A BATTLE FOUGHT IN THE STREETS
(Rosser’s Beverly Raid of 1865)
By Thomas J. Arnold
This article was submitted by Randy Allen as an entrant in a contest sponsored by the Randolph County Historical Society and subsequently declared a co-winner. Thomas J. Arnold, a nephew of “Stonewall” Jackson, compiled this piece in 1916.
One of the memorable events that occurred in Randolph County in the Civil War was the fight at Beverly in the early morning of January 11, 1865, when General Thomas L. Rosser in command of some 300 Confederates attacked the Federal force stationed there, consisting of the 8th and 34th Ohio regiments under command of Colonel Robert Youart of the former regiment.
The fight, which was the last one in Randolph County (except a minor engagement a month or two later) hardly lasted longer than a half hour, and was a complete, Confederate success. The Federals, such as were not captured, retreated, fighting through the streets of Beverly and across the bridge on the road leading to Buckhannon. As there has never been found any official report of this action from the Confederate side, the subjoined letter from a friend, Mr. Cornelius B. Hite, now of Washington, D. C., who was with General Rosser on the occasion, is not only interesting but valuable. I never knew the number of killed and wounded on either side in this engagement. Sometime in the afternoon of the day of the fight I counted five dead Federal soldiers lying in the street, extending from a little north of the Presbyterian church to the location of Wilbur Strader’s residence.
The Federals had log huts for winter quarters located between the street and the foot of Mt. Iser. The attack was a complete surprise. The weather was below zero and the Confederates had been in a rain the preceding day. Their overcoats being wet, were frozen stiff, the capes rattling like boards.
There were several Randolph County men with Rosser, who being familiar with all the roads, streams and by-paths, rendered valuable service as guides. One of them, Archibald Earle, led them to his home just South of Beverly and where his two bachelor brothers were then living. From them much gratifying information was obtained, that being that the Federal officers were at that very time enjoying themselves at a dance in Beverly at the Leonard Hotel, it being owned and conducted by Mrs. Lucinda Leonard, a sister of the said Archibald Earle. They learned further that the Federal officers were generally quartered at the hotels and private residences in town, and at the hour of the attack were presumably sound asleep.
The understanding at the time was that some 800 prisoners were taken. Many of these escaped, after being rather carelessly guarded. Some 580 prisoners were turned in later at Staunton, Va. One of the prisoners who escaped was the Federal Commander, Colonel Youart. He had been stationed at Beverly quite a long while, and was so uniformly kind hearted and considerate in his treatment of citizens of Southern sentiment — so at variance with that generally accorded them by other Federal Commanders of the Post — that there was general regret at Col. Youart’s capture; and when he escaped, possibly by some southern assistance, there was general satisfaction.
In the letter referred to that follows, the writer, Mr. Hite, is very accurate in his statements; and the general facts given by him are well known to our older residents.
My dear Mr. Arnold,
Early in January 1865, while we were in winter quarters near the McDowell battlefield, Highland County, Va., General Thomas L. Rosser called for volunteers for an expedition on Beverly. His command consisted of his own Brigade, the 7th, 11th, and 12th, Wickham’s Brigade; the 1st, 2nd, and 4th, and W. H. Payne’s Brigade, the 5th, 6th, and 8th, all Va., regiments. About 300 men responded to this call from the several regiments named and also a few from the 18th and 62nd Va., regiments whose home were in Randolph County.
We started on January 9, 1865, on the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike via Monterey, for the top of the Alleghenies, where we arrived about dusk. There was a deep snow on the ground, and it was mild. There were a few houses and an old frame church, which sheltered my company that night from the torrential rain that fell during the entire night; while my cousin and I were taken care of at Col. Morgan’s headquarters, where we lay on the floor before a comfortable wood fire.
It stopped raining about dawn, and was still mild, and soon we started down the western slope where we didn’t see a human habitation for twenty miles. We forded two deep streams in the mountain that afternoon. The streams forded were the right and left forks of the Greenbrier River. In passing over Cheat Mountain we were in a thunderstorm with enough rain to wet our overcoats somewhat, but the rain changed to snow and made us look ghostlike in the dark.
We reached the foot of the mountain after dark, where was the first house we had seen since leaving the top. This day was Sunday, I think. After the thunderstorm, a fierce, bitter north wind arose and sent the temperature rapidly down towards zero. Our direction was north, right in the face of the wind. I thought I would perish from the cold, but my cousin and I, by taking turns in dismounting and running along to keep up with our command, each in his turn leading the others horse, managed to keep from being frost-bitten.
After leaving the top of the Alleghenies that Sabbath day, we did not stop for any thing until about midnight, when we reached a place owned by a family named Earle, a short distance south of Beverly.
As well as I could tell, in the night, we were following the foothills of the mountain on the east side of Tygart’s Valley, travelling north toward Beverly.
After stopping at the Earle place long enough to feed and rest, we again travelled on fast on a road east of Beverly and down Dotson Run towards Beverly, which we reached about an hour before day. We came out of the woods some 200 yards north of the Yalviee camp, and close to the Philippi Pike. As the crunching of the frozen snow under our horses feet attracted attention of a sentinel on the pike, he called out, ‘Who goes there?’ and one of our boys nearest to him replied, ‘A friend,’ whereupon the guard ran down the declivity there towards us and we took him without firing a shot.
My cousin, Isaac Fontaine Hite, of Frederick Co., Va., and I were not with our company, but were in advance because our horses had broken down, and we were afoot part of the way. To get remounted we got with the advance and were all dismounted and fought as infantry-except my company, which had not arrived because they approached Beverly on a different road, the Files Creek road.
My cousin, a third man whom I did not know, and myself attacked the first huts facing the Philippi road. My cousin and the third man got four Yankees out of the first hut and I got three out of the second, fearing all the time there was another Yankee left in the hut. These men were turned over to the third man to take back to the officer in charge of prisoners.
It was then that my cousin, who approached the hird hut, bidding the inmates to surrender, was shot. I was about 8 feet from him and just turning to go towards him. He turned and uttered a terrific yell and ran to me and groaned in reply to my question if he was much hurt. I am sure he was killed almost instantly, the bullet having entered his right breast, passing diagonally on. He had a fine record as a soldier all through the war and Rosser used him in 1864 as a scout until he resigned, his plea being that his horse was too much run down, but really because he disliked Rosser. We both were members of Co. D, better known as the Clarke Cavalry, 6th Virginia Regt.
It was still dark and I stood over my cousin wondering what to do next. I then took a position, pistol in hand, watching the doorway of the third hut. While so engaged. a man came running by saying General Rosser wanted every man to come at once to a certain place. I, however, stopped the man and got him to help me to take my cousin back to where I could get a surgeon. Just as we were lifting him from the ground a shot came from the hut in which I had taken three Yankees. So, evidently, there was a man there. He shot my unknown companion through the leg, a flesh wound.
We got away from the dangerous location, I going a short distance with my friend. I stopped to decide what to do next. About this time two men came along carrying a wounded man and asked me to help them and we carried him into a house on the Philippi Pike. I asked the man his name and he said it was Payne. I tried to cheer him and presently left him with his comrades. I learned that he died soon thereafter. It turned out to be that he was a brother of Judge John Barton Payne, who was prominent in Mr. Wilson’s administration and had recently been appointed by Mr. Harding on a commission to Mexico to confer with Obregon on recognition by the United States.
My recollection is that there were other wounded men in the house where we took Payne. After this I returned to my cousin. When nearly at this place, I discovered three Yankees trying to escape. I overtook them and brought them back. I also entered the hut, and confess I did so with fear and trembling, from which the Yankee had shot, and captured the Yankee in it.
Now for some incidents.
A soldier named Theodore Hodgson, belonging to the 11th regiment, and whom I knew, told me he had a unique experience which is as follows: He said, he was determined to go in one of the huts, and ducked his head quickly and butted in. A Yankee shot as he did so and blew his hat off but did not hurt him. The four Yankees who were inside took him prisoner and held him until his comrades rescued him.
Nat Willis of my company, the son of Hite Willis of Jefferson County, W. Va., was on horseback when a Yankee shot at him, the bullet striking the side of his boot. Willis then shot at the Yankee who fell down and then got up and ran into a house.
Among the wounded was Col. Cook of the 8th Cav., leg broken. Lieut. Howerson of the 6th Cav. had his collar bone broken. I understand that they were left at Beverly. I did not see them but was told of this.
I have always understood we had something like 800 prisoners but whether this was guess work or an actual count, I do not know.
We camped the first night out from Beverly about eight or ten miles. The next day we marched some twelve or fifteen miles further. That night I was on guard duty with about sixty of us in all. We were camped in a meadow on the left of the road and feared the Yankees had a notion to try to overpower us and get away. We were given strict orders to shoot, if they collected a group and would not disperse when ordered. We had no trouble. It was a severely cold night and we broke camp about 3 a.m. I was relieved from guard duty about 10:00 p.m. that night and saw no more of the prisoners.
In conclusion, I will add, that we destroyed the entire Yankee camp with fire and sword so-to-say, with the exception of the three huts where my cousin was killed – they were a little removed from the main body of huts.
The three men I captured trying to get away and the Yankee lying beside the Philippi Pike with his brains shot out were the four men in the hut whence came the shot that killed my cousin, I am sure, for they were not over twenty to thirty yards from it.
Before leaving Beverly, I made arrangements with a man (a short man, an undertaker, I suppose to be Lemuel Chenoweth) for he said that he would have a coffin ready to put my cousin’s body in and I paid him to bury him and mark the grave.
Now I have given you the whole history as I saw it. You can select what you want for your article and if It is for the Veteran, I will see it, I hope.”
Cornelius B. Hite
What seems remarkable is that a General with but 300 soldiers would undertake an expedition in the midst of winter over continuous high mountain ranges, which are often Impassable because of deep drifts of snow and against a fortified army post 80 miles distant occupied by nearly two regiments numbering some 1,200 or 1,500 seasoned veteran soldiers. The result affords ample evidence of the generalship displayed and wisdom of the exposition. The Federal official reports showed that some 400 Federals escaped capture.