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The Burning of Hampshire County


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This section of newspaper articles and soldier's journal quotes is being added to the web site to give readers some indication of the devastation Hampshire County suffered during the Civil War. Of course, all contemporary accounts are quite biased, but one can deduce from them some facts and get a general picture of the personal suffering and the cost of war. Be sure to note the source of the quotes shown immediately after the quote. Most are Confederate; some are Union. We have made place names and important names bold so you may better locate the descriptions.

Federal Outrages

The Romney (Hampshire county, Va.,) Ingtelligencer, of August 9th, says:

The Federal forces in this and Hardy county, at this time, is not less that from 4 to 5,000. Many of our citizens have suffered greatly by these Hessians. John T. Pearce, Esq., has had taken off by them 60 head of fat cattle, 3 horuses, 1 mule, with wagon, and colored servant Harry. Col. E. M. Armstrong, damage done to house and furniture very great colored servant Maria, entices away by them. A W. McDonald, Jr.k Esq., furniture and house very much broken up - valuable library nealy destroyed. Mr. Wm. Barrick estimates his loss at $75. Mr. N. C. Smoot, list all his clothing, bedding, provisions, and nearly all his plates, knoves, forks, etc. together with most of his kitchen furniture. Mr. W. Saylor, nearly all his bedding, furniture, much of it broken, even down to looking-glass and infant's cradle. Also, fences burned, hen-roosts robbed, gardens pillaged, and, in short, neither person nor property safe, our informant says, when any of the troops are about. Colored servants especially in danger of being seized as contraband.

from: The Daily Dispatch, Aug 16, 1861 of Richmond, Virginia.


In a late Northern paper whose chief news you have anticipated in your enterprising columns from your correspondent at Norfolk, I have seen an account of what is either foolishly or facetiously termed "the battle at Romney." Battle forsooth! A battle won by "the brave Col. Dunning!"
   "You call this a battle, eh,
   "Soldiers term it but a brawl," says a Yeoman Captain to a cockney cit in an old play. From all I can learn of this affray as far as the fleet-footed Hessians were concerned, I would call it a foray of blood-thirsty, murdering vandal incendiaries. Leaving Romney about midnight on the 6th Inst. they marched in the most approved style of "forced ruffianism" towards Pleasant Dale, where they aroused the sleeping inhabitants by burning dwellings and barns. They applied the fiendish torch to the barn of Mr. Geo. Nealis and destroyed all his stock. Passing through Pleasant Dale the next house they fired was that of Mr. J. W. Albans, situated at Terra Cotte, on the Northwestern Turnpike. Then they cheeringly burnt the house of Mr. Daniel Haines, near Terra Cotte, en route to Hanging Rock. Then they set fire to the Dye House, two miles distant from Haines's house, shooting the cattle and destroying every conceivable object inflamable; and doing all this in the most fiendish spirit of vampire revelry. Coming towards Hanging Rock their dastardly march was impeded by the appearance of Capt. Hardy's Little Capon Company, a small militia corps, who seeing the 5,000 or more Hessians made good their retirement, but not until the cowardly enemy became much alarmed and somewhat panic struck, as "the brave Col. Dunning," who is better acquainted with the yard-stick than the sword, fancied the entire march would be interrupted - his superior numbers giving him full sway and making him monarch of all around.

Reaching Hanging Rock, a rock thirty-five feet high or thereabout, which partly covers or inclines to the Northwestern Pike road, they impressed a negro woman into their service, and by the most fearful threats induced her to reveal the locals of our few militia men, numbering about 250 or 300 men. Learning everything from this affrighted spy, still they dared not make a manly attack, but deployed and wormed themselves around and about rocks and mountain gaps and loopholes, and succeeded in surprising our little band of brave fellows, who stood manfully for nearly three-quarters of an hour against a galling fire coming from every point. The Hampshire militia, the Star Artillery, Spittler's regiment, and the Rockingham and Shenandoah militia, the Emerald Guards, with the few other forces whose titles I do not remember, acted as bravely and nobly as any men well could under the circumstances and the large odds against them.

Our heavy artillery was not in the best working order, though the cannoneers worked well and bravely on the two field guns they had. One of the cannoneers, Phil. Donohoe, while acting most gallantly at his gun, was shot down, but even then defied the cowardly enemy; but they succeeded in carrying off, in much fear, the two guns, yet not the caissons, as the latter were recaptured by our brave boys. Our militia, of 300 strong, retired before this strong force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery, nearly 6,000 strong, with a loss of three killed and two wounded and two missing. The enemy lost too, as blood trails were visible along their route evidently from either their dead or wounded. And this is what they term a battle! Oh! for a scourge to whip the varlets into Boston harbor. Having retired to Park's Hollow, five miles distant I believe from Hanging Rock, the enemy's cavalry cautiously, and ludicrously bungling in the shape of riding, followed. A small force of Colonel E. McDonnell's men came to our support, when our gallant boys rallied and drove the Hessians pell-mell back to Romney.

Some few of the Hessian officers and men who were hiding, and afterwards came out upon the road, renewed their incendiarism and destroyed a Mr. Oline's house, taking his clock and beehives to form a bon-fire. They then shot a poor, harmless shoemaker who was standing at the threshold of his house door, and, not satisfied with this, set fire to his house, burning the poor fellow to death, his agonizing shrieks being mimicked by them the while. Then they plundered and laid their thieving hands on everything, cursing and threatening the most foul and disgraceful terms the poor harmless women that came before their notice.

I have witnessed the scenes in the city of Paris when Lois Philippe, Rois de Francais, fled his troubled throne, and when an enraged mob hurled destruction in the royal parlors, drawing-rooms, and wine cellars, yet those acts were mild, as those of a mob, compared with these of the Hessian soldiers. And they call this "a battle!" Rather a piratical, incendiary mob . Voila tout.

Army of the Potomac, [Special Correspondence of the Dispatch] Independant Scout Bivouac, near Centerville, January 23, 1862 [unfortunately, we do not have the exact bibliographic reference for this newspaper article.]



The Union Restorers in Hampshire County.

Hampshire county presents a spectacle of what the South is to expect from a restoration of the Union by Federal arms. A portion of it was occupied for some weeks, until Gen. Jackson drove them out by a troop of [undecipherable] from Ohio. They advanced fifteen mules on the sparsely settled road leading from Romney to Winchester. The Captain of a Jefferson company stated to our informant, that on that road he counted the smouldering ruins of thirty-nine houses — burnt, not in the retreat, but in the advance of the invaders some weeks before, when there were but a few militia to dispute their progress. Not only were the houses and barns burned, but all the stock was killed.

A writer in a Northern papers says that the officers encouraged the men (so called) in this work. A negro woman begged for the privilege of taking her bed from a burning house, but it was refused. There were left but three houses on that road. One of these was occupied by a woman who told the soldiers that if they burned her house they would have to burn her in it, whereupon they proceeded to set it on fire in two places; but the heroic woman made her way through the bayonets of the savages and put the fire out. Strange to say, the soldiers left. By what means the other two houses were spared does not appear. The houses burned on the other roads near Romney brought up the number to fifty-five. The town itself, stripped of every fence and enclosure, and of [undecipherable] and sheds, for fuel, would have been burned but for the vigilance and energy of a more humane officer, (Col. or Gen. Landel[??]) who happened to be there. Near Blue's, where a large property was destroyed, there lived an old shoemaker, who stood in his door as the savages passed by; he was shot down where he stood, and his house set on fire, and his charred bones were found by our men among the ashes. Whether he was dead before the fire reached him, or whether he was burnt alive, is not known.

This is carrying out the programme laid down by the New York papers last spring, one of which pictured to his gloating imagination "the old man shot as he looked out of his window," and other atrocities which we need not name. We were laughed at by the better men of the North for believing that such things would ever be allowed or ever happen. But those who knew where the governing spirit of this invasion lay, and what it was, knew well enough at the time that these writers truly represented it. Murder, plunder, and fire, has characterized the whole war upon the border. That it is countenanced, if not encouraged, at headquarters, is fairly inferable, from the fact that the Northern Government is doing what no other Government ever dare - "making war on the hospitals and on the sick," as England denominated the proposal to withhold medicines from France when Napoleon threatened her subjugation and ruin. The humanity and self-respect of England repudiated the measure, and history shows no other nation, except the Federal Government, which has ever been guilty of it.

from: Richmond Dispatch, Wednesday morning, Feb. 17, 1862


"What was once called Frenchburg"

Dear Sister,

I wrote a short note to you from the Cross Roads and for fear you could not get it I will write a few lines today to let you know my whereabouts.1 We left the Cross Roads the day after I wrote and took the road to Romney, marched ten miles and halted for the night without tents, but Capt. Gardner gave me the Quartermasters tent which I slept in that night and was glad to get it as it commenced snowing after I got to sleep.

The next morning the snow was about two inches deep and we were freezing around the fires, when an order came from the General to the Captain to go on to Romney with baggage as fast as possible, a distance of twenty-six miles.

We got ahead of the army, marched twenty-one miles to a small place called Frenchburg or what was once called Frenchburg, as a day or so previous the Yankees had burnt every house in the town where we had intended to encamp for the night but as it was snowing very hard and no house to go to we marched on within four miles of Romney to an old half burnt house where we staid until the next morning when we marched into Romney, the first Infantry troops that got to the place, so it may be said that the Liberty Hall Volunteers captured Romney.

We have now a very comfortable house near headquarters. This is one of the dirtiest holes any man ever came into. The Yankees have destroyed all the fences around the place and mined everything; they certainly got one scare when they left here as they did not pretend to take anything with them.

from: Ted Barclay, Liberty Hall Volunteers: Letters From The Stonewall Brigade (1861-1864); Charles W. Turner, Editor, Rockbridge Publishing Company, Berryville, Virginia, 1992 p. 40-41



Unionists versus Secessionists

Our Bedford (Pa.) Correspondence, Bedford, August 9, 1861

There is dissatisfaction among the rebels in Hamphsire county, Virginia, on acount of their losses at Manassas. Stage load after stage load of dead have been brought home to the county for interment, General Johnston having put the soldiers from the border (many of whom holding Union sentiments having been impressed) in the most dangerous positions in battle. It has hurt the cause of secession very much in northern Virginia. There has been much treachery toward Union men in the effort to get Virginia out of the Union, and the recoil is coming. I have this information from one of our officers of high rank in Col. Biddic's command.

from: The New York Herald, August 13, 1861



"Barbarous and Wanton Outrages"

Camp Romney, Va., January 20, 1862

...The Yankees have been permitting the most barbarous and wanton outrages in this quarter 40 or 50 houses have been burnt in the county of Hampshire, (so I am told by several residents)—I counted twelve different establishments immediately on the road, in the space of 4 or 5 miles, burnt to the ground. Some of the houses were two, and three storied buildings with 4 or 5 chimneys. 9 of the establishments I saw were dwelling houses. All of the outhouses, fences, etc. were burnt also. 2 were mills and one was a large tannery establishment, with a fine new steam engine attached. The families were driven out of some of the houses, tho' most o,f them were vacant. One house was inhabited by a shoe maker; his body was found and dragged out by our troops, who came up a little after the Yanks had been at their honorable work. He was said to have been shot by the vile savages while in his own house, (he was a non-combattant) and then they set fire to it, and left him to his fate. The Yankees fully intended to burn Romney, but were deterred from it by something or other. Some say Genl [Benjamin E] Kelley (a Virginian in the Yankee army) interceded for it. A strong guard was posted to prevent its destruction, as the wretches evacuated the place, so I was told by the residents of the place. Even tho they did not burn, they have made the once beautiful little town look desolate indeed. Old Dr. Foote, a Presbyterian divine, the owner and principal of a once flourishing and large institute, who preached to us last Sunday, at the end of his sermon told us, with his eyes full of tears, and his voice tremulous with suppressed emotion, that he 'prayed God to forgive him, if he had displayed a vindictive spirit the day before when he walked through his once handsome establishment, now ruined by the fell hands of the ruthless invader, when he entered his library once filled and beautified by 3500 choice & valuable volumes, of which only 500 defaced books remained when he found of innumerable manuscripts, and valuable papers and relics, that it took a long life time to accumulate, all destroyed. When he saw the loved and once beautiful home, the abode of his wife & his children, now in ruins; when he saw the homes of his friends and neighbors laid waste; and the town that they left flourishing, beautiful, a few months before, when they had fled before the invader; when he saw
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for 15 miles, as he returned from Winchester, the homes of the country people in smouldering ruins!' Its really sorrowful to see this country where the Yankees have held sway. The negroes and cattle have been carried off in large numbers. Provender of all kinds, and all kinds of eatables, have been destroyed or used; no remuneration being made the owners. Its hard to help feeling vindicative—to keep from taking vengeance, when we have opportunities as we frequently have in the numerous skirmishes we have with them...

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Camp Zollicoffer 5 miles from Winchester
...Henry, it would make your blood boil to see what I have seen of Yankee vandalism, since I have been over in this part of Va. I counted immediately on the road from Martinsburg to Romney and from Winchester to Romney, no less than twenty-eight different establishments. Five of the number were mills, one church, and one large tannery—the rest were dwelling houses, many of which were two story buildings, with several outhouses and large barns, stables etc., attached. I saw large numbers of hogs of all sizes lying about in the corners of the fences. In some places whole pens of fattening hogs were killed, and lay dead in large puddles of blood. All this was just on the road. It was snowing and raining while we were passing this portion of country, so I could not look about me much. I was told by several residents that I conversed with, that the Yankees destroyed hogs, cattle, sheep, dogs, & horses (that were unfit for use)—besides carrying off all the horses, etc. they wanted. We are now quartered at the foot of a mountain some five miles northwest of Winchester in a body of timber...

from: Rebel Brothers: The Civil War Letters of the Truehearts; Edward B. Williams; Texas A&M University Press, College Station, Texas, 1995


To see a map of the Northwestern Turnpike around Frenchburg click here. Frenchburg is where the Northwestern Turnpike crosses the Little Cacapon River. One building is marked "French" for Mr. French's store from which the community took its name. This map was drawn around 1830 - 30 years before the Civil War.