Ancestral Family Topic 26

 26   James Moses Overton Hillsman (1835-1918)
Pedigree Chart 07

James Moses Overton Hillsman, in his own words
If he could speak to us today, James Moses Overton Hillsman might describe his life as follows.

I was born 15 October 1835 at “Glenwood Estate,” near Deatonville, Amelia County, and married Lucy Jane Blanton 5 October 1858. Although I never received a degree, I studied medicine at Emory and Henry and Roanoke colleges and later read all the medical books belonging to my brother, Dr. John Albert Hillsman.
The 1860 census counted me and Lucy, ages 24 and 19, with four-month-old Richard. I was then a farmer with personal property, mostly slaves, worth $5,900.  We had another on the way when Virginia succeeded from the Union. Two weeks later I enlisted in the Confederate Army, serving under “Stonewall” Jackson. Although wounded 3 times, I never left the field. A captain when they captured me at Spotsylvania and confined to the end of the war, I was among The Immortal 600, Confederate prisoners of war intentionally starved and brutalized by the Federal government.
Discharged from prison 20 June 1865, I returned home to serve as a “practical doctor,” ministering to our neighbors. I cared for people who were too poor to pay for traditional medical help and delivered babies until I retired at age 75. 
Our cook, Emily Brown, married Mr. Moton, one of John Crowder’s former slaves, in our home in 1866. Since Moton worked for Samuel W. Vaughan, their son Robert Russa Moton grew up in his household in Prince Edward County. I was still living in 1915 when Robert succeeded Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute. 
Lucy died 17 May 1917, and I, a year later, on 20 November 1918 at “Rocky Hill Farm.” Our bodies rest today in the Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery. 

Robert Russa Moton, born 26 Aug. 1867, was one of the ablest educators in American history. His mother taught him to read and write.

On 25 April 1870 Amelia County established 3 townships, now magisterial districts: Leigh, Giles, and Jackson. A three-member Board of Supervisors oversaw these voting districts. The first board included R.B. Chaffin, John Segar Hardaway, and James M. Hillsman.
The Census of 1870 for Leigh District listed James and Lucy, 35 and 30, with Richard 10, Ida 8, James 4, and Buckner, age 1.  He appeared as Dr.. James Hillsman, a physician, in the 1900 census and he and Lucy were sharing the Hillsman House with son John E. and his wife, and granddaughter Myrtle Hillsman.  By 1910, James and Lucy, now reported to be 74 and 69, were joined in the Hillsman House by the family of son James. 

James’ service in the Confederate Army
On 14 April 1861 the Confederate Army, under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard fired on Fort Sumter. The country was engaged in the great Civil War. Three weeks later, 3 May 1861, it appeared Virginia would enter the conflict. Virginia Governor Letcher authorized Robert E. Lee to call out and be mustered into military service of Virginia as many volunteers deemed necessary.
In a referendum 23 May 1861 the citizens of Virginia voted 128,884 to 32,134 in favor of secession. By proclamation of 6 June 1861, Governor Letcher conveyed the Virginia troops to the authority of the Confederate Government. Two days later, on 8 June 1861, they mustered twenty-five-year-old James Moses Overton Hillsman into the Confederate Army. He was 2nd Sergeant, Company “H,” Amelia Minute Men, 44th Virginia Infantry Regiment, commanded by Col. W.C. Scott. His enlistment was for one year, but he reenlisted for the remainder of the war. James served in the same regiment with his brother John Albert Hillsman.
Just 10 days later, on 18 June 1861, his daughter, Ida Byrd Hillsman, was born.
James’ Regiment was first assigned to the 4th Brigade. They later assigned it to J.R. Jones, then to the John M. Jones Brigade, Johnson’s Division, T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. James participated in the following engagements: Greenbrier, Allegheny Mountain, McDowell, Winchester, Mt. Jackson, Cross Keys, Fort Republic, Cedar Run, Pains Farm, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Second Manassas, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and many minor battles and skirmishes in the Valley of Virginia.
They promoted James to 1st lieutenant in April 1862. They made him Captain at Corbin’s Neck, Va., in 1863 and gave him command of the sharpshooters of the 1st and 2nd Brigade, Johnson’s Division. He was wounded 3 times but never left the field. They captured him at the Bloody Angle in the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House with Johnson’s Division.

The Immortal 600
They confined James at Bell Plains, Point Lookout, Fort Delaware and he spent 20 days at sea. They then took him to Morris Island for 44 days. They then took him to Fort Pulaski, Ga., where he was confined in retaliation for deeds of Confederate officers, until 12 March 1865. He was one of 600 prisoners confined there. Only 200 survived. The book The Immortal 600, describes James’ experiences. They then sent James to Fortress Monroe and later returned him to Fort Delaware.

The Retreat
The Confederate Army had spent the winter of 1864-65 entrenched in and around Petersburg and Richmond, trying to keep the Confederate Capitol from falling into the hands of the opposing Union Forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who was methodically reinforcing in men and supplies in anticipation of the coming final campaign.
On 1 April Union cavalry under the 10,000-man Fifth Corps under General Philip H. Sheridan attacked the Confederate right flank at Five Forks. When the thin line broke, Grant ordered a massive assault all along the length of the Confederate front. The Confederate lines around Petersburg were broken thus paving the way for the eventual capture of the Southside railroads that were the entrenched Confederates logistical lifelines. To save his army, Lee ordered the trenches evacuated and a retreat started toward Danville, where the Confederate Cabinet had already fled, hoping to join forces with General Joe Johnston and his army in North Carolina.
Taking only 3 days rations, the Confederates burned their commissary and ammunition warehouses and started their long retreat in the late night hours of 2 April. Supplies were to be waiting at Amelia Court House when the army got there. Those left in the Confederate Navy scuttled their ships, spiked their fixed coastal artillery pieces, and joined the ranks as infantry. They were constantly fighting a rear guard action and fending off attacks by Union cavalry from every part of the line.
Arriving at Amelia Court House on 4 April and not finding the anticipated supplies, Lee halted his Army and commissary wagons to scour the countryside for food. This gave the blue coat pursuers an additional 24 hours to bring up their infantry. The Federal cavalry had already arrived at Jetersville and taken up positions, thinkgin they could trap Lee at Amelia Court House.
When Lee found his way to the railroad depot at Burkeville, the route to Danville, blocked by the union force in Jetersville 5 April, he directed his force west down side roads toward Farmville, from where he hoped to be able to continue toward Lynchburg and then south again. Lee arranged his corps columns with General James Longstreet taking the lead, followed by General William Mahone’s division, General Richard Anderson, General Richard Ewell. Then followed the primary wagon train, and General John B. Gordon who was to serve as the rear guard and protection for the trains. The rear guard was involved in an almost continuous running fight from the start of the retreat.
The wagon trains continued their retreat during the night of 5 April through heavy rain. Breakdowns constantly occurred, holding up the retreat and sapping the strength of the men as they pushed and pulled wagons and caissons out of one mud hole and into the next.
With the gray dawn of 6 April came relief from the rain as it gradually tapered off and the morning sun broke through the clouds. Nevertheless, wagons continued to break down in the deep mud holes left along the dirt road that passed by the Hillsman’s. Farther on, the retreating Confederates were slowed by the rain-swollen Little Saylers Creek that crossed the bottom lands below the house. Meanwhile, Federal cavalry threatened the left flank and front. To speed the progress of the columns and ensure their safety, they used both roads through the valley. The first half of the wagon train continued down present Route 617 while they sent the second half down the Jamestown Road closer to the Appomattox River.

The Hillsman House
With James still imprisoned, Lucy Jane was continuing to farm the land with the help of her 8 slaves. Living there also was James’ mother, Martha Overton Hillsman, and the two children, Henry and Ida Byrd. No one living there could imagine that soon, at that obscure little creek would be fought one of the severest battles of the war. The Hillsman’s home was on a bluff overlooking the valley of Saylers Creek, a narrow lowland with bluffs, its walls cut by twin branches of the stream that fed the Appomattox River. The valley was 600 to 800 yards wide. To the west was the main bed of a shallow stream.
From Hott’s Corner on the north were two roads through the valley. The main road (along the route of present Route 617) passed by the Hillsman home and crossed through the southern end of the valley by a flimsy pole bridge. The second road (the Jamestown Road) looped northward some two miles away and passed by the home of the Lockett’s. Thick growths of pine and sassafras screened the hillsides, above the mouths of gulches known as “The Devil’s Tavern.” Rice’s Station was just to the south and west, perhaps 4 miles along a road.
At the Hillsman home, Lucy could hear troops yelling as they tried to get the trains across the creek. Anticipating a fight, she put her 8 faithful slaves in the basement. The head slave was to care for them. They posted guards at every door to protect them.

Battle of Saylers Creek
Having failed to receive word of the change, Gordon’s embattled rear guard provided protection for only the second half of the wagon train. The other train and Anderson’s and Ewell’s Corps was left unprotected and vulnerable to surprise attack from the rear. In addition, due to cavalry attacks and poor road conditions, they allowed a gap to form between Anderson and Mahone. Lee, Longstreet, and Mahone, ignorant of this gap, continued to Rice. Anderson and Ewell were thus isolated from Longstreet and Mahone in their front and Gordon in their rear. This set the stage for a three-front battle. First was the initial action with Anderson’s Corps at what is now the crossroads of State Route 617 and 620 about a mile beyond the Hillsman House. Second was Gordon’s rear guard action at the Double Bridges near the Lockett House. The third stage was the main battle area involving Ewell’s Crops near the Hillsman House.
Around 1:00 or 2:00 P.M., Union cavalry attacked the front of Anderson’s Corps and the first wagon train near the crossroads. The Federal cavalry dismounted and began skirmishing as infantry and stalled the Confederate advance. The skirmishing continued while General Anderson and Ewell conferred on a course of action to take. They could either fight their way through or cut directly west through the woods in the hopes of finding another road to Farmville. Anderson decided to launch an attack if Ewell would protect the rear.
Ewell rushed his men across Saylers Creek and formed them in a battle line on the crest of the hill overlooking the creek and straddling present Route 617. On his far left (west of Route 617) were General G.W.C. “Custis” Lee’s troops. Between Lee and the road was the Naval Battalion under the command of Commodore John R. Tucker. To the right of the road were Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw’s men. The Confederate artillery rolled with the wagon train and was unavailable for defense.
A conglomeration of Confederate marines, sailors, and naval cadets made up the Navel Battalion. They could hear Commodore Tucker forming his battalion with such nautical orders such as “To the starboard, march!” followed by an intermittent “Aye, aye sir!” here and there. The line of battle was long and exceedingly thin, only one man deep, with the soldiers many feet apart. The men had been marching under distressing circumstances from midnight Sunday to that Thursday afternoon. Many had already fallen from exhaustion or wandered too far away in search of food. Those who remained threw themselves prone on the ground or dug fieldworks for protection from the artillery barrage and infantry assault that would come. Behind them from the vicinity of the crossroads they could hear the firing of artillery and heavy musketry.
Between Ewell’s troops and the creek were about 300 yards of brush pines. A cleared field rose from the creek and spread upward toward the Hillsman House they had passed earlier. The time involved in the skirmishing and decision making had given Federal artillery and infantry the chance to catch up to the rear of the column of Ewell’s Corps. They formed battle lines near the Hillsman House and the surrounding bluffs overlooking the creek. The enemy arrayed their cannons just 800 yards from Ewell’s line.
A furious artillery barrage from the vicinity of the Hillsman House lasted about 30 minutes. Then the Federal infantry began an advance down the valley, across the creek and up the opposite bank. They were elbow-to-elbow, two-men deep and firing rapidly. Some waved white handkerchiefs to entice the ragged band on the hill to surrender. Although the water was from two to 4 feet deep, the stream was crossed without a halt or waver in the Union line. Many fell on the plain and in the water, and those who reached the west bank were in disorder. Officers accompanying the troops promptly gave the order to storm the heights. The infantry of the Sixth Corps began firing for the first time while ascending the heights, and when within only a few yards of the enemy. The Confederate skirmishers gave way, and it appeared the Union forces would achieve an easy victory.
Before the blue coats could reach the crest of the heights, the Confederate troops returned fire in unison. It was as though the earth had swallowed up the first line of Federal forces. The second line, perhaps shocked by the audacity of the assault, wavered and broke. Desperate Confederates, many bare-handed or with unloaded muskets, yelling like demons rushed down the slope after the retreating Federals. Some engaged in hand-to-hand bayonet fights. They followed the Union forces to the creek and mercilessly fired upon as they crossed. A disastrous defeat for the union army appeared imminent. Only barrages from the Union artillery drove back the charging gray line. It was to be the last great charge of the Army of Northern Virginia.
The Federal infantry regrouped and began to return in full force. The Confederate center held against the renewed attacks but their flanks collapsed as the Federal line pivoted about them. The remaining Confederate masses were soon subjected to terrible infantry fire from both flanks and by the artillery in front. Although the artillery was unguarded, the rain-swollen creek forbid any Confederate attempt to attack them.
Once the Confederate flanks fell back upon their center forming lines to repel the attacks was impossible. The Confederate Army fought bravely and their officers tried gallantly to form lines to the left and right to repel the attacks. This proved impossible. They fell back slowly, bravely contesting every foot of ground. Soon they could see Federal soldiers on every side, but the Confederates fought on. Many staggered from weakness, and were scarcely able to keep their feet. Soon the entire right collapsed in a mass of blue infantry and cavalry.
General Ewell returned from the crossroads. He was passing the left of his line when he discovered a strong line of the enemy’s rear skirmishers advancing upon his lines from the rear. This closed the only avenue of escape; as shells and even bullets were crossing each other, from front and rear over his troops. He saw then that his right was complete enveloped. He surrendered himself and his staff to a cavalry officer. He had a message sent immediately to Custis Lee, who was nearest, telling him that he was surrounded, that General Anderson’s attack had failed, and that he had surrendered. Ewell urged Lee to surrender as well to prevent useless loss of life. As he was then a prisoner, he could not order Lee to do so. Before the order could reach Lee, they captured him, General Kershaw and the whole of his command.
The Naval Battalion under Commodore John R. Tucker stubbornly continued to fight on. The marines clubbed muskets, fired pistols into each other’s faces and used bayonets savagely. They were the last to surrender after being overrun by Federal’s from every direction. Tucker was astonished: “I never before got into a fight like this. I thought everything was going on well.”

General Philip Sheridan, who directed the fight from the Hott House, recollected, “The complete isolation of Ewell from Longstreet in his front and Gordon in his rear led to the Battle of Saylers Creek, one of the severest conflicts of the war, for the enemy fought with desperation to escape capture, and we, bent on his destruction, were no less eager and determined. The capture of Ewell, with six of his generals and most of his troops, crowned our success, but the fight was so overshadowed by the stirring events three days later, that the battle has never been accorded the prominence it deserves.”
It was a massive blow to Lee who surveyed the devastation from a bluff near Rice. “It was such a sight as his eyes had never beheld in the years of his command of the Army of Northern Virginia,” wrote Lee biographer Douglas S. Freeman, “streaming out of the bottom and up the ridge to them were teamsters without their wagons, soldiers without their guns, many without their hats, and shattered regiments without their officers, a routed wreck.”
“Lee took a battle flag and held it aloft,” wrote Freeman. “There on Traveller he sat, the red folds of the bunting flapping about him, the soldiers in a mob rushed on; others looked up and, recognizing him, began to flock around him as if to find shelter in his calm presence. Did it flash over him then that this was the last rally of the great Army of Northern Virginia?”
They estimate the Union captured about 7,700 troops, between one half and one third of the Confederate force, including 10 flag rank (general) officers, two of them Navy Admirals. It was the largest number of men captured in a single action on the continent. About 400 wagons and many artillery pieces were also lost in the fight. Just 3 days later, on Easter Sunday, Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
The Confederate soldiers who surrendered at Saylers Creek were generally treated well. Later wrote Captain Blake, “The infantry that we had so recently repulsed soon came up with smiling faces. They showed no resentment, but opened their haversacks and offered to share their hardtack with use, saying ‘You Johnnies certainly did put up a fight.’” At dusk, they gathered the Confederates on the north side of the creek below the Hillsman house. They “were wet, cold, hungry.” Said Captain Blake, “We had received no food except what our captors had given us from their haversacks… The first morning after they issued our capture rations to us, and we had enough to eat from that time on.”
They have estimated that 3,100 lay dead in the fields. The creek ran red with blood. Reported New York Herald war correspondent S.T. Buckley, “The slaughter of the 6th exceeded anything I ever saw. The ground over which they fought was literally strewn with the dead. The fighting was desperate, at times hand-to-hand. A few bayonet wounds reported at the hospital.” Wounded, both Confederate and Union, were taken up to the Hillsman home, which served as a hospital. Blood stains still on the floor are reminders of the human devastation of the battle. The dead bodies lay for several days, bloating in the hot sun until the local citizens buried the dead in ravines.

Saylers Creek Battlefield Historical Park
The Hillsman House and approximately 220 acres are now part of the Saylers Creek Battlefield Historical Park, the only battlefield owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Amelia County, Virginia, Buildings Survey devotes a topic to his historic home. 
Visit the web site for Official Saylers Creek Web Site 

Descendants of James Moses Overton Hillsman
Information about the children of James Moses Overton Hillsman, their descendants, and allied families previously found at is now available as Southside Virginia Genealogies. Learn more 
Names found in this topic include the following.
 Richard Henry Hillsman (1860-1908),  
Susan Walthall,   
Mary Louise Hillsman,  Bert Walker Allen,  
Elizabeth Louise Allen,  Clarence Overton Barksdale,  
Hugh Earl Allen,  Jessie Marie Wilkerson,  
Susie Auburn Hillsman,  
Alma White Hillsman,  George McClure Snyder,  
Myrtle Sue Snyder,  Shelton W. Barnes,  
James Moses Hillsman,  
Harry Lindsey Hillsman,  
Byrd Willie Hillsman,  William Lewis Barksdale,  
Richard Henry Hillsman,  Lula Mae Gregory,  
Winston Earl Hillsman,  
 Ida Byrd (Hillsman) Vaughan (1861-1945),  
Joseph Lynwood Vaughan,   
Dr. William Jones Dupuy,   Henry I. Robertson,   Elizabeth Fowlkes,   
 James Albert Hillsman (1866-1950),  
Lula Lee Watson,  
Willie Watson Hillsman,  Evelyn Fretwell,  
Myrtle Virginia Hillsman,  Rufus Purdum Ellett,  Elihu Clifford Ellett Sr.,  
Rufus Purdum Ellett,  Margie Dearmon Doody,  
Frances Leigh Ellett,  Joseph Wysor Smith,  
Watson Hillsman Ellett,  Katheryn Baker,  
Joseph Albert Ellett,  Koiner Baker,  
Byrdie Mae Hillsman,  
James Moses Hillsman,  
Ann Elizabeth Hillsman,  Charles S. Giles Jr.,  
Daniel Allen Hillsman,  Mary Scott Bruce,  
Daniel Allen Hillsman,  
Lucye Jane Hillsman,  
Louis Shelton Hillsman,  Frances Jenkins,  
Louis Shelton Hillsman,  
James Albert Hillsman,  Sallye Bruce,  
Betty Lou Hillsman,  Franklin Ensley Gray Jr.,  
Jane Bruce Hillsman,  Charles F. Shell,  
Arthur Emerson Hillsman,  Mary Ellen Ellington,  
 William Joseph Hillsman (1869-1954),  
Elva Johns,  Bettie Sue McCraw,  James Polk McCraw,  
James B. Hillsman,  
John W. Hillsman,  
Emily B. Hillsman,  William Bailey,  
Lucy Elizabeth Hillsman,  Floyd Young Heartwell,  Ezra Watts Belcher Jr.,  
Hallie Meredith Hillsman,  James Milton Fleetwood,  
Josephine McCraw Hillsman,  Leo Herman Winters,  
 Charles T. Hillsman (1871-1935),  
Carrie Pollard,  
Elizabeth Hillsman,  Grayson Hanes,  
Joseph Pollard Hillsman,  
 John Edward Hillsman (1874-1954),  
Lelia Thomas Carter,  Everett T. Carter,  
Cora Louise Hillsman,  Claude Elbert Wiley,  
Elva Mae Hillsman,  Harry William Carey,  
Carter Blanton Hillsman,  
Lelia Estelle Hillsman,  Alan McKay Lindsey,  
Mabel Belle Hillsman,  James Bradshaw,  
William Edward Hillsman,  Mozelle Harris,  
Lois Hillsman,  Victor Donald Moore,  
 Dr. Marshall Ligon Hillsman (1876-1965),  
Bessie Kelly,  
Lucy Hillsman,  
 Rosser Noland Hillsman (1878-1959),  
Bernice LeVert Bondurant,  James Alva Bondurant,  LeVert Walton,  
Rosser Noland Hillsman,  Ann Duncan Newton,  
Malcolm Walker Hillsman,  Josephine Billups,  William Milton Billups,  
Dorothy Walton Hillsman,  James T. Robbins Jr.,  George Lorraine Kerns Jr.,  James Earnest Thompson,  
 George Winston Hillsman (1884-),  
Dr. John Albert Hillsman,  
Bessie Virginia Lackey,  
Eleanor Jane Hillsman,  Marshall S. Waldron,  
George Winston Hillsman,  Garland Morris,  Teresa Eichner,  
Nell Lackey Hillsman,  Joe Vestal,  Norman Taylor,  
Mary V. Hillsman,  George Ernest Smith,  
Byrd Aileen Hillsman,  Joseph Stewart Irby,  
Robert Marshall Hillsman Sr.,  Lena Mae Long,  
William R. Hillsman,  
 Joel Tucker Hillsman (1882-1954),  
Mary Harris Moseley,  Grandison Wingfield Moseley,  Mary Louisa East,  Robert Moseley,   
Mary Harris Hillsman,  Robert H. Coulter Jr.,  
 Mary L. Hillsman (1873-1878),  

This family topic includes the following notable individuals.
Soldiers of colonial and American wars
Willie Watson Hillsman - World War I Joseph Pollard Hillsman - World War II
Marshall Ligon Hillsman - World War I  

Selected sources
Davis, Burke. To Appomattox: Nine April Days, 1865. Eastern Acorn Press, 1989. • Good historical narrative of the days leading up to the Battle of Saylers Creek, fought on the farm of James Moses Overton Hillsman.
Eanes, Gregg. Special Commemorative Issue of The Battle of Sayler’s Creek. Sayler’s Creek Preservation Committee, 1990. • Additional details about Battle of Saylers Creek, and the Hillsman House, the home of James Moses Overton Hillsman.
Hillsman, Thomas W., Naomi B. Hillsman, and Edward L. Hillsman. The Hillsman Family. Second Edition Revised. Privately published, 1996. • An outstanding presentation of this family, although it errs in the depiction of early generations. Includes my Hil(l)sman ancestors: John Hilsman, Nicholas Hillsman, Matthew Hillsman, James Hillsman, Col. John Albert Hillsman, and James Moses Overton Hillsman.

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