THE TALE.....AND THE RECORDS
Stewart Donahoe was the son of William Donahoe and Ingra Unknown. He was born 1807 in Elkins, Randolph County, Virginia. He married Adeline McPherson on March 7, 1839 in Mason County, Virginia. He died either November 10th or 12th of 1862 in Jackson County, Virginia.
The tale passed down generations regarding the service and the demise of Stewart Donahoe/Donahue is basically as follows. Near the end of fall of 1862, Stewart returned from the war to his home on Little Mill Creek. He was only home a few days when he got news that there was a detachment of home guards on their way to arrest him as a deserter.
He started out to meet the home guards. He went unarmed, having stashed his carbine in a decayed tree stump near his home. Before too long, he met up with the guards and agreed to accompany them to Cottageville, for a hearing concerning the matter. After they had all crossed the Little Mill Creek at Click's Ford, about a mile due east of Mt. Alto, a member of the guards shot Stewart in the back; and, he died from the resulting wound. The perpetrator of this crime went unpunished.
It was not long before the people of the area reported seeing a phantom near the large beech tree in the lane where Donahoe was killed. Various things were seen, including a black colt, a ball of tawny dust, an early Brethren Minister, and even a headless soldier was seen climbing through the rustic rail fence. Children; and, even grown men refused to travel the lane. The place was definitely avoided after dark. One brother of the deceased swore that he met the figure one night and actually had a conversation with him. The encounter sent him barreling home as fast as he could go. He even plunged into the Creek and swam to the other side to get there quicker. He never again passed that spot.
First, it must be noted that it was not unusual for soldiers to return home for furloughs or myriad other reasons during the Civil War. It was also not unusual for them to be denoted as "deserters" if they did not return within the time allotted to them. The first thing I noticed upon reviewing the papers from Stewart Donohoe's penison file is that there is mention of him having a civilian doctor's unattested letter for why he was absent. This could just mean that it was not considered by the army to be a legal document because it must not have been signed by a justice of the peace or witnesses. Apparently, he was considered a deserter because there was something lacking in this document from the civilian doctor.
Enter into this picture, the local home guards, tracking down deserters; and, you have a recipe for trouble; and, in this case, even murder. Being shot in the back presents many scenarios to one's mind, not limited to Stewart trying to get away from these men. Only the Lord and those who were there know exactly how this happened.
Although there is a document, dated 1889, which states that there is not any evidence extant at the time which would allow the removal of the charge of desertion, I believe that it finally was removed. My reason for this belief is that Stewart's widow and minor child, Malinda, received a pension, as evidenced by a certificate number having been assigned to the file. So, although there is no document which states outright that he was not a deserter, I do not think that a certificate would have been assigned, nor any monies paid to the wife and child of a deserter.
This is a truly sad story which shows just how cruel and barbaric war is....
SOURCES: Civil War Records of Stewart Donohue, Legend of the Headless Horseman of Donohue's Lane as toldy by Sidney Kay, Jackson Herald article of 29 Mar 1940
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