129th Regiment Virginia Militia, 1st Kentucky Infantry, 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 5th Virginia Regiment, Abram S. Piatt, Appalachia, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Barboursville, Battle of Kanawha Gap, Big Creek, Big Sandy River, Boone County, Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Camp Enyart, Ceredo, Chapmanville, Charleston, Chicago Daily Tribune, Cincinnati Daily Press, Cincinnati Gazette, civil war, Cleveland Morning Leader, Coal River, Confederate Army, Daily Green Mountain Freeman, David S. Enyart, Eli Thayer, Evening Star, George McClellan, Greenbrier County, Guyandotte River, H.C. Evans, Harpers Ferry, Herman Evans, history, J.V. Guthrie, J.W. Davis, Jacob D. Cox, John Dejernatt, Kanawha River, Kanawha Valley, Logan County, Logan Court House, M.H. Wood, National Republican, O.P. Evans, Ohio, Ohio River, Parkersburg, Pomeroy Weekly Telegraph, Portsmouth, Richmond Whig, Robert E. Lee, Samuel Smoot, Sewell Mountain, Southwestern Times, Staunton Spectator, T.W. Rathbone, Tazewell County, Tug Fork, Union Army, Virginia, West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Culture and History, Wheeling, William Baisden, William Rosecrans, William S. Rosecrans, Zouaves
The following newspaper accounts describe the Battle of Kanawha Gap near present-day Chapmanville, Logan County, WV, which occurred on September 25, 1861:
Cleveland (OH) Morning Leader, 3 October 1861
GALLIPOLIS, Oct. 2.
The expedition planned by Col. J.V. Guthrie of the First Kentucky Regiment, and sent out under Lieut. Col. Enyart and Col. Piatt, has returned. They encountered the enemy at Chapmansville under Col. J. Lucien Davis, of Greenbrier, and utterly routed them. The enemy lost between fifty and sixty killed. Our loss was four killed. The expedition returned to Charleston on the 30th ult.
Evening Star (Washington, DC), 4 October 1861
A Confederate Camp in Western Virginia Broken Up and Routed
CINCINNATI, Oct. 3 — A body of Federal troops, under Lieut. Col. Enyart, attacked a camp of rebels at Chapmansville, in Logan county, Va., near the Kentucky line, routing them, killing sixty and taking seventy prisoners. The same body of rebels were afterward intercepted in their retreat by Col. Piatt, who killed forty and made a large number prisoners.
New York (NY) Herald, 4 October 1861
FIGHT WITH THE REBELS AT CHAPMANSVILLE
Cincinnati, Oct. 3, 1861.
The Kanawha correspondent of the Commercial of this city says that five companies of the First Kentucky regiment, four companies of the Thirty-fourth Ohio regiment and one company of the Fifty Virginia regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Enyart, surrounded and attacked the rebels at Chapmansville, and after a short engagement completely routed them, killing sixty and taking seventy prisoners. The rebels in escaping were intercepted by Colonial Piatt, who killed forty and took a large number of prisoners. The country between Charleston and Wyandot river is now freed from secession power. This is the most effective blow given the rebels in this part of the valley.
Daily Green Mountain Freeman (Montpelier, VT), 7 October 1861
Chapmansville, Va., the scene of the most recent engagement, is a small post village in Logan county, Va. Logan county is in the extreme Western portion of Virginia, the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy being the boundary line between it and the State of Kentucky. It is one of the largest, wildest and most sparsely inhabited counties in the State.
National Republican (Washington, DC), 7 October 1861
The two affairs at Chapmansville, reported three or four days since, in which the enemy lost one hundred killed and a proportionate number of wounded, will, it is supposed, restore permanent peace to the Virginia counties western of the Kanawha. Chapmansville is on the turnpike from Charleston to Logan county Court-house, and is about twenty-five miles to the south of Barboursville, the shire town of Cabell county. The secessionists in that part of Western Virginia have been numerous and pertinacious. They have once had possession of Guyandotte on the Ohio river and for a long time they threatened Ceredo (Mr. Thayer’s colony,) which lies on the river between Guyandotte and the Kentucky line. There have been two engagements with them in the rear of Ceredo, one at Barboursville, one at Logan county Court-house, one at Boone county Court-house (which town was burnt by the national troops,) and finally two at Chapmansville. The truth is, that in large portions of numerous, and, but for the early occupation of that region by the National troops, would have controlled it, not because they were the majority, but because one secessionist is, everywhere, a match for three Union men.
The secessionists are reckless, violent, and desperate, while their opponents, if not timid are at any rate remarkably pacific. We doubt, indeed, from all the information we can get, whether throwing out of the account Wheeling and Parkersburg, the terminal on the Ohio river of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, Western Virginia had more elements of Union strength than the Valley of Virginia. From Harper’s Ferry south for fifty miles, the Union men have been numerous from the first, and it is a matter of deep regret that it did not consist with the plans of military strategy adopted at the headquarters of the army here, to occupy (at least) the northern part of the Valley of Virginia. It is consoling, that a different policy was adopted in retrospect to Western Virginia. That region was promptly taken possession of, cleared of the rebel armies by Gen. McClellan, and has since been victoriously held by Gen. Rosecrans. All attempts of the enemy to affect a re-entrance into Western Virginia are promptly repulsed.
Staunton (VA) Spectator, 8 October 1861
Status at Sewell’s Mountain.
The enemy, under Gen. Rozencrantz, and our forces under Gen. Lee, are both upon Sewell Mountain very near each other. A fight has been daily expected there for some time, but the enemy have been fortifying ever since they have been there, and there will not be a fight unless we attack them in their entrenchments. They are afraid to attack us, and it is probable that our force is too weak to risk an attack on them within their fortification. It may, therefore, be some time before an engagement will take place. We understand that we had sent a force of four regiments to their rear for the purpose of cutting off their supplies—that we succeeded in getting around them, but were compelled to return because we did not have sufficient supplies ourselves. We also learn that Col. Jas. W. Davis of Greenbrier, whilst commanding a force of militia in Logan county, attacked a part of the enemy, and was shot down at the first fire. The militia, after several rounds caught the Yankee fever which made their cowardly legs run off with their brave hearts, and they left their commander in the hands of the enemy, who, we fear, has died from his wound.
Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, 9 October 1861
A Splendid Achievement of the Ohio Zouaves–“Wood Up” the Battle Cry.
[The following letter is exclusively devoted to the fight which the Piatt Zouaves had with the rebels near Chapmansville, Va. It is distinct from the victorious fight which the command of Lieut. Col. Enyart had with another body of rebels, in the same vicinity. EDS. CINCINNATI COM]
CAMP ENYART, KANAWHA, Oct. 2, 1861. EDS. COM.: The Zouave Thirty-fourth Regimens, Ohio, have had a chance to show their metal. This was on Wednesday, on Kanawha Gap, near Chapmansville, Va. After marching 42 miles, they came upon the enemy, who were behind breastworks, but could not stand our boys’ steady fire, for they retreated in utter consternation, their Col. J.W. Davis, of Greenbrier, Va, (but the traitor is a native of Portsmouth, Ohio,) being mortally wounded. We killed 20, took 3 prisoners, a secesh flag, 20 feet long with FIFTEEN STARS, 4 horses, 1 wagon, 10 rifles (one of which I claim), 12 muskets, and commissary stores (very low.) We lost 3 killed, 9 wounded, one since died. The route of the enemy was complete, although they had a brave, skillful commander, and strong position, with two days’ information of our intentions. They fled the moment their commander fell. The fight lasted about 10 minutes opposite the breastworks, but a running fire was kept up previous to that, by the Bushwhackers and rebel cavalry for two hours. At every turn of the road over the mountains, they would fire upon our advance men, wheel round, and gallop away. This kind of fight was kept up till we came suddenly upon their breastworks, immediately in line of our entire column. It was made on the side of a knoll, between two mountain sides, the road running between the mountain on our left. The wily rebel commander had adroitly cut down the brush on the right, placing a force of 100 men on the mountain top on our right, who raked our column from the front to the center. This was to draw our attention from their breastworks. Our men naturally fired upon the rebels on their right, steadily advancing up the road, until within 20 feet of the enemy’s works, when the rebels suddenly opened fire, from their right, left and center. The order from Col. Piatt and Lieut. Col. Toland, to flank right and left was immediately responded to by the Zouaves with a hurrah, a Zouave yell, and a cry of “wood up” from Little Red; a dash by our boys upon the enemy’s breastworks, above which about 300 rebel heads suddenly appeared, unknown by our men till that moment. They sent a perfect storm of bullets around, over, under, and into our men. A few minutes more and our boys were inside the breastworks, chasing them over the mountains, the enemy running away like cowards as they proved to be. They left 29 dead behind. Their force was 450 infantry and 50 cavalry. Our force was 560.
We buried our three brave dead comrades that night, carried our wounded to the house wherein the rebel Colonel lay, mortally wounded, deserted by all his men but one. Our whole column finally marched into the little town of Chapmansville, formerly headquarters of the enemy, and camped for the night.
Pomeroy (OH) Weekly Telegraph, 11 October 1861
Brilliant Action in the Kanawha Valley.
CHARLESTON, Va., Sept. 30, ’61. Eds. Cin. Com.–Information having been brought to Col. J.V. Guthrie, commanding this post, that a large force of Rebels were gathered at Logan Co., Lt. Col. Enyart, of the 1st Kentucky, was at once sent to engage them. His force was composed of five companies of the 1st Kentucky, four companies of the 34th Ohio–German Regiment–under command of Col. A.S. Piatt, and one company of the 5th Virginia Regiment, under command of Maj. M.H. Wood.
Col. Enyart, with the Kentucky force, surrounded and attacked the Rebels at Chapmanville, and after a short but decisive engagement, completely routed them, killing 60 and taking 70 prisoners. The Rebels, in escaping, were intercepted by Col. Piatt, who surprised them and killed 40 men, and took a large number of prisoners.
The force of the Rebels is now completely broken up, and the country between this point and Guyandotte River is now freed from Secession power. This is the most effective blow given the Rebels in this part of the Valley.
In great haste. Further particulars by next boat.
Lieut. Col. 5th Va. Reg’t.
Evening Star (Washington, DC), 11 October 1861
THE BATTLE OF KANAWHA GAP.
The Western Virginia correspondent of the Cincinnati Gazette gives the following account of the late engagement at Kanawha Gap:
There were about 1,050 troops under the command of Colonels Enyart and Piatt, who left their camp Monday morning, 30th ulto., and took up their line of march for the enemy.
The forces moved together until they reached Peytona, on Cole river, where they separated; Col. Enyart going up Cole river. Col. Enyart did not meet the enemy in force at any place but his men did meet and ford swollen rivers, and marched on short rations, and were anxious to meet with the running enemy of Old Virginia. Col. Enyart did not meet Col. Piatt until they met on the Kanawha, on their return.
Col. Piatt’s command immediately proceeded thence to Boone Court House, and camped that night one mile beyond. The next day, after proceeding some sixteen miles,t hey came up with the advance guard of the enemy, consisting of cavalry, when a brisk fire was exchanged, the cavalry retreating. After the retreat of cavalry the battalion was immediately put in order of battle. The advance guard of fifteen men was led forward by Adj’t Clarke, proceeding along the road. Scouts were sent out on either side of the road to meet and repulse the sharp-shooters of the enemy.
The force proceeded in this order for about two miles, meeting the pickets of the enemy, exchanging shots with them incessantly, and driving them back with increased confusion at each charge.
Being unable to ascertain the position of the rebels, the entire force halted for a few moments, and Col. Piatt rode in advance and took observations with his glass, but could not ascertain their force and position, as it was covered with a thick growth of underbrush. After these observations a command was issued to forward the column. The scouts moved on the rapidity and enthusiasm, the main body moving up the narrow road cautiously and firmly. The fire continued to increase, and shots were rapidly exchanged from the right and left with the enemy, until our advanced guard reached within sixty yards of their main force. The column was some eighty yards from the enemy when they received a perfect volley of fire upon their right, indicating that the rebels were in force in that direction. Company “A,” commanded by Capt. Rathbone, was ordered to deploy as skirmishers to the right, up the side of the mountain, and if possible to flank the enemy on the left. Company “C,” commanded by Capt. Miller, was ordered to the right, up a similar mountain, to flank the enemy on their left. Company “I,” commanded by Capt. Anderson, was ordered directly up the ravine, on the left. In this position he drew the concentrated fire of the rebels upon his company, who made use of the knowledge thus obtained by rapidly charging upon and destroying the enemy’s breastworks. The center moved directly up the road. With this disposition of the forces, Col. Piatt routed them from their confusion. Capt. Anderson was the first to mount their breastworks, his men following him in the face of a terrible fire without flinching or confusion.
As Capt. Anderson sealed the breastwork, Capt. Miller closed upon the left and Capt. Rathbone came in upon the right, his men crying “Zouave!” The main column moving up the road in double quick–until they were brought to a temporary halt by obstructions placed in the road by the enemy.
The rebels, terrified by the strange bravery and almost wild enthusiasm that was exhibited by each advancing column, ran in confusion, leaving their dead, wounded, clothing, guns, horses, &c., making their escape by Capt. Rathbone’s right; his company being too far up the mountain to cut off their retreat. Capt. West, commanding company F, was detailed to scour the mountain on the west, on the left of the road. Capt. O.P. Evans on the west side of the mountain, on the right side of the road. Capt. Herman Evans, commanding Company H, on the east side of the mountain, on the left of the road.
Each of these companies moved with dispatch, yet such was the knowledge of the rebels of teh by-paths in the mountains, and belonging to the “F.F.V.’s,” and having been drilled at running all summer, that but two were captured.
Among interesting objects captured was a genuine secession flag, captured by Lieut. Brown.
The enemy’s loss was thirty killed and fifty wounded.
We regret to know that four of our men were killed and eight wounded.Burlington (IA) Weekly Hawk-Eye, 12 October 1861
The fight at Chapmansville was a sharp and bloody affair. Five of Piatt’s Zouaves were killed. The rebels lost thirty-five killed.
National Republican (Washington, DC), 17 October 1861
The thirty-fourth regiment (first Zouaves) have been actively engaged since they came to the Kanawha Valley. Since the glorious victory they won near Chapmansville where the rebel commander, Colonel Davis, was mortally wounded, the Union sentiment has advanced on the Cole River. Two companies have been organized, and are ready to go to work to defend their own homes and give the organized regiments an opportunity to advance into the heart of the enemy’s country.
Cincinnati (OH) Daily Press, 22 October 1861
Captain H.C. Evans, of Piatt’s Zouave Regiment, yesterday called in our office and exhibited a Secesh flag, captured at the Chapmansville fight, on the 24th ult.
Clarksville (TN) Chronicle, 25 October 1861
The Fight in Logan County, Va.
[From the Richmond Whig of the 15th.]
We yesterday published the Yankee account of a battle in Logan county, which as usual, was manufactured out of whole cloth. The following are the facts as given by the South-western Times, (Tazewell county) of the 10th inst.:
From Samuel Smoot, Esq., of Boone county, who was in the fight, we learn the following particulars of the battle near Chapmanville, Logan county, on the 25th ult: The Yankees numbered 700, and commenced the attack upon our troops–the Logan militia–in a low gap between Guyandotte river and Big Creek, where they were engaged in raising a temporary breastwork. Our troops numbered 220, but there were only about 80 of them engaged in the fight. They were commanded by Col. J.W. Davis, of Greenbrier, a brave and gallant officer, who was severely, but not dangerously wounded, in the arm and breast. As soon as it became known that Col. Davis was wounded, the militia commenced a retreat. The commanding officer of the Lincoln troops afterwards confessed to Col. Davis, who was taken prisoner, that at the same moment a portion of the Yankees were running, and that one more round would have completely dispersed them.
The loss of the Yankees, by their own confession to Col. Davis, was 40 killed and a number wounded; among the former were four Union men, all of whom are represented by the Yankees to be most arrant thieves and cowards. Our loss was two killed and three or four wounded, besides Col. Davis, whose valuable services are at present lost to the Confederacy, being paroled by the enemy.
On the following day our scouts killed one of their pickets, and wounded another, at a point about half way between Logan Court House and Chapmanville, promising to give them particular thunder before daylight next morning. This with some news from a lady on the road, and some account of the militia of the surrounding counties, found on the person of Col. Davis, caused a hasty stampede for their headquarters, in the valley of the Kanawha. It seems that high water, bad roads, nor anything else could impede their rapid flight. They tore down a meeting house in Boone county to make rafts whereon to cross the river. They drowned two of their wounded, lost a wagon containing their entire stock of ammunition, and were fully persuaded that they were followed by two thousand cavalry, of which the Yankees in the West are about as fearful as their Eastern brothers are of masked batteries.
Upon the whole, we are much gratified at the result of this fight. It has, for the present, driven the cowardly thieves from the country, given renewed energy to the true patriots of Logan and the adjoining counties, fully convincing them that with the assistance of two or three hundred of their gallant friends in Tazewell county, they will be fully able to thrash any number that Gen. Cox or his friends shall dare to send against them.”
Note: An almost identical version of this story appeared in the Staunton (VA) Spectator on 22 October 1861.
Anna Laura Lucas, Big Creek, Birdie Linville, Capitol City Commercial College, Clyde W. Peters, Cora M. Adkins, Daisy Coal Company, Dixie Toney, education, Elbert Baisden, Ella Baisden, Ferrellsburg, First National Bank of Huntington, genealogy, Harts Creek District, Hazel Toney, history, Hub Vance, Hunt-Forbes Construction Company, Huntington, Ida Lucas, John Thompson, Keenan Toney, life, Lincoln Republican, Logan, Logan Assessor's Office, Logan County, Logan Sheriff's Office, M.D. Bledsoe, Marshall College, Mary Sanders, Maud Ellis, Maud Gill, Mountain State Business College, Parkersburg, Roy Anderson, Toney, Walt Stowers, West Virginia, Williamson
An unnamed local correspondent from Big Creek in Logan County, West Virginia, offered the following items, which the Lincoln Republican printed on Thursday, April 5, 1923:
Uncle Hub Vance is suffering from the flu.
Miss Mary Sanders attended Federal Court in Huntington the past week.
Miss Hoaner Ferrell has returned from Parkersburg, where she has been attending Mountain State Business College.
Miss Dixie Toney was the guest of Mrs. Clyde W. Peters, of Huntington the past week.
Miss Cora M. Adkins, the popular teacher, was in Huntington the past week making arrangements to attend Marshall College.
Miss Birdie Linville was calling on friends at Toney, Sunday.
Miss Ida Lucas, who has a position with the First National Bank of Huntington, was here recently enroute to her home on Big Creek.
Mr. K.E. Toney is in Logan this week on matters of business.
Mr. John Thompson, of the Hunt-Forbes Cons. Co., was in town today. He reports that the Company’s contract in Harts Creek district will be completed within one month.
M.D. Bledsew was a recent visitor in Williamson.
J.W. Stowers, merchant of Ferrellsburg, was a recent visitor of his sister, Mrs. Ward Lucas, of this place.
Roy Anderson, Chief Clerk in the Logan Assessor’s office was the Sunday guest of K.E. Toney.
Elbert Baisden has been appointed Asst. Supt. of the Daisy Coal Co.
Miss Hazel Toney will complete her business course at the Capitol City Commercial College about April 15th, and will, we are informed be employed in the Sheriff’s office in Logan.
Miss Maud Gill’s school closed last Friday. Miss Gill is a fine teacher and met with great success in her work this year.
Miss Maud Ellis, of Logan, was the recent guest of Mrs. Ella Baisden.
Akron, Alabama, blind, Brandon Kirk, Calhoun County, Christmas, crime, Ed Haley, Ella Haley, fiddle, fiddling, Harvey Hicks, history, John Hartford, Johnny Hager, Laury Hicks, Marietta, measles, Milt Haley, music, Ohio, Parkersburg, Rogersville, Soldiers Joy, Spencer, Stinson, Ugee Postalwait, Webster Springs, West Virginia, writing
On April 12, 1997, Brandon and I went to see Ugee Postalwait in Rogersville, Alabama. For the most part, she repeated a lot of the same stories I’d heard before, maybe with a new detail or two here and there. We began with her memories of Ed and Johnny Hager, who came to her father’s house around 1913. Brandon asked her specific questions about Johnny, which caused her to say: “He was a little short fella, slender. He was a nice person. Well-mannered. He was a good banjo-player. John Hager was a good friend of Dad and Mom’s both — all of us. Us kids, too. He used to write Mom and Dad. He wrote them from Webster Springs and he wrote them from Greenbrier. Different places where he was at. John wrote a letter back home and said he quit traveling with Ed ’cause Ed drank. He couldn’t take it. I’ve often wondered and studied about what become of him.”
Later, Ed sometimes came with a guitar player, but Ugee couldn’t recall his name.
Brandon was curious to know how far Ed traveled with his music, so he asked if Ed and Ella ever played around Parkersburg.
“I’m pretty sure they have,” Ugee said, “and Marietta, too. Harvey took them up to Akron to play music and they crowded that street so bad up there that they passed a law up there, you couldn’t stand on the corner and play music any more. They wouldn’t allow them to stand on the street. They had to move. See, they was such a crowd got around them.”
I asked, “How much do you reckon Ed would take in of a night?”
Ugee said, “I have seen Ed and Ella take in as much as a hundred dollars right there in Spencer.”
Wow, were they using a cup or a hat to collect money?
“They never used no cup. Just sit a box down or hat down and people come through and throwed money in it. Anyone that come along and dropped money in there, they’d play just the same.”
Would he play me anything I’d ask for?
“Why sure. He’d play it for you and then maybe if you asked for it again he might play you something else and call it that. He didn’t care to rename songs, like ‘Soldiers Joy’. He might call that ‘Runnin’ the Soldier’ or ‘Runnin’ the Track’ or something like that.”
I reminded Ugee that she heard Ed say he just picked up a fiddle and started playing it when he was small and she said, “Oh, yeah. He’d sit in the floor and play on that fiddle. Somebody brought something in that had two strings on it. He wasn’t very old. Just barely a walking, he said. Just like him a talking to me one time, telling me about his dad. Telling about them a lynching him. He said, ‘Goddamn him, they oughta lynched him.’ And I never asked him why. Why would a man say that about his dad? Maybe he was thinking about that man putting him in that barrel of water and causing him to be blind. But Ella’s eyes, they was ate out with blue vitriol.”
Ugee fully believed that measles had caused Ed’s blindness because they almost “put her blind,” too, when she was a girl.
“I must have been about five years old,” she said. “Well, Ed musta been there, too. Musta been the same year he was there that I had the measles and I went blind in my eyes. Couldn’t see nothing for three or four days. Had Granny’s bed set up by the side of the fireplace. I remember that instead of springs, it had rope. And Christmas time come up. And Dad, he played Santa Claus, I reckon. He got me jellybeans. I couldn’t see nothing for two or three weeks. I didn’t think I’d ever see again. Back then, they called them the ‘big’ measles and the ‘little’ measles. The big ones, they called the German measles. And I had them bad. Harvey come around — he was older than I was — he’d say, ‘You stink’, ’cause he could smell that fever on me.”
Brandon asked Ugee what year she was born in, to kind of help us better understand the time frame of her memories.
“I was born in 1907,” she said. “I got married in 1924. I left and went to Akron, but we come back ever month for a long time. If we knowed Ed was a coming in, we was there. I moved back in 1930. We lived on the farm until 1941. Then we went to a farm at the mouth of Stinson.”
At some point, Ugee moved back to Akron, where she lived when I first met her in 1991.
Arkansas Traveler, Arthur Smith, Blackberry Blossom, Calhoun County, Clark Kessinger, Clendenin, Ed Haley, fiddlers, fiddling, French Mitchell, Getting Off the Raft, history, John Hartford, Laury Hicks, music, Parkersburg, Sugar Tree Stomp, West Virginia, Wilson Douglas, writing
Later during the winter months of 1996, I called Wilson Douglas in Clendenin, West Virginia. I wanted to know more about Ed’s trips to Laury Hicks’ house.
“Now what we done, John,” Wilson said, “he’d come to Calhoun County, West Virginia, about twice a year. And it depended on the money: sometimes he’d stay three weeks, sometimes he’d stay a month and a half. Well now, we all had to work like dogs to keep from starving to death. We’d send him word by that mail carrier that they was a gang of us a coming. We’d load up in that old ’29 Model-A Ford truck — a whole truck load of us — cab full, the bed full — and all of us together mighta had four dollars. Well, by the time we’d get there — especially in the fall of the year — it’d be maybe 4:30, 5:00, 6:00, and he’d say, ‘Well, we’ll move inside. It’s getting damp out here.’ And I’d pull my chair right up in front of him and I’d sit right there till he quit at three or four o’clock in the morning — and I’d give him all the change I had. Well, I’d sit there by God till I just got paralyzed on them old hard-bottom chairs.”
I asked Wilson, “Well now, would people suggest the names of tunes to Ed and he’d play them, or would he sit there and if nobody said something he’d say, ‘Well now, here’s an old tune,’ and play something?”
“Aw, he wouldn’t say stuff like that,” Wilson said. “They was always somebody had three or four in line requested ahead. Now my dad mentioned one tune to him, he said, ‘No, I don’t know it.’ Said, ‘Arthur Smith plays it.’ And that was ‘Sugar Tree Stomp’, you know. And that’s the only tune that ever I heard the man say that he didn’t know. People didn’t know about hornpipes then. They didn’t ask him to play no hornpipes. I’m sure he could have, you know.”
I asked Wilson about Ed playing “Getting Off the Raft” and he said, “Seems like he played that up around Parkersburg.”
I wanted to know about Laury Hicks, like whether or not he played with Ed, and Wilson said, “He’d sit there and never open his mouth. Sometimes Ed would talk him into playing two or three tunes, but he was as far behind Ed Haley as I was. Laury Hicks didn’t turn them on.” I told Wilson what Ugee said about Ed and her father playing tunes together and he said, “Haley couldn’t touch him on the ‘Blackberry Blossom’ – the old one. Haley’d get him to play that. He said, ‘Now, nobody can beat Laury Hicks on that, or nobody can beat him on the ‘Arkansas Traveler’. But he was rough. I can remember him well. He played a good rough fiddle, but he didn’t put any skill in it.”
Wow — that was something I just couldn’t picture based on Ugee’s memories.
I asked Wilson if Ed ever heard him play and he said, “Well, I’d saw around with it. Now Haley was a funny man. It didn’t matter how good you played or how bad you played, he’d sit and listen and work his fingers and not say a word. I heard him commend two men: Clark Kessinger and French Mitchell. French played a lot of fast fiddle tunes and he handled a waltz pretty good and Haley liked his waltzes. And he liked Arthur Smith, but he said Arthur Smith didn’t know over thirty tunes. But he said he was hell on them Blues.”
I asked Wilson if any of these old fiddlers ever competed in contests and he said, “Now in the old days when I was young, Carpenter and all them there fiddlers over in Calhoun County, now they’d call it a convention. They wouldn’t play against each other and they’d laugh and it was jolly. They’d say, ‘Now I believe they’s a note in there that you’re not a gettin’.’ It didn’t offend them. It was just a big get-together. One a seeing how lonesome he could play against the other. No, they wouldn’t contest against each other.”
167th Virginia Militia, 5th West Virginia Infantry, Ben Haley, Camp Parole, Camp Pierpont, Ceredo, City Point, civil war, Cynthia Haley, Doris Miller Papers, fiddler, history, James Baisden, James Haley, James Short, Joseph M. Kirk, Luray, Marshall University, Maryland, Nellie Muncy, New Creek, Parkersburg, Richmond, Russell County, Sperryville, Twelve Pole Creek, Vincent A. Witcher, Virginia, Wayne County, William T. Caldwell, Woodsville, writing
Benjamin R. Haley — Milt Haley’s father — was one of the most ardent Unionists in Wayne County (West) Virginia during the Civil War. He served in at least two companies of infantry (one in West Virginia and one in Kentucky), one company of militia, and two companies of Home Guards. He first enlisted in April of 1861 and remained on muster rolls as late as May 1865. He was twice captured and almost court martialed. He was also, based on his military records, a drinker and a fiddler.
Ben Haley was born around 1820 in Virginia. According to census records, he married Cynthia Dyer around 1843. They were the parents of the following children: Hannah Jane Haley, born about 1844; William A. Haley, born about 1846; John B. Haley; James Haley; Helen M. Haley, born about 1850; Charles Haley, born about 1852; and Margaret Haley, born about 1856. In 1850, the Haleys lived in Russell County, Virginia (as did, incidentally, Bill Duty and the Ferrells). Toward the latter years of the decade, Ben moved to Wayne County in the Big Sandy Valley, where he fathered Milt Haley by Nellie Muncy. What contact he had with Milt is unknown. In 1860, according to census records, Ben and his family lived with James Short in Wayne County, (West) Virginia. Haley had $300 worth of real estate and $250 worth of personal property. At some point, according to the Doris Miller Papers at Marshall University, he lived on the Sweetwater Branch of the East Fork of Twelve Pole Creek.
On April 2, 1861, 40-year-old Haley enlisted as a corporal in Captain Joseph M. Kirk’s Company of the 5th Virginia Foot Volunteers at Ceredo, (West) Virginia, for a period of three years. Ceredo was an abolitionist town established in 1857. On September 2, the 5th was reorganized as the 5th West Virginia Infantry at Camp Pierpont in Ceredo. It was mustered into U.S. service on October 18. On November 1, Haley was appointed 1st lieutenant of Company F (following the death of former lieutenant James Baisden). In December, the 5th was ordered to Parkersburg, while a principal part of the regiment was sent to New Creek, Virginia. Haley was apparently with the Parkersburg group as he left there for home in March of 1862 without permission and was listed in records as “Absent, sick at Ceredo.” He was still AWOL in April.
By late spring, Haley was back with the 5th where he soon found trouble with the U.S. Army. According to papers filed by the army, he was charged with “Conduct unbecoming an Officer and a gentleman; Conduct subversive of discipline; and Violating 77th Article of War.” More specifically, “on the 20th day of June, 1862, at New Creek, Va., the said Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, did drink at a saloon, with a number of enlisted men, of his own and other companies, and was then and there drunk and disorderly, being subversive of good order and discipline at said Post.” Furthermore, “Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, did, when put under arrest, allow a detachment of his company, to resist the demand for his sword, and thereby inciting mutiny. That, at the same time and place, when asked for his name and regiment, he told the Post Adjutant to find out as best he could.” More importantly, “the said Lieut. Benj. R. Haley, after having been placed in arrest and ordered to his quarters, did leave the same without permission and was afterward found in a Beer Saloon, playing the violin for some teamsters and enlisted men to dance.”
On July 16, 1862, Haley wrote a letter of resignation as second lieutenant while camped near Woodsville, Virginia. The 5th had recently been engaged at Luray, Virginia, from July 5-11 and at Sperryville, Virginia, on July 11. “I have the honor to tender my resignation as Second Lieut. Fifth Regt. Va. Inf. for the following reasons. Charges are herewith enclosed prepared by Major Burtnett agst myself, parts of which are true and I prefer that my resignation should be accepted than be tried by Court Martial. In the second place I feel my incompetency to discharge the duties of the Office which I hold.” Haley’s resignation was approved and finalized on July 30, 1862.
On August 7, 1862, Ben Haley and his son James enrolled as privates in William T. Caldwell’s Company of the 167th Virginia Militia in Wayne County. On November 29, Haley was captured in Wayne County and confined at Richmond on April 1, 1863. He was paroled on April 3 at City Point, Virginia, and reported to Camp Parole, Maryland, on April 6. He and his son James were back on muster rolls for the 167th on May 7. Captain Caldwell referenced Haley in a letter dated May 17 (“Your favor of the 14th inst has just been handed me by Mr. B.R. Haley…”) Ben’s son James was wounded later that fall, probably in an October 20 skirmish near the Logan-Wayne County line with Vincent “Clawhammer” Witchers’ troops.
That evening, I called Lawrence to tell him about speaking with the Holbrooks. When I mentioned them having one of Ed’s records, he reminded me about Ugee Postalwait’s half-brother Russell Shaver, who supposedly had others. Russell died several years ago, but his only grandson James Shaver lived in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
I got his number from directory assistance, then dialed him up. As soon as I mentioned Ed’s name and the records, James said, “He played the violin, right? Well, I remember hearing the record when I was a kid. I’m 41 and I was just a young kid — my grandfather raised me — and I remember listening to the record of Ed Haley playing the violin. I don’t know if it’s still around or not. I’d have to search the house and find out. Ed Haley, he was blind. I remember my grandfather talking about him. He used to come over to their house. I’m trying to think where my grandfather lived in the thirties. They lived up in Gilmer County or Clay County, the central part of West Virginia.”
James promised to try and locate the record.
The next day, I called Georgia Slim Rutland’s widow in Valdosta, Georgia to see if she knew anything about Slim staying with Ed in Ashland around 1938. Mrs. Rutland very emphatically said, “No, huh-uh, no. That’s not true, ’cause Slim was just in Ashland about a week. That’s all. He was there performing for about a week and that was it. He didn’t live there.” I told Mrs. Rutland that several people had told me he was enamored of Ed’s playing, as was Clark Kessinger, and she said, “Now, I’ve heard him speak of Clark Kessinger, yes. Lots of times. But now, I’ve never heard him mention a blind fiddle player. I’m sorry.”
Annadeene Fraley, Appalachia, Ashland, banjo, Benny Thomasson, blind, books, Catlettsburg, Charleston, Cherry River Rag, Clark Kessinger, Cripple Creek, DC, Dunbar, Ed Haley, fiddler, fiddling, Georgia Slim Rutland, Gus Meade, Harts Creek, history, J P Fraley, John Hartford, Kentucky, Lawrence Haley, Library of Congress, life, Liza Mullins, Logan County, Marietta, music, Ohio, Ox in the Mud, Parkersburg, Parkersburg Landing, Pat Haley, Ralph Haley, Rouder Records, Sourwood Mountain, Steve Haley, Washington, West Virginia, Wilcox-Gay, writing
I spent the next two months thinking about the best way to approach Lawrence Haley. It was imperative that I made the right impression — should I call or write? Should I ease into the situation or just tell him how great I thought his father was? It was a fantastic moment — a period of time just before “contact” when I was mostly daydreaming and not nearly so swept away. In that instant, I was content to just talk with Ed Haley’s son and find out as much as I could about one of the world’s greatest fiddlers.
I finally decided to write Lawrence a letter, a perfectly natural thing to do since he was a retired postman. I had a million questions but limited myself to this:
Dear Mr. Haley,
I am deeply inspired by your father and his music. I’ve almost completely worn out the Parkersburg Landing album and have become very interested in him. I believe him to be the best as well as the most important fiddler of our time. Through his influence on Clark Kessinger and Georgia Slim who in turn influenced Benny Thomasson he could be considered the grandfather of the present Texas contest fiddling style.
I would have given anything to have heard him and seen him. I’ve read everything I can find and have talked to J.P. and Annadene Fraley at length for any little tidbit about him. I would love to meet you and hear you talk of him.
Yours very truly,
Because of my promise to Gus Meade, I was careful not to divulge the fact that I had heard any of Ed’s tunes not featured on Parkersburg Landing and had resolved that if I should be so lucky that Lawrence would at some future time play some of them I would act surprised.
A few days later, after getting the “go-ahead” from Annadeene Fraley by telephone, I gave Lawrence a call. He was extremely nice and seemed happy that I was interested in his father. He said he used to watch me on TV years ago.
“You’re the guy with the derby that danced and played the fiddle at the same time,” he said in a somewhat raspy voice.
I hesitantly asked about his father’s records. He said he had most of his dad’s original home recordings, as well as reel-to-reel copies made by the Library of Congress.
“I got four little seven-inch tapes here with some music on them,” he said, before reading the titles. I carefully wrote each title down, taking special note of the ones I had never heard of. Lawrence said his father sometimes named tunes after places where he played, like with “Catlettsburg”, a small river town near Ashland, or with “Parkersburg Landing”, a West Virginia city just below Marietta, Ohio.
“I don’t know where Pop gets all these names from,” Lawrence said, as if Ed were still alive to name them. “I think when my dad went somewhere and played, and if people liked what they heard, that’s the way he named them. Like that ‘Parkersburg Landing’, he was probably up in Parkersburg, West Virginia, playing and people liked it so that’s what he called it. I’m not sure how they got named but that’s what I’d say.”
There were other tunes like “Dunbar”, named for a small town near Charleston, West Virginia, and “Cherry River Rag”, named after a river in eastern West Virginia.
After reading Ed’s titles, Lawrence said, “Pop played quite a few more pieces than that, of course. It’s really hard to say how many of his records are out there that I don’t know about. Several years ago, this guy brought me one of his records with a tune on it called ‘Ox in the Mud’. He said he had wanted it on a record so bad he took Pop to one of these recording studios and had it made. Well, I traded him one of those Parkersburg Landing albums for it and I guess he was satisfied with that because he got quite a bit more music.”
Wow – the prospect of finding more Ed Haley records was exciting. I could just imagine digging through a box in some antique store along the Ohio River and finding Haley records mixed in with old Big Band orchestra albums and selling at a quarter each.
Putting such thoughts aside, I turned my mind back to Lawrence, who was actually holding Ed Haley records at that moment in Ashland, Kentucky. I asked him about the type of records and their general condition.
“The records are mostly Wilcox-Gay plastic records,” he said. “When I took them to the Library of Congress in Washington, some of them was in pretty bad shape. The hole where the spindle was, some of them was wore oblong and they had to put weights and everything else on them and they come up with a flutter in them. I allowed Rounder Records to make a copy of them because they said they was gonna put out a couple of albums.”
I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve never heard anything like it. I’ve heard a lot of fiddling that was made on old records at that time and your dad was so far ahead of any of them it’s not funny. In the one sense, he’s an old-time musician. In the other, he’s modern. That knocked me out. He may be the heaviest musician I ever heard. His syncopation and his timing and his intonation… Because them old-timey notes, you know, you can’t hit them right on the head. You’ve got to shade them. And to shade them, you’ve got to really know if they’re in tune or not and not just anybody can do that. And boy, he is a master of it.”
I was obviously a little carried away and caught up in the moment.
Lawrence sort of laughed and said, “I know he was a good, fine fiddler. My dad held the fiddle out onto his left side right at the top of his bicep where his arm and chest met – the armpit, just about. It was more of a classical violinist’s stance than the old mountain fiddler holding it down towards his knee or close to his knee and right in front of him. I’ve seen him lean his chin over on the base of the violin at times. You know, like people trying to hold that fiddle up there on their shoulder and under their chin, they can’t get their fingers right if they don’t let go of the fiddle on the neck of it. Well, Pop didn’t have to dip the bow a lot of times. What he did, he’d rock the fiddle to that string to meet the bow, see? And that was tricky, too.”
I said, “I’ll tell you what, he’s got one of the best bow arms I’ve ever heard. He gets those notes out so clear.”
Lawrence interjected, “He used all the bow, too. A lot of people, they’ve got to saw the bow back and forth. My dad used every inch of the bow from one end to the other. He didn’t grab the bow up on the strings like a lot of fiddlers. You know, half way up the bow. He got right back on the bow where you tighten the string and his finger was on that tightening fret. His little finger was wrapped around that, more or less.”
I said, “It sounds like he long-bowed a lot, where he’d pull that bow down and get four or five notes on a bow stroke.”
“Yes he did,” Lawrence said without hesitation. “Pop would use every bit of that bow to get it.”
Discussing Ed’s bowing prompted me to think about Ed’s fiddle. I had looked at it many times in the Parkersburg Landing picture and wondered if it survived fifty years after his death.
“I’ve got the old fiddle,” Lawrence said, “but it’s really not playable. We lived at a place one time where we had an excess of moisture and it got to this old fiddle and it started coming apart. My son Steve took it and had some instrument re-builder to put it back together but they never could get it back together right so it’s lost all of its intonation. I’ve got it but it’s not really worth playing because it hasn’t got the resonance to it.”
I told Lawrence I was hoping to be back in Ashland in a few days and would love to visit him and see his father’s records.
“Well, if you come up and you can get a hold of some kind of portable tape player I don’t care to let you copy Pop’s records,” he said. “They will probably just set here till some kind of magnetism comes along and takes all the information off of them. But they’re here and I hope nothing happens to them.”
Well, this was an unexpected offer from someone who was reportedly so over-protective of his father’s music.
I asked Lawrence how old Ed was when he passed away and he said, “Let’s see. I was about 23 or 24. Right now, I’m an old man. I’ve had quite a bit of heart problems. I spent the biggest part of November in the hospital on a ventilator. I was having congestive heart failure. I guess you hear how my voice sounds. They rammed something down my vocal box between my vocal chords and I’ve never got my voice back right. Well, I’m more or less living one day at a time. I’m 63 now.”
I said, “Well, you’re exactly ten years older than I am.”
“Well, you’re getting up there, too, aren’t you? Not the young man we remember on TV,” Lawrence said.
Hoping to get more at the source of Ed’s music, I asked Lawrence if his dad talked about where he learned to play.
“Not to me, no,” he said. “I’ve heard some stories but just like all other legendary people whenever a story is told twice it’s been embellished quite a bit. One fella said to keep from starving to death my dad sat out and eat wild onions with a piece of cold cornbread that he’d take out of the kitchen of my great-aunt Liza’s house, who raised him. But that wasn’t true. I’ve heard Pop tell me personally that he’d take a salt-shaker and a big onion and something like that and a piece of cornbread and go out in the garden and get him a tomato and eat that. I’ve never heard him talk about eating wild onions.”
I had given little thought to Ed’s childhood and birthplace.
“Where he was raised it was kind of rough country up in West Virginia,” Lawrence said. “He come out of Logan County, West Virginia, out in a country called Harts Creek. We used to go up there quite often until I was about nine or ten years old because my dad would go back there. He’d go around courthouse days and play music out in the courthouse lawn for change and things and that’s the way he made his living. He’d go to fairs and any other activities that might draw a crowd where he could play music. That’s how him and my mother made their money and raised us kids.”
How many kids were there in the family?
“They was seven of us all together,” Lawrence said. “I was the youngest boy and then I had a sister younger than me. But I had one brother to die when he was in infancy so really there was only five boys and one girl they raised. They got us up one way or the other without jerking us too hard.”
I asked Lawrence if he remembered his father playing for dances.
“I remember one afternoon we walked from Morehead, Kentucky down to Farmers,” he said. “That’s four or five miles. At that time they didn’t have too good a roads through there so we walked the railroad tracks. I was just a kid. We went to these people’s house and they rolled back the rugs and things and Pop sat there and played all night until the sun come up. I don’t know when Pop made the arrangements. Just him and my mother.”
For the next minute or so, I really bragged on Ed’s music. I had listened to it for years and had a lot of emotion about it. Finally, Lawrence said, “Well, I’ve heard him make a sour note on a few of these records but I think he learned his violin real good.”
Lawrence said his father played the fiddle from the time he was a small child.
“The way I understood it, he become blind when he was a couple of years old and they couldn’t figure out what to do with my dad,” he said. “He was blind and living out on the farm and somebody made him a violin out of a cigar box and he started out from there and just self-taught hisself, I reckon. As he went along, he got a hold of old instruments, I guess, and showed some promise and somebody looked after him and saw that he got the right things any way.”
I was very interested in Haley’s early travels, particularly before he married and settled in Ashland.
“I guess by the time Pop was eighteen, nineteen years old — that’s back at the turn of the century — he was traveling all over West Virginia and eastern Tennessee and western Old Virginia and parts of Ohio and eastern Kentucky,” Lawrence said. “He went to White Sulphur Springs and Webster Springs — these places that were pretty well known as spas and health resorts. He went to the state capital around Charleston. I’ve heard Pop talk about when he’d be in Charleston. He said he’d guarantee if he was at the Capitol building or somewhere playing music, Clark Kessinger would be there a listening trying to learn his style. I think that’s the way that Clark Kessinger got his style of Ed Haley, just watching him around Charleston, West Virginia.”
I told Lawrence that Kessinger was a great fiddle player but that he wasn’t even close to his dad.
That seemed to delight Lawrence, who was quiet for a moment before saying, “I’m glad to hear somebody say that. That’s one reason I agreed to let Rounder Records make an album or two. I thought there might be somebody out there that would appreciate that type of music and want to preserve it some way or the other. Once bluegrass and country rock and all that took off the old mountain-type music that came over from England and Ireland and Scotland and some of the Dutch and Scandinavian countries has just about been lost.”
Easing into more musical dialogue, I told Lawrence about my theory that Haley was a grandfather of the modern Texas contest fiddling style.
“Well, I don’t know about all of that John,” he said, “but when he’d start a piece over — he’d play each piece about four or five times — he had a different variation. It would still be the same piece of music but it always seemed to vary some from the first run through to the second run through. Well, I’ve seen him vary the speed even. When he is getting toward the end — maybe the last run — he’ll speed up the tempo and things like that or make some different finger work. And that was some of the difficulties my brother had about making records with him. My brother played the mandolin or guitar and my mother played the mandolin some.”
Lawrence said his father’s blindness, as well as his distaste for the up-and-coming commercial music industry, hindered his willingness to record music.
“When radio first took off they tried to get my dad to make records, but he always felt he couldn’t do it because they had to cue him in as to when to start,” he said. “My brother had quite a bit of problems like that when he made those home-made records with my dad. And on top of that, my dad felt that recordings were just some way for somebody to take him. After so many records had been sold over a thousand, he might get two cents on the record or something like that. He felt like he’d rather get out on the street and play it for free among friends. I’ve come to the conclusion, Why not?”
I asked Lawrence if Ed played around the house and he said, “Yeah, he’d practice sometimes. I’ve seen him get out the fiddle and just play for himself. He’d listen to a piece of music… One that I can think of real good, but I don’t think he ever really come out and made any version of it for hisself was Vaughn Monroe’s ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’. I think he figured the afterlife was about like Vaughn Monroe’s ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’: what you did all your life was gonna be your hell if you didn’t do it right, if you didn’t enjoy it.”
While crediting some of Ed’s contemporaries, Lawrence seemed to regard his father as a highly gifted prodigy surrounded by mediocrity. He implied that his father humbly felt the same way, although it was an occasional source of aggravation, especially in his later years. “A lot of guys would get around Pop and aggravate him,” Lawrence said, “but I think he enjoyed music.”
I told Lawrence I would give almost anything to have seen his father play.
“Well, it’s a shame there’s no kind of video of Pop because he had an easy style of violin playing. It didn’t look strenuous to him.”
Ever conscious of genetics, I asked Lawrence if any of his family played music. He said his son Steve Haley — who lived just north of me in Hendersonville — was a former band instructor.
“He graduated from Morehead as a music major and taught high school band in Knoxville. His two daughters are taking violin lessons and are in whatever little junior symphony they have there in Hendersonville. They play semi-classical stuff.”
I asked Lawrence if Ed played any instruments aside from the fiddle and he said, “My dad was an old hammer-thumb banjo-picker like Pappy Jones. He played ‘Cripple Creek’ and ‘Sourwood Mountain’ — really just about anything he played on the fiddle. And he put just about as many notes in on the banjo as he did on the fiddle. I’m not a bragger about my dad but he was a good banjo player, too.”
This was a new twist: I hadn’t even considered that Haley might have been a multi-instrumentalist.
“I never seen Pop play a piano,” Lawrence said, “but he could set down and play a piece of music on our old pump organ. And he taught my older brother Ralph how to play the guitar. Sometimes my dad would be playing the fiddle and my brother would be trying to pick up a piece of music with him and he’d tell Ralph what chords to hit, how to change chords and all that. He could make a run between notes and my dad could, too. Yeah, Pop could play any instrument, or I guess a little bit on anything that was handy to him anyway.”
I wondered if there were any recordings of Haley playing the banjo.
“No, not a thing on the banjo. My brother Ralph, when he come out of the service — in 1946, I guess it was — he got a hold of one of these Army surplus machines that had a cutting needle on it that cut the grooves and that’s what he made all these records on. Some of them are paper with a plastic coat on them. Others are a solid plastic. But most of them are all scratched and some of the paper ones are wore completely through the plastic into the paper. I’ve tried to keep them here at home. Some parts of the records are good.”
Just before hanging up, Lawrence said, “It was kind of a surprise to us to have got your letter. Annadeene called here and told us that you’ve been trying to get a hold of us. Our daughter, when you was here, she’d just had her operation, I guess. I think they’re gonna give her some radiation treatment and we will be making some trips back up there to Ohio but we’ll try to be here if you come.”
At that point, Lawrence turned the telephone over to his wife Pat who said in a pleasant British accent, “I do invite you and whoever you’re bringing with you to stay with us overnight or whatever. I have a front bedroom with two double beds and it’s just Larry and I that live here and we appreciate you showing an interest.”