The Legend of Molly Tynes and Her Ride
Copyright 2021 by Frank Emerson
history, the accepted view of the role of women during warfare has
been one of support. Certainly, in fact and in legend, there have
been numerous instances of proactive females during hostilities. Just
think of the Grace O’Malley, Ireland’s Pirate Queen of
the 17th century, 18th
buccaneers, Anne Bonny and Mary Reed and the American Revolution’s
Molly Pitcher. However, until the enlightened views of the present
day, women largely embodied the John Milton quote, “They also
serve who only stand and wait” and basically kept the home
fires burning while the men were away.
further, albeit little-known example of a female coming to the fore
in time of a national emergency is the action taken by one Molly
Tynes during the American Civil War.
young woman from the Appalachian mountains of Southwest Virginia,
Molly’s perilous ride over the night of July 17, 1863 rivaled
those of Jack Jouett and Paul Revere during the Revolutionary War. By
warning Thomas Jefferson of an impending British raid Jack Jouett has
been referred to as the “Paul Revere of the South”.
Surrounded by the intriguing mixture of fact and legend, Molly Tynes
is recognized in many corners as the “Paul Revere of the
Confederacy” In fact, she did Paul Revere one better: she
completed her mission.
she lived, there is no doubt. She was born Mary Elizabeth “Molly”
Tynes in Shawsville, Virginia in 1837 and educated at the Valley
Union Seminary (now Hollins College near Roanoke, Virginia). Her
family had moved to Jeffersonville, Virginia (now Tazewell) in the
1850's, where Samuel Tynes, the family patriarch, farmed and operated
a sawmill, gristmill and woolen mill. At the outbreak of the war,
Molly still lived near Roanoke.
has it that she was visiting her family in Jeffersonville in July of
1863 to help her father care for her invalid mother. Having left
Huntington, in newly established
Virginia on July 13th, Union troops of the 34th
Ohio Infantry and the 2nd Virginia Cavalry
the command of Colonel John T. Toland were now bivouacked at the
William Peery farm, Ben Bolt, which was a short distance west of the
Tyne family farm, Rocky Dell. Afraid of Yankee looting, Mr. Tynes had
taken the precaution of having a Negro servant named Tom take most of
the livestock and horses into hiding on Clinch Mountain. Only Molly’s
mare, Fashion, was left at the farm.
to an article published in of The Confederate Veteran
18) in 1910, by Molly’s brother Captain Achilles J. Tynes (8th
Virginia Cavalry, CSA), their father learned that the soldiers were
on their way to attack the town of Wytheville. This was of strategic
value as a railhead and its location adjacent to the leadmines in
Austinville. According to Professor James I. Robertson of Virginia
Tech, the mines at Austinville supplied fully 1/3 of the lead used by
the Confederacy during the war. Their mission was to disrupt the
Virginia-Tennessee railway, effectively breaking the back of
east-west supply lines. This would cut off supplies of salt –
used both as a preservative as well as in the making of saltpeter to
make gunpowder from the mines at Saltville to the west. Finally they
would seize and destroy the leadmines at Austinville. Top the east.
advanced age prevented him from doing so himself, Mr. Tynes was
determined to warn the town of the imminent attack. With bravery
bordering on foolhardiness, Molly determined to warn the citizens
family friend, fifteen year-old mail carrier, Samuel Houston Laird,
who was familiar with the shortest routes through the mountains,
Molly is said to have made the forty-odd mile trip on Fashion through
the night of July 17th, arriving bedraggled and frightened in
Wytheville on the 18th of July. She warned the citizens who were able
to prepare for the Yankees. She then rode some miles further to the
farm of a family friend, Robert Crockett, where she rested for
are people today that swear that’s exactly the way it happened.
Maybe it did. The noted Civil War reenactor and scholar, Janice Busic
states that numerous oral histories by contemporaries, while not
etched in stone, confirm the events. She states that as a 9-year old
boy, the late Dr. Caleb Thompson was in the doorway of his family
home in Burke’s Garden, on the trail to Wytheville and
witnessed Molly shout out warnings as she rode by.
all along the invasion route, citizens went into hiding. Due to this,
the Union troops met no resistance until they arrived in Wytheville.
That’s when the shooting began.
home guard, made up largely by old men, women and boys had been
issued small arms by militia commanders Lieutenant Colonel Abraham
Umberger and Major Joseph Kent. The citizens stationed themselves in
houses and stores and behind walls and fences along the entrance to
town. Word of the impending raid had also reached Confederate Major
General Sam Jones 30 miles away in Dublin, Virginia. Jones detached
two companies of soldiers - about 130 men - and two artillery pieces
under the command of Major Thomas Bowyer, who commandeered a
passenger train and arrived in Wytheville in time to confront the
enemy. As a result, the citizens and the Confederate soldiers
proceeded to engage the Federal forces until about 8:00 PM whereupon
both sides withdrew
the official report of Lieutenant Colonel Freeman E. Franklin, of
Toland’s command, he states.
found a company of rebels in Abb’s Valley, all of whom we
captured excepting one. That one gave information to[Brigadier]
General [John S.] Williams (at Saltville) of our approach, which was
news they possessed at least twelve hours before we could reach
Wytheville. Consequently they were better prepared than we had been
anticipating” (OR, I, XVII/2, p.942).
Williams notified Major General Sam Jones at Dublin. General Jones
immediately notified Major William Gibboney, Assistant Quartermaster
of Wytheville of the approaching enemy.(ORI, XXVII/3, p.1023). As
General Jones stated in his official report:
first information I received of the approach of the enemy was about
mid day on July 18, just in time to enable me, by impressing the
passenger train going west, to send to Wytheville two small and newly
organized companies, the employees of this place, and a number of
citizens of this neighborhood who volunteered for the service. They
were commanded by Major Bowyer, my chief of ordnance”.. (OR
I, XXVII/2, pp. 946-947).
legend says that Molly arrived during the morning of the 18th.
General Jones says that he didn’t hear about the advance until
mid-day. Who is to say that both things could not have come to pass?
General Jones did indeed send the telegram and the train of men - but
the citizens already knew about the approaching enemy and fired upon
Toland’s men as they entered town. Toland was killed in this
first encounter, which took place before Confederate troops arrived
at the town railroad depot. How were the citizens alerted? You be the
December 2, 1863, Molly married William B. Davidson of Mercer County,
who was home on leave from the Confederate Army. After the war, they
moved back to Mercer County, now West Virginia, where Molly taught
Sunday school and William served several terms in the state
legislature. They had no children.
this particular Battle of Wytheville, the first of several, was on a
much smaller scale and less noted than other more prominent and
famous engagements of the war, it was vitally important
to one of a number of conflicting estimates, several of Wytheville’s
buildings were destroyed and five civilians and three Confederate
soldiers were killed. The Yankees lost 15 killed, including their
commander. The Union column’s second-in-command, Colonel
William Powell, was wounded and captured.
more Confederate reinforcements arrived, the federal troops abandoned
the town, reportedly taking more than 80 civilians with them as
hostages and potential human shields. When they reached Big Walker
Mountain, about 12 miles northwest of town, they released their
captives and continued their retreat.
a strategic point of view, the results of this ill-fated raid are as
follows: The telegraph still worked, the railroad was still
operational, as were the saltmines and leadmines. These are the
facts, despite some Union reports to the contrary.
J. Gibboney was a Wytheville native and a Confederate veteran. At the
time of the incident, he was clerk/aide to Major General Henry Heth ,
whom he saved from capture earlier in the month at the Battle of
Gettysburg. It was from Gibboney’s house, which was later that
day put to the torch, that the ball was fired that killed Colonel
1894, Gibboney received a letter, now in the files of the Wytheville
Department of Museums, from former Union Captain William Fortescue ,
who stated that he assumed command of the troops upon the death of
Colonel Toland and the wounding and capture of Colonel Powell. In his
closing remarks in the letter, Fortescue says, “Although I was
afterwards on many hotly contested fields, I was never upon any that
was more so than Wytheville.”
died of tuberculosis in 1891. By mutual consent, while her husband
was interred in Mercer County, she was buried next to her father and
mother in Jeffersonville Cemetery in Tazewell. A
gracefully distinctive monument over Molly’s grave was erected
by the William Watts Chapter of the United Daughters of the
Confederacy in 1968. It still stands today. In addition, just west of
Rocky Dell, toward Ben Bolt, on State Route 61, is a Virginia State
Historical Marker extolling “Molly Tynes’s” Ride.
the coming of peace, Molly’s brother, Achilles and his wife
Harriet moved to Rocky Dell, where they proceeded to raise a family.
One of their daughter’s, Eva St. Clair Tynes married James
Robert Laird, the son of Molly’s guide, Samuel Houston Laird.
In 1910, Achilles wrote a piece in The Confederate Veteran
relating the heroics of his younger sister. The story of Molly’s
ride has been passed down through generations of the families, all of
whom swear to its truth.
may have been embellishments along the way and there are some who
question the story’s overall accuracy. Perhaps the nature of
the conflict can be summed up in a quote from the 1962 John Ford
film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. To adapt
play only slightly, “These are the mountains, sir. When the
legend becomes fact, print the legend.
Tynes, slender, graceful, bruised and bleeding will not be forgotten
while Tazewell’s mountains live”
H.T. Squires Land of Decision
War of Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union
and Confederate Armies
During the War Between the States 1861-1865; Hoch, Beverly,
Johnson, John, Emerson, Frank
Confederate Veteran: Vol 18, September 1910
County Chapters: James Presgraves
Cavalcade: Vol 1, 1951
Letter to Albert Gibboney, 1894
of Tazewell County 1800-1922: J.N. Harmon, Sr.
Valley News : July 2, 1926
Historical Society, Mrs. Pat Surface
War Talk: Molly Tynes-Did She or Didn’t She? She
A veteran of the U.S. armed
forces, I am a freelance writer and award winning singer-songwriter-
performer living in Southwest Virginia with my wife, Frances –
Director of Historical Resources for Wytheville, Virginia, and our
Manx named Ginny.
specialize in history, humor and folk music. I’ve been
published on sites and in magazines and publications such
History Now, Rhode Island Roads, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Learning
through History, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Lit
Quarterly, Bend of the River and On Patrol.
five years I was a researcher/writer for Remilon/Study.com.
am the co-author of Wythe County Virginia during the War
the States and Clean Cabbage in the Bucket and other
from the Irish Music Trenches. I am the author
Tells Tales and Wythe Bane Graham,
Cavalry, C.S.A.: Letters and Narrative of a Son of the Old Dominion.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by Frank
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