Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"I am going to Big Lick.."

Friday, November 13, 1863, Virginia Central R.R. Station, Charlottesvillle

There is a furlough in my pocket and I am going to visit my friends in Big Lick. I dare not return to my  home in Beaufort as the Yankees still are holding the town in their fists. My old home in Virginia is far enough away from the war that all remains well and it has been too long since I have been back to visit. 

Earlier this week, while our mess was consuming our meager supper, Lieutenant Williamson informed me that I and one other person from the company had ben selected to go on furlough. Castles slapped me on my back so hard that I spilled my tin place of coosh. Duncan asked who the other lucky person was. Each of the members of the mess strained to hear their own name. The lieutenant replied with the mane of Corporal Flynn. My smile, which had been as big as a poplar stump, vanished in a wink. I offered my furlough to anyone from the mess. There were no takers. The lieutenant directed me to be ready to report to the train station in Richmond the following day.

For the rest of the night, the rest of the mess taunted me about the prospect of spending time with the dear corporal. I know that it was all in good fun, but at the time, I could not see it. Everyone gave me a verbal list of things, mostly edibles, to return with. Castles asked for ten pounds of bacon. Holton wanted fifteen pounds and some sausages. Hancock wanted a gallon of whiskey and five hardtack crackers. Holton asked why Hancock wanted so many crackers. Barton, Junior, wanted new shoes, a new shirt and a new pair of drawers.
Duncan wanted a discharge. All I wanted was another travelling partner.

The following morning, Corporal Flynn and myself hopped in a box car and took a supply train into Richmond. It was during this part of my furlough that I decided that I would not go with him to South Carolina. Virginia would be my destination. I did, however, go with him to the Virginia and Danville station on Pearl Street, intending to part company with him and go to another station for my train. It was at the first station that I met the most splendid fellows.

The station was as busy as a beehive with everyone from everywhere going every place else. The standard traveling costume was a uniform. The civilians were noticable by their mode of dress. Off in one corner of the station were some soldiers that appeared to be having a roaring good time. I went over and made my manners to them. They were all from the Fiftieth Virginia, of General Early's division. They were going home to Grayson County on recruiting duty.

There were six of them, all under a captain. They made such an impression upon me with their jocularity and hilarity that I thought that I should remember them by name. The captain was Linville Perkins and his lieutenant was Russell Legg. There was a sergeant, Jim Sheets by name who had three privates, Silas Weiss, William Mink and Isaac Farmer.  All were from an area in Grayson County called Fork of Wilson except for Lieutenant Legg who had enlisted in Wytheville. They were going back home to wave the flag, speechify and sign up new recruits for the Fiftieth Virginia. No doubt there will be any number of parties soirees, and picnics with plenty of fried chicken washed down with liberal libations.
Sheets showed me a tintype of himself and Andrew Jackson Sheets, who I took to be his brother, now captured during the battle at Gettysburg.

I enjoyed their company so much that I almost missed meeting my train. I left my corporal with them and wished them all very well. My station was the Virginia Central on Broad and Sixteenth. I had to hurry to meet my train as it was scheduled to leave at three of the clock.

When I arrived, my train was still in the station, preparing to leave. One of the slaves owned by the railroad was busy oiling and when he had completed his task, we would leave for Charlottesville. While we waited, I chatted with the fireman. He pointed out that his locomotive was now named, "General Stuart", but had been built with the name, "President". He showed me that underneath the paint on the tender, the letters, USMRR could be faintly seen. This locomotive had been part of the United States Military Railroad and had been captured at Manassas last year. The Confederate government had sold it to the Virginia Central. Soon, it would pull two passenger cars and one baggage car to the terminus in Charlottesville.

We pulled out of the station on time and I settled in for a confortable and long ride during which I could do nothing more laborious than sleep. I should have known better. We stopped at several stations, including Hanover Court House to take on or let off passengers. There was a wood and water stop at Beaver Dam. Citing the difficulties of running a railroad in time of war, the conductor called upon every able-bodied man to help load wood into the tender.

When back in the car, and just about to nod off to sleep, this little black boy whom I sssumed to be a slave, came through the cars, calling on everyone to buy his apples which were the finest in all Virginia. I gave him two dollars, Confederate, for four applies. I ate one and put the remaining three in my haversack for future consumption. It was a good apple.

At both Louisa Court House and Gordonsville, we stopped to wood up. I noticed that as we went further west, the locomotive was getting slower as we got higher into the mountains. Our mighty Northern-built machine was struggling just to avoid coming to a halt. By the time that we reached Charlottesville, it was dark and cold and raining. No train would be leaving until the morning. The conductor directed me to a soldier's rest where I could get a hot meal and spend the night awaiting the morning train.

Supper consisted of cabbage soup with some ham or some meat plus biscuits made of real flour with fresh apple butter. The, "coffee" was hot and wet but it was not coffee. After supper, I found an unoccuppied corner near a sheet-iron stove and spread out a blanket supplied by the rest. I would prefer my own blanket as it is much warmer. There are two boys tending to the fire in the stove. I will write no more as I must sleep. I cannot miss tomorrow's train. I am going to Big Lick.

I Send You These Few Lines.

For almost all of my adult life, I have been deeply involved in the field of history. It is my training, my experience, my interest, my livelihood, my passion and my life. It is my being and my reason for being. Those of you who have a similar calling need no explanation as to why. For everyone else, I will try to explain.

This blog revolves around the fictional diarist, David Tooms, of the 12th South Carolina Infantry. This unit was one of several hundred regiments, battalions and companies that served on the Southern side. Every so often, a unit other that the 12th is mentioned.

This time, I thought that I would include the 50th Virginia Infantry because I know someone who re-enacts that unit. So I examined at the service records for the 50th to look for some interesting members. While looking, I came across Colonel Alexander Vandeventer, the regimental commander of the 50th. His service record stated that during the summer of 1864, he was a prisoner of war on board the ship, "Dragoon" at Hilton Head, South Carolina. That's a short ways from where I live and a long way from Virginia. How did he come to be here? And he wasn't the only one from the 50th. I had to take apart this mystery. So I started digging.

Some of you may have heard of a group of Confederate officers known as the, "Immortal 600". They are quite big in historical circles locally. There are markers and monuments to them. The story of the Immortal 600 is far too long and complicated to discuss in much depth here. A Google search will reveal any number of good sources to anyone interested in more details.

The short story runs like this. During the Siege of Charleston in 1863 and 1864, Union artillery was shelling the city and the targets were not always of a military nature. The Confederate commander of the defenses took 50 Union officer prisoners and place them in housing within the civilian parts of the city to dissuade the Union from shelling that area.

The Union countered by gathering 600 Confederate officer prisoners at Fort Delaware and sent them by ship to be placed on Morris Island near Union artillery batteries shelling Charleston to dissuade the Confederates from shelling back.

There was a party of senior officers including the colonel of the 50th and L.H.N. Salyer, the 50th lieutenant colonel, who were paroled and exchanged in Charleston Harbor. Another of these early parolees was General James Archer. He war a brigade commander of Tennesseeans in Lee's army. He had been the colonel of the 5th Texas. At one time, I used to be with the 5th Texas.

These early parolees, who were at Hilton Head for part of their captivity prior to their release were spared most of the horrors and privations of the rest of the prisoners who were treated quite badly. Many sickened and some died. At one point, the survivors were removed from Morris Island to Fort Pulaski, near Savannah. The fort had been captured by Union forces in April of 1862. Part of the fort had been converted into a prison to hold the newcomers.

While at Fort Pulaski, the prisoners continued to die from diseases including scurvy, a nutritional deficiency disease. These survivors were transferred back to Fort Delaware where more died. The final survivors were released one month before Lee surrendered at Appomattox.

Of the thirteen who perished at Fort Pulaski, three were from the 50th Virginia, including Lieutenant Legg whom Tooms met at the train station. The other two were Captain Alex King and Lieutenant Jonathan Ganaway. Others from the 50th can be counted in the ranks of the Immortal 600, 186 of which were Virginians.

The story continues. The National Cemetery in Beaufort, SC has a section for Confederate dead. I wondered if any of them were among the 600. Few of them had first names or unit designations. It took some digging but with the help of my wife, Susan, I found one, Lieutenant Robert C. Bryan of the 2nd Tennessee Cavalry. He died in a hospital in Beaufort of chronic diarrhea on October 8, 1864.  He is buried nearly in my backyard.

Andrew Jackson Sheets would die a prisoner in Fort Delaware in 1863 leaving his wife, Mary and a daughter, Rachel, aged 6 and a son, aged 6 months. Mary filed for a widow's pension in 1896 as a resident of Tazewell County.

James Sheets would die a prisoner at the US Hospital in Judiciary Square in 1864.Among his effects was a silver watch, a New Testament and a pair of drawers.

Silas Weiss would be released from Elmira Prison, NY after the war was over and return home to Abingdon.

Isaac Farmer would also be captured but he took the oath for the Union and joined the Federal army in Company H, 1st United States Volunteers. He was posted to Fort Rice, Montana Territory where he died of scurvy on February 21, 1865.

William Mink died in prison of a lung infection in April of 1865 and is buried on the Jersey shore.

Lynville Perkins reentered Confederate service after his parole at Charleston and eventually commanded the 50th Virginia.

The town of Big Lick gets its' name from the salt licks in the area that attracted game and therefore hunters. Big Lick is now known as Roanoke.

All the information about the locomotive is true.

This is why I do what I do.