Beverly Kennon Whittle was one of the victims of the General Rosser’s misadventure on Coffman’s Hill. In his diary, Private Whittle recounted his trials after being wounded, and the brief, unheroic record of his experience gives us an idea of the extent of the disintegration of Rosser’s command after the rout.
Whittle spent his 19th birthday in a military hospital in Lynchburg, Virginia, recovering from a long fight with acute dysentery. A month later, he arrived at Tom’s Brook on October 8, 1864, with the rest of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. His letters and notebook in the collections of the University of Virginia reveal an educated, respectful young man from a prosperous family. He loved horses.
During the fighting on the morning of October 9, the 2nd Virginia, as part of Col. Thomas Munford’s brigade, occupied the most disadvantageous spot on the entire field: in the bottom by the brook at the foot of Coffman’s Hill. When the position was outflanked, Whittle and his mates faced a long, uphill run across ground swarming with enemy soldiers. Whittle’s flight to safety was even more difficult after he received a “painful, but not dangerous, wound” in his left arm and shoulder. Whittle urged his horse up the hill. Around him he saw disorder and danger. He might well have feared being captured and sent to a Northern prison, a fate that, in his wounded condition, likely would have seemed highly undesirable. Like many of the disorganized Confederates around him on that hill, Whittle made an unsoldierly decision. He opted to exercise independent judgment. He headed south, and he did not stop until he had left the battlefield nearly 20 miles behind him.
In seeking safety, Private Whittle had gone absent without leave. His wound certainly was an extenuating circumstance, but, technically, he had deserted. Whittle was not alone in exercising his individual prerogative. After the chaotic retreat from Tom’s Brook, the country to the south was filled with wandering Confederate cavalrymen thinking and acting for themselves. In acting as individuals, they were no longer soldiers and were, for the time being, of no use to the Confederate army in the Valley when it needed all of its soldiers most. Some of these AWOL men would return to their companies and some of them would not. On the morning after the battle, Whittle decided he would keep going. His record of his slow journey to his home in Botetourt County is a pathetic tale of a downtrodden man who experienced both kindness and “meaness” as he made his lonely way through devastated war zone that was the Shenandoah Valley.
After a month of recuperation among family, Whittle returned to his regiment in November.