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Eyewitness to America's Civil War: William W. Patteson

Originally published by America's Civil War magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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In the 1890s many veterans of the Civil War became motivated to record their experiences. Some of the accounts were published, but many others remain undiscovered in archives. The reminiscences of William Warden Patteson, a resident of Culpeper County, Virginia, were recently found in the manuscript collection of the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. They reflect his experiences between 1862 and 1865. During the summer of 1862, Patteson was a 15-year-old youth living with his family at his father's farm outside the town of Culpeper Court House.

That summer, momentous changes came to the Culpeper region, brought about by Union Maj. Gen. John Pope and his Army of Virginia. Frustrated by the failure of the national forces to achieve victory over the Confederates on the Virginia Peninsula, Washington had established Pope's army and directed it to move into Virginia and threaten Richmond fromthe west. Pope ushered in a change in Northern war policy by issuing a series of orders, approved by President Abraham Lincoln, that gave sanction for his forces to live off the land and to harshly treat Southern civilians. To crush secessionist attitudes, war was to be made not only on the Rebel armies but also on the local population.

Patteson recalled the ominous directives in his memoirs: 'In the Summer of 1862, General John Pope of the Union Army was ordered to Culpeper and told to subsist off the people of that and the adjoining counties, his orders to his vandals were to take any and everything of value and what they could not carry away to destroy which these brutes did effectively.

After his army had robbed the citizens of everything of value they carried off many of its best citizens to prison because they were Southern.' Indeed, Pope's orders served to inflame the passions of Southern civilians as well as soldiers. Even Army of Northern Virginia commander General Robert E. Lee, normally restrained in his demeanor, referred to Pope as a 'miscreant' and his soldiers as 'robbers and murderers.'

To counter the Union push into Culpeper County in mid-July, Lee sent Maj. Gen. Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson's wingof his army westward, setting in motion events that would lead to the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, in which Patteson participated.

In the following excerpts from Patteson's reminiscences, which begin on August 7, he describes fleeing the family farm with his uncle, the Reverend William J. Warden, and joining up with Jackson to serve as a 'free fighter' for one week's service:

'We pressed on to Gordonsville getting there about 10 o'clock, we soon discovered that General Jackson had taken up his headquarters at another splendid Virginia lady's home, Mrs. Phillip Barbour. She had sent for him and his staff to come to her home. She was a great Presbyterian like the General and we at once went there.

My uncle had been a school mate of the General and were great friends.

'No boy could have been happier than I was when introduced to him. He asked me where I lived and I told him in Culpeper and that I had heard that our home with hundreds of others had been ransacked and everything on the place of value taken away or destroyed. We told him briefly of our loss of horses and escaped.

I said 'dear General I want to get home.

I see no way but in helping you whip these Yankees. I am a good shot and want a good rifle and if you will give me one I will do my best.' He at once wrote the order & in 30 minutes I had a new rifle and 50 rounds of ammunition. How proud I was when that matchless Christian soldier held my hand and said 'I know you will do your duty.' I had gotten tired of retreating.

'I soon found the 21st Va. Regiment of Infantry, 2nd Brigade under then General [Charles S.] Winder of Baltimore who lost his life two days after this at [the Battle of Cedar Mountain]…on August 9th 1862. The Company I went with, E of the 21st, I knew nearly every member when they first went out over a year before. Then they had first gotten through the…days of fighting around Richmond and lost 57 men by sickness, death and wounds [and] had then only 28 men. Five of these were Pattesons. They gave me a hearty welcome and that evening of August the 7th, we marched to Orange, Virginia. 10 miles.

'The next night we camped in Madison County going by Liberty Mills. My uncle stayed with General Jackson and the next day getting with a battery of Artillery the officers of which he knew, did good service when the battle came on in (the) morning. One of the guns whose officers had been killed or wounded he did services with them and they greatly loved him saying 'Parson you can fight well like you pray.'

'When we went into camp on the evening of August 8th, I told the boys as they were broken down I would skirmish around and see what I could get good to eat and after going to five houses, each filled with our men, I struck a fine farm and the lady of the house said 'my dear soldier boy if you will wait a while, I will have you a good supper.' But it was growing late and I was more than a mile from camp and the home was filled with men and thanking her I said 'if you will give me some apples and peaches I will go back.'

'She said, 'take all you can carry.' I soon filled a bag I brought and struck for camp getting there after sundown. (Soon after leaving this farm house a regiment of [Brig. Gen. John P.] Hatch's Yankee Cavalry came up and captured nearly everyone in the house.) As we formed the next day we passed the house.

'When I got to camp nearly all of the boys had eaten their supper and gone to sleep except a cousin George R. Patteson who I slept with. He said Will 'I want some fried apples' and took a servant boy. They had a lot of canteens and [went] down to a spring across the road in a corn field [to get] some water. So many asked that I took some [canteens]…and off went with him, we had just gotten to the spring when the moon came out from under a cloud and coming down in the corn field was a long line of Yankee cavalry. They had come so noiseless that had not his boy seen them we both would have been captured.He said they are Yankees and we both struck for camp — they calling us to stop. We at once aroused the camp. The drums beat and soon every one was in arms. They did not come any further but fell back. We did not sleep very much that night.

'Early next morning we were on the march to Culpeper County. You see I was a free fighter to go and come as I pleased, for I was underage. (My uniform was a black jacket and what was once a white pair of pants and [I] carried along the same pair of saddlebags which amused the boys very much.) We pushed on at a rapid walk not stopping to eat any thing & about oneo'clock orders came to hurry up and we double quicked for two miles or more.'

Patteson's first taste of battle came during the artillery barrage that opened the fight at Cedar Mountain. 'At 2 o'clock we had barely gotten into position when every Battery in Pope's Army opened on us, ours replying. We had not over half as many pieces of Artillery, but Stonewall came thru to whip that braggart and his thiefs & we did it. We layed for (3) hours under this heavy artillery fire of shells and shrapnell. While we were under this fire a school mate said to me 'Warden why did you come in here? If I had been in your place I would not have come for a thousand dollars.' I said I have come to help whip the Yankees and would not take a thousand dollars for my chance to help whip these devils who have destroyed our home.

'At 5 o'clock the artillery stopped and the Yanks had advanced close to our lines [in] heavy columns of infantry. I was so delighted when it stopped I did not mind the small balls that were flying through the timber and around my ears like swarms of bees — but jumped up. My cousin George R. Patteson pulled me down saying 'here come the greatest danger.' I told him I did not mind the little ones but I soon found out. We were on the extreme left of our Army and Pope's army being so much larger…attacked us in front and rear.

'Just at this critical moment General Jackson rode up close to our company and told our Colonel to hold that part of the line at all cost. We heard what he said and we gave a cheer saying 'General we will hold this until the last man is dead.' In a few minutes we had driven back two heavy columns of infantry, but in our rear [the Federals] having (10) men to our one broke through.

'But just at this most critical time two of our regiments — Virginia and Alabama men attacked them in the flank and with such a Rebel yell that no Yankee yet has been able to stand and they thru down their arms and most of them ran panic stricken over us. Many we killed and took prisoners. It was the turning point and in a few minutes Pope's army was in a retreat. He [Pope] who had made the statement that he had never seen any but the backs of the rebels, had to run himself — he had never met Stonewall before….'Our division lost nearly 50% in killed and wounded. The Company I was in had over half killed and wounded (our brigadier General Winder was killed also our Colonel [Richard H.] Cunningham and 2 lieutenants of our County).

'We drove them back a mile & a half and just around sundown they threw five thousand Cavalry against our lines to try to break through. We were drawn up in line in a field near a large body of timber where Hatch's cavalry were ready to make the charge. Orders came for every man to put double charges of balls in his guns. My gun had been shot 50 times and I had only wiped it out once and in ramming down the last charge the steel ramrod [got] hung [up] and I could not get it out. My cousin said it would burst if you shoot it out that way. Take this rock and beat it down which I did. I was in the front rank kneeling down. The rear rank stood up with fixed bayonets. When they came charging out of the woods one of them was riding on a fine sorrel horse. I said look boys I am going to get that fellow and let drive at him and he went down with his horse. The charge from my gun had torn his side to pieces and the steel ramrod had gone in him and struck something and down into the saddle. The recoil from my gun was so heavy that it knocked me over and nearly broke the arm of one of our men behind me. My Captain [William P. Mosely] said 'Warden I did not know I had a piece of Artillery in my Company before.'

'This was on Saturday and I stayed on the battlefield until Monday and then withdrew to Orange. General Jackson [was] trying then to cut off heavy reinforcements coming from Fredericksburg to Pope's relief.

'My uncle found me and we both thinking we could get to Culpeper quicker, tried another route back through Madison County. We got in sight of the town as the last of Pope's rearguard were going out.

In an hour both of us were at home. But such a change. One of the main dwellings had been burned down for wood & all but one of the other buildings. No fencing, no crops, no stock, no timber. Servants all taken away and nothing but bare ground left.

'They told us when Pope's army came in hundreds of them came there and took everything they could find of value away. No bedclothes, silverware, dishes or anything to eat left and they were breaking up and taking the furniture away.'

While some of Patteson's account may be exaggerated, his determination to fight with Jackson and his comments on the Union army are indicative of the passions aroused by Pope's measures. The battle-seasoned youngster remained with his family until 1863, when he again left home to fight for the Confederacy. That time he served with Colonel John S. Mosby's 43rd Battalion, Partisan Rangers.



This article was written by Scott M. Sherlock and originally appeared in the July 2002 issue of America's Civil War.

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