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Redfern Civil War memoirs, Part 1

June 9, 2011

This week the Paine-Gillam Scott Museum website will begin publishing the Civil War memoirs of Francis William Redfern in weekly serial form.

Francis William Redfern, son of Matthew Redfern and Hannah E. Hine, was born July 20, 1842 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and died March 31, 1936 in St. Johns. He married Eunice M. Sherman on September 30, 1866 in Montague, Muskegon Co., Michigan.

Redfern joined Company C, First Michigan Cavalry in January 1865. Later he served in the US Navy, on the ship Peterboro, patrolled the Shenandoah Valley and in May 1865 was in review of the Grand Army of the Republic in Washington D.C. He served in the Michigan Legislature Between 1893 – 1896 as the Representative from Clinton County in State House.

Redfern also wrote an account of his family. The family history is in the Paine-Gillam-Scott Museum Collection.

Mr. Redfern wrote of the adventures he experienced beginning in February 1865. He wrote this recollections of his time in the Civil War for his grandson and namesake, William.

The family history and the Civil War tales were donated to the museum in 1998 by Eleanor Annis.


The month of Feb 1865 found me with other members of my Regiment (1st Mich Cav) (who had been for different reasons dismounted) doing guard duty on the line of railroad running from Harpers Ferry up the Shanandoah River Valley to and beyond Winchester.

We were stationed for a few days in the vicinity of Charlestown once made famous by the trial and execution of old John Brown. Our pickets, stationed along the R.R. were being nightily fired on by Confederates. The Guerrillas under command of the celebrated Mosby and Rosses were making dashing raids tearing up the R.R. tracks burning and destroying rolling stock, digging under cross ties and inverting railroad nails with the ends projecting either way up and down the track just at the right height to catch a railroad engine at the boiler end and wreck it.

To overcome this trick of the guerillas all trains were ordered to be run with the fenders ahead. This of course checkmated the effort to derail or incapacitate the Locomotive. Our sentries were subjected to numerous insults and indignities by southern sympathizers notably by women. One of our men was poisoned here at Charlestown when asking for a drink of water. A woman gave it him.

He was soon taken ill and died. The woman was given 15 minutes to get out of the house and then it was fired and burned to the ground with its contents.

Soon after this occurred my detachment was ordered up the valley to relieve two companies of Pennsylvania boys that had been attacked the night before. They occupied a stockade on a slope of ground about ten rods from the R.R. track.

They had succeeded in driving off the guerillas but had two men killed. These Pennsylvania boys about (100) were armed with muzzle loading rifles. We were armed with Spencer Carbines that shot seven times with out reloading. This latter fact was probably the reason why our detachment of only twenty men was sent to relieve and with orders to hold the stockade just attacked well we held it and in this way for over two weeks.

Just a few rods back of the stockade and standing in a grove of trees was a large Brick Plantation House. Still nearer the Stockade was a large Tobacco Barn also built of brick and of two stories in height. The lower story and facing our Stockade was pierced with Rifle front holes. The parties occupying this brick house consisted of an old man of about 70 his wife and one negro maid servant. We had been advised by the commander of the Pennsylvania Boys that this old man was a Rank Rebel. That he had a son, acting Lieutenant, under the Guerrilla Rosses and that it was this Rosser bunch of guerrillas that had made the attack on the Pennsylvania boys.

The very afternoon that we occupied the stockade this old man came to the Sockade, Said he noticed the change in troops, Said also by way of conversation, “Well; They gave the Pennsylvania boys Hell, Last night dident they” and also said he dident like the Pennsylvania boys. He wanted to know, what troops we were and where from wanted to know how many there were of us and how we were armed. He was told we were Michigan men. Told just how many there were of us and then one of our Breech loading seven shooting carbines was shown him and how it could be fired seven times without taking it down from the shoulder.

He seemed very much impressed with all this freely given information and started toward home when Hold on Mr. Flagg (for that was his name) caused him to stop.

Then this conversation took place. “You came here to spy out our situation, we have shown it to you. You are a Rebel, you have a son now a Lieutenant with Guerilla Rosses. It was that bunch of Guerrillas that made the attack on this stockcade last night and killed the two boys that we have just buried under those trees outside there I’m Flagg. There will be guards placed outside your house and in your yard at once with orders to shoot, without halting, any person trying to come to to or to go from your house. Now you can go.”

The guards were stationed at convenient places at once. No one was disturbed that night. The next forenoon the old man came again. He said he liked Michigan men and their way of dealing. He said further that he had a daughter living in a large white square house about 80 rods further up the valley. That she was married and lived there with her husband. That she was very ill and would we let his wife go over that afternoon and see how she was.

He was told no But that an officer would be sent to find out how his daughter was and let him know. He dident want this done he said and went home again. Just before noon a woman followed by a negro maid carrying a basket left the house going toward the supposed daughters. The sentry brought his gun to his shoulder.

The woman covered her face and continued to go on. The guard cried stop or ill shoot and she stopped cried and begged to go on was told she could not and if she tried she would be shot. All this was witnessed from our Stockade.

I was then ordered to go to the big square white house and make inquiry as I saw fit. Men were ordered to watch me as I went and for my protection. As I neared the house from the rear I noticed it had a wing on the right and a porch.

I went up on the porch, knocked on the door and at once went down off the porch far enough so I could see around the corners and revolver in hand stood waiting. A man in his shirt sleeves came to the door. I asked him to come to me and he did. I told him I had some envelopes that had no musilage on them and asked if he had any and if so if he would let me have a little.

He met me very frankly, said he had no musilage but did have a little acacia and would divide with me. He went in the house, brought out a small paper with Acacia in it and divided it with me. I asked his name and what family he had. He told me he was the son in law of Mr Flagg, Had no children I inquired after his wife’s health and he told me she was perfectly well and had not been sick, said he was a union man and gave me the names of several other union men in that vicinity.

I thanked him and he said he had an old mule and wanted to know if I would let him try and rig up a harness and try and plow a little piece of ground and make a little garden. I told him he might and the next day I saw him trying to plow with the mule. I never saw him again.

I went from this interview right to the Flagg home. Knocked at the door and was admitted by the negro maid. The old man sat at the dinner table and also his wife. The colored maid behind them. They invited me to have a meal at the table with them and sent the colored maid to a cupboard for something which she brot in a glass dish. I declined with thanks. Then I told them where I had been and all about the situation and that they disobeyed orders at their peril. Then went back and made my report.

That afternoon men could be seen on horseback with spy glasses on the surrounding hills trying to reconnoiter our position. We kept men moving around to make it appear there were a lot of us there and were not disturbed after this experience with the lying old spy. We told him if we were attacked we would burn his buildings over his head. We kept a close guard over him and his family and were not attacked. Our action seemed severe and it was. But under the circumstances it was justified. “War is no respecter of Persons.”

While stationed here Volunteers were called for every two or three days to go up to the next stockade (2 miles away) known as Baileys Cross Roads. This was a risky business as the vicinity was known as one of the worst Rebel sympathizing holes in the Valley.

Along the path thru the fields were numerous big rocks that made ideal hiding places for rebel snipers. Only two men were allowed to go at a time after the mail and it was always a relief to see them come back in safety. Only those who have have been at the front can ever know how the boys longed for letters from Home and were ever ready to even risk their lives on the chance of getting one. (My wifes brother Chalmer was shot and killed on such a trip). We continued doing duty at this place until word came of the surrender of Gen Lee “Oh The Joy” in our camp but we did not for a moment relax our vigilance.

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