For the past year, the Plains District Museum has featured the “Civil War in Plains District” exhibit. One part of the exhibit emphasizes the devastating effect of the war on the area. It illustrates how the total destruction of livestock, productive green meadows and cropland to the burning of mills, barns, and factories transformed the Shenandoah Valley. Death and destruction prevailed and the lives of the inhabitants were permanently changed.
One often-overlooked group seriously affected by the war was women. The Conscription Act of 1862 adopted by the Confederacy required all men between the ages of 18 and 45 to register and serve in the military. Most of these men were farmers. who had been primary overseers of the land, their servants or slaves. In their absence, women were forced into unfamiliar roles of leadership, as reflected in many letters and diaries.
Capt. John Winfield of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry wrote letters to his wife in Broadway instructing her about where to plant the spring crops, often including specific instructions to relay to the “servants.”
Numerous local women used their ingenuity to save family possessions and farms during “The Burning,” according to historian John Heatwole. Delia Cowan saved her house and barn in Daphna by stubbornly sitting in the yard on a keg of tobacco and refusing to move even when threatened by Union soldiers. Bet Roller, who lived near Tenth Legion, protected herself and preserved her wardrobe by putting all the clothes and underwear she owned. She enjoyed the scorn of the invading soldiers, who laughed at that “fat-looking girl.” Heatwole also writes about 27-year-old Lydia Garber, who herded three horses into the living room of her Timberville house and then met the Union cavalrymen at her door with a pan of scalding water.
Displayed at the museum is a sidesaddle used by two other Timberville women during the war. According to 87-year-old museum board member Elmer Kipps, his great-grandmother Barbara Kipps lived on a farm near Timberville. Barbara’s husband had fought in the War of 1812 and was too old to be conscripted. All four of their sons fought for the Confederacy. Barbara and her daughter, Lydia (Elmer’s grandmother), made frequent trips to visit the sons on horseback using the sidesaddle. They carried supplies, food and clothing to the boys, three of whom were killed during the war.
In 1865, the Kipps family managed to save their horses from Union confiscation by sending them with a teenage boy, Henry Fleming, into the mountains. During the day, if there was no sign of the enemy, the boy brought the horses back to the barn for food and water. At night, he watched the battles in the Valley around his home. Henry carved his initials and the date onto the side of the barn that still stands. Elmer Kipps says the boy refrained from carving his full name to conceal his identity and avoid capture by the Union troops.
The exhibit will continue throughout this summer at the museum as a part of the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign.
Helen W. Smith volunteers at the Plains District Memorial Museum, where she is board vice president and also coordinates the exhibits and lecture series. She is a native of Mayland.