Grayson Civil War Ancestors

We are approaching the 150 year anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Several events over a period of time set the stage for the Civil War; but, the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12 - 14, 1861 by the Southern soldiers on the Union troops holding the Fort, has been identified as the beginning of the Civil War. Shortly following this successful attack, newspapers in the South put out a call to arms. A Lexington, Virginia newspaper printed the following on April 17, 1861: "To Arms! To Arms! Defend your Homes and Firesides. Three hundred able-bodied young men are wanted to meet in Lexington on Saturday April 20, 1861 to form three companies of volunteers for the defence of Virginia against the invasion threatened by her Northern foes. Your State is in danger. Rally to her Standard."

The men and women of the South most likely knew where their Country was headed as many either read the newspapers or talked about the events that were dividing the North and the South for some time before this attack at Fort Sumter. Many in the South felt very strongly about protecting their livelihood and way of life. This call to arms was answered all over the South, including by men of Grayson County. The author of 4th Virginia Infantry in speaking about the men from Grayson County stated that “When 135 recruits responded to the first call for the 100 man unit, the captain eliminated the 35 excess applicants by staging an unorthodox shooting match. Each man had to fire at a target while on a dead run. Those widest of the mark were dropped from consideration.” He went on further to say that of those that made up the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment, the Grayson Dare Devils were the “most flamboyant” and “they took immense pride in their marksmanship. Ninety-four of its 97 members were farmers living near the North Carolina border.”

It is difficult for us today with all of our amenities and hurried way of life to comprehend what the people of the South were going through when the men and boys answered the call to arms. Everyone was affected, most every family had someone going off to the war, and many families had more than one leaving. Much has been written about this time in history which gives us a glimpse of what the people and families went through. First at hand would have been to equip the volunteers with the necessary clothing and blankets. Many of the first uniforms were sewn at home.

On June 7, 1861 a Staunton, Virginia newspaper printed a list of "articles necessary to a soldier's comfort" so the new recruits would know what to bring with them. The list basically included two changes of clothing, two blankets, a hat, some towels, soap, and items to repair their clothing including buttons, "stout" thread, pins, needles and a thimble. This list reflects upon the simple life of the time, especially for those living in Grayson County, who were in large part, farmers making a living off the land.

Below is a recollection of an eyewitness to these events. T.C. Vaughan of Grayson County talked about the day his brothers left for the war. This account was published in the Gazette on October 12, 1939 when T.C. Vaughan was 87 years old. It reads as follows:

"I was a boy eight and half years old on that April morning when the order came for these noble boys to leave their homes for service in that tragic war, and the memory of that day is as fresh in my mind as if it had been yesterday. Stephen Byrd, George Byrd, Billie Wilcox, and perhaps others, gathered with my two brothers, Harvey B. and Stephen B. Vaughan, in my father's home, dressed in their stiff-brimmed caps and grey uniforms, with red stripes down the pants legs. To my boyish eyes, they were the finest looking men that I had ever seen. After my mother had given them the last dinner, they said good-bye to father and mother, and the little boy at the gate, and went away, some of them to come back no more."

My direct Vaughan and Byrd ancestors of the Spring Valley area fought in the Civil War along with many men and boys from Grayson County. I wonder if any of them contemplated the journey and trials that lay ahead of them when they walked through the gate and left their homes in April of 1861. There were over 2,500 men of age to serve in Grayson County at the beginning of the Civil War. On New River Notes Jeff Weaver summarized the records of 1755 of these men who were in the Confederate and Union armies. Were your ancestors among them? If your Grayson family roots go back 150 or more years then almost certainly they were. Can you trace your roots to a brave young man who left home to fight for a cause and in a war that forever changed our Nation? As we reflect upon this difficult time in our Country’s history, many people may want to know more about their family’s participation in the Civil War. A visit to the office and research library at Grayson County, Virginia Heritage Foundation may help to reveal information about your ancestors, or may uncover a missing piece to your family story. The office at GCVHF is open for visitors on Fridays 10 to 4. Beginning in May it will also be open Thursdays 10 to 4. We’re just down the hall from the offices of The Declaration in the Guynn Shopping Center Mini Mall. For more information visit our web site at http://www.graysonheritage.org/.

Joanne Boucher
Cypress, CA
Grayson County, Virginia Heritage Foundation