MAJOR GRAVES was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, June 23, 1836. His father, Rice E. Graves, Senior, a native of Goochland County, Virginia, was a descendant of one of the early pioneers of that State. In 1833, he married Mrs. Amelia Gregory, the widowed daughter of Captain Jesse Richeson, a wealthy and influential citizen of Amherst County, Virginia, and shortly afterward moved to Rockbridge, where Rice, their third son, was born.
When he had attained to seventeen years of age, the circumstances of the family were greatly improved, and he was sent to the Owensboro' Academy, then under the supervision of Professor Henry Hart, an able teacher, and spent three sessions in the institution, making rapid proficiency in his studies. He won the confidence of his teacher and the love and esteem of his schoolmates by his untiring application and his uniformly strict integrity of character, as well as agreeable deportment. After he left this school, he spent a year or more laboring on his father's farm, etill passing the leisure hours of the day, and his evenings, in study, or in conversation with those who could instruct and profit him. He had no disposition to engage in frivolous amusements or in idleness or dissipation.
Some time in 1858 he made application for the then vacant scholarship at West Point, for the Second Congressional District of Kentucky, and, through the influence of the Hon. S. O. Peyton, at that time their able representative in Congress, he obtained the appointment, and entered that institution, bearing with him high testimonials from Hon. Thos. C. McCreery (afterward U. S. Senator) and other leading men of Davies. It is scarcely necessary to add that he more than fulfilled the expectations that had been formed of him by those who then spoke of him in such flattering terms. He remained here two years, and, sometimes for six months together, never received a single mark of demerit. He would, doubtless, have completed his course and won the highest honors of his class, but for the breaking out of the war. But the knowledge that war was abroad in the land was sufficient of itself to fire him for the contest, and influence him with visions of martial glory to be won upon the very threshold of his manhood; and the thought that his country—his own Kentucky—was to be a party to the strife, inspired him with an ardor that can be felt by none but the enthusiastic lovers of the profession of arms, and the devoted lover of his own people as well.*
He accordingly returned home, and was much engaged, during the summer of 1861, at the camps of instruction for the StateGuard. He entered upon the discharge of these^duties with an ardor that bespoke the spirit of the soldier, and with a knowledge of military affairs that told plainly of past, assiduous, and well-directed study. He was full of energy and fire. He was alive to the importance of judicious training, and seemed to become absorbed in the work. He impressed others as only genius
- For the facts upon which the preceding remarks are based, relative to tho early life of Major Graves, and for some quotations throughout the sketch, we are indebted to Captain Sam H. Jesse, of Davies County.
and energy can impress the more phlegmatic among men, and at once gave eminent promise of future greatness.
When recruits began to gather for the formation of the Second Regiment, he was among them; and, at the organization of that command, he was appointed first lieutenant and adjutant. He served in this capacity till November, 1861—how well, how acceptably to those who knew what depended upon him, was evinced by the admiration which was felt for him by the better and more reflecting officers and men.
In November, as has heretofore been seen, he was placed in command of a battery of field-pieces, manned by some few recruits who enlisted specially for that service, by Company B, Fourth Regiment, and by some men detailed from the various other companies of the brigade. He was promoted to the rank of captain of artillery, and in that capacity fought at Donelson. It is said that he proved himself on that field a superior artillerist; and it is even related that he attracted the attention of General Grant, who inquired, after the surrender, who had commanded that particular battery, remarking that however he tried to conceal or shelter his men during the various maneuvers, it was useless; do what he could, that battery found them.
When General Breckinridge reorganized a division at Murfreesboro', Graves was named as his chief of artillery, with the rank of major, and the appointment was shortly afterward made by the President. He had now been for months confined in prison; and to an ardent, energetic, ambitious man like him, imprisonment is a living death, and restoration to liberty is lifting such weight from his shoulders as apparently to remove the obstacle to every achievement. He worked with even increased energy, and fought with, if possible, unwonted chivalry. Wherever his division went there was he; whatever it encountered he helped to resist; the glories that it won (whether in victory or by sustaining, with a dignified fortitude, disaster and defeat), he shared.
At Murfreesboro' he was twice wounded and had his horse shot under him. The reports of the battle of Chickamauga, published in this volume, and our own remarks, have already disclosed the melancholy fact that here was terminated his career—here a life so full of promise was lost to the cause, and his friends were called to mourn that one so young in years, yet so endowed with all the manly virtues, so marked with those excellencies that would have made him conspicuous even in the age of chivalry, should be cut down while mounting, with a daring eye and a steady foot, the rounds of the ladder to the zenith of fame. The tribute paid him by General Breckinridge was expressive, and heartfelt as expressive, for he enjoyed the confidence and love of his general as few young officers ever did. Noticing some of those who had distinguished themselves under his eye, he wrote, as will be seen in his report: "One member of my staff I can not thank; Major Rice E. Graves, chief of artillery, received a mortal wound on Sunday the 20th. Although a very young man, he had won eminence in arms, and gave promise of the highest distinction. A truer friend, a purer patriot, a better soldier, never lived."
The character of Major Graves, in both mind and heart, was such as to justify the highest hopes of those who admired and loved him. His naturally bold and comprehensive intellect had not been prostrated by the enervating influence of sin and the gratification of evil passions. His heart was not debased by the indulgence of the animal appetites. No phase of his manhood had been prostituted to purposes inimical to growth, development, and purity. His mother was a good and true woman, endowed not only with natural talent and mental culture, but with "the wisdom that cometh from on high." She brought him up in the way he should go, and he did not depart from it. She impressed the brave, stern, manly character with truth and honor, instilled into him a love of virtue, and integrity of purpose; and so fitted him for the trials of life that the siren of insidious pleasure could not charm him, nor the lion by the way of the world's bitter realities affright him. That such a character should
rise to distinction, seems but a natural sequence; that he would have gone on to higher degrees of excellence in his profession, is predicable upon the foundation laid in his boyhood, and sustained by the results achieved before he was smitten down.
While at West Point, he connected himself with the Presbyterian Church, and maintained his Christian standing untarnished till death. Among the veterans of the army, he was not ashamed to acknowledge his dependence upon the Divine Power, and before any who chanced to find shelter beneath his tent, he did not hesitate, upon retiring to rest, to offer up the evening orison, that would enable him to feel that he had committed himself to One who was able to protect him till his work was done, and who would take him only when it were the better time for him to die.
A gentleman, who knew him from boyhood, says of him: "I feel that I can say, without exaggeration, that, take him altogether, I have never known his equal. He was remarkable for his virtue, honesty, and integrity. To his parents he was always dutiful, loving, and obedient; to his brothers and sisters affectionate and kind. For age and superiority he entertained the greatest reverence. He was upright and correct. I never knew of his contracting a bad habit, or being guilty of a dishonorable action."
In the performance of his military duties, he allowed himself no indulgence that endangered the public service or set an evil example of carelessness or insubordination, and he exacted the like conduct from those under his control. But he was never unreasonably harsh, and still less was he unjust. When off duty he was modest before those to whom deference was due, and to all, generous and genial. It will be seen in the progress of our work that his energy, courage, and devotion were like those of Jackson. An incident is said to have occurred at Chickamauga, after he was wounded and carried from the scene of conflict, which shows how unselfish and generous he was. A poor fellow had been laid near him, with a dreadful wound, and his agony was such that he raved. Some one proposed that he should be moved away from Major Graves, to prevent disturbing him: but the dying officer sternly forbade it, and reproved them for proposing to cause another pain to the sufferer on his account.
Like the gallant and true-hearted of every Christian age and clime, he entertained for his mother the most profound respect and filial love. "I stood by his side," says the friend heretofore quoted, "as he took leave of the family, when about to repair to the seat of war. One by one he bade them adieu. Last of all he turned to the fond mother, who, with her overburdened heart, had reserved the privilege of the last embrace; and while his bosom heaved with deep emotion and his manly cheeks were wet with tears, he exclaimed, though scarcely able to articulate, 'Mother, I will return for your sake.'" But he came no more; and that household was darkened with the shadow of a great sorrow, which the heritage of honor he won for them can not dispel—which nothing can lift till they meet him where the glories as well as the calamities of earth are regarded no more.