Archive for the Virginia Unionists Category

34th Massachusetts POWs and Harrisonburg Unionists

Posted in Virginia Unionists, Women Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2014 by Robert Moore
William S. Lincoln

William S. Lincoln

A little something I came across recently, from Lt Col. (at the time) William S. Lincoln of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry, following his capture at the battle of New Market (May 15, 1864), and regarding the brief stay at Harrisonburg…

We had many visitors, most of them apparently coming to see how we looked, as they exchanged no words with us. Some came, however, from interests in the cause for which we suffered; or drawn by sympathy for us, on account of our wounds. Among the latter was a Mrs. Lewis, wife of a prominent merchant in the place, whose kindness of heart overbalanced the contempt in which she held the “myrmidons of the Tyrant Lincoln,” and who furnished to many of us supplies from her own table as long as we remained in the Court House. Among the former was Col. Asa S. Gray [Algernon Sidney Gray], and his daughter, Miss Orra Gray, staunch lovers of the Union, both of them; ministering angels in our hours of despondency, of want, of suffering, and of death! To their unwearied attention, and unstinted supply of whatever they could procure, which in any way would contribute to our welfare, all of us were indebted for comfort, and some of us for restored health and life.

Miss Orra Gray… also known as Orra Henderson Moore Gray (1841-1904) was later known, by her literary contributions, as Orra Gray Langhorne… Southern Sketches from Virginia, 1881-1901, being one of her works.

Source of quote: Life with the Thirty-fourth Mass. Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, by William Sever Lincoln (Press of Noyes, Snow & Co., 1879).

Letter from Botts, laying “bare the tyranny of Jeff. Davis”, November 21, 1863

Posted in Virginia Unionists with tags on December 11, 2013 by Robert Moore

From the New York Times, Nov. 24, 1863:

INTERNAL WORKINGS OF THE REBELLION; Letter from John M. Botts to the Richmond Examiner. He Skillfully Lays Bare the Tyranny of Jeff. Davis. HIS SUFFERINGS AND MISFORTUNES. BOLD WORDS FROM A SOUTHERN MAN.


Hon. John Minor Botts:

SIR: I have been informed that previous to the recrossing of the Rappahannock by Gen. MEADE, you had prepared a letter for publication in the Richmond Press; and knowing that anything from your pen, particularly at this time, has a deep interest for the country, I would respectfully solicit a copy of the letter, on behalf of the Associated Press, for publication. Respectfully, T. BARNARD,

Correspondent of the Associated Press.

AUBURN, CULPEPPER COUNTY, VA., Sunday, Nov. 21, 1863.

DEAR SIR: Your note of to-day has been received. You have not been misinformed as to my having written a letter for publication in one of the Richmond papers, prior to the arrival of the Federal army in this vicinity, which I have reason to suppose has, before this, reached the public eye through the channel for which it was intended; I therefore inclose you a copy of the letter for the purpose indicated in your note. I am, very respectfully, yours,


T. BARNARD, Esq., Correspondent Associated Press.

AUBURN, CULPEPPER Co., Oct. 18, 1863.

To the Editor of the Examiner:

SIR: Yours is the only paper published in Richmond, to which I could make an application with any likelihood of success, in order to set myself right before the public; and you will pardon me for saying that I am by no means confident of obtaining such a privilege at your hands, but I think I have a right to expect it, inasmuch as you have chosen to publish an extract from a letter, written by a correspondent for, and published in the New-York Herald, accompanied with some uncalled-for and ill-natured comments of your own. But I do not ask you to publish for me, without making a suitable charge, which I am more than willing to pay. I hope, therefore, you will allow me to say, that whilst I have long since foreborne to make corrections of any misrepresentations of me by the public Press yet here are some of such a nature, and calculated to beget so much prejudice in the public mind, that I do not feel that I would be acting wisely or property to let them pass unnoticed.

I am willing at all times to be held to a proper responsibility for anything I may say or do; but I am not willing to be so held for what others, who may draw upon their fancies for their facts, may choose to say for me, or of me. I have seen several statements in the Richmond papers lately copied from Northern papers calculated to excite popular feeling against me, which had no foundation in truth.

First, that I had been accosted by some Indiana Major, then engaged in a skirmish with some of the Confederate Cavalry, and on being asked which way they had gone, (which, by the way, if he was skirmishing with them, he ought to have known for himself without asking me,) I replied, “I was not at liberty to tell him, as I was on my parole,” and gratuitously added, that “I was a Union man, without any ifs or buts.” Now, whatever my opinions and position on this subject may be, it is not true that I have had any such interview. I have seen to such Major, and had no such question put to me, and have given no such answer.

Secondly — In the letter, a portion of which you have copied, I am represented by the writer as having said: “I wished the Federal Government knew half that I knew of the rebels and their resources and intentions.” I have only to say that I said no such thing, and nothing that would bear a resemblance to it; and when I read the Herald containing it. I mentioned the error to two other correspondents of that paper, and asked them to have it corrected, which they promised should be done. I see nothing in it, if I had said it, to be complained of by other parties, as it matters not what I knew of their intentions and resources, provided I did not disclose them to others. I complained of it because it made me appear in the ridiculous attitude of pre-ending to know, what every man of intelligence and reflection was obliged to show. It was preposterous in the extreme. For all know that I am not in the confidence of the Government, or the commanders of its forces, and therefore could know nothing of their intentions. And as to their resources, I profess to be profoundly ignorant, either as to what they are or where they are. What he says about my purchases in Richmond is true. For what would have cost before the war at regular market prices $64 15, I did pay $1,368 03 for. But this was disclosing no important State secret, inasmuch as you furnish them with the prices current once or twice a week; and these current prices are as well known in New-York as they are to me. But I did not tell it with any expectation that it was to get into the newspapers; for when I mentioned it I did not know to whom I was addressing myself. The gentleman came, as many others did, to pay his respects, and it was not until [???]e was going away that he handed me his card, by which I ascertained that he was an army correspondent of the New-York Herald. I incidentally mentioned the fact in speaking of the great scarcity of and high prices for every thing. To this part of his letter, therefore, I made no objection.

But in your comments on this letter, you say: “Mr. BOTTS came to Richmond on quite a different errand than on a marketing expedition. He came to draw some twelve or fifteen thousand dollars of the Government which he delights to abuse and affects so much to despise. He abhors the Government but loves its money.” In the first place let me say that whatever I may think of the Government, yet I have never felt myself entirely at liberty in this land of freedom to say half as much against its administration as I have read in your own editorial columns; but if I have never made professions of devotion to the Government, I have never ceased to feel a warm interest in the welfare of the people of Virginia, with whose prosperity and freedom my own are entirely identified; and I will take occasion to say here, what I said to Gen. MEADE, and what I have said to all, that my earnest prayer is, that this revolution may result in whatever may contribute most to the permanent peace, happiness, prosperity and freedom of the people of Virginia. These are the blessings of a good Government. This is what I suppose is desired and aimed at by all, unless the selfish politicians and the corrupt speculators in and out of the army may constitute an exception. They care not under what sort of Government they live, provided they fill the high places and have their pockets well lined. We may differ possibly, and perhaps honestly, as to the best means of attaining these desirable ends; if it is by the success of the revolution, then I pray God the revolution may succeed; but if by a restoration of the Union, then I hope the Union may be restored. What I want is a Government that has the will and the power to protect my person and my property against all abuses; and that I would prefer living as I did before the war to living as I have done since the war, is beyond all question; and I would be a madman or a fool if I did not, and a knave or a hypocrite if I were to pretend otherwise.

Secondly — I hope I committed no unpardonable offence if I did go to Richmond to collect, or by to collect, some twelve or fifteen hundred dollars, for which I furnished supplies, or rather for which supplies were taken from me for the use of the Confederate army, all of which were certified to, as being one by the commanders of regiments or by Quartermasters, but which were not paid, because he accounts were not made out in the precise form required, at what you have called the “Red Tape and circumlocution offices,” which accounts are still due and unpaid, and, I hear, are likely to remain so.

Finally, it has been announced that I have been arrested and sent to Richmond, but those who made the arrest, and those who made the announcement, have taken good care not to mention the cause of the arrest, thereby leaving the public to infer that I had committed some grave offence against the Government which you say I so much abhor. God knows it, and its agents have given me no great reason to worship it.

Let us see how the account stands. On my part I have done nothing from first to last of which this Government can complain, unless it be that I have not become democratized, and have made no concessions to Democracy, and have none to make hereafter; and because I have not chosen to follow blindly wherever Democracy might choose to lead.

On the other hand, of what have I to complain, First — The legislative power of the Government has been especially directed against me, while I was leading the most retired and secluded life, as was clearly admitted by Mr. HENRY S. FOOTE, at the recent session of Congress, when he said he had been induced to vote for the declaration of martial law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus upon a representation of the condition of things, supposed to exist in the neighborhood of the City of Richmond, but which turned out to [???]eent[???]rel[???] groundless. Secondly — The power of the Executive branch of the Government has been exercised against me, when under this detestable, unwritten, unknow code called martial law. Upon no charge preferred before the Court of inquiry, they had me arrested in my bed, between the hours of midnight and daybreak, hurried me off to a dirty, filthy negro [???]a[???], where I was kept in solitary confinement for eight weeks, when, with all the vigilance and research of their numerous detectives, they could find nothing upon which to hinge a charge; and now comes a second arrest without a charge, whilst the army itself has been turned loose upon me to destroy my property by design and by order of officers in high command, which I can establish if I can procure their arrest and trial by Court-martial; under which order my yard, garden and cornfields have been ruthlessly invaded, the fencing of each torn down to the ground, and all converted into a general camp-ground, camp files bull, and horses turned into each by the Fourth Virginia cavalry, under command of Capt. RANDOLPH, and when Dr. KIDWELL (with whom I had been until 10 o’clock picking up and nursing the wounded men of both parties, more than twenty of whom were brought to my house,) remonstrated with them, they said it was wrong and should not have done it; but they were ordered to destroy “whatever they d — n pleased.” And upon this being repeated by Dr. K. to Capt. RANDOLPH he neither affirmed nor denied that such orders had been given. From which scenes of violence, together with the effects produced by my arrest on the next day, one of my daughters has been ill of nervous typhoid fever ever since; and not only has my fencing been torn down and destroyed in every direction, but some twenty-five or thirty of my best hogs have been shot down, and I have not been left one ear of my entire crop of corn, all of which could not be used was carried off or destroyed. And I now challenge any and every man of the Southern Confederacy to come forward with any charge that can be made against me for anything said or done, for which that Government or its army can justly complain. And but for the protection now afforded me by a guard from the headquarters of Gen. R.E. LEE, none can tell to what condition I should have been reduced. Have I then, Mr. Editor, think you, had much reason for attachment or devotion to a Government by which I have been thus treated. You complain of the treatment Mr. VALLANDIGHAM has received at the hands of his Government. He made many violent speeches, in which he took active and strong grounds against his Government, and for this he was sent amongst his friends, as they supposed. But I have done nothing, taken no part, but maintained firmly and consistently, as I shall continue to do, my own private opinions, and the convictions of my best judgment, which have not been controlled by any considerations of selfishness, ambition, or fear, as I wrote the Secretary of War, whilst I was confined in MCDANIEL’s negro jail, in the Spring of 1862; and because I cannot surrender these convictions, am I thus to be oppressed and persecuted by the Government and its army? I have no better vindication for having withheld my approval of the war, than is to be found in the facts that there is not one of those who aided in bringing it on, that would do it if with their present experience it had to be gone over again, or if they could have foreseen what has followed, all of which I did foresee and foretell, and if any man, with brains in his head and a heart in his bosom, says he would, then I say flatly, I don’t believe him.

But to come back to my second arrest by Gen. J.E.B. STUART, on Monday morning, the 12th inst., following the night of the ruthless and heartless destruction of my property, Gen. STUART’s Provost-Marshal, rode up with a guard to my house with a warrant, of which the following is a copy:


Lieut. RYALIS: You will arrest JOHN MINOR BOTTS, and send him to Richmond. Charges will be forwarded from there headquarters as soon as practicable. Don’t allow him to annoy Gen. LEE, but keep him as a prisoner of State. Let me know how many prisoners.

By command of Maj.-Gen. J.E.B. STUART.

A.R. VENABLE, Major and Adjutant.

Upon this warrant, containing no charge, I was arrested about 10 1/2 o’clock on Monday morning, carried under guard to Culpepper Court-house, kept there until 5 o’clock, and then discharged on the ground that there was no charge against me. But I have been semi-officially informed from two sources, either of which would be regarded as authentic, that the sole ground of my arrest was that I had entertained Gen. MEADE and other Federal officers at my table; and if it was not that it was upon some other pretext equally frivolous and contemptible, which I hereby challenge Gen. STUART to lay before the public, and if it be any offence against the peace and dignity of Gen. STUART or of the Confederate Government that I should have entertained Federal officers at my table, which would justify my arrest, then Major-Gen. STUART has signally failed in the discharge of his duty to the peace and dignity of his Government, and to the peace and dignity of the aforesaid Maj.-Gen. STUART, by not bringing me to trial for this high crime and misdemeanor — for although it is not true that Gen. MEADE look his dinner at my table, I hereby make it known to all whom it may concern that I invited him to do so, and deeply regretted that his constant engagements prevented his acceptance of the invitation, I moreover further proclaim that if he should return to this vicinity, (which I do not at all anticipate,) I shall in all probability subject myself to another arrest by a rebellion of the offence, without consulting Gen. STUART’s pleasure on the subject.

The truth is I have entertained freely and hospitably the officers and gentlemen of both armies whose acquaintance I have enjoyed, and shall continue to do so, so long as I am master of my own house, and so long as they treat me with kindness and civility, let it offend whom it may; provided the means are left me with which to entertain them, and unless, in the meant me, I shall be prohibited by law, or by some higher authority than that of Gen. STUART.

In fact, I have met with no officer in the Confederate army, and with few privates with whom I was acquainted, from Gen. ROBERT E. LEE down, with the exemption of Gen. STUART, that I have not invited to my house — nearly all of whom have partaken of my hospitality — whilst hundreds of half-famished soldiers have been furnished with meals, for which I have never charged the first dime, whilst they were in the habit of paving, as they said themselves, to brawling Secessionists from two to three dollars a meal; but this furnished no ground of complaint with any gentleman of the Northern army, many of whom expressed their surprise and gratification on hearing that they had visited me thus freely and familiarly.

But no sooner was I arrested than the whole atmosphere was filled with rumors to my disadvantage and prejudice, among the rest that I had been caught in the National lines on the day of the fight with arms in my hands to be used against the Confederate Government.

The circumstances which gave rise to this rumor are as follows: As a portion of the Federal cavalry passed my house, about 2 o’clock on Sunday, my neighbor, Mr. BRADFORD, sent me a note, saying he had been arrested, and was then in the custody of the Federal officers, and asked me to ride over to Brandy Station, to meet him, which I did. On my return I passed Gen. LOMAX’s brigade, and when half their column had passed me, and was between me and the Federals, and in the presence of the other half, I met young SLAUGHTER, the son of Dr. SLAUGHTER, of Culpepper Court-house, who had a gun and knapsack in his hand, with which incumbrance he could not control his horse, and he asked me to take it with me to my house and keep it until he called for it. At great inconvenience I took it, and this act of kindness and accommodation to Mr. SLAUGHTER was tortured into my bearing arms against the South; though Gen. STUART himself know what had carried me to Brandy, for he had seen a letter from me to Mrs. BRADFORD, telling her of the arrest of her husband, and of my having been sent for to meet him at Brandy Station.

However, these rumors, publications and arrest have had their desired effect, as they have led to the most wanton, wicked and savage destruction of my property, such as I have already mentioned, and excited the prejudice of the army, and possibly of misled citizens, against me. But I hope to outlive it all, whilst the authors of such vandalism will be held to a just accountability at the hands of a military commander whose high moral, intellectual and military qualities are justly esteemed by the whole country, and by none more highly than myself; and, if not by him, then by a still higher military authority, to wit, the War Department; and, if not there, then by the civil tribunals of the country; and if not there, then by a just, discriminating and indignant public judgment.

And now let me inquire, has martial law been declared again? And if not — when, where, how, and from whom did Gen. STUART derive the authority to arrest me, or any other citizen, for any offence whatever, and retain me as a prisoner of State? If any charge was to be preferred against me for a civil offence, where were the civil authorities? And why was not complaint lodged with them upon affidavit, as the law requires? How came I, a private, peaceable and quiet citizen, subject to the military authority of Gen. STUART? And why was I not to be allowed, if I thought proper to appear to his superior in command, Gen. LEE, against this flagrant usurpation of power and most inexcusable instance of false imprisonment?

If I mistake not, Congress, by an express vote, refused to grant these high prerogatives of dictatorial power to Mr. DAVIS; how is it, then, that Gen. STUART undertakes first to establish a martial law for himself, and then virtually to suspend the writ of habeas corpus by a denial of my right to appeal to his superior in command?

If such power can be exercised by Gen. STUART with impunity, with whom and where does the power stop? To how low a grade of military authority does it descend? And I may further ask, why, of all the gentlemen in and around the Courthouse who entertained Federal officers, was I alone to be selected for the exercise of this military power, for this indignity and outrage? These are all questions or grave interest to the liberty of every citizen, that cannot and shall not be slurred over, if there is any justice in the military department of this Government, or independence to be found in the judiciary of this State.

Hither to I have been silent as to the wrongs, injuries and indignities that have been heaped upon me; but I am not a spa[???]el, to lie down and c[???]ou[???]h at the bidding of any master, nor to lick the hand that smites me, nor am I Christian enough, when one cheek is slapped, to turn the other; and if I am thus to be selected as a particular object of persecution and can find no protection from the law then will I protect myself. This I cannot do against the Government, or against the army; but I can and will do it, when the law, military and civil, both fail me, against any one man that this Confederacy can boast.

When I purchased my present home, it was to seek retirement and obscurity, to get out of the way of the world and to follow for the balance of my life the peaceful pursuits of agriculture; there was then no army here, nor did I suppose there would be one. I disturbed nobody, went nowhere, except among kind and friendly neighbors with whom it has been my good fortune to secure as large a share of respect and esteem as any one who has ever lived in the country, and in this condition of things it was that in imitation of the Confederate Government, “All I asked was to be let alone.”

But what is the liberty of any citizen worth if a military Commander can, in the exercise of a despotic Power, or a weak and imbecile discretion, or in a fit of spleen toward one who has offended, by reporting him for official misconduct, in which eight other gentlemen united, drag that citizen from the bosom of his family, heap upon him the indignity and wrong of having him arrested and conducted through the streets of a crowded village under guard, keep him in that condition long enough for all sorts of idle and malicious rumors to be circulated, and send over the telegraphic wires respecting him, and order his discharge upon the ground that there was nothing to be alleged against him.

And now, Mr. Editor, in conclusion, let me say that the Press may continue to misrepresent and abuse me, I may be arrested and thrown into a dungeon, my fencing may be torn down and destroyed, my crops may be laid waste and carried off, my stock may be stolen or shot down under my own eye; my house may be burned over my own head, as has been threatened; but I cannot, for all that, be induced to swerve a hair’s breadth from the line of conduct that my own judgment and conscience may dictate — which is to take no lot, part or share in the responsibility that rests upon those who have brought this whirlpool of desolation and ruin upon my unfortunate country. Nor shall I depart from the position I have taken, of doing nothing that can justly subject me to outrage, animadversion or rebuke. But if to adhere firmly and consistently to the opinions and principles that I have maintained for thirty years, and if to prefer living as I did before the war to living as I have done since the war, makes me a traitor, then a traitor’s life let me live or a traitor’s death let me die. I am respectfully yours,


P.S. — Since the above was written a copy of the Examiner has reached me containing the following announcement:

“The battle took place on the farm of JOHN MINOR BOTTS. * * * * * * * We may here remark that the property on the farm of this extraordinary individual, of whom the Confederate States stand in such fear, had been religiously respected by the Yankees; whereas the country around was little better than a wilderness, his fence and crops were untouched. But that night made a change in its condition. Three thousand Confederate cavalry bivouacked there after the battle, and fed their horses in his cornfield. The next morning there were very few fence rails and very little corn left. The men could be heard to say while piling high their fires, Pile on, boys; they are nothing but a — a old Union rails.”

I am glad to avail in myself of the testimony of this “leaky vessel,” who fully confirms what I have said above, but although he does not state what is true in regard to the general destruction of property in the neighborhood, for it gives me great pleasure to say that a guard was furnished to every family that asked for it, all of whose property was amply protected, as every one in the neighborhood will testify; yet he certainly states what is true in regard to the general destruction of my property — and I must say that the achievement of three thousand cavalry conquering one man and a corn-field, is one of which, in the future, they can take no great pride, when their prejudices and passions shall have subsided.

Another article has also appeared in the Dispatch, recommending my imprisonment or banishment, which is altogether unworthy of notice, I will only say that whatever other difficulties I may labor under, I do not esteem it a misfortune that I have no soldiers at my command to turn loose upon any citizen, nor aids at my elbow to bring them into discredit with the people. Thank God, when there is a necessity for it, I can do my own fighting.


Hensley-Lamb (Rockingham & Page County) refugees, documented in Gettysburg newspaper

Posted in Confederate conscription, Southern Unionist refugees, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2013 by Robert Moore

Not long ago, I received the following from Civil War blogging friend, John Rudy, and am just now getting around to posting it. It’s an article documenting the fleeing of the Hensley and Lamb families from the Shenandoah Valley.




It’s unclear which “Mr. Mickley” “hospitably entertained” the wives and children, as there were a dozen households headed by Mickley families in Franklin Township in Adams County (according to the 1860 census).

Matthew and Annie Lamb, courtesy of friend Craig Lam.

Matthew and Annie Lamb, courtesy of friend Craig Lam.

I visited Fold3 and found the Oath of Allegiance papers for both Matthew Lamb and Wesley Hensley, who appear to have fled Virginia in March, 1864.

Matthew Lamb's Oath of Allegiance, taken in March, 1864

Matthew Lamb’s Oath of Allegiance, taken in March, 1864

Wesley Hensley's Oath of Allegiance

Wesley Hensley’s Oath of Allegiance, taken the same day as Matthew Lamb’s

The oaths were administered near Fredericksburg, Virginia, by Union Capt. W.W. Beckwith. Formerly of the 80th New York Infantry (and before that, Co. H, 35th New York Infantry), Beckwith was serving, at the time, as aide-de-camp to Gen. Marsena R. Patrick, commanding the Provost Marshal of the Army of the Potomac…

Beckwith is third from the right.

Beckwith is third from the right. Gen. Patrick is next to Beckwith, in the center of the photograph.

In the case of Mr. Nicholas Breeden, Rockingham County, Virginia

Posted in Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2012 by Robert Moore

Nicholas Breeden, Roadside, Rockingham County Virginia
Southern Claims Commission
Property taken: 2 horses, saddle and bridle
$300 approved
INCLUDE claim (1)
Nicholas Breeden, husband of Lucinda Hensley (daughter of Mary Hensley; granddaughter of Mary Meadows Hensley)
Before the Commissioners of Claims
Act of Congress, March 3, 1871
Case of Nicholas Breeden
No. 17902

It is hereby certified, that on the 26th day of December, 1873, at Port Republic in the county of Rockingham and State of Virginia, personally came before me the following persons, viz:
Nicholas Breeden, Claimant
J. W. F. Samuels, Local Counsel, or Attorney
and George Dean
Stephen Hensley
Wm D. Maiden, Claimant’s Witnesses,
for the purpose of a hearing in the above entitled cause.

Each and every deponent, previous to his or her examination, was properly and duly sworn or affirmed by me to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, concerning the matters under examination; and the testimony of each deponent was written out by me, or in my presence, and was given before me, and subsequently read over to said deponent, by whom it was also subscribed in my presence.
Witness my hand and seal this 26 day of December, 1873.

Isaac P. Baldwin
Special commissioner of the commissioners of Claim
Deposition of Claimant

In answer to the First General Interrogatory, the Deponent says:
My name in Nicholas Breeden, my age 60 years, my residence Rockingham County, in the State of Virginia, and my occupation a farmer; I am the claimant and have beneficial interest in the claim.

Interrogatory 2.
I lived during the whole period of the war on my own farm at Elk Run in Rockingham County, Virginia.

3&4 No. Sir

5 Yes sir. I rode to Harrisonburg 22 miles on purpose to take it when an opportunity was given after the war.

6 – 23 inclusive. No Sir.

24. Yes sir. I was arrested and held as a conscript and put upon my proof to show I was over age and not liable to do military duty, and did so after which I was released. I was never under arrest by the U. S. authorities.

25. Yes sir. My house was stripped of every garment the soldiers could wear. My bed, blankets – a lot of leather – about 25 years of cloth and other things. I was never paid for anything.

26. Yes sir. The rebels and secesh [secession] neighbors threatened to drive me and my family and others in the neighborhood who would not join them out of the county.

27. I was not personally molested but the secesh were down on me because I sent my sons north.

28&29 I was not able to give anything more than feed the soldiers. After the battle of Port Republic I kept 4 union soldiers who were disabled and wounded until they were able to travel and join their commands. I concealed them in a thicket during the day and took them to my house at night until able to go to their Regiments.

30. Yes. I think I had two nephews in the service. I did not aid either of them in any way. One of them came to see me once, and I told him he should get out of it that the rebels were sure to be whipped, and he managed to get detailed at some mechanic work.

31 to 39 inclusive. No Sir

40&41 I sympathized with the union heartily all the time. I thought the war was wrong and that it was designed to oppress the poor and make them fight to sustain slavery. I never owned a slave and never wanted to.

I was a union man always. I voted for the union candidates for the convention, but did not go to the polls when the vote was taken on secession. I would not vote for it and it was not safe to vote against it. When the state seceded I let her go and held for the union all the time and I did all I safely could do for the union cause.

On one occasion, some confederates were after conscripts in the neighborhood where I live and a lot of us union men banded together to drive the confederates away and I was one of the number. Two of my sons served in the Union Army.

44. I am a natural born citizen of the U. S. and have not passed through bankruptcy.
In answer to the interrogatories as to the property deponents says: I was present when the property was taken and witnessed the taking.

Item 1
3 mares The two mares were taken from before my wagon while I was using them to have some apples by a company of cavalry belonging to the command of Gen. Sheridan in the fall of 1864 about the last of September. A portion of Gen. Sheridan’s army were camped on Cedar Hill at the time, about 6 miles from my place. The party taking my horses – or mares rather – had a number of men without horses, and the officer in command told me he wanted them for the men to ride, and they were rode away by two of his men towards Cedar Hill. The officer who took the horses told me if I would come to Cedar Hill I could get them back and I went there and was told by Capt. Moffett who was in command at Cedar Hill that he could not give them up himself, but that the General would do it if I could prove that I was a union man. And I was going to see the general the next day when I heard the warring of cannon towards Harrisonburg and delayed going a day or two when the army was gone. The mares were excellent heavy animals well broke and worth $150 each.

Items 1 & 2 The saddle and bridle were both taken at the same time and by the same party. The saddle was worth about $20 and the bridle was worth about $2.00.

And further deponent saith not.

Nicholas (his X mark) Breeden

George Dean
being duly sworn deposeth as follows.

I am 38 years old, a farmer, live in Greene County near the top of Blue Ridge. I married the daughter of claimant before the war and in one sense may have a beneficial interest in this claims.

In the fall of 1864 I was at the house of the claimant and on the last day of September a party of Union cavalry passed his house while he was at work with his team of mares, and the officer in command halted the party and told Mr. Breeden he wanted his horses and ordered his men to take them. And they were taken together with a saddle and bridle and both were rode to Cedar Hill, and from there to Harrisonburg. I know they were rode there by some cavalrymen, because I went along with the party and saw them and followed on to Martinsburg and went to Ohio as a refugee where I stayed until the fall of 1864. I heard the officer taking the horse tell Mr. Breeden he thought he could get the horses back by going to some place and seeing some officer. I don’t now remember who.

The team was an excellent one. I have worked them some myself and knew the animals very well.

I considered the two worth about $150 each. I don’t know so well about the saddle and bridle. There were probably worth $18 or $20.

In answer to questions as to the Loyalty of claimant deponent says:
I have known Nicholas Breeden all my life. During the war I saw him often and know his sentiments well on the war question. He was a decided union man all through the war and done all he could in aid of union men trying to escape the rebel service. I have known him to carry baskets of provisions to the mountains many times to the union men concealed there, and I was in a company of union men who armed themselves for defense and took to the mountains and Nicholas Breeden was one of the company also who had his gun and used it on several occasions. He was a decided loyal man during the war and is still. And further deponent saith not.

George Dean

Stephen Hensley
being duly sworn deposeth as follows.

I am 32 years old, a farmer, live near Roadside in Rockingham County Virginia. I am not related to the claimant and have no interest in this claim.

I have known Mr. Breeden all my life, lived near him during the war, saw and conversed with him frequently during the war on war matters and such topics, and he uniformly expressed the strongest kind of union sentiments. He was an ardent supporter of the union cause and a true friend to union men under all circumstances. There was not time but that the interest of the U. S. Government would have been safe entrusted to him. I was a refugee after Sheridan came up the valley and know what loyalty costs in this county and I do not hesitate to say there was none more loyal to the cause of the Union than Nicholas Breeden. He sent three of his sons north.

In answer to interrogatories as to the property the deponent says: I was not present at the taking, but I saw the two mares in the service of the union forces on the last day of September 1864 at night at Cedar Hill in Rockingham County and on the days following. I saw them in the service of the union forces at Harrisonburg. They were in the cavalry service. I saw cavalry men riding them and I recollect one of the refugees asked the privilege of riding one of the animals but was told they could not be spared as they had not enough for themselves.

I had often seen the animals on Mr. Breeden’s place and recognized them soon as they were rode into camp at night at Cedar Hill. And I saw Mr. Breeden at the Camp on Cedar Hill the next day and expected him to accompany us to Harrisonburg, but there was a battle at Mt. Crawford about that time and troops were moving about so Mr. Breeden did not accompany us to Harrisonburg.

I knew the animals very well and should consider them work about $150 each.

And further deponent saith not.
Stephen Hensley

Deposition of William D. Maiden
as to the Loyalty of Nicholas Breeden.

I am 45 years old, a mechanic and Justice of the Peace. I am not related to the claimant, and have no interest in this claim.
I have known Nicholas Breeden for 35 years, saw and conversed with him often during the war and I know him to have been an uncompromising union man and loyal to the United States. He lived in a community of union men near the Blue Ridge who armed themselves and had several skirmishes with the conscript officers. Mr. Breeden was one of the number and resisted in every way he could the operation of the conscription.

He was a true friend to the union cause and to union men and was known and spoken of as such by all who knew him. He has sworn never to support a rebel for any position and always act and votes with the loyal party.

There were several union men killed in his neighborhood by some Georgians sent here to hunt down union men and Mr. Breeden took their bodies, washed and dressed and buried them. I was once captured by the men of Harry Gilmore’s rebel cavalry, and while in their camp I saw the plunder brought in from the houses of the union men who had been murdered, seven in number, and I heard them talking about burning the property of them all and it would have been done only for the fear of retaliation. I heard them talk also about Nicholas Breeden as a very dangerous man and a traitor; and they held a caucus about burning him out. But the rebels living around there were afraid the mountain men would burn them out in retaliation and they concluded not to do it.

If there are any union me anywhere Nicholas Breeden was one and is to this day. And further deponent saith not.

Wm D. Maiden

*Many thanks to Jan Hensley for sharing this from her work, “Sallie’s Story: An Exploration Into the Lives of the Hensley, Maiden, Meadows, Gardner and Smith Families of Rockingham, Page and Albemarle Counties Virginia – Supplement” (2009).

When a Confederate soldier came-a-courtin’ a Southern Unionist’s daughter

Posted in coercive activities in the secession vote, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Focuses on Southern Claims Commission applications, Southern Unionist refugees, threats made against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2011 by Robert Moore

While shuffling through some family history notes lately, I came across a story that I had forgotten about. A distant cousin (half first cousin, three times removed), George W. Hillyard, who served in the 12th Virginia Cavalry, and was a native of Winchester, Virginia, found time during the war to find romance with a young lady “down the road a ways”. Now, George “was a man of powerful build, a noted athlete in young manhood, and some notable exploits were credited to him”. When he started to court Miss Jemima Windle (seven years his junior), it didn’t set too well with her father, Samuel Windle.

Samuel was a native of Shenandoah County, and a farmer/merchant near Cedar Creek, but, more importantly, when it came to the war, he is said to have held firm to his Unionism.

So, the story goes…

When George W. Hillyard came to court his daughter, the prospective father-in-law denied him the privilege of the Windle home, and went so far as to secure assistance from some Union soldiers in removing the obnoxious suitor. George, seeing the party in blue coming, jumped through the window, taking the sash with him. Despite his hurried departure, when some distance away, he waited in ambush until the boys in blue came along. When George attacked, he proved the more capable fellow, ultimately drowning all of his pursuers in Cedar Creek.

That’s quite an interesting story, but… I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more info out there on “Papa” Windle. In fact, there is…

In the early 1870s, Samuel Windle prepared a Southern Loyalist claim, and left some interesting details about life, as he recalled them.

When reflecting on his loyalty, Windle informed the committee (in an interview and in the documentation):

At the beginning of the Rebellion I was for the Union and not for the Rebellion. I voted for the ordnance of secession. A man came to my house the night before the election and told me all that did not vote for the ordnance of secession would be tarred and feathered and drummed out. The security of my life required that I should vote for the ordnance. I was a Union man all the time.

Of course, it can’t hurt to let the committee know that a good Unionist has suffered at the hands of the Confederates either…

The Rebels took hay, corn, & goods from out my store, they robbed my house and took 150 dollars in Greenbacks from me. They threatened to burn my house on account of my being a Union man.

Then, of course, it’s important to let them know how one helped the Union army when it was around…

I went at the hour of midnight to give Gen. Milroy notice of the coming of Confederate forces. I gave him the information a few hours before the fight.

Even so, being a Southern Unionist didn’t guarantee safety from depredations at the hands of Union soldiers, as they came through the area… hence the root of the reasons behind why Samuel Windle made application to be reimbursed from losses incurred from their “visit”, in the fall of 1864. Samuel testified…

I was at home when my property was all taken – it was all the same Regiment that took my property – it was in command of a Col. Benjamin and belonged to Sheridan’s army. The Col. and a Capt. Bliss took breakfast with me the morning it was all taken and came upon my invitation – it was in the fall of 1864. – the regiment had encamped close to my house the night before. They were up the valley on the scout. Sheridan’s was in camp at Kernstown at the time. I think so. There was no others to take the property and was all taken that night and the next day and done while Col. Bliss was encamped there.

He also noted that, while hauling wood, Union soldiers took his saddle (worth $10) and horse, though the horse was later returned. Also claimed were, at least, 150 fence rails for camp fires, and 15 stands of bees, and all the honey, estimated at 300 lbs, to which the Union soldiers “made themselves welcome”.

Samuel’s son, James, backed his father’s story, adding the following…

I don’t know that there was any officer present. The sheep was in the Barn yard. The Hay in the Barn, the Potatoes in the patch. The saddle was taken from the horse in the road. The Corn was in the field. The rails enclosed the farm. The Honey was in the Hives. It was all removed by the soldiers. It was taken for the use of the U.S. Army. I saw it used by the army. A complaint was made to Captain Bliss who gave a receipt for the Sheep & Honey. The property was taken both night and day. Did not see the sheep taken but saw them using the mutton. They were the best sheep. Coats would [bring] five or six dollars a piece. I saw fifteen hundred pounds of hay taken. The hay was in the barn & I estimate the quantity from the bulk. It was worth 18 or 20 dollars a ton. I saw eight bushels of Potatoes taken from the ground. From the quantity of land I supposed there was eight bushels. They were worth about seventy five cents a bushel. I saw ten bushels of corn taken judged the quantity from the buck and supposed there was 10 bushels was worth about one dollar a bushel.

James also added that his father sent he and his two brothers into the Union lines “to keep us out of the Rebel service” and, that he [Samuel]…

…gave the Union men all the information he could and aided Rebel deserters to get into the Union lines. They threatened to burn his house and took his property on account of his being a Union man. I do not think the claimant could have staid here had the south gained her independence, and further deponent sayeth not.

Joseph W. Hodge also provided testimony on behalf of Samuel Windle. Having been conscripted in the summer of 1862, into the 11th Virginia Cavalry, Hodge deserted on December 20, 1862. Taking refuge in the homes of Southern Unionists in the Valley, by the summer of 1863, he finally made his way to Ohio. Taking advantage of Sheridan’s occupation of the Valley, in the fall of 1864, he returned home for a while, before returning to Ohio, where he remained until the close of the war.

I did not return until the fall of 1864, and was at Windles for a day or two when I left again for the North. I had come home to see my friends while the Union army was here, but I left again for feat that Sheridan would fall back and leave me in the hands of the rebels. I had a great many talks with the claimant about the war – in his conversations he always expressed strong Union sentiments.

Hodge also let the committee know that Windle’s three sons had been conscripted into the Confederate army. This is where things grow a little fuzzy… but only because all of what was being told… between Samuel Windle, James Windle, and Joseph Hodge… did not all neatly mesh.

In fact, as service records reveal, Windle’s three sons, Addison, James, and William, were all prewar militia, who were activated for Virginia’s service (and, thereby, the Confederacy’s service), in July 1861 (James was mustered-in with the 146th Virginia Militia, July 11, 1861, while Addison and William were mustered-in with the 136th Virginia Militia, July 21, 1861). Of course, as I’ve pointed out before, such service, in the militia, is not an indicator of loyalty to the Confederacy, as many considered themselves conscripts, under such activation, even before the Confederacy passed its first conscription act.

Ultimately, all three were excused or dismissed from militia service at various times prior to October 1861 (Addison and William, in September; and James in October).

From what I’m able to weed-out, (though I can’t tell when, exactly) it appears that Addison was the one who first took his father’s advice, and went to Ohio, to avoid further Confederate conscription. There he remained, until after the war.

James and William, on the other hand, appear to have taken their chances… and lost.

William was conscripted on December 8, 1863, and assigned to Co. E, 11th Virginia Cavalry, on March 9, 1864. He appears to have deserted not long after, finally taking refuge in Ohio. he returned to Winchester, in April 1865, where he received his parole from Federal forces.

James was conscripted as well, and, though not on the rolls of the 7th Virginia Cavalry (I suspect the term of service being so short explains why), having received a disabling wound at Jack’s Shop, received a discharge (at least according to his postwar application for a pension for his service to Virginia). Such a situation, of course, would have enabled James to remain on his father’s farm without further pursuit by Confederate conscript hunters… thereby giving him the opportunity to witness events in the fall of 1864… for which he gave testimony, as seen above.

Hodge, by the way, in his testimony, lent credence to Samuel Windle’s claim, that he sent his sons North (though, I must say, Samuel was a big vague as to the details, while he explained this to the commission). When Hodge fled the Valley, in June of 1863, he stated that he went to Ohio where “Mr Windle’s son was living”.

Of course, I have to wonder if the Claims Commission could see all that we are able to see, in records today, as they are available to us now. At this point, I’d be very confident in saying that Windle was, indeed, a loyal Southern Unionist. However, as in the case of several others I’ve seen, it’s often some fine detail that spoils the whole story. In fact, the Claims Commission found out that Windle sold 3,341 lbs of hay to the Confederacy, at Sharpsburg, Maryland, on December 20, 1862 (for a total of $141.50). But, really, it appears that this wasn’t the factor that brought them to their decision. Who knows… for all they knew, they may have considered such a sale made under duress.

Rather, it was that part about Samuel Windle having voted in favor of secession, that wrecked his claim (albeit, really, a rather small claim). The decision of the Commission, inevitably came down to this…

Claimant stated that he voted for the Ordinance of Secession. We regard a vote for the dissolution of the Union and the overthrow of the Government as inconsistent with local adherence to the Cause of the Union and the Government of the United States. We reject the claim.

… and there you have it. A Southern Unionist… I feel certain… but, not one who went to the point of defying secessionists who threatened him with violence, and perhaps his very life.

Oh yes… and about that romance between George Hillyard and Ann Jemima Windle… they still stuck it out, and were married. Ann died in 1878, while George went on to marry again. Still, in those 13 years after the war, between the end of the war and Ann’s death, one has to wonder just how those family holidays at the Windle house may have been… 🙂

Rebecca Wright: Winchester Unionist and Sheridan’s “Little Quaker Girl”

Posted in Virginia Unionists, Women Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2011 by Robert Moore

In January, 1867, while serving as the head of the Department of the Gulf, in New Orleans, Gen. Philip Sheridan penned a letter to Rebecca Wright, in Winchester, Virginia, regarding affairs in which she had played part, less than three years before. “You are not probably aware of how great a service you rendered the Union cause”, wrote Sheridan, “by the information you sent me by the colored man a few days before the battle of Opequon, on Sept. 19, 1864.”

Who was Rebecca Wright, and how big a part did she play in the Battle of Opequon?

Rebecca L. Wright (often seen in biographical sketches as “Rebecca McPherson Wright”) was born January 31, 1838, in Frederick County, Virginia, a daughter of Amos and Rachel Lupton Wright… “Friends”, or Quakers… who belonged to the Hopewell Meeting House, near what is now, Clear Brook, Virginia, just north of Winchester.

In her youth, Wright is said to have “enjoyed the advantages of a fair education, obtained in the schools at Winchester, Va., and, at the age of fifteen, she began her employment as a teacher.” A year later, however, she opted to continue her education with a year’s course of study at the Friends’ School in Loudoun County, Va., under the guidance of Samuel M. Janney. Upon completion, and for the three years that led up to the war, she taught a private school, sponsored by the Friends at Hopewell Meeting, and subsequently served as an assistant teacher in a private school of eighty pupils.

In the early days of the war, she stood against what seemed to be the popular leanings in the area, and “pronounced Union sentiments” that were “distasteful to the management and the popular feeling of the community”. Subsequently withdrawing from the private school, she opened another private school in Winchester, where “she taught the children of loyal parents, and never lost faith in the Union cause.” Furthermore, as the war came regularly to Winchester and Frederick County, she is also said to have never “refused to aid the friends of the National government and its armies”.

Certainly, considering the disposition of the Friends, this makes sense, but were these details of what appeared to be immense and long-term service to the Union made more extraordinary after the war, and because of her having assisted Sheridan with critical information that served him well in the Battle of Opequon? In the absence of detailing information, it’s difficult to project so much from only one documented incident. We’ll return to this thought in a bit. In the meantime…

Sheridan providing Laws with instructions for the delivery of the message

In the early stages of his 1864 Valley Campaign, Sheridan was in need of reliable information regarding the size and strength of Gen. Jubal Early’s army. In his memoirs, Sheridan recalled that some of Major H.K. Young’s special scouts (who often wore gray as part of their intelligence gathering operations) learned of “an old colored man”, Thomas Laws, who might prove useful.

They learned that just outside of my lines, near Millwood, there was living an old colored man, who had a permit from the Confederate commander to go into Winchester and return three times a week, for the purpose of selling vegetable to the inhabitants. The scouts had sounded this man, and finding him both loyal and shrewd, suggested that he might be made useful to us within the enemy’s lines; and the proposal struck me as feasible, provided there could be found in Winchester some reliable person who would be willing to co-operate and correspond with me. I asked General Crook, who was acquainted with many of the Union people of Winchester, if he knew of such a person, and he recommended a Miss Rebecca Wright, a young lady whom he had met there before the battle of Kernstown, who, he said, was a member of the Society of Friends and the teacher of a small private school. he knew she was faithful and loyal to the Government, and thought she might be willing to render us assistance, but he could not be certain of this, for on account of her well-known loyalty she was under constant surveillance. I hesitated at first, but finally deciding to try it, dispatched the two scouts to the old negro’s cabin, and they brought him to my headquarters late that night. I was soon convinced of the negro’s fidelity, and asking him if he was acquainted with Miss Rebecca Wright, of Winchester, he replied that he knew her well. Thereupon I told him what I wished to do, and after a little persuasion he agreed to carry a letter to her on his next marketing trip. My message was prepared by writing it on tissue paper, which was then compressed into a small pellet, and protected by wrapping it in tin-foil so that it could be safely carried in the man’s mouth. The probability of his being searched when he came to the Confederate picket-line was not remote, and in such event he was to swallow the pellet. The letter appealed to Miss Wright’s loyalty and patriotism, and, requested her to furnish me with information regarding the strength of condition of Early’s army. The night before the negro started one of the scouts placed the odd-looking communication in his hands, with renewed injunctions as to secrecy and promptitude.

Of course, were Laws and/or Wright found out for their efforts, it meant almost certain death. Still, Laws followed-through.

Making his way into town, he came to Wright’s private school, but… did he really know Wright so well, or… did the writer (Brevet Lt. Col. Theodore W. Bean) of the Wright-Sheridan sketch (The Loyal Girl of Winchester) design unfamiliarity between Wright and Laws to add drama to the story? The following passages from that postwar sketch make it appear that she was unfamiliar with Laws.

“It was while sitting at my desk in my little school room at the noon hour,” remembered Wright, “that I heard a ring at the front door, and was told a colored man wished to see Miss Wright.” Wright [er, uh… Col. Bean) continued…

He was thirty or thirty-five years old, closing all doors and looking about in such ways that alarmed me so that I demanded very positively business.

He immediately told me he had a note from Gen­eral Sheridan, who wanted me to tell him of the strength and position of the rebel forces in and around Winchester, at which I was greatly troubled, as the man was an entire stranger to me, and the thought that he might be trying to find out what I would do or say, and betray me to the rebels who were in possession of the place, was uppermost in my mind.

I asked him if he knew to whom he was talking and told him there were two of us. He replied, “Oh, yes; you are Miss Rebecca; your sister [Hannah A. Wright, who was 18 years old at the time] a rebel.” I then told him I did not have anything to do with the rebels and knew nothing about them, but he talked so intelligently, told me so much of the troops with Sheridan, and seemed so earnest and honest that I could no longer doubt him.

He quickly noticed the change and said, “will go now, Miss Wright, and come again at three, and I know you will have a line to send to the General.”

All this time I was nervously trying to get at the note, which was rolled in tinfoil, and was tearing the foil when he said: “Do not tear the foil, you will need it to wrap your reply in. I carried it under my tongue and was to swallow it if I was arrested and searched.”

Taking more care, she opened the contents, and read the note…

I learn from Major-General Crook that you are a loyal lady and still love the old flag.

Can you inform me of the position of Early and his forces, the number of divisions in his army and the strength of any or all of them, and his probable or reported intentions? Have any more troops arrived from Richmond, or are any more coming or reported to be coming?

I am very respectfully, your most obedient servant,

Major-General Commanding.

You can trust the bearer.

The note being read, Wright turned to her mother, Rachel, for counsel…

After talking it over with my mother, and know­ing the risk I was running, I sat down and wrote all I knew, and this [that?] was how I knew anything of Con­federate affairs:

Two evenings before, a rebel officer, convalescent, who boarded with our next door neighbor, asked the privilege of spending the evening in my company. But a sorry evening it proved for his cause. I asked questions (never thinking of using the information) and he answered truthfully. When Sheridan asked me I knew, therefore, what to tell, and wrote, putting my life in the keeping of a strange colored man.

Wright penned her response…

September 16, 1864.

I have no communication whatever with the rebels, but will tell you what I know.

The division of General Kershaw and Cutshaw’s artillery, twelve guns and men, General Anderson commanding, have been sent away and no more are expected, as they cannot be spared from Richmond. I do not know how the troops are situated, but the force is much smaller than represented. I will take pleasure here­after in learning all I can of their strength and position, and the bearer may call again.

Very respectfully yours,

Sheridan made note in his memoirs of the information he received on the evening of September 16…

Miss Wright’s answer proved of more value to me than she anticipated, for it not only quieted the conflicting reports concerning Anderson’s corps, but was most important in showing positively that Kershaw was gone, and this circumstance led, three days later, to the battle of the Opequon, or Winchester, as it has been unofficially called.

Laws delivers the first message. Close-up from the Virginia Civil War Trails marker, available online at the Historical Markers Database.

While we have no further record of Thomas Laws, as to whether he continued to convey information for Sheridan, or what became of him, in the days that followed the exchange of messages, Rebecca is said to have wondered about the disposition of the messenger, and whether the contents of the message had reached Sheridan. The following comes from Col. Bean’s sketch…

What Miss Wright remembers of the terrible day: Many times during the next day (17th) and the quiet Sabbath (18th), I wondered what had become of the colored messenger and of my note. When we were awakened on Monday morning, the 19th, before daybreak, by the roar of cannon, my first thought was whether my note had anything to do with the fight­ing. In the afternoon when the streets were filled with troops, artillery wagons and the poor suffering wounded, when buildings were burning all around us (our own fence was on fire several times), my mother asked me if the note I had written was the cause of it. But I still wondered if it had ever been received.

It was the most terrible day of all our experience in old Winchester. The shells fell so near us we went down cellar for safety. The rumbling and noise grew fainter and fainter, until it was so quiet I could not endure it, and said I must go up and see what I could see.

Nothing on the first floor; nothing on the second floor; but from the window of the garret I saw the old flag waving, and it was coming to town. I dropped on my knees then and there, and gave thanks to the Giver of all good for the sight; then started for the cellar, fairly flying down the stairs, screaming, “The old flag is coming in! Come up now, all will be safe! The fires will be put out and everything will soon be all right. The dear old flag is coming back again.”

We soon had the house open to receive our friends, and in the evening I learned whether my note had anything to do with that battle.

I heard sabers clamping against the steps, and on going to the door met two officers, to each of whom, without knowing their rank, I extended one of my hands, welcoming them as Union officers.

When one introduced himself as General Sheridan, I welcomed him indeed, and he told me it was entirely on the information that I had sent that he at once gave battle. He said the rebels were utterly defeated and would never come again. But I had heard that too often, and told him all who had gained a victory had told us that, so we had lost faith; but they never came again. He wrote the report of his battle at my desk.

Soon friends began to arrive, and though there were no decorations, no flowers, there never was a reception more thoroughly enjoyed or more fully appreciated, than the one held in the old house at the foot of Fort Hill on Main Street, Winchester, Va., by the Quaker girl who felt she had done her duty to her country.

Now, it seemed to me that Col. Bean’s sketch seemed to be “fluffing” things a little when we consider Sheridan’s 1867 letter to Wright. In fact, Sheridan’s words make it seem that only then, with that letter, did he make Wright totally aware of her contribution, and his appreciation. Recapping what was covered in the opening of this blog post…

You are not probably aware of how great a service you rendered the Union cause“, wrote Sheridan, “by the information you sent me by the colored man a few days before the battle of Opequon, on Sept. 19, 1864.”

Still, Sheridan himself recalled, in his Personal Memoirs, when Gen. Crook conducted him to Rebecca Wright’s home, to prepare a telegram to General Grant. Therefore, Bean’s account seems to hold merit, despite the projection of meaning in Sheridan’s 1867 letter. The rest of Sheridan’s 1867 letter is as follows…

It was upon this information the battle was fought and probably won. The colored man gave the note, rolled up in tinfoil, to the scout who awaited him at Millwood. The colored man had carried it in his mouth to that point and delivered it to the scout, who brought it to me. By this note I became aware of the true condi­tion of affairs inside the enemy’s line and gave directions for the attack. I will always remember this courageous and patriotic action of yours with gratitude, and beg you to accept this watch and chain, which I send you by Gen. J. W. Forsyth, as a memento of Sept. 19, 1864.

I am your obedient servant,


It’s unclear if the locals actually gained knowledge of Wright’s contribution to Sheridan’s victory, but circumstances suggest she may have been scorned by some, perhaps making any effort to remain in Winchester, a difficult affair. It may be that, from this difficulty, she was eventually appointed to a “position of honor” as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., thanks to efforts of Ulysses S. Grant, after he became president (whether Sheridan had a hand in it or not is unclear). It was while there, she married William Carpenter Bonsal, in 1871 (Bonsal was a veteran of the Civil War, having served as a private in Co. L, 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry). She retired from her position with the US Treasury in 1914. Though she was buried in Glenwood Cemetery, in Washington, D.C., the date of her death was not inscribed on her stone.

* Several biographical sketches carry the legend that Rebecca Wright’s father, Amos, died in a Confederate prison camp early in the war. Amos died, however, on August 27, 1865, and was buried in the “Friends’ burying grounds attached to Ridge Meet­ing, Virginia”. Rebecca Wright’s mother died June 21, 1874, in Rice County, Kansas, “while visiting her daughter [though it’s unclear which daughter], and was there laid to rest in private burial-grounds.”

**A Virginia Civil War Trails Marker, seen here, in the Historical Markers Database, is in downtown Winchester, at the site of Wright’s residence.

***I’ve made a slight effort to find Thomas Laws. Sheridan never referred to him as a slave, and it appears more than likely that Laws may have been a free black, though doesn’t appear in the 1860 census for either Frederick or Clarke counties as such.

“The reign of terror in Loudoun, Va.”

Posted in coercive activities in the secession vote, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Southern Unionist refugees, threats made against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2011 by Robert Moore

The following comes from the July 24, 1861 issue of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Herald of Freedom and Torch Light:

A gentleman from Waterford, Loudoun county, Virginia, of a party of twelve Union men who escaped across the Potomac on Sunday night and reached here yesterday, represents the reign of terror in that county as unprecedented. The Union men are largely in the majority, but are totally unarmed and defenceless, and were all to be drafted in the militia yesterday by order of Gov. Letcher, and sent to Manassas. The river is closely guarded by pickets to prevent their escape, and a party of fifty were driven back on Saturday.

The party with which our informant crossed came over an old abandoned ford below the Point of Rocks, the existence of which was not generally known, and were each armed with such weapons as they could procure, determined to resist to the death.

Immediately on crossing they were arrested by the Federal pickets, and marched to the camp, much to their gratification, assuring them that they were just where they wanted to be. The[y] were well received, and furnished with provisions, and made as comfortable as possible. Passes were then given them, and a portion proceeded to join friends in Washington, whiles others came to Baltimore.

The people of Loudoun are not allowed to know what is going on in the country except through Secession sources, all newspapers being vigorously excluded from them. They have been robbed of the produce of their farms, and many hundreds of them would have made their escape long since were it not for the daily hope they entertained of being relieved of their oppresions by the arrival of Federal troops.

The election on the Secession ordinance is represented to have been a farce. A regiment from South Carolina was in the county on that day and the members voted, whilst the Secessionists voted as they choosed. it would have been at the risk of life for the Union men generally to have turned out, though they brought up a few to vote to make it appear that that there was no restriction upon Union voters.

The drafting for the militia that was progressing embraced every one that was able arms, including members of the Society of Friends and those known to be devoted Union men. The “coercion” principle was being carried out by the anti-coercionists to its fullest extent.

Reuben Kite’s story

Posted in Southern Unionist refugees, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , on May 22, 2011 by Robert Moore

Not that I’ve found a great deal about Kite, but, I do know that he was one of four men from Page County, Virginia to actually be bold enough to vote against secession during the referendum.

Kite, a 34-year-old farmer, with $6,000 in real estate, not only voted against secession, but stuck it out in his home county after the referendum. After living in fear for better than a year before the first Union soldiers entered the county, in the spring of 1862, ironically, Kite was arrested by Union scouts who were in the advance of Gen. James Shields’ army. Fortunately, another local Unionist, James Lee Gillespie, who had also voted against secession in Page, was then serving as a guide for Shields, and vouched for Kite’s loyalty. Following the battle of Port Republic, in June 1862, Kite continued to exhibit his sentiment and opened his home for the body of a dead Union officer. In the days that followed, Kite also hosted several Union officers, and for giving the “enemy” comfort, was soon living in the county on borrowed time. Realizing the precarious state of affairs for Kite and his family, Shields offered to convey the family North.

Reuben took Shields up on the deal, and by 1880, we find him, his children, and his wife, Lydia Ann Koontz Kite, a third great grand-aunt of mine, living in Nebraska. Three of Lydia’s brothers, by the way, had served in the Stonewall Brigade, one being killed at First Manassas.

New markers in Waterford, Va. highlight Southern Unionism there

Posted in Southern Union soldiers, Virginia Unionists with tags , , on May 22, 2011 by Robert Moore

Over at the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable site, blogosphere pal Craig Swain makes mention of the events of May 21, in Waterford, Virginia. The folks up that way are giving a good deal of attention to the Loudoun Rangers, and it’s great to see. Meanwhile, I hear that another blogosphere friend, Ron Baumgarten has a post coming up about his experience yesterday at Lydecker’s Store in Vienna, where he witnessed a reenactment of the referendum on secession.

So, yes Virginia, Unionism was alive 150 years ago, and it’s being recognized in Virginia Sesquicentennial events! Very good to see.

Who thinks that that only Lincoln did this? Silly goose…

Posted in Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by Robert Moore

Southern Unionist post-worthy is the fact that 149 years ago, on this day, Jefferson Davis suspended habeas corpus and declared martial law in Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia because of Union threats.

Gen. Winder

Two days later, the same was done in Richmond, Virginia; Gen. John H. Winder being declared military governor of the city. Part of the irony in this was that Winder was a Marylander. While there seems to be much talk in Confederate celebrationist circles about the appalling treatment of Marylanders as a result of Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and declaration of martial law there, Jefferson Davis (who, incidentally, had also been a student of Winder’s at West Point), as we can see here, did the same.

J.M. Botts

One of those taken into custody under Winder’s period of authority was John Minor Botts. Not unlike George P. Kane, who was taken from his home in the dead of night in Maryland (as a result of Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus), Botts was taken from his bed in the dead of night, in March of 1862. Botts was then carried to prison, and held in solitary confinement for eight weeks. Botts’ crime against the Confederacy: suspicion that he was writing a secret history of the war.

Though a search was made for the manuscript, the Confederates could find nothing. After his release from prison, Botts returned to his home in Culpeper County, Virginia, though continually harassed by Confederate authorities.

Following the war, the manuscript which the Confederates sought was found, a portion of which had been entrusted to the Count de Mercier, French minister at Washington, D.C. This work formed the basis for Botts’ The Great Rebellion, its Secret History, Rise, Progress, and Disastrous Failure! (New York, 1866).