J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “Federals”

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 11)

Nancy Hart

Nancy Hart

“The Rebel in the Family” 

The life of Confederate spy Nancy Hart is shrouded in mystery. Old documents refer to her with a mixture of fact and folklore. It is believed that she was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to John and Rebecca Hart in 1846. Her mother was a first cousin of Andrew Johnson, who later became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Harts were devout Christians, and her father frequently held family worship services. While Nancy was still an infant, they moved to Tazwell, Virginia. 

Nancy was tall, lithe, and black-eyed. She was a middle child who had six, or possibly twelve, siblings. In 1853, she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and William Clay Price, in Roane County, Virginia, which became West Virginia in 1863. The family lived in the wilderness, so Nancy learned how to be an accomplished hunter and rider, but she never learned how to read and write. When the Civil War began, the Roane County held divided loyalties. Friends, neighbors, and families were separated by opposing beliefs. William was not a Confederate soldier, but he did his part by assisting them. After drawing suspicion, Union soldiers confronted him at his farm and ordered him to go to nearby Spencer to take the oath of allegiance. He departed with the Yankees, but never made it to Spencer. His body was discovered three days later. He had been shot in the back and left in the road. 

The murder of William spawned Nancy’s loathing for the Federals. She revered the Southern Cause, even though two of her brothers went to fight for the North. In early 1861, her neighbors, the Kelly’s, held a going away party for their two sons who had joined the Confederate Army. While the party was commencing, Union officers marched past the house in the moonlight. Nancy hollered, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Four rifle shots rang out in response, and four minie balls struck the front stoop, one of which lodged in the door. Three days later, Nancy joined the Moccasin Rangers, who were pro-Southern guerrillas, and rode with their leader, Perry Conley (or Connolly) at the head of the column, leading the Rangers while working as a spy, scout, and guide to the local region. She travelled alone at night to deliver messages between Confederate armies, and slept during the day. She also saved the lives of many wounded Rebel soldiers by hiding them with Southern sympathizers and nursing them back to health. Posing as a farm girl, she peddled eggs and vegetables to Union detachments to obtain information, and scouted isolated Federal outposts to report their strength, population, and vulnerability to General Stonewall Jackson. She even led Jackson’s cavalry on several raids. In the fall of 1861, Conley narrowly escaped the Federals, but Nancy was captured. Deciding she didn’t know anything, they released her, which was a big mistake, because she reported back to Conley with valuable information about the Yankees. 

Nancy married one of the Moccasin Rangers, Joshua Douglas. Conley was mortally wounded in an engagement with Ohio Infantry in early summer, 1862. He fought off his attackers until he ran out of ammunition, and then the Yankees clubbed him to death. Afterward, the Rangers disbanded. Nancy’s husband joined up with the 19th Virginia Cavalry, and she moved into the mountains of Nicholas County, where she continued her work as a messenger. A reward for her capture was issued, and it wasn’t long until Union Lieutenant Colonel Starr recognized “Peggy,” as Nancy was known by both armies. She and a female friend were discovered in a log cabin, crushing corn. They were taken prisoner, and confined to the second-story of an old, dilapidated house in Summersville.  Soldiers were quartered downstairs, and a sentry was posted to guard them in their room.  

While there, 20-year-old Nancy was allowed to roam the jail grounds of her own free will. She gained the attention of several soldiers, including telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, who convinced Starr to transfer the young women to the Summersville jail, and supplied them with sewing materials and illustrated papers. When an itinerant photographer showed up to hone his trade, Kerner persuaded Nancy to pose for a picture, although she said that she didn’t have clothes “fittin’ to be pictured in.” Kerner requested clothing from some Union women, and fashioned a Yankee officer’s hat by folding the bill and inserting a plume. The resulting photograph is the only one in existence of Nancy Hart, who, according to legend, refused to smile because she had to wear Yankee attire.  

Here is where the story differs. One version states that, later that night, Nancy tricked a naive soldier. After talking to him extensively, she convinced him to show her his pistol. The young, enamored Yankee willingly obliged. She promptly fired into his heart, killing him instantly. Nancy jumped headlong out of a second-story window into a clump of tall jimson weeds, and escaped bareback on Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse.  

A week later, on July 25, she returned with 200 Confederate cavalrymen. She was still riding Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse. At 4:00 a.m., the Rebels burned three buildings, including the commissary storehouse. They also destroyed two wagons, and captured eight mules and twelve horses. In all, only ten shots were fired, and two soldiers were wounded. The Confederates easily arrested the slumbering Yankees, including Starr, who was shipped off to Libby Prison with his officers. Marion Kerner was also captured, but Nancy convinced the Confederate officers to release him because of the kind treatment he had shown her. He was immediately arrested, however, after attempting to send a telegraph to Union forces. 

Nancy faded out of the picture as an active partisan, no doubt knowing that, if she were to be captured again, a rope would be waiting for her. After the War Between the States ended, her husband returned, and they lived in Greenbrier County, raising two sons. Nancy’s last public appearance was in 1902, when she testified at the Courthouse in Lewisburg on behalf of her son, Kennos, who was charged with killing a man at a dance. Nancy died in either 1902 or 1913.  

The other version of her story isn’t nearly as colorful, and is much sadder. According to Hart family legend, Nancy was born to rebel, and paid with her life after she was arrested and confined in Summersville. Because Union troops didn’t want the locals to know, her hanging on Cold Knob Mountain was kept a secret. Nancy remained calm, but once allowed to speak, she hollered out the Rebel yell, as well as “Wahoo! Whoop! Hurrah!” and “Yay for the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis!” However, there is little or no evidence suggesting that Nancy was executed by hanging. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence stating that she ever married, either, and no official record of her killing a Union soldier. Census records are sketchy at best, as are family records. 

She is buried at Mannings Knob Cemetery in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, near Richwood, where the Mannings family buried their slaves. The cemetery is also known as Nancy Hart Cemetery. She was originally buried with only a pile of stones to mark her grave. Years later, Jim Comstock, a publisher and Civil War buff, decided that she deserved a proper marker, so he and Nancy’s granddaughter found the top of Mannings Knob, but the area had been bulldozed to make room for a beacon tower. Her grave was never located. However, a marker was erected in the cemetery in her honor. 

Hart Grave 

Marion H. Kerner, the Union officer who convinced Nancy to pose for a photograph, said that the last glimpse he caught of her was shortly after the Summersville raid, and he never “heard of her since. She may be dead.”  He later wrote about her, making her story famous in Leslie’s Weekly Magazine. The article was published in 1910. A large rock, known as “Nancy’s Dancing Rock,” still exists on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha River, near the place where Nancy grew up. 

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Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 5)

Laura Ratcliffe

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If it wasn’t for Laura Ratcliffe, Colonel John Mosby, the infamous “Grey Ghost,” might have been captured by the Yankees. Not only did she aid Mosby in his mission to serve the Confederacy as a Partisan Ranger, but she also provided valuable information to Confederate cavalry commander Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart. 

Laura Ratcliffe was born on May 28, 1836 in Fairfax City, Virginia. Her parents were Francis Fitzhugh and Ann McCarty (Lee) Ratcliffe. Laura was a distant cousin to General Robert E. Lee on her mother’s side. When her father died, she moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (now Herndon) in Fairfax County, just south of Washington D.C. Once the Civil War broke out, the area bore witness to numerous raids and encampments from both sides. 

Laura and one of her sisters volunteered to serve as nurses. During the winter of 1861, while they were assisting wounded soldiers, Laura met General J.E.B. (James Ewell Brown) Stuart, and the two became friends.  He wrote several personal letters and four poems to her, imploring her to continue with her espionage. In return, she provided him and fellow cavalryman Colonel John Singleton Mosby with valuable information concerning Union troop activity in the county. 

A year later, Stuart led his cavalry on several raids in the area, and he visited Laura at her home many times. While at the Ratcliffe home, Mosby asked if he could remain there and continue operations instead of going into winter quarters. Stuart consented, and departed the area. Mosby and nine other soldiers from the 1st Virginia Cavalry continued to use the Ratcliffe home as their headquarters. Oftentimes, Mosby met Laura at a large rock near the top of Squirrel Hill to exchange information. Following one particularly lucrative raid, he requested that Laura keep the Federal greenbacks he had confiscated for safekeeping, so she stashed them beneath the rock. 

In February 1863, Mosby captured several Federal soldiers, and returned their plunder to local citizens. Laura discovered that the Yankees had set a trap for Mosby, so she warned him of the intended ambush. Because of her valuable information, Mosby avoided arrest and captured a sutler’s wagon.   

Captain Willard Glazer with the 2nd New York Cavalry complained that Laura “is a very active and cunning rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements … by the means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellious sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed.”  

In March, Mosby managed to capture Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton by surprising him in his sleep. Arriving in the general’s room, Mosby asked him, “Do you know Mosby?” 

“Yes,” replied the general. “Have you captured the devil?” 

“No,” Mosby responded. “The devil has caught you.” 

Mosby captured the general, two of his captains, and 58 horses without firing a single shot. When President Abraham Lincoln heard of the event, he reportedly said that generals are replaceable, but he deeply regretted the loss of so many good horses. 

Although it was obvious to the Federals that Laura’s house was being used for Confederate headquarters, she was never arrested or tried for any crime. After the war ended, she lived with her mother in an old farmhouse named “Merrybrook.” In 1890, Laura, who was now 54 years old and destitute, married a neighbor, Union veteran Milton Hanna. She became wealthy because of it, but her husband died in an accident seven years later. 

Laura was a very private person, and never sought or received recognition for her courageous contributions to the Confederacy. Instead, she directed her attentions to the poor and unfortunate. In 1914, she fell and presumably broke her hip, but because she refused to receive medical treatment from a male doctor, the diagnosis was never verified. However, the accident left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Before her death at age 87 on August 8, 1923, she requested that “a neat grey granite stone” be placed at her gravesite with the names of Ratcliffe, Coleman, and Hanna carved into them. In 2007, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Laura Ratcliffe Branch, erected such a marker.  

Merrybrook is now under direct threat. The current owners are striving to have the home preserved, but development is encroaching. The rock where Laura and Colonel Mosby exchanged information still exists, and a monument on the country highway nearby has been erected with an inscription that reads: 

This large boulder, located just south of here, served as an important landmark during the Civil War, when Col. John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) assembled there to raid Union outposts, communications, and supply lines. Laura Ratcliffe, a young woman who lived nearby and spied for Mosby, concealed money and messages for him under the rock. Mosby credited her with saving him from certain capture by Federal cavalry on one occasion. She also was a friend of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. 

Among the items discovered in her effects after her death was a gold-embossed brown leather album, which contained several poems, as well as the signatures of General J.E.B. Stuart, Colonel Mosby, and Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee. A gold watch chain belonging to Stuart was also found with her possessions. 

For more information, and to learn how you can help with preservation, please visit:  

www.lauraratcliffe.org. 

 

 

 

The Haunting of the Perryville Battlefield

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Most people wouldn’t think of Perryville, Kentucky as being one of the most haunted places in the country. But on October 8, 1862, a terrible tragedy took place there that forever left an imprint on the land. Union and Confederate troops clashed for several hours, leaving approximately 7,600 young soldiers either, wounded, dead, or missing. The nearby Chaplin River ran red with blood from the fallen. The battle decided the fate of the state, and although the battle was a tactical victory for the Confederates, the Union army received enough reinforcements to force Confederate General Braxton Bragg back into Tennessee. His army would never again enter Kentucky. Because of this, the Federals had the opportunity to properly bury their dead. The Confederates, however, were unceremoniously thrown into mass graves and haphazardly left in unmarked plots on the battlefield.

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(Photo courtesy of Steve Stanely)

It isn’t surprising, then, that countless visitors to the battlefield have witnesses ghostly figures wandering the grassy fields, sometimes in broad daylight. Many reported seeing full-bodied apparitions marching across the fields, and have heard the deep percussion of heavy artillery and cannon fire echoing across the rolling hills. Disembodied voices have been captured on audio, responding to questions with intelligent responses that were indicative of 1862.

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Not only is the battlefield haunted, but so is the nearby Dye House, which served as a makeshift hospital after the battle. The structure witnessed hundreds of emergency surgeries, amputations, and painful, gruesome deaths. So much blood was spilled on the floors that, to this day, has been impossible to remove.  People have heard footsteps descend the stairs, and doors open and close by themselves. Recordings have been made where ghostly voices claim to be Civil War doctors.

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Joni House, the park’s preservation and program coordinator, has also witnessed strange occurrences. “I’m in my office and I hear people talking to me and nobody else is in the building. Or I come in here and see things that have happened in the museum. There’s no real explanation for why a mannequin’s head has been pulled off and is now in the middle of the floor.”

(The Perryville Battlefield was one of the Civil War Trust’s 10 most endangered battlefields in 2008.)

Stay tuned: on Halloween – It isn’t a battlefield but it’s still very scary.

The Last Great Battle

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One hundred and fifty years ago, on May 12-13, 1865, the final skirmish of the Civil War took place at Palmito Ranch, Texas. Two days earlier, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured in Georgia, which ensured that the once noble Confederacy was now all but deceased.

On May 11, 1865, Union Colonel Theodore H. Barrett set out on an expedition with 250 soldiers of the 62nd U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment and 50 men of the 2nd Texas Cavalry Regiment under Lt. Col. David Branson. Their mission was to attack Rebel outposts and camps on the Rio Grande, going against an agreement that had been struck in March 1865. On May 12 at approximately 8:30 a.m., people on the Mexican side of the river informed the Confederates that Union troops were invading. Branson attacked, scattering the Rebels. At 3:00 p.m., the Confederates retaliated, forcing the Federals to retire to White’s Ranch.

On the morning of May 13, Branson received assistance from Barrett. A skirmish ensued from White’s Ranch to Palmito Ranch. At 4:00 p.m., a sizeable Confederate cavalry force led by Col. John S. “Rip” Ford, approached, and the Federals formed a line. After being pounded by Rebel artillery, Barrett and his men retreated. It was the last battle of the Civil War, and ironically, it was a Southern victory.

The Battle of Fredericksburg

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The Battle of Fredericksburg took place a little over a week before Christmas, on December 11-15, 1862. The battle forced citizens of Fredericksburg out of their homes, and some had no recourse but to camp in the woods in subzero temperatures. Union forces invaded the town, looting, shelling, and burning much of it. The Yankees then marched up to Marye’s Heights, where Confederate troops were waiting for them. Because the Rebels were at an advantage, the Federals were forced to march up the hill through an open field, thus making them easy targets. Needless to say, thousands were slaughtered.

When the townsfolk were finally able to return to their homes, they found only destruction, but somehow, they managed to carry on through the terrible sadness that engulfed them. It is interesting to note that, during a lull in the battle, one soldier found the compassion to come to the aid of his enemies. His name was Sergeant Richard Kirkland, a Confederate from South Carolina. Without the protection of the white flag of truce, he braved the open field to provide water and blankets to the wounded and dying Union soldiers. Because of his bravery, the “Angel of Marye’s Heights” is immortalized with a statue at the Fredericksburg National Military Park.

Soldiers who were away from home at Christmas suffered a particular kind of homesickness, different from the usual melancholy they usually felt. Because most soldiers who fought in the Civil War were Christians, the celebration of Christmas was a very special time for them. As Victorians, they believed that Christmas should be celebrated as a happy time of year. But with all the death surrounding them, it was difficult to feel that way, especially in December 1862.

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