Monthly Archives: September 2016

“A Painful, but not Dangerous, Wound. . .”

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.

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A page from Beverly Whittle’s notebook in the collections of the University of Virginia.

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.

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Virginia’s Food Supply

Supply of Food Staunton spectator., February 24, 1863, p 1 col 6
Item appearing in the Staunton Spectator, February 24, 1863, page 1, col. 6.

Food tops the list of things that we take for granted. As a result, our attitude toward food serves as a great handicap as we try to understand history.

U.S. Grant’s express purpose in the spring of 1864 was to starve the Confederate army into submission. He understood that it might take a year or more to accomplish this task, but he began almost immediately to send troops against agricultural and logistical targets. Grant’s strategy to deplete the food supply in Virginia culminated in the spectacular campaigns of devastation in the autumn of 1864, the most famous of which was “The Burning” in the Shenandoah Valley. The fight at Tom’s Brook grew directly out of the desperation felt by Southern soldiers as they saw their dwindling stores of food go up in smoke.

 

Some Confederates, however, had presciently foreseen the food crisis more than a year before Grant’s arrival on the scene. On February 16, 1863 — before the war was even half over — the Virginia House of Delegates considered a resolution urging “every citizen of the State . . . to increase greatly beyond his usual amount, all his agricultural products of every kind. . . .”

Leading Virginians knew early on that the pinch was coming, and understood the critical importance of every harvest. Food, scarce and perishable, perhaps more than any other factor, increasingly drove events in the last year of the war in Virginia.