A Civil War Tale

As told by Alva Biggs (1853 - 1937)
Submitted by Anita Johnson
April 1999

Alva Biggs, the second-oldest son of Lucy and William Biggs, was born in 1853 in Barbour County. I don't know what age he was when he recounted this story -- he died in 1937 in California.
Dr. William Biggs was a practicing M.D. in Virginia at the time of the battle of Laurel Hill. The Confederate Army was camped on one hill and the Union Army one the hill opposite -- Dr. Biggs' residence was in the valley between.

For quite a while after the battle began, Dr. Biggs hesitated to move his family out of the house, as he felt it might be safer inside. But when a cannon ball shattered the columns of the front porch, he sent his wife and five children, with a boy of fifteen1 who was helping him, to a house which he owned and which he hoped would be out of the range of the bullets.

Buckling his money belt around his waist, he went out to drive his live stock out of range of the big guns. He was suddenly ordered to halt. Not obeying, he received a bullet through the crown of his hat which brought him to the decision that it would be safer to stop. He was taken prisoner by the Confederates and taken to their prison near Atlanta, Georgia.

He was in prison six months before he escaped by a happy accident or coincidence. Working in and out of the prison was Bill Bybee 2, a teamster from Dr. Biggs' community in Virginia. Dr. Biggs, being an able physician and a genial man besides, became quite useful and much talked about in the prison. Bybee heard much talk of a funny little Yankee doctor,3 became curious, and soon discovered that it was the doctor he had known in Virginia. He and Dr. Biggs had secret conferences, with the result that one evening about dark when the wagon and mules driven by Bybee left the prison yard, the "funny little Yankee doctor" was snugly hidden under the load of trash being hauled out.

Under cover of darkness they made their way to the mountains and for weeks they traveled as best they could -- at night when they were among those they suspected as enemies, in the day when they were among friends -- and at last reached Dr. Biggs' home which he found to have been looted by some stragglers of the Union Army.

It was a most happy surprise to his wife, who in all these long months had thought him dead, to find him safe at home. She had lost most of her household possessions, too, although when the Union captain found out about the looting he had brought her to the camp to identify her belongings. She got back many things, but many were gone for good. The doctor especially deplored the loss of his fine medical library, which was worth many thousands of dollars.

The doctor's people were Quakers or Friends. This sect does not believe in settling their differences by fighting, and the doctor felt he had been unusually badly treated by the fortunes of War, as the Southern Army took him prisoner and the Northern Army looted his goods. He was always rather embittered (and who could blame him) by the trick War had played on him.

Also, while in prison he paid for what he bought in gold and received Confederate money for change. This was, of course, worthless after the war. As he had quite a bit of gold coin with him in prison and the paper money was bulky, he said he had a sugar barrel full of it at one time.

Anita's additions:
1The boy was James T. Corley, although his birth certificate shows he would have been 25-26 in 1861. Jim was said to be an orphan. When the Biggses left WV in 1864, Jim accompanied them. In the late 1860s, after they had all settled in NE Missouri, Dr. Will gave Jim a farm for his "years of service." Jim married and raised a family there.

2Bill Bybee, who rescued Dr. Will, most certainly was Bill Bibey, son of a local family in Barbour County.

3 Dr. Will was short and was said to have red hair and beard.

My ancestors, Dr. William and Lucy Goodloe Biggs, lived in Barbour County from 1849-1864. They left because of the war. Dr. Will was a Quaker. His wife was the daughter of a minister in Richmond; the Goodloes were prominent in Caroline Co.

In 1864, the Biggs family, along with hired man James Corley, moved to Beardstown, Ill., then to rural Memphis, Mo.

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