Gateway to Civil War in Western Virginia
Warm Springs was the gateway to Lee’s five month long Cheat Mountain campaign, and a hospitable area for the young Confederate Army of the Northwest. After the failed Cheat Mountain operation, they made quarters here for the month of December 1861. January 2, 1862, they made their way back to Virginia, never to return. This abortive sojourn was Robert E. Lee’s first offensive of the war.
From the diary of David Phillips of the 7th Tennessee infantry:
“December 13th. Had great delay in crossing Jackson river. Got some of the finest apples I have seen in Virginia. Got to Warm Springs in the evening; pitched our tents in a ravine south of the Springs where we will probaby camp a few days. 16th. Dreadful time on poor soldiers in camp. Our tents are rotten and the gales tear them and upset them, leaving us exposed to the merciless and bitter winds, On 16th Archie and I went out in the neighborhood about three miles to Col. A. G. McGoffin and got some fine apples and a splendid dinner. Oh, it was fine indeed to us who have been accustomed to camp fare.
December 17th. Cold and high winds still raging. Camp life in cold weather is a very miserable one. The wind blows the smoke of the whole encampment along on the ground which makes the air dense with smoke everywhere. This circumstance puts our eyes out nearly. Everybody you can see is crying, While I write I can’t see the lines half the time.
December 18th. Orders came from the war department for the 7th regiment to go to Winchester on the Potomac, Everybody disliked the idea of going there. We all are expecting to leave tomorrow,
December 19th. Gen. Loring refuses to order us to Winchester until be gets further information from the war department. After finding out we would not leave today Archie and I got permission to go to Healing Springs. Had a pleasant walk to H., some nine miles from camps. Got a very good dinner at the hotel. Day fine and calm, While writing we are seated in a nice cottage on the road waiting for the good folks to eat dinner, when we want to press some apples from them if there is any chance. Dinner over, no apples. Resumed our tramp. Got to W. S. about dark. Took supper at the hotel. After supper Archie and I spent some time promenading along the gallery of the hotel. Got to camps about eight o’clock. Had a sweet rest after our walk of 18 miles.
December 20th. This morning begins the last six months of our service. Day gloomy and rainy. During the past six months we have endured innumerable ills such aa soldiers alone are heir to. May the next six be the consummation of peace is doubtless the wish of all.
December 21st. Sent a letter to Tommy. In evening Archie and I went up to flag rock, said to be the higheat peak in Virginia. It ia a large cliff of rocks jutting out from the top of one of the peaks of Warm Spring Mountain. The view is very fine and extensin, especially on the east, south and southwest. We had Colonel’s glass with which we spied out the house and farms that lay dim to the naked eye in the far blue distance. It was the grandest and wildest scene I ever beheld.
December 22nd. Capt. Bostic started for home this morning early. Quite an unexpected departure to the company. Gone on the sick list, furloughed for 20 days.
December 24th. Went to preaching in church in town; was much pleased to hear singing again whieh was sweetened by the female voice and to hear the Word preached in a house. The remainder of the clothes came up Millboro. Nothing for poor me. Had a very violent snow storm in the evening, a miserable time to soldiers in the tented field.
December 25th. Col. Hatton taken sick with fever. Jim Weaver taken with violent earache during night.
December 26th. Day cold. Moved down town to the Episcopal Church where we expected to quarter tonight; a comfortable place compared with the tents.
December 27th Sleeted in the morning; a very foggy and gloomy day indeed. Was very heart this–morning; I only ate 12 biscuits for breakfast.
December 28th, Norris, Donnell, Justiss, two Organs, Jim and I got permission to move our quarters to a farm house about a mile off where we expect to carry on bacheloring on a grand scale. I didn’t go up, but expect to tomorrow. Wrote letters to Levi, Mittie, Lets and Miss —-.
December 29th. Morning very damp and gloomy; going up to my new home today. Owl’s Nest is the name of our home. Found it to be very nice place. We went to fixing it up immediately. Our furniture consisted of two chairs, two bedsteads, four tables, safe and other articles of much household importance. We enjoyed ourselves finely the first day and night.
December 30th. Had a deer hunt in the morning by the inmates of the Owl’s Nest, Justis and Mose Organ going. Justis shot at a buck but missed him. Returned about nine o’clock. After breakfast Archie*, Mose and I got ready to go to town to draw rations. Went by Zeke’s house which was about halfway. Heard the startling intelligence that the regiment was going to leave for Staunton. This was sad news to us of the Owl’s Nest. We then returned and packed up as quickly as possible and came down to town but were too late for to get our baggage in the wagons. Had to carry all of our clothes and cooking vessels over to where the regiment camped, six miles from Warm Springs. Jim and I went ahead to get lodging in a house, Jim being still unwell. Had a fine supper and good bed at Mr. Venable’s, two and a half miles in advance of the regiment.
December 31st. The last day of 1861 has come. I am still living the life of a soldier. I see no prospect for peace in the incoming year. Oh, how my heart would leap for joy if peace were declared and I permitted to return. I look back over my past year and see nothing of profit I have done. May my hour of usefulness soon come. I am tired of doing nothing and gaining nothing. The sky indicates rain, the sun refuses to shine. It seems as if the dying year would weep over the unhappy state of my country. May the bright sun of peace soon light up and enliven our sunny South, making our firesides happy and our homes the homes of peace. The year of 1861 aieu forever.
January 1st. Morning clear and cool. Went ahead of the regiment to. Millboro which we found short of any accommodations. Regiment came up about one o’clock. Drew nothing to eat up to late in evening and no prospect of drawing then. Got a letter from Frank. Drew rations about sundown. Had supper and afterwards a fine jovial chat about going home when done serving our country.
January 2nd. Nothing important in camps. Ordered to clean up our guns as if it was expected we would get in a tight soon. Three inches of snow fell during the evening and night.” – from the diary of David Phillips
*Captain Archibald Norris
“I see that region as a veritable realm of enchantment; the Alleghenies as the Delectable Mountains. I note again their dim, blue billows, ridge after ridge interminable, beyond purple valleys full of sleep, “in which it seemed always afternoon.” Miles and miles away, where the lift of earth meets the stoop of sky, I discern an imperfection in the tint, a faint graying of the blue above the main range–the smoke of an enemy’s camp”…read more