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(A copyrighted publication of West Virginia Archives and History)

Volume 50 Appalachia's Civil War Genesis:
Southwest Virginia as Depicted by
Northern and European Writers, 1825-1865

By Kenneth Noe

Volume 50 (1991), pp. 91-108

A persistent theme among historians of the American South has been the disagreement between those who stress continuity and homogeneity and those who see discontinuity and diversity in the region's past.1 Historians of the Appalachian region are no exception. For nearly a hundred years, interpretations emphasizing stasis held sway. Scholars described the southern mountains as an area increasingly separated from a developing United States after 1800 by physical and cultural barriers. Isolated mountain settlers maintained pioneer ways at best, and retrograded into poverty, ignorance, and degradation at worst. Negative stereotypes abounded, but the portrait was not completely dark. One positive characteristic writers pointed to was the mountaineer's individualism and love of liberty, which translated during the antebellum and Civil War years into an abhorrence of slavery and loyalty to the union. These qualities were seen as setting the region off as distinct from the South.2

Dissenters like John C. Campbell occasionally challenged part of the orthodoxy, but only since the late 1970s has an alternative interpretation found acceptance. Using the methods and concerns of the "new history," revisionists began to argue that discontinuity was the central theme of Appalachian history. Specifically, proponents maintained that two distinct periods could be discerned in the region's past, a "preindustrial" era dominated by yeoman farmers with agrarian, Jeffersonian values, and an "industrial" period where the hallmarks of wage labor and a loss of individual liberty shifted control of the mountaineer's life to hostile, outside interests. Revisionists claimed earlier historians and writers essentially blamed the victim by cataloging the results of unbridled capitalism -- poverty, ignorance, violence, pessimism -- and projecting them into the past as innate characteristics of the "peculiar" if not "inbred" mountaineer. On the contrary, revisionists believed antebellum Appalachia, of all American regions, came closest to exemplifying the Jeffersonian ideal. Mountain yeomen, working land they largely owned, enjoyed a comfortable existence. After subsistence needs were met, farmers often retained a surplus which they bartered or sold for profit. Livestock drovers utilized a poorly maintained network of roads and turnpikes to take their animals to distant markets in the northeast and the Deep South. To a great extent, the roads negated the isolation created by rugged terrain. Ties to the South were close, and slavery occupied an important place in the mountain psyche despite the smaller percentage of slaves in the population. Few mountaineers advocated abolition and many fought for the Confederacy when the Civil War began.3

Discontinuity, then, displaced continuity as the new orthodoxy, but questions remain. Several scholars began to question the rosy picture often presented by the revisionists of the region's preindustrial population, identifying areas where tenancy was widespread, class lines rigidly drawn, and the quality of life more marginal than usually depicted. Another crucial issue, though less explored, is the determination of just when the discontinuity occurred. Most scholars follow the path of trailbreaker Ronald D Eller, who saw "Appalachia's" genesis in the transformation beginning in the 1870s with the appearance of railroad men and outside timber interests. Philip Paludan and, more recently, Paul Salstrom challenged this interpretation. Paludan, in a study of the Civil War in Shelton Laurel, North Carolina, maintained that regional poverty, pessimism, and isolation appeared as early as the 1840s, when population growth began to overwhelm available land. Estrangement with lowland gentry heightened, leading many mountaineers to turn away from the outside world. Salstrom supported this argument in a recent dissertation. If these interpretations are correct, postwar industrialization alone cannot be blamed for Appalachia's ills. Indeed, the neat division between preindustrial and industrial periods becomes suspect. To untangle these knots, Appalachian historians must continue to study the antebellum period.4

One way to examine the question is to look at the region through the eyes of antebellum- and Civil War-era travelers who visited. Travel accounts, of course, must be approached with the greatest caution. Antebellum northern and European observers, much like the writers who descended on the region in the 1870s, carried heavy cultural baggage, middle- and upper-class assumptions, biases, and stereotypes. Nonetheless, when used carefully, travel accounts help illuminate the character of the region before industrialization.5

Travel accounts examined here relate to a specific section of the southern mountain region, southwest Virginia. The boundaries of southwest Virginia have been described variously by writers. The delineation adopted here is that used by the Commonwealth of Virginia prior to the Civil War. Southwest Virginia in 1860 encompassed twenty-four counties, including nine located three years later within West Virginia's boundaries. The counties were Boone, Buchanan, Carroll, Fayette, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Greenbrier, Lee, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Montgomery, Pulaski, Raleigh, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, Wyoming, and Wythe. Bland and Dickinson counties were created by Virginia after the census enumeration.

Southwest Virginia attracted three kinds of travelers. One category consisted of those who passed through fairly quickly on their way elsewhere. Men like James Silk Buckingham, a British parliamentarian and well-known temperance advocate, and the Connecticut Yankee Frederick Law Olmsted were intelligent, reliable observers engaged in a broader tour of the entire South, with a critical eye often directed toward slavery. Equipped with substantial intellects, these travelers approached their task in a straightforward and relatively objective manner. Their journeys usually took them through Montgomery, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth, and Washington counties in the southern part of the region. The Valley or Stagecoach Road, the main highway between Baltimore and Knoxville, ran through the upper Shenandoah Valley, which traversed the five counties named.

A second category of travelers came to the region with a longer stay in mind. These writers often intended to join the southern elite as they summered at the South's premier resorts, the several Virginia hot springs, most of which operated in the southwest Virginia counties of Greenbrier and Monroe. In the 1850s, new springs opened near the Valley Road. This group of travel writers, unlike Olmsted, were more interested in depicting the strange or picturesque. They generally exhibited more biases and were less able to overcome preconceived notions. These accounts are useful,but they must be approached with greater wariness. Some travelers, it should be noted, visited both areas.

A final group to be considered consisted of tourists in blue uniforms. During the Civil War, federal soldiers fought throughout southwest Virginia. Soldiers could be tourists as well as warriors, and many Yankees left vivid impressions of their experiences, which are crucial for an understanding of the postwar Appalachian stereotype.

Initially, two concerns occupied southwest Virginia's antebellum visitors. One was the region's lovely scenery, which enchanted outsiders. Many, like Buckingham, thought southwest Virginia the most attractive region they saw in America. Even as they delighted in the landscape, though, travelers unabashedly feared for their lives. Travel accounts left a uniformly negative portrait of the region's roads, coaches, and drivers. Author and former British naval officer Frederick Marryat, for example, regaled his readers with an account of nearing the springs in a dilapidated coach driven by a "hell-bent-for-leather" driver. Due to the summer's heat, two horses died in the mad dash for the resorts.6

Count Francesco Arese, a Milanese noble and close friend of France's Louis Napoleon, left a more good-natured but equally illustrative account. Arese compared his fellow travelers to "anchovies in a keg." He continued, "You can hang on, grip on, cling on as much as you like, you will land every evening shattered, bruised, done up!" Roads in southwest Virginia, Arese concluded, were "horible."7

Once safely off the road, travelers began to record their thoughts about the region's inhabitants. While a few, like the "done up" Arese, were positive, most regarded the mountaineers negatively, eager to note any defect in the American or southern character.

Buckingham's depiction of the residents of Peterstown, Monroe County, exemplify the negative comments, as he wrote they

. . . were among the dirtiest we had yet met with. The men seemed as if they did not shave more than once a month; the women looked as though a comb never went through their hair, or soap and water over their skins; and the children, though they were all clothed, never had their garments mended, and were as ragged as they were dirty.8

It is worth noting, however, that Buckingham could rise above his prejudices, if only for a moment. In almost the same breath, he praised the citizens of nearby Union for their sobriety, no small achievement to the ardent temperance reformer.9

Mrs. Anne Royall left one of the best early portraits of southwest Virginia. Born in Maryland but raised primarily in Pennsylvania, Royall, widow of an eastern Virginia squire, traveled and wrote in the mid-1820s to supplement her income. Journeying down the Valley Road, Royall found herself surprisingly taken with the people she encountered. She adored their "sweet melodious voices" and "personal beauty." Southwest Virginia's residents were "handsome fine looking men, very much in appearance like the Kentuckians, though they excel even these in expression of countenance. In addition to all this, they are a well informed, hospitable, and polite people."10

Importantly, Royall limited such praise to southwest Virginians of British ethnic origins. The Appalachian region was stereotypically portrayed as one whose residents were of homogeneous British origins, of either English or Scottish descent. As Royall and others noted, much of western Virginia contained a significant German minority. German customs and even the language flourished as late as the Civil War. Royall viewed this most unfavorably, and Washington County's "Dutch," as Germans universally were called, came in for stinging criticism. The "Dutch," Royall charged, were illiterate and immoral, "though industrious and in many instances wealthy." Their great sin was the refusal to assimilate themselves into the larger, English-based culture, which led to a backlash among the British ethnic majority. Other alleged characteristics, such as sexual promiscuity among women and an improper familiarity with blacks, were seen as merely side effects of the resistance to change.11

After her experiences on the Valley Road, Royall turned northward to the springs, where she encountered more southwest Virginians. Royall concluded that the mountaineers of Mercer, Monroe, and Greenbrier counties were different from those she had previously encountered. Although of the same British stock, she considered them an inferior people. Isolation in a "bleak, inhospitable, and dreary country, remote from commerce and navigation [and] destitute of arts, taste and refinement" left the inhabitants illiterate and ignorant of the ways of the world. While not as unkind as Buckingham, her descriptions were hardly complimentary as she assured readers the region had never "reared one man of abilities of any sort." Outsiders by necessity filled "all places of honor, profit, or trust."12

Royall's comments imply on the surface that the rugged landscape was somehow responsible for stunting the growth of its inhabitants, as if they were trees. In fact, the basis for Royall's condemnations was economic. The mountaineers of the Greenbrier Valley, she derisively concluded, were ". . . lack[ing] every requisite essential for commercial purpose. . . . They are without capital, system, or enterprise, nor do they seem ambitious of either." Semi-subsistence farming and barter sufficed. Clearly, what distinguished these mountaineers from their brethren to the south in Royall's eyes was the latter group's greater integration into the commercial mainstream, facilitated by a major transportation artery.13

Yet the walls of alleged isolation already were tumbling in the Greenbrier Valley. The wealthy lowland elite at the hot springs acted as a catalyst. Royall believed that contact with the refined outsiders could not help but "bring a fund of amusement and instruction home to the doors of [the] inhabitants." To Royall, the only visible effect by 1825 was a growing demand for the outside consumer goods the elite brought with them. Mountaineers desired tea and coffee, kitchenware, and clothing. Market demand spurred merchants to locate in the area, a development Royall regretted as a threat to the purity of the unsullied yeomen.14

These merchants acted as middlemen in marketing local goods to the outside world. As Royall described the process, local merchants acquired through barter a variety of goods, including beeswax, feathers, maple sugar, whiskey, wool, and especially butter and ginseng and transported the items by wagon northward to Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The merchants sold or bartered at profit consumer goods from these cities in the Greenbrier Valley.15

Southwest Virginians often cut out the middlemen when it came to marketing the region's most important product, livestock. Blessed with luxurious pastures, the region yielded fine cattle, hogs, horses, and sheep, which found ready buyers in the northeast. Drovers embarked on long stock drives to the nation's capital and beyond. Stock raising was the mountaineer's most serious foray into the commercial economy.16

The stock industry continued to develop in the antebellum years. Buckingham, who entered southwest Virginia more than ten years after Royall, believed the region to possess the best pastures in the United States. He wrote of a large farm near Newbern:

Vast herds of cattle are driven up here from the southern and western parts of the State -- we saw as many as 600 at least -- in one drove -- to be pastured and fattened for the eastern markets; and it is thought to be more profitable even than planting, though capital invested in that yields 25 to 30 per cent; but in grazing it is said to realize 50 to 60 per cent, on the average of many years running.17

Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps the best known of the antebellum travelers, left another vivid account of stock droving in southwest Virginia. East of Abingdon, Washington County, Olmsted,

. . . passed upon the road two large flocks of sheep. The drivers said they had brought them from western Tennessee, where they cost $1 a head on an average. They intended to drive them two hundred miles further, into the "valley of Virginia," where they would be sold to farmers who would fatten them on meal, and sell them to drovers for the New York markets. They expected $2 to $3 a head. This sort of business is fast increasing in Virginia; fatting cattle being found in most localities much more profitable than grain growing.18

The hot springs provided ready markets for beef, pork, and mutton as well. G. W. Featherstonhaugh, a British geologist and aristocrat, observed drovers at White Sulphur Springs who arrived with twenty to fifty animals per herd, which they sold to the management for three cents per pound. The springs contributed to the local economy in additional ways. Diners desired fruits, vegetables, and milk products with their meat. Local entrepreneurs provided private carriages for guests' transportation. Farm families provided short-term lodging for travelers waiting for rooms at the resorts.19

Moreover, guests eager for a change in routine fueled a nascent tourist industry away from the resorts. Writers counseled that no visit to the springs could be complete without a stop at Hawk's Nest, magnificently perched a thousand feet above the New River in Fayette County, or at Organ Cave, fifteen miles south of White Sulphur Springs. Travelers employed local guides to escort them to these and other attractions. Featherstonhaugh, for example, hired farmer and hunter Charley Talbot to take him to King's Cove, a spot in far southwest Virginia. Talbot apparently supplemented his income regularly in this manner.20

The transition to a market economy stimulated town development in southwest Virginia. Abingdon, home of the influential Campbell, Floyd, and Preston families and seat of Washington County government, was the region's most substantial town. By 1841, it had eleven hundred residents, over two hundred buildings, four churches, and a macadamized main street. While Featherstonhaugh dismissed it as a "straggling village," Olmsted several years later praised Abingdon as "a compact little town with a good deal of wealth."21

Lewisburg, Greenbrier County, was the principal town in the Greenbrier Valley. Anne Royall noted in the mid-twenties that Lewisburg was a lively, thriving place with a stone courthouse, two churches, two academies, and forty homes. Commerce, especially stock droving, and county court business generated Lewisburg's bustling atmosphere. Union, mercantile center for the ginseng and pelt trade, was another important town in the area.22

The mountain region described in the travel accounts, then, was not an isolated backwater cut off from the outside world. Rather, southwest Virginians were making the transformation from a locally-oriented, semi-subsistence economy to a wider commercial market. Southwest Virginia's mountaineers moved warily toward the benefits capitalism offered, while simultaneously safeguarding their independence and security.23

Historical geographer Edward K. Muller's model of regional growth is helpful on this point, describing three distinct phases of regional development. In the "pioneer" phase, settlers established communities far removed from commercial markets. The absence of population and the time and energy required to establish homes and farms hindered the development of agriculture beyond subsistence needs. Transportation was confined to a few natural routes. However, as settlement expanded and the population grew, communities passed into a second, "specialized" phase. Intraregional and interregional connections improved, resulting in the influx of new settlers and the beginnings of commercial agriculture and manufacturing. In the final phase, which Muller called "transitional," national transportation and marketing systems, especially railroads, integrated communities into the national economy.24

Robert D. Mitchell applied a model like Muller's to Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, and it can be used just as profitably in examining southwest Virginia. Using Muller's terminology, the historians of continuity and homogeneity argued that southwest Virginia and the rest of Appalachia never emerged from the first, pioneer phase of development. The travel accounts, however, suggest that at least southwest Virginia passed into the second phase as early as the 1820s, and certainly by 1850. To extend the argument, the completions of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad and the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad in the late 1850s set the stage for transition into Muller's final phase by connecting southwest Virginia to eastern Virginia, Memphis, and the Mississippi River, and New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.25

One point that undergirds this argument is the status of slavery in southwest Virginia. Slavery was never strong numerically in the region. From 1830 to 1860, the slave percentage of the total regional population fluctuated between 11 and 12 percent. The relative scarcity of slaves in the southern mountains led scholars, notably Carter G. Woodson, to postulate that mountaineers harbored fewer racist prejudices than lowland whites and looked upon the institution of slavery harshly. Uncomfortable with slavery, mountaineers chafed at slaveholder control.26

Wilbur J. Cash, in The Mind of the South, rejected these assertions. Writing from the other extreme he contends mountaineers "acquired a hatred and contempt for the Negro even more virulent than that of the common white of the lowlands; a dislike so rabid that it was worth a black man's life to venture into many mountain sections."27

What did antebellum observers have to say? John Joseph Gurney, an English Quaker and abolitionist, wrote that slaves were treated no better and no worse in western Virginia than elsewhere in the South. Frederick Law Olmsted believed slavery as practiced in the southern mountains was milder than elsewhere. Southwest Virginia's only distinction from other sections of the back country was its greater number of slaves. "Their habits more resemble those of ordinary free laborers," Olmsted wrote, "they exercise more responsibility, and both in soul and intellect they are more elevated."28

Though small in numbers, slaves filled a variety of important roles in southwest Virginia. Many worked as field hands, especially for planters and professionals who also worked farms. Slaves toiled as domestic servants, for as one farmer told Olmsted, any white laborer willing to work as a servant was deemed worthless. Slave labor kept the hot springs running, with slaves working as cooks, waiters, butchers, and musicians. Guests brought additional slaves with them as personal servants. Slaves toiled in the region's iron, lead, and salt mines and in its factories.29 Because of the Valley Road, southwest Virginia also served as the major conduit for slave traders bound for the Deep South. Crossing the New River from Montgomery to Pulaski County, Featherstonhaugh encountered three hundred slaves on their way to Natchez and Louisiana, marching in manacles and chains. He learned that the traders were terrified of escapes, and employed food and constant music in hopes of averting trouble.30

Trouble over slavery could not be prevented, however, in southwest Virginia or elsewhere in the nation. In the winter of 1860-61, the long simmering sectional crisis boiled over into secession and civil war. Southwest Virginia, through its representatives and its votes, cast its lot with the Confederacy.

That decision led to the appearance of the third group of outside observers, Union soldiers. Federal troops under generals George McClellan and William Rosecrans swept aside weak resistance and slashed southward from the Ohio River to southwest Virginia in 1861. Rosecrans, replacing McClellan, planned to drive through southwest Virginia and liberate Unionist East Tennessee. He also hoped to cut the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, a vital Confederate lifeline.31 James A. Garfield, operating in eastern Kentucky, shared the same goal. "Let the great Tennessee & Virginia Railroad be taken," he wrote a friend, "and the grand lever on which this rebellion hangs will be broken."32 By early 1862, however, active operations bogged down due to rebel resistance and rugged terrain. The front between the two armies ran, with periodic fluctuations, through Raleigh, Mercer, and Monroe counties. Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry wrote his wife that "Flat Top Mountain, twenty miles south of Raleigh [now Beckley, West Virginia] is the boundary line between America and Dixie -- between western Virginia, either loyal or subdued, and western Virginia, rebellious and unconquered." A stalemate ensued, interrupted by occasional raids into enemy country. In early 1864, General Ulysses S. Grant launched the most successful of these raids, dispatching generals George Crook and William Averell into southwest Virginia to destroy the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.33

During all their operations in the Virginia mountains, Union soldiers observed the land and its inhabitants, many with the same curious eye as the antebellum travelers. The published letters, diaries, and regimental histories of the men in blue reveal many similar concerns. These sources reveal the character of the region during the war.34

Some soldiers instantly disliked the landscape. Garfield, concerned with moving his men from place to place, pronounced southwest Virginia "a horrible country."35 Most Yankees, however, marvelled at the majestic scenery. Ambrose Bierce, for example, remembered,

. . . a strange country. Nine in ten of us had never seen a mountain, nor a hill as high as a church spire, until we had crossed the Ohio River. In power upon the emotions nothing, I think, is comparable to a first sight of mountains. . . . The flatlanders who invaded the Cheat Mountain country had been suckled in another creed, and to them western Virginia . . . was an enchanted land. How we reveled in its savage beauties! With what pure delight we inhaled its fragrances of spruce and pine! How we stared with something like awe at its clumps of laurel.36

Rutherford Hayes, like Bierce, found himself enchanted with his surroundings. He described Hawk's Nest as "a most romantic spot." Gauley Bridge in Fayette County was "the spot for grand mountain scenery. . . . Nothing on the Connecticut anywhere equals the views here." Fayette contained "the grandest mountain scenery I have ever beheld." To his mother, Hayes confided, "I am afraid I am ruined for living in the tame level country of Ohio." And to his wife, Hayes admitted, "I talk so much of the scenery, you will suspect me to be daft. In fact I never have enjoyed nature so much. . . . I do get heady I suspect on the subject."37

Common soldiers delighted in the landscape as much as their officers. Retreating from the Battle of Lynchburg in June 1864, Charles H. Lynch of the 18th Connecticut Infantry confided to his diary, "In spite of all our hardships we cannot help admiring the scenery." Upon reaching Hawk's Nest, the weary, hounded column stopped like so many tourists to enjoy the view. "We were allowed a look and permission to shoot, and listen to the wonderful echo our old muskets made," Lynch wrote. "The view was something grand and awful. Shall never forget that scene."38

Union soldiers regarded the land in a much more favorable light than they did the land's inhabitants. Indeed, soldiers' accounts of southwest Virginia, and more generally all of the southern mountain region, contain by far some of the most degrading depictions of mountain people ever penned, far exceeding anything written by the antebellum observers. James D. Fox of the 16th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry regarded the majority of Lee Countians "a benighted people" and dismissed mountaineers generally as "trash." Frank H. Mason of the 42nd Ohio Infantry, serving with Garfield along the Virginia-Kentucky border, wrote of "primeval barbarism," condemned mountaineers as ignorant and crude, and compared them unfavorably to "the happy barbarians of the Pacific Isles." Crook dismissed the natives in his theater as "counterfeiters and cut-throats."39

Hayes, who was infatuated with the region's terrain, possessed no similar appeal for its people. "What a good-for-nothing people the mass of these western Virginians are!" he wrote in Fayette County. "Unenterprising, lazy, narrow, listless and ignorant." While slavery had made the regional elite "intelligent, well-bred, brave, and high-spirited," the majority of mountaineers were nothing but "serfs." Elsewhere, Hayes depicted local soldiers as "cowardly, cunning, and lazy," representatives of "a helpless and harmless race."40 Nowhere in the antebellum accounts does one find characterizations this negative and crude. Why did federal soldiers view southwest Virginians so harshly? The answer appears to lie in a combination of three factors.

First, the war brought real economic distress, poverty, and upheaval to southwest Virginia. Foraging, impressment, conscription, and constant campaigning led to untilled fields, hunger, privation, and despair. Chaplain William C. Walker of the 18th Connecticut declared in 1864 that "the whole country from Liberty [in the Valley county of Bedford] to Gauley Bridge would be the last place to send foraging parties." Charles Lynch of the same regiment concurred. "Inhabitants very few in this rough country," Lynch wrote, adding, "the people look as though they were suffering for the southern cause."41

Hayes, as early as November 1861, saw the situation rapidly developing and noted where it fell hardest. "The poor women excite our sympathy constantly," he wrote his mother. "A great share of the calamities of war fall on women. I see women unused to hard labor gathering corn to keep starvation from the door."42

Internal divisions and confusion exacerbated the region's difficulties. At the beginning of the war, the population of southwest Virginia could be divided into three groups. Some communities openly proclaimed their ardor for secession. Others held strictly to unionist views. Many, however, hoped merely to escape the hostilities and survive. This last group was marginally pro-Confederate until southern authority in the area weakened and the horrors of war became more real. War-weariness, conscription, and impressment created resignation and disillusionment.43 Hayes confided to his diary in December 1861:

People come twenty-five miles to take the oath. How much is due to a returning sense of loyalty and how much is due to the want of coffee and salt, is more than I know. They are sick of the war, ready for peace and a return to the old Union. Many of them have been Secesionists, some of them soldiers.44

A few days later, he wrote his uncle:

The people hereabouts, many of them fresh from the Rebel armies, come in, take the oath, and really behave as if they were sick of it, and wanted it to stop. . . . The common people of this region want to get back to coffee and salt and sugar, etc., etc., none of which articles can now be got through whole extensive districts of country.45

As entire communities re-pledged their loyalties to the Stars and Stripes, local unionist-secessionist tensions heightened. The result was a bitter and brutal internecine war, a "desperate malignant struggle between the poor Union men of the mountains and their Confederate neighbors and foes."46

The Civil War halted southwest Virginia's hopeful economic expansion and left in its place poverty, violence, and hopelessness, three of the supposed characteristics of "Appalachia." Moreover, a bitter guerrilla war within the larger conflict worsened the situation and convinced many outsiders that mountain people were little better than savages.

Indeed, some Yankees regarded one category of Virginia mountaineer as worse than savage: the Confederate "bushwacker." Officially the Richmond government regarded these men as "partisan rangers," non-uniformed irregulars whose mission was to harass the enemy by attacking small bodies of men, raiding stores, and cutting communication lines before fading back into the general populace.47

Union soldiers developed a fierce hatred for the bushwackers. The Reverend William Davis Slease of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry described the guerrillas as "cowardly assassins, and cruel freebooters who hid in mountain passes and sent murderous shots into our ranks from positions where pursuit was impossible."48 Bushwackers were not soldiers but outlaws, cowardly murderers who refused to play by the rules. Federal soldiers, itching to retaliate, wondered why they could not respond in kind. In late 1861, General George Crook of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, fresh from western service against the Indians, authorized retaliatory measures. He organized a draconian anti-bushwacking campaign along the same lines as used against the Indians. He employed spies to identify potential enemies and a system by which suspects were unable to escape justice through a lax military court system. Crook wrote approvingly:

. . .when an officer returned from a scout he would report that they had caught so-and-so, but in bringing him in he slipped off a log while crossing a stream and broke his neck, or that he was killed by an accidental discharge of one of the men's guns, and many like reports. But they never brought back any more prisoners.49

Inevitably, these tactics expanded into a more general campaign of terror against all mountaineers. Crook admitted that in neutralizing bushwackers, his men burned out the entire northwestern county of Webster, launched indiscriminate ambushes of civilians in Greenbrier County, and methodically "spread terror" throughout the region.50 The hatred developed for the bushwackers quickly degenerated into a broad loathing of all mountaineers, any one of whom was a potential enemy in disguise.

Both the collapsing economic and social structure of southwest Virginia and the fear and hatred that grew out of the struggle with the bushwackers created among northern soldiers widespread scorn and contempt for the region's mountaineers. Under such circumstances, it was unlikely that any account of the region's residents could be balanced, sympathetic, or positive. Even had this been possible, however, a third factor may have operated to ensure that wartime depictions of mountaineers would stress ignorance, savagery, and an un-American peculiarity.

In his perceptive recent study of Civil War soldiers, Gerald Linderman described the chasm between what soldiers really experienced and what noncombatants perceived to be occurring at the front. When the war ended, according to Linderman, veterans entered roughly fifteen years of "hibernation," during which they repressed their memories of war as much as possible. About 1880, when interest in the war revived generally, veterans began to write memoirs and regimental histories. Linderman contends the soldiers altered their narratives to fit the flagwaving, popular stereotype readers expected. The veterans "surrendered the war they had fought to the war civilian society insisted they had fought."51

In the 1880s, what did this civilian society believe about the southern mountains? As Henry Shapiro pointed out in Appalachia on Our Mind, the 1880s also marked the emergence of the local color school of popular writers. Local colorists flocked into the southern mountains and wrote accounts which depicted the entire region as a strange, backward land. The image of Appalachia as a poor, violent "other-America" was born. It seems entirely plausible that the veteran writers, literate and well-read, shaded their narratives with images and concepts borrowed from the popular local colorists. This admittedly is only speculation, but seems worthy of scholarly investigation.52

In conclusion, the descriptions of antebellum travelers in southwest Virginia generally support the assertions of the revisionist school of discontinuity. In the more traveled parts of southwest Virginia there seems to be little evidence that mountain society was moving toward isolation before the war. It is entirely possible of course that pockets like Shelton Laurel existed in areas off the beaten path, unseen by travelers. Additional studies on those areas are required before that question can be answered fully. What is more apparent is that the onset of the Civil War caused a sharp break in regional development, and exposed the exhausted area to the later transformations industrialization wrought. The Civil War and its immediate aftermath must be considered a third, transitional period between those eras usually labeled by Appalachian scholars "preindustrial" and "industrial." Preindustrial society lay in ruins in 1865, crushed by military might and poisoned by internal hatreds. Yet large- scale industrialization, with the one exception of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, had yet to make its appearance. In other words, a new era had begun in the war-torn hollows and valleys of the southern mountains. Only the direction that new era would take confronted the railroad men, industrialists, and missionaries of the 1870s and 1880s.


1. Partial support for this paper was provided by the Appalachian Center, Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, and by the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois. An earlier version was read at the Social Science History Association meeting in Washington, DC, on November 18, 1989. I would like to thank John Hoffmann, John C. Inscoe, and Ralph Mann for their helpful comments.

2. Noted examples include Harry M. Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area, with a Foreword by Stewart L. Udall (Boston: Atlantic Monthly, 1963); William Goodell Frost, "Our Contemporary Ancestors in the Southern Mountains," Atlantic Monthly 83(March 1899): 311-19; Horace Kephart, Our Southern Highlanders: A Narrative of Adventure in the Southern Appalachians and a Study of Life Among the Moutaineers (1913; reprint, Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1976); and James Watt Raine, The Land of the Saddle Bags: A Study of the Mountain People of Appalachia (New York: Coun. of Women for Home Missions and Missionary Educ. Movement of the U.S. and Canada, 1924).

3. For Campbell, see The Southern Highlander & His Homeland, with a Foreword by Rupert B. Vance and an Introduction by Henry D. Shapiro (Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 1969). Shapiro's comments on Campbell's 1921 publication are particularly useful. Among the most important revisionist works are: Ronald D Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1982); Gordon B. McKinney, Southern Mountain Republicans, 1865-1900: Politics and the Appalachian Community (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1978); Henry D. Shapiro, Appalachia on Our Mind: The Southern Mountains and Mountaineers in the American Consciousness, 1870-1920 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1978); and Gene Wilhelm, Jr., "Appalachian Isolation: Fact or Fiction?" in An Appalachian Symposium: Essays Written in Honor of Cratis D. Williams, ed. by J. W. Williamson, with an Introduction by Louie Brown (Boone, NC: Appalachian State Univ. Press, 1977), 77-91.

4. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers; Philip Shaw Paludan, Victims: A True Story of the Civil War (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1981); Paul Salstrom, "Appalachia's Path Toward Welfare Dependency, 1840-1940" (Ph.D. diss., Brandeis Univ., 1988). Not all Appalachian historians have concentrated on the period after 1870 of course. Examples of notable works include Dwight Billings, Kathleen Blee, and Louis Swanson, "Culture, Family, and Community in Preindustrial Appalachia," Appalachian Journal 13(Winter 1986): 154-70; Martin Crawford, "Political Society in a Southern Mountain Community: Ashe County, North Carolina, 1850-1861," Journal of Southern History 55(August 1989): 373-90; Durwood Dunn, Cade's Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community, 1818-1937 (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1988); several works by John C. Inscoe, most recently his Mountain Masters, Slavery, and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina (Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1989); Mary Beth Pudup, "The Boundaries of Class in Preindudtrial Appalachia," Journal of Historical Geography 15(1989): 139-62; and Paul J. Weingartner, Dwight B. Billings, and Kathleen M. Blee, "Agriculture in Preindustrial Appalachia: Subsistence Farming in Beech Creek, 1850-1880," Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 1(1989): 70-80, which questions whether Appalachian farmers indeed were meeting their subsistence needs.

5. Two useful guides to travel accounts are Thomas D. Clark, Travels in the Old South: A Bibliography, vol. 3, The Antebellum South, 1825-1860: Cotton, Slavery, and Conflict (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1959) and E. Merton Coulter, Travels in the Confederate States: A Bibliography (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1948).

6. J. S. Buckingham, The Slave States of America, vol. 2 (London: Fisher & Son, 1842), 284-85, 530-33; G. W. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion through the Slave States, From Washington on the Potomac to the Frontier of Mexico; With Sketches of Popular Manners and Geological Notices (1844; reprint, New York: Negro Universities Press, 1968), 15, 39-40; Marianne Finch, An Englishwoman's Experience in America (London: Richard Bentley, 1853), 324-25; Caroline Gilman, The Poetry of Travelling in the United States, By Caroline Gilman. With Additional Sketches, By a Few Friends; and a Week Among Autographs, by Rev. S. Gilman (New York: S. Colman, 1838), 349-50; Joseph John Gurney, A Journey in North America, Described in Familiar Letters to Amelia Opie (Norwich, Eng.: Josiah Fletcher, 1841), 54; Frederick Marryat, A Diary in America, with Remarks on its Institutions, ed. with an Introduction by Sydney Jackman (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962), 231.

7. Count Francesco Arese, A Trip to the Prairies and in the Interior of North America [1837-1838], trans. by Andrew Evans (New York: Harbor, 1934), ix-xx, 31-32, 35.

8. Buckingham, Slave States, 304-05.

9. Ibid., 292, 328-29.

10. [Mrs. Anne Royall], Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the United States. By a Traveller (New Haven: Printed for the Author, 1826), 30.

11. Ibid., 26-31. See Klaus Wust, The Virginia Germans (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1969), 38-52, 93-120, 186-95.

12. Royall, Sketches, 32, 56-57.

13. Ibid., 72. But see also Paul Salstrom, "Letter," Appalachian Journal 13(Summer 1986): 343-44. Salstrom argues that capitalism in a significant state of development existed in the area as early as the 1780s.

14. Ibid., 32, 56-57. Royall's reaction to "threat" of the outside world is comparable to that expressed by the northern missionaries who operated in the region in the late nineteenth century. See Shapiro, Appalachia on our Mind.

15. Ibid., 71.

16. Ibid. Before 1850, wealthy planters dominated regional stock driving activities. Yeomen participated by selling their stock to neighbors or by providing stock on consignment, and by supplying drovers en route with necessary supplies. After 1850, yeomen moved more extensively into the activity. See David Campbell, Abingdon, VA, to John B. Floyd, 17 Apr 1849, Letters Received, Governor's Office, Executive Department, 1849, Virginia State Library, Richmond, VA, and John B. Radford to William M. Radford, 18 Jan 1848, Preston-Radford Papers, Manuscripts Department, University Library, Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA.

17. Buckingham, Slave States, 40, 530-33.

18. Frederick Law Olmsted, A Journey in the Back Country in the Winter of 1853-4. 2nd ed. (New York: Mason Brothers, 1863), 274. A recent appraisal of Olmsted's sojourn in the southern mountains is John C. Inscoe, "Olmsted in Appalachia: A Connecticut Yankee Encounters Slavery and Racism in the Southern Highlands," Slavery and Abolition 9(September 1988): 171-82.

19. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion through the Slave States, 26; Buckingham, Slave States, 298-99; Perceval Reniers, The Springs of Virginia: Life, Love, and Death at the Waters, 1775-1900. 3rd ed. (Kingsport, TN: Kingsport Press, 1955), 31.

20. Arese, Trip to the Prairies, 36-37; Featherstonhaugh, Excursion, 41-42; Finch, Englishwoman's Experience in America, 329-30; Marryat, Diary in America, 231; Peregrine Prolix [Philip H. Nicklin], Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs; the Roads Leading Thereto and the Doings Thereat, 1834 & 1836, New annotated ed. (Austin, TX: AAR/Tantalus, 1978), 21-25, 132; H. S. Tanner, A Geographical, Historical, and Statistical View of the Central or Middle United States (Philadelphia: H. Tanner, Jun'R and New York: T. R. Tanner, 1841), 472-74.

21. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion, 40; Olmsted, Journey in the Back Country, 273; Tanner, Central or Middle United States, 491.

22. Arese, Trip to the Prairies, 36; Buckingham, Slave States, 326; Prolix, Letters, 86-87; Royall, Sketches, 30-38, 53.

23. Steven Hahn's study of upcountry Georgia is comparable to southwest Virginia. Hahn's ideas are expressed in three works, The Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850-1890 (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1983), 15-85; "The 'Unmaking' of the Southern Yeomanry: The Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1860-1890," in The Countryside in the Age of Capitalist Transformation: Essays in the Social History of Rural America, ed. by Steven Hahn and Jonathan Prude (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1985), 179-203; and "The Yeomanry of the Nonplantation South: Upper Piedmont Georgia, 1850-1860," in Class, Conflict, and Consensus: Antebellum Southern Community Studies, ed. by Orville Burton and Robert C. McMath (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 1982), 29-45. Weingartner, Billings, and Blee, "Agriculture in Preindustrial Agriculture," 71, essentially agree with Hahn's "speculative" interpretation. Other historians, however, have found more orthodox capitalism in the Appalachian South. See Salstrom, "Letter," 344-49, as well as Dunn, Cade's Cove, 63-85.

24. Edward K. Muller, "Regional Urbanization and the Selective Growth of Towns in North American Regions," Journal of Historical Geography 3(1977): 21-39, and "Selective Urban Growth in the Middle Ohio Valley, 1800-1860," Geographical Review 66(April 1976): 178-99.

25. Robert D. Mitchell, Commercialism and Frontier: Perspectives on the Early Shenandoah Valley (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1977).

26. Population figures are derived from these sources: Documents Containing Statistics of Virginia, Ordered to be Printed by the State Convention Sitting in the City of Richmond, 1850-1851 (Richmond: William Culley, 1851), Document 13, 1-3; U.S. Bureau of the Census, The Seventh Census of the United States, 1850 (Washington: Robert Armstrong, 1853), 256-57; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population of the United States, 1860 (Washington: GPO, 1864), 516-18; ibid., Statistical View of the United States (Washington: Beverly Tucker, 1854), 320-26. Woodson's thesis is found in his "Freedom and Slavery in Appalachian America," Journal of Negro History 1(April 1916): 132-50.

27. W. J. Cash, The Mind of the South (1941; reprint, New York: Vintage, 1961), 219.

28. Gurney, Journey in North America, 51-54; Olmsted, Journey in the Back Country, 226-28, 273.

29. Buckingham, Slave States, 324; Featherstonhaugh, Excursion, 16-18, 26; Marryat, Diary in America, 236; Olmsted, Journey in the Back Country, 226, 273-76.

30. Featherstonhaugh, Excursion, 36-37.

31. Proceedings of the Virginia State Convention of 1861, 4 vols. (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1965), 1: 49-53, 586-88, 657-59; 2: 569-71, 580; 3: 676; 4: 24, 52, 144, 788-91; Henry T. Shanks, The Secession Movement in Virginia, 1847-1861 (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1934), 148-60, 207; Jacob Dolan Cox, Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, vol. 1: April 1861-November 1863 (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900), 144-45; James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 297-304.

32. James A. Garfield, Headquarters, 18th Brigade, Camp Buell, KY, to My Dear Smith, 15 Feb 1862, in Frederick D. Williams, ed., The Wild Life of the Army: Civil War Letters of James A. Garfield (Lansing: Michigan State Univ. Press, 1964), 70.

33. Rutherford Hayes, Flat Top Mountain, to Dearest, 3 June 1862, in Diary and Letters of Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Nineteenth President of the United States, vol. 2: 1861-1865, ed. by Charles Richard Williams (1922; reprint, New York: Kraus, 1971), 285; Cox, Military Reminiscences, 145; War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington: GPO, 1880-1901), series I, vol. 32, pt. 3: 245-46; vol. 33: 765-66, 893; vol. 36, pt. 2: 389-90; George Crook, General George Crook: His Autobiography, ed. by Martin F. Schmitt, with a Foreword by Joseph C. Porter (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1986), 92, 114-15.

34. Coulter, Travels in the Confederate States, x-xiii.

35. James A. Garfield, Louisville, KY, to My Dear Harry, 17 Dec 1861, and Garfield, Headquarters, 18th Brigade, Paintsville, KY, to Mother, 26 Jan 1862, both in Wild Life of the Army, 49, 61.

36. Ambrose Bierce, The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, vol. 1: Ashes of the Beacon; The Land Beyond the Blow; For the Ahkoond; John Smith, Liberator; Bits of Autobiography (New York: Neale, 1909), 227-28.

37. Rutherford Hayes, Diary, 21 Oct 1861; Hayes, Near Gauley Bridge, VA, to Uncle, 15 Oct 1861; Hayes, Camp Union, Fayetteville, VA, to Mother, 25 Nov 1861; Hayes, Camp, Mouth of East River, Giles County, VA, to Mother, 15 May 1862; Hayes, Camp Tomkins near Gauley Bridge, VA, to Dearest, 17 Oct 1861, in Diary and Letters, 114-17, 146-47, 271.

38. Charles H. Lynch, The Civil War Diary, 1862-1865, of Charles H. Lynch, 18th Conn. Vol's (Hartford, CN: Case, Lockwood & Brainard, 1915), 84, 88.

39. James D. Fox, A True Story of the Reign of Terror in Southern Illinois, A Part of the Campaign in Western Virginia, and Fourteen Months of Prison Life at Richmond, Virginia; Macon, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Columbia, South Carolina (Aurora, IL: J. D. Fox, 1884), 19, 30; F. H. Mason, The Forty-second Ohio Infantry, A History of the Organization of that Regiment in the War of the Rebellion, with Biographical Sketches of its Field Officers and a Full Roster of the Regiment (Cleveland: Cobb, Andrews, for the Veterans Association of the Forty-second Ohio, 1876), 49, 88; Crook, Autobiography, 86.

40. Rutherford Hayes, Diary, 11 Oct 1861 and 15 Jan 1862; Hayes, Birch River, Between Summersville and Sutton, VA, to Uncle, 14 Sept 1861, in Diary and Letters, 92, 114, 187.

41. Chaplain William C. Walker, History of the Eighteenth Regiment Conn. Volunteers in the War for the Union (Norwich, CN: Gordon Wilcox, 1885), 266-67; Lynch, Civil War Diary, 82.

42. Rutherford Hayes, Camp Union, Fayetteville, VA, to Mother, 25 Nov 1861, in Diary and Letters, 146-47.

43. Walker, History of the Eighteenth Regiment, 271; Crook, Autobiography, 90; Lynch, Civil War Diary, 87; Rev. William Davis Slease, The Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry in the Civil War: A History of the Fourteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry from its Organization until the Close of Civil War 1861-1865 (Pittsburgh: Art Engraving & Printing, 1915), 250; Rutherford Hayes, Diary, 28 Mar 1863; Hayes, Camp White, to Dearest, 24 July 1863; Hayes, Fayetteville, VA, to Lucy, 6 Jan 1862; Hayes, Fayetteville, VA, to Mother, 6 Jan 1862, in Diary and Letters, 180, 184, 368, 422. In understanding the behavior of communities in times of stress and regional divisions, I have benefited from two articles, Paul D. Escott and Jeffrey J. Crow, "The Social Order and Violent Disorder: An Analysis of North Carolina in the Revolution and Civil War," Journal of Southern History 52(August 1986): 373-402, and Albert H. Tillson, Jr., "The Localist Roots of Backcountry Loyalism: An Examination of Popular Political Culture in Virginia's New River Valley," Journal of Southern History 54(August 1988): 387-404.

44. Rutherford Hayes, Diary, 7 Dec 1861, in Diary and Letters, 156.

45. Rutherford Hayes, Camp Union, Fayetteville, VA, to Uncle, 15 Dec 1861, in Diary and Letters, 159.

46. Mason, Forty-second Ohio Infantry, 81. The quote referred to the situation on the Kentucky side of the Virginia-Kentucky border, but as Mason operated in both states, and harbored the same prejudices, the quote is appropriate in this context. See also Fox, True History, 20-29, and Cox, Military Reminiscences, 425.

47. Cox, Military Reminiscences, 421-24.

48. Slease, Fourteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, 114.

49. Crook, Autobiography, 87; his background in the Pacific Northwest see 31-82.

50. Ibid., 88. 51. Gerald F. Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: Free Press, 1987), 3, 266-97.

52. Shapiro, Appalachia On Our Mind.

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