Young Civil War soldier lost life to yellow fever

Published 8:37 am Wednesday, March 9, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is one in a series of stories that will be shared by the Urquhart/Gillette Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

by Wayne Cutchins

There was much unrest in the spring of 1861. As a young man working on his Dad’s farm, Benjamin was immune from the chatter and news of the world. Mt. Horeb Church Road was very rural and news traveled slowly.

But news finally reached the Scrutchens’ farm. A group of Virginia Militia was being sent to Harper’s Ferry to help guard against unrest until John Brown’s execution. There were rumors of secession from the Union. The Nat Turner Insurrection was still fresh in the minds of the residents. What was Benjamin to do?

The Ordinance of Secession was passed by the Virginia State Convention on April 17, 1861, but was kept secret until key arsenals and shipyards were seized by the Virginia Militia to prevent them from being destroyed. The call went out for volunteers to join forces. The war appeared imminent. The answer had come. Carrying his own flintlock rifle, a bedroll and a silver watch, Benjamin headed for Jerusalem.

Southampton County furnished two companies in May 1861: the Southampton Greys on May 3 and the Rough and Ready Guard on May 11. Benjamin joined with the Rough and Ready Guard, giving the company 78 officers and men. The company remained in the area until June when the men marched to Day’s Neck, just northwest of Smithfield on the James River.

Here they built their base camp, Camp Cook, where they drilled and marched and learned what soldiering was about. They also helped man the defenses of nearby Fort Boykins.

They drilled from dawn until dark with an hour off at noon and parade marched every day from 2 to 4.

The only real work was Picket Duty. Food was plentiful and of good variety — flour, rice, bacon, beef and sugar. This was the normal fare for the winter of 1861.

With this large number of men in close quarters, diseases such as measles, mumps, yellow fever and dysentery were very prevalent. These diseases had little or no treatment and were very dangerous. By war’s end, diseases would be the No. 1 killer and not the mini-ball.

In the spring of 1862, much Union movement was noticed at Fortress Monroe and Yorktown. The Union, under Gen. George McClelland, was beginning its march up the peninsula toward Richmond. Confederate Gen. John Magruder led the defenses against this advancement.

On April 6, the Rough and Ready Guard crossed the James River to help reinforce Magruder. Over the next month, skirmishes were encountered daily.

The companies would attack and then withdraw to set up another defense line. This went on for days in the rain, mosquitoes and sometimes knee-deep mud.

With little food, rest and soaking wet, the troops were exhausted. This wasn’t Camp Cook anymore.

The Confederates could not successfully defend against McClelland’s Yankee forces in these conditions, so the order to withdraw was given. This was done in an orderly manner with the rear being guarded by the Rough and Ready Guard. After a 45-mile march, defenses were reset about 15 miles outside of Richmond.

During this grueling march, Benjamin became very sick with a high fever. He was sent to Greiner Hospital in Richmond on May 14, 1862, but despite their best efforts, Benjamin died two days later of yellow fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes.

About a year after his enlistment, his body was buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond, marked with a wooden white cross with his name painted on it.

This is just one example of thousands of volunteers during the War Between the States from right here in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina counties. These young men were called to protect the only lifestyle they had ever known.

For the fortunate ones who survived the four years, it was not the same anymore. The farms lay open and unproductive, livestock were all gone, and families were torn apart from the ravages of the war.

The Carpet Baggers and Scallywags were now in control of the governing bodies of the Southern counties and states. What little was left was now taxed to the point that much was sold to keep out of debtors’ prison. Gone were the glorious days of the South.

This is my story. Benjamin is just one of my ancestors who fought and died to preserve our Southern heritage. The danger, in our society today, is that the true story of the War Between the States is not being accurately told. We, as descendants of these Southern patriots, have a responsibility to see that the true story is told and not erased from history.

WAYNE CUTHCHINS is the great-great-grand nephew of Benjamin Scrutchens and chaplain of the Urquhart/Gillette Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. His email address is