A Strange but True Narrative
Miraculous Escape of Major K. V. Whaley from the Jenkins Cavalry
December 5, 1861
A Strange but True Narrative
Miraculous Escape of Major K. V. Whaley from the Jenkins Cavalry
Major K. V. Whaley, member of Congress from the Wayne District, of whose arrest by the Jenkins Cavalry, at the attack on the village of Guyandotte, and subsequent escape, mention has been made, reached the city yesterday from Ceredo. It would be hard to invent a piece of fiction to surpass in the strangeness of its details, Maj. Whaley’s simple and truthful story of his escape from the rebels. Jenkins and Clarkson attacked Guyandotte with twelve hundred Cavalry and after capturing the place, intended to make an attack upon Ceredo, but were deterred by the approach of a steamer supposed to be hurrying troops to Whaley’s rescue. The rebels numbered in all fourteen hundred, but two hundred were left upon the road to secure the retreat of the main body. Major Whaley was taken prisoner in the streets of Guyandotte, by the notorious Henry Clay Pate, of Kansas notoriety, commonly know as Mud Head, who is now a Captain in Jenkins’ Cavalry Regiment. As Major Whaley and the balance of the prisoners were leaving Guyandotte, in charge of the Cavalry, some twenty secession women appeared in the streets in their secession aprons, and indulged in demonstrations of rejoicing, although they had pretended to be very friendly to the Federal troops previous to that time. Some of the men of the place, who had been treated with great kindness by Major Whaley and his men, also exulted over the capture, and some, it is said, fired from the windows of their house upon our poor little besieged garrison. These men ought to be compelled to take the oath of allegiance to the United States Government. They ought to be sworn. (As Artemus Ward would say, this is intended to be sourcastical [sic].)
When the Cavalry reached Barboursville, on Monday morning, Major Whaley heard the booming of cannon, and knew that Col. Zeigler had arrived at Guyandotte from Ceredo. As they passed through Barboursville, the Major saw a large number of Union men tied along the roadside, who had been captured by resident secessionists, who were waiting for the approach of the Cavalry. The Cavalry left Guyandotte on Monday morning, and during that day marched a distance of 40 miles, without a bite of anything to eat. Many of the prisoners fainted, owing to the inhuman manner in which they were forced along upon foot, and Major Whaley begged Jenkins to take them and himself out in the fields and shoot them, as that would be infinitely preferable to the slow torture which they were compelled to endure. The prisoners were then mounted upon horses, and managed to get along without so much suffering and fatigue. During Monday, a Jew by the name of Beekman overtook the cavalry and informed the commander that Col. Zeigler had killed several of the Secessionists in Guyandotte, and fired the town. This so enraged the rebels that they rushed madly upon Whaley and his men, crying, “kill the d—d Abolition scoundrels;” and it was only through the exertions of Col. Clarkson, who seemed to be second in command, that the lives of the prisoners were preserved.
On Monday night a young calf was killed, of which the prisoners got a fair proportion.
On Tuesday they marched a distance of twenty miles, and stopped at a point near Chapmansville [sic]. At this point the cavalry separated, and moved in different directions for the purpose of gathering corn, leaving Major Whaley in [the] charge of Capt. Wicher’s company, the rest being in the front and in the rear. Night coming on, Major Whaley, after hanging up his coat and hat by the fire to dry, went to bed in another room with Capt. Wicher. In this room there were eight men, one of whom acted as guard. About three o’clock in the morning Maj. Whaley awoke, and finding the guard nodding in front of the fire, and all the rest in deep slumber, determined to effect an escape. Leaving his bed as quietly as possible he approached the guard, and ascertaining that he was asleep took Capt. Wicher’s hat, picked up his own shoes, raised the latch of the door, and seeing all clear outside, ran with all his might about two hundred yards down the Guyandotte river. Here he put on his shoes, and looked about for some driftwood upon which to cross the stream, but finding none concluded to swim the river, which he did with considerable ease. He then proceeded down the river about a mile and a half, and commenced to ascend a mountain, the summit of which he reached just at daybreak, and just as Wicher’s was firing his guns as a signal of the escape. The firing was answered from all directions. Major Whaley knowing it would be fatal to attempt to travel in daylight, sought a thicket of red oak brush, in which he found a sort of path. To and fro over this path he walked all day. A bleak wind was blowing, and being wet through, and having no coat, he was compelled to walk rapidly in order in order to save his life. When night came on he started down the Guyandotte Valley, tracing the foot of the hills, a distance of two miles, when he came upon a camp of about one hundred cavalry, and knowing it would be folly to attempt to pass, retreated again to the mountains. The next day he took a circuit upon the top of the hills, to try and trace the valley and keep off the river, which he supposed would be guarded.
At last he came upon Hart’s creek, and supposed himself to be in the vicinity of a Union settlement at the head of Twelve Pole. He went up Hart’s creek and inquired of an old lady named Adkins, who with her son and son-in-law were in the house, asking her to direct him to Kyer creek, which he knew to be one of the branches of Twelve Pole. Young Adkins finally agreed to show him the creek for two dollars, and when they started the Major observed that the son-in-law, Thompson, started in another direction. The Major suspected that Thompson knew him and feared pursuit, so he hurried young Adkins along a good deal faster than that young gentleman desired to move. Arriving at the creek, the Major, having been robbed of all his money in Guyandotte on the sight of the fight; could not comply with his contract with Adkins, but gave him 25 cents, all the money he had, and a new pair of soldier shoes taking in exchange the guide’s old moccasins. The Major struck down the creek along very narrow road, passing two houses at one of which he saw a little girl, but had not gone a great distance before he heard the tramp of the cavalry coming in pursuit. The Major was about turning a bend in the road and had barely time to jump over a fence and lie flat upon his belly, when along dashed a company led by the fellow Thompson before mentioned. The Major was lying not six feet from where his pursuers passed, and could see their eyes peering anxiously forward in search of him. It is hardly necessary to say that he stuck close to the ground than ever did a bat to a wall, and for the first time in his life yearned for the power to make himself invisible. After the pursuers passed, he crawled up ravine, and spent another twelve hours exposed to the hardest kind of a rain, accompanied by the fiercest lightning and the loudest thunder.
[The Major afterwards learned that the little girl whom he had seen had informed his pursuers that he had just gone around the bend in the road, and in their anxiety to gain the bend and capture him, they never thought of looking to the right nor to the left.]
Being exceedingly weak and feeble, in consequence of having gone three days without food, the Major determined to approach a house a short distance ahead and ask for something to eat. Accordingly he waded the creek, about waist deep, picked up a couple of boulders, and going to the house, spoke to the occupants. He was answered by the man of the home—a Union man—who recognized the Major almost at once, and warned him not to remain a minute if he wanted to escape, as the cavalry had been there hunting for him. The Major offered the man $500 to conduct him to the Queen settlement, and to the house of Absalom Queen. The man, although avowing himself a good Union man, refused the offer, stating that he would be killed by his cannibal neighbor if discovered. He, however, gave the major a blanket to throw over his shivering shoulders, and directed him to the house of Queen, for which kind action the Major desires his name to be suppressed in the narrative.
The Major plodded on, and at last reached the house of Absalom Queen, where he found a Home Guard of 25 men, who he assembled to keep the rebels from driving off the cattle from the Union settlement. Here was the first place he got anything to eat after making his escape. Queen and eleven of his men accompanied the Major, and by traveling only at night went to the Tug Fork of Big Sandy, crossed into Kentucky, stopped at the house of Roland Sammon until after night, and then moved down in a boat, reaching the forks of the Big Sandy before midnight. There they found encamped Col. Moore’s command, who had just returned from Prestonsburg, Ky. The party reached the mouth of Big Sandy on Sunday at twelve o’clock, and there was great rejoicing all along the Ohio River, firing of cannon &c.
Major Whaley gave each of Queen’s men an Enfield rifle, one thousand round of ammunition and a large lot of little necessaries for their devotion to him and their loyalty to the cause of the Union.
Absalom Queen was a brave soldier in the war of 1812, and is as true and loyal a man as lives. There are about two hundred Union men in the settlement in which he resides, one hundred of whom, through his individual influence, have already joined Colonel Zeigler’s 5th Virginia Regiment.
Timeline of West Virginia: Civil War and Statehood: November 1861