Saturday, May 28, 2016

'Great heavens, the Yankees are upon us!'

Col. WIlliam Luffman and Maj. Richard Reeves were sleeping here the morning of April 2, 1865, when Yankees raided Siloam, N.C. The historical marker next to the chimney was installed in 2011.
SILOAM, N.C.
     The Civil War ended just in time to spare Milton Cundiff, who turned 16 in January 1865. The only battle he ever experienced was as a storyteller. We can thank Cundiff for a vivid and almost-too-good-to-be-true account of a gunfight between two gallant Confederates and hundreds of apparently aimless Yankees.
     It happened April 2, 1865. The same day that Gen. Robert E. Lee abandoned the Confederate capital in Richmond, Stoneman's Raid came through Surry County, N.C., northwest of Winston-Salem. Stoneman was headed into the Virginia mountains to wreck the railroads and cut off Lee's retreat. Just one week later, Lee would surrender at Appomattox. 
Col. William Luffman
     Confederate Col. William Luffman had spent the night in Siloam, N.C., at the home of Maj. Richard Reeves. Luffman was recovering from a hip wound and evidently was on his way home from Richmond to Spring Place, Ga.
     Col. Luffman was bathing at dawn April 2 when he heard rustling out at the stable and found a Union soldier trying to steal his horse. In the ensuing shootout, the horse thief was killed and two other Union soldiers were wounded. Luffman, 44 and lame, and Reeves, 39 and plump, somehow outran the cavalry, escaped through a hail of bullets, and hid in the Yadkin River. It was left to Reeves' elderly mother to keep the Yankees from burning down the house.
     Cundiff grew up in Siloam and may have witnessed the episode. He certainly knew the details first-hand from the Reeves and other neighbors. Thirty-two years later, when he was the school superintendent in Surry County, Cundiff published his account of the "most wonderful fight" in the Mount Airy News under the pen name Will Fidd.
     Here's the story as it ran 119 years ago, on Nov. 11, 1897:

THE BATTLE OF SILOAM
Graphic Account of One of the Most Thrilling Incidents of the Late War
EDITOR NEWS: Few of your readers, I presume, are aware that within the village of Siloam there was fought one of the fiercest battles of the late Civil War. Such, however, is a fact, though I am quite sure you will find no record thereof in any of the school editions of our United States histories. Hereafter, I trust, the diligent readers may be able to find upon the files of THE MOUNT AIRY NEWS a portraiture of that unexpected and, in many respects, most wonderful fight.

     It was in April, 1865, that Col. Luffman, of Georgia, who had been severely wounded in a battle in Virginia, was recuperating among his friends in Surry County, and at this particular time had spent the night at the home of Messrs. R.E. & M.C. Reeves, in Siloam. Very early in the morning, Col. Luffman was up bathing, when he heard the heavy tramp of horses. Looking out at the front door of the "office" in which he and Maj. R.E. Reeves had slept, he beheld, to his great amazement, quite a number of Blue Coats dashing toward the house. He called to Maj. Reeves, who was still in bed, saying:
     "Great heavens, Major, the Yankees are upon us!" Then seizing his carbine, he rushed out into the front yard.
     "Surrender that gun, sir," demanded a Yankee, who had already been to the stable and was astride Col. Luffman's fine horse.
     "This is my gun," curtly replied the Colonel, "and I have a perfect right to use it; besides, I see you are on my horse; get off at once, or I'll help you off!"
     "D__n you, surrender!" roared the Blue Coat.
     Bang! roared Luffman's gun, and off tumbled the haughty rider, shot through the breast.

     By this time, Maj. Reeves was up, and had seized a shot-gun and ran to the rear door just as a minnie ball crashed through a buck-horn and lodged in the door facing within a few inches of his head! He fired both barrels of the gun; then seizing another, he ran to the front, where Col. Luffman was rapidly discharging his carbine at the advance guard of the enemy, who were firing recklessly and excitedly, but were gradually giving back toward the main body, now in sight, moving down the hill northeast of the stables.
     Bang! bang! bang! and the shock of battle roars and rages terrifically! Five hundred Federals arrayed in deadly combat with only two Confederates! and yet this regiment is beaten back and forced to take shelter behind a long wood-shed and the old factory building.
     Col. Luffman and Maj. Reeves emptied a carbine, two double-barrel shotguns and four revolvers in this most unusual contest of all the war, while the Yankees poured a perfect fusillade of minnie balls through the air that hung clear and crisp above and about their heads. Just as the firing along the Confederate "line" ceased, Maj. Masten, who was in command of the Federals, ordered a charge. With a wonderful flourish of glistening steel and the assurance of a glorious victory, the enemy dashed boldly up to the very spot where their dead comrade lay at full length upon the greensward. No quarters were now asked or offered. But with empty guns, Col. Luffman and Maj. Reeves had to stand and be riddled with bullets or escape, if possible, by precipitate flight. Hence, turning their faces toward the friendly river, these night-robed Confederate officers—one carrying a severe wound in his hip and the other 250 pounds avoirdupois—made their way as rapidly as possible across the bottom. A pitiless storm of bullets whizzed by their ears, while many others were buried in the sands dangerously near their feet.
     John W. Hardy, then a boy of eighteen, living with Maj. Reeves, having seen the flight and not knowing what else to do, took to his heels, running in the same direction, but fifty or sixty yards behind the other two fugitives. After two balls had pierced Hardy's hat and two others had cut the dust from his coat, he stopped and turned his face toward the pursuing enemy. A soldier ran up within a few feet of him and was bringing his gun on a level with Hardy's head, when an officer cried out, "Stop, you blank fool, don't you see the man has surrendered?" Just at this juncture a colored man, George, who lived with Messrs. Reeves, ran up and assured the Yankees who were collecting around that Mr. Hardy had taken no part whatever in the fight. While the soldiers were parlaying over their capture for a few moments, our bold Confederates had passed over the sand ridge unscathed and jumped into the river, the bank of which was thickly overgrown with weeds and briars. Col. Luffman sank behind a rock that projected a few inches above the water, while Maj. Reeves concealed himself behind some driftwood. Forty or fifty men scoured the bank of the river thoroughly, swearing summary vengeance upon them if found. But they managed to keep their bodies and heads beneath the water, breathing only through their nostrils. Finally, the Blue Coats gave up the fruitless search and returned to the house.
     Several men entered the house and fired it by throwing burning brands from the fireplace into the middle of the room and piling bureau drawers, clothing, etc., thereon. Mrs. Reeves, the aged mother of the Messrs. Reeves, while the men were pillaging other rooms, threw the burning brands and clothing into the fireplace, and with the help of a colored servant extinguished the flames. Two ruffian-looking men deliberately informed her that she had gold and silver concealed about the premises, and that, unless she immediately informed them where it was, they would kill her. She calmly replied, "if you do, you will not deprive me of many days."
     In the fight one Yankee had been killed and two others badly wounded, while several horses and mules were shot more or less severely, but were not entirely disabled.
     When the Yankees were gone and some two hours had elapsed, Maj. Reeves was seen to emerge from his hiding place in the river, after which a search was made for his companion, who was found almost exhausted clinging to an overhanging limb several hundred yards below where he had entered the stream. After procuring some refreshments and a brief rest at Mr. Bowman's they crossed the Ararat River and stopped with Mr. Samuel Scott, who furnished them some clothing. They continued their journey, stopping at Mr. Ed Butner's and Mr. Mat Phillips', both of whom treated them very kindly. They reached Salem after several days tramping through the woods, where Mr. Henry Fries presented each of them with a new suit of clothes. Then they made their way to Mr. William Marsh's, in Davidson County. Soon after their arrivral here, some of Col. Luffman's friends passed, and he went with them to his home in Spring Place, Georgia.
     Some two months later Maj. Reeves returned to his desolated home where the battle had been fought, but the war was ended and he found the best of all things—his mother and peace.
WILL FIDD
Siloam, N.C., Nov. 6, 1897
     The farm "office" where Maj. Reeves and Col. Luffman were sleeping has been preserved, along with family relics that include a partially burned picture frame. A Civil War Trails historical marker has been installed next to the building in Siloam.
     The marker includes some additional information that Cundiff did not mention. In 1861, Maj. Reeves organized the first Confederate volunteers from Surry County.
Mrs. Reeves' hearth
     Maj. Reeves' mother, Elizabeth Early Reeves, was the cousin of Confederate Gen. Jubal Early. She was nearly 71 at the time of the raid, and though she told the Yankees her days were numbered, she lived to see 80. The marker says that Yankees withdrew when she promised to give the dead soldier a proper Christian burial on a nearby hill. Unfortunately, his name has been lost to history. (In observance of Memorial Day, I've collected the names of 37 Union soldiers who died during Stoneman's Raid.)
     It's uncertain which of Stoneman's troops went through Siloam. By the process of elimination, the 12th Kentucky Cavalry seems most likely. Cundiff said the Federal troops were commanded by a Major Masten, but I have not been able to find that name among Stoneman's officers.
     It's quite possible that the wounded Yankees at Siloam were treated by Dr. Milton Folger from nearby Rockford. Yankees also seized Dr. Folger's horse, leaving him with one of their worn-out mounts.

     Col. Luffman had a distinguished military and legal career. He survived wounds at Manassas in 1862, Gettysburg in 1863, and the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. In March 1865, a medical board considered whether to declare him an invalid. Presumably, he was given a medical leave, since he was already at Siloam while Robert E. Lee evacuated Richmond on April 2.
Milton Cundiff lived in this house, built by his father around 1865

No comments:

Post a Comment