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PoP's Southern American: My Great-Great Grandfather

7/20/2012

My Great-Great Grandfather

From the Diary of My Great-Great Grandfather.
 by Bill Dennison (All rights reserved)

My great-great grandfather, Joseph Ferdinand Kent enlisted in Co. A, the Wythe Grays, of the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment at Wytheville, Virginia on April 17, 1861. He was elected Captain at muster. The 4th Virginia was incorporated into Col. Thomas J. Jackson’s 1st Virginia Brigade, later to gain immortality as the “Stonewall Brigade”. He was promoted to Major on May 4, 1861 and fought with the regiment at First Manassas where the regiment suffered 31 killed and 100 wounded, among them the regiment’s commanding officer, Col. James F. Preston and his second in command, Lt. Col. Lewis T. Moore. The 4th Virginia’s loss was the highest of any regiment in the brigade.

Following Jackson’s promotion to Major General in mid-October, Col. Preston, though virtually incapacitated by rheumatism and the lingering effects of his Manassas wound, became interim commander of the Stonewall Brigade. He was replaced on December 7, 1861 by Brig. Gen. Richard B. Garnett.

In December of 1861, Maj. Kent and the 4th Virginia were involved in Jackson’s abortive expedition to breach Dam No. 5 on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Canal, which ended in failure and resulted in a further depletion of the ranks due to sickness.

On January 20, 1862, Col. Preston died at his home in Montgomery County, Virginia. Lt. Col. Moore was so badly incapacitated by his Manassas wound that he had to leave the service and was thus unable to assume command of the regiment. Maj. Kent received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel on January 31, 1862 and assumed that he would receive command of the regiment. However, Capt. Charles A. Ronald of Co. E was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded command of the regiment. My great-great grandfather, being a very proud individual, took great umbrage at what he considered an affront to his honor and promptly resigned his commission and returned to his home in Wythe County.

He was subsequently commissioned as a Colonel of the Wythe County Home Guard and commanded what came to be known as Kent’s Regiment. He led these men in several engagements in Southwest Virginia, including Toland’s Raid, the First Battle of Saltville and the Battle of Marion.

The following is an excerpt from the diary of my great-great-grandfather, Col. Joseph Ferdinand Kent, Colonel of Kent’s Regiment, Home Guard in Wythe County, Virginia, formerly Major in the 4th Virginia Infantry Regiment:

“I can remember no service that I performed after severing my connection with the 4th until the 1st raid was made by the Yankees into South West Virginia in July 1863 – on the 18th I think.  Whilst at my farm, Bellfield, 3-1/2 miles east of Wytheville I received a note informing me that a citizen of Tazewell had arrived with the intelligence that a company of Yankee Cavalry had camped near Tazewell C. H. the previous night and were moving in the direction of Wytheville. That there had been a meeting of citizens at the Court House, and it was agreed to submit to me whether or not an attempt should be made to defend the town. On arriving in town about 10 o’clock P.M., I found the greatest excitement prevailing among the citizens – was asked what I proposed to do and replied “If five men will volunteer the Yankees shall not enter the town without resistance’  I found that Gen. Jones, commanding department1, with headquarters at Dublin had telegraphed that he would dispatch 400 troops and two pieces of artillery – also that several citizens had gone out on the road on which the enemy were approaching.

For the purpose of ascertaining what number would volunteer, and what arms could be procured, I had the Court House bell rung, ordered all who were willing to put themselves under my command to fall into line – and quite a number fell in, but as few had arms they did not remain long enough for me to form any correct estimate of the number that could procure arms, many leaving in search of them.

Every now and then a scout would arrive, announcing the nearer approach of the enemy. The train was behind time, but finally arrived without bringing harness for the artillery. A scout arrived with the information that the Yankees had reached the German Church, about 1-1/2 miles distant.

I mounted my horse and gave the command ‘all who are willing to follow me fall into line’. About 40 fell in with shot guns, old army pistols, flint lock muskets, and perhaps some better etc. Maj. Bowyer2 arrived about this time with about the same number of men making in all about 80 men and boys. I gave the order to march intending to occupy the eminence about half a mile from the Court House, and there endeavor to hold the enemy in check until the artillery could be brought up, but when we got within two or three hundred yards of the crest of the hill the head of the Yankee column made its appearance and halted. Knowing we could make no successful resistance in our situation we retreated. Maj. Bowyer’s squad being in front, I rode forward and asked him where he proposed to make a stand. His reply was ‘at the depot.’ I awaited until the command had passed on and then rode forward and again said to Maj. Bowyer “We must fight them in the streets where we can shelter the men’. He concurred.

The men were quickly taking positions at the corners of the streets, and in the houses commanding the streets. I took a position near the Court House that firing should not begin until I commanded – By this time the head of the enemy’s column did not move, but it was now put in motion and when it reached within  about 400 or 600 yards of Main St. a volly (sic) was fired, without command, that took effect upon the head of the column, and I could plainly observe the spreading of the files to the left and right. It immediately closed up and moved on without accelerating its motions. The head of the column soon sunk out of sight into a depression in the street and it was now to be seen that the force was very large as the unbroken column was still coming over and extending beyond the eminence.

The head of the column again approaching near the Methodist Church and about two hundred yards from the Court House, we delivered a volley that repulsed them and threw them into great confusion. Col. Toland3 was there killed and Col. Powell4 severely wounded. Capt. Delaney5 then came forward and led a charge with revolver in hand. They came at full speed firing right and left. They were fired upon from the street corners and some of the houses in which the men were posted. A few passed Main St. to the south side of the town and a squad took refuge on Monroe St. in the stable of the Wytheville Hotel, but the main body were driven back and took refuge in my lot in the rear of my residence where they were out of sight and sheltered.  Capt. Delaney was killed in this charge and a number of men and horses went down. At this crisis if our men had been trained soldiers and could have been handled, I believe that the Yankees could have been stampeded. Of the party that passed Main St. one was badly wounded, his horse falling dead upon the rider’s legs, nearly opposite Wytheville Hotel. He was relieved and carried to the steps of the ladies entrance. I learned from him that the force was a brigade composed of parts of two regiments of cavalry and a regiment of mounted infantry6  in all 700 men under command of Col. Toland.

After a long interval of time having formed as infantry and entered the street again, beyond the Methodist Church, they came sweeping the streets with musketry and burning houses on both sides. I learned subsequently that an order had been given to burn my residence which for some reason was not carried out. Having sent a scouting party to watch the road by Ewald’s tan yard, that that enters Main St. at the East end of town, and receiving no report from them I knew that further resistance on our part was useless and ordered those posted at the Court House, and sent others that I could quickly find, to get away as fast as possible. I saw Maj. Bowyer and said to him that further resistance was useless, he replied that he had reconoitred (sic) and come to the same conclusion. He immediately retired his men, but one shot was fired by the artillery taking effect in the farmers bank. The horses ran off and the pieces were upset rendering them useless.

During the interval between the fighting and the dismounting of the Cavalry an incident occurred which I think worthy of record. Mrs. Elizabeth Thompson (nee Lewis, wife of Maj. Thompson of our army and a descendent of the distinguished John Lewis7) who was boarding in the Hotel came to the door and calling to me said ‘Some of our men have taken refuge in the hotel who ought to be outside in the streets fighting. And there is an officer in full Confederate uniform with boots on lying on a bed, drunk, come with me and I will show him to you.’ I went with her in search of the officer but he had left the room. I found the men, but they had selected a position from which they could fire on the passing enemy and I left them alone. The bearing of this lady was most spirited and fearless and showed her a worthy descendent of her distinguished ancestors
 .
 Immediately after the charge a horse from which the rider had been shot came to my side moving with conformity to every turn my horse made until I had him hitched on the side of the street. After getting possession of the town, the Yankees remained but a short time before beginning a hasty retreat. They set fire to and burned a number of private buildings, and the R. R. depot, but no public stores were destroyed, nor did they even cut the telegraph wires. Such was their demoralization that they took 75 or 80 old men and boys (few of them having been engaged in the fight) to cover their retreat. We lost 4 killed. Lieut. Oliver, Clayton Cook, 2 others not remembered. The Yankee killed numbered 11, wounded and men detailed to nurse them about 30 including Col. Powell.

After the men were placed in position they acted nobly. When I told them to get out of the way as speedily as possibly I had to repeat the order before some would leave their posts. Thus ended a fight which Dr. Bagby, a few years after, having visited Wytheville and returned to Richmond, in an article in the Richmond Whig characterized it as ‘the bravest fight of the war’.”

This expedition was known as Toland’s Raid and was designed to destroy the lead mines at Austinville in Wythe County, the iron works at Marion in Smyth County, the salt works at Saltville in Smyth County and to disrupt/destroy as much of the Virginia Tennessee Railroad as possible.

1 Gen. William E. (Grumble) Jones, commanding the Department of Southwest Virginia and
             East Tennessee

2 Maj. T. M. Bowyer, Chief of Ordinance at Confederate Departmental Headquarters, Dublin,
            Virginia

3 Col. John T. Toland, in overall command of Union raiding party

4 Col. W. H. Powell, second-in-command and commanding 7 companies of the 2nd West Virginia 
            Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

5 Capt. Dennis Delaney, commander Co. A, 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

6 Elements of the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, of the 2nd West Virginia
            Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and the 34th Regiment Ohio Mounted Infantry totaling over 
            800 men.

7 Col. John Lewis, Revolutionary War hero and prominent settler of Southwest Virginia


1 Gen. William E. (Grumble) Jones, commanding the Department of Southwest Virginia and
            East Tennessee

2 Maj. T. M. Bowyer, Chief of Ordinance at Confederate Departmental Headquarters, Dublin,
            Virginia

3 Col. John T. Toland, in overall command of Union raiding party

4 Col. W. H. Powell, second-in-command and commanding 7 companies of the 2nd West Virginia 
            Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

5 Capt. Dennis Delaney, commander Co. A, 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

6 Elements of the 1st West Virginia Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, of the 2nd West Virginia
            Volunteer Cavalry Regiment and the 34th Regiment Ohio Mounted Infantry totaling over 
            800 men.

7 Col. John Lewis, Revolutionary War hero and prominent settler of Southwest Virginia


Joseph Ferdinand Kent
Co. A, the Wythe Grays,
of the 4th Virginia Infantry Regime

Thank you Brother Bill D,
For sharing a small part of your rich history,
Bro. PoP

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