Appalachia, civil war, Confederate Army, Cumberland Mountains, David Stuart Hounshell, E.H. Perry, From Youth to Old Age, history, James Stephens, John B. Floyd, Kentucky, King Salt Works, Louis Bledsoe, Prestonsburg, slavery, Thomas H. Perry, Virginia
About 1910, Rev. Thomas H. Perry reflected on his long life, most of which was spent in the vicinity of Tylers Creek in Cabell County, West Virginia. In this excerpt from his autobiography, Mr. Perry recalled his participation in Civil War activity in eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia.
After the night fight, above Prestonsburg, we knew the Federals were above us and we would have to fight if we ever got back to Dixie. The cold weather and deep snow and timber across the road and Federals to contend with, we moved very slowly. One morning we stopped, as I thought for breakfast, and as I was almost frozen I rejoiced because I thought we will all get warm and some beef, as I saw one man shoot down a cow. But just at that time the Federals run in our pickets and began shooting at us, but I was so hungry I ran to the cow and cut two or three pounds out of the hind-quarter and took it with me. We ran about one mile and there we saw Colonel Hounshal’s regiment in battle line, who held the Federals off us until we could get our breakfast. I took my beef without salt and put it on the end of my ramrod and held it to the fire and cooked an ate it, and it was good.
The next day my company was the rear guard and it was reported to the captain that the Federals had got between us and our command. The captain said: “Men, we will have to fight or we will be taken prisoners.” There was a preacher with us that day. He said: “Captain, I did not intend to fight, but rather than be a prisoner I will fight. Give me a gun.” When I saw him shoulder his gun, it did me good. I thought if a preacher could fight it was not bad for me to fight, as I was only a prospective preacher.
One very cold night I was detailed on the outer picket post, the orderly said: “You can not have fire as they are likely to slip upon you and shoot you.” I said to the orderly: “I cannot stand it without fire.” I thought I would freeze to death. The orderly said: “I cannot excuse you.” Just at that time Louis Bledsoe said to the orderly he could stand more cold than Perry could and he would go in my place and I could go in his place some other time. Never did I forget the kindness Mr. Bledsoe showed me that night.
When we were within fifteen miles of the Cumberland mountains, our army cattle, prisoners and all we had was on one creek; that creek led to the main road across the mountains into Dixie. On either side of this creek, the mountains were high and very rough and covered with snow. The Federals cut timber across the creek above us, and had a strong army below us, and held us here three days and would have captured us and all we had if General Floyd had not come with his artillery and drove the Federals away from the head of the creek, and let us out. The first night after we crossed the mountain into Dixie, E.H. Perry, one of my brothers came to my captain’s tent and said: “Captain, are my brothers all here?” He said: “Yes.” Then my brother exclaimed: “Thank the Lord for that.” Never will I forget the tone of my brother’s voice that night for he knew we had been gone for forty-one days, and it was by the hardest work that we landed back in Dixie.
Once more after this we went into winter quarters near the King Salt works, and they sent me to a farm house to nurse three sick soldiers. We had a large nice room, well furnished and the landlord was rich and good to us. He and his good wife would help me in waiting on the sick; he furnished us with everything we could ask for to eat. We stayed there more than three months. I saw in the beginning that I would not have much to do, and as I had the money and there was a book store at that place, I bought a complete set of school books and studied them hard that winter and it did me good. It helped me to keep down the roughness of a soldier’s life, and also to educate. Along the back yard there was a row of one-story brick buildings in which the negroes lived. Some nights I would go and hear them tell ghost stories, and they knew how to tell them for they had seen a great many ghosts. I deny superstition, but I noticed when these negroes had told me some of the most fearful ghost stories, if it was a very dark night I would ask some of them to go apart of the way home with me.
Mr. James Stephens, one of my patients, died; the other two got well. We left that place about the first of May. I saw then that the south could not gain her independence, and I told these negroes I thought they would soon be free and advised them to learn to read and write. I talked with a good many old men in the south about the war. They said they should have raised the “Old Flag” and contended for the constitution, and as for slavery, they said it was dying out in the south anyway.
Source: From Youth to Old Age by T.H. Perry, Chapter 8, p. 20-22.