Page 4

Sharpshooters

 

These five, not having an organization any longer as a company, joined the sharpshooters under Lieutenant Martin S. Stringfellow [of Co. A].  Each regiment, at that time, had twenty picked men as sharpshooters, under a Lieutenant, and the whole division was organized and was commanded by a major. It was the duty of the sharpshooters to be in front in an advance and in the rear in retreat, creeping or running from shelter to shelter, always on the lookout for a good shot. Of course, the sharpshooters of the enemy were doing the same.

The Coffee Spoiled.

William Loy was one of the sharpshooters who had belonged to Company I. During a skirmish one day he thought he would snatch a few minutes and make a cup of coffee. He built a fire behind a rail pile and set his cup on. The truth is, it was cane seed, but he was playing that it was coffee. The cup was beginning to simmer, and Loy was blowing the coals to expedite matters when a Yankee sharpshooter with plenty of nerve, shot at him and sent a bullet through the cup of coffee. Loy exclaimed: "Damn that Yankee! He spoiled my cup."

The sharpshooters would climb trees, or old chimneys, or house roofs to get a good shot. On one occasion V. M. Poling was at the gable window of a deserted house when Major Daniel, of General Early's staff, went up to use his field glass. A Yankee sharpshooter sent a bullet into the loft near their heads, through a feather bed, scattering feathers over the room. The Major remarked that he had seen all there was to see, and departed. It has often been remarked that wounds received while fighting sharpshooters are nearly always severe, because sharpshooters aim at vital parts and are excellent marksmen. On the day before the second battle of Cold Harbor [It was actually on June 18th 1864 at the battle of Lynchburg] Samuel Mohler was shot through the brain and killed. This left only four men of Company I. In the fight General Hunter was forced back toward Salem. The Confederate Army moved down the Valley to Maryland, fighting much of the way; advanced within a few miles of Washington; then up the Valley; again down the Valley to Charlestown. In all this marching there was scarcely a day on which the sharpshooters were not fighting. One night they captured thirty-one cavalrymen behind a stone fence in the edge of Winchester. The Yankee Lieutenant asked where Winchester was, he being badly bewildered. Although the sharpshooters made the capture, Gilmor's Marylanders got the cavalrymen's horses.

 

General Mulligan Killed

 

General Mulligan, a brave Federal officer, was killed near Kernstown. He had the respect of friend and foe. When he was in command at Keyser, Moorefield and Petersburg he had many opportunities to show kindness to captured Confederates and he always did so. Those who killed him did not know who he was until too late, and they regretted what they had done, although they did it while discharging their duty as sharpshooters in line of battle. Seven of them, William Loy, W. F. Sheetz and Joel Roberson being of the number, crawled two hundred yards down a ditch and reached a point from which they could see General Mulligan and his staff. All seven fired at one time and the General was killed and one of his staff was wounded.

 

Charlestown Captured

 

While General Early was in the vicinity of Charlestown, that place was taken by seven sharpshooters, four of them being the remnant of old Company I, William Loy, Joel Roberson, V. M. Poling and W. F. Sheetz. The exploit was somewhat remarkable. The sharpshooters had forced back the Federal skirmishers toward the town, and supposing they had passed through the village, followed after them. When the squad of seven Confederate sharpshooters reached a small bridge in the suburbs of the town they were surprised to find that they had run into a squad of cavalry not thirty yards distant. Luckily for the sharpshooters, the Yankees were still more surprised, and ran without firing a shot. The sharpshooters fired and killed the Federal captain and two of his men. The cavalry took refuge in town, and the sharpshooters followed. For an hour the fight continued, the seven

Confederates taking the place house by house and street by street, fighting in back yards, running over porches, and all the while the women were waving their handkerchiefs from windows and cheering. Finally the Yankees were driven out.

In the fight at Winchester, September 19, 1864, General Early was forced to retreat before General Sheridan. The battle was a hard one and the sharpshooters had little rest. William Loy was wounded and taken prisoner. He was one of the toughest soldiers in the service, never giving out on the hardest march. This left three of old Company I. Sheetz was wounded in the arm by a spent ball. He had the remarkable record of never missing a battle during the war, up to that time, in which his regiment was engaged. After living through the war, he was killed on the railroad a few years ago. When Sheetz was wounded it left only two men of the eighty-six who went into the company at the beginning of the war. They were V. M. Poling and Joel Roberson.

These two entered the battle of Fisher's Hill, where General Early's veterans became stampeded from some unknown and unaccountable reason, and there was a disgraceful rout. The two sharpshooters, Poling and Roberson, were doing what they could, in company with other sharpshooters, to save the day when Poling was wounded. He became very sick and wanted to be left on the field. But his comrade, Roberson, would not desert him. They had fought many a day and many a night side by side; they had shared victory and defeat and now, when only one of that company of eighty-six was left, he was not the man to abandon a comrade to the enemy. So he carried Poling off the field, put him in an ammunition wagon and landed him safely in Harrisonburg, where he was placed in the hospital. The union troops captured the hospital and Poling was a prisoner. However he was not sent to prison. After a few days he was exchanged and was sent to Hampshire on furlough, and he was there taken care of by James C. Poland and his wife and daughter. As soon as Poling could walk he went to his home in Romney, and on March, 1865 was taken prisoner by a scouting party from Martinsburg. They took him to Garrett I. Blue's, where they stopped for the night, the river being too deep to be crossed. About three o'clock next morning Poling ran out at the door and escaped, taking one of the Yankee's guns with him, but left his own revolver and hat. He did not consider it a good trade, but it was the best he could do at the time. He and others surrendered in Cumberland soon after the surrender of Lee. During the last year of the war he had no clothing except what was made for him and sent to him by his sisters. The Confederacy was unable to supply clothes for its soldiers. Mr. Poling's portrait in this book shows him in a suit of uniform sent him from home.

 

The Last Man

 

It is in order that the history of the old company be followed to the end, and until the last man disappears from the scene. When Poling went home wounded, Roberson was the only one left in active service. But Sheetz recovered from his wound and went back and took his place in the line of sharpshooters. At the battle of Belle Grove [the battle of Cedar Creek], near Strasburg, Sheetz and Roberson were trying to hold a bridge and prevent the Federal cavalry from crossing. They said that one hundred men could have held the bridge and could have saved Early's artillery and wagons. But the necessary one hundred men were not there. The cavalry charged across the bridge and took Sheetz prisoner. Roberson tried to escape by climbing a steep bank of solid limestone, where the pike cuts through at the south end of the bridge. Before he could climb the rocks a Yankee cavalryman was upon him striking at him with his sabre. Roberson was compelled to turn and fight. Neither had his gun loaded. Roberson would strike the horse, causing him to wheel; then he would attempt to climb the rocks; but before he could do so the cavalryman would be striking at him again. This was kept up until Roberson was about worn out. The Yankee seemed determined to kill him, and did not offer him a chance to surrender. At length an officer came up and took Roberson prisoner. He and Sheetz remained in prison till the close of the war. But old Company I was not yet to pass out of active service. When Sheetz and Roberson surrendered, not one man was left; but in a day or two Uriah Cheshire had recovered from his wound and came back. He was the only man in ranks when Lee surrendered at Appomattox [was taken POW at Petersburg and did not surrender at Appomattox], and he there laid down his gun. James Starnes, Hiram Terry and Joseph Poland were teamsters during the entire war, and were faithful to their duty. Benjamin Brooks was an ambulance driver. All were included in Lee's surrender [James Starnes was not listed among the Parolees' at Appomattox]."

 

"When these beads are white with glory,

When the shadows from the west

Lengthen as you tell the story

In the veteran's ward of rest,

May no ingrate's word of sneering

Reach one heart of all the brave,

But may honor, praise and cheering

Guard old valor to the grave."

Last Update: 8/12/2019                                13th Virginia Infantry,  Company I has no political affiliation or agenda.