The son of a respected storekeeper, Francis G. Obenchain was born in Botecourt County, Va., in 1843. In 1861, Obenchain enlisted in the Confederate Army as part of the "Mountain Rifles." This unit was also briefly part of Co. H, 28th Va. Vol. Inf., before it was converted into a light artillery battery in 1861. Renamed the Botetourt Artillery, the War Department assigned the unit to the war's eastern theater in 1862, where it was the only Virginia unit to participate in the Vicksburg campaign. Obenchain served as the unit's temporary commander during the Battle of Port Gibson (May 1, 1863) and during the siege of Vicksburg (May-July 1863). Captured and paroled, Obenchain and his battery returned to Virginia, where it took part in the artillery duel at New River Bridge (May 10, 1864) and in the defense of Lynchburg (June 1864). In 1873, Obenchain left Virginia and eventually settled in Chicago, where he worked as a miller's agent and was member of the Chicago Flour Exchange. He also maintained a residence in Miami, Fla.
This collection mainly contains correspondence between Obenchain and various individuals, including William T. Rigby, Commissioner of the Vicksburg National Military Park Association, regarding the correct placement of markers honoring the Botetourt Artillery at the park. Obenchain's letters, largely written between 1902 and 1904, reveal the vivid, detailed memories of a keen observer with an engineer's eye toward terrain. Obenchain also provides exact details of his unit's part in the campaign, and discusses the battery's "humiliating" record after Vicksburg, veteran's reunions, and monument construction in Fincastle, Va. The collection also contains several maps and blueprints of Civil War battlefields, rough drafts of manuscripts, and genealogical information.
The Oberchain papers are extensively used in Terrance J. Winschel, "Virginians Far from Home: The Botetourt Artillery at Vicksburg" and "The Guns of Champion Hill," Journal of Confederate History, 5-6 (1990-91).
Ralph and Robin Symons of Miami, Fla., donated the collection to the University in 1989.