Bradley County, Arkansas Biographies

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WITHERINGTON, WITHERS and FINCH of Bradley and Union Counties
An Arkansas Civil War Story



NOTE: The following article was found in the April 1991 issue of Our Confederate Heritage located at the Gray & Blue Naval Museum, 1102 Washington Street, Vicksburg, MS 39183 by Chuck Jackson of St. Louis, a high school classmate of Bill King. The museum is operated by Lamar Roberts, SCV (tel. 601-638-6500) whose email address is < >.

Copied by Bill King of Houston, Texas on 4/18/99


Captain Bob Withers was a steamboat owner and pilot before the War Between the States, also during the war and after the war. Bob Withers was a native of Charleston, SC, who went west to New Orleans when he was around twenty years of age. He became a pilot of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and eventually owned half interest in a boat with his brother-in-law, Augustus L. Witherington. The Captain operated steamboats on the Mississippi from New Orleans up to the mouth of the Black River, and on the Red, the Ouachita, and the Saline, and would make port at several Arkansas points. Like other steamboatmen of the period, he transported goods, machinery, and such, upstream and carried cotton, hides and other products of the region downstream. When the War Between the States came, his boat went into the Confederate Service.

When the war broke out, Withers and his brother-in-law, William Stuart Finch, joined a company being formed by Gus Witherington. Mrs. Witherington would sit on a stump in the back yard and call out the manual until they knew it by heart. The company elected Witherington as Captain and Finch as Lieutenant. The company was composed of the biggest men in the area. When the men arrived in New Orleans, Witherington turned them and himself over to the commanding officer, who after looking over the men said, "Hell, do they grow giants in your neck of the woods?" Witherington replied, "We specialize in 'em." The commander looked at him real carefully and said, "see here, are you Big Witherington, the man they call Dare Devel Witherington?" Witherington's Irish eyes twinkled as he replied, "Yes General, but not guilty." The general then asked, "Do you personally want to fight?" Witherington, looking at his brother-in-law said, "Hell, Will, what do you think he wants us to do?" Will Finch saluted and said, "Gus, shut up!! General, he is blunt, but he would kill his daily twenty or he could not sleep at night. Yankees are his meat."

The general grew quite grave and said, "Witherington, you are all of six feet six inches, are you not?" Will Finch replied, "Six foot six and one half, about double my size." The general then said, "Witherington, I'll take your boys and thanks, but do you not know that you would, for your size, be picked off in half a minute after you got into battle?" Witherington told him that he had to die sometime, and it would be a glorious way to go. The general then began to talk to him quite gravely, saying, "We want provisions for this army. Men can't fight without food. Do you not own a boat? I want to tell you, Witherington, that you and your crew could do more for your South by becoming commisariat, embargo runners. We need brave men for that post. You are too old, Witherington, to fight, and you are too valuable where I want to put you. You and Finch will help me a thousand times more. There are plenty of fighters, so far, but few I can trust to get food to my men. And they tell me, you and Finch know the rivers to the mouth of the Mississippi, and even beyond to the Gulf, better than any men about." They went into the service running embargo, slipping past spy boats, dodging into lagoons and hidden water contributary to the rivers, like river rats. When Witherington and Finch returned home, they cried like little children because thay could not shoulder any muskets and "fight like men". Captain Withers was part owner of the MORGAN NELSON, a sidewheel steamboat, 109 tons displacement, 120 feet long, 21 feet 9 inches wide and drew 4 and 5 inches. Captain Withers had docked at Londgview on the Saline River to load fifteen hundred bales of cotton. He was to be in port for three days during the loading and he had banked the fires under his boilers and therefore had little or no operation steam. Word was received that a detachment of Yankee cavalry was coming. The Captain had the cotton thrown into the river and cut his lines and floated loose into the current.

After building up steam and racing several miles downstream, he anchored at a sandbar. After docking, he had his crew to pull ropes across the river to catch the bales as they floated down. The cotton was loaded on the boat and eventually delivered to New Orleans. Amelia Withers was expecting her husband, Captain Robert Withers, and her brother, Will S. Finch to bring a boat load of ammunition from New Orleans. Amelia heard that the Yankees were coming and she sent all the cattle across the river on the ferry to Buckeye Island. The Yankees arrived on the afternoon that the boat was due. Amelia was pregnant and was due just any time. The Yankees killed a few of her hogs and chickens that were left behind. Then went upstairs and broke her trunks open and took all of her jewelry and valuables. Amelia had a bottle of whiskey in her trunk, for medical use, and they would not drink it thinking it might be poisoned. She told them to drink it if theyt wanted it, and this made them more suspicious. She looked for and found their captain and asked him what kind of soldiers they were and told him what the men upstairs were doing. He went into the house and made them come out and told them to leave things alone in the house. Night was coming and the captain unstrapped one of his pistols and gave it to Amelia, then asked her to give him a quilt and pillow and he slept outside her door to protect her.

Soon after the soldiers arrived, Amelia sent an old Negro man who stayed with her to go and catch some fish for supper. He caught the idea and fished along the bank until he could cross the Saline River to warn the Negroes over there. He came in about dusk with three fish. Amelia put the light in the upstairs window as a signal for the boat not to come in as there was danger. The Yankees left the next morning and Amelia had the Negroes search the woods around and to follow them off to be sure they were gone. She then waited several hours before she waived a white flag from the upstairs window as an all clear signal. Her mother, from Pigeon Hill, Arkansas arrived on the boat to be with her when she gave birth.

The Withers' home was near the ferry at Longview, Arkansas and this resulted in many visits from the Yankees. Sometime later another Yankee regiment stopped and were taking all the feed from the barn for their horses. She gave the Masonic sign and the Captain happened to be a Mason and made the men leave things alone. Amelia told him there was a Union man that lived a few miles up the road and they left to pay him a visit.

Augustus L. Witherington and Robert Withers married the sisters of William Stuart Finch. Witherington and Withers owned the boat MORGAN NELSON, with Finch as one of the pilots. They were said to be Irishmen and would not fight unless they had to, but when the time came to fight the three of them would fight an army of devils from hell.

Above written by Lamar Roberts, SCV from information submitted by Mayor Wm. C. Finch of Crossett, Ark. @1991.


Note from Bill King:

Many descendants of the Witherington, Withers and Finch families live today in Southern Arkansas (Bradley, Union, Ouachita, Calhoun and Ashley Counties) and throughout Arkansas and many other Southern States.

Submitted to the Bradley County Biography pages
by Bill King of Houston, Texas        Tel. 281-493-6767

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