Review of Pungoteague to Petersburg - by Wayne Stith

(The following is a revision of the review of Mr. Barnes' work that I wrote some years ago.  It appeared in various forms on the GHOTES web site and on Compuserve.)

PUNGOTEAGUE TO PETERSBURG, by Alton Brooks Parker Barnes. 2 vols., cloth. Pub. 1988 by Lee Howard. Vol. 1, 158 pp. incl. maps and extensive lists, $29.95; vol. 2, 157 pp. incl. maps and photographs, $24.95. Contact the Book Bin Bookstore at Onley, VA, (804) 787-7866.

Anyone who has spent hours sifting through microfilm copies of old military records will appreciate the patience required when writing a history of the soldiers of Virginia's Eastern Shore. Mr. Barnes has split his work into two volumes with an indication of a third to come. Volume 1 is subtitled Eastern Shore Militiamen Before the Civil War, 1776-1858; volume 2 is subtitled Eastern Shore Soldiers, the Civil War, 1858-1865. Both volumes include maps illustrating the battles discussed. In addition, volume 1 contains extensive lists of the names of the officers and some of the men who served in Eastern Shore forces up to 1856. Volume 2 contains photographs of several of the key figures in Eastern Shore's participation in the Civil War. Although no bibliography is given in either volume, the author's footnotes suggest fruitful avenues for further research.

Volume 1:
The Eastern Shore of Virginia was frequently considered expendable from Richmond's point of view. Barnes cites correspondence between the Eastern Shore and the capital city that underscores the difficulty of getting supplies to the Shore and the extent to which Eastern Shore residents had to rely on themselves for defense.  Fortifications on the Eastern Shore were built as early as the late 1600's, but the military history really begins with the Revolution. Surrounded by water on three sides, the Eastern Shore was constantly exposed to raids by British soldiers and the Tories of Maryland seeking livestock and other supplies.  Occasionally houses were burned.  The Shore sent one regiment in 1776 to join the Continental Army in New Jersey, but pro-British sentiment remained strong enough that the southern county of Northampton required loyalty oaths the following year. The local militia spent much of its time on guard duty, but there were several clashes with British or Tory forces--at Wallops Island in 1779, at Pungoteague Creek in 1781 and at Kedges Straits in Maryland waters in 1782. The latter incident proved costly to Eastern Shore militiamen. The Virginians joined Maryland forces to attack British barges that had been harassing Maryland shipping. Of the 65 Virginia and Maryland men who did not flee at the sight of British guns only eleven survived unscathed. The rest were killed, wounded or drowned. After surrendering, the Americans were permitted to return home on their word of honor that they would not fight the British. Paroling captured enemy soldiers was common practice even in the Civil War. After the Revolution the Continental Army was reduced in size due both to increasing pacifism and to the widespread opinion that a professional army was undesirable. State militias were to be the principal defense forces and were more thoroughly organized after the Revolution. By the middle of 1794 over 3000 men of the sparsely populated Virginia portion of the peninsula were members of the three Eastern Shore regiments: the 27th in Northampton, the 99th in upper Accomack and the 2nd in central and lower Accomack. When trouble with the British was again looming in 1812, many Eastern Shore residents were not in favor of declaring war. It was not until 1813 that the Shore was directly affected by hostilities. The British set up an elaborate base on Tangier Island from which they attacked Washington and Baltimore. They also made brief incursions at Cherrystone, Onancock and Pungoteague Creeks, as well as at Cape Charles. In the spring of 1814 the British landed at Pungoteague Creek and were repelled by the militia. In June they attempted another incursion at Chesconnessex Creek, but left after routing the Americans. In August they attempted to burn Onancock but abandoned the plan when too many members of the militia showed up. The remainder of the volume deals with the changes within the militia between 1814 and 1858 and focuses on individual members. 

Volume 2:
The first part of this volume deals with the decline of the Eastern Shore militia and the rise and fall of the 39th Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, the only regiment formed on the Eastern Shore during the Civil War. Once again the Eastern Shore was isolated from the seat of Virginia government. Eastern Shore residents were sharply divided on the question of secession. Northampton County was solidly pro-secession, but Accomack harbored so many Union sympathizers that the county sent a pro-Union delegate to the 1861 state convention on secession. Distrust of their Accomack neighbors was strong in Northampton. The division of loyalties is evident in the activities of the various militia units. The 99th Regiment (northern Accomack Co.) is virtually absent from military records in the period immediately preceding the Civil War. Officers of the 99th failed to attend a meeting called by the commander of all Eastern Shore forces. The author discusses a number of other incidents that illustrate the division of loyalty on the Shore. These included harassment of pro-Union preachers and the very interesting hate mail addressed to Virginia Governor Wise at the time of the execution of John Brown. Yet once secession was actually accomplished, the residents of both counties (with the exception of Chincoteague Island) rallied to the Confederate cause. The local militia units quickly faded into obscurity when the 39th Virginia Regiment was formed in the spring of 1861. The regiment was composed of infantry, cavalry and artillery units. This regiment fought short battles with Federal troops in the summer and autumn of 1861 at Cherrystone Creek, believed to be a staging area for blockade runners, at Holden's Creek and at Wishart's Point. In all three cases Federal forces were driven back. In November of 1861 the Federal government moved quickly to subdue the Eastern Shore. This was done primarily to keep Maryland in line and to prevent supplies from reaching the mainland of Virginia. A force perhaps as large as 8000 men easily took control of the peninsula within a few days. The occupation of the peninsula was made easier by the conciliatory tone of the Union general's proclamation to the residents shortly before the invasion. He emphasized the numerical superiority of the Federal force. The 39th had prepared to fight by building breastworks, burning bridges and blocking roads near Oak Hall in Accomack County. Once the size of the Union force became known, the Confederate forces beat a hasty retreat before battle could be joined.  There is some speculation that a gentlemen's agreement existed which permitted the Federal troops to invade peacefully while the Rebel forces escaped to Northampton County. The commander of the 39th ordered his men to get to Richmond any way they could and join other Confederate units. Some members of the regiment were captured in Northampton County, but many made it across the bay. The Confederate government officially disbanded the 39th Regiment in January of 1862. The Eastern Shore remained in Federal hands until the Civil War ended. Guards were posted along the telegraph line down the Shore and at suspected staging areas for blockade runners. Running the Union blockade was the only real resistance offered by Eastern Shore residents during the Federal occupation. The remainder of the second volume discusses the units to which Eastern Shore men fled, particularly the Wise Legion, organized by Accomack native and former Governor of Virginia Henry A. Wise. No attempt is made to discuss in great detail battles which have been adequately covered in other works. The author focuses here on the individuals involved. Although the two volumes discuss battles--in some cases in great detail--one must remember that the work is a history of the men of the Eastern Shore forces, not a study of campaigns or tactics. Because both volumes give so much attention to individual officers and soldiers, the reader will find Barnes' work a rich source of genealogical material.

Volume 3:
PUNGOTEAGUE TO PETERSBURG VOL III. Muster Rolls & Soldiers' Records. Index to Volumes I & II. By Parker Barnes. Cloth. Pub. 1994 by the author. 89 pp. plus 14 pp. index to first two volumes. Extensive lists. $45.00. Contact the Book Bin Bookstore at Onley, VA, (804) 787-7866. 

This final work is a fitting close to the history of military units connected with the Eastern Shore of Virginia through the Civil War.

Those researchers looking for a detailed discussion of battles and leaders will be disappointed in this volume, for it provides very little narrative. It is a compendium of muster rolls from Confederate units with minimal information concerning the roles they played in the war.

Muster rolls are the primary public source of information about individual Confederate soldiers and are freely available to the public. Eastern Shore Virginians who fought for the Confederacy ended up in a number of units, thus requiring the researcher to dig through an enormous amount of data. The strength of Barnes' third volume is that he has put a mass of such information into one accessible reference work. The type of information on
individuals and companies varies considerably, as does the thoroughness of the information in the original sources.

Information about the soldiers of the short-lived 39th Virginia Infantry Regiment occupies one half of the volume. The following units are also represented: 21st Brigade (an antebellum militia unit), the 6th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 34th and 46th Virginia Infantry Regiments, the 19th Artillery, the 15th and 24th Cavalry, Mosby's Rangers, the James City Light Artillery Company, the Norfolk Light Artillery Blues, the Richmond/Fayette Light Artillery, the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. There are also a few miscellaneous entries.

At $45.00 this is an expensive addition to one's library, but worth it if one is researching a number of Eastern Shore families.

Copyright © 2005-2019 by Wayne Stith