Jefferson County, West Virginia, Civil War Memories

In 1994 I worked on a cultural resource management regulatory compliance project that cut through a large portion of Jefferson County, West Virginia, south of Harpers Ferry. I interviewed several older residents about the historic buildings, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes in the project area.

A common thread running through the interviews was how prominent the Civil War remained in their memories. Below are excerpts from the tape-recorded interviews. The interviews were done before the advent of blogs and widespread use of the Web to disseminate oral histories. Since their releases did not cover use on the Internet, I have abbreviated the individuals’ names.

O.C.‘s grandfather ran a hotel. Here’s what O.C. recalled about visitors from northern states:

And he was the last survivor of the John Brown Raid and he took — he was one of the guards at the courthouse and at the jail and took John Brown from the courthouse over to the jail during his trial.

My grandfather, he would never — I tell you, he would never let a northerner come on his farm.  The first thing, he was interviewed quite a bit, but the first thing he asked them was where they was from.  And if they told him they was from Richmond or south of the Mason-Dixon line, he would talk to them almost all day.  But if they were from Washington or Baltimore, they were north of the Mason-Dixon line, he’d run them off the place.  Wouldn’t have anything to do with them.

B.W. recalled stories of Union soldiers looting farms and destroying mills:

They did destroy the machinery in Watson’s factory. The Yankees did that. It wasn’t Watson’s facortory then, it belonged to Willis, I believe and Yankees destroyed all the machinery.

E.W.‘s grandfather never ate pumpkins after the war ended:

Well, I had one grandmother who lived in Middleway, she was from down in Virginia, she was quite a rebel, apparently — the stories about her. And she helped the Confederacy by getting Southern mail through the lines, if the Northern army was anywhere in the vicinity, she needed to do that. So, she did that by ripping open the collars of the children’s jackets ans sewing them up again — putting the message inside and sewing them up again.

They finally figured out how those messages were getting through and so the story that’s been passed on in the family was that several Northern soldiers came and got her on a horse — had her tied on a horse and take her into camp for the officers. And somebody came through town, whether it was on foot or horse, or how, calling out that Moseby’s men were in the vicinity and coming and these two soldiers just got on their horses and rode off and left her sitting on her horse. That’s what spared her.

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There was a lot of hunger. My grandfather would never eat pumpkin in any way, shape or form.

Because that’s all they ate. Pumpkins. He said they ate so much pumpkin when he was a child that he never wanted to have pumpkin again.

He didn’t eat pumpkin. Pumpkin anything. Pumpkin pie, he just didn’t want to ever see pumpkin again.