A Guide to Historical Salem - Volume 7, Number 2 -- Fall 2001
(incorrectly issued as Vol. 7, No. 3)
Rebel Soldiers Trained Here
By Nelson Harris
In the first wintry weeks of 1863, hundreds of men encamped just two miles outside Salem, Virginia, in an event unnoted by local historians. Most were green, young, enlistees from counties in present-day West Virginia, while a few were battle-hardened veterans of the Civil War's first full year. Gathering on farmland near Gum Springs, they were without uniforms, standard arms, and horses but unyielding in zeal and spirit to enter the war in readiness.
For the first several weeks in January and February, these men drilled, trained, outfitted, and organized into two regiments &endash; the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Virginia Cavalries. While most of Salem's sons had already enlisted in various regiments months earlier and were long travelled, the Salem community provided the needed hospitality and send-off for these sons of other communities the names of which many in Salem had probably never heard. They were from places called Sissonville, Millpoint, Gross Lick, and Gauley Bridge, small towns tucked in the mountain valleys of Wood, Monroe and Mercer Counties of West Virginia. In early January, these farmers, blacksmiths, merchants and millwrights congregated on the outskirts of Salem to be mustered into service as Confederate cavalry.
Among the groups of Confederates arriving at Salem was the 107-member French's Battalion" named after the leader, Colon William Henderson French. Colonel French, a former delegate in the Virginia legislature, was nearly fifty years old at the start of the war. His battalion had already tasted battle, having existed for six months. There was the "Harrison Cavalry" composed of men from Harrison County, who had organized at a Methodist Church at Jesse's Run and had been raiding Union territory in Ohio. One hundred thirteen men calling themselves the "Night Hawk Rangers" also arrived, proudly carrying a silk flag made by certain ladies in Greenbrier County. Embroidered on the silk were the words "Liberty or Death." Home guard units from the newly-formed and Union-affiliated state of West Virginia arrived sympathetic to the Southern campaign. Independent cavalries and other bands of men converged to be enlisted and officially mustered. All total the men numbered nearly 1,600.
Private Addison Smith later recalled the day he and his unit marched into Salem. "The appearance we made marching along the streets of the city was very imposing and grand, for we were like an army of many colors, some armed with shot guns, some with long muskets, besides other guns of all descriptions and kinds, with no uniforms, but all had on just what we left home with. I had a homespun jacket. Had snuffle bits for our horses and we nearly all had citizen saddles, and all the time we thought we were making a grand displayÉour intentions were good and beneath all our bad uniforms beat as true a hearts as ever went to war."
Given the amount of men and supplies having now arrived outside Salem, the first order of business was to set up camp to house and feed what for all intents and purposes amounted to a small town. Under the able command of Col. William French, "Camp Zirkle" was established. Private James Hodam, writing in a personal journal in 1901, described the camp and its activities.
"Camp Zirkle was constructed on military principles. A guard of eighteen men was detailed every day for camp duty being two hours on and four hours off. There were six posts one on each side of the camp, one at the quartermaster's department and one at the commissary department. The different companies were quartered in cabins and tents, fitted so as to be comfortable, and built facing along each companies [six] street, or parade ground."
"We were generally kept busy at something through the day. The roll was called at six o'clock, guard mounting at seven o'clock, and sick call at eight. From nine till noon was drilling and maneuvering by battalion. In afternoon, dinner and two hours company drill and sabere [sic] exercises."
"When not on duty, our time was occupied as e pleased. Some read, some wrote letters, sang, slept, and many played cards."
"At six o'clock again roll call and at nine tapps [sic] all lights were out and all good soldiers were supposed to be in bed. We only drew rations for two meals a day, so if we had nothing left from dinner we had no supper. Our rations consisted for each man sick or well one pound of flour or corn meal, one pound of beef or a third of a pound of bacon and a little salt, rice, sugar, and tobacco was issued occasionally. Sassafras tea took the place of coffee which we never seen except when captured if from the enemy."
"Camp Zirkle was laid out in a square and the huts and tents of our regiment including officers quarters, a church, guard house, commissary and quartermaster building made quite a village." (See drawing).
With camp now established, Colonel French's next major obligation was to have the men officially mustered into service. On January 15, the Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry was officially recognized by Richmond, but Colonel French was encountering bureaucratic problems with muster rolls submitted for the Seventeenth Virginia Cavalary. Thanks to Colonel French's intervention, the Seventeenth was officially mustered into Confederate service on January 28th.
In the midst of awaiting official recognition, the men of Camp Zirkle were called upon to protect the Washington Salt Works in Scott County. The men were hurried into boxcars at Salem and transported via the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad into southwestern Virginia. Arriving at the Salt Works, the men found the Federals had not yet arrived. Remaining in Scott County several days and seeing no sign of Union troops, the Camp Zirkle contingent returned by rail to Salem. In camp for only two weeks, the men of the newly mustered 16th and 17th Virginia Cavalries were again called into deep southwestern Virginia. This time, Federal troops were threatening Bristol. Traveling by rail, the Camp Zirkle troops arrived, camped unmolested for five days in freezing February weather, and returned to Salem.
The return trip to Salem was rather eventful. The train derailed. James Hodam wrote, "When we were a short distance from Salem and about midnight while we were asleep and probably the engineer also, the General [Hodam's nickname for the train engine] someway got off the track and ran into a ditch and laid over on his side. Seven cars left the track. Some went into the ditch but did not turn over. No soldiers were hurt, except bruises but the engineer and one of the firemen were killed."
The men of Camp Zirkle remained in the Salem vicinity only a few more weeks until they were ordered to move up the Shenandoah Valley. Camp Zirkle was dismantled in mid-March, and the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Virginia Cavalries rode off to war for good.
Some of the men at Camp Zirkle never saw a day of battle. They succumbed to the other enemy &endash; disease. Typhoid, pneumonia, measles, malaria and other illnesses plagued the regiment. Nearly fifty men died in the camp. Chaplain Samuel Sheppard of the 16th Cavalry was asked to write the parents of Isaiah Crabtree who had died at Salem of typhoid. The chaplain wrote simply: "Spiritual prospects when he deceased this life might have been good."
When the trains pulled out of Salem carrying the men of Camp Zirkle no one knew what awaited them. Yet, history records that these husbands, fathers and sons would do battle on the soil of five states. They would fight at Gettysburg, defend the Shenandoah Valley, witnesss the burning of Chambersburg, and be present with Lee at his surrender in Appomattox. They came from differing counties and backgrounds and would meet varied fates, but for two months in 1863 all were a part of Camp Zirkle on the outskirts of Salem.
Salem Jail Held Union Prisoners
By Candy Daugherty
Was the Salem jail a Confederate prison for Union sympathizers and other political criminals? A series of documents and correspondences survive that confirm that there were indeed Union prisoners of war held in the Salem jail during much of the Civil War.
The documented history of an August 1865 court case has been archived in the Cabell County, West Virginia courthouse since the days of the Civil War and is linked to our very own local history.
The plaintiff was James Webb, a 57 year old farmer who had chosen to remain loyal to the union. The defendants were the rebellious Philip Powell and approximately 12 other men who were accused of "unlawfully, wrongfully, and traitorously associat(ing) and conspir(ing) together for the purpose, and with the common design of levying and waging war against the government of the United States of America, and against all the loyal and peaceable citizens thereof residing in the said County of Cabell."
James Webb stated that on September 1, 1861 Philip Powell and his gang allegedly broke into his residence and with loaded guns, swords, and pistols assaulted and seized him. Webb, who claimed to be a "peaceable citizen of the United States of America," was then "forced and compelled to go [on] foot for a distance of three hundred miles to a place called Salem in the County of Roanoke in the State of Virginia, and then and there unlawfully imprisoned and confined the said plaintiff, in a certain loathsome and filthy prison, and kept him there confined for a long space of time, to wit, for the space of one year, during the whole of which time was harshly, cruelly, and brutally treated and kept in constant fear of being murdered by the said defendants, and their Confederates, aforesaid, and was compelled to subsist upon scanty, filthy, and unwholesome food: by means of which the plaintiff became sick and enfeebled, and suffered great pain of body and mindÉ" It is believed that a group of Confederate Home Guards were responsible for the actions taken against James Webb, but no other documents have ever been recovered that could indicate why he was taken to Salem
Court documents show that James Webb was indeed released and returned home about one year after his arrest but they fail to determine whether it was due to a pledge of allegiance to the Confederate government. The outcome of the 1865 trial awarded financial restitution to Webb for personal suffering as well as material loss.
Other cases of the Salem jail housing pro-Unionists involved former Virginia governor Henry Alexander Wise. Immediately following his term in office, Wise offered his services to both his successor, John Letcher, and to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, requesting the highest military command they would bestow upon him. Wise was granted command of the Southern troops in the Kanahwa Valley in May 1861 and was commissioned brigadier general soon thereafter. Wise never could have anticipated, however, the animosity he received upon his arrival in the valley. His strategy for defense relied heavily on being able to rally and recruit men locally. Unfortunately, Wise arrived in the valley only to find the majority not necessarily in favor of supporting the North, but unwilling to leave the Union. Kanahwa County alone voted three to one against secession. The disdain Wise held for Western Virginian's was evident in the reports sent back to Richmond, "We are treading on snakes while aiming at the enemy." While it has never been questioned that General Wise had a difficult task, few historians would dispute that he could have handled the situation more diplomatically. Wise, in his arrogance, interpreted his assignment to "rally" the locals as conferring upon him the authority to threaten, arrest, and imprison those he felt were "traitors" to the state of Virginia. His troops were responsible for the arrest and detainment of dozens of men, most of whom were not only never convicted of any offense but were eventually released. Such acts only exasperated those very people he sought to conciliate.
Several correspondences establish that approximately forty men, all residents of Virginia except one, were arrested as Union loyalists and spies by General Wise and incarcerated in the Roanoke/Salem jail. F.J. "Joe" Ribble, the Salem Weekly Register's "editor-in-chief" at the onset of the war and who was at this time the Acting Commonwealth's Attorney for Roanoke County, stated in a letter addressed to Governor Letcher, "thirty-nine prisoners from Northwestern Virginia, arrested I learn as suspicious persons, were sent here by General H.A. Wise. These persons have been committed to the jail of this county without any warrant or legal proceedings other than, as I understand by the order of General Wise." Another similar letter dated September 27th, 1861 and addressed to J. P. Benjamin, the acting Secretary of War states: "There are twenty prisoners in the Roanoke jail who have applied to him for discharge on writs of habeas corpus returnable to the 4th of October nextÉThe sheriff [Green B. Board] holds them under the verbal order of a military man who stated they were arrested and sent on by General Wise. What I desire is to know [is] what course should be pursuedÉ" Bear in mind that an unlawful detention would ordinarily not have been an acceptable course of action, but at the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln with the sanction of Congress, suspended the privilege of writ of habeas corpus.
Although the Roanoke County Court order books give no indication as to what eventually happened to these who were detained, there are records to show that the jailer, James C. Huff, was authorized to employ sixteen guards for those prisoners charged with crimes against the Confederate States of America and the Commonwealth of Virginia for the duration of their confinement. This in itself is indicative that it was anticipated that these prisoners of war would be held indefinitely in the Roanoke/Salem jail.
There is some speculation as to why the Salem jail became a holding block for political prisoners of war, most of whom were sent here from localities in Western Virginia. Because Union sympathies were strong in Virginia's western regions, those men who stood accused of treason by the Confederacy could not have been imprisoned by men unsympathetic to the cause. It stands to reason, therefore, that these political prisoners would have had to be taken elsewhere. Shelby Foote, a prominent Civil War historian, suggests that perhaps Salem was a primary location because of the accessibility of the railroad. There were other "railroad towns" such as Newbern in Pulaski that were used to temporarily house political prisoners and spies until they could be transported to Richmond. Salem, like Newbern, did indeed send approximately nine professed spies on to Richmond by rail in August 1861. What remains unclear, however, is why the Salem jail was chosen and justly compensated to house these men and just how long they remained here. There are records that indicate there were still Union prisoners confined in the jail when General William Averell came through Salem in December 1863. The "Lynchburg Virginian" reported that some of Averell's men "visited" places throughout town and ultimately the "jail was opened and the prisoners released, including, apparently, two Yankees." However, there was no indication as to who these men were or for what offense they were being held.
With certainty, it can be said that our own Salem jail played a vital role in the Civil War in the confinement of prisoners of war for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unfortunately, it seems that the only crime committed by these men was their loyalty to the country of their forefathers.
Hanging Rock: Salem's Only Battle
By David Robbins
As the early morning light of dawn slowly pushed aside the darkness on June 21, 1864, a massive blue shadow moved north down the New Castle Road (now Craig Avenue in Salem) toward Hanging Rock. The shadow was the Union Army retreating to West Virginia. Its commander, Major General David Hunter, was known as "Black Dave" and was head of the Department of West Virginia. He was appointed to this command by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln with the blessings of Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant's campaign of 1864 called for the deployment of three Union armies in Virginia coordinating with the movement of the Army of the Potomac under General George G. Meade against General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia. Grant intended that General Franz Sigel's forces would march from Winchester to the south through the Shenandoah Valley; General Benjamin Butler would advance to Richmond along the James River from Hampton; and Hunter would spearhead an easterly attack from West Virginia.
Grant's plan was to reduce or eliminate General Lee's primary source of food for his troops from the Shenandoah Valley, and to cut off the supply of salt and lead from southwestern Virginia. Grant also intended to divide General Lee's army and, in so doing, destroy Lee's nucleus of strength - a classic example of the ancient divide-and-conquer theory.
On June 9, 1864, Union Brigadier General George Crook engaged the Confederate army at the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain near Pulaski, Virginia, and succeeded in destroying the critically important New River railroad bridge near Dublin. This bridge was an essential link along the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, which carried supplies to the Confederate troops from Tennessee and far-southwestern Virginia.
The second Union army under the command of General Franz Sigel met defeat at the hands of the cadets of VMI and the Confederate forces under General John Breckenridge on May 15, 1864, at the Battle of New Market. With the defeat of Sigel, Hunter assumed the direct field command of Sigel's army on May 19, 1864, near Strasburg, Virginia.
Hunter advanced his troops southward through the Shenandoah Valley to Piedmont, Virginia, a community roughly ten miles northeast of Staunton. There his men engaged and defeated the Confederate forces commanded by Brigadier General William E. "Grumble" Jones. General Jones lost his life in this battle.
With his victory at the Battle of Piedmont, Hunter deployed a new strategy: he ordered his troops to destroy and burn civilian property including Virginia houses, farms, and factories. He wanted to make Southern citizens pay dearly for their support of the Confederacy and its armies. News of the Confederate loss caused great concern among the citizens of Staunton, Lexington, and Lynchburg, who feared that their towns and homes would be captured and burned by the approaching Union army. (Hunter's plan stood in sharp contrast to General Lee's policy of respecting the private property of the Union civilian population before and during the Gettysburg campaign. Lee, as always, conducted himself as a Virginia gentleman in enemy territory. Hunter's loot-and-burn policy also prompted Confederate Lt. General Jubal A. Early to retaliate by burning Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 1864.)
On June 6, 1864, Hunter's army moved quickly to conquer Staunton, an important railway junction. Millard K. Bushong reports in his book, Old Jube, that Hunter "captured and paroled approximately 400 sick or wounded Confederate soldiers." Bushong notes that Hunter also commandeered vast quantities of supplies from Staunton's ordnance and commissary stores, and had his forces destroy all the railroad bridges, factories, and workshops.
General Crook and Brigadier General William Averell marched their armies from Lewisburg, West Virginia, and joined Hunter's army at Staunton on June 8. On their way, Crook's troops destroyed over three miles of the Virginia Central rail line near Goshen and burned numerous bridges. The merged Union armies under Hunter's command produced a formidable force of 18,000 men.
Hunter's next target was Lexington, defended by a small cavalry of 2000 men or less under the command of Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland. Aided by the cadets from VMI, the Confederate forces fought to prevent the capture of Lexington, but the Union army proved too massive and the Confederate troops were forced to withdraw, leaving Lexington, the Virginia Military Institute, and Washington College unprotected. The Union army advanced into Lexington and its soldiers looted and burned VMI under direct orders from General Hunter. Union troops removed the statue of George Washington from the campus and had it carted to West Virginia.
One of Lexington's most prominent citizens was former Virginia Governor John Letcher. Ex-Governor Letcher had earlier issued a proclamation that encouraged the citizens of Lexington to rebuff the Federals at all costs. When General Hunter read this proclamation, he directed that Governor Letcher's house be burned. Mrs. Letcher had only minutes to gather her children and vacate her home. The house and all its contents were burned to the ground.
(After the war, John Letcher wrote a passage on a page in the family Bible, questioning why Hunter had the Letcher home burned since the former governor was neither a member nor an official of the Confederate government. This event illustrates why states rights constituted such a pivotal issue for Southern statesmen: Letcher considered himself first and foremost a Virginian, NOT a Confederate official.)
Brigadier General John McCausland (a graduate of Virginia Military Institute) and his cavalrymen continued to fight a delaying action as Hunter moved out of Lexington on June 13, 1864. In order to slow Hunter's soldiers as they crossed the James River, McCausland had his men to burn the bridge at Buchanan. The fire spread from the bridge to the town and engulfed eleven homes. Hunter reached Buchanan on June 14 and continued his march toward Lynchburg.
Early in 1864, General Robert E. Lee gave command of the Confederate Second Corps to Lt. General Jubal A. Early. Early was born in the Red Valley area of Franklin County, Virginia, in 1816. (His birthplace has been designated a Virginia and national historic site.) He graduated from the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in 1837 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. After briefly serving in the Seminole War, Early resigned his commission in 1838. He returned to Franklin County where he read law and obtained his certificate to practice law in 1840. Jubal Early was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1841 and subsequently served as Franklin County's commonwealth's attorney until 1852. He also served with honor in the War with Mexico, attaining the rank of major.
When a Secession Convention was held in Virginia in 1861, Early represented Franklin County. He firmly rejected the proposal that Virginia secede from the Union and was outspoken in his opposition on the issue. When Union forces fired on Fort Sumpter and Abraham Lincoln subsequently called upon Virginia to supply 75,000 troops to defend the Union, the Virginia Convention cast a decisive vote on April 17 to secede from the Union and side with the southern states. Jubal Early voted against Virginia leaving the Union, but eventually signed the bill of secession once it passed the Convention. He offered his services to Governor Letcher in defense of his home state, and was given a commission as colonel in the Virginia militia.
President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis said of Early that he "was the living man who like Jackson could be relied on to carry out the purpose entrusted to him without asking for additional instructions."
The Second Corps under General Early's command arrived in Lynchburg on June 17, 1864, and engaged General Hunter's army. The battle of Lynchburg lasted two days before a beleaguered Hunter made the decision to retreat. As a result of this battle, Early was hailed as the "Savior of Lynchburg."
Hunter's troops moved westward via the Salem-Lynchburg Turnpike through Buford's Gap, Bonsack, Salem, Hanging Rock, and New Castle. Early's main army caught up with Hunter's forces and engaged them in battle on June 20 at Buford's Gap (a mountain pass several miles west of Montvale). Hunter continued to retreat through Bonsack, wrecking destruction on railroads and supply stations.
Confederate cavalry under the command of Brigadier General John D. Imboden and Colonel Harry Gilmore pursued the rear guard of the Union army. In the early morning hours of June 21, 1864, Imboden and Gilmore's combined cavalry attacked the rear of Hunter's retreating army near the present-day intersection of Electric Road and the Salem-Lynchburg Turnpike. When Hunter learned that Confederate cavalry had engaged his rear guard, he hastened the retreat of his troops through Salem toward Hanging Rock by way of the present-day Craig Avenue. Before leaving town, the Union army burned Salem's depot, rail line bridges, and warehouses.
Hunter ordered his cavalry division under Brigadier General Alfred N. Duffie to lead the Union army away from Salem through Hanging Rock by way of the New Castle Road. Duffie neglected to post a guard at the road intersection near Hanging Rock, effectively leaving that intersection unprotected. Following the cavalry division in order of retreat was a wagon train of ambulances, supply wagons, artillery, and munitions.
At Hanging Rock, the soldiers at the rear of the Union column were forced to slow their retreat as they attempted to negotiate the narrow gap between steep bluffs. Additional delays occurred at the base of Catawba Mountain when the Union troops encountered a road blocked with trees that had been cut down by Confederate militia.
As General Early pursued Hunter's main army, he ordered Confederate Major General Robert Ransom to lead his cavalry over the Peaks of Otter to Buchanan and on to Salem by way of the Great Road. The objective was to ensnare Hunter's forces before they could escape through the gaps in the Allegheny mountain range into West Virginia. Early hoped that this delaying action would create the opportunity for his main army to engage Hunter's troops and ultimately destroy them.
Confederate Brigadier General McCausland, who served under Ransom's command, arrived in the Hanging Rock area on the morning of June 21. (Because of his efforts just days earlier to preserve their town, Lynchburg citizens revered John McCausland as a hero.) McCausland's cavalry spotted and attacked the stalled Union artillery and their ammunition wagons as they entered the narrow passage at Hanging Rock on Mason Creek.
Attached to McCausland's cavalry was a horse artillery unit known as McClanahan's Battery. Lieutenant Carter Berkeley, a member of this unit, gave the following account (quoted from The Staunton Artillery &endash; McClanahan's Battery, p.99, by Robert J. Driver, Jr.):
"Our Battery went from Bedford with General Ransom, who had with him McCausland and some other cavalry. We went via the Peaks of Otter, marched all night, and got in front of Hunter near hanging Rock and stood there an hour or two looking at his column moving rapidly into the gap. McCausland will tell you how he urged Ransom to attack. I ran out a gun without orders and fired into the moving column. They ran out a gun and replied to us. At the second shot we dismounted it. About that time McCausland charged, but it was only the rear of the retreating column."
McCausland, who had received permission from an ill Major General Ransom, ordered some of his men to dismount, disperse along the ridge at Hanging Rock and fire down on the Union Army. He also led a charge with approximately 200 cavalrymen against several artillery batteries, including units from Maryland, West Virginia, and New York. Union guns and wagons sustained heavy damage; wheels were torn away, cannon trunnions broken, and limbers pushed into Mason Creek. McCausland's troops burned ammunition wagons, killed and captured horses, confiscated guns and took prisoners. Finally Union cavalry and infantry reinforcements arrived and General McCausland was forced to abandon the gap, leaving Hunter to complete his retreat to West Virginia.
Union Private William B. Stark of the 34th Massachusetts Volunteers wrote a starkly graphic account of the brutal Hanging Rock encounter in his journal:
" We halted at Salem two hours. The Rebels pursued us very closely and we were afraid they would catch us in Salem gap. They took a shorter route and we surely thought they would head us off. If they had accomplished this they surely would have taken our whole army. Gen. Hunter knew that we could not make Staunton without being headed off in these gaps. His men were hungry and dispirated. His horses were played out for want of forage, and we had not amunition enough to fight one good battle.
"Salem is a very pretty town. The Aleganys in some places appear to hang over the town. We rested here about two hours and marched soon after noon, our Brigade taking the advance. The outlet of this mountain pass had been blockaded by falling trees for 3 or 4 miles.
"Gen Duffer [General Duffie] had been sent on ahead with a large Cavelry force to clear the road and reconnoiter in the vicinity. He sent back word that all was clear and the road well guarded. This was a mistake. There was no guard. The long waggon train was shoved up into the gap, the Artilery following close. The mountains jut closely together scarcely leaving space for a narrow road. It was impossible for one team to pass another. The Rebels hid near the road on the side of the mountain. When the waThey cut the horses loose and sent them, and the men they had taken, away up some ravine. They cut the wheels and spokes of the wagogon train came up they let that pass and when the Artilery came they slid down upon them.
"There was some 3 or 4000 of the Rebs. They fired a few shots into the head teams, then they fired upon the men and ordered them to surrender. ns and knocked off the trunnions of our guns. They battered and spiked some, tipped over limbers, threw out the ammunition, and set fire to some. We had about 20 pieces stove up and ruined in a very short time. We hurried to the rescue on the double quick. The sun shone down upon us in that narrow gorge with uncommon heat and we went on and on, on a run. We soon came up to the Cavelry and Artilery men. The former were working around and trying to catch the raiders. The Artilerymen were idle, some of them had escaped from the Rebs.
"They were mostly Germans, great strong swarthy men that you would not think had any feeling for anything. Some lay bleeding whilst others were lamenting for their poor horses and lost guns. There were waggons burning with amunition in them. They were cut, burned and hacked to pieces for the space of about three miles, thrown over the bank, &c. We got to the front at last, 7 miles in 85 minutes by the watch.
"Ninety of the Artilery horses were found and shot as they had to be left. The Rebels took perhaps 100 prisoners. We captured some. We rested one hour. Seven miles brought us to the top of the mountain. The road was very crooked and the ascent steep. I was nearly played out. It was 4 miles down the mountain.
"We went into camp about dark. This had been a hard days march, about 30 miles in 20 hours with all these difficulties to contend with and worst of all an empty stomach."
[The above quotation comes from Salem: A Virginia Chronicle, pp. 95-96, by Norwood C. Middleton (original narrative, Copyright 1938 by The Atlantic and William B. Stark).]
There is no substantiated report as to the actual number of soldiers killed at Hanging Rock. Some sources estimate Union casualties to be as high as 8 to 10 men, with 40 to 50 wounded. Two Confederate soldiers are known to have lost their lives in the battle, and they were buried at Hanging Rock. Their graves were later relocated to the Confederate section of East Hill Cemetery in Salem.
Few localities in the Southern arena of the Civil War went unscathed during four years of conflict. Salem, like so many other towns and communities in Virginia, had its turn at finding itself in the path of clashing armies, and Salem townspeople discovered the futility of attempting to halt the flood of troops that poured through the streets on the way to a fierce confrontation at Hanging Rock. The Battle of Hanging Rock was a relatively small encounter compared to the conflicts at Piedmont and Lynchburg. However, it was quite significant in the context of the war: here, Confederate generals and troops under Jubal Early's command struck the final blow to Hunter's fleeing Union army and decisively demonstrated that the Confederate army, with only ten months remaining until the end of the war, still possessed the ability and determination to defend and maintain control of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, the "bread basket of the Confederacy." The defeat of Hunter's army, and their hasty retreat to West Virginia, cleared the way for Early's subsequent raid on Washington, D.C., in July 1864
There is a remarkable footnote to the Battle of Hanging Rock: two future United States presidents marched with Union General David Hunter's army on its retreat through Salem. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, who would become nineteenth president, commanded the First Brigade of General Crook's Second Division. The brigade consisted of troops from West Virginia and Ohio, including the 23rd Ohio. A young captain with that regiment was destined to become twenty-fifth president of the United States. His name was William McKinley. Although McKinley survived the Civil War, going on to serve in the United States House of Representatives, as governor of Ohio, and ultimately as president, ironically he was felled by bullets - not from the gunfire of wartime battles, but from an assassin.
Impact of Civil War Felt Strongly in Salem
Salem was spared the horrors of the fighting and slaughter that raged across eastern and central Virginia during the Civil War, but, as this issue of Historic Salem indicates clearly, it certainly was not spared the effects of the war.
And if Salem was not a center of military action in 1861-65, interest in America's bloodiest war appears to be at least as strong in Salem today as it is everywhere else in the country. Many have urged us to publish more about the Civil War, with a Salem perspective.
So it is with pleasure we present this special 12-page issue of Historic Salem devoted entirely to the American Civil War and its impact on Salem.
In doing so, we want to express sincere, public appreciation to the new publishers of the Salem Times-Register for authorizing publication of a special 12-page issue, half again larger than our traditional size.
Civil War fighting came to Salem on two occasions: with Averell's raid in December 1863 and the Battle of Hanging Rock in June 1864. We include a special article on each, a comprehensive article on the Hanging Rock battle by longtime Salem history buff David Robbins on Page 1, and the story of Averett's raid told effectively on the page opposite by Salem Museum Curator John Long.
John Long also is author of a sensitively written article on Page 6 about a Salem soldier's letter home from the battlefield in Orange County in September of 1863 &endash; a must read.
Of special interest to Civil War buffs is our story on Page 1 of Camp Zirkle, a Confederate army camp, located just outside Salem that trained Confederate soldiers and sent them into combat. It's a story that has eluded local historians for years, and we are pleased to tell about it for the first time in this publication. The story of Camp Zirkle is not found in the histories of Salem and Roanoke County with which we are familiar.
We are indebted for the Camp Zirkle article to the author, Roanoke City Councilman Nelson Harris. Mr. Harris is also author of the book "The 17th Virginia Cavalry" and currently is working on another book to be titled, "Salem and Roanoke County in the Civil War." He has been a member of Roanoke City Council since 1996, serving as vice mayor from 1998-2000, has served as a member and chairman of the Roanoke School Board, and is pastor of Virginia Heights Baptist Church in Roanoke.
Our longest article is not really an article, but a "timeline:" a sequence of dates, starting with Lincoln's election in 1860 (when Salem gave zero votes to him) until the surrender at Appomattox in 1865 (when a Salem boy allegedly fired the last shot from Lee's army). Date by date, the timeline relates events in Salem to the Civil War and events in the Civil War to Salem: from the recruiting of local troops to the involvement of local boys in the major battles, from the work of Roanoke County slaves on the fortifications in Richmond, to the shortages of food and everything else at home. We hope readers, especially young readers, will find the events of the war more interesting and relevant when associated with events here at home.
Finally, we incorporate a special article, appropriately on the issue's last page, of the last days of the Civil War in Salem and of Salem's surrender. We commend it to you. It's an unusual story for an unusual place.
Railroad Was Averell's Target in Salem Raid
For the first two years of the Civil War, Salem remained relatively unscathed. Although most eligible men had enlisted, the war had failed to intrude into this quiet valley. That this would change had been pre-ordained eleven years before, when the first wood-burning train had chugged into Salem's new depot. Salem became a railroad town, and as such a legitimate military target.
During the war, Salem had become an important stop on the Virginia and Tennessee Rail Road, acting as a supply depot for the army. More crucial, the line through Salem was a primary route for supplying Longstreet's Confederate forces threatening Knoxville, TN in the winter of 1863. It was in this capacity that Salem caught the attention of General William Averell.
Averell was one of the Union's most adroit cavalry commanders, although criticism of his role at the battle of Chancellorsville had earned him an obscure command in West Virginia. On Dec. 5, 1863, Averell received orders to launch a surprise cavalry raid on either Salem or Bonsack's, VA, with the aim of cutting the V&T railroad and disrupting Longstreet's supply lines. With some trepidation, Averell accepted the orders, asking only that some diversionary movements be made into Virginia to mask his true objective.
The details of the march of Averell's 2500 man brigade, 219 miles in eight days fighting swollen creeks and savagely cold weather, is told admirably in Darrel Collins' 1999 book General William Averell's Salem Raid (for sale at the Salem Museum).
When word was received in Salem on the night of the 15th that Yankees were in the area and the railroad was in danger, the reaction was swift but ultimately ineffective. Major Joel Green was Salem's quartermaster, and his initial response was to safeguard the military stores under his care. The problem, Green realized, was that these stores were scattered throughout town and thus could not be easily evacuated. With his assistant and some civilian volunteers, Green began to move the supplies to the depot just outside of town, planning to put them on the train scheduled to arrive in the morning from Lynchburg. Ironically, this action merely made the supplies an easier target for Averell if he beat the train.
The second response in Salem was headed by Capt. Thomas Chapman. He was the son of hotelier H. H. Chapman, a Roanoke College graduate and a resident of Monterey, home on leave from his confederate service. Knowing that the only military unit assigned to protect Salem was the Roanoke College Home Guard, and those students were home for Christmas break, Chapman organized a small patrol to ride out toward the Hanging Rock area and reconnoiter. It was a decision that cost Chapman his life. In the dark, Chapman's patrol encountered some men and asked for identification. Before anyone could ascertain the color of the strangers' uniforms, they opened fire. Chapman was killed, and the rest of the patrol captured and interrogated. Averell now knew that nothing stood between his brigade and the unguarded railroad. He also learned of the impending arrival of the train from Lynchburg, news that caused him to speed up his move into Salem.
Rushing into the now panicked town, Averell's men acted first to cut the telegraph wire, then moved on to the depot. Expecting the train at any moment, the Union soldiers deployed along the track with a three inch gun. When it appeared, they opened fire, convincing the engineer to reverse course and back to safety. Left without reinforcements or means of evacuating the precious supplies, Salem was temporarily in Union hands.
Averell's men proceeded to carry out their assigned task. Over the next six hours, the Yanks burned the depot and the tons of supplies conveniently located there, incinerated a mill and five railroad bridges, and twisted beyond service some fifteen miles of railroad track. They also released from the town jail some captured northern soldiers and Union sympathizers. The total damage was appreciable, but not as great as many feared. Averell's men were under strict orders to avoid any outrages or violations of private property. Thus the town fared better than many others in the war.
Averell's raiders left Salem at about 4 o'clock on the afternoon of the 16th. The story of their unlikely escape, hotly pursued by the Confederate forces, is another story better left for another day. In the end, his raid on Salem was credited with being one of the most daring of the war, and overall a successful venture. The damage to the railroad was apparently repaired within two weeks, but those two weeks must have seemed an eternity for Longstreet's men in Tennessee awaiting supplies. The loss of the government stores was a major blow to the area, making all the worse the deprivations of war. Finally, the psychological effect of the raid must have been significant, as southerners previously untouched by the war realized that no community was truly safe.
Salem had not seen the last of William Averell. Only six months later, his men would again pass through the county, this time as part of General David Hunter's forces retreating from Lynchburg. This time, the Confederacy would get a victory in the Battle of Hanging Rock
Salem's Civil War Told in Time Line
Following is the story of the Civil War as it related to Salem, told by dates:
Nov. 6, 1860: Lincoln elected President. Salem-Roanoke County voters give him zero votes.
Dec 20, 1860: South Carolina secedes. Abraham Hupp drills Salem Flying Artillery, (organized previous January at courthouse green).
March 1861: With Confederate States of America now formed, Roanoke Grays are organized on Salem's court green. They elect Madison P. Deyerle, 21, as their captain. Deyerle had quit his law studies to enlist.
Apr 12, 1861: Confederates open fire on Fort Sumter. Both Roanoke Grays and Salem Flying Artillery drill in fields near Salem during this period.
Apr 17, 1861: Virginia convention in Richmond votes 88-55 to secede. Roanoke County-Salem delegate George B. Tayloe votes with majority.
April 1861: Roanoke Grays take train to Lynchburg where they are mustered into Confederate army as Company I, 28th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia. Captain Deyerle refuses promotion to colonel to stay with his men.
May 23, 1861: Virginia voters ratify secession ordinance by popular vote of 96,750 to 32,134. Roanoke County-Salem voters ratify it 850-0.
May 23, 1861: Abraham Hupp writes to R. E. Lee protesting that the Salem Flying Artillery has no artillery and a rumor that they would be turned into infantry. The next day he telegraphs to Lee
to disregard the letter and apologizes for the "impropriety" of not following the chain of command in his complaint. The company would not be furnished with artillery for nearly another two years.
May 1861: Justices of Roanoke County Court appropriate $15,000 to feed and furnish volunteers in service for this county and for families in destitute circumstances, the money to be raised by a special surtax.
May 1861: Captain Hupp leads Salem Flying Artillery in parade from Salem's courthouse to the Virginia and Tennessee Rail Road station, and thence to Lynchburg where they become Company A, 9th Regiment, Virginia Volunteers. They are sent for training to Craney Island in the Elizabeth River near Norfolk.
June 4 1861: Roanoke College, which had 118 students earlier in year, ends year with 17, most students having gone to war. Commencement is canceled.
June 1861: Andrew Jackson Deyerle, 38, cousin of Madison, organizes Dixie Grays in Salem, including many younger men attending Roanoke College. They begin drilling.
June 1861: Roanoke County creates special police force to provide more than ordinary vigilance in reference "to our slave population" -- about one third of the county's population.
June 8, 1861, County boys under 18 years of age form the Roanoke Young Guard in Salem as military unit.
July 1, 1861: A.J. Deyerle's Dixie Grays, 141 strong, are mustered in Confederate Army in front of Roanoke County Court House and leave Salem to become Co. E. of 42nd Regiment, Virginia Volunteers -- the third Salem unit to leave for war.
July 4, 1861: Boys of the Roanoke Young Guard march through Salem firing their guns in honor of the great day. The Young Guard largely ceases to operate after this.
Mid-July 1861: The Roanoke Guards, fourth Salem military unit to leave for war, is organized and elects another Deyerle, John S. Deyerle, 26, as captain. The company is mustered into Confederate Army as Company K, 54th Virginia Infantry, and is sent to the Kentucky-Tennessee area.
July 21, 1861: Battle of First Manassas. Madison Deyerle's Roanoke Grays experience first combat as part of the 3rd Brigade of Pickett's Division.
Aug 30, 1861: Roanoke College reopens for 1861-62 year -- one of the few Southern colleges (along with Hollins) to operate-- with twenty students instead of the 120 anticipated. College decides to admit women &emdash; to be taught separately, of course.
September 1861: Roanoke County justices, having spent the $15,000 appropriated in May to support troops, vote another $10,000 to buy overcoats for county soldiers in the field and to support their families at home.
Fall 1861 (exact date unknown): Roanoke College President David F. Bittle meets with Secretary of War in Richmond and secures agreement regarding the college's right to stay open; Bittle agrees to form a College Company of students as a home guard.
Winter 1861-62: With four companies fighting in the Confederate Army and all-out home efforts designed to support them, Salem citizens settle in for a longer war than many had anticipated.
March 23, 1862: Stonewall Jackson opens his Valley Campaign with Battle of Kernstown. The Dixie Grays of Roanoke County see action, and Salem's William McCauley, the future historian, is wounded. He returns home because of the wound.
May 1, 1862: Roanoke County, still facing financial problems because of war, prints notes in small denominations (less than $1), totaling $10,000, as authorized in March by the General Assembly, to arm and equip volunteers and support their families.
May 5, 1862: Salem's Captain Madison Deyerle is killed leading Roanoke Grays against the enemy in the Battle of Williamsburg, the battle opening McClellan's Peninsula Campaign.
May 8, 1862: Dixie Grays fight with Jackson in Battle of McDowell along West Virginia line.
May 31, 1862: Hundreds of Salem/Roanoke County boys of Dixie Grays and Roanoke Grays are engaged in combat before Richmond in Battle of Seven Pines.
May 1862: Back home, salt rationing -- 20 pounds per person per year -- begins in Salem/Roanoke County.
June 1862: Because of threats to state (and Confederate) capital, Virginia Governor John Letcher issues call for slaves, aged 18-55, to work on fortifications around Richmond. Roanoke County, asked to supply 100 slaves, calls on 74 slave owners to furnish them.
June 8-9, 1862: Dixie Grays engaged with Jackson in Battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic.
June 26, 1862: Roanoke Grays engaged in Seven Days campaign including Malvern Hill battle on July 1.
July 19, 1862: Bittle advertises college will open September 1 for 1862-63 year, charging $148 for ten-month session, covering room, board, tuition washing, fuel and light.
Aug 9, 1862: Dixie Grays are almost wiped out in Battle of Cedar Mountain near Culpeper. The company (which had left Salem with 141 men) went into this battle with only 39, and lost 30 of them, 15 killed and 15 wounded, according to one published report. The wounded include Captain Andrew Jackson Deyerle, who recovered and the following year was promoted to colonel.
Fall 1862: Bittle reports about 15 former Roanoke College students have been either killed in battle or died of disease in camp.
Sept 17, 1862: The Roanoke Grays, now led by Capt. George McH. Gish (later to become a Roanoke attorney) sees action at Antietam Creek in bloodiest day in American history: 4,800 dead and 18,500 wounded.
November 1862: County justices allot $5,000 for clothing and shoes for suffering soldiers and $10,000 for their families. Total appropriations for this purpose now have reached $66,000.
Dec 13, 1862: Three of Salem's four military companies, the Salem Flying Artillery, Roanoke Grays, and the Dixie Grays, fight with General Lee in the Battle of Fredericksburg, one of the greatest Confederate victories of the war.
Dec 19, 1862: Eighty-four Roanoke County slaves are delivered to Salem's railroad depot to be shipped to Richmond to work on fortifications, 16 shy of the quota of 100. Fourteen of them are diverted for duty as teamsters for the army in Salem; hired authorities deliver the rest to Richmond and stay with them during their 60 days of service.
Winter 1862-63: Roanoke County Courthouse at Salem is transformed into public hospital. Wounded soldiers are brought in for treatment and aid given by women volunteers from the community.
Late December-early January1862-63: Camp Zirkle, a Confederate army training camp, is created just west of Salem near Glenvar. [See separate article Page 1]
Jan 15, 1863: Sixteenth Virginia Cavalry at Salem's Camp Zirkle is officially recognized by Richmond and mustered into service.
Jan 28, 1863: Seventeenth Virginia Cavalry at Camp Zirkle is mustered into Confederate service.
February 1863: County Court decides that use as a public hospital is causing injury to Salem courthouse and asks that a suitable public building be found and soldiers be moved to it.
Mid-March, 1863: Camp Zirkle is dismantled. Sixteenth and Seventeenth Virginia Cavalries ride off to war and combat.
May 1863: Roanoke County justices order special levy of 25% against all titheables to pay for clothing sent to the militia, as financial situation grows increasingly severe. They report $24,000 needed for families of soldiers in service, such as have been killed, have died or been disabled in service.
May 2, 1863: Battle of Chancellorsville. Stonewall Jackson is killed. Both Salem Flying Artillery and Dixie Grays see action.
May 11, 1863: James W. Dixon, former student, in letter to Roanoke College President Bittle, reports, in addition to Jackson's death, two friends were wounded in Chancellorsville fighting. Writing within sight of Yankee tents, he reports, "I used to have some female friends in Salem, but as my sufferings increase in behalf of them, they grow less concerned and colder towards me.
June 17, 1863: Following increasing incidents of military desertions, a jury in Salem convicts James E. Stover of ambushing and killing a patroller looking for him between Salem and Cave Spring and sentences him to death by hanging.
July 3, 1863: Battle of Gettysburg! Roanoke Grays participate in Pickett's Charge, turning point of war. The Salem Flying Artillery is also engaged, as are the men who trained at Camp Zirkle.
Aug 14, 1863: Deserter James E. Stover is hanged in Salem. A somber crowd lines Main Street as Stover, seated on his coffin, rides in a wagon surrounded by twelve armed guards from the courthouse eastward up the hilltop to the temporary gallows erected in a grove of trees across from what is today Oakey field. It is the last public hanging in Roanoke County.
Sep 2, 1863: Abraham Hupp, organizer of the Salem Flying Artillery who had been forced by ill health to retire in 1862, dies of cancer at his home. The unit is now commanded by Captain Charles Beale Griffin, Roanoke County physician.
Sep 17-24, 1863: Responding to Governor Letcher's continuing calls for slaves to work on fortifications in the Richmond area, Roanoke County court approves system of drawing names to select slave owners to furnish the slaves. A canvass reveals that 547 male slaves aged 18-55 are available. Roanoke County fulfills its quota of 60 slaves.
Sep 19, 1863: The Roanoke Guards, commanded by John Deyerle, are among Confederate units fighting at Chickamauga outside Chattanooga, where one-third of Confederate army is killed, wounded or missing.
Sep 25, 1863: William E. Brown writes to his father (who lives in the Williams-Brown house, home of the Salem Museum) from Pisgah Church in Orange County, where the Salem Flying Artillery are building fortifications, that even Salem boys might desert. Two soldiers of the Flying Artillery, in fact, had disappeared. "I do not think they will be caught," he wrote, "but if they are they will stand a good chance of being shot."
Oct 11, 1863: Ballard Deyerle, 18, proudly writes to one of his brothers how his cavalry unit had ridden circuit around Rosecrans' army along the Tennessee River. After surprising and defeating the Yankees in a sharp little engagement, he wrote, "I supplied myself with a pair of blue pants, a pair of boots, a very fine pair of patent leather gaiters, a hat, and a beautiful sword; also a Yankee canteen filled with fine brandy."
November1863: Supply situation grows so serious that Roanoke County court clerk Frederick Johnson borrows another $5,000 to pay for soldiers' clothing and shoes.
Nov 24-25, 1863: The Roanoke Guards again see action as Grant's forces defeat Confederates at Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in Tennessee. Grant is Union's Man of the Hour.
Dec 15, 1863: The Yankees make their first incursion into Salem in Averell's Raid. Thomas J. Chapman, one of Salem's most prominent young men, is killed, and the Federals tear up the railroad, destroy supplies, burn buildings and turn the prisoners loose from the county jail. See separate story, Page 2.
Late December 1863: Supplies are so scarce, especially after Averell's Raid, that drastic actions are taken in Salem area. One report targets 150 heads of families and 350 children of indigent soldiers needing provisions. Corn, flour, pork, bacon and beef are to be bought to help them, especially widows of soldiers lost in the war. Supplies are rationed: 30 pounds of flour per month for adults. The county votes another $40,000, largest appropriation yet, to pay for clothing for soldiers and their families.
Winter 1864: Rationing of cotton begins To make up for other shortages, Salem housewives by this time are making and wearing homespun and substituting molasses for pork, roasted rye or wheat for coffee, chestnuts combined with sweet potatoes for hot chocolate, sorghum for sugar.
Early 1864: Responding to pressures for more soldiers, the College Company of boys under 18 at Roanoke College is pressed into service as Company E, First Regiment, Virginia Reserves. However, Bittle again intercedes and the boys are allowed to continue their studies, although they are committed to respond to emergencies. The unit soon is sent to Hanging Rock on false report of impending Federal attack.
February 1864: As desertions continue, a special patrol of 18 men is formed to seek out Confederate army deserters in Roanoke County area.
Mar 22, 1864: A "Cradle to Grave" Militia, consisting of men 16-18 and 55-60, is organized in Roanoke County as Company F, 2nd Regiment, Virginia Reserves, the fifth unit (sixth if you count the College Company) to go to war from the county. The unit, commanded by Captain J. C. Miller, is sent to Lynchburg for training.
May 1, 1864: Roanoke County/Salem's Cradle to Grave Company is sent from Lynchburg to Richmond and integrated into 2nd Regiment of Virginia Reserves.
May 4, 1864: Salem citizens hear shooting and see, as Mary McCauley writes, a great smoke rising over the Kattawba [sic] Mountains. Thinking perhaps the Yankees were coming, Salem prepared for war, and women prepare dressings for the wounded. Later they learn that a unit of Confederate General McCausland's cavalry six miles west of Salem was drenched by a heavy rain that forced them to discharge their guns.
May 12, 1864: The reconstructed Dixie Grays, fighting at the tip of the Bloody Angle, are virtually wiped out a second time in Battle of Spottsylvania Courthouse, scene of some of the war's worst carnage. Salem Flying Artillery also sees action.
June 7, 1864: Salem's Cradle to Grave Company, on extreme right of Lee's army, gets baptism of fire under heavy Federal shelling in Battle of Cold Harbor outside Richmond. The Salem Flying Artillery and the Roanoke Grays are also in the line.
June 11-12 1864: Hunter bombards Lexington, burns buildings, sends pillaging parties into Roanoke County (See Hanging Rock article, P1.)
June 21, 1864: The Battle of Hanging Rock, the first and only full-fledged bloody combat between the Confederate and Yankee armies in Salem area. See separate story Page 1.
July 20, 1864: Federal Capt. Crispin Dickenson, commander of the Fitzgerald Battery, camps near Salem at Garst Mill. He reports to his superiors on recent battle of Cloyd's Mountain in Pulaski County.
August 1864: As desertions become increasingly common, the special 18-man patrol, appointed in February in Salem to seek out deserters, is increased to 100 men.
August 1864: Roanoke County Agent buys 1,146 barrels of flour for distribution to destitute families of soldiers.
September 1864: The College Company is formally mustered into Confederate army under command of Captain George W. Holland, a faculty member who had lost an arm early in the war. However, it stays in Salem.
Sept 30, 1864: General Lee happens to ride by Salem's Cradle to Grave Company as they lie in a ditch under a drizzling rain outside Petersburg, and they rise and cheer him.
October 1864: Richmond calls for 54 more slaves from Roanoke County, but only 45 are delivered.
November 1864: Roanoke College student reports, "We get nothing but bread and butter for breakfast [and] supper as a general thing. Sometimes we have milk for supper but very little of it."
Dec. 25, 1864: Christmas is "the most discouraging time I experienced," according to a later report of Mary Terry, 21,of Big Lick, whose husband had left Roanoke College to be with the Salem Flying Artillery. "We felt our cause well nigh hopeless, we were discouraged, despondent, heartsick, almost destitute of clothing and provisions."
Winter 1864-65: Student militia of Roanoke College is ordered to Dublin & Salt Works at Saltville in bitterly cold weather for two weeks on report of possible Yankee attack. They suffered frostbite and illness but saw no Yankees.
January 1865: Richmond calls for 50 more slaves from Roanoke County, and the county sends them.
February 1865: With county funds and credit depleted, Ladies Aid Society of Roanoke County collects cotton cloth and clothing for soldiers.
Mar 1865: Richmond, desperate for help, calls on counties and cities to send one-tenth of all male slaves aged 18 to 55 to work on fortifications. By the time it is received, the Confederacy was falling in disarray, and the order is not filled in Roanoke.
Mar 18, 1865: Some 30 Roanoke County slave owners pledge to emancipate any male slave 18-45 who is willing to enlist in the Confederate army. War ends before any action seems to have been taken. Leading the call is Nathaniel Burwell, with 50 slaves available.
Apr 1, 1865: Roanoke Grays see action in Battle of Five Forks as Grant breaks through Lee's earthworks at Petersburg. In Salem, the last few barrels of flour and pounds of meat at Roanoke College are given to the army.
Apr 2-3 1865: Federals enter and burn Richmond. Lee pulls his army out of Petersburg line and heads west. His retreating army includes Roanoke Grays, Salem Flying Artillery and the graduates of Camp Zirkle.
Apr 4 1865: Dr. Bittle and two other prominent citizens, carrying a white flag on a ten-foot pole, surrender Salem to a Federal cavalry troop. See separate article Page 12.
Apr 5 1865: Pennsylvania Cavalry passes through Salem on way to meet Lee's ongoing retreat. At Big Lick, they attempt but fail to capture a supply train but burn a bridge in the process. At Coyner's Spring, they capture another train, taking the supplies they need and distributing the rest of impoverished blacks.
Apr 6 1865 (date approximate): What remains of Roanoke Grays is captured by General Custer outside Farmville in retreat toward Appomattox.
Apr 8, 1865: Roanoke College Student Militia travels toward Richmond on freight train; they get to Lynch-burg where, learning of Lee's surrender, they disband and head for home.
Apr 9 1865: Lee surrenders at Appomattox. Sgt. James M. Walton of the Salem Flying Artillery (whose body is interred in East Hill Cemetery) fires shot just as cease-fire is called and is credited by some as firing the last shot from Lee's army in the Civil War. (See separate article, Page 12.)
A Salem Soldier Writes Home to His Dad
By John Long
During a lull in action in the midst of a desperate war, a young soldier made time to write home to his father. The letter was no doubt enthusiastically received and perhaps passed around town, since it mentioned the status of a number of local boys. But some time afterwards, by means that will never be known, the letter was sealed behind a plaster wall in the soldier's home.
The war ended and the soldier came home. His parents died, and eventually so did he. The nation industrialized and survived two World Wars and a Depression. Man learned to fly, and visited the moon.
Water stained the hidden letter, and silverfish nibbled at the edges. The entire house was lifted up and moved. Finally, after more than a century, workmen renovating the old house unknowingly opened a time capsule.
The author of the letter, William E. Brown, lived in the Williams-Brown House in Salem, which today is home to the Salem Museum. William's letter was intended only to inform his father, Joshua R. C. Brown, of the recent events, but he succeeded in creating a document that gives a wonderful portrait of camp life in the War Between the States. William Brown was a member of the Salem Flying Artillery, a unit mustered out of Salem at the start of the war. The SFA became a part of the First Virginia Artillery of the Army of Northern Virginia, and would see a great deal of action, including the battle of Gettysburg, before surrendering at Appomattox.
Brown's letter was written Sept. 25th, 1863 from Pisgah Church in Orange County. At the time of writing, Brown and the SFA faced a Union force under George Meade across the Rapidan River at Moreton's Ford. As he reports, he and his brother George had been engaged in fortification work and sniping at Yankees across the river. Brown gives no hint of discomfort or fear; in fact he openly hopes "we will have a battle with Meade in a few days and whip him handsomely."
He also reported on a matter of some seriousness: desertion. "Last Saturday on the march to Moreton's Ford Thompson and Key deserted. . . [we] immediately sent two mounted men after them but they could not find them. . . I do not think they will be caught, but if they are they will stand a good chance of being shot as they deserted in face of a fight." Desertion was an ever present problem for both armies, but more so for the Confederates as the war began to go badly, and especially in early autumn, when the crops at home needed to be harvested. Punishment was indeed severe, as Brown suggests. Records of the SFA indicate that George Thompson and Daniel Key (or Kay) "deserted to the enemy" on Sept. 22, 1863, but their fate remains unknown. The Union was very effective at recruiting deserters from the southern armies, so it is certainly plausible that Thompson and Key ended up wearing blue.
Brown also remarked on other current events. "The papers give an account of a victory in the West. I only hope it will be followed vigorously and result in the complete destruction of Rosencrans' Army. So many of our victories are barren of fruits that but little impression is made on the enemy. . .I believe with General Lee that unless we capture a Corps of the enemy's it will have but little effect in shortening the war."
It may seem strange that a Confederate soldier in camp digging fortifications would have access to a newspaper. But in fact the Civil War was America's first media war. Telegraphs, cheaper printing, and easier travel allowed news to spread through both armies faster than ever before. Brown's reference to a victory in the west is to the recently concluded Battle of Chickamauga. Bragg, the Confederate commander there, brashly attacked the Union forces under Rosencrans at Chickamauga Creek, TN, on Sept. 19th. Only the inspired defense of Union General George Thomas ("The Rock of Chickamauga") saved the Federals from a complete rout. Although Bragg won the battle, Rosencrans won the longer campaign at Chattanooga, and Brown's "victory in the West" ended "barren of fruit," as he feared.
Brown's letter also includes the personal touches one would expect, updating the homefolks about other Salemites at war. "Buff Johnston [probably Nathaniel Burwell Johnston] does not stand the service as well as I expected; for a week he has had the Dysentery and looks badly. George is as well as usual. I enclose a letter for Mr. (Zebulon) Boon; I intended to send it in some of George's letters, but did not think of it until they were closed. Last night for the first time I heard Lt. [Henry] Blair pray at Prayer Meeting. He seemed to be a little excited but his prayer was an earnest one. Since he professed religion his popularity with the Company is increasing. I saw Sam White yesterday. He is not as fleshy as when he first left the company; and I think he wishes himself back though he will not acknowledge it."
Toward the end, Brown includes a melancholy hope for a speedy resolution of the war: "I am for anything to stop the war with all of the rights of the South on a sound footing." As we know, he did not get his wish. The war dragged on for another year and a half, and if by "rights of the south" Brown meant his family's right to continue holding their four slaves, then he would find disappointment at the end. William E. Brown served to that bitter end, and was paroled at Appomattox. After the war he entered the mercantile trade, working in Pulaski and Knoxville before returning to Salem. When his father retired in ill health, William, by then married to Carrie Pillow, took over the store, lived in the family home, and raised six daughters there. Brown died in 1922, but left behind, hidden in a wall, a fascinating letter to our generation.
Salem Ended Civil War with a Flourish
Salem may not have stood out as a center of the fighting in the Civil War, but when the fighting ended, few if any other towns in Virginia could have gone out with such style.
Days before Lee surrendered at Appomattox, three of Salem's leading citizens &endash; including Roanoke College president David Bittle -- surrendered the town to the Federals in a courtly ceremony that included a white flag on a ten-foot pole. While their president turned their college and their town over to the Yankees, a military company of Roanoke College students was making a last gasp &endash; and futile -- effort to reach the fighting outside Richmond to help General Lee. When Lee finally surrendered, Salem was heard from again &endash; with a Salem boy's firing the last shot from the Army of Northern Virginia at Grant's army just outside Appomattox.
Salem's surrender occurred on April 4, the same day that Richmond was looted and burned and five days before Appomattox. Townspeople, learning of Richmond's fall, selected Bittle, the Rev. Samuel Register, presiding elder of the Roanoke District of the Methodist Church, and Dr. John Alexander, a physician, to meet the Yankees, who were approaching from Bent Mountain. Norwood C. Middleton describes the event in his book Salem, a Virginia Chronicle:
The distinguished trio fashioned a white flag from a pocket-handkerchief attached to a pole and headed in the direction of the train station to meet the Federals. About forty boys, both black and white, fell in behind them, observing unusually good behavior because of the solemnity of the occasion. But soon the cry started: "The Yankees! The Yankees!" and the boys took the lead of the procession, with the three men and the flag following behind. Soon the Yankees appeared, coming up from the direction of the train depot. It was Company B of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, under command of Captain George H. Hildebrand. They met, apparently on Union Street just south of Calhoun, according to Middleton, and the ceremony began.
Dr. Register was the speaker and "was unusually eloquent on this solemn occasion," Bittle reported. Captain Hildebrand promised to protect the town and college and assigned a mounted soldier, David Clark of Piqua, Ohio, to "go with the Doctor and guard his college."
So the two headed back toward town, Dr. Bittle afoot, the Yankee on horseback. Several ladies came out on their front porch to see the spectacle, and Bittle made light of it. "See, ladies," he remarked. "I have taken one prisoner."
The ladies did not laugh.
Hildebrand kept his word, Bittle reported. His men encamped near the town and left next morning without harming anything. Several days after the surrender, however, a raiding party, reportedly from Michigan, came to Salem and "robbed and plundered everything valuable which they could carry with them" according to a report from the Roanoke College Collegian.
The day after Salem's surrender, another Federal detachment -- Company D of that same 15th Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry -- came riding down from Christiansburg in the rain, passing through Salem and nearing Big Lick, when they heard that a trainload of provisions was about to leave for the Confederate army. "We tried to capture it," an Iowa soldier reported, "but the clatter of our horses' hoofs as we charged through the town gave a warning to the train crew and they started too soon for us to intercept themÉthe train gradually pulled away from us and escapedÉ"
They rode on until they neared the town of Liberty (now Bedford) where, in a repeat of the Salem surrender, "we were met on the road by the Mayor and the Town Council, who, carrying a white flag to show their peaceful errand, surrendered the town to us."
The Yankees were impressed but also surprised at such chivalrous conduct. "This was the fashionable and proper manner of surrendering cities several centuries ago," the Iowa soldier commented, "but these formalities just now do not make any particular impression on us except the humorous side of themÉ"
Meanwhile, as the war wound down, Roanoke College's student militia, with 90 boys, boarded an eastbound freight train, intent on getting to Richmond to take part in the fighting. Under command of Captain George W. Holland (who had lost an arm earlier in the war), they got to Lynchburg where they learned of Lee's surrender. Disappointed, they disbanded and headed for home.
It took another Salem boy, Sgt. James Walton of the Salem Flying Artillery, to fire the last shot from Lee's army in the war. The battery, commanded by Captain Charles Beale Griffin, Roanoke County physician, was poised at Appomattox to repel an attack when the order came down: Cease Fire! Walton had just reloaded his cannon. To clear it, he fired the last shot &endash; credited as such in numerous histories.
Walton, who saved his primer as a souvenir of the shot, now is buried in Salem's East Hill Cemetery, where a historic marker at the entrance calls attention to his feat.