Archive for James Lee Gillespie

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.

In search of James Lee Gillespie

Posted in Southern Unionists who became Union soldiers, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , on September 1, 2009 by Robert Moore

I’ve brought him up in two posts (here and here). Some people hit the road in search of the graves of ancestors (I do that from time to time as well), but I spent a little time one day in August, on my return from Kentucky, looking for the grave of a Southern Unionist who 1) intrigued me in my earliest research of Southern Unionists, and 2) regularly partnered with one of my ancestors in going about my home county warning of the folly of secession.

The graves of James Lee Gillespie and William H. Gillespie (James’ son) are in Sistersville, West Virginia.

Grave of James Lee Gillespie


Grave of William H. Gillespie

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.

James Lee Gillespie’s Story

Posted in Examples of acts against Southern Unionists, Southern Unionists who became Union soldiers, Virginia Unionists with tags , , , , on October 23, 2008 by SouthernUnionists

James Lee Gillespie was born in Albemarle County, near Charlottesville, Virginia on April 16, 1818. An extremely well educated man, Gillespie earned degrees (including a M.A. degree) from Randolph Macon and Hampden-Sydney. Following college, he was appointed a lieutenant of engineers in the regular U.S. Army and conducted surveys in Louisiana, but resigned his commission after a short time. Though nothing is known of the courtship that followed his return to Virginia, Gillespie married Mary H. Hall (born in 1818) in Fredericksburg, Virginia on April 24, 1838. The couple’s first child was William H. Gillespie, born on October 8, 1840; followed by Harriet B., possibly born in Mecklenburg Co., Va. in January 1843; and Mary E. (born ca. 1845). Despite a growing family, Gillespie sought further education (quite possibly a more successful way of sustaining his family) and attended the medical school at the University of Virginia, and was later an honor graduate from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Gillespie came to Page County, Virginia and settled at Columbia Mills around 1851. According to one newspaper account from 1902, after settling there, “he succeeded in getting a post office, but in two or three month he and the Kites had some trouble and he moved to what is now Alma.” Apparently a close follower of events in the Crimean War, sometime during the fall of 1854, Gillespie named the little village in which he lived, Alma, after one of the four rivers that flowed into the Black Sea near Sevastopol on the Crimean Peninsula (in the Ukraine) in Russia. It was on the river Alma that Russian general, Prince Menshikov, resolved to make his stand against the British and the French and lost in the battle named for the river on September 20, 1854.

Gillespie, his wife, a son and two daughters were all recorded as residing in Massanutten District #2 (which actually bordered on Alma District #2) in the 1860 county census. James was listed as a doctor with $750 worth of real estate, while his son, William H., was listed as a teacher. Years later, locals noted here and there that Gillespie had a very successful practice and was a highly respected member of the community.

However, as tensions in the United States continued to develop in the coming years, Gillespie became outspoken against any ideas of secession. At least one newspaper account from the early twentieth century shows that he, along with John Shuler of Grove Hill, and John Lionberger of Luray, made anti-secession speeches in Page County – one of which took place in Newport, where Shuler was nearly injured or killed by a “fire-eater” who did not like the message that he was delivering. Following the firing on Ft. Sumter and the subsequent move by Virginia to secede, Gillespie was likely one of four men in Page County who braved the “mob” and voted against secession in the public referendum on May 23, 1861. A review of the Southern Claims Commission files reveals that Gillespie was not alone in his sentiment. A number of others in Page County wished to vote in the same manner, but feared for their lives and either remained away from the polls or were mislead into believing that a vote for secession would be the only thing that could avert war.

As his obituary revealed many years after the Civil War, Dr. James L. Gillespie was “a strong southern man [however] he thought secession was wrong and impractical and impolitic and for that reason was arrested.” The Minute books of the Court of Page County do indeed reveal that Gillespie was in the county jail as of June 26, 1861 under the charge of “treason against the government of the Confederate States.” Gillespie applied to the court for his release from jail but was denied this request as the county as a legal body could not sufficiently establish jurisdiction in the case. Following this denial, Gillespie applied once again to the court, asking for an examination of the charges against him in legal forum, but again the court denied the appeal based once again on “want of jurisdiction.” Minute books show no further information in this case, but Gillespie’s obituary reveals that at some point he was taken to Orange Court House, from whence he escaped. Crossing the lines, Gillespie was able to secure an audience with Union Gen. Henry W. Slocum, who, in turn, gave Gillespie a letter of introduction to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln “recommended General Nathaniel Banks take him [Gillespie] and protect his home in the Valley of Virginia.” However, until the Union army occupied Page County in late April 1862, Gillespie served as a guide for Banks (from March – May 1862), and subsequently for Gen. James Shields (from May – June 1862).

By July 1862, Gillespie had made a number of contacts in the Union army – one of the acquaintances he established was with Col. Joseph Thoburn of the 1st West Virginia Infantry. Interested in securing Gillespie as an assistant surgeon, he requested an appointment from Governor Pierpont, and Gillespie received a commission on July 8, 1862. In the years to come, as a surgeon, Gillespie would have intimate knowledge of the carnage caused by war and most certainly, as a father, he wanted to be near his son, William, who was also serving in the Union army. With an opportunity to be in the same command with his son, Dr. Gillespie applied to fill a vacancy for another post as assistant surgeon with the 14th West Virginia Infantry and transferred on November 18, 1862 (William H. Gillespie commenced duty with the regiment as 1st lieutenant and adjutant on August 22, 1862). Gillespie continued service in the Union army until, due to poor health (most especially an acute case of bronchitis), he resigned his commission on March 12, 1864. Incidentally, later that same year, William became embroiled in some unclear controversy in the regiment and was placed under arrest on August 24, 1864. Though brought before a court martial, Lt. Gillespie was acquitted, but because of the tensions in the command, he resigned in the interest of the service on December 26, 1864.

After resigning his commission as assistant surgeon in 1864, Dr. James Gillespie moved to Sistersville, West Virginia. The time at his new home, however, was short-lived. While the younger Gillespie found an end to his military career, the elder Gillespie was called back to duty in 1865, and he served until April 30, 1866 as surgeon with the 7th Veteran Volunteers (also known as Hancock’s Veteran Corps) at Philadelphia, Pa.

After the war, as one article in an old Page News & Courier mentions, Gillespie was asked to return to Alma as a doctor, but he refused, perhaps because of bitter feelings over the treatment he endured early in the war. Instead, he moved to Des Moines, Iowa for a while. When his youngest daughter Mary died, he returned to Sistersville, West Virginia where, on February 7, 1878, he was among the charter members (and treasurer) of the Phoenix Lodge No 75 AF&AM. He is recorded in the 1880 census as residing in Lincoln, Tyler County, West Virginia. A year later, he made application for his veteran’s pension. Later the commander of the Ringold Post #68, Grand Army of the Republic in Sistersville, WV (1888-1891?), Gillespie died in February 1907 and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Tyler County, West Virginia. His son, William died a few years later on November 9, 1897. Dr. Gillespie’s wife, who filed for a widow’s pension in 1892, died in 1907 and was buried near her husband and son.

Initially an outsider, Dr. Gillespie was still a resident of Page County for over a decade before he actually broke ties with the community. Though his Unionists sympathies may, in retrospect, seem alien to what has been told over the years about Page County’s history in the Civil War, Gillespie was just one of many who had like sympathies in the area – indeed, the majority of those with Unionist sympathies were actually descended from generations of residents here. Interestingly, like the rapidly fading prominence of the village of Alma, the Unionist experience in Page County has also faded from memory. However, in the end, the role and experience of Unionists in county history and Gillespie’s small but significant part in it, could easily dwarf in importance the legacy left from a man who seems to be only remembered for naming a Page County village.

From an article written for the Page News & Courier by Robert H. Moore, II. Article used here with permission.