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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 7 - Account. of Col. McDonald's Capture


Letters from Jefferson Davis

The following extract from War Reminiscences of R. D. Beall published in the Baltimore Weekly Sun, some eight or ten years after the wear, also gives an interesting account of Col. McDonald's capture.

"On the 12th of June, 1864, it was my misfortune to become a prisoner of war, and one of the first prisoners I recognized as an addition to our crowd was Col. Angus W. McDonald of Winchester, Virginia. He had been Colonel of Turner Ashby's command before it was brigaded, and at the time, appeared to be about seventy years old. At the breaking out of the war he was a lawyer in extensive practice and one of the most influential men in his section. His personal appearance was striking, being a man of heroic stature and every inch a soldier. Col. McDonald had been sick and was getting out of the way of the advancing enemy, accompanied by his son Harry, a youth of scarcely sixteen years when overtaken by a squad of Hunter's Cavalry, between Lexington and Buchanan. Despite the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, Col. McDonald and his son Harry made a brave resistance and the former was shot in the hand before surrendering.

When I met him at Buchanan and introduced myself, Col. McDonald had his wounded hand bandaged and in a sling, but despite his wound and his venerable years he was uncomplaining, partaking of the same fare which was dished out to us and by his cherry words encouraged others who had become faint-hearted under the depressing surroundings. Rations were scare and inferior and at best there was a long and exhausting march before us.

The next day we marched from Buchanan to the Peaks of Otter, Bedford County, Lynchburg being Gen. Hunter's objective point. Col. McDonald footed it all day, though there was an abundance of conveyances in which he might have ridden, had the Federal train-master so ordered. The following day was a repetition of the previous one we went into camp on Otter river seventeen miles from Lynchburg. That night I found Col. McDonald ailing considerably. He was greatly exhausted by the long march and suffering from his wound, but his spirit was as proud as ever.

The next morning, bright and early a mounted staff officer rode into camp and ordered the prisoners to get ready to march to the rear. Then addressing himself to the venerable Col. McDonald this coward in the uniform of a soldier, said, "You will go with us, you old scoundrel! Gen. Hunter has not decided what he will do with you—whether he will shoot or hang you." At this brutal outburst, Harry McDonald—as brave and noble a boy as ever lived—advanced a step and begged to be permitted to go with his father, urging his request on the ground that his father was aged and sick and needed his ministrations. But the Federal officer was obdurate, seeing which, Harry commenced shedding tears. At this point Col. McDonald addressed Harry in a fatherly but firm tone, saying "Harry, my son, do not shed a tear, but if necessary, shed your blood in defense of your country."

I shall not forget that scene as long as memory performs its office. The Roman firmness of the old Colonel vexed the Federal officer and he ordered the guard to march him off. But here Colonel McDonald's superb courage again asserted itself, and he said, not one foot would he march, that he was footsore and exhausted. Then the order was given to assist him to march by an application of the point of the bayonet, whereupon the old Confederate hero threw open his vest, exposed his bosom and exclaimed "You may shoot and kill me, but you cannot make me march. Now do your worst."

The Federal officer quailed under this superb exhibition of courage and he relented to the extent of ordering up the roughest wagon in the train and ordered thrown into it what he termed "the old scoundrel," but who was in fact one of the bravest of the brave, a Confederate Colonel, and one of the most high-toned and respected gentlemen in the State, in whose defense he had enlisted, despite his advanced years.

I never ascertained fully the reasons for this inhuman treatment but heard it intimated that one of the members of Gen. Hunter's staff claimed that his father had been unkindly treated by Colonel McDonald whilst the latter was in command on the Northern border of Virginia in the Winter of '61 and '62. But if such was the reason, alleged, I am sure it had no foundation in fact, for Colonel McDonald was a man of soldierly instincts and bearing, as well as a gentleman of genial and kindly feelings, and I wager that he was never intentionally harsh or cruel to any one whom the fortunes of war placed in his power.

I never saw Colonel McDonald again after parting with him that morning on the Otter river. When Hunter was hurled back from Lynchburg by Jubal Early's veterans, he struck for the Kanawha Valley, taking Colonel McDonald with him. I heard afterwards that that this venerable gentleman was subjected to great hardships and cruelties on the march and afterwards in the Federal prisons and this is partially borne out by a letter received from his son, Captain William N. McDonald, who resides in Berryville, Virginia., and who writes, "My father died in Richmond a few weeks after his return from prison, the cruel treatment of the Federals being the main cause."

The Confederate prisoners left the Otter river in charge of the 161st and 162nd Ohio regiments, under the command of Col. Putnam. On the first day of the backward movement, Harry told me that he intended to make his escape if possible. And whilst making a night march over a mountain in Greenbrier County, he succeeded in doing so. The guards were not more than four feet apart, on the lower side of the road, when the cry of "Halt! Halt!" rang out and glancing back a few feet, I saw Harry's blanket and canteen flying through the air, while he was going down the mountain side at a rate of speed which would have done no discredit to a fast quarter-horse, and disappeared in the darkness."

An editorial in the Richmond Enquirer of date July, 1864, has the following to say about Col. McDonald's imprisonment:

"It is with inexpressible pain and indignation that we read a letter, published in the morning's papers, from Colonel Angus McDonald, written in the Cumberland, Maryland, Jail. The infamous foe have locked a felon's hand-cuffs upon the old, enfeebled limbs of this gentleman and patriot and have cast him into a prison cell. And for what crime? Let it be known by those who boast of the freedom and civilization of the Federal Union, that it is for having resisted with arms in his hands the invaders of his native land. Tell, Wallace and Washington have been honored with immortality for the acts which have consigned McDonald to the fate of a felon.

Yet he tells his children and grand children, that "the liberty and independence of themselves and their native land is worth all I have done and suffered and as much more as I may be called on to suffer. * * * * * : It will doubtless be some solace to the prisoner in Cumberland jail to know that the brother of Crook, his captor is said to be in our hands and that measures are in progress to subject him to equivalent treatment. We sincerely trust that this, as well as a returning sense of justice may influence the Federal Government to renew the cartel to inaugurate a system of exchanges and restore this much wronged gentleman to his family and friends."

With reference to Colonel McDonald's work in connection with the boundary line between Virginia and Maryland The Richmond Whig had the following, in an editorial, during the Summer of 1866:

"It will be recollected that a short time before the war, the Legislature of Virginia passed an act, authorizing the appointment of a Commissioner to ascertain the boundary lines of Virginia, and make a report thereon. Col. McDonald of this State, well known for his erudition, was chosen for the duty and in company with his son (William N. McDonald) as assistant, he proceeded to London, where with scrupulous regard for the truth, and with great energy and patience he commenced researches among the English archives, and in every quarter where there was a chance of light being thrown on the object of his mission.

After thorough examination of all the means within his reach, he returned to Virginia, bringing with him a most valuable and curious collection of books, maps and manuscripts, all of which he was authorized by the Legislature to use for the purposes of compilation.

He had the various documents copied, and together with the maps, bound in book form, but unfortunately, when the library of Virginia fell into the hands of the U. S. soldiers, some of the volumes and all the maps were made way with and there remain now but four volumes.

It is possible, however, that some of the originals remain in the hands of some of the members of his family. A short time since there was fortunately found a Ms. signed by Col. McDonald and dated March 17th, 1862, and which may be styled the argument or summing up to be presented to the Virginia Legislature, and contains the deductions at which he arrived. For reasons of State policy, this document was never published or acted on; for the war was then raging, and it contained conclusions relative to the boundary line between MaryIand and Virginia, which if published, would have been calculated to create some unpleasantness in the minds of Marylanders.

Now, however, it is not improper to publish what Colonel McDonald says in the argument above referred to with regard to what may be termed the proprietorship of the Potomac. Here it is:

"The true boundary line then, between Maryland and Virginia, as shown by the Maryland Charter, and supported by history, is a line drawn from the point where the meridian of the source of the North Branch intersects with the 40th parallel of north latitude, to the Northern bank of the Potomac, where the river is formed by the junction of the North and South Branches, and following that bank to Point Lookout, thence across the central part of the Scarborough line, and following the latter to the Atlantic Ocean.

"In addition to the facts set forth in this report, which, in the opinion of your Commissioner abundantly sustains Virginia's just claim to the territory and boundaries he has claimed in her behalf, others without limit in number, are adducible in support of said claims, with the recital of which your Commissioner, at this time, has not thought proper to swell this communication."

Colonel McDonald did not confine his investigatons to this line alone, his report extends all around Virginia's border.

The following article, also with reference to the boundary line, appeared in a Richmond paper during the Summer of 1865.

"MUTILATION OF THE VIRGINIA STATE LIBRARY

"The Virginia State Library, which was gotten up with great care and at an enormous expense, has been robbed of its most valuable works. A series of valuable books, bought in Europe by an agent of the State, sent for that purpose (Colonel Angus W. McDonald, of Winchester, Virginia), has disappeared, as well as many other important works, which cannot now be supplied.

"Some valuable M. S. copies of old records of the State, found among the archives of the English government at London, were also purloined. These documents were also obtained through Colonel McDonald, who was sent to London by the Legislature of Virginia on Governor Henry A. Wise's recommendation for the purpose of ascertaining from the Colonial records the exact boundary line between Virginia and Maryland.

"A misunderstanding on the subject had arisen some years ago between the two States, Maryland claiming a portion of Accomac County as her right according to the boundary line fixed by the Commissioners appointed in the early days of the State governments to draw the line of divisions. Inasmuch, however, as they were governed by the decisions arrived at under the Colonial regime it was deemed advisable, in the absence of any authentic record of the early State Commissioners, to go to the fountain head for the required information.

"The result, it appears, was favorable to the claims of Virginia. Colonel McDonald, in his researches touching the special objects of his mission, discovered a large amount of valuable and interesting historical information dating back to the earliest period of the settlement of Virginia, which he had literally transcribed. The series comprised also a number of maps and surveys, both of Maryland and Virginia, which were ruthlessly torn by the hands of the unscrupulous thieves from the large volumes in which they were bound.

"The beautiful libary is a perfect wreck beyond the possibility of reparation."

Some years after the war I received several letters'= from Mr. Davis urging me to write a biographical sketch of my father, saying that there would never be entire reconciliation between the North and South until there was a fair understanding of the cause and the conduct of one another. Following are some of the letters referred to:

Beauvoir, Miss., 13th Feb., 1887.

MY DEAR MRS. WILLIAMS:

Your father was very dear to me and most highly esteemed. The story of his capture deserves to be preserved by both pen and pencil. He told me the matter fully, but my memory has not retained it entirely. As far as I could it was given to Mr. Elder, the Richmond artist, who is with us at present. He at once expressed a desire to make a picture of it, but to do so he should visit the spot so as to introduce the scenery.

Your father and one of your younger brothers and an old man, were crossing the Cheat river and were attacked by a party of the hostile army. The question of surrender or fight was unanimously decided in favor of the alternative. The band, though small in number, was large in patriotic devotion and soldierly courage. And your father's military knowledge enabled them to select and gain a point of difficult access and to construct a breast-work of logs, behind which the brave three defied their foe.

At length the old man fell, the blood streaming through his long white hair. Your father was wounded, but not disabled. He said it was sad to see the old man die and he turned to his boy, who was resolutely loading and firing, and the father's admiration, mingled with his love; he could not bear to have him sacrificed; therefore, he raised the signal of surrender. I could go on with the story of his suffering and the brutal treatment he received, but have already exceeded the purpose of indicating the event, so that you might, with the aid of your brother, write a full and accurate account of an affair which deserves to be perpetuated.

Very truly your friend,

JEFFERSON DAVIS.

In accordance with Mr. Davis' suggestion, I discussed the matter with some of the family and others, who did not think it altogether timely just then to publish such distressing truths, and so informed him in my reply. His answer to that letter follows:

Beauvoir, Miss., 29th March, 1887.

My DEAR MRS. WILLIAMS:

I have felt sorely the tendency to which you refer in our own people to seek fraternization by the suppression of truth. The only fraternity which is worth while must be founded on respect and it could only breed contempt to hide whatever was characteristic of our people and to pretend to forget the brutality and pillage of our enemies.

The good and true men at the North ask no such humiliating hypocrisy, and the opposite class are not to be bought by subserviency. I am anxious that a full and accurate account of that heroic incident in your father's life should be published. It will be good for the rising generation and I cannot realize that any paper, relying on a Southern constituency, would not consider themselves fortunate to have it.

Then some artist should go on the ground and sketch the scene. If he was fit for the work it would be a high feather in his plume. That reviewer certainly did not know he was talking to a McDonald when he objected to your book because it told the truth. Believe me,

Very truly your friend,

JEFFERSON DAVIS.

Hearing nothing further from me on the subject of the biographical sketch of my father, Mr. Davis wrote me again in June:

Beauvoir, Miss., 21st June, 1887.

MRS. FLORA McD. WILLIAMS:

Dear Madam-
I hope you will not be deterred from the execution of your purpose to write a full biographical sketch of your heroic father and his patriotic deeds. if there is ever to be entire reconciliation between the North and the South it must be after a fair understanding of the cause and conduct of one another. Misrepresentation has done much to keep up hostility. Epithets applied in official documents to the efforts of the South to maintain the rights to which her people were born has engendered a disposition to regard us as inferiors or criminals, and good feeling cannot be expected to grow up while such misapprehension exists, for in regard to the large mass of Northern people, I believe it is misapprehension.

They did not justly appreciate our rights and naturally misunderstood our motives. Equality was the foundation stone on which the Union was built and on anything less than that it will never have a secure foundation.

Your father was not a "Rebel," he was not an outlaw when he fought in the mountains, when he bled in the cause of his Sovereign State. He was not a traitor, unless to bear true allegiance to his Sovereign can be made treason. I have written more than I intended and spare you the rest.

Very truly your friend,

JEFFERSON DAVIS.

In a letter to Capt. William N. McDonald, Mr. Davis further speaks of his high esteem for my father:

"Your father while living had my affectionate esteem and his memory is cherished as one of the noblest men I have known. I had a long and warm attachment to him, which rose with every trial to which I knew him to be exposed and it has often given me pleasure to hear enconiums bestowed on his sons."

A letter from Thos. Nelson Page to Mrs. Anne S. Green says of her father: "I was brought up on the stirring stories of your distinguished father's defense of his post during the war, and I used to know all your brothers, for whom I had a high regard."

Following is a letter from my father written from prison

Atheneum Prison, Wheeling, August 24th, 1864.

My DEAR DAUGHTER.:
I answered your mother's letter to-day, refer to it for part answer to your two letters. They gave me great pleasure. Harry is at home safe, oh! how I long to be with him and my other younger boys. I feel that they will miss the influence of my counsels in the formation of their characters? Harry is intrepid, brave and self-reliant, he needs no schooling to improve these attributes of his character, but how little would they elevate him if he should lack honor, honesty, magnanimity, truth, generosity, industry or steadiness or perseverance. Remind him constantly whenever he may fail to exhibit any one of these qualities.

How much it would distress me to know it, and how much in after life he will suffer for failure to cultivate such virtues, whilst to mould his own character is yet in his power. Let him practice self-denial in every phase till his judgment holds all his appetites and passions under its firm and complete control. Then and not until then will the manly attributes of which he is possessed by nature enoble and lift him to an enviable and happy position among his fellowmen.

I trust his brothers all are endowed by nature as he is and that he will influence them by his example and precepts to the culture of the virtues, which I have above desired him to cherish and obtain for the perfection of his own character.

Do you, my darling FIora, deal gently and persuasively with him and his younger brothers, and draw them into the paths of usefulness and honor. I know now that they will not lack courage to buffet with danger, come it in what form it may.

I presume Angus has some friends in Wheeling; has he ever written to them to have me furnished with such comforts as the rules of the prison would permit me to receive? The Rev. Mr. Boyd leaves here to-day; he has been very kind to me and incurred pecuniary responsibilities to supply my necessities. Send love to all.

Your father,
A. W. MCDONALD.

P. S. My health has failed very much in the last few days.

A. W. McDONALD.

The only part of this letter which was in his own handwriting was the postscript, he being too unwell to write it himself.


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