Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr: An unsung hero of the Battle of Wytheville

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.

3 thoughts on “Daniel Henry Sheffey, Jr: An unsung hero of the Battle of Wytheville

  1. Thanks Brian for the update.
    I believe Julia Ann(Crockett B1812) Morrison and Susan(Crockett B1810) Spiller were sisters. They were living together per 1860 US Census. There parents were Josepth Crockett and Susan Montgomerey.
    What was interesting was that per 1866 “Freeman’s Register” Julia(Crockett) Morrison was listed as the last slave owner for our gg mother(Margarett Clark Sheffey) and her 5 sons(Dan Jr, Adam, John, Jeffeson, and Wade). On this same Register Margarett Clark Sheffey’s husband, Dan Sheffey Sr, was last owned by Susan(Crockett) Spiller.
    Apparently, the sisters must have bartered amongst themselves.

    Brian, currently I am looking into the aforementioned Jofn Sheffey(B1849), our gg uncle. There was a John Sheffey(#67) listed as an inmate in the June 13-14, 1900 PA State Asylum for the Chronic Insane. He was listed as being colored, age 50, and parents being from both from Virginia. This info was also repeated in 1910 under inmate #85. I wonder if you could look into this as well. If this is, in fact, our gg uncle maybe there was a traumatic experience with Jefferson and Wade, his brothers.

    All the best
    Cousin, Fontaine

    1. Hello and thank you for the information. I also found this John Sheffey. I wasn’t 100% certain if he was the same person as our great grand uncle John. I’m trying to find a death record for him…and hoping it provides the names of his parents.

      There was a contender born around the same time resident in Iowa. However, I’ve just found his marriage certificate and have ruled him out. His father was Hugh Sheffey – which is a new name in terms of the family research.

      I’ve trawled through the WWI Draft Registration Cards to see if I can find these missing brothers – and nothing (not surprising for John if he was interred in an asylum). Then again, they cold used their middle names too.

  2. Point of clarification

    I hope I didn’t confuse anyone. The John Preston Sheffey that you referenced is the son of James White Sheffey. John P is also the husband of Josephine Spiller Sheffey. Josephine’s mom is Susan Crockett Spiller.

    The John Sheffey I was referring to was the son of Dan Sheffey, Sr(B1820), our gg father.

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