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Template:Infobox Governor Roger Atkinson Pryor (July 19, 1828 – March 14, 1919) was both an American politician and a Confederate politician serving as a congressman on both sides. He was also a jurist, serving in the New York Supreme Court, a lawyer, and newspaper editor. Pryor is also known for being a Confederate Brigadier General during the American Civil War.

Early life and career[]

Pryor was born near Petersburg, Virginia to Theodorick Pryor, a grandson of Richard Bland, and Lucy Atkinson.[1] He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1845 and from the law school of the University of Virginia in 1848.[1] The following year, he was admitted to the bar, but abandoned law on account of ill health. Pryor was married on November 8, 1848 to Sara Agnes Rice with whom he would have seven children.[2] He then devoted himself for a few years to journalism. Pryor served on the editorial staff of the Washington Union in 1852 and the Richmond Enquirer in 1854. He got involved in politics and was appointed special by Franklin Pierce as a diplomat to Greece in 1854.[1] Upon his return to Virginia, he established The South in 1857. He was a fiery and eloquent advocate of slavery, states' rights, and secession.


Roger A. Pryor in his younger years.

In 1859, he was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives to fill the vacancy in Virginia's 4th District caused by the death of William O. Goode. He served from December 7, 1859 to March 3, 1861.[1] In the House, Pryor became a particular enemy of Representative Thaddeus Stevens, a Republican abolitionist.[3]

During his term, he got into a verbal altercation with John F. Potter, a representative from Wisconsin, and challenged Potter to a duel.[4] Potter, having the choice of weapons, chose bowie knives. Pryor backed out saying that bowie knives were not a civilized weapon.[4] The incident found widespread publication in the Northern press which saw the refusal as a coup for the North — the humiliation of a Southern “fire eater”.[5]

Civil War service[]

In early 1861, Pryor agitated for immediate secession in Virginia, but the state convention did not act. Frustrated, Pryor went to Charleston in April, to urge immediate attack on Fort Sumter[1]. (Pryor asserted this would cause Virginia to secede.) On April 12, he accompanied the last Confederate party to the fort before the bombardment (but stayed in the boat).[6] Afterward, while waiting at Fort Johnson, he was offered the opportunity to fire the first shot. But despite his earlier rhetoric, he declined, saying "I could not fire the first gun of the war."[6]

In 1861, Pryor was re-elected to his Congressional seat, but owing to the secession of Virginia, he of course did not sit in the U.S. Congress.[1] (In this period, several states including Virginia elected U.S. Representatives in the early part of odd years. This was possible because Congress almost always met late in the year.) Instead he served in the provisional Confederate Congress in 1861, and also in the first regular Congress (1862) under the Confederate Constitution.[1]

He entered the Confederate States Army as Colonel of the 3rd Virginia Infantry.[1] He was promoted to brigadier general on April 16, 1862. His brigade, consisting of regiments from Virginia, Alabama, and Florida, fought in the Peninsula Campaign, and at Second Manassas, where it became detached in the swirling fighting and temporarily operated under Stonewall Jackson. At Antietam on September 17, 1862, he assumed command of Anderson's Division in Longstreet's Corps when Maj. Gen. Richard H. Anderson was wounded.[7]

Due to a disagreement with Confederate President Jefferson Davis over his desire for permanent higher field command, Pryor resigned his commission in 1863 and his brigade was dismantled.[1] In August of that year, he enlisted as a private and scout in a Virginia cavalry regiment under General Fitzhugh Lee. Pryor was captured on November 28, 1864, and confined in Fort Lafayette as a suspected spy.[7] He was released on parole by order of President Lincoln and returned to Virginia.[7]

File:Pryor-Lincoln portrait.jpg

Pryor looking at a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Postbellum activities[]

In 1865, an impoverished Pryor moved his family to New York City, where he established a profitable law firm with a partner.[1]. This is when his so called "conversion" began.[1] The partner that Pryor had in the law firm was Benjamin F. Butler, one of the most hated Union generals in the South.[7] He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1876. He served as judge of the New York Court of Common Pleas from 1890 to 1894, and justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1894 to 1899.[8] He was appointed official referee by the appellate division of the state Supreme Court on April 10, 1912, and served until his death in New York City.[8] He was buried in Princeton Cemetery, in Princeton, New Jersey.[8]

His wife, Sara Agnes (Rice) Pryor (b. 1830), published The Mother of Washington and her Times (1903)[9], Reminiscences of Peace and War (1904)[10], The Birth of the Nation: Jamestown, 1607 (1907)[11], and My Day: Reminiscences of a Long Life (1909)[12].

See also[]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Scott pp. 585-590
  2. James pg. 103
  3. Waugh pg. 55
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wilson pg. 131
  5. Carl Schurz, Reminiscences, New York: McClure Publ. Co., 1907, Volume II, pp. 166-167.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Waugh pg. 88
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Eicher 30-31
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Welsh pp. 177-178
  9. Pryor The mother of Washington
  10. Pryor Reminiscences of Peace and War
  11. Pryor The Birth of the Nation
  12. Pryor My Day


  • Eicher, David J.; "The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War", Simon and Schuster, (2001) ISBN 0-7432-1846-9
  • James, Edward T., James, Janet Wilson, Boyer, Paul S.; "Notable American women, 1607-1950: a biographical dictionary", Harvard University Press, (1971) ISBN 0-674-62734-2
  • Pryor, Sara Agnes Rice; "The mother of Washington and her times", Macmillan Company, (1903)
  • Pryor, Sara Agnes Rice; "Reminiscences of Peace and War", Macmillan Company, (1904)
  • Pryor, Sara Agnes Rice; "The Birth of the Nation: Jamestown, 1607", Macmillan Company, (1907)
  • Pryor, Sara Agnes Rice; "My Day: Reminiscences of a Long Life", Macmillan, (1909)
  • Roger Atkinson Pryor at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-02-13
  • Scott, Henry Wilson, Ingalls, John James; "Distinguished American Lawyers with Their Struggles and Triumphs in the Forum" (1890)
  • Waugh, John C.; "Surviving the Confederacy: rebellion, ruin, and recovery : Roger and Sara Pryor during the Civil War", Harcourt, (2002) ISBN 0-15-100389-0
  • Welsh, Jack D.; "Medical Histories of Confederate Generals", Kent State University Press, (1999) ISBN 0-87338-649-3
  • Wilson, James Grant, Fiske, John; "Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography" ,D. Appleton, (1900)

External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | Confederate States House of Representatives |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
(none) |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Member of the C.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia

February 18, 1862 – April 5, 1862 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Charles F. Collier |- |- | colspan="3" style="background:#bebebe; color:#000000;" | Notes and references |- | colspan="3" style="text-align:left;"| 1. Because of Virginia's secession, the House seat was vacant for almost eleven years before Booker succeeded Pryor. |}

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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