A Year From Home: a young boy’s Civil War story from the Greenbrier Valley – Part 2 of 2

. . . [There] he was arrested, as stated, telling the Captain in command who he was and what he was there for, he got the messenger to Aunt . . . .

[f you missed Part 1 of this story, read it here first, before reading this one… He went from Illinois back to Greenbrier Co., Virginia, for college in 1860, then the Civil War broke out, and his father attempted to rescue him, but got arrested as a spy….]

In the meantime he had sent the boy back to Fayetteville with the horses. It did not take long for Aunt and the men she had with her to convince the Captain that father was not a spy but was on a legitimate errand. So he was released but the Captain told father he would have to report to his Colonel at Lewisburg what he had done and advised father to stay at Aunt’s for a few days.

Johnson’s Crossroads, in the valley of Wolf Creek, Monroe Co., W. Va.

We did so for three days, and then went to Monroe County where my father’s brother in law David Riffe lived. This was about fifteen miles from Aunt Evelyn’s. The next day we went with Uncle into a meadow to assist him and his force to put up hay.

The Wolf Creek valley, looking towards the Greenbrier River.

The meadow was bottom land on the Greenbrier river. The turnpike ran around the ridge above the meadow. It was shortly after noon when we saw a troop of Confederate Cavalry in their grey uniforms on the turnpike. When opposite to the meadow, they stopped, threw down the rail fence and rode to where father, Uncle and the rest of us were. The lieutenant in command asked for Morris Johnson. Father answered and was informed he was under arrest as a spy, that the Captain at the Blue Sulphur Springs had made his report to his Colonel at Lewisburg and he had been ordered to take his troop of ten and rearrest father, take him to Lewisburg where he would be tried by a court martial on the charge of being a spy from the Union Army in West Virginia.

A meadow along the Greenbrier River, in Monroe County.

Father and Uncle David Riffe consulted and the result was that I should ride to Johnson’s Cross Roads, some 8 miles where two of my father’s uncles, Uncle Jimmy [ James W. Johnson, father of Caleb L. Johnson, who purchased Willowbrook in 1889] and Uncle Barney [ Barnabas Johnson brother to James, as well] lived, notify them and ask them to immediately go to Lewisburg, getting as many of their sons, cousins of father, to accompany them. Especially if they had any gold.

Wolf Creek, on what I believe was one of the Johnson farms.

I was then to go to my grandfather Ellis’ home and get him to go to Lewisburg. He lived some 7 miles from Johnson’s Cross Roads. Then I was to go to Rocky Point [Sinks Grove, Monroe County, WV] another village in Monroe Co. and get John Campbell, a lawyer, to also go to Lewisburg.

Caleb L. Johnson, son of “Uncle Jimmy” Johnson, and cousin of Edden, with family members at Willowbrook. Circa 1894.

Other Johnson Family photos we found in Willowbrook:

I got to Uncle Jimmie’s gave my message and was assured by him that he would send to Uncle Barney and others and that they would at once, not waiting to next day, start for Lewisburg and he told me to hasten to grandfather Ellis. It was getting dark when I started from Johnson’s Cross Roads to grandfathers and I had to put up for the night about half way, at a Mr. George Haines, who had a grist mill on Wolf Creek.

One of the Johnson houses, still standing in Johnson’s Crossroads.

I told the who I was and where I was going. They knew my folks and before daylight Mrs. Haines woke me gave me breakfast and I went to grandfather Ellis, only that he had received word the day before through a friend that father met on the way to Lewisburg with the soldiers and had left at dark.

An old schoolhouse near Johnson’s Crossroads.

I then rode to Rocky Point (Sinks Grove, WV) for John Campbell, the lawyer only to find too that he had got word and had gone to Lewisburg. It was about fifteen miles from Rocky Point to Lewisburg over the Greenbrier Mountains. I made y way on a tired horse being a very tired and heartsick hungry boy.

What’s left of old downtown Sinks Grove, or “Rocky Point,” W. Va., in Monroe Co.

On the mountain I saw a woman near a cabin working at an outdoor baking oven, and nearby a small corn crib. I only had a 25 cent piece in money but realizing that my horse might give out, I asked the woman if I could not get a feed of corn for my horse proffering the money. She said I could and while my horse was eating, I sat and watched the woman take pies from the oven. Noticing my mouth watering, she asked me if I had any dinner, telling her no and saying “I have no more money,” she replied “You must be a northern boy to think you could not get something to eat without money, in Virginia” and with this she cut a big apple pie, handing half to me and stepping to a spring house near by brought a big bowl of sweet milk. I ate it so quickly that she gave me the other half. I have eaten pies and pies, all kinds of pies big and little since then, but I have never found one so good as the one that mountain Virginia woman gave me that day.

Monroe County, as seen from the top of Peters Mountain.

Proceeding on my way I soon came to the Greenbrier river, a wide dark looking stream. The road ran right into the water, and far across I could see where it came out of the water. It looked so deep and wide that I feared it was not a ford but a ferry although I could not see any ferry boat. Having learned to swim during the summer I thought it prudent to take off my clothes, tie the to the horn of my saddle, and if it was a ferry I might be able to swim out. My horse knew more than I did and merely followed the riffle, the water at no place coming up above his knees. I dressed hurriedly fearing some one might come along and see me.

Greenbrier River, as it runs along the border of Monroe County and Greenbrier County.

I reached Lewisburg about dark and as I had been there in the summer rode up to the hotel. On the veranda were a number of officers and I soon saw that father’s uncles and grandfather Ellis were among them. Father was in a room off the office under a guard of two soldiers with rifles. Grandfather took me to the dining room and got me some supper, had my horse taken to the stable and fed. He was permitted to take me to father and after a long consultation they concluded to send me to my aunt’s, as they feared the result of the court martial the next morning. I learned that a large number of relatives and former neighbors had come to Lewisburg to bear witness for father.

Old photo showing the Lewisburg Hotel, across from the Greenbrier Courthouse
What it looks like now.
An old photo showing Lewisburg, looking East.
Circa 1857 Beyer painting showing Lewisburg, looking East.
Drone view of downtown Lewisburg, W. Va. also looking mostly East. Note the old stone presbyterian church in the foreground, mentioned by Edden in his story.

I was put on my horse about 9 ‘o’clock and started for Aunt Eveline’s. The horse I was riding belonged to her, so was going home. It was thirteen miles over a mountain and it was pretty near daylight when I reached the house. I had slept in the saddle nearly the whole way.

The hours dragged slowly and about 4 o’clock Aunt declared she was going to Lewisburg, had her horse saddled and I on another was to accompany her. Her house was about a quarter of a mile from the turnpike and just as we was going through the gate, we saw a cloud of dust about a half a mile up the pike, waiting we were soon joined by father, grandfather and all the other relatives, uncles and cousins, and neighbors, and John Campbell. The court martial trial had come off in the morning an the jury consisting of a number of captains and lieutenants had returned a verdict of “not guilty.” There were 17 in the company and most of them stayed all night at Aunt Evelyn’s.

One of the Johnson houses, still standing in Johnson’s Crossroads.

John Campbell had quietly gathered up some $1,500.00 in gold which father, Uncle Davy Riffe, Grandfather Ellis, Uncle James and Uncle Barnabas and their sons had and had to the satisfaction of all had used it, how he did not say, but the verdict was “not guilty.” (It took father some three years savings to get the money he had thus borrowed and then it was not paid until after the war.)

Ruins of one of the old Johnson homes.

Spending a day with aunt, we then went again to Monroe County, to Uncle Davy Riffe’s. Father arranged for a couple of saddle horses from Aunt Evelyn and on the 20th of September in company with Uncle Davy, who was to bring back the horses started for Fayetteville, Fayette Co. where the sheriff of that county had collected for father $1,000 for the sale of some land in 1856. When father had been on his way to the Blue Sulphur Springs, the sheriff had offered the money, in gold, to him, but thinking he could get it on his way back, had left it in the sheriff’s hands.

It took two days of travel to reach Fayetteville, and, on the second day, just outside of the town, we rode without any warning into the camp of a regiment of Confederate soldiers. The colonel in command proved to be an old schoolmate of father and uncle, but it was war time and to satisfy the demands, the colonel considered it his duty to place father under arrest as an alien. Fortunately a few days previous the county paper, the Democrat, of Union Monroe County had published Jeff Davis’ proclamation ordering all aliens in the Southern Confederacy to leave the Country and with this, which I read at fathers command to the Colonel and his staff, he paroled father for two weeks, directing him to go back to Monroe Co. and then privately told father to stay the two weeks and then make his way south and escape if possible, by going south around the Confederate forces in West Va. and make his way through Kentucky. We slept in a tent that night.

An abandoned home along the stagecoach road towards Johnson’s Crossroads.

It was a dejected party traveling the next two days back to Uncle’s home. (Father gave Uncle an order on the sheriff of Fayette for the $1,000 and after taking $400 for 2 saddle horses he directed him to pay the balance to the relatives who had helped him at Lewisburg, but when Uncle Davy got to Fayette several weeks after the Southern Confederacy had passed a law making confederate money legal tender and the sheriff taking advantage of this paid the debt in “gray backs” instead of gold, Father losing over $500 by this. This we learned after the war closed.)

A view of Wolf Creek, WV.

Putting the two saddle horses on dry feed for two weeks, one night at dusk, we left Uncle’s home and started south. We rode all night over roads father was well acquainted with, laid up half a day at a distant relatives and proceeded on our journey.

It was a rainy season in that country and with only the protection of “slickers” a large oilcloth cape with a hole to put one’s head through made our way into North Carolina. We avoided as much as possible going through towns and villages. We frequently rode into bodies of men all eager to hear any news. Our objective point was Louisville, Ky., to all these parties father always having me read Davis’ alien proclamation. I read it so often that I could repeat it by heart.

The old abandoned Skaggs homestead on Wolf Creek. The stagecoach road through here to Johnson’s Crossroads is basically the farm road with the ruts to the left.

We made our way into North Carolina, then turned west into Tennessee, traveling a couple of days in Tennessee going west as near as possible. We struck north into Kentucky and travelled through the entire state, reaching Marysville, on the Ohio river, having been thirteen days and one night on the road, riding about 450 miles, as near as we could estimate. Our horses, two large dapple gray, thoroughbreds, were reduced to skin and bone and we about the same, when we reached the Ohio river.

Kanawha river near its confluence with the Ohio

We were able to get on a steamboat for Cincinnati, the next day and at Cincinnati shipped the horses by railroad to Indianapolis, where father took the two horses off the cars, riding one and leading the other to Bloomington, Ill., sending me home by train to Bloomington where I changed cars to Pontiac. I got home on the last day of October, being absent a year and two months.

Cincinnati, circa 1802.

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