Dublin, October 27, 1864.
Major J. STODDARD JOHNSTON, Assistant Adjutant-General, &c.:
MAJOR: I this morning sent a telegram to General Breskinridge as to a band of plunderers in Mercer County. I received last night dispatches from a very intelligent gentleman of that county, and from Lieutenant Shriver, commanding post at the Narrows, in relation thereto. They say that everybody was being plundered, and that horses and slaves were being driven off and houses plundered, and begging that some assistance might be sent to the citizens. They represent that the band consisted of some thirty or forty men, led by a man named Little, who formerly lived in that county, and who met Lieutenant-Colonel Witcher a few days ago in the "Marshes of Coal," as he went to Kanawha, and killed Captain Payne, who was in the advance. These men were within some eighteen or nineteen miles of the Narrows of New River yesterday morning, and could probably be captured if a good company of cavalry was sent across from Wythe to Mercer County. I have no force which I can send. Colonel Preston with those of his men now where on duty and a part of the guard at New River Bridge started this morning to Floyd County to relieve General Duke, who writes that he had pretty well used up the forage in that county, and suggesting that he had better be relieved. He has done most effective service there, having arrested large number of deserters and disloyal men, shot some, and driven them so effectually that many are coming in.
I had this morning in the guard-house at this place upward of fifty prisoners, deserters, and disloyal citizens, and the jails of Floyd and Montgomery are reported to be filled. I will dispose of them as rapidly as possible. I sent off ten to the east this morning, but there are many of the worst characters who ought to be made examples of. These people in Montgomery and Floyd had gone so far as to elect what they called a brigadier-general of deserters and other officers and organized what they called a State government, for which they claimed to have elected a governor. General Duke has, however, by his energy, stricken terror into them, and Colonel Preston is directed to follow up the treatment. A large number of the deserters who have been thus forced to come in belong to Colonel Trigg's regiment, the Fifty-fourth Virginia, and he has many of them, I learn, assembled at Central Depot and at Christiansburg, where he is keeping them without any restraint upon them. I fear that as soon as the force is withdrawn from Floyd County these fellows will return and the same operation will have to be repeated. i have written to Colonel Trigg and suggested the difficulty to him. He is not, I suppose, under the command of any one in this department, as he has, I learn, an order from his command in this region. The large portion of the deserters in Floyd County were, I think, from his regiment and from the Sixty-third Regiment (Virginia), which is also in Georgia.
Thurmond is at work in Montgomery County, but has not yet effected much, except in driving the deserters to the mountains, which are almost inaccessible and from which they will come down into the settlements as soon as the force there is withdrawn and commence again to plunder and lay waste the country. A large settlement in that portion of Montgomery County is made up entirely of the most disloyal and abandoned people in the Confederacy, and I am satisfied that quiet cannot be restored there until these people are taken beyond our lines.
I have before me now a list of the families, numbering upward of 100 men, women, and children, who have for a long tim been harboring and sheltering and encouraging deserters - their husbands, sons, &c. - and who will continue to do so. They have always been disloyal and haters of our Government and people and institutions. Loyal people and these people cannot live together, and I propose, with the consent of the general, to order Thurmond to remove all of these people cannot live together, and I propose, with the consent of the general, to order Thurmond to remove all of these people beyond our lines toward the Kanawha and over the mountains. Nothing else will do. When they are gone the deserters will go, too, and others will not come in. I forwarded a paper from Captain Thurmond on this subject some days ago and asked the general's consent to my giving the order, but I have not yet heard from it. Whatever is done must be done very soon, as the winter is approaching, during which it might seem cruel to send out women and children. Please let me hear as soon as possible.
I am, major, very respectfully, &c., JNO. ECHOLS, Brigadier-General.