Civil War Journal of
William Sewell Dunbar
I related all the circumstances of the trip to the colonel and told him our condition, that I had been robbed of everything we had, ad that we had neither property, clothes, provisions or money, and that unless we could meet with a friend we would be in a bad fix. After I got through telling him my condition, we parted. There were quite a number of persons standing by listening to me anxious to hear how I got my family out from so far in a rebel land.
As the colonel walked off a strange man stepped up to me and said he had a store in Charleston and for me and my family to come to his store any time and if I wanted anything I could get anything he had in the store to eat or wear. I told him I had no money. He said he had heard me tell the colonel my condition and that it made no difference whether I had any money or not. I could get anything he had and he could wait on me until I could pay, no matter how long it took.
I told him it would be a great favor for me and that I would come and get something to eat for my family and also something to keep house with. I asked him his name and where I could find his store. He was a citizen of Wheeling and his name was G.G. Sarretell. (Actually Gilbert G. Sawtell, 32. A native of Ohio County, he went into the mercantile business in Wheeling in 1859 and remained in business there until 1879, when he took up farming.) I shall ever be grateful to him for his kindness and look upon him as the best friend I ever met with in all my life.
I went to him the next day and got what I wanted and we continued to get our clothing and provisions from him for months. We now were at Charleston. I got a small house and took my family in. It was a very bad and dirty place because the river had been so high that it had overflowed into town and the mud had settled on the house. Both the floor and walls were so bad that it was desperate. (The worst flood in Charleston history occurred September 29, 1861, when the Kanawha River reached 46.9 feet, or 16.8 feet above flood stage.) In a few days all of our children took a very bad spell of fever caused by the fatigue and exposure of our trip and the wet house. Some of them came very near dying and did not get over it for several months.
During the winter we moved to the mouth of Buffalo in Putnam County, about forty miles down the Kanawha River below Charleston. The winter was very wet and muddy. The town of Buffalo is situated in very low grounds at the mouth of Buffalo Creek. In the town we got a house and my family moved in. The mud was all over the town and was from 4 to 10 inches deep all winter to spring. During the winter and spring all my family had the mumps and measles, scarlet fever and typhoid fever from the time we first landed out of Dixie in October until the first of May. There was not one of our family able to wait on the others, except our oldest daughter (Susan A., 14) and she only remained well until about Christmas. About the middle of February I took sick myself and lay under the doctor until near the last of April. (In Raleigh County, five units of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry had occupied Beckley on December 28, 1861, with four companies of infantry and one of cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, later U.S. President Hays, arriving January 8, he established his headquarters at the Davis cottage on Main Street, just about where the Raleigh County National Bank stands today. Beckley was a key point on the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike. This route led from Kanawha Falls and intersected with then Logan Turnpike at Beckley. Control of Beckley was of great importance because it effectively blocked Confederate communications in the western and central parts of Western Virginia. The 23rd Ohio, later growing to nine companies, remained at Beckley until April 24, 1862, when it moved to Shady Spring, where it was fired on by Major Henry Fitzhugh, General William Loring a chief of staff, with four companies of Confederate troops. On May 1, Confederate troops burned Princeton to keep supplies from falling into Union hands, but troops under Hayes managed to save part of the town. General Cox of the Union Army moved into Beckley with a brigade on May 6 from where he planned to advance on the railroad at Newbern, Pulaski County, Virginia. Cox arrived at Princeton on May 13.)
Before I took sick I did a quantity of scouting and had many long and hard marches through wet and muddy roads, wading all the water on our marches. Sometimes the weather was very cold. Although we had neither overcoats nor blankets, we still had to sleep. It was very hard and cold. Sometimes we got into houses but mostly stayed out of doors, around log-fires. I think that kind of exposure caused my sickness. (On April 3, 1862, the western counties voted on establishing a new state. At Beckley, 108 votes were cast for the new state constitution. Federal forces protected the voting places.)
But as I said before, about the last of April the doctor quit waiting on me although I could not walk. I could not walk until about the 10th of May. The 15th of May I started to follow the regiment which had gone and left me, and on the 28th I overtook it at Petersburg (Grant County,) and took command of my company. Just at dark the same evening we received orders to cook three days’ rations, put it in our haversacks and be ready to march by 3 o’clock in the morning.
We got ready and started not far from that time on a forced march after Stonewall Jackson. (Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson, 38, a native of Harrison County, West Virginia. His mother is buried at Ansted, Fayette County. After leading a successful campaign in the Shenandoah Valley in the spring of 1862, he joined General Robert E. Lee in the seven-day defense of Richmond and became Lee’s most trusted subordinate. While in the Maryland campaign he captured over 12,000 federal troops at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia in September 1862. The Confederate success at Chancellorsville in May 1863 was largely the result of Jackson’s skill, but while returning from a reconnaissance after the battle he was accidentally shot by his own men and died a week later.) We marched day and night until we got to Strasburg, Virginia. On the first day of June we overtook the rear of Jackson’s army (on the Strasburg and Staunton Road) and had a fight with them four miles from Strasburg. In the engagement our regiment lost five men wounded but none killed. I do not know the rebels’ losses, but from the signs when I was on the battleground it must have been pretty smart.
There was considerable blood and bloody clothes left on the ground and in an old house where they had taken their dead and wounded. The floor was covered with blood. I think they had a quantity killed from the appearance.
After we looked over the field we got a bite of supper and were ordered to march at dark. Just before dark our regiment, the 16th Ohio Regiment and about forty cavalry started to Strasburg, a distance of four miles.
It rained hard that evening and every little branch was a big creek. I had to wade some of them waist deep and the mud in the road was terrible. Men, horses and wagons got stuck and had to be pulled out. I helped pull several men out myself who could never have got out without help.
We got to Strasburg a while before midnight and stood in line of battle for several hours. If the rebels had known our number or our condition, we never would have made our escape because we had only about eight hundred men, and had got within about 100 yards of the rebel fortification. They were about thirty thousand strong. They thought our whole army was there and got frightened away. They ran like sheep with a pack of wolves among them. We lost one man while we were in town. His horse ran under a telegraph wire and he was killed when the wire pulled him off.
I do not know if we killed any of them. After the fight we went back five miles but we took several prisoners. Next day we went to the creek and pulled off our clothes and washed them because we were the muddiest set of fellows you ever saw in your life. As soon as we washed them we put them on wet, and rested a few hours, then started on our march after Jackson.
Our ordinance guard overtook his rear guard and had a fight with them pretty quick after we started. We took three hundred prisoners that day. We took them to Strasburg and guarded them. We stayed all night at Strasburg, but early the next morning we started again in pursuit of Jackson. We skirmished with them every day until the sixth day, when we overtook them as they left Harrisburg.
And we had a pretty considerable fight. It lasted several hours and was severe. A Pennsylvania regiment engaged in the fight with us. They were called the Bucktails. Our regiment and the 16th Ohio Regiment suffered no losses, but the Bucktails’ loss was great. There was part of a regiment of cavalry also in the fight and it lost about two companies. I would suppose our loss was four or five hundred killed, surrendered, or taken prisoner. I have no idea what the rebel loss was, but I know it was considerable because we whipped them and drove them off the battlefield. We killed their great cavalry commander. His name was Ashley. He was a colonel but was acting general at the time he was killed. (Brigadier General Turner Ashby, 34. He raised a volunteer cavalry company and led it to Harpers Ferry when John Brown invaded. Jackson named him commander of the Point of Rocks, Maryland, area in the Harpers Ferry District and he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June 1861. He joined General J.E.B. (Jeb) Stuart in masking General Joseph E. Johnston’s linkup with General Pierre Beauregard before First Bull Run. Named Jackson’s cavalry commander in October 1861, or colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, he commanded a brigade during the valley campaign and was appointed brigadier general in May 1862. He was killed June 6, 1862, in a rear guard action near Harrisonburg.) After the fight we went back to Harrisonburg and in most all the stores I couldn’t find anything to wear or eat. It was the most destitute place I ever saw for as busy looking place as it was. It looked like it had seen some hard times.
After we ate our dinner we started out on a reconnoitering expedition and traveled seven miles, taking several prisoners, and found that the whole rebel army had made a stand at the Cross Key’s bridge eight miles from Harrisonburg to give us a fight. So as there were only two regiments of us together, we fell back to Harrisonburg and very soon in the morning of the 8th of June we marched out to meet Stonewall Jackson. We commenced skirmishing with him about 8 o’clock in the morning and soon engaged in a regular battle, which lasted until dark. We slept on the battlefield that night. The loss on both sides was considerable. I have no correct idea of the number killed and wounded but do know it was a severe battle by the roaring of the cannons and the rattling of the small arms. (Union 125 killed, 500 wounded: Confederate 42 killed, 230 wounded.) The scene was awful to behold. Hundreds lay on the field, killed and wounded. Some were mangled and bruised in a terrible manner.
The bullets seemed as many as hail in a hail storm. It was more dreadful than tongue can tell and language describe. Our regiment had only about 50 killed. Some regiments fared much worse. But as I said, we spent the night on the field and expected to renew the fight in the morning, but the Rebels had fled, and there was no enemy before us to fight. They had left a good deal of their luggage and other things such as guns and nap sacks. We followed them, taking up stragglers, guns and provisions, mostly flour, and sometimes clothing.
We overtook them about the middle of the day at Port Republic, or at least we got near enough to see them, and we gave quiet a number of shots from our cannon and some from our small arms, with what effect I do not know, because they had got across the river and had burned the bridge, or rather had just set it afire. It was in such flame that we could not get across. (Union 67 killed, 361 wounded, 574 missing; Confederate 88 killed, 535 wounded, 34 missing.) We stayed there all night and in the morning started back toward Harrisonburg. We reached Harrisonburg that evening, tired and broken down. (By moving rapidly down the Shenandoah Valley, Jackson defeated Union General Nathaniel P. Banks at Winchester, Virginia, and forced him across the Potomac May 26. Returning, he defeated General John C. Fremont at Cross Keys June 8, on one flank, and General James Shields at Port Republic June 9, on the other, and after a week deceiving Fremont in the belief that he was about to advance down the valley, by a rapid and unsuspected movement he appeared on June 25 at Ashland on the flank of Union General George B. McClelland’s army in front of Richmond. Then followed the Seven Days’ battles.)
We rested for two days. During this time my old complaint had returned so bad that I was scarcely able to walk at all, but under great pain and misery did the best I could. I went back to Mount Jackson with the regiment and I saw plainly by this time I would have to quit the service. So I handed in my resignation to General Fremont and he signed it on the 22nd day of June 1862. The regiment went to Strasburg and I went with it that far. The regiment stopped there and I went on to Winchester and Martinburg, then down the Ohio River to Gallipolis, and then up the great Kanawha River and home. I landed home at Coal River, Raleigh County on the 2nd day of July 1862. I found my family all well except my wife. She was very ill and came near dying and did not get well until late that fall.
I took home with me a small stock of goods and commenced selling goods. All the people seemed glad that I had come home because there wasn’t a store in fifty miles. I commenced selling and was doing a very good business. I then went to Gallipolis, Ohio, and bought a new supply of groceries and other things. I had them shipped to Browntown and left them there until I could have a chance to get them to Raleigh County. (Browntown, now Marmet was an important river point during steamboat days. Cargoes and passengers were transferred there to wagon and stagecoach for travel to Boone, Logan, Wyoming and Raleigh counties. It was also a salt-making center.)
Before I got a chance, the rebels under General Loring attacked and Colonel Lightburn’s forces had to retreat to the Kanawha Valley and down the same until they passed where my goods were left, so the rebels took all my goods, both at home and at Browntown, except a trunk and a barrel full which my wife had. (When Confederate Major General William Wing Loring learned that General Jacob D. Cox’s division had been transferred to General John Pope’s army in 1862, he planned an invasion of the Kanawha Valley. Cox had left behind at Gauley Bridge Colonel Joseph A. J. Lightburn with approximately 5,000 men to defend a front which extended from Sumntersville through Hawks Nest and Fayetteville to Beckley. Proceeding through Princeton and Beckley, Loring occupied Fayetteville after routing Union troops there September 1 and, driving Lightburn’s forces before him, entered Charleston September 13. Although Lightburn conducted a skillful retreat, he abandoned strategic positions and lost property valued at more than a million dollars, the most serious Union reversion in Trans-Allegheny Virginia. Confederate General Albert Gallatin Jenkins, 32, led his 550 cavalrymen on a daring raid through western Virginia in the summer of 1862. Leaving Salt Sulphur Springs, Monroe County, on August 24, he marched to Beverly and from there to Buchannon, Weston, Glenville, Spencer, Ripley, and finally to Ravenswood. There he crossed into Ohio. Returning to Virginia below the mouth of the Kanawha, he made his way up the Guyandotte to Beckley, where he reported to General Loring, who was advancing on the Kanawha Valley via Fayetteville. Besides reconnoitering Union defenses, his cavalry screened the advance of Loring’s larger force into the Kanawha
Valley. Loring held Charleston until October 8, when a concentration of Union troops at Clarksburg and Point Pleasant caused him to fall back to Lewisburg. At Charleston, Loring had promptly supervised the manufacture of salt and its removal to Confederate Virginia. He also issued a proclamation to the people of Western Virginia, offering amnesty and clemency to those who remained peaceful and obeyed the laws.)
The rebels, suspecting she had hid a few goods for our own use, commenced searching for them but did not find them. They then offered a reward of 50 dollars to any persons who could find them and my riding horse, worth $175. So four or five of my neighbors, or those who were supposed to be my neighbors, set out to find my goods. One was Robert Toney, who lived just across the creek about three hundred yards from me and whose family had had the flu. Just a few weeks before, he had come to me in their distress and asked for help. My wife and I attended to them every day and let our daughter stay with them while they were sick. I furnished medicine for them without charge and also clothes for one of the family who died, also a coffin, and buried the child.
The above mentioned Toney concluded he would pay me in the following way: He came to my house one day under the pretense of buying a shirt. My wife told him that we had none to spare on account of the rebels having confiscated about all of our goods, but as his family had been in distress she would through charity let him have it. He knew the goods were hidden. He told my wife he would go home and come back in the evening after the shirt. She, thinking that he had gone home and thinking him a good friend, said she would send it over by one of the children.
As soon as he left she took the yard stick and went out of the house to get the trunk to make the shirt. It was the same time that I had to keep myself hid for fear of being killed. I was out one hundred yards from the house and she came to me and I went with her and got the shirt. Toney hid in the cornfield that surrounded the house and watched us go get the shirt. She sent it to him the next morning.
He then got on his horse, went after his brother and brought him up and showed him the goods, and John Toney went down the river about eight miles to Anderson Jarrell’s and got Anderson Jarrell and a fellow by the name of Collins, making five in number, and they came to my place, armed with guns and pistols, and stole and carried off the goods worth $300. They took them to Robert Toney’s just across the creek and divided them.
Robert Toney took his gun and came over to my house, knowing I was gone, and abused my wife and children. He threatened to shoot my wife, telling her that I was a black abolitionist and that if I were not taken and hanged he would blow my brains out. He said he knew I had hid and that he could and would find me. He and several others did hunt me. (There was much skirmishing in and around Raleigh and Wyoming counties August 5-12, with bushwhackers and Confederate cavalry scouts from General John B. Floyd’s army at Floyd Court House, Virginia. Floyd, elected governor of Virginia in 1850, was secretary of war in President Buchanan’s cabinet. His father, who also had been governor, maintained a hunting camp on Soak Creek, just west of Sophia. He and his sons spent much time there. John B. Floyd established a store in the Marshes (Glen Daniel-Fairdale) about 1835. The main business was exchanging goods for ginsang and peltry. On August 14, Union General Cox, his staff and a considerable force of cavalry withdrew through Beckley. Shortly thereafter two Ohio volunteer infantry regiments encamped in Beckley, accompanied by a mountain howitzer and two smoothbores. On September 3, a Captain Hamilton saved Beckley from burning by the Federals when Colonel Siber was in the village.)
The rebel commander, General Loring, issued a proclamation to the following effect: That all persons who were in the bounds of the Confederate lines, no matter what had been their course heretofore, if they would stay at home that they would be protected. He also appointed marshals for each post to invite every person to remain at home or come into headquarters and their property would be protected. William Prince of Raleigh County was appointed marshal of the county I was in. He found out that I was somewhere in the county and sent for Jacob Harper and told him he had full control of Raleigh County and that all persons who had been residents of said county who fell to his hands should be treated as mentioned above. (William G. Prince, 45, was born at Philadelphia. He married Margaret Hull, daughter of Henry and Emily (White) Hull. Margaret was a sister of Deputy Sheriff Lewis Hull. Prince was in the commissary department of the Confederate Army. At the battle of Cloyd’s Farm in Pulaski County, Virginia, on May 9, 1864, he accompanied the Confederate soldiers to the field and while acting as a special messenger and courier his horse was shot out from under him. Other soldiers used it as a breastworks and began firing across it. His son James was a Union soldier and his son William (Bub) was a Confederate soldier. Prince served Raleigh and Fayette counties in the Virginia Legislature for several terms before the war and after the war served several terms in the West Virginia Legislature. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1872. He died at Mt. Tabor in 1885 and is buried in Wildwood Cemetery, Beckley. The body of his son, William (Bub) Prince, also is interred at Wildwood, but in 1972 vandals broke into the family mausoleum and stole his skull.)
Prince asked Harper if he knew where I was. Harper told him no, but that he had seen me a few days before and thought he could find me and tell me not to run and hide, but to get home and come to the court house, and then he could release me and I would be entirely safe. He and Stephen Adams a resident of Raleigh County, wrote me a letter to that effect and sent me Loring’s proclamation. (Stephen Adams, 33, a native of Campbell County, Virginia, settled in Beckley in 1856 and was admitted to practice law that year. He served as commonwealth’s attorney of Raleigh and Fayette counties and was elected captain of Company A, 30th Battalion, Virginia Sharpshooters, on August 24, 1862. This company was comprised mostly of Raleigh County men. Adams was wounded in the upper right thigh by a minnie ball at Winchester on September 19, 1864, and taken prisoner the same day. Adams lived on Neville Street about where the Federal Building now stands. After the war he went into the banking business in Lynchburg, Virginia.)
I viewed things in every way, knowing I was far out in the rebel land and knowing several were scouting for me and that at the most in a few days I would be arrested. According to the proclamation, if I were arrested in that way I would be sent off and confined to a state prison. So after several days of studying about it and also by the assurance of Mr. Harper that if I would go to Prince that I would be able to stay at home undisturbed, on the 3rd of September I got my horse and went to the Raleigh County courthouse and went into the office.
William Prince and Jasper Godby were the only persons there. I spoke to Prince and Godby but Prince refused to shake hands with such a man as me. I then began to see he and Adams were trying to set a trap for me and my Union neighbors.
After I spoke to Prince I set down on a bench at the far side of the room. Abruptly, he said in a loud tone voice, "Well, Bill, what is the object of your visit here today?" I answered as politely as I could and told him that I had been influenced to come by the letter he and Adams had sent me.
He asked me if I were a Union man and I told him it would be very simple for me to tell him I was not a Union man but that they all knew well that I had been fighting them as hard as I could for better than a year and that I voted for the Union. However, I was an unhealthy man and had resigned my commission in the Army of the USA and did not expect to go in the Army again if I could stay at home and not be disturbed.
Prince told me he would put me in the guard house and that I would have to remain there until he could write a letter to General Loring about me and get an answer, which he said would take three days. It seemed strange to me that a man having full authority and being fully empowered to try all cases before him would send for a man, telling him that both he and his property would be protected, and then act in this way. I became a little uneasy because I knew they had no love for me and that they did not intend to do justice by me.
I waited as patiently as I could but at the end of three days I heard no answer from the letter. I had been assaulted and abused in the guard house by rebel citizens and rebel soldiers almost every hour. Many were drunk and would assemble in front of the courthouse. I was in an upper room and they would holler at me and ask me if I didn’t think I ought to be hanged, threatening with bitter oaths that they would come up there and get me and shoot me. They would tell me that if I were released that they would mob me and shoot me.
A man by the name of Neville C. Beckley, son of General Alfred Beckley of Raleigh County, came to me and called me a traitor. (Neville C. Beckley, 28, a captain in the Confederate Army. He became a Methodist minister in 1870 and served the Wayne circuit 1882-84. While on his way to a new appointment at Malden, Kanawha County, in 1886 he died of a stroke in Charleston. He is buried in Wildwood Cemetery, Beckley.) He said it make his blood boil to see all or any such traitors as I was and that for his part he was uncompromising and would not put up with such, not withstanding that we had been friends, near neighbors and members of the same church at Jumping Branch in Mercer County (now Summers County) before the rebellion, and he professed to be a wonderfully strong Union man but the rebel government had......
Editor’s note: At this point, Dunbar’s journal breaks off in mid-sentence. There was more, but the ravages of time took their toll and the rest either crumbled into dust or simply disappeared.