After the Civil War, by Milton W. Humphreys

Milton W. Humphreys was born in Greenbrier County on Sept. 13, 1844. He served in Bryan's Battery during the war, and on May 19, 1862, at the battle of Fayetteville, he is credited with being the first during the war to employ indirect fire. He was paroled at Charleston on June 12, 1865, according to one biography, though he states the parole took place at Princeton. He became a noted scholar in Greek and Latin and taught at Washington and Lee University, the University of Texas, and the University of Virginia. He died in Charlottesville in 1928 and is buried at the cemetery of the University of Virginia. The following narrative is taken from a bound volume of typed manuscript of his memoirs in my possession, which mostly relates to his postwar life.


"My War Diary shows that on March 25, 1862, I left the Gap Mills to go to the army, and that on April 14, 1865, I returned to the same point direct from Christiansburg where the part of the army I had last been with was disbanded under the form of a 60 day furlough on April 12th.

The Diary shows also that my father happened to be at the Gap Mills when I arrived. My brother Andrew, who belonged to a Confederate Engineer Corps, came home a few days later. His wife was living with her parents, and he decided to remain there for the time being, and join Augustus Eads in improving and cultivating the farm. Father deemed it unsafe for him and myself to go to Sutton until we could learn how "rebels" were to be treated. Accordingly it was arranged that I was to remain for the present at Mr. Eads's, and join Andrew and Augustus in the work. But the first thing was to get rid of the ---"scurvy"! Like most Confederate soldiers of that date, I was a mass of sores. Immediately upon entering the army I had contracted some sort of an eruption that looked very much to me like scabies, or in plain English, the itch; but the doctors assured me it was not the itch, but scurvy. As time went on it grew worse, and deep seated sores appeared,---sometimes enormous boils, the marks of which I still bear. "Confederate Scratches" was a familiar name of this affection. It was almost universal in the part of the army that I belonged to. It caused a constant and intense itching. When I was on parole I applied the ordinary remedies for scabies and got well. As soon as I returned to the army I took the disease again and suffered with it day and night to the end of the war. I repeatedlly consulted army surgeons about it, and they uniformly told me it was a sort of scurvy, and that my getting well while on parole was due, not to the remedies but the greater variety of better diet that I enjoyed at that time. On one occasion "antiscorbutius" (see War Diary, July 5-6, 1864) were actually issued to the soldiers. Now I wish to record the fact that, after all, it was plain itch. Making a salve of stewed sour-dock root, flower of sulphur, and lard, I went to the forest where there was a small stream, bathed thoroughly with the aid of a strong homemade soap, and rubbed myself all over with the salve, putting on a fresh suit of uninfected clothes. The itching ended at once. The process was repeated in 48 hours, when I discovered that all the ulcers were healing over. After two more days the process was repeated for the last time, and I was permanently cured. The relief can be understood and appreciated only by one who has spent years scratching himself, and making his case worse with every scratch.

On the farm I did all kinds of work. The fields were full of briars and shrubs; the fences were, in many places, completely developed in brush. I aided in the clearing away of all this four or five year's growth, often grubbing with a mattock. I also mauled rails, helped to clear some new land, planted corn, and all sorts of vegetables. When the corn came up, for the first and only time in my life I plowed corn. All this was perfect bliss compared with "soldiering".

When, in the early spring of 1865, we left the Narrows of New River, I deposited at a certain house a number of books which I had removed from Andrew's to our winter-quarters. These books I made a special trip to bring back. Why no horse was available I do not remember; but I made the journey on foot, and carried the books in a sack thrown over my shoulder. I do not remember the distance, but it required three days to complete the journey there and back.

During the time I was at Ead's, the Federal general in command in what was now "West" Virginia, issued an order for all Confederate soldiers who had not been paroled, to assemble at Princeton to be paroled in accordance with the terms of Lee's surrender. The military authorities, it seems, did not concern themselves about the oath of allegiance, but merely required us to give our paroles on honor as soldiers. For some reason or other the Federal Government seems to have preferred that we should still be "rebels" for a while, till they could more fully decide what to do with us: either that, or the military authorities felt that we deserved the honor of being treated as soldiers. Andrew, Augustus, Eads and myself went on horseback, reaching Princeton on the second day. Before we arrived, we seemed to be marching with a great army of Infantry and Cavalry mixed together. The number that assembled was absolutely amazing. Every command that had been designated in the order was there in larger numbers, I think, than it ever had present for duty at any one time during the war. Bryan's Battery had full twice as many men present as it had had at any time during the last twelve months of service. Of the Federals there was a Battalion of Cavalry commanded by a Major, or possibly an officer of higher rank. The Confederates were paroled by Regiments and Battalions. The paroling was all done by the same officers in the same room, so that it required several days to complete the work. A list was posted showing the order in which the different organizations were to be called up. Selfishness
at once manifested itself. Men belonging to commands that were to be paroled last began to smuggle themselves into commands to which they did not belong, at the risk of subsequent trouble. Both Federals and Confederates tried to stop the imposition; but still it was practised by many. We kept ourselves informed of the progress of the work, and when the turn of the 13th Battalion of Virginia Artillery was to be next, all the members present assembled near the house where the paroling was done. The Battalion, which resembled a company when we disbanded, now looked more like a full regiment, though it embraced only three companies. While we were waiting to be called, a Federal Sergeant accompanied by two armed privates came through the crowd calling for "Seargent Humphreys of Bryan's Battery." Considerably startled, but not at all alarmed, I presented myself, and the Sergeant saluted me and said that the Major (?) commanding wished me to come into the room where he was paroling. As I learned afterwards, it was the general impression of Bryan's men that I was being arrested. Bryan himself had asserted repeatedly during the war that if I was captured I would be shot. (War Diary, pp._) Some has always believed this, and now others thought I was going to be punished. But when I entered the room the Sergeant said: "THIS is Sergeant Humphreys of Bryan's Battery." The Major greeted me cordially, shook hands with me, and asked me if I would be kind enough to assist him in paroling the Artillery Battalion, especially Bryan's Battery. How he came to know anything about me or to select me for the duty I never learned; but he must have found out in some way that I was Acting Orderly Sergeant during the last year of the war. Immediately after I was presented to the Major, Bryan's Battery was called. My business was to say whether or not each man, as he presented himself, was a member of the Battery. Strong, healthy, young men, who had been absent for years in some cases, presented themselves. In some cases I had to ask other members of the Battery, as I had forgotten the personal appearance of some of the members, they had been absent so long. (The company stood close around the portico, and I stood in the door, which led directly into the room). A large number of almost absolute strangers to me having been paroled as members of Bryan's Battery, at last a man I was sure I had never seen stepped up, and gave his name, one I had never heard. I had already lost patience, but here I broke down, and said positively: "This fellow never belonged to Bryan's Battery." He asserted that he did. Thinking that possibly, after all, he HAD been enrolled in the company, I vented by feelings by saying: "There are twice as many men here as I ever saw in the line of battle." The fellow, with a very offensive tone, said: "Mebbe you warn't there yourself." I replied: "Now I KNOW you are a fraud." There was considerable excitement in the company, and a number of shouts that elated me very much, relating to my invariable presence when there was fighting. I defied the fellow to name a battle in which he had taken part, and appealed to the members present to any whether he belonged to the battery. Nobody knew him. I have no further recollection of what was done in his case. He was the only one that tried to SMUGGLE himself in. There were men there, with their voices, fully restored, who had been "speechless" for a year or two preceeding the end of the war. The names of these could be given, but they are not worth naming. When Bryan's Battery had been paroled, I told the Major that I could not render any real service in identifying members of the other Batteries, Chapman's and Lowry's. He asked me to name such members of those companies as, in my opinion, would be most likely to know the men. Having told him the names of some of the officers and Sergeants present, I withdrew. The Major bade me farewell as if I were an old friend parting forever, and all present rose and bowed me away.
    The effect of the treatment I received on this occasion made a profound impression on me, I felt that I should always enjoy the respect of the brave soldiers who fough against me and against whom I fought. And so I have found it. I have been insulted by shirkers of all classes,--especially the politicians, millionaires, and preachers, but never by a Federal volunteer soldier.
    The rest of my party having been paroled, whether before or after me does not matter, we started home in the afternoon, and reached the Cap Mills on the third day.
    When the summer crops were all fairly under way, and I could clearly be of no more service on the Eads farm, I went over to the White Sulphur to visit a number of families with whom I had formed a pleasant acquaintance while I was on parole. The incidents of these visits, though not without a sort of interest, are scarcely worth recording. An incident or two of one particular day will be narrated by way of sample. One day I fell in with several ex-Confederate soldiers, none of whom I had ever been acquainted with. I started one of them by telling him that the best thing he had ever done in his life was when, on the 19th of June, 1864, he kicked that Dutch hireling. He asked me what I was talking about, and I repeated the following occurance: On the morning after the fighting before Lynchburg, when we were prusuing Hunter and Crook in the direction of Liberty (now "Bedford City"), the artillery was in the rear and the prisoners, a considerable number of whom had been taken, were marching between the Artillery and Infantry. By some chance I happened to be at the very front of the Artillery, and I rode foreward to the rear of the prisoners. Just as I arrived there I heard a German say (in almost these words): "Oh yes, you tam rebels! You are vipt! Grant has vipt Lee, and Lee runce away. Oh you dam cowarts"!--At this point one of the guards, a man of gigantic stature and a face that said more than words can say, gave hima kick from the rear and I think his nose was the first part that touched the ground. The guard's appearance made as profound an impression on my brain as his boot did on the "os coccygis" of the German; and the man I was talking to (on the day I am telling about) was unmistakably that guard. A little explanation is necessary. To prevent his men from the demoralization of defeat and retreat, Hunter had caused the lie to be circulated in his army, that Grant had defeated Lee and was driving him before him, and that he (Hunter) was simply falling back in front of Lee to destroy bridges and supplies and force him to surrender. This is what the German prisoner was so elated over.
    We went that day to "Greenbrier Bridge," that is to the place where Heth had burned the bridge over the Greenbrier river between the White Sulphur and Lewisburg. What took us there I have not the slightest recollection. Lieut. Governor Sam'l. Price, of Lewisburg (as Gov. Letcher was "unpardoned") had assumed the helm and was restoring law and order in Virginia, and the government of West Virginia was doing the same in the border counties that had recently been in anarchy; so a regular ferry had been established at the crossing of the river. While we were there, a young fellow,--a mere lad--, --came on foot, neatly dressed and carrying a large, new carpet-bag, stuffed full. The ferryman set him over, and then he said he had no money: seemed to be indignant because the ferryman presumed to ask him to pay. We took him to be some renegade coming back home, and one of our party asked him where he had come from. He said he had bee released from Camp Chase in Ohio where he had been a prisoner. I saw that he was lying, and said: "Why that is very strange! They paroled me a month ago, and I do not remember to have seen you at all. Which prison were you in?" He looked scared, and answered: "I was in Camp Chase as I told you?" "I know you did," said I, "but which of the Camp Chase prison's were you in? What was its number?" He then began to hedge as it were, and the man who had kicked the German put an end to the cross-examination by saying: "Look here, young man; you are a damned liar!" The story is not worth pursuing further. From the bridge we began to retrace out steps towards the White Sulphur and soon met a wagon driven by an old man and a woman sitting in it with some household effects about her; they were evidently moving. When we came close to the wagon I discovered that the woman was--Aunt Angeline, and the man was Mr. Neff who had married her for a home. She had sold her interest in the estate to her son John and was moving to--Braxton! They were not, however, going to live in Sutton, so I did not faint.
    It was now well on in June. It may seem strange that father and myself deferred out teturn home so long; but those who can remember that period need no explanation. A few days after my return to the Gap Mills from the disbanded army, the people were startled by a rumor that Lincoln had been assassinated. The rumor was traced to a very trustworthy source. A young girl, Miss Maggie Mann, a daughter of Thomas Mann--the one who had been a pupil in my school, had come by herself on horseback from Charleston, and had brought the news. The crime was ascribed to Jeff. Davis and his Cabinet, and the effect need not be described. It was absolutely necessary to wait for the feelings of the Union people to cool down before we went to Sutton. At last we thought we might venture to start. Father procured a good one-horse spring wagon, and, after boxing my books which were at Eads's, we put them in the wagon and started. I shall not give an account of the journey. Father did some practice along the way. There were neither physicians nor medicines in part of the region we passed through, and several times, when we put up at a house, neighbors learning that a doctor was there, called in Father's services. At one house where we spent the night there was a little girl suffering intensely whom father relieved entirely. When we reached Gauley river (we went by the 'Wilderness Road') at Hume's Ferry, (I am not sure whether it was Hume's or Hughes's Ferry), it was noon and, being set over by the Hume's (?) or Hugheses, we took dinner at the house. The old gentleman commenced his conversation by saying: "Well, I guess you have been fighting against us." He acted the Union man to perfection; but when we were about a mile from his house, he overtook us on horseback to tell us (what father knew all the while, but I had not even suspected) that he was really a secessionist and, I think, had sons in the Confederate army. We spent that night about four miles from Summersville in the direction of Sutton. We were then only four miles from Mason White's; but strange to say, we went on without going to see Caroline. She was very much mortified and distressed when she heard of our passing; and I have always looked upon it as more than a blunder on our part. The house we stopped at was that of a Mr. McClung. On the day we left this house we could easily have reached Sutton (32 miles) in spite of the terrible condition of the roads, but for the fact that, as we were descending Powell's Mountain, we came upon a large chestnut-tree fallen across the road in a place where it was impossible to get around it. I took the horse and rode some miles ahead before I found a house and procured an axe. After I had returned and we cleared the tree we had time enough to reach Birch River where we spent the night. About one o'clock the next day we arrived at the top of the hill overlooking Sutton. Word had got ahead of us that we were coming that day, and brother John, then in his 18th (?) year, met us about half a mile (by road) from the village--or rather where the village had been. Father drove around the end of the hill by the road, while John and I descended directly to the suspension bridge where we joined father. The rest of the family, except James and Mother, that is Hundley, Daniel, and Houston met us at the bridge which is only a hundred yards from the house. James was attending to Byeirne's store and mother was attending to the preparation of dinner. The scene of our meeting again after so long a separation I shall not attempt to describe. To me such scenes or rather such occasions are really painful rather than joyous.
    Mother looked younger than I expected to see her. My brothers had, of course, grown a great deal, James being a grown man; but they all looked natural after a few hours.
    The village had begun to grow. Frame and plank houses were being created in several places, and by the end of summer there was a number of houses on both sides of the river, and some more stores were opened; but some details in regard to two or three of these houses will be given further on.
    My brothers had entered into partnership farming with old Mr. James (?) Skidmore, who lived across the river from the main village, some two or three hundred yards from the bridge. He and his sons and my brothers were to work the land all together, and were to get one third of the crop, which was chiefly corn.
    The exact date of our arrival at Sutton I do not remember; but it must have been near the end of June. A few days after we arrived, a silly idea came into my head to dress myself in full Confederate uniform. I still had my gray pants and jacket and crimson cap. An order had gone forth from Washington forbidding "rebels" to wear their uniforms; but my reception in Sutton by the ex-Federal soldiers had been so kind that I thought I might venture to disregard this order. Here I am reminded that on our way to Sutton, father and I met Sergt. A.J. Patton, of Bryan's Battery, on a narrow ridge of Powell's Mountain, and the first he said when, at a distance of fifty yards, he recognized me, was: "Turn back!" He then told us that he had returned to his home in Ritchie, and had been given 15 minutes to get out of the place. I was a little disturbed by his experience, but decided to go on. When I reached Sutton, I found myself almost a hero, because of my treatment of the prisoners from braxton when we guarded them from Gauley Bridge to Lynchburg in 1862 (War Diary pp.   ). My brothers told me that old Mr. Corley had repeatedly declared that he would kill me the instant he ever laid eyes on me for the way in which I treated him (War Diary p.   ) The first time I met him, which was a day or two after my arrival, I was ready for an attempt at the execution of his threat; but he was the most profuse of all my admireres, and thanked me cordially for my kind treatment of himself and the rest of the prisoners. Years after this, when he had removed to a place not far from Weston, he saw me travelling and urged me to stop and take a meal with him, which I did, and his family showed me the gretest respect, and evidently knew of my part in the march to Lynchburg. To return: I donned my uniform and "marched" to the upper end of where the village stood, and there turned up "Granny's Creek" (or is it 'The Old Woman's Run'? One of these streams is just above, and the other just below Sutton) on the road to Weston. I met many more people than usual, and they were dressed up. I began to wonder if I had lost the count of the days and let Sunday take me unawares (as often happened in the army); but I recalled distinctly that it was Tuesday. But in counting up the days of the week I discovered that it was the Fourth of July! Seeing how natural it would be to put on a "disloyal" construction on my behavior, I started quickly back home. Just as I was approaching the house I met a troop of Federal cavalry! They had been sent up from Charleston, and were under the command of an officer of considerable rank,-a Major, I believe. They halted at Sutton and went into camp. Before I got a chance to change my clothes, I became involved in conversation with some of them, and could not well get away. Presently an officer, a nice gentleman, joined us, and inquired of me what battles I had been in, and all that. We found that we had confronted each other on some occasions. My uneasiness, which was naturally considerable when I saw the soldiers, almost entirely subsided; but I thought it best to test the matter and have it settled one for all, and managed to allude to the peculiar circumstances under which I was wearing my uniform. The officer told me to wear it as much as I pleased; that there was not an officer in the Federal army that would interfere with me or allow me to be interfered with if he was at hand. These men were from New York State, and my association with them was very pleasant. By the way, while our Battery was under the Maryland Heights, July 6-7, 1864, I saw a Confederate soldier get shot while he was up a cherry-tree. One of the Federal soldiers that came to Sutton was the man who shot him, and seemed rather relieved to learn from me that the mas who was shot had only a flesh wound in the thigh, and that the limbs of the tree had so broken his fall that he reached the ground without much shock."