A few months ago, I came across an old sketch on Ebay showing a woman and her children above the title “Flight from the Shenandoah Valley”. Wanting to know the source, I found it in the Pictorial Book of Anecdotes and Incidents of the War of the Rebellion, by Richard Miller Devens (1824-1900). While there was a brief story accompanying the image, regretfully, there was nothing to attribute the story to a particular soldier or unit. Still, the story and the image do acknowledge one of the rather obscure elements of the war in the Shenandoah Valley in 1864. The image and story follow:
The order for the desolating of the Shenandoah Valley, issued by General Grant, that it might not afford sustenance to the Confederate raiders, was the source of wide-spread ruin to the inhabitants of that region. Property of all descriptions was swept away as with a besom in an iron hand, and families without number were scattered houseless to poverty, exposure and hunger. An illustration of the scenes attending such a hegira is afforded in the case of a woman – a very Niobe in her distress – who was discovered sitting by the wayside, on an old chest, and with whom the following conversation transpired:
“You look very sad, Ma’am.”
“Yes, and I feel so, too, Sir,” replied she; “but I’ve got through crying long ago, Sir; I’ve no more tears to shed.”
“Do you come from the Valley?”
“Yes, we are all from the Valley.”
“Nigh fifty miles I reckon we came. Why, we were rich,” continued she; “we had a nice farm, a good house and barns, and, let me tell you what we had. We had nine head of young cattle, we had four cows, and four old horses, and six colts. Then there were thirty sheep, and six fatted hogs, and six pigs. Then I had in the house two barrels of apple butter, three hundred pounds of honey, three crocks of butter, and I had silk in the house for two new dresses – to say nothing of my drawers being full of sheets and pillow cases, and all kinds of house linen, and a feather bed on every bedstead. Well, Sir, I was a Union woman, I was; I gave my honey and my apple butter; and all my things to your men, when they came up there scouting, and I never begrudged it. When the order came for your men to clear the Valley, some of them came while I was over to a neighbor’s. I saw the light in my direction, and oh dear! I knew what was going on – I knew my barn was going. I run all the way, and I come on one man with a pot of butter, and another with a pot of honey, and all my things; I knew whose they were, and when I got there they had gutted my house. I just had time to get a few things together – there’s all that’s left, Sir,” pointing with an air of unutterable despondency to a little pile of effects at her feet.
“Have you nothing left but those?”
“Only thirty dollars in money besides,” she said; “we sold a colt to one of your men, and he was a kind man, too, for thirty dollars. We had considerable of Confederate money, but that was no good.”
“Well, where do you intend to go?”
“Me and the children hope to go to Ohio, but we don’t know as we shall. We don’t know what to do.”
In this same condition, each with its kindred tale of wo, were hundreds of families, on their way from the depopulated Valley of the Shenandoah. In the darkness of the night, the scene was one that mingled the wretched and the picturesque in a manner that never yet engaged the artist’s pencil. An angry sky over their heads, and bleak, cold winds whistling around them; women with children of tender years, often with babes at the breast; young girls and boys and feeble old men – for there were no young or able men among them; such were the scenes and groups which met the eye and wrung the heart.”
It’s an interesting story of an encounter, but I question either the recollection or the story itself, as an obvious question seems to be missing in the exchange.
“Ma’am, where is your husband?”
She made the claim of being a Union woman, but was her husband also, or was he a Confederate, and was his wife in disagreement with her husband’s decision. Of course, there’s also the question of whether or not she said what she did simply to appease the Union soldiers.
Still… a good little story worth the transcription.