What's on the Bookshelf?
One-hundred and fifty years ago, at the age of 23, Alfred Mallory Edgar left the comfort of the "Old Edgar Homestead" in what is now Ronceverte and volunteered to take up arms as a member of the Greenbrier Rifles, which later became the 27th Virginia Infantry, "a regiment in the famous Stonewall Brigade of the Confederate Army.
It is appropriate that this year, the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Edgar's memoirs were published in a book titled, "My Reminiscences of the Civil War with the Stonewall Brigade and the Immortal 600."
Edgar's grandson, Allan N. Clower, of Ronceverte, finalized this work, which began with Edgar's writing, the text of which was safely preserved by Clower's grandmother, Caroline Crouch Edgar.
"My efforts to complete Great-grandfather Edgar's reminiscences of The War Between the States are in memory of my grandfather, Allan Penick Edgar; my aunt, Ann Davis Edgar; and my mother, Carolyn Edgar Clower," Clower writes. "Each of them worked to complete this over many years but was interrupted by the demands of children, school, work and death."
Alfred Mallory Edgar was born July 10, 1837, in Greenbrier County, the son of Archer Edgar and Nancy Howe Pearis. At the beginning of the Civil War the family owned 10 slaves, five male and five female.
Though not a large holding of field and household help, life was comfortable, and it was a far cry from where Edgar found himself as a soldier, and later as a prisoner of war.
Edgar's story begins as he prepares to leave his home.
"It is the 14th day of May, 1861.ﾠ The morning is bright and the air balmy.ﾠ The singing birds, as they fly through the shade trees, and a few spring blossoms starting up over the large green yard of the "Old Edgar Homestead" seem to vie with each other, to make the surrounding of the neat, white cottage, with its long porches and tall columns, cheerful and everybody happy."
But the family is not happy, as their son and brother will soon leave the idyllic setting for the unknown land of war.
"A fine lunch is prepared, but one thing is missing to make the meal enjoyable," Edgar writes. "And that is an appetite.
"We all permit one plate to be helped as the two colored girls waited on us with special care, and I might almost say, tenderness, because they can appreciate how uncertain it is when "Mars Alfred" will sit at that table again, seemingly unconscious of the fact that their race was the innocent cause of the war."
Edgar recalled the "hearse-like sound" of the carriage wheels which would deliver him to Lewisburg to begin his career as a soldier. And "taking a last glance at his home place," little knowing then that "the next four years for the family would be as checkered and sad" as for him.
Arriving at Harper's Ferry a rumor circulates that the Federals have crossed the Gauley River and are marching on Lewisburg. Desperate to return to protect their own homes, the pleas of Edgar and other soldiers were denied by their commanding officers, who threatened military discipline if they persisted.
In the end, it was merely a rumor and the families of the Greenbrier Valley were in no danger, at the time.
As the company moved toward Manassas, Edgar recalled the words of his friend, John Fry, of the Shriver Grays of Wheeling.
"Alfred, we are going to have a tremendous battle, and I am going to be killed."
After the first Battle of Manassas, the Confederate flag was adopted, and all the state flags were discarded.
And of that battle, Edgar writes, "...panic commences and the whole Federal force retreats in great disorder.ﾠ Throwing away their guns, knapsacks and running at breakneck speed, over each other, end over end, helter-skelter, pell-mell, on and on they go, like frantic creatures! Not a man stops this side of the Potomac, and some may not stop this side of home."
Although a great victory of the Confederacy was won, Edgar's friend, Fry, was lost in the battle.
Messages, money and provisions came to the soldiers by way of hometown friends, one of which was Mr. Johnston E. Bell, of Lewisburg.
"He brings each of us a box of provisions, cooked at our own homes." In addition Bell brought news of the soldier's families, and carried messages back home.
Edgar was granted furloughs from time to time and savored the peace of home, but too soon would return to duty. To prevent "becoming soft," Edgar always slept on the floor during his visits.
At the Battle of Port Republic, Edgar is injured, but makes the decision to heal on his own.
"I hope soon to regain the use of my arm, and decline going to the hospital, for which I have an even greater horror than for a battlefield."
Edgar writes of the Battle of Lewisburg. Though not a part of his military service, he thought it would make his writing more interesting to the Edgar family.
But his reminiscence of the Battle of Chancellorsville in which the beloved Stonewall Jackson was gravely injured tells of that great loss.
"We felt that he [Jackson] was guided directly from the mouth of Jehovah, as was Joshua when he led the Israelites to battle.ﾠ This we felt almost to the verge of idolatry.ﾠ I believed the same feeling persuaded most of the Stonewall Brigade."
Adding to the horrors of the battlefield, Edgar tells of the infestation of body lice which "became a natural and unavoidable consequence of war.
"Lice was considered a more convincing evidence of a faithful solder than brass buttons," he writes.
Following a furlough at home, Edgar is taken prisoner of war at Spotsylvania Courthouse.ﾠ He is held at Fort Delaware, Morris Island, South Carolina, and Fort Pulaski, Georgia.ﾠ
During this time, it is the brass buttons from his coat that help to bring him comfort.
In "dire want of a blanket," Edgar carved rings from the buttons of his uniform and sold them to the Yankees, using the money to purchase a "double U. S. blanket."
After years of battle and imprisonment, Edgar writes of that acquisition, "I thought I was rich."
The end of captivity drew near with the news, "Richmond has fallen" and Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
Edgar was released June 17, 1865.
But Edgar endured loss in realms other than the battlefield.ﾠ By the end of the war, both of his parents were gone and he returned to the "homestead," the landscape of which had changed as well during the war years.
Rev. James C. Johnson wrote of Edgar's return home.
"During his absence his father and mother had died and the feeble and discouraged soldier came home to find a lonely hearthstone and new economic conditions.ﾠ Like thousands of returned veterans he addressed himself resolutely to the task of conserving the shattered fortunes of the family and adjusting himself to the changed condition that the war had brought.
"He lived quietly in Greenbrier County until June 1875, when he married Miss Lydia, daughter of Col. Paul McNeel, and thereafter took up his residence in the Little Levels of Pocahontas County, there to spend the remaining years of life in the quiet pursuits of farmer and stock raiser."
Moffett McNeel, of Hillsboro, is the last surviving grandchild of Captain Edgar.
"My Reminiscences of the Civil War with the Stonewall Brigade and the Immortal 600" recounts the Battles of First and Second Manassas, Kernstown, the Shenandoah Campaign, Port Republic, Cedar Mountain, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Spotslyvania Court House, and is available through the Pocahontas County Historical Society, at The Pocahontas Times, 206 Eighth Street, in Marlinton.