Remembering Civil War’s ‘women of uncommon valor’

Published 10:28 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

It takes quite a bit of guts and grit to face the dangers of wartime. Often when we imagine these men, we envision a battle-scarred piece of real estate, shrouded in smoke, bits of earth torn from the ground by artillery shells. We hear the old stories, read the old accounts and deem such men as heroes.

David Stafford saw his share during the Civil War. David was a Union soldier from Pennsylvania. Now while David wasn’t from Carter County, his adventures eventually brought him here to our county.

I will tell a partial account of his story while he was here; however, David was not one of the heroes that I will write about today. The heroes I speak of were, in fact, heroines. Heroines who, for the most part, were lost in history. I will now pull their brave deeds into the light, actions that have been concealed by the fog of time, hidden in the shadows of forgetfulness for much too long.

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David Stafford, as I mentioned earlier, was a Union soldier. He had the misfortune to have found himself taken prisoner and sent to a prison in Macon, Georgia. Lady Luck smiled upon him one day, and he found himself outside the prison walls and quickly made his escape. His goal was to make it to Knoxville, Tennessee. It was 1864 and Knoxville was in possession of the Federals. His hope was to make it to sanctuary and the protection of fellow Union men and from there, take a train to rendezvous with the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers.

David’s perilous journey eventually took him to Carter County. Here he made friends with Lieutenant Housley, a member of the 13th TN Volunteer Cavalry. Most of the members of the 13th that were in the area at that time had taken to hiding and sleeping in caves to avoid detection from the Confederate Army.

On one such occasion, David was invited to the home of Sampson Robertson. While the others went to the caves, he agreed to stay at their home and mend the daughters’ shoes. David was a shoemaker and his talents were used quite a bit during his short stay here. While mending the shoes, he began to tell the women of the home his fascinating story of escape and his treacherous journey. After a while, without noticing, he became quite excited and loud while spinning his tale.

Suddenly and without warning, there was a thunderous knocking at the door. Two Confederates had overheard him, and they were demanding David be turned over to them. Mrs. Robertson had David sit low on the stone hearth, as the women obscured him from view. They invited the two soldiers in and convinced them no one was there and that their ears must have played tricks on them.

Of course one would have to imagine that the apple jack the women served them might have had a little something to do with them relaxing quickly and dropping their suspicions. One of the women was able to slip out and alert the men hiding in the caves. This was not a simple act for it entailed her having to scale a cliff face that was 150 feet high and full of loose boulders. Take into consideration that compounding the difficulty of the feat was that it was at night, with no light, then one can appreciate her bravery.

When David was finally ready to leave from here and head to Knoxville, another fearless woman entered his life. The Confederates watched every road and pass closely. The path he and the other men had to take led them across steep mountain ranges and cliffs. David lamented, “Oh, such rugged and rocky cliffs we had to climb and such tired and achy limbs that we had during such nights of toiling those mountains.”

What about the woman you may be asking? Well, these men did not know the way to safe haven. Lt. Housley sent them a pilot, a guide. This pilot was, in fact, a woman from Stoney Creek. Unfortunately, history did not record the name of this woman of uncommon valor.

Scott Bowers is Carter County historian and commander of Camp 2083 Lt. Robert J. Tipton of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Send questions or comments about his columns to