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Quaker William Tate and the Confederate 43rd Virginia Battalion

American cavalry battle illustration
William Tate (1796-1884) lived on a farm near Lincoln, VA with his wife, Priscilla.
William Tate’s Memo book, Courtesy Library of Virginia, Richmond.

William Tate kept a Memo book in which he recorded who owed him money for fence rails, when his ewes – some of them given names – had their lambs, how much he paid when he “bot a looking glass” on a visit to Philadelphia for Quaker meetings, and other daily events and expenses. His Memo book covered the 1850’s until after the Civil War. It is a gem. Here is a page where Tate makes note of feeding a group of Confederate cavalrymen, the 43rd Battalion, “Mosby’s Partisan Rangers.” The battalion men apparently stayed for supper March 21, 1865, then next morning’s breakfast, and also saw to it that their horses were well fed. And there was also a little horse trading going on.

Confederate Cavalry commander John Singleton Mosby, center, with a small number of his famed 43rd Battalion, Virginia Partisan Rangers. The area of northern Virginia which included the Quaker village of Lincoln was called “Mosby’s Confederacy” during the war, for the way the battalion dominated local warfare.

Transcript of the above Memo page:

Locas [Locust] Hill March 22nd [1865]

Capt. James Mrs. Wm Tate has entertained sixteen men (16) to supper, Breakfast, & hay for the same number of horses, & given this receipt by order of Lieut. Beattie

John Thomas Sergt Co A “43rd Battn”

Rec’d of William Tate ten dollars in full payment of balance on a bay horse 8 years old bling [blind] in one eye and branded U.S. the said H. Hibs [sic] binds himself his heirs to pay the sum of $65 back to Wm Tate if the United States should claim the said bay horse and take him from me. Wm H. Hibbs

On March 21, 1865, the 43rd Battalion men staying at William and Priscilla Tate’s farm had just taken part in a deadly skirmish, near the Quaker communities of Lincoln and Harmony (now Hamilton.) A short synopsis of the skirmish can be read here. Men from the Battalion had lost their lives or had been badly wounded in the fighting; nine Union troops were killed and even more wounded. The event was described by Hugh Keen and Horace Mewborn, in their authorative book on the 43rd Battalion, pages 252-254, copied below:

“On the 21st [March, 1865], the Union cavalry rode from Hillsboro to Leesburg, Waterford…and Purcellville, where they were to meet the [Pennsylvania] infantry. During the march, [Confederate 43rd Battalion] Rangers Bob Eastham, Jim Burgess, Towny Vandevanter, Will Vandevanter, John Adams, Jim Wiltshire and Jacob Manning watched and reported the movement. Manning had only recently joined the command. He was a native of Loudoun County, living just west of Leesburg, and had been a signal officer on General James Longstreet’s staff prior to being ordered to the battalion by General Lee.

Earlier that same day, 128 Rangers assembled at Harmony [now called Hamilton] a quiet little Quaker village a couple of miles east of Purcellville on the Leesburg-Snickers Gap Turnpike. Captain Alfred Glascock was in command. When the scouts reported that the [Union] enemy was moving toward Purcellville, the [43rd Battalion] partisans moved to a position about a mile south of Harmony on the road to Lincoln.

…Charlie Wiltshire and 25 men were sent to attack the Union column. As soon as the Federals saw the Southerners, Lieutenant John H. Black, Co. G, 12 Pennsylvania Cavalry, was ordered to take a detachment after them. Wilshire’s group withdrew to Harmony and then rode south, with Black’s men in pursuit.

About a mile south of Harmony, the road to Lincoln turned sharply west and continued past William Travenner’s fields for a few hundred yards …to Lincoln. Captain Glascock placed his men in some heavy woods on the east side of the road…he planned to charge the Federals’ flank as they rode past.

When [John Singleton] Mosby joined the group, he thought they were too exposed and instructed them to move deeper into the trees.

As the Union troopers approached, they spotted the movement in the woods and assumed the Rangers were retreating. They charged, and the rear of the partisans was thrown into confusion. Immediately, Glascock counter-manded Mosby and ordered the men to wheel and assault. The maneuver was executed brilliantly…The Northerners turned and fled toward Harmony with the partisans in close pursuit.

Mosby ordered the chase halted when he heard that the foot soldiers had deployed a skirmish line behind a hedge row on the edge of Harmony, ready to repulse an attack. However, about 25 Rangers did not hear the command and followed the enemy to the outskirts of the village. The fire from the infantry drove the partisans back. James Keith was hit in the eye by a Minie ball and killed. Wirt Binford was shot dead from the saddle. One member of Co. D, John Chew, was severely wounded near the hamlet and another, Joseph Griffin, slightly wounded and captured by the infantry. In addition, Benton Fletcher, Benton Shipley, Jacob Manning and a few others were wounded.

The Union troops lost nine men killed, 12 wounded, and ten taken prisoner. Four of the Union troopers, including Lieutenant Black who led the initial charge, were so badly wounded that they could not be moved. They were left with some of the local families and nursed.

On March 22, two local Quakers who lived near Lincoln, Samuel Janney and William Holmes, went to Harmony to see if they could assist the wounded. janney recorded in his journal that they found four soldiers, dead or dying, in one home. They were told that four Federals had already been buried and a fifth fatality, a lieutenant was in a nearby house. Janney learned that several wounded soldiers were in different residences in Harmony.

Following the fight, Mosby disbanded the partisans with orders to reassemble early the next morning at a place described only as Hatcher’s, about three miles from Harmony. The Rangers scattered to the surrounding farms to find food and quarters for the night.”

During the war years, Virginia Quakers had to negotiate the many difficulties of living in the Confederacy. It had been a problem for decades. The fit between Quakerism and the dominate secular culture was a continuous challenge. An example of this fact is the dinner and breakfast Priscilla Tate prepared for 16 men, and then there were the horses to feed. The Tates would have had very little choice – if any – but to comply.

It is probable that the U.S. military branded, blind-in-one-eye bay horse bought by William Tate from 43rd Battalion Ranger, Private William Hibbs, had been captured by Hibbs during a skirmish or ambush against Union troops. Tate was hedging his bets on this horse, knowing that if the animal was seen by passing Federal soldiers, they would reclaim it as their rightful property.

Edwin Forbes “Old Soldier” Library of Congress

What does it tell us that William Tate bought a half blind, U.S. branded horse? It tells us how badly Tate needed a horse to run his farm, support his extended family, and get to Goose Creek Meeting in Lincoln, four miles away.

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