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Union Soldiers Recall Pittsylvania and Danville

By Patricia B. Mitchell

Pittsylvania County and Danville citizens were spared the terror and destruction of hosting a major battle during the Civil War. With that blessing comes a relative scarcity of written observations from that period, at least compared to localities which saw heavy fighting between massed armies.

However, Danville's six military prisons did bring to the area a number of involuntary outside observers, some of whom later wrote of their time spent locally (see also “‘Truly Horrible’ Danville Civil War Prisons,” The Pittsylvania Packet, Pittsylvania Historical Society, Spring 1993, pp. 12-13).

“In all my eighteen months' prison experience, the Rebels never furnished us one item in the way of cups, cooking vessels or clothing [except water pails at Danville, Va.],” wrote Sergeant S. S. Boggs of the 21st Illinois Infantry on page 27 of his 1887 memoir Eighteen Months a Prisoner under the Rebel Flag, published in Lovington, Illinois.

During his imprisonment after being captured near Petersburg on June 22, 1864, Lt. James D. Cope, Company K, 116th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, kept a diary which later came into the possession of his brother John Cope, who in turn furnished it to Daniel Chisholm. Chisholm included Cope's diary notes in his own written record, finally published in 1989 as The Civil War Notebook of Daniel Chisholm: A Chronicle of Daily Life in the Union Army 1864-1865, edited by W. Springer Menge and J. August Shimrak, Orion Books, New York.

On pages 190-191 of the Chisholm book is found Lt. Cope's account of his transfer from Libby Prison in Richmond to Macon, Georgia.

“Tuesday, June 29, got up early and had breakfast early to go some place, do not know where, all packed up ready. We start and are now on the cars on the south side of the river and are hungry for something to eat. Rode all day and all night, and waked up after a small and tiresome sleep on the bottom of the car.

“June 30 at Lynchburg, Va. Start and march a short distance from Lynchburgh and camp for the night. Drew rations at Lynchburgh for four days. Said to be going to Danville, Va.

“July 1, start about sun up on the march, feel rather bad after being sick all night with pain in the right side. Stopped for breakfast in a flat meadow, take breakfast consisting of water and hard tack made of coarse rye meal — 65 to 70 miles to Danville. Stopped for the night on a little river called Stanton [Staunton] River and remained there until morning.

“July 2, waked up with the word pack up. So I got up all hands ready to go. The morning is pleasant but I feel stiff. 25 miles to go to day, 50 miles to Danville. Stopped for breakfast after a short march — start — stopped at a stream called Stink [Stinking] River. Watered. Started anew and stopped for the night at a creek or river called Georgia River [George's Creek].

“July 3rd, broke camp and start with a large squad of citizens to guard us, went four (4) miles towards Pittsylvania Court House and stopped for breakfast, start and pass Pittsylvania Court House, a nice little place. It was Sunday and the negroes were out en masse to see the Yankees pass, thinking it must be all of Grants army. Stopped for the night on a small stream by the name of Dannestan [Banister River].

“July 4, started on the march, said we have eleven miles to go without water — we are at the water and resting, 5 miles to Danville. This morning, Citizens gave the officers some bread and last night Major Scaggs [probably Maj. Langhorne Scruggs, but also possibly Lt. Col. Rawley Martin; see above-mentioned Danville prisons article and p. 47 of Maud Carter Clement's The Early Homes of Chatham (1957), describing an encampment of 3000 prisoners “in the broad field opposite Oakland house”] of Pittsylvania Court house [Chatham] came and gave us some bread and meat. Arrived at Danville about noon and was placed in a house with a guard marching backward and forward, orders to move in half an hour. Received two days rations, one of corn and one of hard tack and bacon. Start for the cars — arrive and now are sitting on the ground ready to get on the train. Get on and start — arrive at Greenboro [Greensboro], North Carolina. Forty-eight (48) miles from Danville, Va.”


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