Horrible Deed by Federals in Virginia

[Capt. John H. Grabill sends a clipping from the Richmond Dispatch with an account by Mr. R. D. Stewart, of Baltimore, and gives a careful version of the event. It concerns the murder of David Getz by command of Gen. George A. Custer.]

     The article differs in some of the details from the present account which I have secured from persons who were present and are still living in Woodstock (Virginia). The writer personally knew the small family, consisting of Andrew Getz, Elizabeth, his wife, and their simple-minded son, David. David was about 30 years of age. The family lived in a small house close to the Methodist Church, and for the rent of the humble home they served as sexton of the church. Davy was mentally deficient, and no duty of a civil or military character were required of him. He was simple and harmless. The boys loved to tease him, and many a Confederate soldier told Davy that he had come from the army to take him back with him. He was a very timid child. He had no ambition to be a soldier, but was always frightened when the suggestion was made that he should go into the army. Davy had in some way become possessed of an old musket, and with it amused himself hunting ground squirrels and small birds.

     In the summer of 1864 he was engaged in his usual sport in the pines near his home when a squad of Federal soldiers suddenly came upon him. To their question, “Are you a bushwhacker?” he replied, “Why, yes.” He had no comprehension of the term “bushwhacker.” He was at once seized by a number of Federal soldiers, dragged to the pike (US Rt. 11), and then tied to a wagon. The poor fellow was almost frightened to death, and his heart-rending screams aroused the whole town. There was a wail that can hardly be imagined.

     Accustomed as the people were to the brutality of the Federals who prowled through this valley (Shenandoah Valley), nothing aroused their sympathy and horror, not even the burning of their homes and churches by the fire fiends of the brutal Sheridan, as did this inhuman outrage. Tied behind a wagon and dragged through the streets, his plaintive cries and shrieks brought to their doors the ladies from both sides of the street. Helpless they stood and wept for the poor unfortunate. Close behind him walked his mother and father, clasping each others hands. They continued to follow their screaming child until they were driven back by the bayonets of the Federal soldiers.

     Custer’s camp was about one mile south of Woodstock. Here he was waited upon by Mrs. J. L. Campbell, Mrs. Murphy, and other ladies of the town, who gave him a truthful statement of the character of the man and besought Custer to look at him, as one glance would convince him of the truth of their statements. He roughly repulsed them. He was afterwards visited by Moses Walton, a distinguished lawyer of Woodstock, Dr. J. S. Irwin, a Union man of the town, and Mr. Adolph Heller, a prominent merchant and a strong Union man, at whose house both Custer and Torbett had occasionally made their headquarters. While Mr. Heller was at heart a Union man, he was always ready to protect the innocent so far as it was within his power. He earnestly besought General Custer to release the poor idiot. When Custer intimated that he proposed to have him shot, Mr. Heller boldly replied: “General Custer, you will sleep in a bloody grave for this. Surely a just God will not permit such a crime to go unavenged.” These gentlemen left his headquarters saddened by the exhibition of brutality upon the part of Custer. The words of Mr. Heller proved to be prophetic.

     Poor Davy Getz was again tied behind a wagon, compelled to walk to Bridgewater (Virginia) a distance of forty-five miles, there forced to dig his own grave, and was then murdered like a dog. The father several years later committed suicide. The mother was taken to the home of her son, Mr. Levi Getz, of Rockingham County, where she died some years ago.

From: Confederate Veteran Magazine, Volume XV., No. 3., March, 1907, Pages 120 – 121.