Pittsylvania County in the Civil War

Jeffrey W. McClurken’s book Take Care of the Living: Reconstructing Confederate Veteran Families in Virginia, has lots of fascinating information about the county during the Civil War. Here are some of the things I found most interesting.

There were 2,453 “front line” Confederate troops from Pittsylvania County (out of 3,383 who served in all capacities). 79% of Pittsylvania County military age men served as front line troops (compared to 60% in the South as a whole).

Three-quarters of the county men who served were either killed, wounded, captured, died of disease or suffered a life-threatening illness. A full one fourth died in service. An astonishing 24% of county men who served (683 men) spent time in a Federal prison during the war. One hundred eight of them died in prison.

In 1860 the county’s population was 53% white. Even though the percentage of slaves in the population had been steadily decreasing statewide, it had remained level in Pittsylvania County.

There were 1,413 slaveholders in the county, 189 of whom (13.38%) owned 20 or more slaves.

About 35% of the front line soldiers (858) came from slave-holding families.

40% of Pittsylvania County households owned slaves, compared to 25% in the South as a whole.

65% of Pittsylvania County household heads were landowners.

Pittsylvania County’s contribution to the Confederate effort is especially noteworthy in light of its original opposition to secession.

In the 1860 Presidential election Constitutional Union candidate John Bell carried the county.

The county’s delegates to the Virginia Secession Convention (William T Sutherlin and William Treadway) were both anti-secession. Both voted against secession in the first vote and for secession in the second (post-Sumter) vote.

As happened across the so-called “Border South,” sentiment changed dramatically when the Lincoln administration ordered the states to supply soldiers for a Federal army to “suppress the rebellion” in the deep South.

After reports of Lincoln’s request for troops were confirmed, Sutherlin told the convention, “I have a Union constituency which elected me by a majority of one thousand, and I believe there are not ten Union men in the county today.”


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