By the time the guns of the Battle of Big Bethel were silent on June 10, 1861, the Chatham Greys had endured their first baptism of fire. There were no casualties and only a few with minor wounds in Company A, which entered the fray in Montague's Battalion under Coloniel J.B. (“Prince John”) Magruder. Later the Chatham Greys would be known as Company I under Col. Aylett who was succeeded by Col. Rawley Martin. The unit comprised a part of Armistead's Brigade in Pickett's Division, Longstreet's Corps, eventually.
Company A spent its first days in camp at Ashland, before being moved to Yorktown and finally Williamsburg where they suffered some sickness and disease. On May 13, three weeks before its first fight at the Battle of Big Bethel, its Commander, Captain William H. Werth, sent the following appeal from Ashland to the Justices of the Pittsylvania County Court, where it was read to the assembled Gentlemen Justices on May 20th, 1861 (C.R. Book 46 page 193).
Head Qtrs, Camp Ashland: To the worshipful Court of Pittsylvania County — In the name of my command, I beg leave to report to your Worships that I have now in my command 91 men who really are destitute of clothing suitable for camp or field duty. These men left home with only a dress uniform which was made for dress parade in time of peace and is totally unfit for the wear and tear of camp life. I have enlisted 30 odd men since leaving the Co Ho [courthouse] nearly all of whom are destitute in all kinds of clothing, blankets and shoes, and some have come into camp with the idea that the State would furnish them everything — But, in fact, the State furnishes them with nothing except bread, meat and inferior arms. These new recruits have no kind of uniform and devilish little citizen's dress, no shoes, no blankets and no undershirts. My whole command — No. 91 strong, stand in need — absolute need of undress uniforms, shoes, waist belts, blankets and all there things must be furnished by the County or the men must die from exposure! William Fitzgerald of my command, has been at the point of death with a violent attack of pneumonia produced by sleeping in the mud without sufficient protection. I have no tents and the State either refuses or certainly neglects to furnish them; and if I was ordered into the field tomorrow, every man in my command — officers and all, would have to sleep in the mud or water, as the case may be. This will not do. Brave men who are now panting for a knock down drag out fight, should not be killed in Camp by sickness and disease produced by exposure. If we must die, for God's sake let us die on the battlefield fighting for Old Virginia. Give us clothing, blankets, tents, etc. and the Company “A,” when it falls, will fall in the place where the fire is the hottest. Yours Respectfully, W.H. Werth, Capt. Co. A _? Regiment
It is interesting to observe that in the next line on the same page of the Court Order Book, there appears the Court's response. Clerk of the Court, Langhorne Scruggs, made the following entry:
And it appeared in evidence before the Court that many reports are in circulation to the effect that the Company Commanded by Captain Wm. H. Werth has been improperly treated by their said Captain, and that the funds contributed by voluntary contribution for the benefit of said Company have not been applied to the purposes for which said funds were contributed. And the Court considering that a fair investigation of the matter aforesaid is due as well to the Company aforesaid as to the Captain, is it therefore ordered.
No further mention of the issue appears in Court records until June 17th next, which the following appears on page 202 of C.R. Book 46:
The Committee appointed at the last term to investigate the Rumors in relation to Captain Wm. H. Werth, commandant of Company “A” this day made their report together with a petition of the said Wm. H. Werth addressed to the Court and also an account of said Werth with said Company which said report, petition and account are ordered to be filed of record.
The details of the report were not to be found among the present day Court records. However, it seems safe to conclude that the Gentlemen Justices felt no need to appropriate additional funds or found it not possible to do so. An analysis of the episode suggests that Werth, for one reason or another, was at odds with County officials. There is additional evidence that not every member of the Chatham Greys on the scene saw conditions as described by Werth. His petition is in conflict with descriptions of the era as found in the words of three Chatham Grey veterans as recorded in War Recollections of the Confederate Veterans of Pittsylvania County 1861-1865. This remarkable collection was compiled by the local Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Lt. Wyatt whitehead for one, made no mention of deprivation Werth reported. This officer recalled that after the Battle of Big Bethel, the unit camped at Williamsburg. He called the people there hospitable, the court green beautiful and the girls pretty. Whitehead did mention that an epidemic of measles struck the Company and that at one time, there were thirty-five of the men down.
Another soldier, James Carter, recalled more details about the aforementioned battle and of taking captured Union prisoners to Richmond. He made no mention of deprivation.
Captain William Tredway, another officer of the unit, recalled that Captain Werth had the Chatham Greys well disciplined by the time they arrived in Richmond.
Perhaps the more revealing statements made by either came from paragraph three in Whitehead's account after the battle.
Our company numbered about 130 men, and our Captain having resigned, we here elected Dodderidge Coles, one of our county boys, who had recently been at school at Virginia Military Institute, as Captain in his stead. Our uniforms were fresh and handsome, being yet unstained by service. We were already a well drilled company, having been an organization before the war.
Werth's resignation is probably of significance, but no reason was given for that action in the records. Since Company officers were elected by the men, it may have been that Werth was unpopular and resigned rather than face the humiliation.
Research has indicated that alternatively his name was spelled “Werth” and “Worth” in Court Order books. It is significant that he had no land transactions but a William H. Worth qualified to practice law in the county in 1858. As a well educated man, he should have been a Confederate Officer.
Many questions about the episode remain unanswered. Even if an explanation were forthcoming, it would be obscured by the fame, color and glory the Chatham Greys acquired at Little Round Top. These legends notwithstanding, an answer to the supply problem (or lack of it) of the Chatham Greys in the spring of 1861 would make an interesting reading.
Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills
Pittsylvania's Nineteenth-Century Grist Mills
Thirty-Nine Lashes, Well Laid On
Pittsylvania County's Historic Courthouse
Clement: History of Pittsylvania County
Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past
Hurt: Eighteenth Century Landmarks of Pittsylvania County
Hurt: An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County
Dodson: Footprints from the Old Survey Books
Byrd: Histories of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina
Jones: Tales About People in a Small Town
Herman Melton's online articles are posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.
Copyright © 1997–2006 Herman E. Melton.