The defeat at Arnoldsburg was a blow to the morale of
the Rangers, but they would retaliate with quick wit and fast thinking.
Due to the large number of Union troops in the area, many feared for
their families and desired to check on their homes.
Captain George Downs knew that a trip back into the
county was indeed necessary for many of his men. He agreed to the
requests, but knew it might result in great loss. Thus, he decided to
attempt to obtain a truce with Colonel J.C. Rathbone for at least a few
days to allow his men to travel openly without any hostilities.
The military district was still under the command of
Brigadier General B.F. Kelley of Wheeling, who was in Spencer. Downs and
his men knew that Kelley was “hard-boiled” and would not consider a
truce. The news that Kelley would travel to Weston on May 16 was all the
Rangers needed. On May 17, Captain Downs, accompanied by Peregrine Hays
and George Silcott, entered Spencer under a flag of truce.
This is where the story gets interesting. Downs was no
fool. He knew that Hays and Silcott were perfect for this mission. Both
men knew Rathbone personally. Hays was the county sheriff, had served on
the 1850 Virginia Constitution Convention as a member of the Virginia
Legislature, and was the wealthiest man in Calhoun. Silcott had been
county clerk and circuit clerk prior to the war. He and Hays were
political and business associates.
Unfortunately for Rathbone, millionaire oilman in
Burning Springs, Wirt County, the connection he had with Hays and
Silcott, brought nothing but another dose of embarrassment. The
conniving Rangers informed Federal guards that Kelley had requested them
to visit Rathbone for the purpose of settling a truce. The gullible
Rathbone could not double check with Kelley; therefore, he allowed the
men to enter the town on nothing but their word.
The lie they told was taken like the gospel on a Sunday
morning. Believing that Downs, Hays and Silcott were guests of Kelley,
they were received graciously, well fed, and supplied with nice quarters
before entering into discussion of the truce.
The pact signed by Col. Rathbone and Capt. Downs, drawn
up by Judge Robert S. Brown, was as follows:
“It is agreed by and between Col. J.C. Rathbone,
commanding United States forces in Roane and Calhoun and adjacent
counties, and Captain George Downs, commanding Confederate troops in
said counties, that all hostilities shall cease between them and their
respective forces in said counties for and during the space of eight
days from this date, and each party is to preserve the peace and good
order of the community in the mean time. And if this truce between the
parties and their respective forces shall continue longer than the time
specified, the parties shall give each other notice thereof, ratified
and approved by General Kelley, commanding United States force in the
Railroad District, without whose consent and ratification no continuance
of truce shall be had unless mutual agreement of the parties hereto,
which notice shall be given at the dwelling house of William Starcher,
in Calhoun County, Virginia.”
(The home of William Starcher was on the West Fork in
Calhoun County, near the mouth of Henry’s Fork, near Rocksdale. I have
read that it is still standing.)
The Rangers had successfully outwitted the town of
Spencer and Col. Rathbone, but their victory would be short lived as
Gen. Kelley would soon get word of Rathbone’s naivety and unforgivable
Next week: Rathbone’s Truce continued.