1864: “We Must Yet A While Live On Hope”

30th Novemeber 1864, Vaucluse

To tell you all that has happened since June, my own dear Cousin, would take long to write & long to read, but I will give you many items, along with the assurance that we have, in comparison with others, been truly blessed, God has cared for us & we adore His Holy Name….

….On the 19th of October you know our troops made an effort to retrieve their lost battle just a month before, altho’ that battle was nobly fought, but we were out numbered. We surprised the enemy & were going on victoriously; right through our Meadow the Federals were retreating, Waggons, Ambulances, &c. &c. the Yankee soldiers & Officers in our yard, upon the Platform, & we had every reason to expect a battle close upon us, when we saw a stand amongst the enemy, then they turned & all went back again, the day was lost to us, the terrific sound of musketry I had never imagined untill that day, cannon I have heard over & over, but not the musquetry so near us. We took in the beginning of the day many prisoners & they we retained, but altogether it was a sad affair, & much worse at Fishers Hill afterwards. On the 11th of this month [November] our troops came down again, Kershaw’s division encamped on our farm, the camp fires looked beautifully, & we felt glad to see our people once more, but alas! the loss to us was heavy, the timber & rails suffered, the last, more from the fire accidentally spreading, than their being taken; the next day they retreated again, & we are still in the hands of the enemy with this difference that for a long time we were in their lines. Sheridan’s headquarters were at Belle Grove on that other side of Middletown….

Now their whole Army consisting of three Corps is encamped on the other side of Newtown, stretching along I am sure I could not undertake to say where, but in good positions, fortifying themselves, taking stone fencing, Rails, plans, tearing down unhabited houses whenever it suits them, & using every thing they need, the whole neighborhood nearly seems turned out of doors, enclosures torn down, & the appearance of things sad indeed. Houses are searched, things stolen, food taken, but they are strangely kind in giving guards often….

Such a time as we had for 5 days [in August], when our troops returned, & the enemy schedadled. They broke into the smoke house, taking nearly all of our meat, three pieces of poor little Sue’s allowance, they went all over the house, where they chose to go, my room was locked, & fortunately they did not insist upon having it opened. One of them seized a Packet from Mary in which she had jewelry, bruised her arm to make her let it go, & carried it off, one of the kind ones alluded to, followed him & brought back her Mothers Picture set in gold, & an elegant bracelet Strother had given her when they were married. They shot the fowls, shot the Pigs, & carried them away in Bags, killed altogether every hog Strother had for his next year’s support, & many shoats, nine or ten Shoats which we had succeeded in putting out of the way were all that was left. They found out where the corn had been secreted took almost every bit, carried off green corn, took quantities of Hay….

Many persons have suffered far more than we have, poor things!!….

They are fearfully desolating every place, they tear down houses, & some poor families have to live on Rations principally that they obtain from the Yankees, others go north. Their Generals are very polite, guards are given continually, & we must yet a while live on hope…. One thing has distressed me much. My Darling [Frank’s] Camp Chest was broken open, Clothes taken, his Pistols, his Fine comb, I do not know what else, his shirts I had looked to for Randolph, we could not buy a piece of cotton to save our lives. Susan’s Boxes of glass, china, & books burst open, the outer door of my closet demolished nearly, the next door forced open & the lock broken, both the other doors forced open, they stole from one box 12 silver fruit knives that poor Sue valued so much….

Ann C. R. Jones to Lucy R. Parkhill, November 30, 1864

(Source: Colt, Margaretta Barton, Defend The Valley: A Shenandoah Family In The Civil War, New York, Orion Books, 1994. Pages 349-352.)

Battle of Cedar Creek

Ann Jones wrote this letter at the end of November, but she described events that took place in October and November during the 1864 Valley Campaign. She begins with a description of the Battle of Cedar Creek, fought on October 19.

Artist’s Depiction of Sheridan’s Ride at Cedar Creek (Public Domain)

Though driven south in the Shenandoah Valley the previous month, Confederate General Jubal Early decided to strike back. Early on the 19th, the Confederates sprang a surprise attack on the Union camps near Cedar Creek, initially driving three Federal corps from the field. However, as the Confederate tried to reorganize for a decisive pursuit, Union General Philip Sheridan arrived on the scene, helped to rally his soldiers, and responded with a swift counterattack. This time when the Confederate fled, the last attempt at a Southern offensive in the Valley ended. There would be other fights and skirmishes but only defensively from the Confederates.

The Battle of Cedar Creek is ranked with the Fall of Atlanta for helping Lincoln secure his second term as president in the the autumn election. It also finally opened the lower and middle Valley to Union control.

“The Burning”

In Shenandoah Valley history, say “The Burning” and it’s spelled with capital letters and sometimes still accompanied with bitter memories for the descendants of those who lived through that time in autumn 1864. It’s not a reference to a random fire, but rather to a period of weeks when the Yankees burned the agricultural produce, barns, and mills of the Valley, intending to leave nothing of value that could support or feed the Confederate army.

Long recognized as “Virginia’s breadbasket,” the Shenandoah Valley had been growing significant amounts of food and sending, selling, or getting requisitioned to supply Lee’s army. When Union General Sheridan took charge of the Valley district, he had orders to destroy its military value and did it so thoroughly that “crows had to carry their rations” when they flew over the region.

The Union soldiers were only supposed to destroy the items that could feed the army, but oftentimes the situations got out of hand and civilian’s personal possessions were taken or destroyed. This added to the stories about the period and fostered deep resentment that took decades to lessen.

Historical Musings

Mrs. Jones sent this letter to a friend in Florida, a state that experienced a very different kind of war than Virginia. As she penned the history, Ann Jones stayed at Vaucluse, a family home, located in a military no-man’s land, an area that both armies had fought and raided. Despite her personal possessions getting plundered, she clung to her religious faith and chose to be grateful that God still took care of her and her loved ones.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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