Battle of Lewisburg

Recollections of the Rev. John McElhenney, D. D.
by his granddaughter, Rose W. Fry
(Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, 1893) pp. 179-182

In the spring of 1862, owing to Breckenridge's calling in his lines, the country between Charleston and Lewisburg was left open, and Cox advanced his front to Lewisburg. We had the mortification of seeing a detachment of Crook's brigade encamped on the hills west and north of the town.

On the 23rd of May, General Heth, with two regiments and Edgar's battalion, supported by Bryan's battery and a company of horse, made an effort to recover the town. The attack was well planned, but the videttes driven in from Greenbrier bridge gave the alarm, and Crook was ready for the attack. He made good his defence, and our men were driven back in confusion, burning the bridge over the river, and leaving their killed and wounded in the enemy's hands. We lost sixty men in this short conflict, and several hundred in wounded and captured.

The citizens were refused permission to bury the Confederate dead. The bodies were laid out in the church until a trench, some fifty feet long, was dug, and in this enormous grave, without coffins, unknelled and unblessed, without ceremony, they were laid away.

The battle was fought almost in the streets. At daybreak we were roused from slumber by the sound of firing. Almost immediately, my grandfather's voice was heard at the foot of the hall stairway, calling out, "Susan, Susan, you had better all get up, there is going to be a battle!"

Thus aroused, half-dressed, the children flattened their faces against the window-panes. From this position we had a good view of what was taking place on our left-flank. We could see the terrified negroes running to the woods back of "Mucklehenney's house"; we could see the puffs of smoke almost simultaneously with the rattle of musketry. We heard the discharge of artillery almost for the first time in our lives. It was an exciting, nay, even an alarming moment. The bullets whistled through the trees in the yard.

The Yankees were interrupted in cooking their breakfast; though taken by surprise, they behaved beautifully. They soon formed into line, and double- quicking it down the hill-side, levelled the fences in the meadow, and my grandfather's wheat fields, and swept up the opposite slope to " the grove," which crowns the eastern hill, where the Forty-fifth was waiting to receive them. Colonel Edgar's battalion was in the centre, supporting Bryan's battery. Our left line soon broke under the onslaught from the enemy.

On the opposite side of the town Colonel Patton's regiment met with equal ill-luck. The Twenty-second attacked the enemy's left-flank, and a sharp fight went on in the Fair-grounds. For an hour or so a brisk firing was kept up, then it slackened, and died away. Something told us the day had been lost. About nine o'clock a cloud of smoke appeared on the horizon; it was from the bridge over the river, recklessly destroyed by General Heth in his retreat. We could see the blue-coats coming back leisurely down the hill-side. Up to this time my father had been much struck with General Heth's resemblance to Napoleon, but after this affair we heard no more of this fancied resemblance. General Heth* was short, rotund, and square-faced.

Every house in the village was now searched. There were rumors that the town was to be burned, and the flames of a burning house seemed to corroborate this alarm.

At this time my grandfather lost his valuable riding- horse, Donum. The citizens waited upon General Crook in his tent, where he was nursing a wounded heel, and represented the age of the venerable minister, and his need of the horse to which he was accustomed; but without avail. The valuable animal was not returned. He took the loss of his beast philosophically, and was heard to remark humorously, that he "didn't wish the fellow who stole him any harm, but he would not object if Donum should stumble and break his neck!"

*Shortly afterwards, General John Echols was placed in command of this section. He was a native of Monroe, and familiar with the character of the country to be held. The battle at the White Sulphur, the following year, under Colonel George Patton (temporarily in command), was a brilliant affair. The retreat from Droop Mountain, later on, was not so fortunate.

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