WHITFIELD MONROE PARKER AND THE CIVIL WAR
Private, Co. B, 63rd Virginia Reg., Confederate States Army 1863-65
Whitfield Parker was a farmer and carpenter living in the Wallace Switch Community just north of Bristol, near the Tennessee-Virginia state line. Young Whit had moved south from Botetourt County, Virginia with his mother Camilla in 1856, just a couple of years after the death of his father Aaron B. Parker. Born in 1844, Whit was a mere nineteen years of age when called to defend his native Virginia against northern aggression. Most likely he was living with his mother and her new husband Daniel Whitaker who were married in 1858 in Sullivan County, Tennessee and had moved to a new home just across the line in Washington County. With the war having continued since mid 1861 with brutal fighting and considerable loss of manpower on the part of the Confederates, replacement regiments were hastily being formed, drawing young men such as Whit into the fracas. Men from all parts of Washington County and southwestern Virginia were gathered before being hauled collectively to the vicinity of Dalton, Georgia for brief training and formal induction. This was where Whitfield took the oath to defend the Confederacy in December of 1863.
The winter of 1863-64 and early spring were spent with relative inactivity as both armies, Confederate and Union, tried to survive the cold winter while keeping a close eye on the opposition. They skirmished at various sites in the vicinity of Kennesaw Mountain and Allatoona Pass. Whitfield and his comrades subsisted on “stale bread, tat bacon and sometimes not much of that”, as per the account of Calvin Livesay of Company C of the 63rd. As spring of 1864 emerged, the general fare of this little army improved as they were able to forage the countryside for “peas, roasting ears, occasionally a stray chicken, and once in a while a stray porker”, as remembered by Calvin in 1913. General Joseph E. Johnston was in command of this Confederate army prior to his being replaced by General John Bell Hood. Likely Whit was present at the battles of Resaca and later at Kennesaw Mountain in June 1864. Union General William Tecumseh Sherman kept his troops at bay until August of 1864 when he decided to attack the Confederates who were by then firmly entrenched in and around the city of Atlanta.
August 9, 1864 was an eventful day in the life of Whit Parker. He and fellow members of the 63rd Virginia were being pounded by Union artillery fire as they waited in their trenches on the outskirts of the city. On that day a shell exploded nearby, sending pieces of fragmented metal into both of Whit’s legs. He reported forty five years later that the wounds were “still visible and sometimes sore” and that he was partially disabled in his legs with “varicose veins and occasional swelling of the wounds”.
Official records show Whit reported sick at Ocmulgee Hospital in Atlanta on 11 August with “V.C. shell wound on posterior of both legs”. There are no known records to prove exactly where or when Whit rejoined his unit, but he was definitely still in service at the close of the war in 1865. Since the Army of Tennessee under General John Bell Hood had to retreat from Atlanta as soon as possible, in order to regroup and begin the campaign to capture the Union stronghold at Nashville, it is very likely that Whit quickly followed his unit.
Records do indicate that the 63rd was present while the Battle of Franklin ensued. The 63rd was chosen to remain with the ordinance wagons and were spared the carnage of the battle. A portion of this unit was taken to Murfreesboro on a raid by General Nathan Bedford Forrest and returned prior to the Battle of Nashville on December 15-17, 1864. Likely Whit remained in camp, since he would have been less mobile than others and would have been an unlikely willing candidate for horseback, considering his condition from recent wounds. General Forrest did not return to the main army until after the battle at Nashville was complete. His assistance was vital to the survival of Whit and others as the Confederates retreated down Wilson Pike after they were repelled by Union forces under General George Thomas.
In support of the Union army was a small blacksmith (five feet five inches tall), Private James Patterson Cockerham, who had been tending to Union horses over in Edgefield across the Cumberland from downtown Nashville. Lucky for me, both James and Whit avoided being shot or stabbed in this horrible event.
Calvin Livesay’s account of the events after the Battle of Nashville are probably very close to the experience of Whitfield Parker since they were in respective Companies B and C of the same regiment. The retreat by the Confederates was reasonably successful, as they were able to reach Florence, Alabama and made it to trains which took them to Egypt, Mississippi for rest and fresh clothing. Fortunately, General Thomas chose not to follow and make good his elimination of this little army.
After a few weeks rest, certainly most welcome to Whit, the army was transported to Mobile before being loaded on a boat for a brief ride down Mobile Bay and to the vicinity of Pensacola. They disembarked and proceeded to march north again up through Montgomery to Augusta, Georgia. This was still mid winter 1864-65 as the unit arrived for battle at Orangeburg, South Carolina before seeing more action at Columbia. In February 1865 the 63rd crossed the Catawba River, now Lake Wylie, before entering Charlotte, North Carolina. Calvin recalled seeing “the most engines I ever beheld” as the trains were run into Charlotte to protect them from enemy capture. After Charlotte, the army marched on to Raleigh and back and forth between Salisbury and Goldsboro, including the Battle at Bentonville, North Carolina. Calvin recalled seeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his entourage, headed south after evacuating Richmond, when they spent the night in Salisbury. General Johnston, who had been put back in command after the debacle at Nashville, surrendered at Greensboro in the spring of 1865. Somehow Whitfield Parker with some Devine guidance, considerable luck, and unquestioned will and determination, had survived two very unpleasant years.
A story passed down by family members recounts the arrival of Whit, who somehow made it by train to Abingdon, Virginia just a mile or so from his home. Still unable to walk without some assistance and being very fatigued from his experience and incredible journey of over 1,500 miles, he stopped by the roadside for rest. Here was a man who had been, as a youth of nineteen years, caught up in an event far beyond his control and certainly not of his making. Like my other great great grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy, John Calvin Rouse and Elihu Weaver, Whit was a poor but industrious young man simply working to feed himself and survive. His homeland was being invaded by an army from the north and he was prime meat as a replacement for Confederate soldiers who had fallen to their early graves in the year and a half preceding his induction. He had no property of any sort due to his youth and status in life, having lost his father just a few years before. Certainly he owned no slaves and likely had many black friends growing up in the fertile Holston Valley where farming was the chief activity in the mid 1800s.
At any rate, Whit looked up from his resting spot to see an approaching wagon which he hailed in the hope of catching a ride. The black driver of the team stopped and looked down at Whit, spotting the remnant of his Confederate uniform. He abruptly turned and drove on down the road, leaving Whit to seek assistance elsewhere. That act did not leave a good impression on Whit and unfortunately the two men likely never met and expressed their feelings to each other. What could have been friendship and cooperation in the task of reconstructing the divided land, was slowed considerably by events such as this. Hopefully the “late unpleasantness”, the “war of northern aggression” or as the Yankees have said, “the great rebellion of 1861-65” is nearing an end as the 21st century starts to unfold.
For Whitfield Monroe Parker life was to improve very soon as young Sinah Mariah Holt was waiting for him on his return home. They were married that fall, October 25, 1865, and as they say, “the rest is history”.