With his upturned mustache, large mutton chops, and plumed hat, “Prince John” Bankhead Magruder (1807-1871) cut a dashing figure. He was a veteran of the Mexican War and amateur actor with unconventional views on warfare for the time period. On April 21, 1861, four days after the Virginia Secession Convention formally adopted articles of secession, Magruder resigned his commission in the U.S. Army and became a colonel in the Confederate Army.
Virginia Governor John Letcher placed him in command of the Army of the Peninsula and tasked him with bottling up Union forces in Fort Monroe. Magruder ordered his men to paint logs to look like cannon and march in circles, beating drums and making a racket to deceive the enemy into thinking he had a much larger force. He also employed Brig. Gen. Gabriel Rains’ expertise in “land torpedoes,” an early form of IED–buried or hidden artillery shells designed to explode when encountered. He won the Battle of Big Bethel on June 10, 1861.
After a poor showing during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, he was sent to command troops out west where he did not surrender until June 2, 1865. Following the war, he moved to Mexico and later lectured throughout the United States until his death in 1871.
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