A Brief Introduction to the Eastern Shore and the Civil War - Contributed by Gail M. Walczyk

In 1861 the Eastern Shore was an important farming and maritime area with steamboat ferry service to the mainland.  These boats were making regular stops on both the bayside and the seaside delivering foods and taking on cargos of local produce and seafood.  Sailing ships were trading with Cuba and the Carribean Islands and port cities of the United States such as Charleston, Baltimore and New York.

Right before the Civil War the 1860 census for the Eastern Shore shows that it was producing more food than before, less cotton, and no flax.  The crops included Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and oats.  Some of the corn and oats were used for both food and feed for the farms and the surplus was exported.  When the Civil War began and federal ships took possession of the lower Chesapeake Bay, ferry service stopped between the Eastern Shore and the mainland.

The courts of both Accomack and Northampton counties authorized money for arms and ammunition.  800 men were recruited and divided into eight infantry,  one light artillery, and two cavalry units.

Very early in the war the Eastern Shore was regarded as a threat to the Union.  Supplies could be sent to the Confederates on the mainland from Accomack and Northampton counties and Maryland, a Union state with southern sympathizers.  An occupation plan was worked out and on November 15, 1861, 4500 troops sat at Newtown (Pokomoke City), MD.  A proclamation offering protection of private property was issued with a promise to reopen trade if no resistance was met.

When word of this reached the 800 men and about 1200 militia men who had arrived at New Church, there was nothing to do but retreat.  Before the Union Army had complete possession of Accomack and Northampton Counties, 44 officers and 64 enlisted men had escaped to the western shore to join the Confederate Army.  A total of 452 men from the Eastern Shore of Virginia evidently served in the Confederate Army besides those who took up "running the blockade."

The "Eastern Shore Refugees" were organized as a company in Norfolk, VA, on February 5, 1862, by Captain John H. White for the term of the war's duration.  The company consisted of nearly 80 men, many from Accomack and Northampton counties, who had served in the the 39th Virginia Volunteer Infantry that first had joined the Confederate Army at New Church only to be forced to flee when the Union occupied the two counties of Virginia's Eastern Shore.

As an unattached company they fought with the 4th Battalion Virginia Heavy Artillery at the Battle of Seven Pines.  Although a "heavy artillery" battalion, the 4th Virginia fought as infantry at Seven Pines.  The "Refugees" suffered heavily there, with six killed and twelve wounded.

On June 25, 1862, the "Refugees" were assigned to the 46th Virginia Volunteer Infantry as the regiment's 2nd Co. G.  The 46th Virginia was part of Wise's Brigade under the command of Brig. General Henry A. Wise (an Eastern Shore native and former Governor of Virginia).  Many 46th Virginia soldiers had been captured at Roanoke Island on February 8, 1862.  As they were paroled, they began to return to the 46th, and by September enough had returned to reorganize the regiment, making the "Refugees" the 4th and final Co. F of the 46th Virginia Regiment.

The "Refugees" served along with the 46th at the Battle of Petersburg, the Battle of the Crater and the Battle of Sayler's Creek on April 6, 1865.   Wise's whole Brigade won the admiration of General Lee for being one of the few commands to stay relatively intact through and after that battle when so many commands had been shattered.

All during the war "blockade running" was so common that the Union set guards at Cape Charles, Cherrystone Inlet, Hungars Creek, Nassawaddox Creek, Occohanannock Creek, Old Plantation Creek, and Smith's Inlet in Northampton County, and at Chessconnessex Creek,  Craddock Creek, Guilford Creek, Hunting Creek, Messongo Creek, Nandua Creek, Onancock Creek, and Pungoteague Inlet in Accomack County.  Many families today can still tell stories of their great- or great-great-grandfather's "running the blockade" with the Union guards not far behind.

Orders were issued that no trade be permitted between soldiers and the locals except under strict regulation.  A portion of every bit of food offered for sale to soldiers should be eaten in the presence of an officer before it was bought.

Horses that were purchased for the Confederate Cavalry and those owned by its officers on the shore were taken and the Union soldiers used some churches for barracks or stables.

The Union set up a telegraph line through the shore to Cherrystone and a cable was laid to Old Point, making the Shore an important link in Union communications.  Union troops were moved through Accomack and then Northampton and across the bay to reinforce Fort Monroe on the mainland.

On 10 November 1863 Captain Beall and his raiders set sail across the Chesapeake Bay with the hope of capturing a Federal naval vessel that was said to be anchored off Chesconnessex Creek.  John Yates Beall was a Confederate Naval Officer who raided Union Ships in the Chesapeake Bay and was hanged on February 24, 1865.  On arriving they quickly captured a schooner.  Beall stayed with the schooner and sent a party to hide with his ship the "Raven and Swan" on shore till the following night.  The landing party thought they had found a snug hiding place on a small island which turned out to be terribly exposed.  A fisherman had seen them and asked them what they were doing.  They explained they were on a hunting trip.  The fisherman wished them good hunting and went on.  Within a few hours two Union barges with guns cocked and aimed arrived to capture the raiders.  The next day the prize schooner Beall had taken was surrounded and taken by the Union.  They were briefly held at Drummondtown and then sent to Fort McHenry on the western shore. 

Records of Point Lookout, a northern Prisoner of War camp, show that on November 15, 1863, a Confederate ship was captured at Accomack.  These records show at least four Privates in the "Rebel Navy" captured at Accomack and imprisoned at Point Lookout.  The records of four of these prisoners read: 

Annan, R., Private, Rebel Navy.  Rec'd from Fort Norfolk, Feb 27, 1864, captured at Accomack Co. VA, on Nov 15, 1863, Transferred to Fort Warren. Sept 20, 1864.

Beall, William, Private, Rebel Navy.  Rec'd from Norfolk, Feb 27, 1864, captured at Accomack Co., VA, on Nov 15, 1863.  Transferred To Ft. Warren Sept 20, 1864.

Course, Wm., S., Private, Rebel Navy.  Rec'd from Fort Norfolk, Feb 26, 1864, captured at Accomac Co., VA, on Nov 15, 1863.Exchanged Oct 11, 1864.

Churn, S. D., Private, Rebel Navy.  Rec'd from Fort Norfolk, Feb 27, 1864, captured at Accomac Co., VA, on Nov 15, 1863. Transferred to Fort Warren Sept 20, 1864.

Some civilians, probably "blockade runners", were also captured. Among the captured were:

Carey, James E., Private, Bat. No. 5, Richmond VA,. Rec'd from Fort Monroe, April 3, 1864, captured at Accomac Co. VA, on March 18, 1864. Transferred to Elmira, NY, July 25, 1864.

Corbin, Chas., Citizen, Accomac Co. VA.  Rec'd from Fortress Monroe, Dec 23, 1864, captured at Accomac Co. VA, on Oct 1, 1864. Released June 4, 1865.

Corbin, Peter, Citizen, Accomac Co. VA.  Rec'd from Fortress Monroe, Dec 23, 1864, captured at Accomac Co. VA, on Oct 1, 1864 Released June 4, 1865.

Corbin, Seth, Citizen, Accomac Co. VA.  Rec'd from Fortress Monroe, Dec 23, 1864, captured at Accomac Co. VA, on Oct 1, 1864. Released June 4, 1865.

Living conditions, as with all P. O. W. camps north and south, were very hard.  Lack of food and clothing and the spread of disease took their toll on the lives of the imprisoned men.

The Accomack County Death register shows:

Corbin, Seth M., w/m, 9 July 1865 in ACC, typhoid fever, 22 yrs, c/o Corbin, Seth & Corbin, Mary, born in ACC, farmer, unmarried. Corbin, Seth, Father g/info.

Seth Corbin died only 35 days after his release from Point Lookout.

Because of early occupation, the Eastern Shore of Virginia saw not even the smallest battle; the "blockade runners" supplied the Confederate troops and everyday life went on not too differently from before, except the eyes of the Union were now watching them.


_____.  46th Virginia Infantry, Co. F.  Web site: http://www.46thvirginia.org/index.html.

Mills, Eric.  Chesapeake Bay in the Civil War.  (Caeterville Md: Tidwater Publications, 1996). 

Turman, Nora Miller.  The Eastern Shore of Virginia 1603 - 1964 (Bowie MD: Heritage Books, Inc. pp173-190.)

Walczyk, Gail M.  Roll of Prisoners of War at Point Lookout Volume I A-C, (Coram NY: Peter's Row. p 265.)

Walczyk, Gail M.  Accomack County Death Register 1853-1896. (Coram NY: Peter's Row.p 36.)

© Copyright 2005-2009 by Gail M. Walczyk

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