S.P. McConnell's letter to Charles Kilgore on the death of his son, John D. Kilgore

As the year 1862 opened, the 48th Virginia was assigned to Colonel William Gilham's brigade of Brigadier General William Loring's Army of the Northwest. General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson had been given command of the Valley District in November. Jackson decided to combine his Army of the Valley District with Loring's small army and march on the little town of Romney which was the strategic key to the upper Shenandoah Valley.

Jackson's forces began their winter campaign on a pleasant New Year's Day, 1862, "springtime in its mildness". Conditions quickly deteriorated. A month of rain, sleet, bad roads, hunger, sickness, and misery followed.

During one march, Loring was so infuriated by an order from Jackson to keep his men moving that he announced, "By God, Sir, this is the damnedest outrage ever perpetrated in the annals of history, keeping my men out here in the cold without food." Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett had his first of several run ins with Jackson when he ordered his famished troops fed after 30 hours of continuous marching. Jackson took exception, stating that there was, "not time for that." On officer wrote that, "Two battles would not have done as much injury as hard weather and exposure have effected."

The march of January 7-8 was one of the worst. The temperature dropped to 20 degrees below zero. The soldiers marched over a road of ice covered with six inches of snow. Men were constantly "hitting the road with a thud like that of a pile driver." Horses also fell constantly. An artilleryman remembered that "from one horse's knees there were icicles of blood which reached nearly to the ground." By the time the men arrived at their destination, "every soldier's clothing was a solid cake of ice," and there were "icicles two inches long hanging from the hair and whiskers of every man."

By the end of January, the 48th Virginia was posted in the cold and dreary town of Romney which stank from tons of rotting beef left by the Yankees. Many of the officers from Loring's command petitioned that they be moved back to Winchester. Jefferson Davis agreed, and they were ordered back. Jackson tendered his resignation for this "interference". Jackson was later placated and his resignation withdrawn.

Jackson sent Col. Gilham back to his classroom at VMI. Loring was removed to Georgia. Garnett would have a more critical run in with Jackson at Kernstown. Many of the men openly jeered Jackson.

And a young farm boy, far from his Scott Couny home, died from the effects of the march in a military hospital in Winchester on February 16, 1862.

John D. Kilgore had enlisted the previous July in Nickelsville. He had been born on July 23, 1840 to Charles and Sarah Dougherty Kilgore. His paternal grandparents were Hiram Kilgore and Rebecca Renfro. Hiram's father was Robert Kilgore, said to be a veteran of King's Mountain, who killed by Indians on the Pound River in Wise Co. in the winter of 1782. Robert Kilgore is my 6th great grandfather. John D. Kilgore is my second cousin, five times removed.

S.P. (Sylvester Patton) McConnell left the 48th Virginia by August, 1862, and organized Company A of the 27th battalion of Virginia Cavalry. He also served in the 25th Virginia Cavalry. He received a field promotion to brigadier general. At the end of the war, while serving as Scott County's clerk of court, he saved the county records from marauding Yankee cavalry. S.P. is my half second cousin, four times removed.

I need to thank Cousin Barnett McConnell for sending me one version of this letter which he received from a lady at a McConnell reunion. I also would like to thank Cousin Tim (tphil308@bellatlantic.net) for sending me an electronic copy of the letter and his own interpretation. I tried my own interpretation, using both Mr. McConnell's and Tim's for reference. Any errors are, therefore, my own.

Encampment Near Winchester Va Feby 16th 1862
Charles Kilgore

My Dear friend

It is my (pa)inful duty to inform you of the death of your son John D. Kilgore, he died at Winchester this morning about 8 oclock one of the company who had been _____some time as cook brought the sad _____ of is death. I had been to see him _____ before yesterday & told him that I would be _____ to see him today but was (detail)ed as officer of the day & was preparing to assume the duties of (the) day when the news reached me. He had been _____ our tour to Bath & was taken with a pain in his _____ on that trip. I had to hall him on a wagon for (sev)eral days before I could get him off causing to (suf)fer a greatiel. - Well we went to Romney from (the)re & he was sent to this place & when we came _____ I looked him _____ hospital & found him (ver)y low ideed but the Doct. told me that he (tho)ught he could cure him but alas: how sadly _____ be mistaken for only two short days expired until ____ was no more poor fellow has seemed so glad _____ I was to see him & told me that he was (loo)king for you & that when you came he wanted me to give him a certificate for a sick furlough. I told him that I would give him a certificate for furlough or discharge either & that I would be to see him again to day but alas: I sitt _____ too long to ever see John again in this life _____ gave Wm P. Harris an order to to the ward master for his money ($10.00) & his clothing & sent him to town to see him decently buried. We tried to take him home but the higher officer said it was against the order of the War Department to send the _____ of deceased _____ home unless it was by the ____ of some of their family & there were none of _____ was here you know so we had to suffer ____ burial here _____ is a sad occurance inde(ed) _____ think that he had to die so far away from _____ kinfolks but remember that he lost his life _____ a glorious cause died in the service of _____ country & well did he perform his duty while _____ did live John was a clever boy and an obediant & kind member of my company - I set a good deal of _____ by John but he had to pay the debt tht we al(l) must pay sooner or later - Accept my sincere an(d) heartfelt sympathies in your bereavement _____ that your loss is John's infinite gain for I am told that he said he was willing & prepared to go -

Very Respctfully
Your obt. Servt.
S.P. McConnell