James Harvey Childs was born on the July 4, 1834, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, Harvey, was originally from Massachusetts, and his mother Jane was sister to the former Pennsylvania Chief Justice. James graduated from Miami University in 1852.
James became a civil engineer and wholesale dry goods merchant in Pittsburg. On July 14, 1857 he married Mary H. Howe. They would have three children together. Childs was active in the militia, serving as 1st Lieutenant in the Pittsburg City Guards.
At the start of the Civil War Childs became 1st Lieutenant in Company K of the 12th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, a three months unit that guarded the line of the North Central Railroad to Baltimore. When that regiment mustered out in August Childs began recruiting for the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry. On October 18, 1861 he became the regiment’s lieutenant colonel. The regiment left for Washington in the fall and spent the winter on provost duty around the capital.
On March 12, 1862, the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s Colonel Campbell transferred to become the colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry and Childs was promoted to colonel. In May the regiment advanced to Fredericksburg and along the Rappahannock. In June the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry joined McClellan on the Peninsula, serving at Mechanicsville, Gaines’ Mill, Glendale and Malvern Hill.
When McClellan’s army was withdrawn from the Peninsula the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry returned to Washington and was attached to the 3rd Brigade of Pleasanton’s Cavalry Division. It’s commander, Brigadier General William Averell, was on sick leave, and Childs took command of the brigade as senior colonel.
At the Battle of Antietam the brigade was on the left of the Union line, supporting Tidball’s Battery A, 2nd United States Artillery on the Newcomer Farm on the west side of the stone bridge that carried Boonsboro Pike over Antietam Creek. Childs had just completed an inspection of his line when he was struck.
“A single solid shot, which fell in the midst of the squadron supporting these guns, killed two men and four horses. Colonel Childs was among the killed… He had completed an inspection of the skirmish line, and was with the staff, under cover of a hill, in a place of comparative safety. While there chatting pleasantly, he was struck by a solid shot on the right hip. The ball passed across him, throwing him from his horse and disemboweling him. He was at once carried to better shelter, when conscious of his certain death, he first arranged his military duties, sending Captain Hughes to report to General Pleasanton, and another of his aids to Lieutentant Colonel Kerr, that he might take command of the brigade. He then dispatched an orderly to Dr. Marsh, to tell him ” if not attending to any one whose life could be saved, to come to him, as he was in great pain.” Lastly, he called Captain Henry King, Assistant Adjutant General, to whom he delivered his last messages to his family, and wishes as to his property. He lived forty minutes after he was struck, but was unconscious during the last twenty.” (Bates, Samuel P., Martial Deeds Of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia: T. H. Davis & Co., 1876)
James Childs was buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburg.