The widow of a refugee

Posted on November 17, 2012 by


A few months back I ran across the claim of Rebecca Spigle. At first glance (a quick look at that), I saw that her husband died while a refugee. I get the thought that some opted to become refugees… and her husband, Samuel (not to be confused with Samuel Spiggle, of the 2nd Virginia Infantry… though both were from Shenandoah County), did just that… but he left his wife and children behind. All I could think about is “How could he have done that, even with the thought that his family was left to their own in his absence?” Was this actually a glimpse into the story of a selfish man?

Upon returning later to the claim, I realized it was more complicated than it appeared on the surface… as so much does in many things.

Samuel, had indeed high-tailed it into Maryland, in 1862, but according to Rebecca, he did so only under the threat of conscription.

I am the widow of Samuel… who died in Dec. 1862. He was a refugee having deserted from the rebel army at the time Genl. Banks was here which was Apl 1862. He died in Maryland. He was a conscript in the rebel army and deserted to avoid fighting for the rebels. He left five children… I know that my husband was violently opposed to going into the rebel army and would not have left home had it not been to his opposition to the rebel cause.

Before I moved on, I knew what was coming next.

It should be no surprise that the Claims Commission didn’t recognize Rebecca’s statement that Samuel had been “pressed” into service in early war. “There was no conscript law in force at that date”, noted the Commission in their final evaluation. Still, as I’ve noted several times before, many men (even some who did not apply for a claim) in the early war Virginia militia stated that they were conscripted… even before a conscription law was in place. The Commission failed to recognize that men could still be pressed into service… even before a conscription.

Strike one in Rebecca’s claim… even though it was an inaccurate and unfair assessment on the part of the Claims Commission.

Further in support of Samuel’s Unionist sentiments, one witness… Asher W. Rickard, who also applied for a claim of his own… stated that Samuel did not vote for secession. Not only that, but Rickard stated that there had been threats to hang Samuel because he did not vote for secession.

Upon careful review of the poll books for the county, however, the Claims Commission found something to the contrary… that Samuel had voted for secession. But… had he, really?

In fact, what the Claims Commission did not consider was that there was another man with a similar name in the same county… the man I mentioned above, in the first paragraph.

Strike two in Rebecca’s claim, though, as in the case of the first strike… an unfair assessment.

To be quite honest, at this point, for the Claims Commission, I don’t think that a third strike would even be required. My guess is that the Commission representatives pretty much had their mind made up based on their discovery of Samuel’s vote for secession.

Still, friends vouched for Samuel’s loyalty.

Asher Rickard stated:

I saw him often before he left and went north in 1862. He left on account of his Union sentiments. He died the latter part of 1861, away from home, leaving a widow and five small children. I talked with him about the war different times. He always rejoiced over union victories. I never heard him rejoice over a rebel victory. I regarded him as a loyal man and he was so regarded by his neighbors. He was threatened to be hung because he was a Union man. He did nothing for the rebel government. He fed the union soldiers when he had a chance. He owned no Confederate Bonds not to my knowledge. He did not vote at all on the Ordinance of Secession. He was threatened to be hanged because he did not vote for it.

Samuel Hottel, who was approved for his claim, also testified, saying:

He acted as a guide for Genl. Banks Army, in 1862, in the spring. I saw this myself… He offered to pilot Genl. Banks and gave him information about he movements of the rebels and they threatened to kill him if they ever got hold of him. He could not have lived here if the south had gained its independence.

Despite the positive testimony, the Claims Commission made their decision, though I sincerely think they misjudged the man and his Unionism…

The loyalty of deceased us not established by the evidence.

Rebecca died in 1908, and was buried in Toms Brook. It is unclear where husband’s remains were buried.