Thursday, June 25, 2015

The World War II Letters of Billy J. Campbell, Letter 1

Billy James Campbell was born on August 30th, 1925 in Lebanon, Virginia. On December 20, 1944, at the age of 19 years, he enlisted in the Army. He did basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, then advanced training at Fort George Meade, Maryland. In mid-1945 he traveled across the county by train, to San Francisco, where he boarded a boat for the Pacific Theater. He was assigned to the 61st Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division. He stopped in Hawaii and Manila en route to Luzon, which had been captured a few months earlier. He spent most of his war time service on Luzon, training replacements for the Division. After the Japanese surrender on August 12, 1945, he was stationed in Japan for several months. He returned stateside and was stationed at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, again training recruits. He was finally discharged on November 14, 1946. Ten letters written by Bill survive, plus one from his mother to him. This is the first.

January 8, 1945

Pvt. Billy J. Campbell
A. S. N. 33666491
Co. "D" - 12th Inf. Tig. Bn.
Camp Wheeler, Ga

Mrs. W. B. Campbell
Lebanon, Va.

Tell Susy hello.
Camp Wheeler Sat. Night
Dear Mom,

Well I have finished my first week of training and I feel pretty good. It hasn't been so hard on my body, but they tell you so much stuff you can't remember half of it. I have had a cough ever since I have been down here. They call it the Georgia Ack Ack and say everybody takes it. It doesn't hurt me but is just a bother.

They sure have our days planned for us. We get up at six and they give us a different something every hour. We got our rifles last night and we have to keep them spotless. I was gassed five times yesterday but don't get alarmed, it didn't hurt me. They put us in a tear gas chamber and made us remove our gas masks and walk out. Everybody in the whole Company was crying. It burned our eyes and made them water but that was all. They burned for about 10 min.

We have learned how to march, how to take our rifles apart and clean them and a little bit about the manual of arms. We have had a lot of pictures and lectures of first aid and discipline. We have had a little bit of everything.

I have been nervous one time since I have been here. Most of the time when we go anywhere, the whole company goes which is about 200 or 250 men. Yesterday when we started back from the gas chamber (about 2 miles) my sargent told me to take the flag to the sargent who was suposed to carry it. It is our Co. flag which goes in front all time. When I get up front I couldn't find the guy so I had to carry it myself. I had to march at the head of the company with a Lieutent (cant spell it?) and carry that flag. Every time he wanted me to change directions he would give me an order. I didn't miss a step though all the way in and I am glad.

How is everything going there? I guess it is still cold. It is not so awful cold down here. We take our overcoats most of the time but take them off when we start to do something. We went on a cross country course to day for the first time. We would march for about 100 yds and then double time that far. We went about 2 miles.

I met two boys from Lebanon at the PX to night. One was Tom Ferguson's boy and the other a Price boy from the loop. Alfred V. is still here but in another company. I haven't seen him since last Sunday. I will probably see him tomorrow. I don't know what we will have to do tomorrow. I hope it is rest. I guess I had better stop now and write Chil[?] (Fred sent me those colored pictures. I got 9 letters from her yesterday and one from you. I got one from Chil, one from you and one from Aunt Mabel to day. Tell Gleaver I will try to write him when I get time. They have kept us busy. (over)

They give us good eats, but not enough of them. You can go back for seconds if you can run fast, but most of the time you miss mail call if you stay in the Mess Hall to long. This is the mosts important thing around here. Will have to quit now. Lights have been out for about an hour now. I am sitting on the stairway writing. that is the only light we have after 9. My buddy Philip Constant from Danville, is right behind me writing someone.

P. S. Have been on K. P. once, from 5 A. M. until 5 P. M. next day.

PP. SS. Tell dad to get me a good cigarette lighter and send me. We can get plenty of cigarettes but no matches or lighters.

P.P.P.S.S.S. You wanted to know where this place is, well I don't even know myself where it is. I couldn't get out of Battalion area untill to night and then we could go to town. We are about seven miles from Macon. I don't think I will go out for a few weeks yet. The only time I have is Sunday, part of the day and night. I ever get done work in the barracks until lights out, then I write on the stairway.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Aaron L. Hurt Gets Married at the 1927 Confederate Reunion

Aaron Lilburn Hurt was born on March 27, 1842 in Russell County, Virginia. He enlisted in the 29th Virginia Infantry on March 27, 1862, his 20th birthday. He was present at all musters through April of 1864. He spent the next several months sick in various hospitals in Richmond, and was eventually sent home on a furlough. No further wartime record exists. In a pension application in 1906, he claims to have been with the unit until the surrender.

After the war he married Louisa H. Ball in 1869. Aaron and Louisa had 12 children, of whom 8 survived to the 1900 census. Louisa died and Aaron married Mary Catherine Mise. She died sometime after 1920.

Aaron liked to go to Confederate reunions. Newspapers recorded his attendance at the 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1930 reunions. He probably attended many others. At the Birmingham reunion of 1926, he met a lady named Fanny Graves, a widower from Chattanooga, TN. In 1926, she was approximately 55 years old. Aaron was 81. Upon being introduced, it was said that Mrs. Graves was looking for a husband. "What sort of a husband?" asked Hurt. "Oh! a good looking one that owns a farm." she replied. "I'm your man." replied Hurt. However, the reunion soon ended and both returned to the native cities.

The two kept in touch, exchanging two letters a day. They agreed to meet at the next reunion.

A year later they met at the Confederate reunion, this time in Tampa, Florida. They still felt strongly for each other, and Aaron asked Fanny to marry him. She consented and a ceremony was arranged. A fellow veteran, Reverend J. M. Smith of Marshall, Texas, agreed to perform the ceremony before he left the reunion. Unfortunately, the time came for the pastor to leave and the couple had failed to arrive. The cause of the postponement was the decision to get the bride's parents' consent to the marriage. Consent was gotten, but the pastor was gone.

In the absence of the original pastor, the Reverend W. D. F. Snipes, a Presbyterian minister and superintendent of the Tampa school system, stepped in to perform the ceremony. He quipped that he had been "marrying couples for 52 years and has never had a knot come untied yet."

The two were married in the chambers of Judge G. H. Cornelius, among a large crowd. "My I never saw so many witnesses in my life." said Fanny. "It is a pretty big crowd," said Hurt, "but I've faced worse looking crowds than this and lived through it. I guess I'll survive this." After the brief ceremony, Hurt declared "See, the first thing she did when she got to Tampa was to get Hurt."

The wedding was a hit, making the front page in local newspapers, and getting a picture in papers as far away as Ohio. Prior to taking the picture, Hurt combed his hair with a borrowed comb and said of the picture "It will show the other veterans here how to conduct themselves properly at a reunion."

Hurt returned to Russell County ahead of his bride, who returned home to Chattanooga to wrap up affairs before joining him there. Upon being interviewed by a local paper, Hurt stated "Some of the boys are laughing at me for getting married, but I don't care for that. I've got just as much right to a wife as anybody."

But all was not well for Aaron and Fanny. She never left Chattanooga to come to Virginia. Letters were written, but to no avail. Fanny Graves soon dropped off the map. Aaron felt the loss "keenly" but continued to attend Confederate reunions, partly in hope that he would see Fanny again. He never did. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Trouble in Post War Russell County

 Dramitis Personae

Jesse Caudill - former Lieutenant Colonel, 13th Kentucky Cavalry (CSA)
John H. Candler - former Captain, 48th Virginia Infantry

John Burdine - leader of the robbers
Thomas Cunningham - patriarch of the Cunningham family
Oliver Cunningham - son of Thomas
John Combs - son of "old Alex Combs"
Elkanah D. Snapp - son of William A. Snapp, married to John Combs' sister
William Snapp - either the father or brother of Elkanah D. Snapp

Philip Jerome Reynolds - served in 22nd Virginia Cavalry
Nat S. Dickenson - served in 16th Virginia Cavalry
Riley Suit - served in 37th Virginia Infantry
Elbert S. Fugate - noted Doctor in Russell County, paid for a substitute to serve in War
Thomas Cunningham lived in the Moccasin District of Russell County during the Civil War. He had a large family including his sons Oliver and Elbert C. Immediately after the war, in the spring of 1865, Thomas and his son Oliver were apparently connected to a band of robbers operating in Russell County.

The County Law Order Book for November 9, 1865 lists the various indictments against members of the gang.

[To be added - indictments]

The County Law Order Book for December 5, 1865 details an indictment against robber William H. Collins.

[To be added - indictments]

These excerpts from an 1890 Chancery case tell the story.
1890-23, p. 24

Deposition of P. J. Reynolds

QUESTION: Didn't you hear him [Thomas Cunningham] & his boys spoken of & discussed in connection with certain robberies committed in this & other neighborhoods in this county just after the war?

ANSWER: I didn't hear his name [Thomas Cunningham] connected with it as I now rember of but it was one of his Boys Olliver.

QUESTION: Didn't Oliver live at Thomas Cunningham's his father at the time of these robberies & did you not hear & understand that stolen goods &c was at said Thomas Cunningham's house & that he afterward returned said goods, or some of them?

ANSWER: I heard that Olliver belonged to the Robber Band I never heard that Thos Cunningham was connected with it until this morning in this yard & heard it from Mr C. H. Dickenson.

p. 37

N. S. Dickenson

QUESTION: Are you acquainted with the general reputation of Thomas Cunningham & sons for Honesty, Morality &c in the neighborhood in which they live? By Sons I mean Elbert, Elijah & Olivar.

ANSWER: Yes Sir I am acquainted with their reputation.

QUESTION: What is that reputation good or bad

ANSWER: Bad as to Thos Cunningham and his son Olivar who is now dead as to honesty. In the Spring of 1865 Thos. Cunningham and his son Olivar were connected with a band of men who where systematically robing citizens on Mocasin and else where and it was the common report and talk that Thomas Cunningham the father of E C Cunningham kept and concealed the stolen goods, his son Olivar who was actively engaged in the robbing was at that time living with his Father Thos Cunningham. I remember that N. E. Burdine told me that Thos. Cunningham returned Flour to him which had been stolen from him by this same band of robbers. Jessee Caudill raised a band of men in Spring of 1865 and shot two of the robbers and was upon the even of shooting others of them when it was agreed by them that the goods which they had taken should be returned by them to the parties from whom they were stolen as far as it was possible to do so. It was in accordance with this agreement that these goods were returned to Burdine by Thos Cunningham.


QUESTION: Who of his [Thomas Cunningham] neighbors said that he concealed stolen goods for the robbers state their names fully.

ANSWER: I don't remember but two persons one of them was John Combs who was one of the Robbers and who acknowledged this to me, and N. E. Burdine.

QUESTION: Did N. E. Burdine tell you that Thomas Cunningham belonged to or was connected with the Band of Robbers

ANSWER: That was my understanding.

QUESTION: Who is John Combs and is he dead of alive if Dead how long since he died?

ANSWER: John Combs is a son of old Alex Combs, and is dead. Can't state how long he has been would say 12 months or more.

p. 52

Riley Suit

QUESTION: Are you acquainted with the general reputation of Thomas Cunningham and his family in the naborhood in which they reside for honesty, morality, and general integrity of character?

ANSWER: Yes sir.

QUESTION: What is that reputation good or bad?

ANSWER: It is very bad as to some of them. They told me that Thomas Cunninghams house was headquarters for this robbing gang just after the war, and Thos Cunningham had the Futher reputation of having concealed the stolen goods of this gang on his premises. This clan stole a good deal from this naborhood and elsewhere. Mr N. E. Burdine told me that Thos Cunningham returned some flour & other things that had been taken from him. Mr Burdine said Mr Cunningham did this under and agreement that no more of them should be killed if the goods were returned. I suppose he was in the company that is what they told me. I understood his name was on the list or role when they captured the name who had the role.

p. 244

John H. Candler

QUESTION: Were you in any way just after the war connected with a band of citizens organized for the purpose of putting down a gang of Robbers who infested this & other communities of this County?

ANSWER: in 1865 I think I belonged to such an organization.

QUESTION: State if you know, who was the head of the Robbers & in what community did they belong?

ANSWER: John Burdine Bro of N. E. Burdine of this community was the leader most of the Robbers belonged to this community except a company brought in by a man by the name of Capt. Fauble [sic Caudill], his & Burdines Co were together a good deal here & in the lower end of the co.

QUESTION: Were you at any time along, when a search after stolen goods was made - if so, state when it was under what circumstances & where did you go to search?

ANSWER: I was a long when a search for stolen goods taken by these Robbers was made this was in 1865 after the Robbing was put down there was an agreement with those who had lost goods & property that said goods & Property should all be brought & deposited at Oak Grove Church in this community. We had a Pretty correct list of the Property stolen we found after Examining what was brought back to the Church that there was a good deal that had not been Returned. It was then that I went out with the crowd to look for the Remainder. We were told several places where the goods were probably deposited & told where we would find stolen goods. We first went to Elkana Snaps we found at his house a secret place for the reception of stolen goods it was under the back porch floor. Next to uncle Billy snaps we found a similar place there we went from there to Mr Thos Cunninghams as we went we met Ollivar Cunningham we turned him back & made him go back with us he was armed & we disarmed him we went to Mr Thomas Cunninghams and found a similar place there this place was under the cutting room floor were were were directed to look it was a right smart square of a place dug out beneath the cutting room floor.

QUESTION: Give me if you please some idea of the dimensions of this place beneath the cutting room floor was it recently dug &c?

ANSWER: A man might have stood erect in this place I speak of but I hardly think he could the place was pretty much the size of the cutting room it seems to have been dug since the stable was put up & it might have been dug a year of more & possibly might have been dug 2 years from the appearance of the dirt you could hardly tell when it was dug in fact I couldent tell when it was dug.

QUESTION: You stated that you went out with some men to search for a remainder of goods & property that had not been brought up, is this correct?

ANSWER: Yes sir.

QUESTION: Was not the property & goods brought back to the church, returned by the robbers in the most secret manner to the church?

ANSWER: That was the object of the church being selected in order that the Robbers might not be exposed.

QUESTION: As a fact did not your neighborhood believe that the whole Cunningham family was aware of these Robberies & of Oliver's part in them & that stolen goods were in their house & premises?

ANSWER: I believe that was the impression and general opinion at that time.

QUESTION: As a fact did not the place under the cutting room that you have spoken of have the appearances of having been recently used?

ANSWER: Yes sir I think it had it had that appearance.

p. 257

E. S. Fugate

QUESTION: State what you know if anything about the connection of the Cunningham family or any of them with certain robberies committed in 1865?

ANSWER: I never heard of any of them being connected with it except Olliver he lived at that time at his fathers Thomas Cunninghams. I have tried to forget their mother as much as possible more particular as Olliver was a good friend before and after this unfortinate affair that Olliver got into be acknowledged to being in this affair & by his being with them he saved me from being Robbed that is what he told me that it was through his influence.

I'll check the criminal court records to see if there is any more information on these robberies.