We all know that any time there is a war all who are in the country that is fighting that war will in some way be affected. Even those who don’t necessarily want to take part in the war are effected. The story of David Creigh is an excellent example of the way that even those citizens who didn’t want to be effected or have any part in the war were changed by it.
David Creigh and his family lived in Lewisburg West Virginia. David had three sons out of his eleven children in the Confederate Army. Creigh was a successful merchant and slaveholder before the war. He lived in a previously uninvaded part of West Virginia. Besides his sons he wanted to just be left alone by the war.
In 1863 that all changed. The Union Army entered into Lewisburg earlierin the year and along with them they brought those soldiers who are lawless and generally of no account.
On November 9, 1863 David Creigh was visiting his friend John Dunn when a straggler from the Union Cavalry entered Dunn’s home and asked where he kept his horses. When Creigh saw this he left to go to his home fearing for the safety of his family. When he got home he heard shouting in the upper level of his home and ran quickly to the home of a friend and procured a pistol. This would cause a problem for David later.
When David returned to his home he went upstairs and saw that the soldier was going through the family trunks. The soldier was attempting to open a trunk and couldn’t get it open. So he turned to Creigh and asked him if he had the key. Creigh said that it was his children’s teacher’s trunk and that he didn’t have the key. Then, Creigh’s daughter who was sick got out of bed and said that there was more trunks in the back of the house. The soldier went and began digging through the trunks, but then he found a set of cards, and asked Elizabeth (the child who was sick) what they were and she said merit cards from their school the soldier yelled back that they were not.
David got nervous and pulled out the pistol he had hidden in his coat. When he pulled it out it accidentally misfired and the bullet fired into the wall harmlessly behind the soldier. The soldiers reaction was obviously to reach for Creigh and they began to wrestle. Since Creigh’s pistol was now out of ammunition he used it as a club and hit the soldier on the head. The soldier fell but got back up. Once he was up the soldier got up he put David in a head lock and pulled out his own pistol and raised to hit Creigh on the head but Elizabethjumpedto her father’s aid and pulled the soldier’s arm down so that the gun was aimed at both men, and the gun went off.
Next, the soldier shoved David and his wife to the head of the stairs, then all three of them fell down the stairs. When they reached the bottom of the stairs the pistol fell from the soldier’s hand. David and the soldier continued to wrestle, while they were wrestling David saw that the soldier was bleeding he assumed that he had been shot when the soldier’s pistol went off. Then, David’s wife and another women who was there helping to care for the Creigh’s sick child quickly went and picked up the pistol that the soldier had dropped, but when they picked it up it fired and hit the soldier.
David them carried the soldier whom he assumed to be dead and dropped him ten feet from the portico, but when he saw the fingers of the soldier twitch he took an axe and smashed the skull of the soldier.
Creigh didn’t know what to do next, he feared that a Union patrol would show up at any minute, he knew that he would not get a fair trial for his actions. So with the help of an Irish farm hand and his two of his sons Creigh loaded the body into a wagon and covered it with hay. They drove to a well on the edge of Creigh’s property and dropped the body in. After this they hurried home hoping not to be caught.
It was now the spring of 1864 and know one had found out about what had happened that horrible night and know one missed that soldier either. But on May 15ththat all changed. A slave entered the camp of the 1st West Virginia and said that he had found a body in a nearby well. The commander sent Captain Howe to go with the slave and check it out. What he found in the well was the body of an unknown Union Cavalry soldier that was to decomposed to be pulled out. The body was never removed and Captain Howe returned to his camp to report on his findings. Since the body was found on Creigh’s property he was taken into custody and tried before a military tribune four miles from Lewisburg on Bunger Hill.
The trial actually began on June 2, he was tried in front of 5 generals chosen to be the judges. Creigh was charged with murder and the specification was that he murdered an unknown Union soldier with an axe or other weapon. He pleaded not guilty to the charge but pleaded guilty to the specification.
The prosecution called two witnesses to the stand Captain Ricker who had spoken to about what happened Creigh after he was taken into custody, and Captain Howe the man who had gone and looked at the body in the well. The Defense also called a witness, John Dunn the man to whom Creigh had told everything that happened on November 9. Creigh was finally allowed to give his own side of the story, he told the honest truth and hoped that the court would see that he was defending his home and family, after he gave his testimony the court didn’t ask him a single question or cross examine him . They the court adjourned so that they could deliberate and come up wi verdict. They quickly reached their verdict. David Creigh was found guilty of both the charge and specification. He was sentenced to be hung with a sign around his neck that said he was a murderer of a Union soldier and that his home would be burned to the ground. Before his sentence could go through it had to be approved by General Hunter. General Hunter was an extremely strong abolitionist and he hated the South of those who were in opposition to the Federal authority.
General David Hunter
The Union Army had left Lewisburg and Creigh’s execution was scheduled for June 9th. The Union column was marching to take Creigh to his execution they halted in front of the home of Reverend James Morrison near Brownsville Virginia. General Averall whowas in charge of the execution ,despite the recommendation of General Hunt, ordered that Creigh’s home not be burned. Creigh was given the night to write to his wife and to come to peace with himself.
David Creigh was hanged the next morning. No one on Averall’s staff wanted to carry out the task of actually hanging Creigh. The men on Averall’s staff had not only come to respect him but they said that they had not signed up to be executioners. So they made a 19 year old private carry out Creigh’s hanging. There was a Union Chaplin present at the execution along with 300 soldiers and he said that “among the 300 men there was not one dry eye”.
Despite General Hunter’s order that the body be left alone as an example the soldiers quickly took the body down and wrapped it in a blanket. Six days later Creigh’s son Cyrus came and retrievedhis fathers body. He reburied his father in a nearby church yard until a month later when Cyrus moved it to where it now rests in Greenbriar county next to the remains of David’s wife Emily.
This story illustrates my point better then any I have ever read. It shows how we are changed by war even though we don’t know it. How would David Creigh have reacted if someone had broken into his house in peace time? War strips away all humanity from everyone involved. God save the soul of David Creigh.
David Creigh’s grave stone