Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hiram Dickerson - Son of William Smith Dickerson and soldier for the Confederacy

(Family lineage: Hiram C. Dickerson  1, William Vincent Dickerson  2,Queen Rebecca Dickerson  3,
 Edna Bethel Franklin  4, Judith Ann Hayward  5 )

1833 – 1918

One of the most popular posts in my blog to date featured William Smith Dickerson. There is no doubt that he was a very interesting man and – like us all – a walking, talking contradiction during his lifetime. One of his most puzzling actions was filing for divorce from Elizabeth (aka Betsey) Martin, his wife of 8 years.  Oh, how I'd love to know what led to that decision which was an uncommon occurrence in those days!  What is documented is that Betsey was pregnant with their fourth child, Hiram, when the divorce was finalized in 1832 and that William was able to build a whole new life and career in Kentucky and Missouri with his second wife, Mary Cooper. 
The child Betsey was carrying when her life changed forever was Hiram who, at age 21, married his 18 year old sweetheart, Rebecca Osburn.  There were already 4 children in the family when 28 year old Hiram enlisted as a private in Ferguson's Battalion in the 16th Cavalry of Virginia and served under Captain Hurston Spurlock for three years. 

Based on existing records of his service during the war, there is no doubt that Hiram was involved in "The Battle of Murder Hollow”.  The story of this battle has been passed down by local mountain folk over the years.  Even as late as 1945 there were reports that whenever water in the neighborhood school's well became undrinkable, the children would refuse to go the short distance to Murder Hollow for water because they "knew" that it was "haunted by the ghosts of men who had been killed there, their bodies frozen to the ground - and the spring running red with blood."

The story of Murder Hollow might have been forgotten if a Wayne County attorney and historian, Stephen Lewis, hadn't discovered it in Jack L. Dickinson's "16th Virginia Cavalry" book and submitted it to the "Wayne County News".  The resulting article was printed in the "Out of the Past" column, and is paraphrased below:

"By the end of 1863, the war was going badly for the South and much of what is now West Virginia was no longer part of 'Mother Virginia' , but was firmly in the hands of the enemy. Most of the people in the southern two thirds of the county were sympathetic to the southern cause, especially because most had  family members and friends involved in the fight. 

In January, 1864, Colonel Milton Ferguson (a relative of the Dickersons) brought a large segment of his regiment to Wayne County.  However, unlike other winter visits, this time the Confederates were there in force with approximately 150 armed, experienced cavalrymen.  The camp was set up quite a distance  from the main roads in order to be protected from the eyes of  spies and sympathizers,  

The weather was incredibly harsh, which made it close to impossible for the wagons and cannon to be moved. and plans for major battles, of necessity, had to be put on hold.  All this led to a lull in the fighting for awhile.  Although it was a frustrating and uncomfortable environment  for the Union soldiers, the weather did provide an opportunity for the  Confederate soldiers to take turns slipping back to their homes to visit their families, restock supplies, rest and get ready for upcoming battles.

Colonel Ferguson
 prided himself on his beard

However, on New Years Day, before settling his troops for the winter,  Colonel Ferguson and some of  his troops had ventured across the Big Sandy River on the ice and attacked a small encampment of Federals. Looking at it through the lens of history, this was not a real good idea.  But it probably seemed insignificant to the participants at the time since casualties were light,and the fight was of short duration.  What it did do was to alert the Federals that the Confederates were in force in Wayne County - so the search began. 

After a number of skirmishes, the Union Army with 275 men and the Kentucky Infantry, including mounted soldiers, marched directly to the Confederate camp on February 14, 1864. Of course it was always suspected that an informant had discovered the camp's location and passed it on to the Federals, who traveled at night so as to not alert the local people.

The sleeping Confederates were attacked at daybreak. The fighting was brief and 42 were captured, including Col. Ferguson. Both he and Captain Spurlock, who had been captured previously, spent  the remainder of the war in various prisoner-of-war camps. At least three of the dead Confederates were buried at the head of Murder Hollow and the outline of their graves is still distinguishable. The other casualties were likely buried in their family cemeteries. 

The irony of all this is that the 16th Virginia Cavalry, which had seen action at Gettysburg and on a number of other well known battlefields, suffered its greatest number of casualties just a few miles from their homes - while protecting those they loved."
It does make you wonder if  the legends might be true and the "Ghosts of Murder Hollow" really do haunt the hollow and make the water run "red like blood!

Hiram's granddaughter, Queen Dickerson Franklin, related a story told to her by her grandfather.   He said that when he was given the opportunity to lead some men on a reconnoitering mission, he had felt very brave and hoped they would run into some Union boys. He wanted to fight! That was until after leading his men up a hill, he looked down below and saw what - to his frightened eyes -  looked like the entire Union army camped there!! What did he do then?   Hiram told her: “I did lead my men – right back down that hill!”.  It's good to know he was human too.

When the war was finally over, Hiram and Rebecca had six more children - making a total of 10 - before Rebecca's death from“paralysis” (a stroke?) in 1891. He obviously was not crazy about single life. He married several more times before his death in 1918.

Hiram and Rebecca with their 10 children, including my great-grandfaher, 
William Vincent (back row with Bible)