Born near Raleigh, North Carolina, Manning moved with his parents to Mississippi in 1841. He attended Horn Lake Male Academy in De Soto County, Mississippi, where he married Mary Wallace of Holly Springs, Mississippi. He later attended the University of Nashville in Tennessee, where he studied law. He moved to Arkansas in 1860, where, in January, 1861, he and his wife suffered through the death of their first born son. He was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1861 and commenced practice in Hamburg.
Service during the Civil War
In May 1861, Manning and Dr. W.H. Tebbs recruited and organized the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment, drawing from soldiers recruited in Ashley, Drew, Union, Dallas and Hot Spring counties. The regiment made up a total of eleven companies, and included one company of recruits from other parts of Arkansas as well as recruits from Tennessee and Kentucky. The regiment was then marched to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they were initially turned down for service as a part of the Confederate Army. Manning then enlisted the assistance of Arkansas politician Albert Rust, and the regiment was accepted as part of the Confederate Army, with Rust appointed as colonel, and sent to Lynchburg, Virginia for training. The 3rd Arkansas was then assigned to General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, after which it took part in almost every major eastern battle.
Tebbs and Manning both served as captains, and subsequently Manning was promoted to colonel of the 3rd Arkansas following Rust being promoted to Brigadier General. Manning received battle wounds at the battles of Antietam (Sharpsburg), Gettysburg and The Wilderness. Manning's reputation for heroism in battle was well known, and in official reports he was recognized for his actions during the Battle of Antietam and the Battle of Gettysburg.
The report from his actions at Antietam, filed by Confederate General John G. Walker, and submitted to General James Longstreet, read as follows;
"Colonel Manning, with the 46th and 48th North Carolina and 30th Virginia, not content with possession of the woods, dashed forward in gallant style, crossed the open fields beyond, driving the enemy back before him like sheep, until, arriving at a long line of strong post and rail fences, behind which heavy masses of the enemies infantry were lying, their advance was checked, and it being impossible to climb these fences under such fire, these regiments, after suffering a heavy loss, were compelled to fall back..."
"Just before the falling back of these regiments, the gallant Colonel Manning was severely wounded and was compelled to leave the field, relinquishing the command of the brigade to the next rank, Colonel E.D. Hall, of the 46th North Carolina Regiment."
"...The division suffered heavily, particularly Manning's command (Walker's Brigade), which at one time sustained almost the whole fire of the enemies right wing. Going into the engagement, as it was necessary for us to do, to support the sorely pressed divisions of Hood and Early, it was, of course, impossible to make dispositions based upon careful reconnaissance of the localities. The post and rail fences stretching across the fields lying between us and the enemies position, I regard as the fatal obstacle to complete our success on the left, and success there would be, doubtless, have changed the fate of the day. Of the existence of this obstacle none of my division had any previous knowledge, and we learned it at the expense of many valuable lives."
Manning was later commended again for gallantry, during the Battle of Gettysburg, by Brigadier General Jerome B. Robertson of the Texas Brigade, to which the 3rd Arkansas had been attached. In that action, Robertson's brigade had been ordered forward to attack and secure Devil's Den. The 1st, 4th, and 5th Texas regiments, alongside the 3rd Arkansas, did so at great cost, taking heavy casualties but securing their objective. Robertson gave much of the credit for this success to Manning's leadership in the field. Manning was wounded toward the end of that engagement, after helping his regiment hold under overwhelming odds. He was later wounded for his third time and captured during the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in 1864. Manning was held as a prisoner of war by Union forces from the time of his capture until the end of the war. When the war ended, only 144 of his 3rd Arkansas soldiers remained out of 1,353 mustered into it from the start of the war.
Entry into politics
After the war, Manning resumed the practice of law in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Manning was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-fifth, Forty-sixth, and Forty-seventh Congresses (March 4, 1877–March 3, 1883). He resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1883. In 1884 he presented credentials as a Member-elect to the Forty-eighth Congress but did not qualify, and on June 25, 1884, the seat was awarded to James R. Chalmers, who had contested his election. Manning then resumed the practice of law in Washington, D.C., in 1883. He died in Branchville, Maryland, and was interred in Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
- Van H. Manning at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-02-13
- Col. Van H. Manning
- History of the 3rd Arkansas
- 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment
- Brig. Gen. J.B. Robertson, after action report, Devil's Den
- "For Ninety Nine Years or the War" The Story of the 3rd Arkansas at Gettysburg
- Arkansas Civil War Soldiers Index
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