THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF JOHN O. CASLER AND HIS EXPERIANCES WITH CAPTAIN GEORGE W. STUMP
General Early was to blame for the defeat. He displayed poor generalship. He ought to have fallen back to Fisher's Hill in time, and not fought a general battle with such odds, in that place, where the Valley was so wide and open. The corps never had any confidence in him afterwards, and he never could do anything with them. He was as brave a General as ever lived, and did well when he commanded a brigade or division under some other General; but when he had command of a corps, and was operating by himself, he displayed no strategy whatever. He would fight the enemy wherever he met them and under any circumstances, no matter if he had but one brigade and the whole northern army came against him.. He would always show fight. It was a critical time with our army and it required Generals that knew how to strike a blow and at the same time save their men.
This may appear unusual criticism coming from a private in the ranks; but after three years' service in the thick of the fight, under various commanders, and under every variety of circumstances, and with opportunities of observation, such as fall to the lot of pioneers and picket guards, it would seem that a man of ordinary intelligence might have opinions which are entitled to consideration.
The next day the army arrived safely at Fisher's Hill; but we had lost considerably. It was said, however, that General Sheridan lost more men than Early had in his whole command.
I was sent on with the sick and wounded to Harrisonburg to the hospital. When we got there we were ordered on to the Staunton hospital, as the Harrisonburg hospital was overcrowded. There was a young soldier in the wagon with me who belonged to an Alabama Regiment, from Wetumpka, Ala. and who was wounded slightly in the neck. After we passed through Harrisonburg I told him we would get out of the wagon and go to my home in Dayton and stay there until we got well; that I did not intend to go to a hospitel as long as I had a home that near to go to. We then got out of the wagon and went across the fields to Dayton.
We had been there but three days when we heard that General Early had been defeated again at Fisher's Hill, and was falling back towards Staunton, and the "Yanks" would soon be in Dayton, so we took my fathers horse and started to ,,,,,,, towards the mountains. The roads were full of citizens "refugeeing" with their stock and valuables.
When we arrived at Harnsberger's farm, on Muddy creek, we found Captain Stump, from Hampshire County, who belonged to Imboden's command, lying there very badly wounded through the head. He insisted that we should take him along with us and take care of him, as he would rather die than be captured.
He had one of his company with him and a black boy waiting on him. We told him we would do all we could for him and would defend him to the last. So we hitched our horses to Harnsberger's carriage and took him on six miles farther to a friend's house.
After remaining there a few days we heard that Early was still falling back and that Sheridan's cavalry was scouting the whole country. We then moved him farther back to the foot of the mountain on Briery branch and stopped at a small house. I rode out in the settlements every day to get rations and find out the news.
We could still hear that the Yankees were spreading their scouting parties farther and farther into the country every day, and Captain Stamp was fearful they would come across us and that we would be captured. We told him there was no danger and that we would move him if it became necessary; but one day they came within two miles of us and we concluded to move farther into the mountains. We found out from the man we were stopping with that by going up a deep hollow or gorge in the mountain about six miles we would find an old vacant house; but there was no way to get to it but by a bridle path.
So nothing would do Captain Stump but we must go to that house. He was suffering terribly from his wound, as he was shot through and through the back part of the head, and could sit up but a short time. We had to pour cold water on the wound every few minutes out of a coffee pot to relieve the pain; but he repeated he would rather die than be captured and would try and ride the distance on horseback.
We then started on the march, but had to stop every mile and get him off the horse and let him rest while we bathed his wound. He had more fortitude and endurance than any man I oversaw before or have seen since. We finally arrived at our rendezvous and made him as comfortable as we could under the circumstances.
The second night we were there his wound pained him so severely that we were afraid he would have the lockjaw. He said he could not stand it till morning if he did not get relief of some kind, and insisted that I should go to Sangereville, a distance of ten miles, for a doctor. We tried to persuade him that it would be useless, as no doctor would come, and could do him, no good if he did come, and that by pouring water on the wound continually it would give him relief. But he still insisted that I should go, and if the doctor would not come he could send some morphine, which would give relief.
I then procured a pine torch, as it was very dark, saddled the best horse, and started down the mountain. I got along very well for two or three miles until it commenced thundering and lightning in a most terrific manner. In a short time the rain poured down in torrents, putting out my light and leaving me in darkness as dense as in a cave. But I still kept on, the horse following the path by instinct, until I reached the settlements and got into the wagon road. It was still raining, but not so hard, and was not quite so dark. I still had four miles to go, but with great difficulty, and losing the road several times, I finally reached Sangersville about 12 o'clock and found a doctor.
It was as I expected, he would not go. He said he knew the place very well and it would be impossible, in the rain and darkness, for us to find our way back that night, and insisted that I should stay until morning and he would go with me. I pleaded with him my best to go with me, but in vain. I then told him to give me some morphine and I would return, or make the attempt. He did so, and said he would come to see the Captain in the morning.
Under these promises I started to return, but it seems the horse must be bewildered and could not keep in the road where it led through the woods, and I often found myself out of my path in the woods. I would then get down and strike a match and feel my way to the road. In this manner I proceeded until near the mountain, when I came to a branch. I thought I would ride up the bed of the branch until I came to the place where the road recrossed it; that by so doing I could cut off about one mile, and that I could keep in the bed of the branch better than in the path. But I found it a difficult task, as the branch was obstructed by drifts, logs and rocks. The water was shallow, and by the aid of the streaks of lightning I could manage to get around them.
Finally my horse came to a stand just as I had gotten out on the edge of the bank to get around some logs, and with all the whipping and spurring I could do, I could not make him move. Just then, by the aid of the lightning, I saw that the horse was standing on the edge of a perpendicular rock, and I could not see the depth below. I quickly dismounted and turned the horse around and got him on solid ground. I then tied him to a tree, took off the saddle, rolled myself in the blanket and slept until morning. It rained, thundered and lightened the whole night.
Under most circumstances I would have felt some fear and lonesomeness; but, strange to say, nothing of the kind altered my mind. The next morning at daybreak I resumed my journey, and at the first house I came to, which was the last one I would pass, I stopped and got my breakfast, and told them of my adventure of the night.
They all remarked that they were not surprised at me not getting through that place, as that thicket of pines was haunted, and there had never anyone been able to go through there after dark, as they would invariably get lost, see ghosts, and hear unusual noises, groans, etc. There had been a man murdered there once, they said, and no sum of money could be laid down that would induce them to sleep there as I had done. I had heard nothing of the kind, however, and paid no attention to their ghost stories. I was too mad all night to think of fear, and to have met a well-disciplined ghost would have been company and amusement for me.
When I arrived where Captain Stump was I found him considerably better. He said he got relief directly after I had left, and was sorry I had gone, and that if he lived he would do anything in his power to help me. But, alas! like many a dear and near friend that I have had in old Hampshire County, he never lived to see the war over. Many of my old-time friends and comrades who survived the war also have passed over the river and are quietly resting under the shade of the trees, while I still live (but in a far distant state), and seldom see anyone that I ever knew in my younger days.
The doctor never came the next day, as he promised, nor did I ever see him again. In a few days we persuaded the Captain to go down in the settlements, as there was no danger of being captured, for if he were to die in that lonely place we would be unable to give him a decent burial. After placing him in kind hands we heard the enemy were falling back down the Valley, when we bade him farewell and started to Dayton.
We then went on the "South Branch" to Vanse Herriott's plantation, and rouded him up and asked him to let us stay the remainder of the night. It was arranged before we got there that I was to buy Vause's fine bay horse, and Bruce was to buy a fine black mare from Frank Murphy.
So, after we had, gone to bed, I asked Vause what he would take for the horse. He said $225 in greenbacks, but as I wanted him for service, and he was afraid the Yankees would take him, I might have him for $200. We had not told him of our capture, and he did not think we had any money, but I told him I would take him. He then wanted to know where we had made a raid. Bruce told him we had been to Cumberland and made a capture. But in the morning, when I handed him $200 and took the horse he was very much surprised. We then told him how we got it, and he became very uneasy, and wanted us to leave immediately, as he said the Yankees would be sure to be after us, and if they found us there they would burn him out. We told him we were as anxious to leave as he was to have us, and to help us across the river, as it was quite high. I swam the horse across, and Vause took Brace across in the canoe, when we both mounted and started for Romney. We did not stay at Romney long, but went on to Mr. Pancake's. I left nearly all my money with Mrs. Sallie Pancake and went to Patterson's and got the saddle I had left there, and, mounting, I began to feel like a cavalryman. Bruce went on to Frank Murphy's and bought the black mare, when he, too, was well mounted.
I intended to go right on to the company, but meeting William French and George Arnold at Pancake's, they persuaded me to go back with them to Jersey Mountain, as some more of Company D were coming in, and we would make a raid on the railroad and capture a train of cars. I concluded to do so.
We first went to their stronghold up in the mountains, calledd "Fort Defiance," and from there on down the mountain to Frank Ewer's place, and then down on the "levels" to Swishelss, where I got Mrs. Swisher to go to Paw Paw Depot, on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, for me, and run the blockade with some grey goods to make me a new suit; also a pair of boots and a lot of calico. I wanted to take the calico out South, as it was a great object at that time. A young lady who could sport a calico dress those times felt rich, as all the wear was homespun. As Bid Leopard used to say, we could board a week in the Valley for a yard of calico or a Hagerstown almanac. He and Bill Herbert, both cavalrymen, once took a load of almanacs to the Page Valley and made a fortune in confederate. But I am digressing, and will return.
I had left some money with Mrs. Scanlon to run the blockade for me and get some clothes also, thinking if one failed, the other would not, and if they both succeeded I could very easily dispose of all I could carry at a handsome profit when I got South. I wanted the clothing mainly for myself and father's family. William French and I were together for some time, scouting around to see what we could pick up.
At Swisher's I met my old friend and comrade in arms, Mr. Charles French, but he was only with us a short time. We went from there up the South Branch one night and learned that a sleighing party was having a dance at Mrs. Brooks', across the river. So we left our horses at Forman Taylor's and crossed the river on the ice, and engaged in the dance until nearly daylight. We had to do our traveling at night and lay by in the daytime, for fear some scouting party of the enemy would capture us. At those dances I would meet girls and young ladies that I had been raised with and had gone to school with, and enjoyed myself hugely.
One night I was in Springfield and sat up at a wake with a dead child of John Seeders, and before daylight James Parsons and myself left and stopped at George Johnson's, a tavern stand, where we remained a short time. Just as we were leaving, at daybreak, and going through a little passageway between the main building and kitchen. Parsons, who was ahead, just as he got to the gate, wheeled around to me and said: "Run, for God's sake, the Yankees are right here," So I wheeled and ran and went up the steps and into the icehouse. By that time the Yanks were in the house, but did not see me. They proved to be a squad of infantry from Green Spring Station, and did not stay long, but I thought I would freeze to death while they did stay, as I had to remain in that cold icehouse.
Every time Johnson came out of the house he would shake his hand at me, as he knew I was looking out of the latticed window. They would not trouble Parsons, as he was staying at home. Finally they left and I came down, and they were not out of sight of town before I was down on the square.
William French and myself went to several dances, and had a fine time with the girls, and I never enjoyed myself better in my life. But those happy days were soon to be over, and days and months of misery to follow.
There was no chance to capture a train, and I had made all my arrangements to go on to the company. I had gotten my money from Mrs. Sallie Pancake, had bought a good cavalry saddle from W. J. Long, had bought a pistol (as the one I was using was borrowed) and had gotten my clothes from the tailor. I had to make a trip to Mrs. Scanlon's to get the things she had bought for me, and had intended to go out by the Grassy Lick road, but as there were several of the company going in another direction, they insisted that I should come back and go that way, which I did. I was induced to do so, however, more. from the fact that some young ladies, the Misses Murphy and some others, wanted to send some valentines by me to the boys.
The day I started out I met John Lyrni, Manny Bruce, M. Lovett, of Company D, and Captain Stump at Frank Murphy's. Lynn and Bruce were going to McNeill's Company, Lovett was going to stay at Murphy's, and Captain Stump would have me go home with him and stay all night, as I had been so attenitive to him when wounded. I spent the night with Captain Stump. Lovett was to meet me at Stump's at 9 o'clock the next morning. We were to go together, and, after we got up the road a few miles, take a bridge path across the mountain. I spent a pleasant night with Captain Stump at his sister's, Mrs. French,[Captain Stump's Home] and it was the last night for him on this earth. The next day he was murdered in cold blood.
The next morning, after breakfast, we saddled up our horses and waited awhile for Lovett When the hour had passed that he was to meet me, and as Captain Stump wanted to go down the river, near Romney, to his father's, I concluded I would ride on slowly, and I told him to tell Lovett to hurry up and overtake me, and thus we parted. When I reached the place at the road where the path led across the mountain I left word at a house there for them to tell Lovett that I had gone on up the road, as I was not acquainted with the bridle path.
After going some distance I came to where the roads forked, one road leading to Moorefield, the other through the Bean settlement to Lost River. I took the latter road, but they ran nearly parallel with each other for some distance, gradually widening out. There had been a little thaw the day before, but it had frozen that night, and the roads were one sheet of ice, and my horse being smooth shod it was difficult to get along. I had the goods that I had bought under the saddle, and the boots tied behind, and was carrying the saddle that I had borrowed from Bud Peterson at Brock's Gap.
As I was riding along, thinking I was safe from the enemy, my horse pricked up his ears and threw up his head, and I knew he saw something. Looking ahead I saw a man riding across from the road I was in towards the other road, with the cape of his overcoat thrown back, and I could see the red lining. I halted for a few seconds, but thinking it was some of Major Harry Gilmore's command, or Captain McNeill's men, as I knew they were camped near Moorefield (and our men wore such coats), I rode on, but had not gone far until I saw several men riding about in the woods in a suspicious manner, and concluded, whether they were Rebels or not, that I would get out of there. So I wheeled my horse around, threw down the extra saddle I was carrying, and put spurs to my horse and went down the road as fast as I could go. I could see no other way of escape. But as soon as I had wheeled and started they commenced firing at me, and the bullets whistled by, but I kept on. I knew my horse was fast, my greatest fear being that he might fall on the ice; but when I got to the forks of the road I saw ten or twelve men just ahead of me. I dashed in amongst them, as I could not check my horse.
One fellow grabbed the reins of my horse, while another had his pistol leveled at my head, when, some of the others pulled me off the horse and commenced taking my things. I was quarreling with them all the time, thinking they. were Rebels, as they were dressed like Rebels and talked like them. I kept asking them what they were. They said they were Rebels and belonged to Gilmore's command, and that I was a damn Yankee spy.
I told them I was a Rebel and had papers in my pocket to show them where I belonged. They replied that if I was all right I would get all my things back again; that Harry Gilmore was on behind. They wanted to know if there were anymore soldiers down the road. I told them there was one coming behind me (meaning Lovett). They said if I told them a lie they would kill me.
One took my hat and gave me an old one about three sizes too large; one took my overcoat and vizer, and gave me a citizen's coat; another took my haversack and pocketbook, with $125 in it; another pulled at my boots, but I held my foot so it would not come off, when he called on a companion to take hold of the other boot, which he did, throwing me flat on my back and straddle of a small tree. Each man continued pulling at a boot until they pulled them off. One of them put on my boots and gave me; his old ones, which were a size too small. I could not get my heel any further into them than the top of the counters. They took my fine horse and gave me a young horse they had picked up along the road, and a citizen's saddle. In a few minutes all that change was made, and as it was a bitter cold morning I felt the change very perceptibly. They then left one man to guard me, and the balance rode on.
They were the "Jessie Scouts' or Captain Blaser's Scouts, and numbered about thirty men, under the command of Major Young as desperate a set of guerrillas as ever graced a saddle. They dressed like Rebels, and would go in advance of the command, which was some distance behind.
After they had all left I asked the one who was guarding me to tell me the truth, what they were, whether they were Yankees or Rebs. "Oh, we are all Rebs," he said, we belong to Gilmore, and you will get all your things back." I then began to think they were Rebels; but in a short time the main column came in sight, and as soon as I saw them, all dressed in blue, my guard hunched me and asked me what I thought of those fellows. I told him he need not tell me any more lies, that I knew where I was now. So, when they came up, about 400 of them, he turned me over to the guard, and, sure enough. Major Harry Gilmore was there, but he was a prisoner, and his cousin, Hoffman Gilmore, also. They had thirteen prisoners, and among them John Lynn and Manny Bruce. They made the prisoners ride single file, with a guard on each side of each prisoner.
They had come out of Winchester by the Moorefield road, piloted by a deserter from Gilmore's command, for the express purpose of capturing Harry Gilmore. They captured him at a house where he had his headquarters. As soon as that was accomplished they started back to Winchester by way of Romney, picking up all soldiers they met. We had not gone far until they brought Lovett in. He blamed me for his capture, because I did not take the path across the mountain, and I blamed him for our capture for not being on time, as he had promised. If I had been fifteen minutes sooner I would have been beyond the turn of the road and would have escaped; or if I had been fifteen minutes later I would have been with Lovett, and we would have gone the bridle path, and both escaped capture. So my fate at that time hung on fifteen minutes of time either way. What a trivial circumstance often changes the tide of a man's life!
I was uneasy all the time after I was captured about Captain Stump, as I knew that he had gone down the road and would be deceived by them; and I had often heard him say that he would rather die on the field of battle than fall into their hands. But as we went on and they did not bring him back I began to hope that he had given them the slip, and especially after passing his father's house. But we had not passed the house far when I saw him lying dead in the road, with nothing on but his pants and shirt, and his face all black. But I knew him by his home-made pants, and remarked that there lies Captain Stump. John Lynn said it was not Stump, but I was sure of it, and it proved too true.
The scouts said they had killed the chief of all the guerrillas, as he was heavily armed, having two or three sixshooters, besides a carbine.
One of them told me that when they rode up to the house Stump came out and attempted to get on his horse, and they shot him through the leg; and after they had captured him he said he could whip all of them if they would give him a chance, and that when they got out in the road they gave him a chance, and commenced firing on him until they killed him. Another one told me that after they left the house and got in the road: their commander said that he was an old guerrilla chief, and told them to kill him, which they did, and I believe that part is true.
That was the last of Captain George Stump, a good and brave soldier. He always carried several pistols, and his command called him "Stump's Battery."
Capt. George W. Stump.......John O. Casler
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