Archive for Confederate conscription

Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .

Posted in Alabama Unionists, Confederate conscription, descendants of Southern Unionists, Mississippi Unionists, Southern Union soldiers, Southern Unionists who became Union soldiers with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by Robert Moore

The following post is actually a re-post (having originally appeared on August 27, 2007) from Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi: A Weblog by Terry Thornton. I’m thrilled to be able to post it here again, with Terry’s permission. It’s an absolutely wonderful piece of Civil War “memory” and it fits extremely well within the environment of this blog. Note that this piece is copyright protected and used only with permission. Thanks again Terry!

Monday, August 27, 2007
Shhhhhhhhhhhhh! Let’s not talk about this . . .
by Terry Thornton

I am a Mississippian by birth and I am a Mississippian by choice. Of the forty-seven years that have passed since I turned twenty-one years of age, I have spent the majority living in other states electing to return to inside the Magnolia Curtain to live out my retirement.

I am a Southerner.

Growing up in the Hill Country of eastern Monroe County during those peaceful decades prior to the turbulent 1960s, I learned some about our region’s history and heritage but little about my Thornton family history. My father was somewhat distant to his larger family both in temperament and in geography — that, combined with the Thornton tendency to withhold information mitigated against my learning much about my ancestors.

I got most of my information from overhearing snatches and snippets of conversations while listening from the chimney corner. And as I grew older I learned that perhaps not all of the solid Southern unity was as it was rumored and taught to be — that perhaps there were cracks in the solidarity in the Hill Country Confederate unity during that difficult time some seventy-eight years before I was born.

Some things didn’t add up.

But when I would ask, I was told, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about that.”

One of my favorite places to play during those safe years when children were permitted to play unsupervised away from home was at the New Hope Cemetery which was about one-half mile west of my home. Down the gravel road we would walk (no soccer moms with vans back then — nor any other vehicle; kids walked or rode bicycles) sometimes eight or ten or more to play all afternoon among the cool stone markers in the graveyard. Although the graveyard then was kept free of grass (as was the custom for most Hill Country houses: the yards were bare of grass), the cemetery had overgrown with trees creating large dense shaded places. And our favorite game to play in one of the large ornately decorated plots at the cemetery was “Civil War draft dodger.”

The older kids taught us how to play the game; they had been taught the game from the generation just older than them; and they in turn probably heard the stories from those who lived the experience upon which we had made a game. To play the game, one had to hide from the CSA draft enforcers. The place to hide was a special room underground at the cemetery in a specific family plot which had a false grave built for the purpose of hiding out. When the enforcers were in the area, you had to hide in the grave; when the enforcers were not close by, you had to hide in the dense woods and creek bottom just to the south of the cemetery.

When I was a child playing there, the family plot had been modified; the false grave had been used for an actual burial. So when we hid in the special “room” we just lay between the graves crowded into that family burial plot with its interesting stones and low fencing all around.

If the enforcers came and stayed a few days, the ones hidden in the grave were nourished by “grieving” mothers, sisters, or girlfriends who would come to the graveyard with baskets of flowers which contained food and water. And as the grieving females knelt there “praying” they were really whispering the latest news to those hidden just below.

I could never decide which role I enjoyed playing best: enforcer on horseback charging up and dragging folks off to fight or dodger lying there in the cemetery while all the pretty girls brought me food, water, and flowers and whispered directions to me as I rested in the perfect pacifist position.

To play “draft dodger” when I was a child involved a large cast of characters. There were roles for everyone no matter who all came to play that day — and we played the game often. But as I grew older, I listened to my teachers who were of the opinion that all true Southerners were loyal and 100% committed to fighting the Yankees!

If that were the case, I thought, then why were there hidden rooms in the graveyard at Parham? Maybe I had it mixed up; maybe those hidden men were really good brave loyal Southerners hiding from the Yankees.

Again came the, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” from the adults in my life.

But the older kids checked the story out with the older ones who would tell us the straight of it — the ones hiding were hiding from the Southern draft enforcers.

Then I overheard a conversation between my father and one of his relatives.

What? Some of the Thorntons were in the Union Army? Whoa! I thought. How did that happen? And no one would talk to me about the event or even acknowledge what I had overheard.

“Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

As I got older I also questioned why the given name Sherman was widely used in my family: my grandfather had Sherman as one of his given names; my father had Sherman as one of his given names; my brothers has Sherman as one of his given names; and I have at least two cousins with Sherman as one of their given names. Somehow this choice of given name didn’t square with my conception of the turmoil that ripped through the Hills of Alabama and Mississippi some seventy-five years before I was born.

General Sherman was not one of my favorite people — he was not presented in any favorable light in any of the lessons in history I had at Hatley School. So what was I doing in a family with so many males named for Sherman? Oh well, I was told, they are named for someone else but that someone was never identified.

And if I persisted, out came the, “Shhhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

About 1970, my father asked my wife and me to go with him to Lann Cemetery, Splunge, Monroe County, Mississippi, to visit the grave of James Monroe Thornton. James Monroe Thornton was my father’s grandfather — James Monroe Thornton was the one who first named a son with the moniker “Sherman” — in 1865 he named a son John Sherman Thornton.

And while at the cemetery, my father told my wife what he had never told me: James Monroe Thornton served in the Union Army. Basically all he would or could tell me was that his grandfather, he had been told, was on the staff with General Sherman, had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and so admired the General that he vowed to name the first of his sons born after the war for the general.

James Monroe Thornton survived the war and when the first child born after the war was a son, he named him John Sherman Thornton.

Be damned if I would listen to another “Shhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” again!

During the next year or two, I started my reading and researching of the Thornton family. I learned that during the awful war years, both before and after, that they lived in the general area of Walker and Fayette Counties, Alabama. The Thornton family did not arrive in Mississippi until between 1905 to 1910. I discovered the gem of a book, Tories of the Hills, by Wesley S. Thompson (Winfield, Alabama: The Pareil Press. 1960). [My edition is the Civil War Centennial Edition, a limited-re-printing from Northwest Alabama Publishing Company, Jasper, Alabama.]

Thompson states in his Introduction “those opposed to the Secession . . . were called . . . Tories from the hills. . . met in a Convention July 4, 1861, and drew up resolutions to secede from the State [of Alabama]. When this . . . failed [the Tories] took to the coves and mountains for hiding rather than go to the Confederate Armies . . . there followed one of the bloodiest struggles of guerrilla-warfare ever fought on American soil.”

Suddenly the region known as “Freedom Hills,” a rugged area that spreads across the hill country of Alabama and west into Mississippi took on a new meaning.

Freedom! . . . no “Shhhhhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” was going to stop me now.

So obviously the opposition to serving in the Confederate cause was as far west as the Hill Country in Monroe County, Mississippi, if hide-outs and resisting the draft were so commonplace that children’s games were organized and played almost 100 years after those sad events unfolded.

But learning more information from my father or from his larger family of their time in Alabama and of the Union Army connection to General Sherman was not to be. My father died a few years after telling me about his grandfather; the other older family members either didn’t know the family history or were not willing to talk about it. Some were of the opinion that we should not talk about the possibility of such an involvement!

And there I was, blocked in with “Shhhhhhh, let’s not talk about this” from cousins far and wide. But upon probing deeper, it was obvious that my cousins knew less than I about this part of our family’s history. The “Shhhhh, let’s not talk about this” mentality had prevented some of the most basic of family information from filtering down.

Several years went by and I began an email correspondence with a cousin, Lori Thornton, who was an experienced genealogist and computer expert. Lori and I compared notes and within a few months, I had the first documented evidence that my great-grandfather [and Lori’s great-great-grandfather] James Monroe Thornton had indeed served in the First Alabama Cavalry USA.

And upon learning about this documented fact, I had relatives to send me word, “Shhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this.”

The first evidence I had of James Monroe Thornton’s military service in the First Alabama Cavalry U.S.A. was from Glenda McWhirter Todd’s in-depth study, First Alabama Cavalry USA: Homage to Patriotism (Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc. 1999). There on page 368 is this entry, the first evidence I had of my great-grandfather’s involvement:

Thornton, James M., Pvt., Co. A, age 38, EN 3/23/63 & MI 3/24/63, Glendale, MS, on daily duty as teamster, MO 12/22/63, Memphis, TN.

James Monroe Thornton enlisted in the First Alabama Cavalry USA at Glendale, Mississippi on March 23, 1863. The next day he was mustered into service. He was assigned to Company A; he was given the rank of Private. He was 38 years old. He served daily duty as a teamster and was mustered out of service just before Christmas, December 22, 1863, in Memphis, Tennessee.

My father had been misinformed about James Monroe Thornton’s rank — there had been some huge and grand promotions for Private Thornton to have attained the lofty status of Lieutenant Colonel — whether that embellishment in rank was done by James Monroe Thornton himself (he lived to the ripe old age of 88 years) or by others is unknown.

Lori and I ordered the service record and the pension file for our common ancestor — and there learned for the first time the extent of his military service. James Monroe Thornton indeed was in the First Alabama Cavalry USA; he was a Private. He was at home in Alabama hiding out from the Confederate enforcers most of the time he spent in the service of the Union. He accompanied a small group in June who was returned to Walker and Fayette County and while there became ill. His family hid him in the woods from July through early December when he returned to camp.

James Monroe Thornton was absent with leave from June 29, 1863 through about December 13, 1863 when he returned to duty just in time to be mustered out on December 22, 1863.

He was not, however, a Lieutenant Colonel nor was he an aide-de-camp to General Sherman! He drove a team of mules or horses and hauled materials with a wagon as a Private doing teamster duty.

In all of this research, however, the harsh reality of what happened to my Thornton family in the Hills of Alabama has been slowly uncovered. Lori and I are continuing to examine records that are telling us the painful story of our family — a story that heretofore had been so suppressed within the family that our generation had no clue to its reality. Here is a brief summary of some of the major discoveries.

Two of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the First Alabama Calvary USA. Those two brothers died in service. No one in my family of my generation had any knowledge of these men. As far as I know, their names were not known as family. The grave of one has been located at the Nashville National Cemetery where I conducted a memorial on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of his death. It is believed that the first time that any of this young man’s family visited his grave site was 140 years after his death.

The “Shhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this” time was over.

A third brother may have been killed by Confederate enforcers as he was making his way to the Union lines to volunteer. Lori and I are still working on this possibility. We know that a third brother disappears from all records during the Civil War years and we are intrigued by a statement recently discovered in his mother’s federal pension file about this possibility. More work is needed.

And perhaps the saddest chapter in all of this that was never talked about in my family is evidence that three of James Monroe Thornton’s brothers also served in the Confederate Army. One was captured in battle in Kentucky and eventually exchanged/released in Mississippi. We think he returned straight to North Alabama, visited briefly with his wife and child and other family nearby, and then with his older brother, James Monroe Thornton, walked over to Glendale, Mississippi and enrolled together. James Monroe survived; the brother he enlisted with died.

The youngest brother in that large family also died in the service of the Union Army. He and another brother had enrolled in the Confederate Army and both are listed as deserting at Tuscaloosa. The younger brother shows up on the First Alabama Cavalry USA enlistment rosters a month later; the other brother disappears from the records. It is presumed that he is the one his mother later states was killed by enforcers while making his way to the Union line.

So I can’t tell you about a great-grandfather who was a Lieutenant Colonel in General Sherman’s army — but I can talk a bit about his service as a Private, as a teamster, during a few short months during the Civil War. I can tell you a bit about the history of the South and can confirm that the solidarity and Confederate unity wasn’t what we’ve been taught in the public schools of Mississippi.

But, listen, someone is saying, “Shhhhhhhhh. Let’s not talk about this!”

[Editor’s (Terry’s) Note: This recollection was submitted to the current Carnival of Genealogy. The 31st Carnival has as its topic Confirm or Debunk: Family Myths, Legends, and Lore, and is being hosted by Craig Manson at GeneaBlogie.]

More on Southern Unionist James Lee Gillespie

Posted in brutality in conscription, Confederate conscription, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , on March 21, 2009 by Robert Moore

For those who might recall, it was sometime ago when I last wrote about Southern Unionist James Lee Gillespie. However, I’d like to share some additional information about Gillespie’s activities… or at least activities in which Confederates believed Gillespie was  involved and even spearheaded.

In his book, Four Years in the Saddle (pages 32-33), Confederate cavalryman Harry Gilmor mentioned that Gen. John Robert Jones (see this HMDB entry for Woodbine Cemetery, under which Gen. Jones is mentioned), acting provost guard at Harrisonburg, directed Gilmor (between March and April 1862) to deal with Gillespie and efforts in which he was believed to be engaging. Since the name Gillespie is quite unique to the area, it seems certain that this reference was to James Lee Gillespie. Gilmor stated,

Jones sent me to break up a band, estimated at from two to five hundred, that had collected in the large gorges of the Blue Ridge, in the neighborhood of Swift Run Gap. They were headed by a man named Gillespie, and they had determined to resist the draft, and were armed principally with shot-guns and squirrel rifles. We had with us a company of militia infantry, but they were afraid to go into the mountains at all.

We had skirmishing for two or three days without doing any damage; for, when we attempted to charge, they took to the sides of the mountains, and the ground was too rugged to pursue them, and they could fire on us without being able to return to it.

I reported all of this to General [Thomas J. “Stonewall”] Jackson, who sent Colonel Jones in command of all, and advised him to bring up four companies of sharpshooters, and one or two pieces of artillery. This he did; and after driving them into Green [Greene] County across the mountains, I took prisoners, forty-eight in number, to Harrisonburg…

Nothing more was mentioned about Gillespie or the effort to root out the “resisters.” Yet, as we clearly know, Gillespie was not among the captives and found a home as an assistant surgeon in West Virginia regiments of the Union army.

Confederate Conscript Hunters!

Posted in brutality in conscription, Confederate conscription, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2009 by SouthernUnionists

I’ve mentioned them before, but conscript hunters presented a horror of war to Southern Unionists that I believe we cannot come close to understanding.

Conscript hunters had a difficult duty to perform. Not only were they to gather up those who had not yet volunteered for Confederate service and yet were age-eligible (under anyone of the three different conscript acts passed by the Confederate government), they were also tasked with finding and bringing back Confederate deserters; but that doesn’t excuse the zeal of some of these men in doing their work.

Even among non-Southern Unionists, the conscript hunter was no welcome character. In a letter written by John J. Moyer (1855-1940) of Page County, Virginia in 1924, a time was recalled when some might think a conscript officer had a perfect opportunity to recruit men for the Confederate service. In speaking of the “unhappy days of the sixties,” Moyer wrote that

…some of the experiences of the people in and around Luray when it was reported that Shields’ army was coming in this direction from New Market. He says that a number of persons went toward the top of the Massanutten mountains and catching a glimpse of the invading army the Luray and Page people, seeing that they were doubtless outnumbered many times, beat a retreat, those who lived in Luray not even stopping at their homes but pressing hard in the direction of ‘The Pinnacle,’ at that time a friendly knob at the top of the Blue Ridge several miles east of the home of Mrs. Bettie Sours, in the Printz Mill neighborhood. There was a conscript officer sent out by the Confederate army looking for conscripts and this officer was in Luray at that time. He went with the Luray and Page people to the ‘Pinnacle,’ and there tried his hand at he conscription business. The local folk, Mr. Moyer said, didn’t take very kindly to the idea and were getting ready to make quick dispatch of the officer, even having a rope around his neck and being ready to string him up. About this time, Jonathan Rowe [1810-1884], of this county, intervened in behalf of the officer and persuaded the men who were bent upon his destruction to desist.

Page County historian Jacob H. Coffman (1852-1939) also had a story about conscript hunters writing,

Now I know there’s but few living today that remember the days of the Conscript Hunter, as they were called at this time. They were men detailed from army to hunt up and take back to army deserters – that is soldiers who after many applications failed to get a furlough to visit their homes would take what they called ‘French leave’ that meant to run off.

I know a man who had recently been raised to the rank of Lieut. and was in charge of a squad of Conscript Hunters and he was disliked by many for the power he exercised in this office. One night a notice was put up at what was called the Butterwood Gate [near the Jacob C. Kite house and stage stop known as Mt. Hope], called so from the fact that it was hung on a butterwood tree. The notice was nailed up with wooden pegs and as I passed the place the next day I found near the tree, a fine 6-bladed pen knife which must have been used to make the wooden pegs the notice was tacked up with. The notice was to the effect that if the Lieutenant and his men did not leave the county they would be killed. Whether the warning had the desired effect I never learned.

Got any stories of conscript hunters to share?

Take a look also at this story about Chrisley Nicholson and his encounters with Confederate conscription hunters. Nicholson, by the way, was my third great grand uncle.

Chatham Robertson’s Story

Posted in coercive activities in the secession vote, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

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.

Frederick Amos Alger’s Story

Posted in Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

Born in Page County, Va. on 25 January 1842, a son of Lemuel D. (1815-1887) & Mary Ann Getts Alger (1818-?). Lemuel and Mary Ann were married on 13 September 1838 in Page County. Frederick is shown in the 1860 Page County census as residing with his parents in Alma, District #1.

It appears that Frederick A. Alger and his friend, Andrew Jackson Foltz, left Page quite possibly in early 1864 to evade the Confederate draft. Alger enlisted in Co. M, 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry on 9 February 1864. Foltz enlisted in another company a few days later. The regiment, at that time was stationed in the vicinity of Williamsburg, Va. and returned to Portsmouth, Va. early in April. In May a raid was made on the Weldon railroad, near the Nottoway river, followed by a raid on the Danville railroad at Coalfield and the South Side railroad. The regiment was engaged in the fighting that occurred at Jarratt’s Station on 7 & 8 May and later at Flat Creek Bridge on 14 May, and then at City Point on 17 May. From May 28, to June 9, the regiment encamped at Bermuda Hundred, after which an unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy the railroad bridge over the Appomattox. It appears the regiment served at Cold Harbor on 6 June 1864 and at Petersburg on 9 June. Late in June the cavalry division undertook the destruction of the Danville railroad, along which and the South Side railroad, miles of track and much other property were destroyed and sharp engagements fought at Stony creek and Reams’ station. July was spent in camp at Jones’ neck on the James and while here Co. L relieved Co. G in eastern Virginia, the latter returning to the regiment. Late in the month the division was made a part of Gen. Sheridan’s force and joined in his famous operations, engaging the enemy at Reams’ station and at other points along the Weldon railroad. Stationed during September at Mount Sinai Church, the regiment returned to Jones’ neck on Sept. 28, and was joined by Co. H. In October the cavalry participated in a number of engagements in the vicinity of Petersburg and in November went into winter quarters north of the James. In December it was engaged at New Market heights and in Feb., 1865, made a raid into Surrey and Isle of Wight counties. Late in March it moved to join Gen. Sheridan at Reams’ station and with him shared in the success at Five Forks on April 1, and the pursuit which followed, with frequent encounters culminating in Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. Returning to Richmond it moved to Staunton and returned to Charlottesville, remaining there and in the vicinity until ordered to Richmond to be mustered out, which took place on Aug. 13, 1865.

Alger returned to Page County where he married Sarah Elizabeth Seekford on 15 March 1866. While he initially returned to farming, he later worked as a boatman on the Shenandoah River, and then, by the last two decades of his life, apparently occupied himself as a shoemaker. Frederick Alger applied for and received a pension in February 1884 (application #507160). He died less than two years later, on 7 June 1886. His wife, Sarah, applied for and received a widow’s pension in 1891. She died on 20 April 1911. One can only imagine how difficult it might have been to leave a community where so many volunteered for Confederate service and then having returned as a veteran of the army which they fought against. However, one thing says a lot when considering Frederick Alger. Of the two executors that he named in his will, one was Jacob Daniel Koontz, a veteran of Company D, 7th Virginia Cavalry, and, one of the four men involved in the horrible Summers-Koontz incident.

The Story of the Meadows family

Posted in brutality in conscription, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, murdering Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , on October 29, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

A Virginia family, Thomas and Elizabeth Meadows lived along Naked Creek on the Page and Rockingham county line. In the family, there were four sons [Mitchell (born ca. 1823), James (born ca. July 1826), William T. (born December 7, 1839), and Henry “Hiram” (born September 1842)] who would be considered age-eligible for military service by the time of the Civil War, and, naturally, being from Virginia, the assumption might be fairly automatic that there service would be with the Confederacy. Incidentally, a fifth son, Emanuel (born February 21, 1833) left Virginia for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the late 1850s.

Out of the four brothers who remained in Virginia, Confederate service records can be found for James, William and Henry. Actually, James’ service was not recorded in the military records but in pension records stating that he served in Company #4, of the Nineteenth Virginia Heavy Artillery. Since he has no service record, it can be safely assumed that he entered the unit late in the war (finding late war Confederate enlistment records can be an impossible task). William T. is shown in The House of William Meadows, ca. 1937the records of the Tenth Virginia Infantry as having been conscripted on July 1, 1863 at Harrisonburg into the ranks of Company I. His service was short-lived, and by July 23, 1863, he was listed as absent without leave. The third brother to serve in the Confederate army was Henry (also known as “Hiram”), who was shown as having enlisted in Company L, Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia on August 8, 1861. So, on the surface, excepting the service of William T. Meadows, it appears that the family was pretty much behind the actions of Virginia in support of the Confederacy. Care should be made however, as information found by “scratching the surface” with the military records can be deceiving.

The first obvious problem in making an assumption about the family’s overall support for the Confederacy is easily identified in William T. Meadows – a conscript who took the first opportunity to break away from the conscript hunters and become a deserter. But, the actions of one brother do not necessarily define the sentiments of the others. As in all cases of finding a deserter in the family, you must look beyond the one brother (or family member) and see what may have motivated (or not motivated) the other brothers in their service as Confederate soldiers. In fact, James Meadows’ service as a Confederate soldier offers complications in defining the sentiments of this family. As a late war entry, was he actually a conscript and, unlike his brother William, was he not afforded the same chance to desert? Or, was James actually a true late war enlistee who remained faithfully in the ranks as a Confederate soldier? As I mentioned, the only record of service for James exists in a pension record, and basing “loyal service” on a pension record can be taking a great deal for granted.

Confederate pension boards in Virginia were, for the most part, made up of local Confederate veterans, at least early-on in the process. However, by the 1920s, early 1930s and onward, Confederate veterans were not manning the boards as many had died or were “up in age.” In the early part of the pension application process, the veterans appear to have effectively screened pension applications, at least most of the time. For the most part, it might be understood that veterans were able to look at an application, recall the applicant’s sentiments and actions at the time of the war, and make an accurate determination as to whether the applicant was a “loyal” Confederate and if he merited a pension. Once again however, the veterans on the pension board could not accurately speak for everyone as some of the late war enlistees were enrolled or conscripted into less familiar companies. For example, the most commonly recognized companies formed in Page County (namely, Company K of the Tenth Virginia Infantry, Company H of the Thirty-Third Virginia Infantry, Company D of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry, Company E of the Thirty-fifth Battalion Virginia Cavalry, and the Dixie Artillery) had some sort of representation on the pension board. If a veteran or veterans serving on the pension board was/were not familiar with an applicant and his service, they could turn to the local camp of Confederate Veterans (of which, the veterans serving as board members were usually members), and hopefully, somebody in the camp could vouch for the applicant or argue against the applicant’s claim of loyal service.

In the case of James Meadows applying as a former member of the Nineteenth Virginia Heavy Artillery (or his wife applying for a widow’s pension), there was nobody on the pension board or in the Rosser-Gibbons Camp who could accurately attest to his loyalty (nobody else in the county on the board served in the same unit or knew much about the service of James’ unit). The only option, therefore, was to rely on the word of a comrade or someone who could give certain testimony in support of loyal service. It is uncertain, but it is believed that such testimony was pivotal in the approval of Meadows’ application.**

What seems even more remarkable about this is that having difficulty finding “loyal” Confederates in this, the twenty-first century, is really nothing new. Even in the early twentieth century when Confederate Veterans were still around, Frederick T. Amiss (an actual son of a Confederate veteran) struggled with the effort to compile a list of loyal Confederates for proposed plaques that would be mounted in the Confederate Veterans Monument in Luray. He compiled excellent lists of men who served in units from the county, and, with the help of the surviving veterans, was able to establish, in those more well-known companies from the counties, which men were loyal and which ones were not so devoted. Even with the help of the veterans, Amiss was still confronted with a major issue – that of dealing with angry family members when he made the claim that a soldier was anything but a “loyal Confederate.”

But, before digressing too much from the central focus of this article on the Meadows brothers – if brothers William T. and James leave us wondering still where the family stood on support or opposition to the Confederacy, the next best thing in the assessment would be to figure out where the other two brothers stood (not to say however, that, in all cases, all siblings shared the same sentiments).

Mitchell Meadows offers one of the most important pieces of information in the assessment of the sentiments of the Meadows brothers. One set of family stories reveal that Mitchell was “shot and killed during the Civil War.” On the surface one might assume that being shot and killed, Mitchell must have been a soldier. A search of military records does not reveal military service, however, and, considering the efforts of William to remain out of the service, it seems more plausible that Mitchell may have been killed in the act of evading Confederate conscript hunters.

A second story, related to me after my first effort of looking into Mitchell’s story, revealed what I had suspected. Mitchell was taken, at gunpoint, from his home by Confederate conscript hunters. With his hands tied and forced to walk behind a horse on a lanyard, Mitchell was, somehow, able to break away and made a run for it. As the story goes, either when in the act of escaping or after he had made his way back to his house, the conscript men caught up with Mitchell and killed him.

Mitchell’s story, when combined with the story of Henry Meadows gives us an even better glimpse into what may have been the overall sentiments in the Meadows family.

Having “enlisted” on August 8, 1861 in Company L, Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia, Henry “Hiram” Meadows may have been reluctant to serve from the onset. First of all, as a regiment that had existed prior to the war, when the Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia was called into the service of the Confederacy in the summer of 1861, it was not, as some may believe, enrolled with ranks teaming with patriotically motivated volunteers. Rather, the men of the Ninety-seventh who were enrolled were draftees. Of course, that is not to say that all men in the Ninety-seventh were not in favor of the Confederate cause.

In the case of Henry Meadows, he enlisted, but following the First Battle of Manassas, took the opportunity, along with brother William T. Meadows (who had been enlisted on July 22, 1861), to go AWOL on November 4, 1861. They were still absent when the last complete muster roll was filled out for the Ninety-seventh on December 31, 1861. While William held out unsuccessfully against Confederate conscript hunters in Page and Rockingham Counties, Henry opted to leave the militia and head for Pennsylvania, where his fifth brother had moved prior to the war. Though it is unclear exactly when he became a temporary resident of Pennsylvania, by 19 September 1863, he was drafted into the Union army and made a member of Company E, 143rd Pennsylvania Infantry.

Even entering into service, as a draftee in late 1863, “Hiram” Meadows saw extensive service. After leaving Pennsylvania, he was likely one of the 360 recruits who arrived with the new group of regimental recruits in September and October, 1863. Though a notation in his file (“A deserter from Rebel service, not to be assigned to field duty”) made reference to his not being placed in a combat role, it appears that he was eventually placed on the firing line along with the rest of the regiment. Within a month of his reporting to the 143rd, he would have been involved in a sharp skirmish with Confederate forces at Haymarket. From November 22 to December 5, the regiment performed railroad guard duty at Manassas, marched to Paoli Mills and finally, after eight months constant campaigning, went into winter quarters at Culpeper on December 27. One can only imagine how odd it must have felt for Meadows being so close to home, but in the occupying army.

Before moving in the spring campaign of 1864, the 143d was assigned to the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps. Once the campaign season opened, the regiment suffered severely at the Wilderness and at Laurel Hill. However, it was in action on the North Anna River where Henry Meadows was wounded in the calf of the right leg on May 23, 1864. Sent first to a Fifth Corps field hospital and then to Emory General Hospital in Washington, D.C., Meadows was later transferred to Newton University General Hospital in Baltimore and eventually McClellan General Hospital in Philadelphia by October. He remained at McClellan Hospital until mustered-out on May 16, 1865 (though the war was already over, the regiment did not actually muster out until August 1865).

After receiving an honorable discharge, Henry Meadows returned to Page County, and on September 7, 1867, married Ardista Breeden (who was born January 1851, a daughter of Wesley Whitfield Breeden and Elizabeth M. Eppard). The couple had more than 10 children – interestingly, the first and last child were seemingly named out of influence from Henry’s service in the Union army – the first was named Columbia Esteline (born about 1869) and the last child was named Ulysses Edgar “Bud” Meadows (born December 24, 1896) – apparently in honor of Ulysses S. Grant. Other children included Crimora, Armetis (born September 19, 1870), Eliza H. (born about 1871), Dolly Francis (born March 19, 1874), William D. (born about 1875), Henry Dorsey (born March 15, 1875), Newman Thomas (born September 12, 1876), Ardista D. (born October 7, 1878), Wesley Monroe Cameron (born June 20, 1881), Emma “Annie” C. (born February 24, 1885), Josephine F. (born June 1890), and Virginia C. (born October 21, 1892).

In October 1889, Henry Meadows applied for (application #732108; certificate #525060) and was awarded (on June 27, 1890) a pension of $6.00 per month for disabilities caused by his wound and an injury to his eye (while in action on May 23, 1864, a ball splintered a limb of a tree and the splinters entered his eye). He was dropped from the pension rolls on March 14, 1895, on the grounds that he was not ratably disabled under the act of 1890. He filed again on July 17, 1890, but was rejected on May 27, 1902 because the government noted that he had “rendered voluntary service in the Confederate army.” Apparently it took some time to clear his record of “voluntary Confederate service” and by 1912 he was once again receiving a pension. By 1918, Henry Meadows was receiving $38 per month for his pension. Henry Meadows died on December 10, 1919 and was buried somewhere near his home in Jollett Hollow.

Henry and Ardista Breeden Meadows

Story courtesy of Robert Moore. Used here with permission. Photo of Henry and Ardista courtesy of Mr. Larry Lamb.

**Correction: I believe that, the way in which this is written, does suggest that James Meadows may have applied for a pension in the 1920s or 30s. James Meadows applied for a Confederate pension in 1904 (age 77, living in Jollett Hollow). Certainly, at the time of his application, there were fellow veterans alive who could attest to his faithfulness to duty as a soldier in the Confederate army. Regretfully, I do not recall who signed as a comrade (it’s been nearly 20 years since I last went through every single Confederate pension application from Page County), but the signature of a comrade from the same unit attesting to his service would be an indication that he did serve faithfully. Specifically, I’m saying this means that he served faithfully, but that does not clarify that nature of his becoming part of the Confederate army or his sentiments in regard to the Confederacy. By nature of being part of a unit that was formed neither in Page or Rockingham County, it does indicate that he was conscripted, perhaps forcibly, from his home (which, in 1860, was in Waverlie). This seems supported by the stories about James’ siblings. Most men evaded forcible conscription by beating the conscription hunters to the punch, so to speak. Specifically, if a man joined prior to conscript hunters coming to the residence and taking a man away, he could at least pick the unit in which he served. This usually meant enlisting in a unit in which he knew other family, neighbors, and friends to be serving.

Thornton Hamilton Taylor’s Story

Posted in Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

Thornton Hamilton Taylor (1811-1899) is remembered as a man who held firm in his Union sentiments during the Civil War. Thornton was born on October 12, 1811, the eldest child of Valentine Dudley Taylor and Mary “Polly” Jenkins. On August 22, 1832, Thornton married Mary Elizabeth Knight (1812-1892) and to that marriage were born a dozen children including William Harrison Taylor (1833), James Valentine Taylor (1834), Barbara Ann Taylor (1836), Daniel H. Taylor (1838), Mary Elizabeth Taylor (1840), Thornton Absalom Taylor (1842), Benjamin Newton Taylor (1845), Frances Irene Taylor (1847), Viranda Caroline Taylor (1849), Edward Enoch Monroe Taylor (1851), Virginia Taylor (1853), and Charles Robert Taylor (1856).

At the opening of the Civil War, the Taylor family quickly became embroiled in the conflict. As a good number of Page County men were quickly conscripted into the ranks of the Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia (even before the first Confederate draft), several Taylor men found themselves in the ranks of the different companies of that regiment. William H. and Thornton A. were both members of Co. F. Of the two, Thornton was AWOL by October, apparently never to return. William, however, was discharged by September on account of a government proclamation. He was entered into the service again in November but deserted in early December, returning again later that month. Another of Thornton Hamilton’s sons, Daniel, was entered into the service of the regiment in Co. M on July 22 but was listed as absent sick beginning in early November. Even Thornton Hamilton Taylor’s father, Valentine (1795-1884), served in the ranks of Company I. He was present through December 1861, but little can be discerned from his military record as to personal sentiment over the political crisis that brought about the war.

What is clear however, are the stories after the war that detail the troubles surrounding the family of Thornton Hamilton Taylor. To begin with, Daniel, though his military record is not very descriptive apart from his absence due to being “sick,” was not unlike his father, and “did not hesitate to speak without first thinking.” For his Unionist sentiment, he was the first of the family to draw “the wrath of local fire-eating secessionists.” According to old stories, because of his open expressions of sentiment, posters were soon tacked where Daniel was “sure to see them” and “bid him change his boarding house and to make it snappy.” After a poor record of involuntary service with the Ninety-seventh Virginia Militia, Daniel actually left Page County, heading west where he enlisted in the Union Forty-fifth Kentucky Infantry. Daniel Taylor served for more than two months beyond his term of enlistment and was mustered out in December 1864. Family stories place him in the Shenandoah Valley during the Burning of October 1864, but military records prove this to be incorrect.

Following Daniel’s “expulsion” from the county, Daniel’s father became the target of “slaveholders determined to get rid of him.” In addition to being outspoken, early in the war, Taylor had a sanctuary near his home to harbor Confederate deserters. “My grandfather had several boys and a couple of friends . . . staying with them in what is called Camp Hollow. They would come to the house, get their meals and lay around the orchard, and when my grandmother saw the ‘conscripts’ coming, she would take a case knife and would knock on an empty barrel and they would run back to their camp in the hollow. They burnt wood at night and charcoal in the day so that their presence could not be discovered in smoke.” While most of the men taken in by Taylor were local Page County Confederates, one Confederate deserter, William Beecher “Billy” Owens (1841-1908), was a private from Company H, Ninth Louisiana Infantry.

Owens was born in Pike County, Mississippi and was a resident of Vernon, Louisiana at the opening of the war when he enlisted in his unit on July 7, 1861 at Camp Moore, Louisiana. He was present until absent sick at the Staunton Hospital in December 1862 and present again by the April 1863 muster. However, as of June 5, 1863 he was listed as a deserter. He probably spent the better part of a year under the protection of Thornton Taylor before he made his way to the Union army to obtain his parole. Owens was listed on the register of prisoners received and disposed of by the Provost Marshal General of the Army of the Potomac on April 20, 1864 and was sent to Washington, D.C. on April 24th. He later married one of Thornton Taylor’s daughters, Fannie, who later remembered that “those were days of serious times and a man hardly hated to speak his sentiments.”

Eventually, Thornton Taylor’s sentiment combined with his efforts at harboring Confederate deserters caught up with him. According to Reverend David W. Strickler, “slave holders” eventually “brought a rope and surrounded his [Thornton Taylor’s] house for one week, giving his family access only to the spring, thus cutting off his means of getting food and water as the slave holders thought he was hiding out. It was their purpose to hang him if they were able to find him. But he slipped away and was not heard from till after the war.” During the time that the house was surrounded, one of Thornton Taylor’s daughters recalled that the family “only had one mess of buckwheat cakes and that we ground in the coffee mill. Had it not been for Elders John Huffman and Nathan Spitler, two men of sacred memory in their day, they being also Union men, who brought us flour and meal, we would surely have starved.”

Family stories tell that that Thornton Taylor spent the rest of the war in Illinois, but returned to the county two months after the surrender at Appomattox. While he may have fled for a short period of time, other records show that this isn’t necessarily the case for the balance of the war, as he was present in Page County in October 1864 when he was qualified as a minister of the Disciples of Christ.

Despite Daniel having joined the Union army, the majority of Thornton Taylor’s children remained in Page County. Two sons, William and Benjamin, whether volunteers or not, served in different regular Confederate field units and accumulated a record of frequent absences, each being brought before courts martial as deserters. Ironically, family tradition states that these substandard Confederate brothers threatened that if their Union brother were to return to the Valley, he should do so only under fear of death. At war’s end, when it is believed that Thornton H. Taylor returned from his forced exile from the county, he stated that he would “like to see them chase me away from my home now.” Thornton Taylor twice ran to represent the county but failed each time. He later became postmaster at Marksville, and in the words of local historian Jacob Coffman, “no doubt handing out mail to some who urged him to leave the county a few years before. So here is a case where the bottom rail got on top of the fence.”

Story used here with the permission of Robert Moore.

Chrisley Nicholson’s Story

Posted in brutality in conscription, Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

Chrisley Nicholson was born a son of Moses and Cassandra Ramsbottom Nicholson ca. 1832 in Madison County, Virginia. There is evidence to show that, like his brothers, Chrisley (aka Christian Nichols), did not wish to participate in any form in the Civil War. According to his wife’s statement in the pension application that she submitted (he married Elizabeth Jenkins on August 3, 1856 at his parent’s house in Rappahannock Co., Va.), Chrisley…

“never intended to fight against the Union but if the south tried to make him fight that he intended to go north and join the Union army. Conscript officers kept trying to capture him and upon one or two occasions but he made his escape so he took me and my two children and we stopped in New Jersey after getting there he rented a house and we went to housekeeping but one day soon after he went over to Philadelphia and there enlisted.”

Chrisley is actually recorded as having enlisted at Camp Cadwallader Draft Rendezvous, Philadelphia, Pa. on April 26, 1864. He was forwarded to Co. D, 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry and delivered with a detachment at Alexandria, Va. on May 1, 1864. His widow continued that “after having joined the army, he left me with myself and children (Michael who was born ca. 1855 and Arnold who was born ca. 1857) to support which I was unable to do so I was told by a friend that I could get assistance from the authorities so I made application but was told such state had to provide for its own soldiers’ wives.” She came back to Virginia to a “relative and friends.” In November 1864, Chrisley Nicholson showed up at his father’s house. Cut off from his command he arrived at his parents’ house and there found his wife and children. As his wife recollected, he was “going back to the army – home only a few days.” When the local conscript authorities learned of his being home and knowing that he belonged to the Union army, “they came to capture him,” but he was shot while trying to make his escape. Chrisley Nicholson died on Nov. 12, 1864 near his father’s home near Nethers, Madison Co.

Chrisley’s brother, Joseph, was drafted into the Confederate service at the end of the war and served in Co. F, 38th Virginia Infantry. He was captured at Five Forks, Va. Another brother, Vancouver, was conscripted and assigned to Co. G, 12th Virginia Cavalry on June 24, 1864. There is no further record of service after that date.

Story contributed by Robert H. Moore, II (a third great grand nephew to Chrisley Nicholson).