Return of Lieutenant Valentine W. Southall of the 23rd Virginia from Gettysburg in 1869

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Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
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A son was born to Philip and Elizabeth Southall on October 9, 1839, and christened Valentine Wood Southall. Raised on his family’s plantation, called “Selma,” in Amelia County, Virginia, Valentine acquired an unenviable nickname as a youth. Having been dispatched on a hunting expedition to bag a wild turkey for the plantation slaves, he returned empty handed. But not wishing to disappoint, he resorted to killing one of his mother’s tame birds, for which he was afterwards referred to as “Turkey” Southall, no doubt on suitable occasions when mirth was appropriate.

A more serious event took place on May 16, 1861, when Valentine enlisted as a private in the Confederate army, and became a member of Company B, 23rd Virginia Infantry. Promoted to junior (third) lieutenant, he was wounded in the arm on May 8, 1862 at the battle of McDowell, but recovered. He was a second lieutenant when he entered the town of Gettysburg at sunset on July 1, 1863. On the evening of the following day, he was severely wounded in the knee while attempting to take Culp’s Hill. Carried back across Rock Creek, he was taken to a division field hospital established two miles to the rear, on the farm of Elizabeth Wible, a 55-year-old widow. Left behind by his army when it retreated, Valentine lingered just another two weeks before succumbing on July 20, less than three months before his 24th birthday. He was buried in a fence corner not far from the house, where he remained for six years, until he came to the attention of Gettysburg physician J. W. C. O’Neal, a native Virginian who made it his life’s work to return the Confederate dead to their homes. O’Neal started a correspondence with Joseph Wells Southall, Valentine’s older brother, which culminated in the following letter:

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Gettysburg, Pa., August 10, 1869

Mr. Jos. W. Southall

Sir,

Today I had exhumed and packed the remains of Lt. Southall. The wounded bone is wrapped in paper and packed [on] top of the box which you can examine. The box I send by Morton’s Express. The expenses are:

For digging … $1.50
For horse and wagon … $1.50
For box … $1.75
Postage and gates about … $ .50

[Total] $5.25, which amount I shall require to be paid the express office when the box will be delivered.

For your kind courteous manner of correspondence, please accept thanks.

Very respectfully,

J. W. C. O’Neal

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Valentine found his final rest at the home where he once roamed the surrounding fields and woods hunting game. The epitaph on his gravestone reads, “The South had no better soldier … cheerful, generous, brave, he was beloved by all.”

By coincidence, in more recent times a namesake descendant, Judge Valentine W. Southall, attended the Virginia Military Institute, where he was nicknamed “Turkey” by fellow cadets who then knew nothing of his ancestor.

Sources:
-https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13210454/valentine-w_-southall.
-Compiled Service Record of Valentine W. Southall.
-Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead, by Gregory A. Coco.
-Lest We Forget, by Kent Masterson Brown, Civil War Quarterly, vol. XI, Middleburg, VA: The Country Publishers, Inc., 1987.
 
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