William Mahone Spends Night With “Deformed People”

In a letter written in 1890, William Mahone recalled spending the night before the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House with an unusual family.

We marched all next day and went into camp in the evening not far from Appomattox Co. Ho. in the most God forsaken neighborhood or can well conceive. My Headquarters were
in a miserable log hut occupied by a family of deformed people – that made one shudder to behold, and whose deformity and condition forcibly suggested that we were near the end. My waggons rich with supplies for a campaign had been captured. It contained nearly a full house of all that one needs [for] sustenance and comfort and my [ ] had been captured and we had no [ ]. The bed in this miserable cabin on which I remember to have spread my oil cloth and blanket was only about four feet long.

Would love to know more about this particular family.

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8 comments… add one
  • Hampton Newsome Oct 3, 2013 @ 4:32

    There are at least two versions of Mahone’s Appomattox account. The one cited here was found around 1970 and is housed at Auburn Univ. It is undated (“189?”) and has no addressee I believe – it has been assumed that Longstreet was the intended recipient. Another version, dated July 1895 and addressed to George Bernard, was found in a cache of Bernard’s papers discovered in Roanoke, Va. in 2004. We included a transcription in the recently-published Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard & His Fellow Veterans. Mahone provided Bernard with several other accounts of battles and campaigns (including Seven Pines, Malvern Hill, Weldon RR, Burgess Mill), all appear in that book.

    In editing Civil War Talks, we found the Bernard and Auburn letters to be nearly identical, with a few wording and substantive differences. For the paragraph in the post here, the Bernard version provides the missing words in the second to last sentence: “My cow had also been captured and we had no rations.” Mahone kept a cow during the war to help with his chronic dyspepsia. In describing his experience with the “deformed people,” Mahone inserts the word “forlorn” so it reads: “My headquarters were in a miserable log hut occupied by a family of deformed people, whom it made one shudder to behold, whose deformity and forlorn condition forcibly suggested that we were nearing the end.”

  • TF Smith Sep 30, 2013 @ 19:34

    I was going to say sounds like a typical Virginia family…

    I think there was an X Files episode along these lines.

  • Chris Evans Sep 28, 2013 @ 5:54

    William Marvel in his ‘Appomattox’ book has a Confederate artilleryman writing about a ‘deformed family’ he encountered on the march to Appomattox . He mentions that one of the boys in the family was missing his arms and just had what seemed to be ‘flippers’ instead.

    I wonder if that is the same family.


    • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2013 @ 6:39

      Thanks, Chris. I will check it out.

      • Chris Evans Sep 28, 2013 @ 13:05

        Yes, looking at it again Marvel mentions that it was in all probability the same family Mahone stayed with that the artilleryman encountered.

        This is on pages 230-231 of ‘A Place Called Appomattox’.


  • Eric A. Jacobson Sep 27, 2013 @ 3:19

    That part of the letter is very interesting, but I find the entirety of it even more so. The way Mahone relates the difficult conversations around Appomattox is direct and without any Lost Cause feel. I love it.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 27, 2013 @ 4:00

      Mahone sits at the opposite side of the Lost Cause spectrum from Jubal Early. He remained interested in commemorations and fellow veterans, but he was rarely interested in re-fighting old battles about the cause of the war or defending Lee. In fact, a few years before this letter was written Mahone blamed Lee for the defeat at Gettysburg. It is an interesting letter, but unfortunately I don’t know much about the context in which it was written.

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