Grandpa Charlie: Part II

(Click here to first read Part I)

Grandpa Charlie
After resting for six months to recover from starvation in the prisoner-of-war camp in Elmira, NY, and the 400-mile walk home from there, 22-year-old Charlie reenlisted with the Confederacy for the last months of the war.

In 1937, 73 years later, Charlie 95 was the oldest living Confederate soldier in Webster County, West Virginia.  A journalist from a local newspaper sat down with him just before his 96th birthday to interview him and write an article about what he had witnessed at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.(click here for Part I)

"Lee's army was stationed at Petersburg and the battle commenced on Saturday, April 1, 1865," Charlie told the journalist.  "On Sunday the second day of April, owing to the great difference in the number of men, Lee was forced to evacuate his position.  He retreated to Appomattox Court House.
"On Sunday April 9, General Lee surrendered, between 10:30 and 11:00 o'clock, p.m.  I was standing about a hundred yards from where General Lee sat on his dappled gray horse, under an apple tree.
"After the conditions of the surrender, that we should be paroled, retaining any private arms which might belong to any of his men, we marched into a nice grove.  At this time and place, General John D. Gordon, of my Division, delivered the paroles to the soldiers.  In the address, he made a few remarks I shall never forget.  They are, in part:
"'My fellow Soldiers:  We have not gained our independence but you have fought like heroes, as you did at Bull Run.  Stand firm.  The time will come in one or two or ten years, the Democratic flag will wave over this nation of people.'  He saluted us with his saber and rode off.  This was, of course, his goodbye to us.  We never saw him again."
And that was that.
On Tuesday, April 11th, Charlie started walking home.  He had 200 miles of Appalachian mountain and forest between himself and his father's home in Buffalo Fork, WV and just his two feet to get him there.

A map of Charlie's walk home and his stops

"On the 11th day of April, 1865, I left (A) Appomattox Court House, walking, and arrived at (B) Staunton, Virginia on Saturday the 15th.  Sunday the 16th, being Easter, I remained there until the 20th of the month at the home of Mrs. Fannie Lower.  From there I came to (C) Shaws Fork, a distance of 29 miles, just west of Shannodah mountains.  I spent the night there with a great-uncle of mine, John Burke.  The next day I stayed with Henry Gum, on (D) Knapps Creek in Pocahontas County.  The night of the 23rd of April, I stayed with John Cogar.  On the 24th, I came down Dyer Run to(E) Addison, now Webster Springs.  There were no buildings there, only a small log hut located in the John Skidmore bottom.  I had dinner at the home of Adam Lynch, on Grassy Creek, who was the father of the late Mrs. C.L. Benedum.  On April 25th I arrived at my old homestead on (F) Buffalo Fork, now called Cleveland, where my father located in 1844 and built a large hewed log house.  I found that the Yankees had burned the house.  After viewing the ruins, I started on to (G) Centervillenow Rock Cave."

On today's roads, a non-stop drive from Appamattox Court House to Rock Cave, WV - and through all of these stops - is 262 miles and 6 1/2 hours of driving time on winding mountain roads.  Including a few days of rest in Staunton, Charlie crossed the distance on foot in two weeks time.
Keep in mind that Charlie is wandering the countryside in his grey Confederate uniform, and just because he knows that the war is over doesn't mean that everyone else knows, too.  Even though he had a written parole from General Grant in his pocket, the paper wasn't bullet-proof.  He was mindful of this when he left the burned remains of his father's log house and started toward Centerville.
"About a quarter of a mile from the old home, where the road crosses the right hand fork of the Little Kanawha River, there I saw where people on horseback had crossed.  I decided, being dressed in my full grey uniform, thinking there might be some scouts on the road, went up the river, leaving the main road, topping the mountain about three miles to the house of George Lake, where I stayed until April 27.  His daughter accompanied me to Centerville where my brother-in-law lived.  I walked to the home of my brother-in-law, spoke to his family and took a seat on the porch."
Charlie was still just 22-years-old.  In the past year, he had been a prisoner of war, starved to the point of emaciation, walked hundreds of miles, and fought in and survived battles that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.  And in the past two weeks alone, he had witnessed General Lee surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia, conceding the defeat of his Confederate army, and then had to walk more than 200 miles to get to that seat on the porch.
"There was a man, named George Jackson, spoke to me and said, 'By what authority are you here?'  My answer was, 'What authority have you to question me?  Are you a commissioned officer, or non-commissioned officer?  Sir, I'm here and it is none of your damn business' (I swore in those days).  Jackson left, and my sister stepped on the porch and spoke to me, and said I would have to be careful, that they would send me to prison, and my answer was, 'I know my gate, I am paroled by General Grant.'"
I don't blame the poor guy - if I were Charlie, I'd be cranky, too.
"There was a little town nearby where a company of Union men were located.  Presently I saw two of them coming up through the field.  They were Federal soldiers.  They said: 'Our Captain wants you to come down, he wants to talk to you.'  I told them that as soon as dinner was over we would go.  I invited them to eat with me, but they had just had their meal.  They waited and I returned with them.  They took me to their Captain who asked me all about the surrender.
"There was a man there by the name of Riffle, he said: 'I say, Captain, send him back South.'  I told him that he'd done nothing but try to get Federal soldiers to help rob people, that they had taken the covers off of my mother's bed when she was ill.  The Captain severely reprimanded Riffle, saying, 'Gentlemen and fellow citizens, this man has as much right here as you or me, and if he is molested I'll attend to the man who does it.'
"The next day I went to the home of my father where I rested for several weeks."
The 1886 deed for 80,000 acres
Two years later, on September 19, 1867, Charlie married Nancy Hall in Upshur County, West Virginia.  19 years later, in a deed document dated April 30, 1886, Charlie purchased 80,000 acres of land. He bought the land - 125 square miles, a whopping 22% of Webster County - from his great-uncle Jonathan Bennett, "one of the largest land owners in the state of West Virginia" for $10.

To my husband's great (and repeated) chagrin, the land has since been sold.  Charlie sold most of it in his lifetime for $1/acre; one of the larger buildings in the town of Webster Springs was probably paid for with the money that came from that sale.

According to Brooks, people would come from miles around just to listen to his great-grandpa Charlie, the oldest living Confederate soldier in Webster County, tell his stories of the war.

Charlie lived to be 99 years old, finally passing on January 26, 1942, just seven months shy of his 100th birthday.


The Story of Brooks + Rena
Grandpa Charlie: Part I

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