Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 27, 1861 (Tuesday): Shenandoah's Harvest

Shenandoah Valley Farm

RICHMOND, August 27, 1861.

Honorable L. P. WALKER, Secretary of War:
    DEAR SIR: I am requested by some of the citizens of the valley counties to make a representation to you of the facts bearing upon the call of the militia in that region.
It is the most fertile part of Virginia for wheat and corn growing. It has no other staple of consequence. The call of the militia was at a time when the harvest was scarcely over, and the farmer left his crop standing in the field unhoused. No plow has been put into the ground for the fall seeding of wheat. See, than, the sacrifice which our people in that region are called on to make-to imperil the crop of the past year and to prevent the raising a crop for the coming year.
     I know it is supposed the same rule of 10 per cent., being applicable elsewhere, must be applied to the valley, and with no worse results; but one fact will show the contrary: In Shenandoah county there is a white population of 12,800 and a total population of 13,800, showing only 1,000 blacks, free and slave. Ten per cent. of the whites makes a call of 1,280 for militia service drafted from the laborers, the tillers of the soil, and not leaving sufficient slaves at home to work while the master is abroad to fight.
Nansemond County, near Norfolk, has a total population of 13,700, (nearly the same as Shenandoah), of which 5,700 are white and 8,000 black, free and slave. The draft of 10 per cent. draws 570 whites, but leaves the negro to the farm labor.
     This is an evil which calls for a remedy, if one can be had. Of the militia at Winchester, numbering, say, 5,000, perhaps one-half are unarmed. Might not furloughs be allowed, or a part be disbanded who are unarmed, upon call to be summoned again if needed, especially since report says the column of General Banks has fallen back from the valley toward Baltimore? If anything can be done for as true and patriotic a people as there are in the South, I appeal to you to do it. When I tell you that in Shenandoah County, which cast 2,500 votes for the secession ordinance and only 5 against it, there are only 700 slaves, I think I may vouch for the integrity of her people upon the great crisis of the South.

I am, with high respect, yours,


Shenandoah has furnished about 950 volunteers. Could not enough of her militia be retained to make up her quota and released the residue on furlough? As it is now, she has largely more than her quota in the field, counting her volunteers and her militia.


Official Records, Series I, Vol. 5, Part 1, Page 819

War in the abstract collides with the reality of competing necessities.  Johnston needed every man under arms he could muster for defense of the Valley.  But a critical reason the Shenandoah Valley required defending was its role as bread basket of the Confederacy.  And the harvest could not be gathered with farmers and their sons in the field of battle.  Here the attorney general of Virginia argues the case for providing relief from duty, if only for a time.  Ultimately, Walker would reject the request, though reluctantly.

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