Chatham Robertson’s Story

With the coming of the Civil War, Chatham Robertson’s life became complicated – mostly because he was forced to keep his true sentiments to himself – as he was a Unionist. Additionally, the only child of James Ross Robertson to remain in Page County, Virginia by the time of the war, most of Chatham’s siblings had relocated to Mount Pleasant in Henry County, Iowa. In fact, one of Robertson’s brothers – John Truman Robertson – the only one known to have served at all during the war – served in the Union army. Supposedly a veteran of the Mexican War (in which he had received an award for bravery), John T. Robertson enlisted as a private in Company E, Seventh Missouri Infantry (US) on July 1, 1861. Wounded on May 12, 1863 at Raymond, Mississippi, he was sent to Benton Barracks, Missouri, where he died on September 25, 1863. He was buried in section 32, Site 2810 at the National Cemetery at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri (St. Louis).

While Chatham’s brother enrolled for service in the Union army, back in Page, Chatham struggled over the matter of his personal sentiment for the Union. According to information gleaned from Southern Loyalist claims, he was one of several locals who were “too afraid to go to the polls” and vote their mind. Despite not going to the polls, he took great care in all other matters not to reveal his true sentiment. While cloaking his lack of interest in the cause of the Confederacy, in July 1861, he was among the large number of county men who were drafted into the service of the Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia. After five months of service, Chatham fell ill and returned home. Because of the absence of so many men from his locality, he was allowed to remain at home and resume his avocation as a school teacher. In addition to finding himself back in the classroom as a local school teacher, Robertson was also appointed (1862) as one of the deputies responsible for patrolling the streets of Luray. Despite these responsibilities, Robertson still claims to have held Unionist sentiment. In his Southern Loyalist claim he reported that he continued to keep his sentiment to himself fully aware that “there was a strong disposition here to drive out men who entertained union sentiment.” When he and several other local citizens were arrested by Union troops in the summer of 1862 and taken to the court house, he was one of the few who were released after volunteering to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. Because of this open expression of sentiment, he was soon after threatened regularly “with injury” and told that there “might be hemp growing for me.” Despite this, Robertson remained in Page County and was one of only six county residents to receive approval on their loyalist claims. Among those who vouched for Robertson’s Union sentiment was Andrew Jackson Broyles, who had himself suffered temporary incarceration under Union occupation. Curiously, despite his Unionists sentiment, county records show that Chatham was appointed as one of the Justices of the Peace for Page County in 1863.

Following the Civil War, Robertson claimed to be one of those who took the “ironclad oath,” which was a tool used in the reconstruction South to prevent former Confederate soldiers from holding political office. Specifically, to take the oath meant that one had never “voluntarily borne arms against the United States” and had not voluntarily “given aid, countenance, counsel or encouragement to persons in rebellion.” Because of this, Robertson was able to hold the office of sheriff in Page County during reconstruction. It was remembered of Robertson’s tenure as sheriff that he was “said to have been one of the most fearless that Page county has ever known.

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