Maj. James Breathed was born near present-day Berkeley Spring, W. Va., on December 15, 1838, and moved while young with his family to Washington Co., Md. He attended St. James School in Lydia, where his father John Breathed was headmaster. At age 21, he graduated from the University of Maryland Medical School. During the Civil War, he served as a lieutenant in the 1st Virginia Cavalry under J.E.B. Stuart, and later as a major in Stuart's Horse Artillery.
Breathed so distinguished himself in the Battles of Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House, and Yellow Tavern that Gen. Robert E. Lee regarded him as "The hardest artillery fighter the war produced."
He returned to Hancock, Md., after the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House to live with his sister and practice medicine. His family was among the founders of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Breathed's brother-in-law Robert Bridges, co-owner of the Round Top Cement Mill, was the largest employer in Hancock during the war. His first cousin Dr. James Breathed Delaplane was also a physician here, and his office stood on this site. Maj. James Breathed died on February 14, 1870, and is buried in St. Thomas Episcopal Church Cemetery.
He graduated from medical and surgical schools in Baltimore by 1855, and practiced as a physician in St, Joseph, Missouri until Virginia suceeded and the War began in April 1861. As the war was breaking out he had a chance meeting on a train with James Ewell Brown Stuart (a.k.a. 'Jeb' Stuart). Breathed enlisted in the 1st Virginia Cavalry, again meeting up with Stuart who commissioned him 'Lieutenant of Stuart’s Horse Artillery.' He had enlisted in the 1st Cavalry, and was a Private in Company B, on 31 August 1861. He was appointed 3rd Lieutenant of Pelham's Battery on 23 March 1862. He was promoted to Captain in command of the Battery 9 August 1862.
He was recognized as a superior artillerist, and served with his battery and as a battalion commander for the remainder of the War. He was promoted to Major in February 1864, was wounded at Yellow Tavern, and ended the War paroled at Winchester, Virginia in April 1865.
After the War:
He returned to Hancock after the War and practiced medicine until his early death, at 31, in 1870.
His tombstone has a quote, attributed to Robert E. Lee: “The hardest artillery fighter the war produced.”
Major Breathed was involved in eighty-six battles, engagements and skirmishes. When the Civil War began, James Breathed was a 21-year-old physician at the beginning of his medical career. A Virginian by birth, and raised on a plantation in Maryland, he cast his lot with the Confederacy in April 1861. By chance, he shared a seat on a train with James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, who encouraged Breathed to join the 1st Virginia Cavalry, a regiment commanded by Stuart. Breathed was then transferred to the newly formed Stuart Horse Artillery. For the doctor-turned-warrior, it was a perfect assignment.
Unencumbered by formal military training, Breathed developed his own unique style of command. Relentless in his efforts to defeat the enemy, he exhibited conspicuous gallantry and accomplishments on so many fields that his actions separated him from the pack of other battery commandersâ€”inside and outside the cavalry arm. Breathe's handling of horse artillery and accurate fire became recognizable to his enemies. Alexander C. M. Pennington, the leader of a celebrated Union battery of the horse artillery, looked forward to and dreaded his many encounters with Breathed.
In the minds of the Confederate veterans who knew him best, Breathed was no less of a legend than artillerist John Pelham. After the war doctor Breathed returned to continue his practice of medicine in Hancock, Maryland. He died February 14, 1870.