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Soldier and scholar Milton Wiley Humphreys (September 13, 1844-November 20, 1928) was born in Greenbrier County and was educated at Mercer Academy and Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. During the Civil War, on March 27, 1862, he enlisted in the Confederate service as a sergeant in Bryan’s Battery, Virginia Artillery. At the battle of Fayetteville, May 19, 1862, Sergeant Humphreys fired his cannon at Union artillery from behind an intervening forest. The shells rained down on the Union fort, and troops thought they came from the sky. This demonstration set a precedent for modern warfare by the use of indirect fire.

Humphreys served throughout the war and was paroled at Charleston, June 12, 1865. After the war he became noted as an authority on gunnery and ballistics. As a professor of Greek and ancient languages Humphreys taught at Washington and Lee University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Texas, and finally the University of Virginia. Professor Humphreys was a commissioner to the World’s Fair at Vienna, and in 1882 was elected president of the American Philological Association. In 1926, he published a memoir of his Civil War service titled Military Operations 1861–1863 at Fayetteville, West Virginia. He died at Charlottesville, Virginia, at the age of 84 and is buried in the University of Virginia Cemetery.

This Article was written by Tim McKinney

Last Revised on December 03, 2012

Related Articles


McKinney, Tim. Civil War in Fayette County. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1988.

Scott, John L. Lowry's, Bryan's and Chapman's Batteries of Virginia Artillery. Lynchburg: H. E. Howard, 1988.

Cite This Article

McKinney, Tim "Milton W. Humphreys." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 03 December 2012. Web. 19 April 2014.

User Comments


Kenneth Reffeitt November 15, 2010 at 10:27 AM

My grandmother’s uncle, subject of this article, is not buried in the Chapel at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. I personally searched for it there to no avail. He and his wife are buried in the University Cemetery. The erroneus information somehow got into print many years ago as I also found it in my research. He named his theory of indirect cannonball firing as “terrestrial shift,” noting that the earth’s rotation must be calculated for the “hang-time” of the ball. He was a student at Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) when the Civil War began. After the war he retured to said college when Gen. Lee was its president. His Ph.D. was earned at the University of Leipsig, Germany. He married Louise Garland, daughter of the chancellor of Vanderbilt University.

Editor’s note: We thank Mr. Reffeit for pointing out the error. We have corrected the mistake.

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