General Longstreet's Visit to Pittsylvania County

By Kenyon McCann

It is generally believed that most Pittsylvanians are unaware that General James Longstreet visited Pittsylvania County in the summer of 1865. A recent publication by The University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville) offers proof of this visit, an item of interest to Pittsylvania County history buffs. Longstreet's Aide: The Civil War Letters of Major Thomas J. Goree, edited by Thomas W. Cutrer ($27.95) contains excerpts of correspondence of family members in texas from 1861-1864, a travel diary during the summer of 1865 while en route home from the war, at times in the company of General James Longstreet and, later, post-war letters Goree wrote and received from Longstreet and fellow staff officer G. Moxley Sorrel. The post-war letters to Longstreet were prompted by the general's concern for adverse publicity he was receiving from Southerners who questioned his current business dealings with Northerners who had previously been the “enemy.” In trying to clear his name, Longstreet turned to Goree, his former aide, whose memory was like the proverbial “steel trap.”

Goree was writing from Campbell Court House, where he and Longstreet paused for the night en route from Appomattox to Lynchburg. They traveled with an ambulance, two mules and two horses belonging to the general. Although Goree chafed in his anxiety to return home, he declined to leave Longstreet behind and an extended delay was spent in Lynchburg in order that the general might rest and recuperate. (Longstreet was severely wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness.)

On June 28th, they were joined by Longstreet's son, Garland, and Jim, a Negro servant returning to his home in Shreveport, Louisiana. Their first day's travel covered 30 miles and terminated at the home of William Pannel[l] in the Chalk Level community of Pittsylvania County. It had been a difficult journey that included a river crossing on the Staunton with a “too heavily loaded ambulance and jaded mules.”

After a two night's pause with the family of Mr. Pannel[l] whom Goree describes as a “very hospitable and clever gentleman; kind, nice people withs everal very pretty and agreeable daughters who entertained us well” the party left on June 30th for Pittsylvania Court House (Chatham). After lunch they continued on to Whitmell to spend the night with Mr. Philip Thomas. Thomas was a schoolmate of Goree's friend Charlie Breedlove who grew up in the Whitmell Community. Goree describes Mr. Thomas as a “plain but clever man; the roads, better; the country, poor.”

The following day (July 1) found them at Oak Hill Plantation, home of Mr. Samuel Hairston, fifteen miles down the road. Although their host insisted they overnight with him, they declined; however, the party enjoyed Hairston's hospitality and a brief visit. Goree cites the splendid dinner that included roasting ears and ended with Porter from Hairston's cellar. “Here is a very wealthy man who owns 8,000 acres [of land] and several hundred Negroes. His four children are each wealthier than their father.” Finally, Goree mentions the beautiful countryside, the Valley of the Dan River, before the party crossed the Smith River into North Carolina, to continue their ride south to Texas.


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This webpage is posted by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House as part of an effort to document Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville, Virginia.