Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bushwhacking in Braxton County

More than fifty years after the Civil War old Jacob Heater was helped to write his reminiscences of the war. The Braxton Democrat printed his story in 1920. It was reprinted in The Haymond Family Newsletter March 1998. Our thanks to the newletter's editor Billie Jo Runyon of Colleyville, TX for sharing this valuable window into history.

Below, Jacob Heater, who was in his early teens during the Civil War, tells of attacks by Union soldiers on men (and their families) whom they believed were bushwhackers. The attacks occurred on Salt Lick and in Heaters, just a couple miles apart on the Gauley Pike and just over the hill from the Oil Creek valley.

In Heater's report the Union soldiers identified the following men as "bushwhackers," which is an unflattering term for people fighting in the war not as members of the military, but on their own authority.
~ Benjamin Haymond (The author explains why Haymond chose to become a bushwhacker.)
~ Tom Stout (the author says Stout was not guilty in that instance.)
~ John Heater (the author's father)
~ Samuel Singleton (Again, the author explains why Singleton chose to become a bushwhacker.)

The stories also mention
~ Samuel Sanford Skinner (brother of Orlando's Alexander Skinner.)
~ Wyatt and Squires
~ Enoch Heater (Enoch is supposed to have served the Union in Co. A 10th WV.)
~ Mary (Heater) Bragg (the author's sister)
~ Hedding and Sarah (Haymond) Squires (Sarah was bushwhacker Benjamin Haymond's first cousin. We don't yet know if the "Squires" mentioned by the author is Hedding, his father, or another Squires.) )

For an overview of the Civil War in the area see the May '07 entry Oil Creek in the Civil War
. . . . .
"Some Civil War Reminiscences"
by Jacob Heater
the Braxton Democrat, Sutton, WV, dated March 4, 1920.

(Mr. Heater, who served in the Confederate Army, is about 70 years old. The article was written by him for the United Daughters of the Confederacy of Clarksburg, where he now resides, and is published in the Democrat at the request of some of his friends. -- Editor)

No historian will ever recount the many acts of cruelty and suffering among our own people during the Civil War. It is not my intention to kindle the fires again, but to give in a straight forward manner, without any impartiality whatever, the following facts. It may be useful in paralleling these days with those of today in Europe. It was my intention to write this article many years ago, when my physical and mental condition was much stronger than it is today; but never had it put in print, for the reason that I had never been to interview any of the witnesses to the tragedy. And now I learn what was gathered from hearsay does not differ very materially from the story of one who bears the scars today. If any difference, the story from his own lips is more horrible. But these things are facts, and we challenge any person now living to prove anything to the contrary. A wish many can produce a strong argument on any subject, be it right or wrong. We all know there are always two sides to any controversy.

In the early 60's much like today, people talked very little of anything except war, and war we had with all its tragical events. The tongue nor the pen nor the hand of the artist can portray the human mind the realities of war. We who have participated in it are unable to give a very vivid picture of it, but it is indelibly stamped on memory, as if it were only yesterday.

Some time in June, a small force of federal soldiers, under the command of General Tyler, invaded what is now West Virginia. When they reached Braxton and Gilmer counties, they met opposition. On their way from what is now Burnsville, West Virginia, to Sutton they found the road obstructed by felled trees, which was the beginning of hostilities.

Benjamin Haymond’s Story
The man living nearest the obstruction was Benjamin Haymond, a man of more than ordinary intelligence, a kind husband and father, and highly respected by his neighbors. He was a fine singer and violinist. He believed in getting all the pleasure out of life there was in it. His blue-coated visitors placed Mr. Haymond under cover. They took him out in the hot sun and compelled him to wield an axe until his hands were blistered. When he gained his liberty he shouldered his gun and swore vengeance on his persecutors. He and a few of his neighbors armed themselves as best they could and commenced a war on their own "hook."

They neither asked for quarter nor gave any. The first man they killed was a federal cavalryman named Thomas Devolt, who was detailed to guard the mail carrier between Weston and Sutton. The mail carrier made his escape in the direction of the town of Sutton. He met a few soldiers at a farmer's house and when he told his story the farmer jumped to the conclusion that Tom Stout and his sons had killed the guard. The officer said, "Where does Tom Stout live?" The farmer replied, "Down the road, up a holler to the left."

Isaac Stout’s Story
The first house they came to they thought to be the place they were looking for. They raised their guns to shoot the man just entering the door, but he got inside too quickly. They approached the house and asked the man his name. He told them it was Sanford Skinner. "Well," said the officer, "you were lucky to get in the house so quickly. Where is Tom Stout?" Mr. Skinner told the gentleman he lived a short distance down the road, up a small stream to the left. They found Mr. Stout and his two boys at home -- one a young man, the other a boy of fifteen years. They saw the soldiers coming and could easily have made their escape, but as they were innocent of any wrong they never thought of trying to get away. Now we have the words from the lips of a man who was at that time a boy of fifteen years of age -- Mr. Isaac Stout, a wealthy farmer of Gilmer County, and one of the directors of the Burnsville Exchange Bank. Mr. Stout gives a vivid description of what followed. "The officer in charge of the soldiers had a black beard, black eyes, and was the most vicious looking man I have ever seen. He told us to fall in. My father says, 'Are you going to take the boy?' He replied, 'We are going to take all of you.' After crossing Salt Lick Bridge and going to within a short distance of where the cavalryman had been killed, they were told to halt in the middle of the road and prepare to die. Mr. Stout fell on his knees to plead for his life and the lives of his sons. While on his knees they shot him through the heart and then, running bayonets through his body, pushed him over the bank out of the road. The oldest boy started to run. When he jumped over the bank they fired at him and the powder from one of the guns burned his neck. The little boy walked up to one of the soldiers pleading for his life, saying 'Oh, don't kill me.' The soldier drew up his gun and said, 'Don't come near me.' At that he turned to see what was going on behind, when one of the guards fired at his feet with an old army musket loaded with round and three buckshot. The ball just grazed his head and the three buckshot hit him in the face. One entered the lower jaw and took off a piece of the bone and some teeth and out the edge of his tongue. His tongue is crooked today, but the
injury did not affect his speech. The other two buckshot lodged in his cheekbones and the scars are yet plainly visible.

The writer wishes to make this assertion, and there is not a shadow of a doubt about it: Thomas Stout and his sons were innocent of what they were charged with, or of any wrong doing whatever, as the child yet unborn. Mr. Stout says the shock knocked him to the ground, and while suffering terrible from his wounds he could hear the mob shooting at his brother, saying "Hurry up, run." But he made his escape and reached the confederate lines and joined the army, and it may be supposed that he did his duty well in legitimate conflict.

When the war ended the young man returned to his home, or, more properly speaking, what had been his home, for nearly everything had been destroyed. He lived and died near the scene of his boyhood home just what he had always been -- a peaceable, law-abiding citizen loved and respected by all who knew him. His whole life showed the general character of the man. He never raised a hand to resent the cruelty and injustice done his father and brother. Now we will let Mr. Stout finish this little narrative.

"While they were chasing my brother I raised up on my elbows and looked at my father. He moved his head two or three times and died without speaking another word. When the soldiers came back they looked at me and probably thought I was dead. When they left I got up and started through the woods towards Mr. Wyatt's farm. When near the house Mrs. Wyatt saw me and did not know me, although we were neighbors. Then I had to go through a field to another piece of woods. They could have easily tracked me by the blood on the weeds. When I came to the fence I was getting very weak and could hardly get over. But as soon as I crossed the fence I found a small spring of water, with a little hole dug in the ground. I drank some of the water and bathed my face in it until it looked like blood. Then with great difficulty I started up the hill toward Mr. Squires' farm on Salt Lick.

When near the top of the hill I found more water running over a ledge of rock. Here I tried to wash off the blood, but it had little effect. When I got down to Mr. Squires' fence I saw his dog and knew him. The dog came to me. Then I motioned Mr. Squires and Enoch Heater, who were working in the field, to come to me. Mr. Squires said, "I don't know you. Is there somebody killed?" I nodded my head. "Is there any other person hurt? I shook my head. Mr. Squires said, "I don't know you, but come with me to the house and I will dress your wound." When I started to walk Enoch Heater said, "That's Isaac Stout." I nodded my head. He knew me by my walk. We were raised almost in sight of each other.

After my face was washed I picked out a long piece of lead that was lodged in my mouth. It appears that my jaw bone had shaved it off as slick as if out by a knife. It was intended for me to stay in the house and have the dog watch for the soldiers, but they came too soon and found me in the house. I heard one soldier say, "Oh, never mind; he will die anyway." It was the same gang that had done the shooting. Then I went out in the woods and crawled under a big log, and next day mother and sister came down to look for me. I heard mother calling my name, but could not answer her. I somehow managed to get up and go and meet her.

My face and breast were swollen terrible and I had a high fever. Mother took me to a cold spring. She had towels and as soon as one was warm she would put another in its place. Then mother would say, "Do you feel any better?" I would nod my head. It was several days before I could take any nourishment except in liquid form. Then mother had to go to some officer and get a permit to take my father home and give him a decent burial in the orchard close by our once happy home.

Our family are all gone but myself. After the war, I went down to Ben Haymond's and saw a cavalryman's sword and carbine. I said "Where did you get those things?" He said, "I took them off the man you and your father were shot for."

Mrs. Mary E. Bragg, now a resident of Clarksburg, W. Va. and a sister of the writer, who was living with our mother, little sisters and one brother close enough to the scene of this tragedy to hear the guns firing, knew some of the facts of this raid, but they must be omitted because they are unfit for publication. After murdering Mr. Stout they came down to our house. The sight could be equaled only by savages. They appeared to be imbued with the idea they could kill everybody on suspicion. Mother sat down in a chair and commenced to cry. One of the soldiers, with his sleeves rolled up and blood still on his hands and bayonet came up to mother and shook his bloody fist under her nose, saying, "Here is the blood of one dammed sechs and if only I had your husband I would fix him the same way." My sister says they dug a little hole in the ground near the road, dragged Mr. Stout's body into it, covered it with a few leaves and a little dirt, and let it lay there for three or four days before his wife was allowed to remove it. When she came part of his face could be seen through the leaves and dirt. This is No. 1.

Samuel Singleton’s Story
Almost in sight of where this brutal murder was committed was another, which for cruelty and brutality, has scarcely been equaled in ancient or modern times. Whether or not it was done by the same persons we do not know. We only know they wore the uniforms of U.S. soldiers. About the same time there lived at what is now Heaters a well-to-do farmer named Samuel Singleton with his wife and four children. He was a man who believed in staying at home and attending strictly to his own business. And the writer wishes to say that up to the time of the Civil War he was the best friend I ever had except my father and mother. The last words I ever heard him say was when we were starting to join the army. I asked, "Are you going to join the army?" The answer was quick and decisive, "No, I am going to do my fighting at home." It is a well known fact that up to that time he was a man who had never known fear and his arm had never met defeat. But it has been related; and I think from a reliable source, that when the soldiers came into the country he lost his nerve completely. He buried his clothes and money and it has been claimed that the money was never found. He took his horse and rifle and went to the woods. A few days later a bunch of soldiers passing a house saw a small boy start out with something they thought looked suspicious. They placed the boy under guard and frightened him and made him tell where he was going. Then they made him pilot him to where Mr. Singleton was camped.

Here is the boy's story: "When he got in sight of his camp, he was sitting on a log apparently asleep with his hand down and his rifle lying across his lap. Then several of the soldiers fired at him without saying a word. When he fell off the log they rushed up and prodded him with their bayonets. Then they tied his hands and feet together and ran a pole through them and two men at a time would carry him on their shoulders. When they came to John Heater's house they laid him down in the road and went in and asked Mr. Heater, "That is Sam Singleton, my neighbor. He lived in that house right up there." "Well, that is who we thought it was." They took him on, as if he were a hog, to his own house and threw him down in the yard in front of his wife and children, and when they cut the cords off his hands and feet, he opened his eyes and looked at them, turned over and died without speaking a word. A few minutes later General Tyler rode up to the house, got off his horse, called for water and towel, and got down on his knees and washed Mr. Singleton's face and shed tears over the lifeless body of his former friend.

About General Tyler and Bushwhackers
It was the writer's privilege to be personally acquainted with General Tyler before the war, and he was every inch a man; but it appears that he had got into an Old Dog Tray scrape. I think it is safe to say without fear of contradiction that neither General Tyler nor the administration at Washington was to blame for the wrongs done the noncombatants. While there were bush-whackers on both sides, the fact was deplored by law-abiding citizens. It is a well known fact that the day Thomas Stout was murdered he had just returned from a visit to some of his neighbors to plead with them to refrain from unlawful acts, as it was certain to be disastrous for innocent people. Such was the character of Thomas Stout. Of that there is not a shadow of a doubt. Now in my declining years, when the shadows are growing longer and the sun of life is sinking low in the west, I can view these past events with a clearer conception than ever before. It has often been my wish to see some fair-minded historian like Flavious Josephus take up the leaders of both sides, place them in the scales of justice and weigh them impartially and without prejudice. Read the histories of both sides and you find they are conflicting -- written generally with bias enough to confuse man's judgment. Not all the wrongs were done by bush-whackers. Some of them originated at headquarters.

Looking Back

The Hampton Roads conference is a mystery. The order sent from Washington to destroy the Valley of Virginia and the forty mile swath through the state of Georgia with its blackened chimneys when the south was virtually whipped to a frazzle will be blots on the memory of those who engineered it while history endures. When they kindled these fires they started a blaze that will burn forever. But no fair-minded man can blame the whole administration at Washington for all this wanton destruction. If someone should ask me who, in my judgment, were two of the most exalted types of manhood on either side, I would say unhesitatingly, Abraham Lincoln and General Lee. So, if future generations chance to read these lines they may see they were not written in a spirit of revenge. I have several reasons for writing this article. I do not believe there has been heretofore a single line written on these tragedies, and it is my wish to do what I can in my feeble way to vindicate my friends, so that future generations may know the truth. Of the children of these two men, but one of each are today living -- Isaac Stout of Sand Fork, Gilmer County, West Virginia, and Daniel Singleton of Heaters, W. Va.

Those who know anything about these tragedies from personal experience are few, being Hedding Squires and wife, of Shaversville, W. Va., Joseph Taylor of Newville, W. Va., Mary E. Bragg and Mary Wyatt, both of Clarksburg, W. Va. Most of the old people living today were but children when the war between the states was going on and were too young to comprehend the full meaning of it. Few people will ever understand what a sad retrospection it brings to the writer of these lines. But old age mostly thinks backward. I have not the flow of the English language to express correctly the deep sorrow my heart feels for the cruel manner in which my boyhood friends were murdered. To do the subject justice I would need the eloquence of Robert Ingersoll and the pathos of Robert Burns combined.

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