February 9, 2009
In 1911, while many a local Confederate began to recount war experiences, William H. Price made his own contribution (in a letter dated January 21). A son of Elijah Price and Christina Decker, William was born ca. 1843. William’s oldest brother, Joseph Thomas Price, enlisted in Company K, Tenth Virginia Infantry in March 1862. William enlisted just over a month later, within days of the arrival of Union soldiers in Page, and as he indicated, as a substitute for Reuben Aleshire. Price began his account…
Been Scared Nearly to Death Three Times!
I’ve been scared three times in my life. First, in ’59. My father and I were at Castleman’s Ferry unloading a boat load of lumber. Two men cam riding up the river and told us the Abolitionists and negroes were killing men, women and children as they came, – and that scare me nearly to death. I told my father to act in a hurry and get the lumber off, and go back home. We hadn’t gone very far before other men on horseback overtook us saying: ‘Have you heard the news? The Abolitionists and negroes have broken out, and are killing men, women and children as they go.’ We didn’t get any more news till we reached Front Royal. There we heard that they had captured john Brown and a portion of his followers.
In ’62, the first time I went on picket during the civil war, under Lieutenant Grayson, they put me on picket in a swamp below Culpeper Court House. My orders were to shoot the first man that came to my post, but instead of doing that the noise from the little varmints was like about twenty-five cavalry men coming, and that was the second time I was scared. So I left and sneaked back to the reserve. Then I heard the reserve say: ‘Get up, boys, we’ve got to relieve Billy Price now.’ I slipped on back to my post and when they came up I halted them. They gave the countersign and I was relieved and went back to the reserve.
The next move was on a march to Elk Run church. Then we went to Culpeper to take the train for Elk Run.
When we went to get on the train, William Skelton, Noah Skelton, Joel Decker, Tom Lucas and myself concluded to come home to spend Easter. This was in ’62.
The First Time the Yankees Came into Page County
When we reached Luray we were told that Dr. Miller and Joe Wheat had gone over on the Massanutton mountain to see if the Yankees were coming and hadn’t got back. So, we came on home, but when Joel Decker got to the White House the Yankees were there and captured him. I was so anxious to be a soldier that I substituted for Mr. Reuben Aleshire for one year and nine months for one thousand dollars, to be paid in gold or silver after the war.
On Easter Joel Decker and myself were going out to see our ‘best girls.’ This was at Tommy Higgs’, at Leaksville. When I stopped on the pike at Hamburg, three Yankees came galloping towards me and captured me. I started to run, but they soon overtook me, and asked me what I ran for. I told them I thought it was Jordan’s Cavalry coming, and they some times run over boys. They said they were not Jordan’s Cavalry, but were Yanks, and that I could go with them. Then they wanted to know who I was, and if I belonged to the rebel army. I told them no, that I was going to see my cousin, Joel Decker, who I had heard had just come home from the army. ‘Then,’ they said, ‘ you won’t see him, for we captured him last night, and sent him across the hill this morning,’ signifying the Massanutton. They took me on to headquarters, which were at the ‘White House.’ They asked me many questions, and I told them all I have said above. They asked me if I belonged to the rebel army, and I said no! Just then Mrs. Bettie Brubaker came through the room. They asked her if she knew me and she said she did. They then asked her whether she knew if I had been in the army or not. She said – yes that I had substituted for her cousin, Reuben Aleshire, and went in his place.
My Third Scare
But I still denied it, and told them they wanted me to go, but I refused. This was after Mrs. Brubaker had left the room. (I denied in her presence.) They said they would send me over to Mount Jackson, then headquarters, as a prisoner, and there I could see my cousin. I wore a brand new rebel suit, and they asked where I got it. I told them that my sister had made it and gave it to me as many boys had suits of that kind.
It was a very rainy time, and they told the picket to go back to his company, that they would attend to me now. One of them turned round on his chair and dozed off to sleep. The other one lay down on the floor and went to sleep. Then I got up and walked out to the pump and got a drink of water. As they were still asleep, I walked out to the gate at the road. I stood there a little while and still they didn’t wake up! I walked up the river side to the old toll house where my uncle and aunt live, and where Joel Decker made his home. When I opened the door the Yankees were so thick as fleas in there! My aunt said: ‘Laws, help my soul, Bill! When did you get back!’ My answer was: ‘I haven’t gone any place yet!’ and I came out of the pike toward my house.
Wanted to Know Where I’d Been and Told Me Where I was to Go.
When I got on top of White House hill, I wouldn’t have had any trouble to pass the pickets had the one who had captured me been on duty. They halted me and asked me where I was going. I told them I was going home. I live at the time at the Reuben Ruffner place on the river, now owned by Mr. D.S. Hite. They told me to come to the post. They then asked me where I’d been, and I told them I’d been to headquarters down at the river, and that the Colonel had told me to go home. They then called for my pass from the Colonel, and I told them I had none. Then they said they had orders to let no one pass out or in without a pass from headquarters. Then they said they’d send a man back with me to headquarters. We didn’t go very far before the Colonel called us back and told me to go home and stay close around there, with that rebel suit on!
If You Never Saw a Boy Run, You Should Have Seen Me!
When I reached the mill road at the top of the White House hill, if you never saw a boy run, you just ought to have been there to see me run! … I went to Tom Lucas, my fellow soldier, and told him that we’d have to get away from here. As the Yankees were here we’d see no Easter and that they had already captured Joel Decker. We took shelter where Lester Ruffner now lives. We stayed there till two o’clock next morning and piloted us to Lee Lucas above Honey Run, next to the Ridge. From there we joined our command at Elk Run church, in Rockingham county.
Then we came in contact with our army line and were captured by our pickets and taken to our headquarters. The officer asked us if we had a pass giving us permission to leave the army, and I told him, Yes.’ Then he said, ‘Let’s see your pass.’ I told him that II had changed my pants and left my pass at home in my other pants pocket. He turned to his desk and wrote a few lines and handed it to the picket to give to the captain of our company. We came back to the Captain’s tent, but the Captain was out of his tent. We waited a while for him to come back. The boys wouldn’t tell where he was. I told the picket to give me the paper and I’d hand it to the captain when he came. He said all right and gave it to me. I said “It said if these men left without permission punish them severely.’ These were the words on the note. And that was the last of it.
Our next move was to McDowell and there we had a battle. It was at the battle that Colonel Gibbons was killed.
Then we moved through Page county, and through Luray, and by Front Royal down below Charlestown. At Harpers Ferry the federals got reinforcements. General Jackson fell back up the Shenandoah Valley with Banks after us up the Page Valley and Shields up the Shenandoah. Banks’ intention was to cut Jackson off at New Market, crossing at the White House bridge. I was put on picket at Valley View Springs to watch the Yankees coming from Page. Three cavalrymen (rebel) rode up and said the bridge was burned and the federals couldn’t cross. Then we had orders to march up the Shenandoah Valley towards Port Republic. Shields was fighting our rear all the white. We marched on to Port Republic, but it seems that Shield stopped than our army stopped, and went into camp. We were fixing for inspection of arms. At this point it seems that our pickets were captured and Fremont was moving to Port Republic bridge to cut Jackson off.
Here we received orders to fall in ranks and load by detail. Jackson threw his army across the river, burned the bridge and whipped Fremont. Then threw his army back into the mountain. Here Banks and Shields both lost him. Jackson move to Gordonsville and took the train for Richmond. Landing at Richmond with his army he moved down near the Seven Pines. Here the first Federal soldier we saw state that their officers had read letters to them that morning stating that Jackson would not be there, for Banks and Shields were giving him the devil in the other Valley. After a severe battle at Richmond the federals fell back on the James River. [It’s not clear why, but for some reason, William Price mentions nothing about being among the wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862. Because of the wound, he did not return to the ranks until January 1863.]
My next engagement was at Chancellorsville. We started from Skinker’s Neck, our winter quarters. One of the grandest flank movements ever made by Jackson, was made by Jackson, was made here, May 2, 1863. He got clear around the federal army when the signal gun was fired we were right on their reserve line,. Captain D.C. Grayson has been writing about the Chancellorsville battle and others, and I reckon it was to much for him to say for old Company K, that at one shot when the signal was fired the federal troops ran and left all their arms stacked in the woods where our company passé through. That was a merry time for us.
Rode on His Brother’s Coffin
Now on the third was the sad time with me. This was Sunday morning May the 3rd. Here my brother J. Thomas Price was mortally wounded at ten o’clock and died at ten the following night at the old Wilderness Tavern at Chancellorsville. Here I and another soldier carried him. Then I wrote home to my father to come after him. Father and Tommy Higgs came after him with a team. I asked for a furlough to come home and see him buried, but they refused, as they were expecting a battle at any time. So, I told Captain Grayson that I was going to come anyway. He said, ‘Billy try it if you will, but the conscript officers will give you trouble.’
I have often heard people say what they would do in time of war – but they have only got to do as the Government says. In every little town conscript officers were place to catch soldiers. While passing through these towns I would lie on tip of the case in the wagon and cover up with a blanket – all except my feet. The conscript officers would halt us in every town, and inquire what we were hauling, and they told him ‘a corpse,’ – and they’d say, ‘a corpse!’ and they’d say, ‘pass on!’ So, that’s the way I got home to see my brother buried!
William H. Price was listed as absent sick after June 11, 1863 and was discharged on November 15, 1863 for epilepsy. At least five children came from his marriage to Jenetta Strickler (married in 1868). William died just over four years after writing this memoir.