New Castle News article on Roundhead Lt. James Law Banks, Co. F and his descendant Lew Banks of the New Castle area; thanks to Tami McConahy for bringing this to my attention!  --The Websmith




September 9, 2009

Local man crosses
bridge to the past

New Castle News


A part of Lew Banks’ great-great-grandfather’s past lives in him today.

Lew taught math for years. I’m sure it was quite fulfilling. But what really captures his passion is history. And he has plenty of reason to get enthused because his own family provides a colorful few pages in the history book.

A 2008 Blackhawk High School retiree, Lew knew for years that his great-great-grandfather fought and died during the Civil War. But he visited his grave site for the first time this year.

He dropped in at The News office with a packet of information concerning his relative along with photos and old letters. There was a lot to share and Cruisin’ seemed like the perfect place.

Lt. James Law Banks had a farm of about 100 acres in what is now Wilmington Township. His father had settled here in the early 1800s and was a local state representative. So that makes Lew the seventh generation of Banks in Lawrence County.

The lieutenant, who enlisted at the beginning of the war, served in the 100th Pennsylvania Roundhead Regiment based in New Castle. He died following the Battle of Port Royal near Charleston, S.C. in May of 1862. Lew has been told his great-great-grandfather passed away from what the family suspected was typhoid. He was 42.

“There was never a cause given,” Lew said. “His death has always been kind of a mystery.”  He was buried in Beaufort National Cemetery, Beaufort, S.C.

While traveling on a bus tour, in April, Lew stopped at the cemetery with his father. The marker is rather plain, similar to all those that surround it. Lew said this is strictly a military cemetery and about 15,000 are buried here. About 7,500 are soldiers of the Civil War.

“This was the first time any of us had been there,” Lew said, adding this cemetery is one of the largest for Civil War dead. Veterans are still being buried there. James Law Banks is in grave 169 in the front row of Union officers. Lew even has a map of that section of the cemetery.

Also buried in that cemetery, he told me, were 19 Union soldiers of the all-black Massachusetts 54th and 55th Infantry, which was depicted in the movie, “Glory” starring   Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington. Lew was unaware of that fact before he made the trip.

To add more trivia, much of the movie, “Forrest Gump” was filmed at a private home in Beaufort.

It is a charming little Southern town, according to Lew, who noticed many pre-Civil War ante-bellum homes, some of which face the harbor.

Today, Lt. Banks is listed on the Civil War monument on Kennedy Square.

Lew’s family also kept many letters James Banks sent home to his wife, Sarah. I found it amazing they arrived with the simple address of Eastbrook, Lawrence County, Pa. The script is absolutely beautiful and the few letters I read are newsy and show concern about family and friends. One was dated Dec. 21, 1861.



“He expresses himself very well and includes details.”

Lew has the collection of letters and some of his personal things including a Bible and his officer’s commission.

He loves traveling to various Civil War battlefields and has been to Gettysburg, Antietam, Fort Sumter and Bull Run, also known as Manassas.

Another interesting tidbit of information — the covered bridge in Wilmington Township built in 1889 was named for Lt. Banks. Banks Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s.

Naturally, Lew is very proud his family has a link to such a distinction. The bridge is located on his great-great-grandfather’s former farm, which at the time, included several hundred acres.

The bridge’s chronicle is familiar stuff to Lew. It was built by Theodore Burr, who bent beams into an arch and placed them into the right and left sides of the bridge on the inside. This created a sort of buffer for traffic crossing the bridge.

He gets calls about the wooden structure.

“There aren’t too many things on the registry in Lawrence County,” Lew said.

It’s nearly 150 years of history with a local connection and quite literally a bridge to the past.