Primary Resource

Diary of John B. Minor (February 28–March 7, 1865)

In this excerpt from his diary, dated February 28–March 7, 1865, John B. Minor describes the Union occupation of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia at the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). Minor, a graduate of the University of Virginia, taught law there from 1845 until 1895.

Transcription from Original

Feb. 28

We hear credibly, that the Yankees are advancing up the [Shenandoah] Valley from Winchester, in large force, consisting of Cavalry and mounted men, whether destined for Lynchburg or this place, or both, cannot even be conjectured as yet. We have no reason to expect re-inforcements, but Lynchburg must be defended, and doubtless will be at the hazard of weakening our lines at Richmond and Petersburg.

March 1. Wednesday

Rumors thicken as to the enemy's approach. His troops are undoubtedly not far from Staunton, perhaps have entered it. Their commander is various named as Torbut [Alfred Thomas Archimedes Torbert], [Philip] Sheridan, and perhaps others. The roads are so deep as to suggest the hope that they may not get beyond Staunton, the terminus of the McAdam [paved] road, or at least may go on up the Valley instead of coming hither, and that hope is strengthened by the fact that consisting as the command does, of mounted men exclusively, on a raid, that cannot wish to fight, and [Confederate general Jubal A.] Early's force, though too small to oppose them in the open field, may successfully resist the passage of the mountain. The number of Early's men is variously reported. I suppose it to be from 2000 to 2500. I understand Genl Early states the enemy's force at 7000, with several pieces of artillery.

Thursday March 2

Tonight we have authentic intelligence that Early has been totally routed, nearly all his men captured and the rest dispersed, his transportation, artillery and ordinance in the enemy's hands and (most unfortunate of all), he himself escaped! Nothing intervenes now between us and the Yankees, but the mud, and we may not flatter ourselves that we shall escape the visitation. Most persons think they will destroy the University. I am not of that opinion, but I cannot avoid much anxiety in consequence of so many having a contrary impression.

Last night, as I understand, (I was too unwell to be present), the Faculty deputed the chairman, Dr. [Socrates] Maupin, Colonel [Thomas L.] Preston (the Rector), and myself ut capiat Universitas nil detrimenti, by soliciting a guard, etc I have just heard that the enemy reached Meechum's river this afternoon, and will be here tonight. That would be an incredible celerity of movement in the best condition of the roads, but as they are now it appears impossible, especially as it is raining hard and is very dark. However, I shall sit up, indisposed as I am, to be ready if they should come.

Friday Mar. 3, 10 'oclk.

Dr. Maupin and I hold ourselves in readiness for our embassy. The state of the roads and of Meechum's river, and even of Ivy Creek, may delay the advance of the Yankee column for many hours. Amidst conflicting rumors, I can't determine whether they got beyond Greenwood last night or not. Several trains passed down in the night, and there is a story of one of them having been fired into whilst moving off from Greenwood, but I know not whether it is not one of the multitudinous sensations with which the very air tingles. Every one who supposes himself liable to capture, has gone into the woods in various directions. I know not if I myself am safe, but I cannot refugee it in such weather, and besides owe it to the University, to try to get protection for it.

Having gone to Fisher's shoe-shop, near the book store, to get a pair of shoes he had been repairing for me I saw Ferril and Geo Carr (Frank's son) riding up the road on a scout. They tell me that our pickets are still near Meechum's River, and that they have been directed to communicate with them. I enjoined upon them to come by on their return and let me hear definitely what was the situation. I now commit my watch to as safe custody as possible, and having made the best dispositions I could I calmly await the result, with a comfortable trust in the Divine Providence that has hitherto possessed me and mine. I betake myself to the boys' room, to hear their lessons.

Late at Night

Whilst engaged in my school-room (with wandering thoughts on the part of both teacher and pupils), Albert tells me that a young gentleman wishes to see me at the door, where I find Geo Carr, to announce that our picket line has been driven in, and that the enemy are about Dr. [George D.] Stephens' (the D. S.), and may be expected in an hour or two at farthest. Soon after Dr. Maupin sent me word that the town authorities (the Mayor, Cap [Christopher L.] Fowler, and some of the Council), had come up, and would join us in our proposed application for protection. Accordingly between one and two o'clock, we repaired to the grounds opposite Carr's Hill, just by the pool which in happier hours bore the name of "the pellucid", and there awaited the enemy's coming. Our town friends had already arrived, and had displayed a flag of truce, and in a short time the enemy's scouts were visible at the old toll gate, approaching with extreme caution. Videttes were stationed on each commanding eminence, near the road, and it was not until they reached the brook below the ice-pond, that they advanced with confidence. The flag then became visible, and 10 or 15 men approached at a gallop with their pistols in rest, the residue of the column dragging its slow length through the mud. We announced to these men, who were accompanied by a dirty-looking lieutenant, that no defense of Charlottesville was contemplated, that the town was evacuated, and that we requested protection for the University, and for the town.

They told us Gen Sheridan was in command, that Gen [George Armstrong] Custer led the van, and would be on in a few minutes, and then staying no further question, put spurs to their horses, and rode as fast as the deep mud would permit, towards town,—we feared to plunder. In a few minutes a good looking officer rode up, who announced himself as Gen Custer's ad[jutant] genl, I believe and upon our restating our wishes, said a guard would be furnished the University, and private property everywhere would be protected. Immediately afterwards Gen Custer passed in triumph, with 3 of our battle flags displayed, when two members of his staff rode out of the line to repeat the assurance of protection to the University. The town gentlemen now hastened to Charlottesville, whither Dr. Maupin and I also resolved to go that the promise of a guard might not be forgotten. The staff-officer first mentioned, expressed doubt whether their column would remain at Charlottesville, so that we are cheered with a glimpse of hope that we may not suffer from their presence long.

As I was leaving the University I remembered that I had seen several men diverge from the direct route, and go around towards my house, and I therefore hastened home to see if things were safe there, before I looked after the general security, and it was well and providential that I took the precaution, for as I entered at the back gate I found two Yankees actually dismounted and in colloquy with [Minor's wife] Nannie who was gallantly confronting them. They demanded to search for arms, but upon learning that I was just from the general, with assurance of a guard, they desisted from whatever depredations they had contemplated, and they certainly designed some, having made sundry enquiries of the servants as to whether I had a watch, whether there was any plate in the house, etc.

Dr. Maupin and I found the column had passed on to the bridges to destroy them and Marchant's factory, and so were unable to prefer any further request for a guard, but upon returning we found one had been posted, which however, was in a short time reduced to a single man. He remained all the afternoon, at the corner opposite the Medical Hall, and was extremely serviceable, and very courteous. About night-fall, the provost-marshall came to relieve him, and was about to leave us defenseless, but agreed, with the man's consent, that he might stay until the morning. I got a place for his horse, and Sister Gert (Mrs. [Raleigh E.] Colston) who has been occupying the house at the corner for some months, proposed that he should stay in their parlor. Between 9 and 10 o'clock he and I made the circuit of the University, and then he went to sleep, but I propose to remain up all night.

Sat. March 4, 1865

By day-light this morning I went out and was thankful to find all quiet. It rained almost incessantly during the night, but this morning is clear and beautiful. I fear the state of the roads may delay the departure of our unwelcome visitors. Our guard I found attending to his horse and by six o'clock he was gone. Before 7 I recd a note from Col Preston begging me if possible to get him a guard, that his person had been robbed of watch and money during the night, and his house of many valuables, and he feared a recurrence of insult and outrage. The little girl who brought me the note tells me several of his servant boys have gone off and have betrayed all his horses to the enemy. I c[oul]d only reply by telling him our unprotected condition, but that I hoped from what Custer's adj gen had said, and also from some expressions of the provost marshall last evening, that they would leave here this morning.

About 9 o'clock, a heavy column appeared coming up the road from towards town wh[ich] took the left hand at the Harris House, whence we inferred that they were going to Lynchburg, but we soon found they were only bent on tearing up the Lynchburg R R, and then we apprehended the danger to which we were exposed from plunderers. M[aupin?] and I thereupon posted off to town, sought out Gen Sheridan's head quarters, where we were denied admittance, and referred to Gen [Wesley] Merritt's. After some huffing from the subs there, we met with a civil looking officer of Gen Merritt's staff who detailed a guard (too small as it proved), and we made all haste back, and again were just in time. The plunderers were already in the Infirmary and Mr. [Robert R.] Prentis's. Soon afterwards we got a larger guard of some 25 men, and thenceforward were comparatively easy. I behaved in a manner as conciliatory as possible, to the guard, the commandant of which, (Lieut David Collins by name), was a plain and illiterate but kindly disposed Mich farmer, (the guard was detailed from Co. L, Mich Cavalry), and we got on very well. I had made Simon carry our old mule out in the mountain yesterday, but he said they had found the place of concealment and he feared wd take her, so by Lieut Collins' advice, we had her brought home and put in the cellar, to which the animal demurred not a little.

I am told this evening by Miss Bessie McCoy that some soldiers have uttered threats to the servants that they would sack the University to-night in spite of the guard. Upon mentioning it to Collins, he said there was no danger, but would be on his guard. I have no serious apprehensions, but I shall not go to bed.

Sunday, March 5, 1865.

Thanks to a kind providence, we are all safe this morning. No Sunday school, nor service in any of the Churches, I believe. The day a glorious one, but how futile is the flow of sunshine to inspire our hearts with cheerfulness! In the course of the day, we were visited by Capt Moore of Gen Sheridan's staff, at the instance of the General, to express his determination to preserve the University unharmed and to inquire if we had any complaints to make. This gentleman is a grandson of Rt. Rev. Bishop [Richard C.] Moore of Va. and altho' by birth, descent, education and interests a Northern man, yet evinced more polish of manner than usual with his Countryman.

In the afternoon, the University was searched by order of Gen Sheridan, under the direction of Col Sherman, his inspect gen and his brother and aide Capt Sheridan. They were as civil as possible and of course found nothing contraband. I told them, as I had already told at Gen Merritt's hdqts that I had a musket at my house, which they said I should keep, but as I was not present when my house was searched, the musket was carried off and broken.

Monday March 6, 1865.

This morning dawns beautifully but finds me very anxious, notwithstanding the benign care of our Heavenly Father has thus far so perfectly protected us. The army will doubtless move this morning, and I fear our guard will withdraw prematurely, and leave us to the mercy of the stragglers.

The guard staid as long as they could, but half the army had still to pass. I didn't know what to do, but at last rushed up to an officer who I was told was on somebody's staff, who replied courteously to my application and directed a guard forthwith, with orders to get one from the next brigade in order, and so on. Thus we escaped the dangers which threatened, and upon the whole have lost very little. Our hay was taken, and I lost about 8 barrels of corn at Mr. Sinclair's mill, I'm afraid. Mrs. Prentis lost some meat and a few clothes, Mr. [Prentis] being in the woods. But our poor neighbors suffered terribly, Mr. [Reuben] Maury, Capt Tec [page torn], Col Preston, Mr. [Andrew] Brown, Mr. Harden, Dr. Stephens, Mr. Dabney and many others.

Scarcely had the rear-guard disappeared, before we were greeted with the sight of the soiled but loved gray of a few of [Confederate] Gen [Thomas L.] Rosser's command, who have been hovering for a day or two, on the rear and flanks of the enemy. They captured some stragglers, and amongst others 3 or 4 men left as safeguards at sundry houses, but they were released as good faith and the usages of war require.

The enemy got upwards of 100 horses between Meechum's river and this place, and multitudes of servants went off with them, poor misguided creatures! Amongst them my boy Henry, hired in Staunton. I lament it more on his account than my own.

Many acts of violence were committed in the neighborhood. On Saturday evening one of them attempted a rape on my servant Nancy, a woman of 45 probably, and that night they robbed her house, which is near Col Johnson's late residence, where Mr. Mullen used to live, beyond the Cemetery.

Tuesday March 7, 1865

We all feel as if relieved from some oppressive load which has afflicted us these many weeks, for the hours seemed days. We hear of many losses and insults suffered by our neighbors, and have reason to be devoutly thankful that we were ourselves protected perfectly from insult, and to a great extent, from injury.