Civil War Battle of Wytheville

Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews, originally printed January 17, 1979

 

On July 17, 1863, residents of Wytheville steeled themselves for an attack by General Toland’s Raiders. Every man, woman and child who was able was assigned a job in the defense of their town. Men of military age were away in the various confederate units, leaving only men too young, or too old for military service, and women and young children to defend the town.

Having been warned by Molly Tynes, a farm girl in Tazewell, the people of the town were as well prepared as they could be, considering their circumstances. A Colonel May, who was camping with a small force of about 50 men near the area known as the Cove intercepted Toland’s troops as they passed about six miles west of Wytheville. Several Union soldiers were killed and some wounded, but Mays had too small a force to do more than slow the enemy down. They continued on toward Wytheville.

Word of the impending raid reached Dublin. Colonel Joseph Kent was there, and he took a unit of 50 or so men, and headed for the neighboring town. Kent had left the southern army because of failing health after serving as an officer in the famous Stonewall Brigade in 1862. His experience in battle caused him to make the best use of the men and material available for the defense of Wytheville.

Toland’s raiders reached Tazewell Street in the Town of Wytheville on July 17, 1863, at 10 o’clock in the morning. Some of the local citizens were stationed in, and behind the houses along the street, and did an excellent job as snipers, picking off enemy soldiers as they passed along the street.

It was the plan of Toland to march through town, burning certain buildings as he went. While he was in the process of directing the operation he was shot down in the street. The bullet went through his heart, killing him instantly, a compliment to the sharpshooters of Wytheville. Some said the shot that killed the General was fired by a youth by the name of Bob Bailey. Others claim it was a young man by the name of Andrew Parrish. I would like to believe the third claim, that it was one of the women of the town. After the death of their leader, the raiders retreated, and that was the Battle of Wytheville.

There was a captain by the name of Fortescue who made the following comment about the battle. “Although I was afterward on many hotly-contested fields, I was never upon any that was more so than Wytheville. Nothing more desperately daring was done during the Civil War than the defense that was made by Wytheville by the old men and boys, and possible the women of the town.”

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