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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 14)

 

General Early established his headquarters at Staunton, while a portion of General Wharton's Division went into camp about the 1st of December at Fishersville.  This was the end of the Valley campaign of 1864.

Whatever may be said of Early's Valley Campaign as to its conduct and final disastrous results, it is certain that no student of military history will withhold from that officer the credit of being a bold, daring, brave soldier and strategist, who with a small army of scarce more than 12,000 of the most heroic men that ever shouldered muskets for the defense of their country, battled, beat back, defeated, harassed, and kept employed for more than five months in an open country, and within a radius of not more than 100 miles, an army of quite five times its numbers, inflicting upon it during that period losses almost equal to double its own numbers;  and keeping during the period referred to the Federal authorities in a state of nervous tremor for fear that the bold "Captain of the Valley" might swoop down upon the Federal city.

Lieutenant Colonel Vincent A. Witcher, on the 17th day of September, 1864, with his 34th Virginia Battalion of Cavalry, left Tazewell Court House, and passing by way of Narrows of New River to Lewisburg, was there joined by the Companies of the Thurmonds and those of Captain William H. Payne,  J. Bumgards and J. W. Amick, raising his effective strength to 523 men, with which he moved northward across the mountains into the Counties of Upshur and Lewis, making extensive captures of horses, beef cattle, and 300 prisoners, and destroying large amounts of government stores, and returning without loss. (Note: Witcher's command had, in 1863, a severe engagement at the mouth of Beech Creek, now Mingo County, with the 4th West Virginia Cavalry, under Colonel Hall, in which Hall was killed and Witcher badly wounded.)

On October 20th, 1864, Captain William H. Payne, at the head of his command and while marching down Coal River, in Raleigh County, against the enemy, was shot from his horse, falling mortally wounded.  His left arm was broken, the ball passing through his body, from which wound he died on the next day.  He was a young man of great promise, the son of Mr. Charles H. Payne, of Giles County.  Had young Payne lived a month longer he would have become Colonel at the reorganization of his command.  He was a man of exemplary habits, well educated, of dauntless courage, and was a strikingly handsome, fine-looking soldier.  The officers of his company at the time of his death were Lieutenant John Tabler and Charles R. Price.  Major Nounan with a detachment of cavalry, in the month of October, penetrated the enemy's lines, and marched to the Kanawha River, doing some hurt to the enemy, and returned without serious loss.

On the 2nd day of October, 1864, the enemy 2500 strong, including one negro cavalry regiment, under the command of the Federal General Burbridge, attacked Saltville, Virginia, defended by a small force under the command of Generals Echols, Vaughn and Williams;   and were after an all-day contest repulsed and forced to retire, with a loss of about 350 men killed and wounded.  In the December following, a Federal Army about 6,000 strong, under the command of the Federal General Stoneman, marched into Southwestern Virginia and was met by General John C. Breckenridge with some small remnants and fragments of Confederate commands, numbering less than 1,000 men.    For several days frequent combats ensued, mostly in favor of the Federals, who penetrated the country as far east as Wytheville, destroying much of the railroad, especially bridges, and some Government stores in that town and at other points, also doing some damage to the lead mines.  As stated, the first named Federal force had with it one regiment of negro cavalry, whose fighting qualities was the boast of the Federal officers, they even intimating that the negroes were better soldiers than their white men.  On the 20th of December a large Federal force attacked the command of Colonel Robert T. Preston at the salt works, and after a brisk fight lasting until night, Colonel Preston, who had only 400 men--mostly old men--reserves, withdrew his men, and the Federals entered and took possession, doing considerable damage, after which they, finding nothing further to destroy, returned to Kentucky and Tennessee.

General Thomas L. Rosser, with his Virginia Cavalry Brigade, and the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment of Payne's Brigade, on the night of--or rather before daylight on the morning of--the 11th day of January, 1865, attacked a Federal force at Beverley, West Virginia, capturing, killing and wounding 572, without loss to his command.

The old Brigade of Echols, of Wharton's Division, which had been in quarters near Fishersville in December, on the 18th day of January left for Dublin Depot, in Southwestern Virginia, and McCausland's Brigade marched from east of the Blue Ridge, by way of Fishersville, en route to winter quarters in Alleghaney and Greenbrier Counties.    By the last days of February all of the Confederate troops had departed from the Valley, save a small force of cavalry under General Rosser, and the remnant of Wharton's Division, numbering less than 1,000 men, badly clad and poorly fed.  A force of 9,987 Federal Cavalry, with artillery, under the command of General Sheridan, on the 2nd day of March, attacked Early's small force at Waynesboro, completely demolishing it, capturing about 1600 prisoners, many of them citizens and convalescents, who were getting out of the country with General Early's troops.  Early escaped to the mountains, finally reached Richmond, was sent to Lynchburg and from there to Southwestern Virginia to take command of the troops in that department.

General Sheridan crossed the Blue Ridge, laid waste the whole country through which he passed, cut the James River Canal, destroyed the Central Railroad, and made his way down to the north of Richmond about the middle of March, where he was threatened with serious trouble and turned his course to the White House on the Pamunky, finally joining General Grant, at Petersburg, on March 27th.

On March 5th Pickett's Division was relieved by that of General Mahone, and marched to within two miles of Chester Station, near the Richmond and Petersburg Turnpike, where it went into bivouac amidst a cold rain which continued for two days.  On the 8th Pickett had a grand review of his Division, after which and on the next day, the 9th, it marched to Manchester, and on the following day, the 10th, through Richmond and halted in the outer line of works near the Brooke road;  thence on the left along the line of works to the Nine Mile Road, and the following day, the 12th, returned to the position near the Brooke Road.  On the 14th it marched to near Ashland, where it halted in line of battle.  On the 16th,  the 15th Virginia Regiment of Corse's Brigade had a sharp skirmish with Sheridan's Cavalry at Ashland.  Sheridan switching off towards the Pamunky, the division followed him to that river, built a bridge, but found it useless to attempt to follow the bold riders any farther, and from thence returned to the Nine Mile Road.  It marched on the 25th to Richmond and took the train for Dunlop's Station, where it rested until the evening of the 29th, when it was ordered to the right of General Lee's Army.  It marched to and crossed the Appomattox on a pontoon bridge five miles above Petersburg.  Here the brigades of  Stuart, Corse, and Terry took the cars for Sutherland's Station, on the Southside railroad, but there not being room on the train for all, the first and 7th Virginia Regiments had to march, reaching that night Sutherland's Tavern, on Cox's road, in a drizzling rain.  Before daybreak the next morning, the 30th, the march was resumed to Hatcher's Run and to the extreme right of the line near Five Forks, where the two last mentioned regiments, with some cavalry, were thrown forward to drive off some Federal Cavalry, which they succeeded in doing--Huton's Brigade was detached and serving with Bushrod Johnson's Division.  At an early hour on the morning of the 31st the march was again taken up in the direction of Dinwiddie Court House.  Finding the Federals in heavy force at the crossing of Chamberlayne's Creek, engaged with Fitzhugh Lee's Cavalry, Terry's Brigade, led by the 3rd Virginia Regiment, effected a crossing at an old mill dam, but with loss to the leading regiment, it having to wade the creek, which was waist deep, to dislodge the enemy posted on the opposite side.  The division advanced rapidly in pursuit of the retreating enemy, who made several stands and quite a brisk fighting occurred.  Within a mile of Dinwiddie Court House the enemy, with two cavalry divisions, made a bold stand, but were quickly driven with loss;  the Confederate loss was small.  General Terry suffered a severe injury by the fall of his horse, which was shot.  The division occupied the field until 1 o'clock, A. M., of the 1st of April, and was then withdrawn and posted at Five Forks, where, with the Brigades of Ransom and Wallace and the Confederate Cavalry, it was fiercely assailed about the middle of the afternoon by about 26,000 Federal Infantry and Cavalry.  The Confederates did not number more than 7,000, yet manfully and bravely stood their ground until almost surrounded, and finally, about dark, was forced to yield the field with a loss of more than 3,000 of their number captured, with several pieces of artillery.  No better fight was ever made under the circumstances.  In its close it was hand to hand.  The day was lost simply because the Confederates had both flanks turned, were in fact pushed off the field by weight of numbers.  The repeated Federal assaults up to the last were repulsed with great loss to them.  The Confederate loss in this battle is put down at between 3,000 and 4,000 prisoners, 13 colors and six guns; and on the Federal side the loss of Warren's 5th Infantry Corps is put down at 634 in killed and wounded.

The loss of General Grant's Army from the 29th day of March to the 9th day of April, the date of Lee's surrender, is officially reported at 15,692, a number equal to about one-half the number of men Lee had when he left Petersburg, and more than equal to the number that had guns in their hands on the day of the surrender.

Company D of the 7th Regiment lost in the Five Forks battle 6 men, viz:  John R. Crawford, John S. Dudley, A. L. Sumner, and G. C. Mullens, captured, and William D. Peters and John A. Hale, severely wounded.  No record is extant, as far as known, of the losses in the Giles and Mercer Companies of the 24th Virginia Regiment.  An incident, however, occurring in the Giles Company of the 24th Regiment is worthy of note.  Late in the afternoon, when Warren's Federal Army Corps had swung around the Confederate left and attacked Terry's Brigade in the rear, three Federal soldiers attacked McCrosky of the Giles Company, one of whom he killed, wounded another and escaped, with a wound in his face, from the third.  The man he killed with the butt of his gun, braining him, breaking the gun off at the breach.  Leaving the field the night of the battle, Pickett's Division marched to Ford's depot on the Southside Railroad, bivouacking, and joining, the next morning, the Divisions of  Heth and Wilcox, retreating from Petersburg.  The division was now about 2200 strong, having lost more than half its numbers in the battle of the day before.  It continued its march, Hunton's Brigade in the meantime having united with the division, on the 2nd of April, to Deep Creek, heavily pressed by the enemy's cavalry;  especially was this true of the 4th and 5th, having occasionally to halt and form line of battle, and now and then a square, to keep off the pursuers;  without food and living on corn shelled from the cob, which was eaten even without parching.

In the early morning of the 6th the division reached Harper's farm, on Sailor's Creek, where it encountered  a heavy force of Federal Cavalry with which it skirmished for several hours, and finally with a furious attack front, flanks and rear, and in a hand to hand contest, it was bodily picked up by the enemy, whose numbers were sufficient to have thrown down their guns and have captured every Confederate on the field and bound him hand and foot with ropes.  A portion of the division escaped capture and got off the field with General Pickett and Brigadier General Stuart.  Generals Corse, Hunton, and Terry were captured, as was also Lieutenant General  Ewell, Major General Custis Lee, and perhaps others.  The escaped portion of the division marched to Appomattox under the command of General Pickett;  Terry's  Brigade being commanded by Major W. W. Bentley, of the 24th Regiment;  that of Corse by Colonel Arthur Herbert;  that of Hunton by Major M. P. Spessard.  On the 9th General Pickett surrendered 1031 officers and men.  The men captured in the battle of Five Forks, as well also as those captured at Sailor's Creek, were sent to prison at Point Lookout, Maryland, from whence they were discharged in the June and July following.  Those surrendered at Appomattox were paroled and went home.  Of  McCausland's Cavalry Brigade there were surrendered at Appomattox  27 officers and men.  Wharton's Division or what remained of it after the disaster at Waynesboro, with other troops in Southwestern Virginia, under the command of General Early, were, on learning of General Lee's surrender at Appomattox, disbanded at Christiansburg, Virginia.  General Early had been sick for some days previous to the surrender and was riding in an ambulance, and as said, when receiving reliable information of the surrender at Appomattox remarked, prefixing some expletives, "I wish Gabriel would now blow his horn."

During the year of 1864, along the border of Western and Southwestern Virginia, in Monroe, Mercer and other Counties, many outrages were committed by bands of thieves and robbers who roamed over the country, regarding neither friend nor foe, but seeking their own gain and gratifying their own spleen against non-combatants.  There lived on Flat Top  Mountain a staunch Southern man by the name of James Wiley, quietly at home disturbing no one.  He was attacked in his own house by one of the bands referred to, but succeeded in driving them off, being aided by his young son, Milton, and wounding one of the gang.  A short time afterwards he and his son were again attacked by another one of these bands and killed.  This occurred in the spring of 1862.  On another occasion, in 1864, Mr. Albert B. Calfee, with his younger brother, John C. Calfee, and Mr. Elisha Heptinstall, were traveling from the residence of Colonel William H. French, in Mercer County, toward the Court House, and were fired upon by a band of these marauders from ambush, and Heptinstall was killed and John C. Calfee mortally wounded.  This occurred on the 8th day of August, 1864.  About the same time a party of Confederate outlaws went to the house of Mr. Jacob Harper, in Raleigh County, and took him a prisoner, led him out into the woods and shot him.  Harper was a plain, honest, upright, peaceable citizen and harmed no one.

The war was now practically over and no malice existed between those who did the actual fighting in the battle.  The question of secession being one left open by the framers of the Federal Constitution, every man had a right to exercise his own opinion in regard thereto, and hence he had a right to fight on the one side or the other as to him might seem right and proper, provided he fought for his convictions.  The Confederate soldier fought for a principle as sacred to him as the one for which the Federal soldier battled.  Again, this Confederate soldier felt that he had discharged his duty and he had nothing to ask forgiveness for and asked none.  He had no apologies to offer or make;  he had fought manfully the invaders of his soil, who came to kill and destroy.    He did not ask those who fought against him in the war to forget the struggle;   let them remember it if they might, but we would not forget it if we could, and could not if we would.  We intend to perpetuate the memories of the conflict, the battles won or lost we intend shall be remembered to latest generations.   Will the world forget Marathon, Waterloo or Thermopylae?  No more than it will forget Manassas, Sharpsburg, Chancelorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness or Spottsylvania.    The contest was between Americans, and their deeds of heroism and valor are the common heritage of the American people.  The story is told of the great and gifted preacher, Henry Ward Beecher, that in the early part of the year 1862 he visited England and was invited to make a speech.  The crowd was exceedingly boisterous and he was howled and hissed at so that he could not be heard, but finally a large brawny Englishman, with a broad, big mouth and stentorian voice, shouted:  "You told us you would whip the rebels in ninety days and you have not done it."  The crowd becoming quiet for a moment, Mr. Beecher said:  "If you will be quiet for a moment I will tell you why;  when we started out in the war and made the statement that we would whip them in ninety days, we thought we were fighting Americans."   There will never be in the history of the world such soldiers as the Confederate--the Confederate Private.  While it is true that the world has furnished few, if any, such men as Lee, Jackson, Johnston, Beauregard, Stuart, and many other Confederate Generals that might be mentioned;  but it must not be forgotten that no Generals ever led forth such men   to battle as the Confederate soldier.   His like will never be seen again.   Some one  has written some lines in regard to the Confederate Private, a few of which are here inserted:

"From every home in the sweet Southland
Went a soldier lad, at his heart's command,
To fight in a cause both true and just,
To conquer or to die, as a hero must.

The hardships of war bravely bore,
And proudly the shabby gray he wore,
T'was the only color on earth for him;
Not hunger or thirst could his spirit dim.

With every battle hope sprang up anew;
He felt that the cause he loved was true,
And surely the God who brave men led
Would help and guide them, living or dead.

Sometimes they won, then hope ran high;
Again they lost, but it would not die,
They were privates only, and theirs to obey;
Nor theirs to command or lead the fray.

But theirs to endure and follow and fight;
To know that the cause they loved was right.
And so to the end they followed and fought,
With love and devotion which could not be bought."

After the surrender at Appomattox arrangements were soon made by the Federal Government to release the Confederate prisoners in its hands, of whom there were many thousands.  They began to return home during the months of June and July, and they were pitiable looking objects indeed.  Peglegs, stub arms, sunken eyes, emaciated frames, teeth loose and falling out on account of scurvy, with health broken and hope almost gone;  returning to the land of their nativity to find it practically a waste place.

Thousands of men on both sides of our great civil conflict perished in military prisons;  charges, criminations and recriminations of ill and inhuman treatment of prisoners by both sides were made.  It may be here noted, that military prison life is horrible at any time and under any circumstances.  A great body of men thrown and huddled together are not only difficult to control and manage under the best system of discipline that can be adopted, but such masses are always subject to disease in every form.  The facts are too plain and manifest to admit of doubt, that the officials of the Federal Government were wholly to blame for all the ills and horrible results that befell these poor prisoners, their own as well as the Confederates, because of, first, the obstacles they placed in the way of a fair exchange, and in the next place by their absolute refusal to exchange at all.  That there were isolated cases of bad treatment of Federal prisoners by Confederate prison keepers is doubtless true, but if so, they were few in number and exceptional cases, while on the other hand the keepers of Federal prisons were cruel and brutal in their treatment of Confederate prisoners, and this with full knowledge on the part of the Federal authorities.  The North was full-handed with provisions and medicines, while the South was impoverished.  For those whom the fortunes of war had placed in their hands, the South did the very best it could, giving to them the same rations that the soldiers in the field received;    while the Federal authorities in the midst of abundance willfully inflicted wanton deprivation of the Confederate prisoners.  An examination of the reports of the Federal Secretary of War made in 1866, shows that 22,576 Federal prisoners died in Southern prisons, and that 22,246 Confederate prisoners died in Northern prisons.    The report of the Surgeon General of the United States shows that in round numbers, the Confederate prisoners in the hands of the Federal authorities numbered 220,000, out of which 26,246 died.  That out of 270,000 Federal prisoners held by the South, 22,576 died; more than 12 % of the Confederate prisoners, and less than 9 % of Federal prisoners died.  The urgency of the Northern people at home, as well as many prominent Federal officers favoring exchange of prisoners, drew from General Grant a letter to General Butler, dated August 18th, 1864, in which he says:  "It is hard on our men held in the Southern prisons not to exchange them, but it is humanity to those left in the ranks to fight our battles.  Every man released on parole, or otherwise, becomes an active soldier against us at once, either directly or indirectly.   If we commence a system of exchange which liberates all prisoners taken, we will have to fight on until the whole South is exterminated.  If we hold those caught, they amount to no more than dead men.  At this particular time to release all Rebel prisoners in the North would insure Sherman's defeat and would compromise our safety here."

Among the men of Mercer County who perished in northern prisons were Robert H. Brian,  A. I. Golden,  J. H. Godby,   H. F. Hatcher,      William Keaton,  W. J. Keaton  and  John W. Nelson.   These men died in Camp Chase, Ohio, during the latter part of the war.

 

 

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