Anxious for secesh; not so anxious to fight

Posted on April 11, 2008 by


No, it wasn’t a standard feeling of those who voted for “secesh,” but I do think it’s worth mentioning (especially in the wake of the quick analysis of the referendum numbers) that some who were anxious for secession and likely voted for it in the referendum, weren’t so eager to defend the very “cause” that they played-up.

There is a really good story from Page County that I unearthed a few years ago about some die-hard “secesh” there.

Sometime in early 1861, there was a Unionist rally at the little village of Newport in Page County (don’t blink if you drive through there today as you might miss the little green sign that reads “Newport” – well, maybe I’m stretching it a little as there is also the roadside convenience store and the camper lot along the river). The key speakers at the event were John Shuler (interestingly enough, a third great grandfather of mine), Dr. James Lee Gillespie, and John Lionberger.

John Shuler's headstone, located in St. Paul's Lutheran Church Cemetery, Page County, VirginiaIn recounting the story in later years, one of Shuler’s sons, Isaac Shuler, remembered that the crowd “yelled” for John Shuler to speak. “He responded and in his discourse followed along the line of [John] Lionberger, trying to impress upon the minds of his bearers the horror and bloodshed that would follow secession.” During his speech, at least one man in the audience took exception to Shuler’s rhetoric and slipped away from the crowd, went behind the store and grabbed a chair which he planned to smash over Shuler’s head. The store owner, Reuben M. Walton, “jumped to the counter and prevented the blow.” Despite the ruckus, the crowd yelled for Shuler to again “take up the speech and his remarks said something that was displeasing to some present.” In response, the hecklers yelled back that “if we cannot get our rights in Virginia we will go to South Carolina, if we have to wade in blood up to our knees.” Shuler, knowing these men and “having great respect for them said ‘you need not go to South Carolina where you can get all the fight in Virginia and probably near your home.’”

Isaac Shuler later added that of those men who spoke of the need to go to South CarolCaptain Michael Shulerina, none were quick to take up the sword when war finally did come. It was his experience that the “rooster that crows the loudest is not the best fighter. Instead of going to South Carolina when we got in the war they remained at home and did everything they could to keep out.” Despite John Shuler’s firm stand (apparently before Lincoln’s call for troops) against secession and war, two of his sons would serve in the Confederate army; the oldest son – Captain Michael Shuler of Co. H, 33rd Virginia Infantry – as a company commander in the Stonewall Brigade and a younger son – the same Isaac Shuler who related this story for the local newspaper – enlisting only three months before General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House. The older son was killed at the Wilderness in the spring of 1864, while the younger son was unable to make it to Lee’s army before it surrendered.