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1866 LETTER DUBLIN DEPOT VA – FREEDMEN & RECONSTRUCTION, ISAIAH WELCH WV COAL MAGNATE TO THE FORMER CSA CAPTAIN OF THE RINGGOLD ARTILLERY
An interesting letter (from a man who later became a coal magnate & the namesake of the town of Welch, West Virginia) illuminating the effects of Radical Reconstruction on former Confederate Soldiers (especially officers) in Virginia one year after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War.
Isaiah A. Welch writes from Dublin Depot, VA on the VIRGINIA & TENNESSEE RAILROAD to fellow officer Crispin Dickenson, the Captain of the RINGGOLD ARTILLERY BATTERY a unit raised in Danville & Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
The Ringgold Battery was also (Co B) 13th Battalion Virginia Artillery and entered the service of the Confederate States, March 16, 1862.
Isaiah A. Welch was a Confederate Captain and Assistant Quartermaster officer on the Staff of the 13th Battalion of Light Artillery. He was from Doddridge County, WV and resigned from service on 1 August 1864. As this letter shows, in 1866 he was running a steam saw mill at Dublin Depot near the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad. In 1873, Captain I. A. Welch was sent by engineer and geologist Jedediah Hotchkiss to explore areas in West Virginia for minerals and timber. His report of the extraordinary seam of coal at Pocahontas came to the attention of railroad investors, who began a drive to reach to Pocahontas with a rail line. This was not achieved until 1883 when the New River Division of the Norfolk and Western Railroad arrived at Pocahontas. Welch became a surveyor for the subsequent Pocohantas Mines, and the town of WELCH, the county seat of McDowell County West Virginia was incorporated in 1894 and named for this same Isaiah A. Welch, captain in the Confederate Army. Welch died in February 1902 at St. Albans, WV.
Welch writes (and signs) this 1-page letter in dark-brown ink on lined-white paper 7.5 x 12”. He wants to renew lost contact with Captain Dickenson since their “TWO OR THREE YEARS OF HARDSHIPS AND COMMON SUFFERING.” He has recently obtained Dickenson’s address from another comrade who “like most of us, has seen his troubles. He in connection with a brother of his attempted to put out a tobacco crop & GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES WITH THE FREEDMEN & THEIR AGENTS and they were compelled to abandon their crop; they came here to get labor. I have employed them for a time until they can do better. I am engaged in running a steam saw mill near this place.” Welch writes that he personally “WAS LEFT WITHOUT A SINGLE PENNY AT THE SURRENDER.”
A full transcription of the letter follows:
“Dublin Depot Va & Tenn RR
July 7th 1866
Capt. Crispin Dickenson
Pittsylvania CH VA
For my life I do not know whether I owe you a letter or not, at all events I have determined to write you. Not that I am vain enough to imagine that I can take up a subject and interest you about the present, past, or future; No motive more pointed than to renew the friendly relations which OUR CONTACT AND ASSOCIATION DURING TWO OR THREE YEARS OF HARDSHIPS AND COMMON SUFFERING begot impress me now to write. I think of you very often and would have written before if I had known your address.
Dick Miller [Richard T. Miller, Quartermaster Sergeant in Captain Dickinson’s Ringgold Battery. He had earlier served in the 18th VA Infantry. He was captured at Petersburg and sent to Point Lookout as a POW.] came here a few days since & told me a letter would reach you at Pittsylvania C.H. Poor Dick, like most of us, has seen his troubles. He in connection with a brother of his attempted to put out a tobacco crop & GOT INTO DIFFICULTIES WITH THE FREEDMEN & THEIR AGENTS and they were compelled to abandon their crop; they came here to get labor. I have employed them for a time until they can do better. I am engaged in running a steam saw mill near this place.
I have been compelled to do the best I could since the surrender. I WAS LEFT WITHOUT A SINGLE PENNY AT THE SURRENDER. My property in West Va. is all tied up so that I cannot now, and God knows whether I ever will be able to get it.
Dick Wishes to be remembered kindly to you.
Truly your friend & obedient servant,
I. A. Welch
For further details of Welch’s later life & the founding of Welch, WV, one Internet site reports:
“In 1885 (or 1888), Captain Isaiah Welch surveyed the area as a potential site for a logging or mining operation. He, along with J. G. Bramwell and J. H. Duhring, purchased about 165 acres of land from John Henry Hunt, comprising most of present day Welch. The deal was reportedly for $40 and Captain Welch's sorrel mare, Cellum (other accounts report that the "$40 and a horse" was a deposit to bind the deal, a deed was later recorded suggesting that the real price was $2,155.75). Captain Welch's investment paid off when the railroad reached the town in the fall of 1891. Now that the town had access to the "outside" world, it became more attractive as a place to live and work. As the town began to grow, Captain Welch and his partners’ platted the town into lots for sale in 1893. The town was incorporated and named in honor of Captain Welch in 1894.”
--Also included with this letter is a 1-page receipt of items bought by Dr. Crispin Dickenson from the store of M. Pannill. The purchases were made in 1866, but the receipt is paid & dated 11 July 1867. A tax revenue stamp is affixed in the lower left corner manuscript-cancelled with date & initials. The list of Dickinson’s purchases includes: 3 SETS BOYS’ BOOTS & HATS, SHOE KNIFE, SEWING SUPPLIES, ETC.) This document is written in ink on lined paper 6 ½ x 10 ¼”.
Both old documents are in generally good condition as shown in scan. This letter is a rather rare & interesting document that follows the fortunes of Confederate officers in Virginia after the war.