Willowbrook Plantation and Christopher J. Beirne during the Civil War

Confederate officer, farmer, wealthy bachelor, and member of the Skull and Crossbones Secret Society . . . . Check out the documentation we found of “C.J. Beirne’s” agricultural contributions to the Confederate Army, utilizing Willowbrook Plantation, as well as other aspects of his life. So far the receipts from the Confederate Army we’ve found, add up to $23,325.71 – paid to Christopher from 1861-1863. Wait until you hear how much money that actually is adjusted for inflation in 2019 dollars.

A little backstory . . . .

Christopher J. Beirne lived at Willowbrook (Byrnside’s Fort) from 1855 through his death in 1868, having purchased the plantation from the James M. Byrnside, grandson of original owner, James Byrnside, Sr. James M. Byrnside’s mother, Eliza, had raised him on the plantation following the death of her husband, John Byrnside, early in his life. John had received the plantation from his father – the original pioneer – as early as 1786, likely because his father decided to move in with his mistress near present-day Hinton, West Virginia, and start an unofficial second family. John was probably the second white child born in Monroe County, having been born at the Byrnside cabin in 1763 – shortly before it was burned by the Shawnee.

John’s widow, Elizabeth “Eliza” Byrnside, apparently sold her land to George Bierne at some point, retaining for herself a life estate in the plantation home. When she died in 1855, the home reverted to George’s heirs, because he had died in 1832. Christopher, one of George’s children, bought out his siblings’ respective 1/7 interest, and became the sole owner of the plantation.

Willowbrook, looking South

Christopher Beirne was also wealthy, as was the Byrnsides, and much more so, probably. As a member of one of Virginia’s wealthiest families, the Beirnes, of Monroe County, West Virginia were essentially self-made billionaires of their day. Christopher was the son of George Beirne (1780-1832) and Polly Johnson Beirne. George was the brother of Col. Andrew Beirne. The two brothers both started and operated a store in the new town of Union, (West) Virginia, around 1800-1802, called “A & G Beirne.” They had come from Ireland, apparently with close to nothing.

The town of Union

The new store, in the new town, was extremely profitable. In 1824, famous writer Ann Royall described the business as “without a parallel, taking into the view the nature of the country.” Andrew became a large landowner when he purchased a tract of 2,200 acres, just North of Union – still in tact, and known today as “Walnut Grove.” Indeed, Andrew, and probably George, entertained President Martin Van Buren there for a week. A crowd of people assembled to hear the president speak at a barbecue given in his honor.

Some Walnut Grove photos and finds . . . .

Walnut Grove, home of Andrew Beirne, and later his son, Oliver Beirne, Christopher’s cousin and business partner. It’s still in the family today.
The fields of Walnut Grove, where Andrew Beirne bragged that he had a water source in every field, and where Federal troops later slaughtered his son, Oliver’s, livestock during the Civil War.
Probably a bullet fired by a soldier killing livestock on Walnut Grove’s plantation.
Lock assembly for an early chest, found at Walnut Grove
Walnut Grove, looking South.
Pocket watch, probably belonging to one of the Beirne family, found at Walnut Grove Plantation. Or maybe dropped by President Van Buren . . . .

Christopher and the War . . . .

Christopher J. Beirne would be a wealthy bachelor until the day he died. He was born in Union in 1819. It’s my understanding that his parents had what must have been a beautiful home, on Main Street in Union. It sat just South of the Monroe County courthouse, and was later destroyed. Later a movie theater was built On the site. I believe somewhere right there was the brothers’ store as well. Two of Christopher’s sisters married two local brothers, Manilius and Augustus A. Chapman, the latter being a prominent Confederate General during the war, in close communication with Robert E. Lee. Christopher, and the Beirne Family, had a lot to lose, financially, with a war. They were also related to half of the community they lived in, either through blood, or through marriage.

First, something you may not have realized about present day Monroe and Greenbrier County, and geography . . . .

Even though Monroe and Greenbrier Counties were partitioned into the new State of West Virginia in 1863 (involuntarily), that wasn’t the case when the war officially started in 1861. Simple geography left no choice of which army to join. At least not without leaving your property and family, and fleeing to the North – possibly to end of fighting against them and attacking your own hometown. This Proclamation was issued from the Confederate Headquarters at Salt Sulphur Springs, Monroe County, Virginia, on June 9, 1862, by order of Brig. Gen. H. Heth:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY, New River, Salt Sulphur Springs, Va., June 9, 1862.


This is to give notice to all in the counties of Greenbrier, Monroe, Alleghany, Botetourt, Roanoke, Montgomery, Mercer, Giles, Pulaski, and Bland [counties], between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, and subject to military duty under the conscript law, who may have deserted or who have never reported for military duty, that unless they report to these headquarters within five days after receipt of this proclamation they will be shot as deserters wherever they may be found. All men in the above-named counties subject to military duty under the said law who may have been exempted by boards of magistrates or medical examining boards . . . are required to report for duty, and if necessary, will be examined by surgeons in the C.S. Army . . . . This does not include such men as have been exempted by certificates of exemption from surgeons or other officers of the Army of the Confederate States.

By order of Brig. Gen. H. Heth, commanding: R.H. FINNEY, Assistant Adjutant-General.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, US War Dept., 1897, at page 584.

The circumstances left little choice for most Monroe Countians, and especially someone with as much to lose as Christopher Beirne. And to be fair, he did own some slaves, nine, I believe. However, his was not a cotton plantation, requiring a large amount of labor, and his ownership of slaves was nothing in comparison to his step-father, Hugh Caperton (his mother remarried after his father’s death), and Hugh’s son, Alan, of Elmwood Plantation, who owned multiple dozens of slaves – I don’t know the exact number, across several plantations. Jefferson had around 600 at Monticello. Yes, I have received formal training on the formulation of run-on sentences . . . .

If you’re further interested in the state of mind of Greenbrier Valley inhabitants, as it relates to the outbreak of hostilities, which you should be, obviously, check out the post I did on the Rev. Houston’s Civil War Diary:

Our beloved country is in fearful peril. There is every appearance of a rapidly approaching civil war, and all unite in the belief that it will be awfully desolating if it occurs; that there will be a perfect disintegration of the nation and our glory as a people will perish. Everybody seems oppressed with sadness. Many devout prayers are being daily offered up. – Rev. A.S. Houston, in his Diary, January 1, 1861


Back to Christopher’s brother-in-law, Gen. Chapman:

Augustus A. Chapman was a gentleman of fine presence, cultivated manners, and ripe scholarship. He was an able lawyer, a finished orator, and almost invincible in courts or in political debates. His memory is held in great respect, largely because of the fact that in criminal cases he was always the defender and never the prosecutor [Someone take note of this for my obituary one day. Boy have times changed.].

He served his county in the Virginia Assembly and his state in the 28th Congress (184345). At the outbreak of the American war he was a brigadier general of militia. As such he took the field with his command in 1861 and performed good service during the campaign of that season in the Kanawha valley. [His third son, George Beirne Chapman was] a natural orator, and looking forward to the profession of law.

At the opening of hostilities he quit his studies to become first lieutenant of Lowry’s Battery. After some months he resigned in order to organize the artillery company ever since known as Chapman’s Battery. This command did gallant service until almost annihilated and its beloved captain mortally wounded at Winchester, Sept. 19, 1864.

pgs. 298-333, Chapter XXXIV, “History of Monroe County”, by Oren Frederick, 1916

General Augustus Chapman’s home on Main Street in Union, West Virginia.
General Augustus Chapman’s home on Main Street in Union, West Virginia.

Manillas Chapman, a son of Henley Chapman, married Susan Beirne, of Monroe County, Virginia (now West Virginia), and was a member of both branches of the Virginia legislature several times, and of the Virginia succession convention of 1861.

His brother, Augustus A. Chapman, who lived and died in Monroe County in 1876, was a member of the Virginia legislature, and was congressman from 1843 to 1847, and a member of the Virginia constitutional convention of 1850-51. He was a general of the Virginia militia. [He] was born in 1805 and married Mary Beirne, of Monroe County.

West Virginia and its People, Volume 3, by Thomas Condit Miller, Hu Maxwell, 1913.

The Skull and Crossbones Society . . . .

As for Christopher, he graduated in the Class of 1840 from Yale College. This wasn’t unprecedented for local wealthy families. Alan T. Caperton, born 1810, so about 9 years older than Christopher, graduated from Yale in 1832. Both studied law there. The Yale Student records note regarding Christopher, that:

Christopher J. Beirne was born in Union, Monroe County, Va., July 9, 1819. He was a lawyer in Virginia, and represented the County of Monroe in the State Legislature. He died in 1868.

Historical Record of the Class of 1840, Yale College, By Yale University. Class of 1840; Yale’s Confederates: A biographical Dictionary, by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, 2008 regarding Caperton.

While at Yale, he was apparently inducted into the infamous “Skull and Crossbones” secret society. Here’s the Link with all the names.

The book, “Yale Confederates” has a listing on Christopher:


B. 9 July 1819, Union, Monroe Co., VA, son of Irishman George and Polly Johnson Beirne; nmd d. 22 Oct. 1868, near Union; bur. Beirne family graveyard near Union.

At Yale College he was a member of the Skull and Bones. In the 1850 Monroe Co. Census (hh741), he listed himself as a merchant worth $15,000.00. In Beirne’s home was a young merchant, a Virginian, John Chapman, relation unknown. Bernie appears to have been a lawyer in Virginia, but evidently did not have an active practice.

He did represent Monroe Co. in the VA legislature, 1848-53. His pardon application states, however, that he was “for many years engaged exclusively in farming.”

Bernie states clearly that his sympathies during the war were with the Southern States and the government of the Confederate States. He was elected capt. of Company B, 59th VA Inf. (“Capt. Beirne’s Sharpshooters”), on 8 Aug. 1861, and within the month assigned as a capt., 60th VA Inf.

Beirne seems to have performed only limited active duty, returning to his farm, where he was “detailed as a farmer by the Confederate authorities.” There is a vague reference in Beirne’s CSR to his service as a pvt., Company E, 11th Battalion, VA Reserves.

Although he owned a valuable estate just south of Union, and was a member of a wealthy, influential family, Beirne left VA at the end of the war and moved to St. Louis, returning, apparently, when he became seriously ill. He was a Presbyterian. [Oren F. Morton, History of Monroe County, West Virginia (1916).

Yale’s Confederates: A biographical Dictionary, by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, 2008.

Prior to being a plantation owner and operator, Christopher lived in a fine home in the town limits of Union, just off of Main Street. It sported beautiful woodwork by noted carpenter, Conrad Burgess, of Lewisurg, (West) Virginia. This house is today known by the aptly named, Christopher Beirne House. It’s not long for this world at this point, unfortunately, but this first house Christopher lived in is still standing. Barely:

Christopher Beirne’s first house in Union
Christopher Beirne’s first house in Union
Beautiful woodwork by Master Carpenter, Conrad Burgess, inside Christopher Beirne’s first home.
Beautiful woodwork by Master Carpenter, Conrad Burgess, inside Christopher Beirne’s first home.
Beautiful woodwork by Master Carpenter, Conrad Burgess, inside Christopher Beirne’s first home.

As the mid-19th century approached, the Town of Union, and Monroe County itself, had become more than just a sleepy farming area. The Springs resorts were in vogue, and folks were traveling from throughout the South (especially wealthy South Carolina), to come party in Monroe County in the summers. [Did you know that South Carolina originally split from North Carolina, as a colony of England, because it was the wealthier of the two, and it didn’t want the dead weight? I didn’t – I just learned that the other day, teaching Little John about the colonies.]

So in 1855, Christopher moved out of his home, and moved into the 1,180 acre John Byrnside plantation, located only one mile South of town. It’s somewhat complicated, but so-far, my review of the old deeds shows that Christopher’s father must have bought the plantation at some point following the death of John Byrnside, who had been born there in 1863, in the cabin built by his father James. James deeded the entire plantation to John in 1786, to go have his “later-life crisis.” [Note: after James died, likely with his mistress, they brought the body back to Union, and recorded that he died “in Union.” Sure . . . .]

Since John’s widow had only young children, and nobody to run the plantation, she must have sold it to George Beirne, and retained a life estate in the home itself, so she could live there for the remainder of her life. So when she died, in 1853, or 1855, the home then went to George. But George had already died in 1832, so it went to his heirs. Christopher, being apparently the most prosperous of them, bought out his six other siblings to become the sole owner of the plantation, including the house.

I really don’t know if it was called Willowbrook prior to Christopher, or if he decided the place needed a name, like his uncle’s plantation, “Walnut Grove,” one mile North of town.


Dr. Ron Ripley, a friend and local historian, suggested to the National Registry of Historic Homes, that Christopher gave Willowbrook a makeover in order to impress the stagecoach travelers on their way to the Old Salt, which no doubt was frequented by Christopher nightly, being only two miles down what was essentially his driveway. It’s important to remember, that traffic from the Old Sweet Springs resort, as well as the other big one – the Old Salt Sulphur Springs resort – bypassed the town of Union altogether to go right in front of Willowbrook, and then down Indian Creek to Salt Sulphur. Being a wealthy bachelor, 1,180 acres of prime land or not, this was probably an important piece of real estate for him just for socializing.

The appearance of Willowbrook, as renovated and designed by Christopher J. Beirne, in the 1850’s. Note the gothic woodwork on the front porch, and the lack of a roof over the second story porch. This is the Johnson family, who acquired it following Christopher’s death.
Compare Christopher’s renovation of Willowbrook, with the woodwork in his first home, shown above.

As stated, the stagecoach traffic on their way to the popular resort, Salt Sulphur Springs, which was two miles away from Willowbrook, passed directly in front of Willowbrook, and wound its way through the plantation. That was the old turnpike. I’ve seen it referred to as the “Christiansburg Turnpike, or the “Peterstown Turnpike.” Originally constructed probably circa 1820. It no longer exists, but remnants of the old roadbed can still be seen on the property, including a stone bridge abutment over Indian Creek. Here it is:

Bridge abutments for the old turnpike on Willowbrook Plantation, heading towards Salt Sulphur Springs
Bridge abutments for the old turnpike on Willowbrook Plantation, heading towards Salt Sulphur Springs

The bridge, and turnpike, led here, which is the same “Salt Sulphur Springs, Va.” as was used as a Headquarters for the Confederate Army, as mentioned in the proclamation above, as well as many other documents.

Metal detecting at the Old Salt Sulphur Springs, two miles down the turnpike from Willowbrook.
A wheel off an old toy found in the yard of Salt Sulphur Springs.

But just renovating his home wasn’t quite enough for this ambitious party animal. A couple years after purchasing Willowbrook, he purchased the Old Sweet, Sweet Springs Resort itself, along with Oliver Beirne and Alan T. Caperton, two of the wealthiest Virginians alive, as co-owners. They purchased the resort in 1857, and owned it until and throughout the Civil War years. As you can see, this was no small-time resort, but rather The Greenbrier of its day….

Old Sweet Springs Resort

In the years immediately following the purchase of Sweet Springs by Oliver Beirne and his friends, the Springs enjoyed a greater reputation of grandeur and expansion than at any other time.


Party life for everyone ended in 1861.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Christopher J. Beirne received a commission as a Captain in the Monroe County, Virginia Militia, part of the Confederate Army, and was in charge of his own company, known as “Beirne’s Sharpshooters.” This was was part of the “Wise Legion.” He joined the army on May 17, 1861 in Union, Monroe County, Virginia (now West Virginia), for an initial period of twelve months. He was 40 years old. Here’s his muster roll log:

Beirne’s company, Beirne’s Sharpshooters,” was assigned to the 1st Company, Wise’s Brigade/Legion, dated August 8, 1861, and to the 60th Regiment, Virginia Infantry as Company A.

Another of the first companies to go to the front was that of the Monroe Sharpshooters, who were attached to the Sixtieth Virginia Infantry, of the brigade that was first commanded by General McCausland and afterward by Colonel Thomas Smith, and constituted a part of the division under Breckenridge. When the sharpshooters left Union, they were presented by the ladies of that town with a silk flag. Beirne Chapman [Christopher’s nephew by marriage – named after his father, George Beirne] made the presentation address in a speech of inspiring eloquence.

A History of Monroe County, West Virginia, by Oren Frederic Morton, 1916.

As an aside, which should be no surprise, there are good records of who enlisted in Beirne’s Sharpshooters” in 1861. One of the members was one William “Turkey Bill” Bostick. Well . . . a friend of mine, Devon Kittle, found an old Kentucky Rifle in a barn on the farm he inherited from his late father, Billy Kittle, who was the long-time owner and operator of the local hardware store. Devon brought the rifle in for me to look at. It was made by well-known West Virginia gunsmith, William Reynolds, who had has gunsmith shop burned by the Yankees during the War. Anyways, under the brass patchbox of the barn-condition gun, the following hand-engraving was hidden:

Barn-condition William Reynolds rifle, found in a barn on the Kittle farm in Monroe County, West Virginia.

Andrew M. Bostick, ? 14, 1898

Crude engraving on the inside of the brass patchbox of the rifle.
The visible section of the removed brass patchbox, signed by the maker, William Reynolds.

Andrew M. Bostic was apparently the son of “Turkey Bill.” Was this rifle used by Turkey Bill in his service as a sharpshooter? Did it belong to Turkey Bill, or just Andrew? I doubt we’ll never know, but it’s a cool find, which, as always, ties into other finds, and other stories. I could go on. I have a client who just happens to have William Reynold’s grave on his farm near Sinks Grove, here in Monroe County, West Virginia. But that’s for another post . . .

Back to Christopher Beirne, there’s little doubt that this script confederate officer’s uniform button belonged to him, found by Bill Burns, one of Christopher’s descendants:

Confederate officer’s button found in the yard at Willowbrook
The back of the officer’s button

As far as action he may have seen, I did find that on July 8, 1861, on a reconnaissance mission at Glenville, Virginia, Beirne’s company encountered a battalion under Lt. Col. Francis B. Pond, of the Seventeenth Ohio Infantry:

The Federal pickets were driven in, and following heavy skirmishing, Pond formed a line of battle at the Gilmer County Courthouse. The two groups sniped at each other throughout the night, and the Southerners withdrew the next morning. Neither side suffered casualties.

On this day in West Virginia Civil War History, by Michael B. Graham, 2015, at page 94.

The Rev. A.S. Houston, Presbyterian preacher in Union, during the Civil War, kept a wonderful diary, which provides a great perspective of the war from the pastor’s point of view. I’ve posted it before. The Reverend wrote for his entry on April 12, 1861:

Beirne Sharpshooters left 10:30 a.m. I presented a flag by the ladies. Response by J. Sununers. Company under a wreath of flowers suspended by a rope across the street near our house. The scene is impressive. The men are stalwart laborers or hardy farmers and look very determined.

If you read more of the diary, you’ll see that it’s all down-hill from there, as far as morale and living conditions goes . . . .

It seems that the CSA had a more important task for Christopher, however. The CSA realized, very early on, that they were going to have a problem with the provision of supplies; namely, food. Apparently, they disbanded Christopher’s band of local guerrillas, and was abruptly put in charge of agricultural pursuits for the use of the confederate army. Christopher owned a large plantation capable of pasturing a large number of animals, with a good water source in the spring-fed headwaters of Indian Creek, which was also capable of growing a tremendous amount of hay and corn. Just to be sure, I examined some of the war records for other Monroe County soldiers who enlisted in Beirne’s company, and it appears that they were all re-assigned to other captains, though still a part of the “Wise Legion.” Many were killed in action or became prisoners of war. Christopher probably dodged a bullet. As did the confederacy, given that Beirne had more value back at home.

This is where Willowbrook becomes itself a part of the war, due to its central location (I.e., “Union,” Va), and it’s lush And ample pasture. The CSA considered the Greenbrier Valley somewhat of a breadbasket of the confederacy, the maintenance and protection of which, would be much more vital to the war than a band of roving sharpshooters.

Willowbrook, looking North
The fields of Willowbrook Plantation

Fortunately, there’s quite a lot of documentation which survived with Christopher Bierne’s name attached to it, in relation to his agricultural activities. This is in no particular order because I lacked the foresight to do it that way, and am too lazy to reorder it. . . .

Here’s a handwritten purchase order/receipt by a 2nd Lieutenant with the 8th Virginia Cavalry, and addressed to C.J. Beirne. This is the inscription on the front of the document, which as you can see from the folds, would have been folded in 4 parts, much like a deed. They did this with Civil War era paperwork.

On the inside the folded paper, the following handwritten receipt notes the purchase of 160 pounds of bacon, at $0.20 per pound, for a total of $32.20, payable to C.J. Beirne. It’s dated June 16th, 1862 and notes that the transaction took place in Union, (West) Virginia – presumably at Willowbrook Plantation, which is one mile South of Union.

So far, we’ve found a plethora of butchered pig bones around Willowbrook.

The above voucher above notes that it was issued pursuant to the order of Col. James M. Corns, and was signed by 2nd Lt. A.J. Tynes. I’ve located this individual and identified him as “Achilles J. Tynes.” I don’t believe I’d go by my initials if I had that awesome name…. He was the 2nd Lt. of Company D of the 8th Va. Cavalry, and mustered out eventually as a Captain himself.

The 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment was organized early in 1862 with nine companies but increased its number to eleven to July. Many of the men were recruited in Smyth, Nelson, Kanawha, and Tazewell counties. The unit confronted the Federals in western Virginia, fought in East Tennessee then returned to western Virginia. Later it participated in Early’s Shenandoah Valley operations and the Appomattox Campaign. This regiment contained 225 effectives in April, 1864. However, none were included in the surrender at Appomattox because it had cut through the Federal lines and disbanded. The field officers were Colonels James M. Corns and Walter H. Jenifer; Lieutenant Colonels Thomas P. Bowen, A.F. Cook, Henry Fitzhugh, and Albert G. Jenkins; and Major P.M. Edmondson.

The pasture of Willowbrook.

The next voucher is addressed on the cover to “Christopher J. Beirne, Disbursements & Contingencies, $136.00, Paid August 13, 1862.” Now with official preprinted CSA voucher letterhead forms, it’s essentially a receipt to Beirne “for pasturing of Government Cattle.” and dated June 25, 1862. Since Willowbrook Plantation consisted of 1,180 acres at that time, and only a mile or less to Union, it was a natural location to pasture the confederate army’s cattle. The Greenbrier Valley itself was known as a “breadbasket” of sorts for the Virginia theater of operations, and so it would be protected, and well-stocked – though ultimately the Union army would take it.

October 9, 1863 voucher “for pasturing fifty six (56) cattle one month and ten days at 8 $ per moth. $226.00.

Voucher from June 21, 1861 for “1 grey horse” at $140.00. It notes that this was “on the account of Capt. W. H. Thomas. Then I can’t read what follows the name.

After a bit of googling, I wonder if this isn’t William H. Thomas, who was an adopted white Cherokee, who served as the only white Principal Chief of the Cherokee. He was actually an officer of the confederacy throughout the entire Civil War. From a Washington Post article I found:

Native Americans fought on both sides at Pea Ridge and with Jubal Early when he set his gunsights on the nation’s capital. The Five Civilized Tribes made an alliance with the Confederates in 1861. About 3,000 Indians fought on the Union side; 29 percent were killed. “Stripped to the waist, painted and feathered,” Confederate Capt. William H. Thomas, adopted by the Cherokees, negotiated the surrender of his Cherokee legion. Lt. Col. Ely Parker, a Seneca and Gen. Ulysses Grant’s adjutant, copied Grant’s surrender terms for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Allen quotes this exchange: Lee said, “I am glad to see one real American.” Parker replied, “We are all Americans.”

Blue Gray, In Color, by Sarah Booth Conroy, July 26, 1992, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1992/07/26/blue-gray-in-color/75aa8e1f-097f-4659-94ac-5e229184d611/

It’s certainly plausible that the illegible phrase following his name on the above voucher, is some sort of Cherokee word, or possibly a Cherokee name or title? His Cherokee name translated roughly to “Little Will,” because he was short. Maybe they had to find him a particular horse in order to make him Captain of the famous Cherokee Legion . . . . That would be pretty cool if the horse came from Willowbrook.

William Holland Thomas (WIL-USDI: “Little Will)

The significance of Thomas’s activities during this period cannot be underestimated. Immediately after removal he spent some of his own money to feed and clothe many Cherokee. He defended his support of the Indians’ cause, asserting that “when entrusted with defending the rights of white or red man I hope I shall always be found faithful to my trust and act worthy of the confidence reposed in me without regard to consequences. The Indians are as much entitled to their rights as I am to mine.” Recognizing Thomas’s devotion to the tribe, the dying chief Yonaguska named Thomas the new leader of the North Carolina Cherokee in April 1839 . . . .

The Civil War added new challenges to Thomas’s life. He was an ardent Southern patriot and voted for secession at the state convention in May 1861. After returning home, he persuaded the Cherokee to support the Confederacy and organized a home guard group. In April 1862 he joined the Confederate army and was named captain of a company that included many Cherokee. That September the company took part in a skirmish at Baptist Gap in eastern Tennessee, which ended with some Cherokee scalping wounded Union soldiers. Thomas was soon promoted to colonel and placed in command of the Sixty-ninth North Carolina Regiment with several companies of Cherokee in the unit. This force, known as Thomas’s Legion, served as the major line of defense between the Federal presence in eastern Tennessee and Confederate North Carolina. Thomas was one of the last Confederates to surrender, along with General James G. Martin, in Waynesville on 10 May 1865.


August 23, 1864 voucher for “pasturing 3 Govt. horses in the months of June & July at 3 $ three dollars each per month. $18.00”

Voucher for five bushels of corn, and twenty five bushels of corn, dated November 8, 1863. $4.00 per bushel for a total of $120.00. This was obviously right at the season where corn was harvested, or at least had been harvested already.

This is an interesting one. It’s a voucher “for pasturage from June 2, 1863, to June 3, 1863. For fifty (50) horses (belonging to Chapman’s Battery) at ten (10) cents per head.” Signed by “GB Chapman, Capt. Company? Battery.” That would be “George Beirne Chapman,” Christopher’s nephew, by marriage. Christopher’s sisters both married the Chapman brothers, one of whom was Augustus Chapman, who’s house is shown above. Augustus’ son, George Beirne Chapman (named after Christopher’s father) led Chapman’s Battery, and ultimately was killed at Winchester in 1864.

I have a book on Chapman’s Battery, and it provides insight as to why this voucher was issued on this date:

Early in the spring of 1863, Capt. Chapman was ordered to bring his battery to Lewisburg (W. Va.) to guard the Kanawha turnpike and protect the Greenbrier Valley (one of the granaries of the Confederacy) from Yankee raiders. While there Colonel, afterwards General) Wm. L. Jackson, commanding the Confederate forces in Randolph County, ordered one section of the Battery to Beverly to aid him in a prospective attack upon the Federals occupying that town.

Captain Beirne Chapman and Chapman’s Battery: An Historical Sketch, by A.S. Johnston.

Apparently following the failed attack on Beverly, they returned to the Greenbrier Valley for two months, in Lewisburg. So we know that on June 2 and 3, Chapman brought his battery back to his hometown, and the horses dined on fresh Willowbrook pasturage. Then Christopher was paid in August, while the battery was still in camp at Lewisburg. I wonder if this was the last time Capt. Chapman was able to see his family, being that he died the following year . . . .

May 15, 1862 voucher for 6,000 pounds of hay at .50 cents per 100 pounds. $30.00. Christopher was paid at Salt Sulphur Springs on June 30, 1862.

November 15, 1863 voucher for 6,000 pounds of hay.

June 13, 1862 voucher for pasturing 100 artillery horses for 6 days, at $4.00 per day. $48.00. This would have been following the May 23, 1862 Battle of Lewisburg:

As is well known, the engagement resulted, after sharp fighting, in a Federal victory, and the Confederates retreated into Monroe County [obviously to Willowbrook, as far as the artillery horses goes].

Captain Beirne Chapman and Chapman’s Battery: An Historical Sketch, by A.S. Johnston.

Here’s a June 1, 1862 voucher for 74 head of beef cattle, worth a total payment to Christopher Beirne, by the Confederate States, of $3,785.50, a huge sum in 1862. It notes that the purchase was made pursuant to the order of Brig. Gen. H. Heth, and with payment being provided to Beirne on August 13, 1862 at Salt Sulphur Springs, Virginia.

Col. A.W. Reynolds of the Fiftieth Virginia Regiment wrote to Gen. S. Cooper, the Adjutant General of the CSA in Richmond, from his headquarters in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, on December 19, 1861, in part:

I feel confident with the aid of the militia I can give all necessary protection, and keep the scouting parties of the enemy at least beyond the Sewells. The counties of Greenbrier and Monroe are rich in grain and cattle, and it will doubtless be an object for the enemy to forage and supply themselves with provisions in these counties . . . .

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, US War Dept., 1897.

Due to the lack of cattle in Virginia, the Confederate Army started to panic. On January 28, 1863, L. B. Northrop, the Commissary-General of Subsistence, wrote that:

Fifteen months ago this Bureau foresaw that the supply of cattle in Virginia would be exhausted, and initiated an arrangement to bring hither cattle from Texas to be put on the grass lands of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee for future use. The drought of the country prevented it. The attempt was made and failed.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, US War Dept., 1897.

May 22-24, 1862, receipt for 124 bushels of corn at $1.00 each.

November 15, 1862 receipt for posturing government cattle, including 4 head from June 24 to August 13, and 33 head of cattle from August 13 to November 13. Christopher was paid $211.01 on December 5, 1862 at Union, Virginia.

September 15, 1862 receipt for the sale of two beef cows for $150.00, paid to Christopher on February 20, 1863.

June 19, 1863 receipt for 135 beef cows for $18,000.00, paid at Dublin, Virginia on July 19, 1863.

February 15, 1863 receipt for 7 tons of hay for Government horses in service of the Confederate Saltpeter Mining Service, which would have been for horses used in mining Nitre, or “Saltpeter,” from local caves – probably those located near Greenville, WV, and Organ Cave, WV.

Just these receipts – and there’s probably more – add up to $23,325.71. Adjusted for inflation, in 2019 dollars, that’s $475,324.28 in the span of just a couple of years – during wartime! But then again, assuming this was paid in Confederate Currency, he might have been better-off with the cattle, horses, corn and hay.

The vouchers just state “dollars,” and don’t describe whether they are US dollars or Confederate Dollars. Comparing the Confederate Dollar to the US Dollar, it started out roughly the same in 1861. By June of 1862, it took $2.00 in Confederate Dollars to equal $1.00 of gold (though the US Dollar would have inflated as well, and in 1863 and 1864, suffered from about 25% inflation, eventually requiring almost $2.00 to equal a pre-war Dollar). By February of 1863, it took $3.00, and it was a downward spiral from there. By the end of the War, it took $60.00 Confederate Dollars to equal even $1.00 Confederate Dollar from 1861. It’s also possible that Christopher Beirne leveraged his Confederate Dollars for other assets, while he still was able to do so, and he was certainly in a good position to do so, if anyone was.

Shortly after the war’s end, Beirne submitted a handwritten petition to President Andrew Johnson, seeking a pardon, which was granted on the recommendation of the US Attorney General. Here it is:

To his Excellency Andrew Johnson President of the United States


I am a resident of Monroe County, State of West Virginia, where I have always lived. I am forty nine (49) years of age and have been for many years engaged exclusively in agricultural pursuits. The estimated value of my taxable property is over Twenty Thousand Dollars ($20,000).

During the late war between the Southern States and the government of the United States, my sympathies were with the South and especially with my native State after she had taken her position in the contest, and soon after the commencement of the war, I was elected Captain of a Volunteer Militia Company raised in the neighborhood in which I lived.

I only retained said office a few weeks, when I resigned the same without having been in actual service, and returned to my home [Willowbrook] where I remained until the war closed. I acknowledge the ? of arms which has been had as a complete and final settlement of all the questions in controversy between the sections and I have taken the oath prescribed in the proclamation of your Excellency of the 29th May 1865 in good faith, with the resolution to observe the same faithfully and to meet all of the obligations hereby imposed.

I file herewith a certified copy of said oath and ask that the same may be considered part of this my application. I most respectfully ask that pardon or amnesty may be granted me for my connection with the said war, as stated above.

I have the honor to be

Very respectfully yr Obd Serv.

C.J. Beirne

Then the Oath of Allegiance is notarized by J.M. Byrnside, who grew up in Willowbrook, having sold the home and plantation to Christopher in 1855.

After that, it’s more than a little hazy, but as I understand it, Christopher got sick, and moved to Missouri, in an attempt at getting well. But he died in 1868. I’m not sure if he sold the plantation, and then moved to Missouri, or if his death occurred while he was treating his maladies in Missouri. He literally drops entirely off the radar. I can’t find anything. My best bet is probably something recorded in the old books in the courthouse. His Yale bio states that he was buried in the family graveyard in Union in 1868. I’m not sure where that would be as of yet. The fact that there is nothing so far in the local history records, post-Civil War, on Christopher, suggests that he in fact went to Missouri and never returned. But Yale got their information from somewhere, and they do have a reputation for being sort of smart . . . .

In either case, the new owner as of 1869 would be another local wealthy entrepreneur, James Johnson, and it would be in the Johnson family until we got it.

To be continued . . . .

5 thoughts on “Willowbrook Plantation and Christopher J. Beirne during the Civil War

  1. Very interesting and informative article. Thanks for taking the time to research, write and post it. I see John W. McCreery was a CSA quartermaster who signed several of the vouchers/recipts above. Wondering if this McCreery or his son helped found and establish businesses in Hinton (i.e. The McCreery Hotel etc.), and (probably) had influenced James Beirne’s removal to that area(?). I’ve done considerable research on the Erskine Miller family (of Staunton, Lewisburg, Union and their settlements as merchants as far west as Texas pre-Civil War) and relations with the Houston, Caperton, Bell and other Greenbrier River area families. Hope to compare notes someday.

    • Thanks. I don’t know much about McCreery, but the Erskine family is definitely intertwined with the local history here, and Bill Burns, who found the confederate officer’s button shown in the post, is a direct descendant of Margaret Erskine, who I believe is the one who was captured by Indians, and later lived in Lewisburg, WV.

  2. Great article and research!

    I think J.W. McCreery was from Raleigh County. Later became state Senator. I can pull more of his history later. Have access to family photos, etc.

  3. Thanks for all you are doing, John, not only in the way of preserving priceless local architecture, but moreover in the huge amount of research you have compiled on a multitude of fascinating topics. Of particular interest to us presently, is your bio on Capt. Beirne, of course, as we undertake the restoration of his home in Union. We will share the link to this info on Christopher with his sixth generation descendant, Christopher White, current owner of Walnut Grove, for anything additional he can offer. We intend to use the house as high-end office rentals once complete and the room with the nice Conrad Burgess mantle will be transformed into a meeting/training room. We will search for artifacts of the life of CB for display in this room once we complete the project. Best regards

  4. You may want to look at a book by Nadal, I believe it is \”a Virginia Village\”, and it tells a bit about his McClung relatives in Lewisburg It may be in the Lewisburg Library

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