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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 12)

 

Every effort was being put forth by the Confederate authorities to bring every available man to the field; the men from the division on detail or detached service were required to report to their respective regiments, and their places to be filled with those unable for active field service.  This order gave great concern to many who had    been out in good and easy places.  Sergeant Charles T. Loehr in his "History of the 1st Virginia Regiment," tells of a Mr. Stegar, of Company D or that regiment, who did not relish his return to his company, and who wrote:

"With all my heart I hate to part,
For I'm not happy to be free,
And it will surely break my heart
To send me back to Company D.

We had a snug detail together,
But Uncle Bob has clipped our wings,
And spring will be but gloomy weather
If doomed to fight Old Grant in spring.

Farewell, and when some sickly fellow
Shall claim this bomb-proof I resign,
And three miles in the rear discover
What ease and safety once were mine."

The new year was approaching; it was to bring nothing to cheer our aching hearts, but much to depress them.  No hope for peace, nor settlement, or relief from our unfortunate situation.  The men who were Christians prayed earnestly every day for the return of peace to our distracted country; and in the dead hour of the night, often could be seen men on their knees, engaged in earnest appeals to God for our country and for peace.  Finally in the latter part of January, 1865, there was a rift in the dark clouds which overhung our sky, when it was announced that Confederate Commissioners were on their way to meet the Federal President, to attempt to adjust the unhappy differences.  This was known throughout the army, and the men gathered in groups with faces all aglow with intense interest, to discuss the grave question. The one unanimous voice was, settle it, if possible on any terms that are fair and honorable.  The return of these Commissioners with the report that no settlement could be made other than downright submission cast a deep and heavy gloom over the faces of the men, who, but a few days before, had been happy in the hope of a peaceful and honorable termination of hostilities.  Gloom and despair were plainly depicted on the faces of some of the men, while grim determination was to be seen on the faces of others.  The situation is probably better expressed by telling first of an incident that happened with one of the men of the 7th Virginia Regiment, and then the action taken by a large part of the soldiers in the way of meetings and resolutions.  this man of the 7th Regiment seemed very much dejected and downcast, when he  heard of the failure of the Commissioners to make an adjustment of our troubles, and one of his comrades inquiring of him as to what was his trouble, he replied:  "Well, the Peace Conference is a failure, Lincoln has called for more men, and President Davis says, 'war to the knife' ; what shall we do?"

The Federal soldier was as anxious for peace as the Confederate could possibly be.  About the time of the return  of the Peace Commissioners it is told of a Federal soldier, that. in the presence of one of his officers, he remarked that he was anxious for the war to close and for the return of peace, and that he knew of a plan by which Richmond could be captured, and that would end the war and bring peace.    His officer insisted upon his telling what the plan was that he had for the capture of Richmond; that General Grant ought to know of the plan if feasible.  the soldier said he felt not only some hesitancy, but a delicacy instating it, but if the officer insisted he would tell him.  Finally, the officer prevailed on the soldier to divulge his plan, which was this:   "Swap Generals; bring General Lee over here and put him in command of this army, and he will have Richmond in twenty-four hours."

As already stated, on the return of the Peace Commissioners with their report of the failure to settle matters, meetings of the soldiers were held in many of the companies and regiments throughout the army, to discuss the situation, in which resolutions were adopted expressive of their views.  Among the companies which held such meetings was that of Captain David A. French, the minutes of which meeting are as follows:

"Darby Town road, February 6, 1865.

At a meeting convened in the stonewall Detachment, Corporal Charles E. Pack was called to the chair, O. F. Jordan appointed secretary, and the following preamble and resolutions were adopted:

Whereas, we believe that the Confederate authorities have taken appropriate measures to bring about an honorable peace to the Confederacy;

And whereas, said measures have failed to bring about this most desirable result, owing to obstinacy and tyrannical disposition of the Federal authorities; in this, that they refuse all offers of peace, and will listen to nothing save an humble submission on the part of the Confederates:

We, the members of the Stonewall Detachment, Captain D. A. French's Battery, do resolve: that we will listen to no terms the least degrading to brave men and free men.  That come weal or woe, we will now fight it out at the cost of every drop of blood that flows in our veins; that there is no sacrifice too dear, no danger too hazardous, no suffering too great, that we will not endure for our country and cause; and we pledge ourselves anew to stand by our flag and guns while the one waves, and there is room to work the other."


C. E. Pack,  Chairman.

O. F. Jordan,  Secretary.

During the fall of 1864, and the early part of the winter of that year, the country had reached such a condition that starvation was not only staring the army in the face, threatening its disintegration and disbanding, but the people at home, in many localities, were suffering for the very necessaries of life, and good people among them, some of even the leading men, had reached the conclusion that the contest could not longer be maintained; they, therefore, were for peace on any terms, and if the Confederate authorities were not willing to take immediate steps to that end, that the people would be placed in position to discourage the continuance of the contest by every means within their power.

The Federal authorities, including the commanding officers of their armies, as well as their spies, emissaries, and scouts, encouraged the peace feeling by holding out all manner of inducements to the people, and to the soldiers in the army and by secret orders and organizations among our people and soldiers, sought to influence the people to withdraw their support from the armies, and to encourage the soldiers to abandon the cause for which we had fought for nearly four years.  Organizations were found to exist in Southwestern and Western Virginia, known by the names of: "Heroes of America,"  Red String,"  and  "White String Party,"    which had regular signs and pass-words.  Into these were drawn, as reported, some of the prominent and leading citizens, and had even partly permeated the army, particularly the 22nd and 54th Virginia Regiments of Infantry.  How far they affected these organizations, and how far their influence reached, it is difficult to say; but it alarmed the Confederate authorities and was made the subject of investigation by the Secretary of War, Mr. Seddon.  For a full history of this matter with the names disclosed of persons connected therewith, the reader is referred to Rebellion Records,    Series  IV,  Vol.  3,  pp.  804-16

Returning to affairs in Western and Southwestern Virginia, and resuming the narrative of events at the close of 1863, we find that in December of that year, the 16th Virginia Cavalry, commanded by Colonel Milton J. Ferguson, spent the latter part of December, and a part of the following two months, in the Valley of the Sandy, penetrating to the Kanawha River, where a detachment of that regiment, in February of 1864, captured a steam boat on which was Brigadier General Scammon, of the Federal Army, who was also captured, brought out and sent to Richmond in charge of Lieutenant E. G. Vertigan, his captor.

On January 3rd, 1863, Brigadier General William E. Jones with his cavalry command, in which, at the time, was the 8th Virginia Regiment, partly made up of Tazewell and Mercer County men, attacked a Federal force at Jonesville, Virginia, which he defeated, capturing 385 prisoners, killing 10, wounding 45, taking three pieces of artillery and a number of wagons.  The 8th Virginia lost Lieutenant A. H. Samuels and four men killed and 7 wounded.

Echols' Brigade, with part of Jenkins' Cavalry, spent the winter in Monroe and Greenbrier Counties.  McCausland's Brigade, with the 17th Cavalry, wintered at the Narrows and at Princeton; while Wharton's Brigade was in East Tennessee and about Saltville.

The enemy in the Kanawha Valley, early in the spring, began to assemble a force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, under Brigadier General George Crook, for the purpose of an advance towards the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad; and at the same time a large force of the enemy was preparing to march up the Valley of Virginia to Staunton.

Major General Breckenridge, on the 5th of March, 1864, had relieved General Jones, in command of the department of Southwestern Virginia.  In the latter part of April and the first days of May, these Federal Divisions from the Kanawha, and in the Valley of Virginia, commenced their advance.  General Breckenridge was called to the Virginia Valley, drawing to him the Brigade of Echols and Wharton.  McCausland's Brigade had also been ordered to the Valley, but the advance of General Crook's column held him at Dublin, with Jenkins' Cavalry Brigade at Narrows, with Bryan's Battery, Ringgold, and Botetourt Artillery, under the command of Brigadier General Jenkins.

The Federal Cavalry leader in Western Virginia, Brigadier General Averill, with 2479 officers and men, left the Kanawha River above Charleston on the 1st of May, by way of Logan and Wyoming Court Houses, to Abb's Valley in Tazewell County, and from thence on the road to Wytheville, near which, on the 10th day of May, he encountered a Confederate force under General William E. Jones, and was defeated.  In this battle was the 16th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in part composed of Tazewell County men.  The loss of General Averill was 100 in killed and wounded, himself among the wounded.  He drew off his troops and passed down Walker's Creek by Shannon's and to Pepper's Ferry, where he crossed New River and from thence proceeded to Blacksburg and Christiansburg; turning northward in an effort to follow General Crook, he encountered at Gap Mountain, near Newport in Giles County, Jenkins' Cavalry Brigade, and part of the troops of Colonel William L. Jackson, all under the command of Colonel William H. French, of Mercer, by whom he was driven back, and forced to retreat by a bridle path over the mountains into Monroe County, where he joined General Crook, who was closely followed by Jackson's command;    Colonel French's troops returning to the Narrows.

General Crook left the Kanawha River on the second day of May, with eleven regiments of infantry, a part of two regiments of cavalry, and two battalions of artillery, aggregating 6,155 men.  The march was made by way of Fayetteville, Raleigh Court House, Princeton, Rocky Gap, and Shannon's, to Cloyd's farm on Back Creek in Pulaski County where on the 9th day of May he found the command of General Jenkins, consisting of the 36th, 45th and 60th Virginia Regiments and 45th Battalion of Virginia Infantry, with Bryan's, Ringgold's and Douthat's Virginia Batteries, drawn up in line of battle to meet him;  with an aggregate force, then and that of  Major Smith, who joined after the retreat began, of less than 3,000 men.  The battle was a fierce and bloody one, and lasted for several hours, and the men who fought this battle on the Confederate side were largely from the Middle New River Valley and from the upper Clinch waters; they were from Tazewell, Wythe, Pulaski, Bland, Montgomery, Giles, Monroe, Greenbrier, Fayette, Raleigh, Mercer, Boone, Logan, Putnam, Cabell, Wayne, and perhaps some from other Southern West Virginia Counties.  General Jenkins was mortally wounded and his command outflanked and driven from the field, with a loss of 76 killed, 262 wounded, and 200 missing.  the loss was inconsiderable in comparison with the value of the slain, among whom were some of the bravest and most daring soldiers in the army.  Lieutenant Colonel Edwin H. Harman, a brave young officer of great promise, and Captain Robert R. Crockett, of the 45th Regiment were killed.  Lieutenant Colonel George W. Hammond, Major Jacob N. Taylor, and Captain Moses McClintic, of the 60th Virginia, were killed, and Captain Rufus A. Hale, S. S., Dews, Lieutenants Larue, Austin, Bailey, and Stevenson, together with a number of others of the 60th and 36th Virginia were wounded, as was Major Thomas L. Brown, Post Quartermaster at Dublin, dangerously.  (Note: Rev. Mr. Hickman, a Presbyterian minister, was killed on this field.  Judge E. Ward and Hon. William Prince accompanied the Confederate soldiers to this field and were under the enemy's fire.  Prince, while acting as special messenger and courier, had his horse shot under him.) In this battle, in the 60th Virginia Regiment, were two companies of Giles County men, one of which was commanded by that brave, fearless Irishman, Captain Andrew Gott, now of Mercer County.  The men of Tazewell County in the 45th Regiment suffered heavy loss in this battle, losing not only the gallant Lieutenant Colonel Harman, but numbers of others killed or wounded, among the latter the brave Captain C. A. Fudge.    Bland County was also represented on this field as above stated; and her sons distinguished themselves in this fight, losing many of their best and bravest killed and wounded, among the latter that tall and heroic youth, the flag bearer of the 45th, Andrew Jackson Stowers.  there also fell on this field, near which was once the home of their ancestor, three remote cousins, viz:  Lieutenant A. W. Hoge and his brother M. J. Hoge of the Ringgold Virginia Battery, and George D. Pearis of Bryan's Virginia Battery.

The Federal loss in this battle, in killed and wounded, was 688.  The Confederates under the command of Colonel John McCausland, who succeeded to the command on the wounding of General Jenkins, retreated by way of the railroad bridge to the East bank of New River, and upon the crossing of the Federals at Pepper's Ferry, and their advance to Christiansburg, he continued his retreat to the head waters of the Roanoke.   General Crook took fright, and fled across Salt Pond Mountain into Monroe County.

No braver or better fight was ever put up in an open field by a body of men so largely outnumbered. (Note:  The Federal General Crook , in his report, says:  "The enemy remained behind their works until battered away by our men.")  The coolness and bravery of Colonel McCausland, and the skillful manner in which he conducted the retreat, with the timely arrival of Major Smith's troops on the field, saved the command from capture or destruction.  Colonel McCausland was at once, and deservedly so, made a Brigadier General, and placed in command of Jenkins' Cavalry Brigade.

General Breckenridge hurried down the Valley of Virginia, with the Brigades of Echols and Wharton (Note:  Mostly New River Valley men.) and other troops, to New Market, where, on the 15th day of May, he met a Federal Army some 6,500 strong, under General Sigel, and with less than 5,000 men defeated it with a loss of 831; the Confederate loss being 522.  Sigel retreated, and Breckenridge, with his division, moved to Hanover Junction and joined General Lee, leaving General Imboden in command in the Valley, who was shortly thereafter superseded by Brigadier General William E. Jones, who took with him from Southwest Virginia, McCausland's old brigade of infantry, by which his forces were augmented to about 5,000, including, however, some local bodies of militia, with which to meet about 8,500 Federal troops under the command of Major General David Hunter, who had displaced General Sigel.

At Piedmont in the Valley, on the 5th day of June, Hunter's forces attacked the Confederates, and after a severe and bloody battle of more than five hours the Confederates were badly defeated with heavy loss, and compelled to retreat in much disorder, closely followed by the large body of the enemy's cavalry.  General Jones was killed on the field, and the loss in his command in killed and wounded was about 500, besides 1,000 men and several guns captured.  (Note: The Federal loss was about 500.)  In this battle the men from the New River Valley were engaged and suffered fearfully.  While the Confederates were engaged in this contest, Generals Crook and Averill, with 8,000 to 10,000 men, were rapidly approaching Staunton from Buffalo Gap on the West, opposed by General McCausland with his brigade and that of Colonel William L. Jackson, who on the occupation of Staunton by Hunter's forces, were compelled to retire.  General Imboden assumed command of the Confederates after the fall of General Jones, and retired to Waynesboro.  In this unfortunate engagement the men from Tazewell, Bland, Giles and Mercer Counties were heavily engaged, and it is to be regretted that the names of those who fell, killed or wounded, have not been preserved.    Here fell the brave and manly Colonel William Henry Brown, of Tazewell, at the head of the 45th Virginia Regiment.  The cause claimed no nobler sacrifice than this.    He was born in Tazewell County, and had distinguished himself in the many battles in which his regiment had been engaged.  The loss of the enemy in this battle was 500 in killed and wounded.  In the Giles companies in the 36th Virginia Regiment, there were, among others, killed in the battle of Piedmont, W. S. Echols, B. Newton Snidow, Hamilton Hare, G. B. Chandler;  wounded, J. C. Stump, John Kerr, John H. Williams;  James W. Hale lost an arm.  Lieutenant Thomas G. Jarrell, of a Boone County company, a Mercer County man originally, the son of Mr. George Washington Jarrell, was slain in this battle.

The defeat of General Jones' command left the Valley to Staunton, in fact through, to, and South of the James River, open to the march of General Hunter's Army, now numbering near 20,000 effective men.  Hunter did not delay, but pushed on toward Lynchburg, with nothing to oppose save McCausland's Cavalry command, which fought him closely and manfully all along the route, and so delayed him that it took him more than a week to march over a good road from Staunton at the front of Lynchburg.  It is true that he, Hunter, stopped along the route at Lexington and other points to repeat his acts of vandalism;  having in the lower Valley caused the properties of some of his relatives to be burned and destroyed;  and after the close of the war it is said, he attempted to conciliate them, but they treated him with scorn and contempt as he deserved, for when his relatives, the females, plead with him to spare their homes he turned a deaf ear:

"As well might you plead with the tiger to pause
When his victim lies writhing and clenched in his claws."

It was these acts of General Hunter, contrary as they were, to usages of civilized warfare, that caused the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in July of that year.

 

 

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