at this post half-hour guns will be fired from Forts Totten and Rowan from sunrise to sunset to-morrow, May 27.

By command of Maj. Gen. J. G. Foster: [SOUTHARD HOFFMAN,] Assistant Adjutant-General.

The honors to Jones’ memory did not end in North Carolina. When his body arrived in Pennsylvania, it was clear that he had earned the respect of his neighbors, as well as the acquaintances he had made during his short military career. A Philadelphia Inquirer article said: Col. J. Richter Jones, Fifty-eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, was buried June 3d, after lying in state in Independence Hall, with appropriate military ceremonies. The First Regiment Reserve Brigade, Companies A, C and D of the First Regiment Artillery, the Philadelphia Home Guard, the Provost Guard, the Invalid Corps, and a squadron of Connecticut cavalry served as an escort. In applying for her widow’s pension on September 14, 1863, Anna authorized Harry G. Clay, a Philadelphia attorney, to be her agent and attorney. A widow for the second time, 53-year-old Anna provided various supporting accounts of documentation and on February 1, 1864, was awarded a $30 monthly pension. At the time, she was living in Eaglesmere, but she eventually moved back to Philadelphia.

Her family, however, maintained the large tract of land in Sullivan County for some time after the War. Sadly, however, the beautiful home she had shared with her husband did not survive the War. While accounts of the date vary (some time in 1862 while Jones’ family had taken up a temporary residence in the city; May 23, 1863, the day Jones was killed and June 1863 while Anna attended her husband’s funeral in Philadelphia), Jones’ fine home in Eaglesmere is known to have been destroyed by a fire that also took his valuable law library. In the summer of 1862, Col. J. Richter Jones wrote that he desired to have his son Horatio accompany him as his "military secretary," adding that he would be "decently fitted out" as a "gentleman cadet." Horatio was about 15 years old at the time, and while there is no record of whether the boy joined Jones in Virginia, the boy eventually realized his father’s wish for him to become an officer. Horatio Jones graduated from the West Point class of 1867 and served as an officer in the army until 1873.