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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter VII.  1861 - 1865  (Part 1)


The organization of Military Companies--The concentration of Armies--the War begins--Great Union Uprising in Northwestern Virginia--Restored Government of Virginia--Formation of West Virginia--Various battles and engagements--Campaigns of 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865--The war ends--Peace restored--Reconstruction in Mercer County.

At the period of the organization of military companies referred to above, the whole state of Virginia, in a measure, presented a fair picture of a grand military camp and the people, except those in the northwestern part of the state were aglow with enthusiasm for the defense of Virginia.  Enlistments were rapidly going on in all the counties, cities, towns and villages within the Commonwealth, and the people of the New River Valley Counties were abreast with their sister counties in this great movement.

The change in public sentiment wrought in the minds of the people in a few short weeks was most remarkable.  In the County of Giles Mr. Manilius Chapman, known to lean strongly towards separation from the Federal Union, was in February elected to the convention by a majority of only about twenty votes over Mr. Charles D Peck, an open and avowed Unionist, and who declared that "he would give up his slaves rather than dissolve the union."  A little more than three short months, the solid vote of Giles County was cast for the ratification of the ordinance of Secession.  The same is true of the people of Mercer County, where the Union candidate was elected by a vote of over two to one; yet in the same length of time the sentiment of the people had been so revolutionized, that, save and except seven votes, the county went solidly for secession; this too, in county whose population was composed almost wholly of white people, there being  but few slaves in the county.

The following companies were organized and sent to the war by the County of Giles, viz: Captain James H. French's company of infantry attached to the 7th Virginia regiment; Captain W. W. McComas' company of artillery attached to Sarke's battalion; Captain Andrew Gott's company (Note:The officers of Captain Andrew Gott's company I, 36 Va. Infty., were, Capt. Andrew Gott, Lieuts. James K. Shannon, Leander Johnston and Jno. M. Henderson.) attached to the 36th Virginia regiment of infantry; Captain Porterfield's company attached to the 36th regiment of Virginia infantry; Captain William Eggleston's company attached to the 24th Virginia regiment of infantry; Captain William H. Payne's company attached to the 27th Virginia battalion of cavalry.  To these should be added numbers of Giles County men who attached themselves to companies from other counties, and also the Reserve forces composed of those between the ages of sixteen and eighteen years and forty-five and fifty years. (Note: A company of Reserves commanded by Capt. Wm. H. Dulaney.)

Mercer County organized and sent to the field ten companies as follows, viz: (Note: In addition to these ten companies, Mercer County also sent Capt. Alex. Pine's company of Reserves, attached to the 4th Va. Battalion.  See Appendix G.) Captain Robert A. Richardson's company attached to the 24th regiment of Virginia infantry; Captain William B. Dorman's company attached to a regiment of the Wise legion; Captain John A. pack's company and Captain W. G. Ryan's company, both of which were attached to the 60th regiment of Virginia; Captain Richard B. Foley's Independent company of infantry; Captain John R. Dunlap's company attached to the 23rd Virginia battalion of infantry; Captain William H. French's company attached to the 17th Virginia regiment of cavalry; Captain Napoleon B. French's company of artillery, unattached, and captured at Fort Donnelson, and afterwards divided, part going to the 17th regiment of Virginia cavalry and the remainder thereof to Clark's 30th battalion of Virginia infantry; the companies of Captain Jacob C. Straley and Captain Robert Gore attached to the 17th regiment of Virginia cavalry.  The company of Captain William B. Dorman was captured in the battle of Roanoke Island, in 1862, and on the return of the members of said company they separated, some going to Captain Jacob C. Stralye's company and some to a company commanded by Captain Thomas Thompson, who was succeeded by Captain James H. Peck, and this company was attached to the 27th Virginia battalion of infantry commanded by Colonel George M. Edgar.

It is not intended here, in fact it is not at all possible, as the information is not at hand, to present a list of the names of the men who composed these various companies, but the rolls of some of the companies from the Counties of Giles and Mercer, as far as they have been obtained, together with the names of the various company, officers will be found in the appendix to this volume.

As has already been stated, when our people entered upon the war it was with brave determination and vigor--not counting the cost.  It was to them simply the question of defending Virginia, and Virginia's soil from the threatened invasion of a Northern army; and to preserve our rights and liberties as free people, and for which our ancestors had shed their blood in our contest with Great Britain.  It was not a war on the part of our people to preserve or perpetuate slavery, for thousands of our best and bravest soldiers, nor their ancestors had ever owned a slave.  We were forced to the choice of which master we should serve--we could not serve both.  We regarded our primary allegiance due to the state which, with the other states, had given life and existence to the Federal agent that now proposed to turn upon, crush and destroy its creators.    These were the arguments and presentations of the question at that time.   For these contentions our people stood ready to surrender their lives, their all, save honor, and fought to the finish, only yielding to overpowering and overwhelming force, but not surrendering an iota of the principles for which they so long, so faithfully and bravely battled.  These principles are just as sacred today as they ever were, they were not lost by the results of the war, only the effort to maintain and establish them by the arbitrament of the sword was a failure.

In the months of May, June and early days of July, 1861, the Federal Government had gathered two great armies in the East under the command of General Winfield Scott; one at Washington and in the vicinity, which during the months referred to had crossed the Potomac into Virginia, the other along the upper Potomac in the vicinity of Martinsburg and Harper's Ferry.  The first named army under General McDowell as field commander, the second under General Patterson as commander in the field.

The Confederate Government to oppose these hostile and invading armies, had gathered and mobilized an army at and around Manassas Junction under General G. T. Beauregard; another to oppose General Patterson on the upper Potomac and in the Valley under General Joseph E. Johnston.

During the month of May many of the companies from the New River Valley Counties marched away to their respective places of rendezvous, among them the companies of Captain James H. French, of Giles, and Captain Richardson, of Mercer, which left their respective Counties about the last days of May, 1861, and hastened to Lynchburg, Virginia, their appointed place of rendezvous, and on the first day of June thereafter joined General Beauregard's army, then being concentrated at and around Manassas Junction on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and about twenty-five miles from the city of Washington.  The companies of French (Note: French's company was subsequently and prior to the first battle of Manassas, transferred to the 7th Virginia Regiment.) and Richardson were assigned to the 24th regiment of Virginia infantry then commanded by Colonel Jubal A. Early.  The company of Captain McComas was assigned to duty with the Wise Legion, and did its first service in the Greenbrier-Sewell Mountain country, and was then transferred to the eastern department with the legion to which it belonged.  The other companies as organized, those from Giles as well as those from Mercer, went forward to their respective places of assignment.  It is estimated that the County of Giles sent into the Confederate service about eight hundred men, of whom nearly forty per cent were lost, and that about fifteen hundred men went from the County of Mercer, of whom it is estimated that fully forty per cent were lost.  These two counties had their representatives on every important battlefield in the state of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and on some of the fields in Tennessee, Kentucky and North Caroline.

General Beauregard's outposts were at Fairfax Court House, and on the morning of June 1st, 1861, a Federal scouting party entered the town and a skirmish with the Confederates under Major Ewell took place, in which Captain John Q. Marrs, of Fauquier County, was killed.

During the month of June and the early days of July, General Beauregard was actively engaged in the organization of his troops and in preparing them for field service.    The regi-(Note:  incorrect line in original text --"regiment and placed under the command of Colonel Jubal A." -- same line appears later.) 24th Virginia regiments were brigaded with the 7th Louisiana regiment and placed under the command of Colonel Jubal A. Early.

Rumors were afloat in the camps for several days previous to the Federal advance that we would soon be attacked by General McDowell's army.

Soldiers, even at that early stage of the war, seemed to have the peculiar faculty of finding out things that it was difficult to conceive how or where they got their information,--probably a kind of intuition.

In the early days of July our pickets on the outposts were required to be more vigilant, and orders were issued requiring the men not on picket to keep strictly within camp.  One night during this time a picket fired his gun at some object, real or imaginary; nevertheless the long roll sounded to arms.  We had the guns but no ammunition, and such confusion was scarcely ever seen, but we survived it--got straightened out, and became much more calm when we found no enemy was approaching.

Orders came to prepare three days rations and to be prepared to march at a moment's notice.  Everything transportable was packed and in readiness, the soldier's knapsack was full and heavy, and this together with his musket and forty rounds of cartridges, made a burden too heavy to be borne on a July day and we learned better later on, soon finding out how to reduce our baggage to minimum.  The order to march came on the 17th day of July and we left our camp and proceeded to the high ground overlooking the valley of Bull Run, and Mitchell's, Blackburn's, and McLean's fords, where we remained that night and until about noon on the 18th, when we discovered a cloud of dust rising beyond the stream, which indicated the advance of a body of men, which proved to be the vanguard of the Federal army, which threw itself against General Longstreet's brigade and was repulsed; but soon renewed at attack, when the seventh Virginia regiment was led into the action by Colonel Early, and this attack was repulsed. After a sharp cannonade of two hours or more, the enemy retired and some of our men crossed the stream, picked up hats, guns, blankets, and the enemy's wounded.  The loss in the 7th regiment was small, a few slightly wounded, among them Isaac Hare and James H. Gardner, of the Giles company, struck with spent balls.  Lieutenant Colonel Lewis B. Williams was in command of the regiment, Colonel Kemper being absent on detached service, but he joined us the next day.    We occupied the field that night, next day and until Saturday, when we were relieved and allowed to retire a short distance into a pine thicket to rest and recuperate.  The enemy having sufficiently felt of our position and of us to satisfy him that we were there and meant to stay as long as necessary, retired out of the range of our guns, and began the flank movement which culminated in the battle of Sunday afterwards.

On Sunday morning, the 21st, we were lined up along the belt of pines and timber which fringed the southern bank of the stream, where we were subjected to a severe shelling from the enemy's guns posted on the heights beyond.  On the day preceding, the companies of Richardson, of Mercer, and Lybrook, of Patrick, were sent to Bacon Race Church to guard the road leading to our position from that direction, and these companies remained in their position throughout Sunday and did not participate in the battle.

About 11 o'clock  A.M. of Sunday, July 21st, Colonel Early led his brigade of three regiments, less the two companies above referred to, across Bull Run at McLean's Ford and on to the hills beyond, forming in line of battle and prepared to advance, when he was recalled to take position in the rear of the troops at Mitchell's and Backburn's ford.

About high noon could be heard distinctly the roar of battle far to the left and to the west.  It was fully eight miles away, and Colonel Early receiving an order to march to the field of contention, moved off rapidly, the 13th Mississippi, Colonel Barksdale, having  been substituted for the 24th Virginia regiment, which had been placed in position at one of the fords.  The movement of Early's brigade for the greater part of the distance was at double quick through a boiling hot sun and many of the men were almost completely exhausted and famished for water.  The brigade reached the field of action about three o'clock and twenty minutes, P. M.  the time consumed in the movement being about two hours and twenty minutes.  In this rapid movement on roads were looked for or traveled, but the command was governed alone by the sound of the firing .  On the arrival of this brigade the situation was anything but promising to the Confederates; the Federals were making another, and it was the last, swing around the Confederate left.  The brigade of General E. Kirby Smith, which had just preceded that of Early on the field, had passed through a strip of woods, behind which Early's command marched to the left, and into an open field beyond, and near to the Chinn house, which was almost immediately on the left of the brigade.  Here the deployment of the brigade began to meet the oncoming foe.  The 7th Virginia regiment being in the advance made its deployment quickly, but not without serious loss from the enemy's fire, from which the regiment suffered in killed and wounded within a few minutes forty-seven men, of whom nine were killed and thirty-eight wounded.  Colonel  Early advanced his regiments promptly against the enemy, who soon left the field in a panic, and were pursued as rapidly and as far as the broken down condition of the men would permit.    The Federals continued their retreat to the Potomac, and even beyond, some of them not stopping short of their homes; and thus the first "On to Richmond" was a disastrous failure.

General Johnston had eluded Patterson in the Valley, and with the greater part of his forces had united with General Beauregard's army in time to win the great victory at Manassas.

The loss in company D, the Giles Company, of the 7th regiment was as follows, viz: Killed, Joseph E. Bane, Wounded, Robert H. Bane, A. L. Fry, Manilius S. Johnston, Charles N. J. Lee, Henry Lewy,  John P. Sublet, and Samuel B. Shannon.

In a few days after this battle, the army moved forward to Fairfax Court House, picketing along the Alexandria Leesburg and other roads leading in the direction of Alexandria and Washington.  Late in the fall the main body fell back to Centerville and Bull Run, where it passed the winter.  The 7th Virginia regiment was separated from the 24trh Virginia and 7th Louisiana, and added to another brigade which for a while was commanded by Brigadier General Ewell, later by Brigadier General Longstreet.  In March, 1862, a brigade was formed under the command of Brigadier General Ambrose Powell Hill.

General Henry A. Wise, in the early summer of 1861, had entered the Valley of Kanawha with considerable number of New River Valley men, and on the 7th day of July, 1861, had a successful fight at Scary Creek with the advanced troops of the Federal General Cox.    Subsequently, in fact in a few days, General Wise being threatened by a force of Federal troops from the upper Gauley section under the command of General Rosecrans, was forced to retire towards Lewisburg.  About the middle of August, 1861, General John B. Floyd with a brigade arrived in the vicinity of Lewisburg, and he assumed command of all the Confederate troops operating in that section, and about the movements of which more will be stated hereinafter.

In all revolutions excesses are committed, and the same was true of our revolution in 1861.  After the retreat of General Wise's forces from the Kanawha, a plain unlettered farmer of Mercer County, by the name of Parkinson F. Pennington, who resided on the waters of Laurel Creek, in August of the year mentioned, took his team and wagon loaded with produce, and went to the Valley of the Kanawha, and purchased goods, salt, etc., returning to his home, and known to be a strong Union man in sentiment, and freely expressing his views, made himself quite obnoxious to some of his southern neighbors, and was arrested without warrant and charged with being a spy.  The party arresting Pennington was headed by Captain James Thompson a strong resolute, bold southern man of quick temper, and when aroused became wholly unmanageable.  Pennington's captors started with him to the Court House, and he on the way becoming very boisterous and insulting incensed the party that had him in charge, and they halted and put him to death by the road side, by hanging him by the neck, with a hickory withe, to a dog-wood tree that stood nearby.  This was a very unfortunate affair for all the parties concerned, and the first act of the kind that had ever taken place in the county, and greatly shocked the community.  Great regret was expressed by the people, as the act portended no good to the parties engaged nor to the southern cause.  The civil authorities were powerless to punish the perpetrators, and the military would not.  After the close of the war, the most of those engaged in hanging Pennington, except Captain Thompson, had either been lost in the war or left the country.  Pennington's father, with a body of eighteen United States soldiers went to the house of Captain Thompson intending to arrest him, but Captain Thompson discovering their approach attempted to escape, but was shot by one of the party and killed.

Notwithstanding the apparent unanimity of sentiment among the people of Mercer County in favor of Southern rights and armed resistance to Federal attempt at coercion, there were quite a number of good men in the county opposed to the war, and who remained steadfast in their convictions, for the Union throughout the conflict; among them,Colonel Thomas Little, George Evans, Andrew J. Thompson, John A. McKensey, James Sarver, David Lilley, Sylvester Upton, Augustus W. Cole, Augustus W. J. Caperton, James Bowling, William C. Honaker, W. J. Comer, Russell G. French, and many others.  Some of these men, believing it unsafe to remain in the country, went within the lines of the Federal army, and there remained during the entire period of the war, others remained quietly at their homes, taking no part in the contest.  There were a few, glad to say few, who enlisted in the Confederate army and then deserted to the enemy, and some of these became a set of outlaws, thieves and robbers, who respected neither friend nor foe, and made incursions into the country, plundering indiscriminately.



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