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Chapter 31:

Very serious damage was inflicted on the Confederates in Virginia in the last of December, 1864, by the raid, or expedition, of Gen. George Stoneman, of the Federal army, from east Tennessee into southwest Virginia, mainly for the purpose of destroying the salt works at Saltville, from which not only the State of Virginia and the Confederate armies, but also adjacent States of the Confederacy, drew their supplies of salt; the lead mines and works on New river, in Wythe county, from which the Confederacy obtained the larger proportion of its supply of lead for its ordnance department, and the numerous niter works in operation in that part of Virginia. The further object of this expedition was to drive away the Confederate cavalry that was wintering in east Tennessee and Virginia, not far from the Virginia line, and at the same time to damage, as much as possible, the Virginia & East Tennessee railroad, extending from Lynchburg to Bristol, from which large supplies of food and forage were sent to the army of Northern Virginia.

Leaving Knoxville, December 10, 1864, General Gillem's command united. with Stoneman's, which had advanced from Cumberland gap, near Bean's Station, east Tennessee, on the 12th, and had a skirmish with the outposts of Gen. Basil Duke near Rogersville; then an action with his advance at Kingsport, Tenn., on the 13th, defeating Duke and driving his command toward Bristol, near which place, at Papertown, on the 14th, Stoneman attacked Vaughn's Tennessee brigade, of the Confederate army, which was guarding the railroad and the main turnpike road leading into the southwestern part of the Great valley of Virginia, and forced him back toward Abingdon. Another skirmish took place on the 15th near that place and another near Glade Spring, as Vaughn, in falling back, resisted the advance of the Federal raid. [534]

Gen. J. C. Breckinridge, in command of the Confederate forces in southwest Virginia, having been duly advised of the movements of Stoneman's command, promptly made every effort to collect his scattered men to meet them; but in that inclement season it was impossible to get them together at so short a notice. Witcher's regiment of cavalry was nearly 100 miles away, in and near Mercer county, across the mountains to the northeast. A small body of militia, under General Preston, occupied the earthworks that defended the salt works at Saltville.

Pushing forward with great energy, and having at his command some 5,500 men, nearly twice as many as Breckinridge could get together, Stoneman drove Vaughn's and Duke's commands before him, and pressing on passed Glade Spring, paying no attention to the Confederate force at Saltville, until he was delayed, by an action at Marion, on the 16th, but only for a short time, as his superior force enabled him to flank Breckinridge's command and compel the larger portion of it to retreat southward toward North Carolina. Riding rapidly still further up the valley, Stoneman was again opposed, in a skirmish at Mt. Airy, on the 17th and 18th. Detaching a portion of his command from Marion to destroy the lead works, by way of the Rye valley, he sent another portion on to Wytheville, where it destroyed a number of warehouses filled with army supplies, burning a church that had been used for this purpose, and destroying the railway bridges and stations for a few miles northeastward of Wytheville.

Having accomplished so much in the way of damaging the Confederacy, Stoneman retired to the vicinity of Glade Spring, and on the 20th and 21st drove away the small force at the salt works and greatly damaged that important and indispensable salt-making establishment. On the 22d he retired from Saltville. Burbridge's portion of his command then returned westward, by the way of Pound gap, on the 27th, to Catlettsburg, at the mouth of the Big Sandy in Kentucky, and Gillem's command returned to Knoxville on the 29th, reporting that it had marched 461 miles during this expedition, in intensely cold and inclement weather.

The damage inflicted upon southwest Virginia by this Federal. raid, in the destruction of railway and turnpike [535] bridges, railway stations and warehouses, iron works, woolen mills, lead works, and army supplies of all kinds, was very injurious to the Confederacy, greatly crippling its defensive power in that region, and was also a serious blow to the army of Northern Virginia by depriving it of supplies from that great storehouse of agricultural wealth. But the damage inflicted was by no means as great as was claimed by the Federal officers, in command of the expedition, in their official reports. Much of it was soon repaired, and the lead and salt works were again quickly put in operation and the railway trains to running.

Instances of heroism and fidelity to the Confederate cause in these days of extremity were not wanting. Colonel Witcher marched his command 90 miles in twenty-five hours, and reached Marion in time to aid in forcing the enemy to retire, although he was greatly inferior in numbers. Maj. J. Stoddard Johnston, General Breckinridge's adjutant-general, who was at Wytheville without any force, collected six or eight men and held the enemy at bay for two hours, by establishing a picket post, to which they sent in a flag of truce and demanded an unconditional surrender. He agreed, but required a half hour in which to withdraw his troops. The terms were declined, but by his ruse he gained an hour and a half of time, and then left with his four men, having in the meantime saved a considerable quantity of stores by sending them eastward on the railroad. He continued to picket with his handful of men, and kept up communication with General Lee by telegraph, and probably by his bold doings prevented the enemy from advancing further. Adjt.-Gen. H. T. Stanton, of the Confederate army, reported that when the Federal forces came to opposite the lead works on New river, and found the ferryboat was on the other side, they offered $500 to any one who would bring it over; but no one was mercenary enough to respond. They only reached the lead works by having a few bold troopers swim their horses across the deep river.

On the 2d of January, 1865, General Early had a conference with Gen. R. E. Lee, at Richmond, in reference to the difficulties that confronted him in the Shenandoah valley, the lower portion of which was still held by a large army under Sheridan, while but the fragments of an army, chiefly of broken down cavalry, remained in his command. Lee told Early that he was left in the Valley to [536] create the impression that his force was much larger than it really was, and he instructed him to put on a bold front and do the best he could in holding Sheridan at bay.

In consequence of a great drought, during the summer of 1864, the corn crop in the Valley was a short one, and Sheridan had destroyed much of the crops of small grain and hay. This scarcity of subsistence compelled Early to send Fitz Lee's two brigades of cavalry and part of his artillery to General Lee at Petersburg, and King's battalion of artillery to southwest Virginia. Subsequent withdrawals left Early's army consisting of two small brigades, less than a full regiment in numbers, of Wharton's infantry division, Nelson's battalion of artillery, and the cavalry of Lomax and Rosser.

Early established his headquarters in Staunton, placed his artillery in a camp near Waynesboro, cantoned Wharton's infantry near Fishersville, and widely and far to the front distributed his cavalry—practically almost disbanded it—on outpost duty, in Piedmont, in the Valley and in Appalachia, in camps where forage could be obtained for their horses. Wickham's brigade of cavalry at Barboursville, held the line of Robertson river from its head near Milam's gap, and down the Rapidan to the vicinity of Raccoon ford. Rosser's brigade, with headquarters at Swoope's, eight miles west of Staunton, had its advanced pickets at Milford, in the Page valley of the Shenandoah, on the line of Stony creek near Edenburg, in the main Shenandoah valley, at Harper's Ferry, on Lost river, and on the South Fork of the Potomac, some miles south of Moorefield, while on the west it occupied McDowell. Imboden's brigade, with headquarters at the Upper Tract in Pendleton county, some ten miles north of Franklin, picketed the South Branch of the Potomac, well toward Moorefield, and the North Fork of the Potomac, on the road leading northwest from Franklin. William L. Jackson's brigade, with headquarters at the Warm Springs, picketed the line of Jackson's river, at Hightown and points to the south of that, Cheat mountain, on the Staunton and Parkersburg turnpike, near the Big Spring beyond Marlinton, and points in the upper Greenbrier valley. McCausland's brigade, with headquarters at Callahan's, west of Covington, had a camp of observation near the White Sulphur Springs and picketed at Lewisburg. Lomax had his headquarters at Millboro, [537] on the Virginia Central railroad, and Payne's brigade was encamped near Lexington. Such was the disposition, in widely scattered camps of a few cavalrymen at each place, many miles from headquarters, with numerous intervening mountains and streams to cross, when Sheridan began his second Valley campaign, starting from Winchester on the 27th of February, 1865.

Rosser's expedition to Beverly, western Virginia, was one of the striking episodes of the early part of the year 1865. Leaving his camp, near Swoope's, on the Virginia Central railroad, eight miles west of Staunton, on January 7th, he crossed the Big North, Shenandoah, Shaw's ridge and Bull Pasture mountains, and encamped that night at McDowell, on the Bull Pasture river. On the 8th, crossing Jackson's River mountain, passing through Monterey and crossing the Alleghany mountain, he encamped at Yeager's, on the Back Alleghany, near the old encampment of Gen. Edward Johnson during the previous winter. On the 9th, crossing Greenbrier river and the Cheat mountains and river, he encamped at Stipe's, near the western foot of Cheat mountain, not far from Huttonsville. On the 10th, marching through Huttonsville and down Tygart's valley, he attacked the Federal camp, that night, at Beverly, having proceeded from Huttonsville on byways east of the Tygart's Valley river, and thus was enabled to attack the enemy's camp in the rear, turning its fortifications, which were constructed with reference to an attack from Parkersburg on the west to Beverly. Just before crossing Files creek, on the north side of which was the encampment of the Eighth and Thirty-fourth Ohio volunteer infantry, General Rosser divided his command into two portions—the Eighth Virginia mounted infantry, commanded by Colonel Cooke moved to the left and attacked the eastern side of the Federal camp, interposing itself between that camp, which was just to the north of Beverly, and its fortifications, thus preventing its occupation; while Rosser's brigade, composed of the Eleventh, Twelfth and Seventh Virginia cavalry regiments and the Eighth Virginia of Payne's brigade, moved farther to the right and attacked the northern side of the camp. The attack was a complete surprise and success.

After caring for his prisoners, destroying the encampment and recuperating his command, on the morning of [538] the 11th, Rosser, later in the day, started upon his return. and on the 18th reached his old camp near Swoope's.

On the 18th of January, Echols' old brigade of Wharton's division, left for Dublin Depot in southwest Virginia, and McCausland's came to Fishersville, en route to its winter quarters in Alleghany and Greenbrier counties. On the 20th, Jackson's cavalry came, from toward Gordonsville, on its way to winter quarters in Bath and adjacent counties. On the 22d the Federal cavalry captured Early's picket at Edenburg, but was repulsed and the picket retaken. The month of January was very cold and stormy, with intervals of thawing which broke up the roads and made traveling very difficult.

On the 2d of February, two battalions of artillery, under Col. Thomas L. Carter, left the vicinity of Waynesboro and went to Richmond. On the 7th snow fell to the depth of eight inches, interrupting railway communication. On the 8th, Payne's brigade received orders to cross the Blue ridge, from Lexington, where it had gone into camp. There was sadness at headquarters on hearing of the defeat of the Second corps near Petersburg, and of the death of Gen. John Pegram, commanding one of its divisions, who had begun his military career at Rich mountain in the early part of July, 1861. On the 9th, Gen. Fitz Lee left for Richmond On the 20th a portion of the general hospital of the army, which had so long been located at Staunton, was removed to Richmond, and on the 22d the Churchville company of cavalry also marched for Petersburg.

On the 24th of February, Major-Generals Crook and Kelley, of the Federal army, were brought as prisoners to Staunton, by a squad of McNeill's company of partisan rangers, having been boldly and adroitly captured from their beds at Cumberland, Md., in the midst of an army of 5,000 men, and brought out on the night of the 21st, mounted on their own horses. General Early interviewed these two Federal officers, and General Crook, who was in command of the Federal army at the battle of Cedar Creek, on the morning of September 9th, in the absence of General Sherman, confessed to him that the Sixth corps was as badly damaged, or nearly so, as were the Eighth and Ninth, by Early's attack, and was, in his opinion, in no condition to resist a third attack, if such had been made. [539]

On the 27th of February, the regular monthly court day of Augusta county, there was a large meeting of the citizens of the city and county, which was earnestly addressed by Hon. John Randolph Tucker, Hon. A. H. H. Stuart and others, in reference to supplying the wants of Lee's army. The meeting was quite enthusiastic, and a large subscription of supplies and money was promptly made by those present.

On the 28th of February the enemy was reported as again marching up the Valley with a large force, rumor saying that it was Hancock with 20,000 men. Its advance reached Mt. Jackson the night of the 27th and approached Harrisonburg late on the 28th. Great excitement prevailed in Staunton, military stores were removed and arrangements made for breaking up camp. Many citizens left for places of greater safety. On the 1st of March, General Early broke camp at Staunton and the last train left for the east at 4:30 p. m., just after Early and his staff left Waynesboro, where the army had been ordered to concentrate. The enemy came on rapidly, driving before it the small force of cavalry that opposed its progress, capturing the wagons and cattle of refugees that were trying to escape along the Valley turnpike, and encamped south of Middle river, some four miles from Staunton, some of its scouts coming into the city during the night. It was afterward reported that quite a number of ‘Jessie scouts,’ dressed as Confederate soldiers, had not only been in Staunton during the day, but that they had actually assisted in loading the railway trains. A thaw had taken place so that the roads were badly broken up and the mud very deep, except on the macadamized Valley turnpike. The mud was particularly deep between Staunton and Waynesboro, making it very difficult to move trains and artillery. Wharton strongly picketed the road at Fishersville and spent the night in his old camp. The movement of the enemy was so sudden and unexpected that it was impossible to collect the widely scattered cavalry, and Rosser had but about a score of men to watch the enemy's movements. Early's wagon train encamped beyond South river at Waynesboro, in the entrance to Rockfish gap.

On the 2d of March, Wharton's division reached Waynesboro at an early hour, and was put in line of battle, his whole force being only about 800 men, with his left on [540] the northwest front of the town and his right near the Central railway. He was located on a ridge, on the western edge of the town, with four pieces of artillery placed on his right, near the railroad and on the River road, and on the road leading to Staunton. His left rested in the edge of a small body of woods. The day was bitterly cold, with a biting wind and a steadily falling, heavy sleet. Sheridan came on, at an early hour, and drove in Early's pickets, having destroyed the railroad bridge over Christian's creek as he advanced. He first made a feint of attacking and then fell back, creating the impression that he had retired and gone into camp.

At about 2 p. m. he again advanced in force and formed in line of battle about a mile in front of Waynesboro, across and at right angles to the Staunton road, with skirmishers in front and deployed some distance to the left. Early's artillery opened on this advance, especially that near his left, breaking the enemy's line and compelling them to fall back, seemingly, as could best be observed through the blinding sleet for some distance; but about 3 p. m. a heavy mass of cavalry that had been moving, concealed, from the Federal right, came through the open woods and turned Early's left, which made but a feeble resistance, with its little band of benumbed men, against the mass of well-mounted cavalry that fell on them. The whole line at once gave way, and wild panic and stampede took place. The enemy, its whole force being cavalry and mounted infantry, dashed furiously forward into the swarm of flying men, following those that escaped across the river and the Blue ridge at Rockfish gap, capturing all the artillery and trains and about 1,000 prisoners, many of them citizens and convalescents who had retreated with the army from Staunton. General Early and most of his staff escaped to the mountain. The discomfiture was complete, and nothing was now left to oppose the advance of Sheridan across the Blue ridge and along the line of the Central railroad toward Richmond, or toward James river to cross to Lee's rear, which it did that night and on the morning of the following day, after sending a brigade back down the Valley, with the prisoners and a few of the captured wagons and artillery, but leaving many of the latter stuck in the mud between Staunton and Waynesboro.

On the 4th, Rosser, having collected a portion of his [541] command, followed down the Valley, after the force conveying the prisoners, and encamped at Middle river. On the 5th, William L. Jackson arrived at Buffalo gap and sent a portion of his cavalry to aid Rosser, by way of the War Springs turnpike to Harrisonburg, where Rosser fell on the enemy's rear, late in the day, and pursued them to Melrose. On .the 6th, Colonel Smith's brigade followed down the Valley to join Rosser, who pursued the enemy to Rude's hill, where he again made a vigorous attack on their rear, on the 7th, and came very near recapturing the Confederate prisoners, McNeill having placed his rangers in front of them, at the bridge over the North Fork, thus bringing them between two fires, but they escaped by a ford on a farm road leading west. ward. Rosser made his attack at 10 a. m. This was probably the last noteworthy engagement that took place in the Shenandoah valley, where more than a hundred notable conflicts had been engaged in during the Confederate war.

On the 9th of March, General Rosser, who was now the ranking officer remaining in the Valley, having collected quite a body of his cavalry and learning that Sheridan's cavalry had turned from Charlottesville toward Lynchburg, determined to intercept and turn them back. Imboden's brigade, from the South Branch valley, reached Stauntonon the 10th, and on the 11th Rosser marched, at sunrise, with about 500 men, toward Lexington, encamping at Bell's, beyond Midway; marching at sunrise of the 12th, crossing the Blue ridge at Tye River gap, then by way of Massie's mills and Fleetwood and on by Hubbard's to Harris', three miles beyond Lovingston, where he went into camp at midnight. Sheridan had been frustrated in his attempt to get to the rear of Lee's army by finding that the bridge across the James, at Hardwicksville, was burned, and had turned down the river toward Scottsville, destroying property of all kinds as he went.

On the 13th, Rosser took the old stage road leading toward Charlottesville as far as Rockfish river, where he turned, through byways, toward Scottsville on the James, which he passed through, and marched down the river for five miles, following Sheridan's rear, along desperately muddy and badly cut up roads, until 10 p. m. On the 14th the pursuit was continued for 20 miles to [542] Columbia, where a rest of three hours was taken, and then the march was continued across to the ‘Three-Chop’ road, some 15 miles, to Hadensville, where camp was taken at 11 p. m. Evidence of destruction of property of all kinds lined the roads that Rosser followed.

Marching again on the 15th, by way of Thompson's cross-roads, Payne's mill, Salem church, the Louisa road and Goodall's tavern, Ashland was reached and bivouac taken at 11 p. m., the enemy having been driven from that place about dark, by a force from Richmond. On the 16th Rosser moved toward Hanover Court House. On the 27th of March the brigades of Jackson and Imboden, returning to the lower Valley, reached Churchville, eight miles northwest of Staunton, having turned back from following after Sheridan at Hanover Junction. On the 30th, Gen. L. L. Lomax was ordered to take command of the Valley district.

On April 3d rumors reached Staunton, first that Richmond had been evacuated, and second that the Federals were again coming up the Valley, and that some 300 had reached Woodstock, but that Col. C. T. O'Ferrall had attacked these in their camp at Hawkinstown and routed them. Lomax at once impressed teams to haul his stores to Lexington. On the 4th the enemy advanced to Fisher's Hill and on the 5th to Maurertown, the Confederate cavalry skirmishing with them as they advanced. On the 6th, report having arrived that the enemy had again retired down the Valley, Lomax started toward Lexington and marched ten miles. On the 7th, passing through Lexington and by way of the mouth of Buffalo, the march was continued to the Rope Ferry, on James river below Balcony Falls, a distance of 46 miles. Great excitement prevailed among the people, and wild rumors of every kind were flying about.

On Saturday, April 8th, Lomax continued his march down the James, by the Amherst road, to Lynchburg, reaching there with his staff about 2 p. m., followed by his command after dark. That city was found greatly excited at the near approach of the enemy from the west, a few hundred as reported, and the citizens had determined to surrender the place. General Lomax soon restored confidence, and collecting convalescents and other soldiers that had straggled in, he took possession of the trenches covering the front of the city; but soon learning that the [543] force from the west had retired, and hearing rumors that disaster had overtaken General Lee's army at Appomattox Station, he marched toward Farmville, but returned and encamped near Lynchburg, his command having traveled 36 miles.

On Sunday, April 9th, General Lomax, accompanied by Engineer Hotchkiss, made an inspection of the defenses of Lynchburg, then went to his camp, three miles down the James, where rumor after rumor came in, saying that General Lee had had a battle on the 8th, losing most of his train and artillery; and that there was further combat on the morning of the 9th, when he had surrendered. These rumors were confirmed, later in the day, although there were some officers present who were of the opinion that Lee had escaped, with part of his army, toward Danville. Gloom and sadness pervaded the entire community. Later in the day Generals Rosser and Munford arrived, with the remnants of their forces and Lynchburg swarmed with broken and fugitive fragments of commands.

On the 10th, Lomax marched, at 6 a. m., toward Danville, by way of Rustburg, his command reaching Pannill's bridge, on the Staunton, or Roanoke river. He established his headquarters four miles further on at Mc-Daniel's, after a ride of 30 miles. Rosser, with his staff, rode on to Danville, expecting to meet Gen. R. E. Lee and his army at that point. The whole country was full of soldiers claiming to have escaped from Lee's surrender. On the 11th, Lomax's command marched, by way of Chalk Level, to seven miles beyond Pittsylvania Court House, toward Danville. On the 12th positive and reliable information was received that Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered himself and the army of Northern Virginia. As soon as the troops were reliably informed as to this momentous and opinion-changing event, a complete demoralization and disintegration of the cavalry and artillery of Lomax's command took place; nearly all the Virginia troops determining to go home, as the surrender of General Lee led them to firmly believe that there was no further hope for the Confederacy. Large numbers of soldiers swarmed across the country that had left the army of Northern Virginia without surrendering, though but few had brought away their arms. A portion of the cavalry went away during the night of the 11th. On the 12th [544] Col. William Nelson, one of the most chivalric of an army of chivalrous men, disbanded his artillery battalion, leaving his guns at Pittsylvania Court House, and distributing the horses among his men, as he sadly bade them Godspeed to their homes. General Lomax went to Danville to see the secretary of war; his cavalry division melted away during the day, and but few were left to follow the gallant Gen. William L. Jackson, as, indulging a forlorn hope, he turned back toward the Valley. General Rosser, after having conferred with the secretary of war, John C. Breckinridge, at Danville, rode back to Lynchburg and disbanded his division. Nearly every house in all the region westward from Appomattox was full of soldiers returning to their homes, and of deserters and skulkers that were coming out of their holes.

The cavalry from Grant's army reached Lynchburg on the 13th. The remnants of Jackson's and Lomax's divisions of cavalry, that had retired to the Valley, disbanded at Buchanan, on the 15th, until the 1st of May. On the 17th it was learned that General Hancock, in command of the Federal forces in the lower Valley, had invited all soldiers in that region, belonging to the army of Northern Virginia, to come in and be paroled on the same terms as were those that were captured at Appomattox Court House, saying that all that did this would be permitted to remain, undisturbed, at their homes. The proposition of President Lincoln that Virginia should come back to the Union, without conditions, gained circulation on the 18th, and exercised a favorable influence upon the entire community.

Late in the month of April, bands of marauders terrorized the people by gathering up what they claimed to have been Confederate government property. In reality they were stealing cattle, sheep and other things, wherever they could find them. A conflict of citizens took place with some of these, three miles from Staunton, on the 20th, on which day word came to the Valley that Lincoln had been assassinated. There was a general expression of indignation and profound regret, at this sad and untimely event.

On the 24th of April the full bench of the justices of the peace of Augusta county, one of the leading ones of Virginia in all respects, met in Staunton, to take steps to prevent the plundering and stealing that was going on [545] throughout the county by these bands of men pretending to gather up public property, and issued an address to all the people, calling on them to abide by the laws; the sheriff was also ordered to go on with the collection of taxes. Many men of the soldier element were still in a state of uncertainty as to what to do.

On the 29th, about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, some 800 Federal soldiers marched into Staunton and went into camp near the city. They were very quiet and disturbed no one. Generals Rosser and William L. Jackson, who were in Staunton, left in the morning of that day. On Monday, May 1st, the Federal provost marshal commenced paroling soldiers of the Confederacy, more offering for parole than could be accommodated. Large numbers of negroes collected at the Federal camp. Rosser and Jackson, with a few followers, left for the southwest of the Valley on the morning of the 2d, and the Federal troops left Staunton, returning toward Winchester.

On Monday, May 8th, many of the citizens of Augusta county met in Staunton, declaring that armed resistance had ceased in Augusta county and that the only way to make the laws conform to those of the United States was, from necessity, to call a convention of the State of Virginia, on the basis of the members of the house of delegates, and recommending the appointment of a committee to go to Richmond and ascertain whether the Federal authorities would allow such a body to meet and deliberate. Gen. John B. Baldwin endorsed the resolutions, in forcible and patriotic remarks, and they were unanimously adopted, and the chairman was authorized to appoint the committee. This action by this influential county and the able committee named to represent it, finally led to the appointment of a committee of nine, representing the whole State, that had much to do in securing the political rehabilitation of Virginia and her ultimate restoration to the Union. [546]

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