William Daniel Cabell of Norwood, Virginia, served the Confederacy as the captain of the New Market Home Guard from 1861-65. During this time New Market, a village near the Tye River’s entrance to the James River, was renamed Norwood so that it would not be confused with New Market in the Shenandoah Valley.
William and his father ran a freighting business from the canal port at Norwood. Located 30 miles north of Lynchburg and 85 miles west of Richmond, Norwood was in a strategic position to distribute goods and supplies to Confederate troops. The Cabells shipped stock and supplies on the canal by way of their boat Leonora. A railroad depot was at nearby Hardwicksville.
On February 20, 1865, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued orders to Maj. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan to move his 10,000 Union cavalrymen from Winchester to Lynchburg and to destroy every canal and railroad along the way. Brigadier General George A. Custer’s division arrived in Nelson County by way of Charlottesville. Brevet Major General Wesley Merritt led his command toward the James River by way of Scottsville. By early March, Sheridan’s cavalry commanders had set up headquarters in Cabell’s home at Norwood.
In his official report, Grant wrote that on March 6 Sheridan divided his troops into two columns and “sent one to Scottsville, whence it marched up the James River Canal to New Market, destroying every lock, and in many places the bank of the canal.” Grant explained that the Federals tried to take possession of the bridge at Duguidsville (Bent Creek) and at Hardwicksville (Wingina), but the “enemy” caused them to fail on both accounts.
Cabell and the Home Guard were the enemy. Excerpts from a diary and a journal from 1864-65 titled “Early Days” bear the following testimony:
May 7, 1864
New Market Home Guard meets at 11 o’cl. Received orders and drilled for perhaps one hour. Last night about 9 o’cl my Father’s barn and my brother Stuart’s barn were set on fire by an incendiary and burnt to the ground. No traces of the theft as yet and arson or house burning. All the chaff and straw, the threshing machine, fans, wheat rake and a large hay press were burnt with the buildings.
June 11, 1864
Am engaged collecting supplies for our wounded but about 2 o’cl I am informed just as I came out of Mr. Lem’l Turner’s gate that a Yankee Raid was upon us. I hurry down to see F.M. Cabell Capn. and Leuts. Mitchell & Cabell & to collect all our men to resist the raid. I am quite successful in getting together a number of men at all points perhaps 100 men who determine with God’s help to turn the course of the Yankees. They set fire to Arrington Depot at six o’cl PM. and leave the depot about dark. The depot contained valuable Government stores.
June 21, 1864
The news from all points were favorable to us today. The Yankees have been whipped from near Lynchburg and also from Petersburg. Gen. Early is in hot pursuit of the enemy above Lynchburg. Miss Alice Mosby & her brother spent the day here.
September 17, 1864
Engaged all the morning discharging my duties as Commissary, gave orders on detailed farmers in favor of poor soldiers families. Mr. Martin returns from the association tonight. The meeting was progressing well. Rev.d Wm. Meade and Dabney Davis and T.F. Martin ministers in attendance.
The boat Leonora arrives tonight from Richmond with no load.
October 27, 1864
I must visit the agents of each magisterial district and engage supplies for our soldiers families. I must issue impressments orders on all citizens of the county who may have some “surplus” on hand or who will have it. I must endeavor to leave my matters at home in such condition that good work may be done. I must endeavor to train my negros to do good work. May God help me to do my duty…faithfully.
November 16, 1864
This day was set apart by the President of the Confederate States for Humiliation, fasting & prayer and was observed by services at our church at the usual hour of meeting. Oh that we could humble ourselves as we should!
December 23, 1864
Clear and very cold. Decide to go to Charlottesville today. Escort Miss Lilla Boyden & the Misses Nelson down to Charlottesville, here they were met by their friends. There is great excitement here on account of the approach of the Yankees, threatening Gordonsville & Charlottesville.
January 23, 1865
The court makes an order for a levy of $230,000 to buy grain for Soldiers families. Urge bonded farmers to send in supplies due the Government. Urge my Agents in the Commissary Department and my County agents to do their work.
February 11, 1865
While in Richmond I made the acquaintance of the Sec. of War. I saw Col. F.G. Ruffin and conversed with him…I saw Maj. B.P. Noland Chief Commissary for Va and got information on several subjects of interest in the Commissary business.
“Early Days” Entries
Early in the war I lost my wife and my brother in law. Rev. T.F. Martin brings my sister Cornelia and their family to live with us at Norwood and to help take care of my two little girls. Mr. and Mrs. Charles L. Powell came to live with me at Norwood and help me take care of and educate my two children and the four boys, sons of my dearest neighbor and friend James Bruce McClelland for whom I had been appointed Guardian by the court. I was also appointed Administrator of their Estate. Mr. and Mrs. Powell rendered me invaluable service and remained till after the close of the war. Perhaps the presence of these good people alone prevented the destruction of my residence when General Sheridan visited this section of the State near the close of the war as he spared neither my mill, tobacco houses, bridges nor fences. Five large buildings were burned and all my sheep, horses and cattle taken possession of and used. Hundreds of horses that were broken down were shot in my yard up to the doors.
I was returning from a school near Hillsborough N.C. with Miss Anna Whelan (now Mrs. Wm. H. Whelan of the Elm Cottage near me) when informed of the approach of Genl. Sheridan’s command near Bremo in Fluvanna County— so I stopped at Bremo and got General Cockes Driver Peyton and his two fine carriage horses and as General Sheridan was making for Scottsville in Albermarle to destroy the James River Canal I had to ride through the country to avoid him and thus reach Norwood before his command. This I did and immediately got notice to the Home Guard and took steps to have the movements of General Sheridan watched that I might report to Richmond and Lynchburg what was going on. My brother Robert Stuart Cabell acted as a scout for me and reported frequently.
The bridges at Hardwicksville and Bent Creek were ordered burned upon his approach as under no circumstances was he to cross into Buckingham County and get in the rear of General Lee’s army. After burning the Bridge at Hardwicksville his next move was to reach the Bent Creek Bridge—at New Market that portion of his command which had been destroying the Virginia Midland Railroad joined his forces which had destroyed the Locks & dams of the James River Canal from Scottsville up. At the mouth of Tye River I saw the two wings of his army unite. I was with members of the Home Guard on the bridge across the River and seeing them approach endeavored to burn the Tye River Bridge but failing in this ripped up the plank for a space of twelve or fifteen feet pitching them into the River. While thus engaged [I] saw my brother R. Stuart Cabell and his Cousin Ivanhoe Cabell coming to the bridge with great speed and the Yankees firing upon them and pursuing them. My little command left me at this point and I hastened to crawl over on the Railings to save the boys from destruction. They were ordered to go back some hundred yards and surrender as my brother had but one leg and could not cross. They preferred to ride through the entire command but were chased for five miles but escaped losing their horses only. I alone retreated up the river destroying bridges at the locks and reached Bent Creek Bridge.
I was the last man to cross and told the parties there to fire as they were just behind me. This was done and Sheridan’s command was thus prevented from crossing James River at all. I proceeded down the river to Elm Cottage and found my residence and farm occupied and my fences and five buildings burning. The command remained three days and killed off their worthless horses and then pursued a route not first anticipated down the James River there being no other bridges. On returning to my residence I found dead horses up to my doors and all fences destroyed and as I said some five buildings and my mill destroyed.
Generals Sheridan, Custer, Merritt, Devon and Fitzhugh were in command and my activity during the war was offset by severe punishment. And it was at such a time that evidence of the fidelity of the colored people were displayed in many ways. Emily Early (Old Mammy) was the most remarkable. She acted as far as she could as Mother of the children left in her care whom she had nursed. She took several bags of my most important papers and put them at the head of her bed and saved them all. Old man Jack, my head man, was equally faithful and attentive to my interest. He extinguished the fire that had been put on the Canal Bridge to destroy it and thus saved it. He collected about twenty horses that were broken down and shot but not killed with which we afterward made a crop.
In contrast to all this Sam Jackson under threats from the soldiers was forced to show where all valuables had been hid in the cliffs north of my house. All of which was destroyed or stolen. Sam had been one of the Drivers and thus wagon loads of articles, seventeen trunks containing valuables left by Major McClelland for his boys and by my wife for her little daughters were all made away with and not recovered.
Several of them [horses] I sent to General Cocke at Lower Bremo as his fine carriage horses had been taken off on General Sheridan’s return down the river. A few weeks after came the surrender at Appomattox Co[urt] Ho[use] as General Lee came before the Union Army then decided to close the struggle of which the whole country approved. In my yard at the time of the surrender were Major Burr Noland, General Lindsay Walker and others. The firing of the Guns at Appomattox was very distinct in the Norwood yard. We imagined we heard one cannon for each State’s return to the Union….
My daughter Anne, Mrs. A. Moore Jr., was old enough then to remember many incidents of this visit of Gen. Sheridan’s command. I doubt not that the handsome Curly headed Custer was brought to think more leniently of the rebel, when he issued his orders at my table in the little room down stairs, whenever my little daughters made their appearance. However much he laughed at the rude waxen candles made by their tiny fingers. Years after this on a social occasion I mentioned the subject of this visitation to my section of Virginia and asked General Sheridan “how many broken down horses did you have shot?” He said, “about a thousand” during that ride. I always thought it a most inhuman sacrifice when our people were so much in need, having lost all our stock of every description.
Originally published in the April 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.