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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Even a Stranger to My Children: The Petersburg Regiment Returns Home from Appomattox

            Returning home from Appomattox took longer for some of the 12th Virginia's soldiers than for others.  While the body of the Petersburg Regiment camped at Pleasant Retreat, some of the 12th’s men were already going home.
            Private George Bernard spent the gloomy night of April 9 in a stable at Amherst Court House with two friends.  “Among my dreams was one that Dr. James W. Claiborne, the surgeon of our regiment, had come where we were and told me that every man in the regiment except himself, not killed, wounded or captured, had gone home,” recalled Bernard, “and that the army was fast falling to pieces, and that he felt that it was time for him to leave.”[1]  The three young men learned of Lee’s surrender the following morning.  Without waiting for breakfast, they mounted their horses and pushed ahead.  By the time they arrived within seven miles of Rope Ferry that rainy night, they had seen hundreds of men from the army who confirmed the report.  
            Bernard and his companions determined to ride on to Johnston’s army in North Carolina.  Starting at nine o’clock on the morning of April 11, they went first to the Furnace on James River and then up the canal towpath through North River Junction to a farm ten miles north of Buchanan.  They arrived at Buchanan the next day and found it impracticable to proceed farther along that route because of the danger of capture.  The trio decided to return to Orange County, then make their way to Johnston’s army on foot by a different route if hope of prosecuting the war still existed.  “Almost all the Virginia soldiers appear to have gone to their homes, or to other points of safety, there to be ready to fight more if need be, but with the intention of watching for the present the course of events,” remembered Bernard.  “Very few are so much whipped as to favor the abandoning of the cause.”[2]  
They determined to proceed to Orange County by way of the Shenandoah Valley.  As they were going down the Valley, they met a wagon train heading in the opposite direction, "as if nothing had happened," remembered Bernard, who later mused:

In looking back to the last sad scenes of the Lost Cause, I have often recalled the appearance of this organized party of Confederates--the last I ever saw--quartermaster, or wagon-master, and teamsters, still in the faithful discharge of their duty, solemnly and slowly moving to their point of destination in obedience to the orders of some superior officer whose commands had, when they were issued, the bayonets of the once powerful Army of Northern Virginia, to enforce them, but which now was a thing of the past.[3]

            Bernard reached Orange County on the evening of April 17.  Wild rumors circulated about an alliance between the Confederates and the French, as well as a defeat of Sherman at the hands of Johnston.  While all these rumors were proving false, Bernard arranged to join the 4th Virginia Cavalry.  But the news of the surrender of Johnston’s army determined Bernard to go down to Richmond and get his parole.  Obtaining it on May 16, he traveled to Petersburg next day and took the amnesty oath, which he considered “a bitter pill indeed.”[4]
            Colonel Everard Feild learned of the surrender on April 10 at Halifax Court House from cavalrymen who had made their escape from General Lee’s army before the declaration of a truce.  Feild and his companions thought it their duty to join Johnston in North Carolina, and they rode as far as Danville.  There they met the commandant of a post in the Old North State.  This officer, who had several hundred armed men under his command, persuaded Feild and his companions of the futility of going any farther and instructed his commissaries to give away the contents of their wagons and the wagons themselves.  Feild declined a wagon loaded with provisions and six mules.  He expected the Yankees to arrest him as he headed towards eastward, but crossing the Roanoke River at Alexander’s Ferry, he succeeded in returning to his home in Greensville County.  
            At Pleasant Retreat, the soldiers with the body of the Petersburg Regiment rose and separated before daylight on April 13.  Lieutenant Phillips of the Richmond Grays headed for home in Richmond with a few fellow Grays and some soldiers from Pickett’s division.  “I did hate to leave my old brigade so much as we had been together so long & side by side,” he recalled.  “We had stood up in battle & had shared with each other the hardships of war which caused us to love each other almost as brothers.”[5]
            Jim Phillips and his party started out on the road to New Canton, north of the James.  Nine miles shy of New Canton and still south of the James, Phillips turned east toward Cartersville.  By this time, only his fellow Richmond Gray, Pvt. James N. Siddons, a conscript of the previous autumn, accompanied him.  The two solders searched for food.  An old black man gave them several ears of corn so hard that Phillips and Siddons could not chew the kernels and stopped to have the corn parched.  They camped seventeen miles west of Cartersville.
            Phillips and Siddons started at daybreak next morning.  Purchasing flour bread and molasses from another old black man on the road, the two soldiers sat down on a log to eat.  Then they pushed on to Flanagan’s Mill, where the owner was grinding meal for every passing soldier.  Phillips and Siddons plodded on to the next house.  There they had their meal cooked and bought a half gallon of buttermilk for what Phillips termed “a good square meal.”[6]  They reached Cartersville at 12:30 p.m.  Crossing the James there, they tramped along the James River and Kanawha Canal for two miles and then crossed it into Goochland County.  The duo tried unsuccessfully to stop for the night at Dog Town, but could find no accommodations.  Two miles farther, they stopped at the house of a Mrs. Munn, where they obtained a splendid supper and a good night’s rest.  “On that day I suffered more with sore feet & legs than I ever did before,” remembered Phillips.  “I was completely broken down.”[7]
            The two soldiers left Mrs. Munn’s house at 5 a.m. on April 15, trudging through the rain and mud to Siddons’ house, which they reached at 7:35 a.m.  After eating breakfast, they lay down and napped.  Phillips remained at Siddons’ house for the remainder of the day, recuperating.  Mrs. Siddons washed and greased the exhausted lieutenant’s feet, and he slept that night on a pallet on the floor.  
            The following day dawned clear and pleasant.  Accompanied by Siddons, Phillips started for Richmond at 9 a.m.  The lieutenant remembered that after the two parted ways at Parish’s Store, “I put out for old Richmond as hard as I could walk.”[8]  When Phillips had tramped about thirty miles, he met First Lt. Virginius Bossieux, a private in the Richmond Grays until commissioned a lieutenant of artillery on February 28, 1862.  Most recently Bossieux had served as a drillmaster for a small battalion (two companies) of Confederate States Colored Troops.[9]  Bossieux and Phillips walked and talked together along the road for a while, then separated.
            Phillips reached the breastworks around Richmond at sunset.  The Federal guards stopped him and asked for a pass.  After he showed them his parole, they let him proceed.  Near Camp Lee, where the previous autumn’s Confederate conscripts had gathered, Phillips saw so many fellows in blue jackets that it made him angry.  “I then felt I was in the hands of the scoundrels,” he recalled.  “I had not realized it before then.”[10]
            Without a home or any money, Phillips sought and obtained lodging from a friend.  Borrowing a nightshirt, the lieutenant went to bed at 10 p.m. but was too tired to sleep.  He rose early on April 17 and hoofed it downtown as far as the home of another friend, Mr. Woods, who provided Phillips with breakfast.  Afterward, he went to the barber shop and got a shave paid for by yet another friend.  Obtaining and donning a suit he had left in storage, Phillips took a stroll and then went to see his girl.  Later that day he returned to the house of Mr. Woods, who provided him with dinner and hired him to work on his farm.
            Eddie Whitehorne rose at break of day on April 13 and set out for home in Greensville County with a party that included his fellow Huger Grays Sergeant Sidney R. Bass of Powhatan County and Private William H. “Billy” Mitchell of Dinwiddie County.  Captured at Burgess Mill the previous October, Bass’ exchange had taken place on March 28—just in time for him to fall into Union hands again.
            Taking a road that led south from Appomattox Court House, the three men waded through mud and water for eight miles to Pamplin’s Depot on the South Side Railroad.  Along the way, Mitchell appropriated an old mule left by the roadside.  A Greensville County soldier riding a broken down, lame horse overtook and joined the group.
            Whitehorne and his friends had difficulty procuring food from the well-provisioned but fearful landowners.  The area was crawling with hungry soldiers from Lee’s army.  Finally, Whitehorne and his companions obtained a little meal at a mill and bought a ham.  Just before dark, they came to the house of a gentleman who let them bake their meal and spend the night.
            They left next morning at daylight, taking turns walking and riding.  At 1 p.m., they stopped in Charlotte County at the house of a doctor, whose wife gave them bread and buttermilk.  “We sat flat down on the grass in the yard and had an old time eat,” Whitehorne recorded.[11]  Crossing the Richmond & Danville at Meherrin Station later that day, they saw a squad of Yankee cavalrymen who did not interfere with them.
            Whitehorne’s party had to rise before daybreak on Saturday, April 15.  Rain began to fall and they did not want to get their blankets wet.  They passed through Lunenburg Court House in a downpour at sunrise and at nine o’clock that morning scrounged breakfast from an old gentleman who had three beautiful daughters.  Just before Whitehorne and his companions reached Neblett’s Mill, their horse—which they had named Custer—gave out and they turned him loose in a clover field.  Wading the deep, muddy stream at Neblett’s Mill, they pushed on to Edmond’s Store in Brunswick County an hour before sunset.  By this time, the rain had stopped and the sun shone.  Deciding to sleep in the porch of the unoccupied store, Whitehorne and his friends built a fire and dried their clothes and blankets.
            The little band rose with the sun on the following day.  “Just one week today since the tragedy at Appomattox,” Whitehorne noted.  “The memory hurts like an open wound.”[12]  At 9 a.m., the soldiers reached the house of a friend.  Overjoyed at seeing them, he gave them breakfast and then furnished them with horses.
            Whitehorne’s party rode ten miles to Smoky Ordinary.  Leaving the borrowed horses there, Bass and Whitehorne walked to the house of another friend, who loaned them horses to ride to Spencer’s Mill.  At the mill, only three miles from his home, Whitehorne left Bass and found himself alone for the first time in years.  “Lord!” he recorded.  “I wish I was wearing shoes and my pants held together better.”[13]  The sergeant walked along familiar lanes that he had never expected to see again, then came to his house.  He surprised his family as they sat down to dinner.  Everyone cried, and afterward he had to answer and ask many questions.  “”My folks did not know whether I was alive or dead, as they had not heard a word from me for a month,” he recalled.  “They were all over-joyed to have me return alive and in perfect health.”[14]  
            Finding food almost as scarce there as in the army, Whitehorne soon went to work making a crop.  The sergeant still wished that Lee had ordered Mahone’s division “to bust through the invaders back in Appomattox.”[15]  With all the preachers back from the army, services resumed on April 23 even with all the local church bells melted down for cannon.  
            Major John Claiborne, the 12th’s first surgeon and afterward supervisor of all the hospitals in Petersburg, started for home on April 14 with General Mahone and some other soldiers.  This group included Capt. Samuel Stevens, the Petersburg Regiment’s quartermaster, and four lads from Claiborne’s old company, the Petersburg Riflemen—Captain Patterson, Sergeant Spottswood, Private Blakemore, and Pvt. Benjamin Harrison, the regiment’s former commissary.  They all headed for Charlotte Court House, where they found quarters in different houses of the village.  
            Next morning, ten miles beyond Charlotte Court House, the group separated.  Those who turned toward the Cockade City included Stevens, Patterson, Spottswood, and Harrison.  Claiborne and Blakemore accompanied Mahone to his home at Clarkesville, which they reached that night.
            After breakfast on the morning of April 16, Claiborne and Blakemore resumed their journey.  Half a day’s ride farther, Blakemore turned off for his aunt’s home in Mecklenburg County.  Claiborne rode on toward Louisburg, North Carolina, where his wife and children were refugeeing.  He reached Ridgeway on the Roanoke Valley Railroad in the Old North State that night and found accommodations with a friend from his student days at Randolph-Macon College.
            In the morning, Claiborne encountered Cpl. John Turner of the Petersburg Riflemen, a native of Ridgeway.  Sitting beside the tracks, Turner brought to the major’s mind “some lines of Patience on a monument.”[16]  As Claiborne rode the twenty-five miles that separated him from his family in Louisburg, he overtook many of Lee’s soldiers hiking to their homes throughout the Confederacy.  He reached Louisburg about 6 p.m. that day, rode up to the house where two years earlier he had sent his wife and children, and soon was hugging and kissing them.  “Four years before, almost to the day, at my home in Petersburg, I had taken them in my arms, and giving a last kiss and “God bless you” I had gone out with my comrades and compatriots to the war, with brilliant uniforms and flying banner, with heart full of hope…,” the major remembered, “and now, alone, ragged, unaccompanied by one single comrade, unheralded, without country, without home, without faith and without bread, I was before them, even a stranger to my children.”[17]
            The wounded took longer to return home.  Through neglect, Sgt. William Tayleure’s wound proved more painful than anticipated.  He remained at Pleasant Retreat until Saturday, April 15, when the Federals sent him by ambulance to Burkeville to catch a train to the General Hospital in Petersburg.  
            At Burkeville, while he was transferring to the train, he saw a sutler scowling at him and the other wounded Confederates.
            “A damned nice job you rebels have made of this business,” the sutler grumbled.
            “What do you mean, sir?” Tayleure demanded.
            “Why, haven’t you heard the news?”
            “I have heard nothing.  What is it?”
            “Only that President Lincoln was killed last night by a damned rebel in Ford’s Theater in Washington.  That’s all.”
            “My God!” said Tayleure, who reeled with horror and required support to remain standing.
            The attitude of the Unionists changed because of the act of John Wilkes Booth, who had stood with the Richmond Grays at John Brown’s hanging.  The previous magnanimity of the Northerners gave way to expressions of hatred toward the South.  “Soon an order, unworthy of brave men and of conquerors, was issued, compelling all Confederate soldiers to cut the buttons off their uniforms,” Tayleure remembered.
          Mourning Lincoln and ashamed of Booth, Tayleure boarded the train to Petersburg.[18]
            Confederate soldiers in enemy custody numbered among the last to return home.  Westwood Todd received his liberty with many other Southerners at Johnson’s Island late in June.  A steamer carried the group over to Sandusky, Ohio.  Soon the newly freed prisoners found themselves packed like sardines in dirty, uncomfortable railroad cars, each man carrying his rations and transportation papers.  The train arrived in Cleveland the following morning.  Finding that they had some hours on their hands before they boarded the next train east, the Southerners took a stroll along Euclid Avenue.
            With the cars on the train east dirty and crowded, Todd and another captive from Norfolk—both of whom had money sent them by friends and relatives—debarked at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to wait for the next regular train.  The two headed for the best hotel in town to get dinner.  Though still dressed in their Confederate uniforms, they made their way through crowds of discharged Federal soldiers—many of them inebriated—without incident.  As Todd and his companion dined at the excellent hotel, a pair of newlyweds dining nearby could not keep their eyes off the former Confederates.  "They seemed struck with out feeding capacity as well as our ‘Rebel’ uniforms,” Todd recalled.  “Their amazement reached the climax, when, by way of celebrating our freedom, we indulged in a pint of champagne.”[19]  After dinner, Todd and his comrade started out to see the city, but their uniforms continued to attract attention.  “We bought long linen dusters to cover up the gray,” Todd remembered.[20]
            The lieutenant and his companion parted ways between Harrisburg and Baltimore, and Todd arrived in Baltimore alone.  He found the city swarming with returned Confederates.  After registering and breakfasting at a hotel, he went to a clothing store and purchased a suit, a mackinaw hat and a pair of gaiter boots.  Then he returned to his hotel, shaved, shook off the dust of travel, and put on his new clothes.  “Not having seen myself in such a garb for more than four years, the metamorphosis was very striking,” the lieutenant recalled.[21]  Strolling up Saint Paul Street, he dropped in on Tazewell Taylor, a kinsman who had sent him funds at Johnson’s Island.  Taylor and his family received Todd kindly and entertained him for several days.
            Todd returned to Norfolk on July 1, three years, one month, and twenty days after his departure.  As of that day, at least four of the 12th Virginia’s soldiers remained in enemy hands.[22]  The last of these unfortunate lads—Pvt. James L. Gray of the Huger Grays, whom Yankees had wounded and captured at Burgess Mill the previous October—left for home July 11 from the prison camp at Elmira, also known as “Hellmira,” New York.[23]  But even he could count himself lucky.  Between the beginning of April and the release of the last of the Petersburg Regiment’s prisoners, at least seven of 12th’s men died in captivity.[24]

[1] George S. Bernard Notebook, in John H. Claiborne, “Last Days Of Lee And His Paladins,” War Talks, 281. 
[2] George S. Bernard Diary, April 14, 1865, in “Last Days Of Lee And His Paladins,” War Talks, 282n, 283.
[3] Bernard, War Talks, 284. 
[4] Ibid., May 22, 1865, “Last Days Of Lee And His Paladins,” War Talks, 284. 
[5] Phillips Memoir.
[6] Ibid. 
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Richmond Whig, March 22, 1865, cited in New York Times, March 25, 1865.
[10] Phillips Memoir.
[11] James E. Whitehorrne Diary, April 13, 1865. 
[12] Ibid., April 16, 1865.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Elmore, Diary of J. E. Whitehorne, April 16, 1865, 84.
[15] James E. Whitehorne Diary, April 22, 1865.
[16] Claiborne, “Last Days Of Lee And His Paladins,” War Talks, 271.
[17] Ibid., 272.
[18] Vicksburg Evening Post, January 7, 1885.
[19] Todd Reminiscences.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Henderson, 12th Virginia Infantry, 115, 127, 146, 147.
[23] Ibid., 127.
[24] Ibid., 112, 131, 137, 140, 145, 149, 160,

Saturday, March 3, 2018

San Diego Civil War Round Table

On March 20, 2019, I plan to talk to the San Diego Civil War Round Table about The Siege of Petersburg:  The Battles for the Weldon Railroad, August 1864.  That is, unless The Petersburg Regiment in the Civil War:  A History of the 12th Virginia Infantry has been published by then.  Because the Petersburg Regiment participated in two of the three battles for the Weldon Railroad in August 1864, it will be easy to be flexible about which book to discuss.  There is some overlap.