"The affairs of the South yet more threatening; the people crazy with excitement. 'Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.' ....Newspapers full of accounts about the excitement in the cotton states. A dissolution of the Union seems to be inevitable."
"How sad the countenances of mothers, wives, and sisters. 27 young men leave our little village....The saddest day in all my life. Our 108 volunteers left for the perils of war."
"I have not touched Liquor I have not touched dice and I have not touched cards except once and then I only touched them whilest I was throwing them out of my shelf."
"Sunday cadets whose names are not given went upon the premises of J. McD. Moore and killed some chickens. These chickens are said to have been killed by these cadets and not by Cadet Caperton. By his own statement it is also admitted by Cadet Caperton that he received these chickens knowing them to have been improperly killed and took them to the Mess Hall representing them to the servant who was to have them cooked, as pheasant. The whole transaction shows guilty knowledge on the part of Cadet Caperton and such palpable violation of property that the Board of Visitors deem it their duty to the Institution to direct his immediate dismissal."
Caperton papers include letters from John's aunt Sarah Ann Caperton Preston to Harriet. Sarah was husband Gaston Caperton Sr.'s younger sister who'd grown up a neighbor in Union before marrying James F. Preston and moving to White Thorn plantation near Blacksburg. Preston was a rich planter whose father had been a Virginia governor.
He immediately raised Confederate troops becoming a Colonel of the 4th Virginia Infantry.
James Preston in his late forties did not thrive in field life, suffering from the heat and in May "very sick" according to Mary Eliza. He recovered enough to lead his men into the war's first big battle at Manassas Junction in July where he was slightly injured in the arm, bruised, he said, from a bullet. Illnesses continued to plague him.
Harriett received a letter from Sarah Ann five months later that Colonel Preston was "almost entirely well" although suffering from a "severe attack of rheumatism [probably rheumatic fever affecting his heart]...I have a hope of seeing him at home about Xmas." He died at home a month later.
Scarlet fever and/or diphtheria seems to have raged in the house. Mary Eliza's seven-year-old died a few days later and then two weeks after his father's death James Francis Preston II died at 22 months followed by a four-year old cousin. Fifty-four children died of diphtheria in the county that year.
Six weeks later Sarah Ann was grieving deeply as she wrote Harriet:
"My sorrow seemed greater now than in the beginning! At first I was without feeling....Oh Harriet there are not many such husbands as mine..."
The month of terrible news from Sarah Ann also included news of "lost slaves" in Union who escaped one Saturday night, including three people from Harriet's father's farm and one from brother-in-law's Allen T Caperton's Elmwood, who unfortunately was captured and jailed. The reporter for the Richmond Daily Dispatch had "no doubt Union men and Yankees had a hand in it."
Monroe County had some "Union men" but the majority of the residents were Confederate supporters opposed to their county being added to the the Union state of West Virginia.
Small skirmishes were the rule in an area far from major battles. In 1864 federal troops under General George Crook bent on destroying rail lines occupied the town for a few weeks, looting Elmwood the home of Harriet's brother-in-law Allen Caperton, a Confederate senator in Richmond.
A.T. Caperton continued in politics after the war becoming the first ex-Confederate to become a U.S. Senator in 1875. He only lived a year in office, replaced by Harriet's son-in-law Frank Hereford.
Harriet lived for about 35 years after the war was over, dying with her century in 1899. She is buried with many in her family in Union's Green Hill Cemetery.
Caperton family papers are at West Virginia University Libraries:
Laura Jones Wedin is the authority on the Preston family and their plantations and has read letters from the Capertons and published extracts.. Family portraits are from her papers.
See: A Summary of Nineteenth-Century Smithfield, Part 2: The Early War Years, 1861−1862 Laura Jones Wedin