John Phillips Turner Describes Wartime West Virginia
September 2, 1861

In this letter to his future wife, John Phillips Turner describes conditions in "Kanawha State" (West Virginia) during the war and expresses his commitment to the Union.

Coals Mouth Kanawha State

September 2nd 1861

My Dear Ella

Your kind favor of July 22nd was handed me some time ago by a gentleman from Cincinnati but as we have had no mail facilities in our section until within the last week or ten days I could not reply much sooner. I left Catlettsburg [Kentucky] a day or two after I wrote to you and got home without much difficulty except having to walk some thirty odd miles of the way. I found things greatly changed here, I can tell you, since I left. Three miles below here—at Coal Mountain—I came upon one of the famous “Masked Batteries,” but as Uncle Ben had charge of the men stationed here, they did not open fire on me, although I was from despised “Yankee Land.” It was quite a formidable affair I can assure you, and would have done great execution if the Federals had not heard of it and turned off the road below it. After eating dinner with the men, I proceeded homeward. When I got to Valcoulon—the House Charley Tompkins lived in when you were here—I found the yard full of tents, which as well as the House, were occupied by Soldiers, as was also the large brick House on the turnpike just where you turn off to go to Cousin Sally Tompkins’. These places were called “Camp Tompkins.” Here were brothers Charley & Theodore, Thorny & Com. Thompson, Charley Tompkins and in fact nearly every one of my companions & acquaintances in the county—all Soldiers. It was the day after the battle at Scary – 2 ½ miles below here—and they were all in high spirits as they had been completely victorious in their first fight notwithstanding the enemy greatly outnumbered them. The battle lasted several hours, the Federal troops being, finally, driven off the field, and leaving eleven dead, and not quite as many wounded behind them. How many dead and wounded they carried off with them I can’t say. The Confederates had three killed and two mortally wounded: they took Cols Woodruff, Neff, DeVilliers, and Norton and Capt Austin and Lieut Brown prisoners, and killed Capt Allen and Lieut Pomeroy & thus got a fine Enfield Rifle and a number of knapsacks containing Blankets clothing &c. But I recon you are tired of the battle so I will drop the subject. When I got home I found no one but Pa & Jimmie. Ma and my sisters, Cousin Dee and all Uncle Frank’s family, Aunt Lizzie & Willia and in fact all the ladies in the neighborhood had run off up the turnpike from fear of the Federal Soldiers, all being thoroughly convinced that their lives would hardly be safe when they came. Having partly persuaded Col Huie that the U.S. Soldiers were men not brutes we rode up to Mrs. Bradfords, a mile above Charleston, where Aunt L.[,] Ma[,] & Sisters were and brought them home, where they have remained in quietness ever since notwithstanding the fact that dreaded “Yankees” have had possession here nearly all the time. The impression seems to prevail here that the Southern troops will be here again in a few days, if they do come our mail will again be stopped as will the boats, so we will be shut out from the world altogether again. You have no idea of the bitterness of feeling that exists here against the Yankees as all northerners are termed, and I believe they even hate the Unionists here more than the northerners. Cousin Dee and all my relations are astonished when I tell them I would have voted for the Union if I had been here at the election, but I suppose they think there is some slight excuse for me, as I have been living among the “barbarous” Yankees so long, and that I will come around all right after a while but if I ever believe this trouble to have been caused by anybody else than the disappointed office seekers of the Democratic Party aided by a few Ultraists at the north it is more than I think now.                 

 John Phillips Turner



John Phillips Turner to Martha Eldridge Taylor, September 2, 1861, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia