The Sheffey clan produced a number of Civil War heroes. Captain John Preston Sheffey (who could give Jane Austin’s Darcy a run for his money if contemporary accounts are correct), Lawrence Brengler Sheffey, Hugh Trigg Sheffey figure largely among them. This isn’t exactly a newsflash given the Sheffey family’s standing in the Antebellum South.
I didn’t expect to stumble across a documented account of the wartime actions from a member of the black side of the family during the Battle of Wytheville. I certainly didn’t expect to find an account for my great-grandfather, Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr.
Gary C. Walker documents this account in his book The War in Southwest Virginia: 1861-1865 http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dwGoe9z3RooC&pg=PA53&lpg=PA53&dq=daniel+sheffey,+fire,+wytheville&source=bl&ots=YhGS44kgsW&sig=shsb4mnipm0Lwgbcs233IFMhOq8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=jPJGUcTmCKiZ0QX1kYH4BQ&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=daniel%20sheffey%2C%20fire%2C%20wytheville&f=false
When describing the approach of Union soldiers to this small Virginia town, strategically important because of its salt and lead mines, Walker writes:
If it wasn’t for the women, children, and slaves who had been hiding in the cellar during the battle, more houses would have been burned. For example, Mrs. Haller was hiding in the basement when she heard the Federal soldiers break into her house (now the Rock House Museum). She arrived in time to see them set fire to the beds. The soldier told her he had orders to set the house on fire, but he didn’t stay and watch them burn. Hi lit the bed and left. Mrs. Haller, with the help of slaves, threw the mattress and burning materials out of the window. The floor in one room still bears the scorch marks of that night. A hotel on Main Street (may be the Kincannon) and the [Julia] Morrison house were saved by Daniel Sheffey, a slave of the Morrisons. (p.53)
OK, so it’s only a sentence…but what a sentence! Given that Walker’s book was first printed 120+ years after this event, Daniel’s deeds that evening must have been significant enough for the tale to be passed down and still readily known in modern times. When it comes to researching Antebellum African American history, such finds are like priceless gold dust.
As a side note, the Hallers, Morrisons and Sheffeys were kin through marriage as well as through blood. The Haller and the Morrison families both inherited Sheffey slaves through a succession of Sheffey wills. I’m guessing that some of the slaves hiding in Mrs. Hallers basements were Daniel’s relations. If possible, I’ll be searching through the records and the accounts of this battle to see which of his relations also made contributions.