Contributed by: Diane Siniard
Brigadier-General James H. Lane was born at Matthews Court House, Va., the son of Col. Walter G. and Mary A. H. (Barkwell) Lane. He was one of the two "star graduates" of his class at the Virginia military institute, and afterward pursued a scientific course at the university of Virginia. After serving on the hydrographic survey of York river, he was appointed assistant professor of mathematics and tactics at the Virginia military institute, and later professor of those branches at the Florida State seminary. At the time of the formation of the Confederate states government he was professor of natural philosophy in the North Carolina military institute at Charlotte. With the other officers of the college he offered his services to the State He acted as drillmaster and adjutant in the first camp of instruction near Raleigh, where he was elected major of the First North Carolina volunteers, Col. D. H. Hill. His first service was on the Virginia peninsula, where on July 8th, with a detachment composed of the Buncombe riflemen and one gun of the Richmond howitzers, he attacked and chased a marauding party across New Market bridge in full view of Old Point and Hampton, becoming responsible, as Colonel Hill publicly declared at the time, for the subsequent affair at Big Bethel. In that encounter he served in the salient before which Major Winthrop was killed. His regiment here earned the title of the "Bethel" regiment, and he was dubbed the "Little Major" and elected lieutenant-colonel when Hill was promoted. Not long afterward he was elected colonel of the Twenty-eighth North Carolina regiment, which he reorganized for the war, before the passage of the conscript acts. He was then again unanimously elected colonel, and at inspection near Kinston his command was complimented by General Holmes for being the first of the twelve months' regiments to re-enlist for the war. He commanded his regiment at Hanover Court House when it was cut off by the overwhelming force under Fitz John Porter, and was praised by Generals Lee and Branch for the gallantry of the fight and the masterly extrication from disaster. At Cold Harbor he was wounded at the same time that the noble Campbell fell in front of his regiment, colors in hand, and at Frayser's Farm he received an ugly and painful wound in the face while charging a battery, but refused to leave the field. At Sharpsburg, when the brigade under Branch was hastening to the left, Lane and his regiment were detached by A. P. Hill and sent into the fight to support a battery and drive back the enemy. About dark, Lane received an order from Branch to join the brigade, and when coming up met Major Englehard, who, in response to an inquiry as to where General Branch could be found, replied in a voice choked with emotion: "He has just been shot; there he goes on that stretcher, dead, and you are in command of the brigade." Two days after, Lane's brigade, with Gregg's and Archer's, constituted the rear guard of the army in crossing the Potomac. The brigade hailed with delight Lane's promotion to brigadier-general, which occurred November I, 1862, christened him their "Little General," and presented him a fine sash, sword, saddle and bridle. He was at this time twenty-seven years old. In his last battle under Stonewall Jackson, Chancellorsville, he and his North Carolinians fought with gallantry and devotion. At Gettysburg he participated in the first shock of battle on July 1st, and on the 3d his brigade and Scales' formed the division which Trimble led up Cemetery hill. In this bloody sacrifice half his men were killed or wounded, and his horse was killed under him. Subsequently he was in command of the light division until the 12th, when it was consolidated with Heth's. During 1864 he was in battle from the Rapidan to Cold Harbor. At Spottsylvania Court House, at the critical moment when Hancock, having overrun the famous angle and captured Johnson's division, was about to advance through this break in the Confederate line, Lane's brigade, stationed immediately on the right of the angle, rapidly drew back to an unfinished earthwork, in which he flung two of his regiments, while the other three were posted behind them to load and pass up rifles to the front line. Thus a terrible fire was opened upon the Federals, which checked their triumph and permitted Gordon's and other divisions to arrive in time to hold the line. At Cold Harbor General Lane received a painful wound in the groin which disabled him for some time, but he was with his brigade at Appomattox. After the surrender he made his way, penniless, to his childhood home and found his parents ruined in fortune and crushed in spirit by the loss of two brave sons, members of their brother's staff. He worked here until he could borrow $150 to assist him in search of other employment. Since then he has been prominently associated with educational work in the South, serving eight years as commandant of cadets and professor of natural philosophy in the Virginia agricultural and mechanical college; for a short time as professor of mathematics in the school of mines of the Missouri State university, and for a long time with the Alabama agricultural and mechanical college, first acting as commandant, as well as professor of civil engineering and drawing, the chair he still holds. He has received the degrees of Ph. D., from the university of West Virginia, and LL. D., from Trinity college, North Carolina. At the first interment of President Davis he was one of the three guards of honor. General Lane married Charlotte Randolph Meade, of Richmond, who died several years ago, leaving four daughters.