Battle of Bulltown

Weston Democrat
April 22, 1927

My Recollection And Experiences Of The Civil War

Thomas Bland Camden, M. D.

Transcribed from Original Notes by Roy B. Cook

(Continued from Last Week)

The Battle of Bulltown

The Battle of Bulltown took place near the Bulltown Salt Works, on the Little Kanawha River, in Braxton county, on October 13, 1863. The Confederate forces, under Gen. W. L. Jackson ("Mudwall", to distinguish him from his illustrious relative, "Stonewall"), Col. W. P. Thompson of Parkersburg, and others, attacked the Federal forces under Capt. W. H. Mattingly, also of Parkersburg. The word came to Weston by runners sent for aid, and relief for Mattingly's forces, and it turned out, the Federal Surgeon, Dr. Safford, of Parkersburg was on a leave of absence and there was no Surgeon there, I was urged by the Federal authorities at Weston to go to the battlefield and care for the wounded. I got Frank M. Chalfant, a noted druggist and Union man to accompany me, knowing that it would be a dangerous trip, as both forces had their scouts out and we had to go 27 miles on horseback, with medicines and instruments.

We started and got to the battlefield afternoon. The Confederates were retreating after fighting two days, and making many sorties to capture the Federals who were in a kind of breast works, composed of brush and fence on the hill north of Bulltown. The Federals had also log cabins near, which they occupied and fought from. In one the soldiers had a pet bear, and the Confederates knew of it, and tried several times to capture the cabin and the bear, and they told me it seemed like a "Prisoner's Base" frolic more than an actual fierce engagement. They never got the bear.

Capt. Mattingly was wounded by a large musket ball, shot from across the river at least a half mile away, striking his leg and broke the thigh bone. I cut the flattened ball out where it was lodged just under the skin, and dressed the wound, and put his leg in a long board splint I made. The bone was shattered and pieces came out from time to time, and always gave him trouble and caused lameness. I met him after the war at his home in Parkersburg, and he was very grateful for my aid, and services to him and his men. The firing could be heard as the Federals followed the retreating Confederates on towards Salt Lick Bridge, four or five miles away, I believe, with no casualties.

After dressing Mattingly's leg and the firing receded, I was taken down to the Salt Works where Col. McLaughlin's home was, where I found three or four wounded Confederates left there. One man was shot in the knee joint, just where the surgeons and surgery would say amputation of the leg was imperative, but as it was a "hot time" and firing going on, I did not seem to have time for extensive surgery, so I put his limb in splints and trusted to nature for good results, and I dressed the wounds of others, which were not so serious, and got away as soon as I could, and rather to my surprise all of the grave injuries got so well that the wounded Confederate soldiers were brought through Weston as prisoners afterwards.

And just here I want to add that I learned a valuable experience and lesson of the wonderful conservative and healing power of nature, for I fear if it had not been lively about there, I might have done some serious cutting, but as I remarked, I learned a conservative lesson in surgery, which has aided me as well as a patient or two, who were ready for the operating table for amputation of a leg, that was saved and had a good limb, by my advice.

One Confederate soldier was shot from a distance of nearly a half mile. The femoral artery was cut and he bled to death, and could have been saved, if surgical aid had been given. He was a young man named Ben Schoonova, whose father lived on Sand Fork. One of his sisters, a little girl of six or eight years of age, got her arm crushed in a cane mill, and I went there, sixteen miles from Weston. I got there at midnight, and amputated the arm by a tallow dip candle, and without chloroform. She recovered nicely. I have often seen the enclosed grave of Ben on the hillside near the road. After dressing the wounded, I was called to see Moses Cunningham, a noted character who lived within gunshot of the battlefield. He was a great and loud-mouthed Southerner, especially when drinking, and while the fight was going on, he hurrahed for Jeff Davis, and a soldier shot him in the back between the hips, and I dressed his wound and he recovered, and became more careful in his cheering, although he lost an eye by being "gouged" by a soldier in a fight afterwards.

As the firing continued and reports came in of fighting still going on, and how a Confederate on a white horse rode out on the road and emptied his carbine at the Federals at Salt Lick Bridge, who was supposed to have been Capt. John Sprigg, a brave soldier who lived near Sutton, and I did not know but they would return, Chalfant and I thought it wise for us to return home, and we got home safely. As I was urged to go to the battlefield by the Federal Captain of the Post at Weston, as there was no army surgeon there, Dr. Safford having come to Parkersburg, I sent my bill to the Department at Washington, I think for $100, which was very reasonable. They sent me $10, and I have always thought someone doctored my bill and got the rest. Capt. Mattingly had heard of the transaction and when I met him in Parkersburg sometime afterwards, he added another $10.

Civil War

West Virginia Archives and History