The “wafflers” (a rebel today; a yank tomorrow)

Posted on February 6, 2013 by


From time to time, we see this sort on the big screen… a reb when the Confederate soldiers are present, and a yank when the Union soldiers are present. Take for example, the ferry boat man (“Sim Carstairs”), in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales


So, encountering (by happenstance) what may be the “real deal” in my search, I felt compelled to make note of it. Not only does it tickle a “big screen memory nerve”, it also points to the difficulties in clearly figuring out, among civilians, who was solidly Union or Confederate.

In sifting through the claim of William A. Dixon (Achiles Dixon), I encountered comments regarding Dr. John James Hunter Straith (Univ. of Pa., 1833), of Charles Town, Jefferson County, (West) Virginia. Clearly not identifiable within the same class as what we see with “Sim Carstairs”, but…

As a free black, Dixon’s story is an interesting one*, but I’ll keep my focus for the time on Straith. In an effort to receive compensation for a horse, Dixon noted:

I kept her [the horse] in the lower part of my yard, and part of the time in Dr. Straith’s stable – they call him John J. Straith. Well: he claimed to be a union man at the time. I thought he was a Union man at one time, about the second year of the war, he done so many good things, and done so many bad things, that I don’t like to say what he was. I thought he was a Yankee when the Yankees were about and a rebel when the rebels were about.

At the time of the war, Straith was in his lower 50s, and quite a wealthy man ($20,000 in real estate; $7,000 in personal estate). After the war, Straith attempted to prove his loyalty in a claim of his own, however, it was rejected in 1876 on the grounds that, in November, 1862, he had “sold to the Rebel Commissary Department at Winchester, Va., Nov. 14th, 1862, 168 lbs of Fresh Beef for which was paid $25.20.”

The claim was apparently appealed, because, as of February, 1879, another note was placed in Straith’s file, which stated, “Oct 16 to 31, 1862. Sold Sixty four dollars worth of beef. Thirty three dollars worth of mutton and two dollars worth of tallow for candles.” Even after the appeal, Straith’s claim appears to have gone no further.

I realize that selling goods to the Confederacy doesn’t mean that one wasn’t necessarily a Unionist, but it was certainly a kill-joy when it came to a claim submitted to a very tough claims commission. Was he a Unionist or was he Confederate? Perhaps after more digging one might get closer to the definitive answer… or not.

As the Farmers Advocate (Charles Town) noted of Straith, in 1928, he was “one of the best known physicians of the Shenandoah Valley,” and died in 1878, “as the result of a fall from a horse.” He was buried in Edge Hill Cemetery, in Charles Town.


*Born free, and a blacksmith by occupation, Achiles Dixon was taken prisoner by the Confederates during the war, for having shod Union horses, and was held in the jail at Winchester for nine weeks, before being released.