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Home: Regional: U.S. States: Virginia: Northumberland County

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Re: The Coan River, Civil War, 1863
Posted by: Teresa Purvis (ID *****4112) Date: October 12, 2002 at 21:12:11
In Reply to: Re: The Coan River, Civil War, 1863 by Jim Biggers of 459

Hi Jim,

Thanks very much for your reply - you're just the fellow I was hoping would see my query!

I misspoke though - the papers I referred to are at the Library of Congress.

The accounts of the capture are under the title of "Papers of John White Scott, 1861-1916". I found reference to them in the book "21st Virginia Infantry" by Susan A. Riggs and then found them on the Library of Congress online catalog. The informaion on that website says that there are 150 items in one container, donated by Mrs. Bortner in 1964. The items include "correspondence, photographs, obituaries, clippings, printed matter and memorabilia relating to Scott's Civil War service, his imprisonment as a rebel spy, his career, and his father, T. Parkin Scott's imprisonment by Union forces". I engaged a kind lady who went to the Library of Congress and spent 3 hours going through all the "stuff" in the container. Some of the details of the capture were detailed in John Scott's obituaries, some from an interview with a reporter at a Civil War reunion.

John White Scott and Pierre C. Dugan had enlisted in the 21st VA Infantry in 1861 but had been working at the "Medical Dept., Richmond" when they set out upon this journey. My ancestor, Simon Ignatius Kemp, was employed at a store in Richmond. These three men were all friends from Baltimore, MD and had gone to Richmond at the same time. Evidently John Scott got "a furlough of 3 weeks" from Dr. Johns at the hospital on Feb. 26th and they set out right away. They were carrying letters, money and contracts for items to be purchased in Baltimore and brought back to Richmond, according to the trial documents of the three men's court-martials, which are at the National Archives.

I was in Virginia this summer and got a Northumberland County map so that I could find "the mouth of the Coan River". Would the road that is now Rt. 360 have been there at that time? It would have led almost directly to Walnut Point, which is where I ended up. There was an old farmhouse right at that point, which looked as if it could easily have been there in the 1860s. I wondered if the men might even have left horses there to be cared for until they returned. But, then the question of how to get the "goods" purchased in Baltimore back to Richmond?

If they were waiting there to cross the mouth of the river, I assume that they would have been trying to get to Lewisetta. But I see that the river also goes quite deeply into the area close to Heathsville. If they had been able to catch a boat there, they could have traveled by water up to the mouth of the river. But - why cross the mouth of the Coan there when they still had to cross the Potomac to get to Baltimore by boat? What would have been the route they most likely would have taken from Richmond to that point? They had already used up 13 days of their "3-week furlough"!

They were "taken to General Hooker's headquarters" where they were kept in a tent until being taken to Aquia Creek and put on a "prison ship" there, then were taken to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, DC until their court-martials, where they were found guilty and sentenced to hang. Simon Kemp's obituary says that a pardon came from President Lincoln just hours before their scheduled hanging. It also says that influential friends in Baltimore and Richmond were instrumental in obtaining their releases from prison. Simon Kemp was back at home by May.

Thanks for your insight,


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