Updated November 12, 2010.
Excerpts from the Miss Nancy White and the Wead-Draper Dispute Chapter
Among the many bizarre events involving Brigadier General Edward
Wild, the abduction and detention of three female hostages,
including a young, unmarried lady from Knott's Island, had the
most far-reaching ramifications. The events surrounding the taking
of the two married women have been described in Chapter VI.
A foray to Knott's Island on December 21, 1863, by Colonel Alonzo Draper ended in his taking hostage a 23-year-old lady, Miss Nancy White. There is little in the official reports about this particular hostage, but taking Miss White into custody caused major problems.
Why did Brigadier General Wild send Colonel Draper to Knott's Island at the end of the raid into North Carolina? What were Wild's orders? Did Draper carry out those orders, or did he act independently? Was Draper specifically ordered to take a "hostage," or was Miss White taken on the spur of the moment as the result of threats from her mother, Susan White? Was she abducted in retribution for the Maple Leaf escape?
That a single, white female should be taken hostage was an act so vile, so uncivilized, so unchivalrous, that the perpetrator should be punished and condemned by society on both sides of the Mason -Dixon line. Although Wild was not even present at the time of Miss White's abduction, he was condemned and criticized by both Union and Confederate military, individuals, and civilian groups because she was taken by one of his subordinate officers, and supposedly on his orders. Whether or not the hostage was taken on specific orders issued by Brigadier General Edward Edward A. Wild and the African Brigade in the Civil War Wild is not known. However, he did order one of his officers to go to Knott's Island, and that officer did take a young lady from her home.
The actions committed by Wild, his white officers, and his black soldiers fueled the flames of outrage and indignation, and would eventually cause major problems for Brigadier General Edward A. Wild and others involved.
The Maple Leaf Escape-June 10, 1863
Some people believe that Miss Nancy White was taken hostage from
her home on Knott's Island because of an event that happened six
months earlier in June of 1863 -the escape of a number of
Confederate officers from the steamer Maple Leaf. An account by W.
B. Browne, "Stranger Than Fiction," published half a century after
the events, supposedly was based on a personal interview with Miss
Nancy White, and the diaries of Lieutenant A. E. Asbury of
Higginsville, Missouri, and Colonel Green of Covington, Tennessee,
two of the Confederate officers who escaped from the Maple Leaf
Browne tried to prove a connection between the escape of
Confederate officers from the Maple Leal and Colonel Alonzo
Draper's foray to Knott's Island that resulted in a young lady
being taken hostage. There may be a connection, since both events
involved members of the White family.
The Federal steamer Maple Leaf left New Orleans in early June with 75 to 80 Confederate officers who were prisoners of war. The ship arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, and 26 additional Confederate officers were taken aboard before the ship headed out to sea on June 10 on its way to Fort Delaware. The Confederates' escape plan was set in motion when prisoners engaged the sentinels on duty in conversation. Other prisoners stood near where the guards had stacked their muskets, and others were ready to overpower the crew once the signal, the ringing of the ship's bell, was given. As the bell tolled, the prisoners sprang into action so quickly and quietly that they soon had control of the steamer. Upon commandeering the ship, the prisoners gave the "Rebel yell," which "rang out over the waters of the Chesapeake Bay." The ship was now commanded by Captain E. C. Fuller, former captain of the Confederate gunboat Star of the West.
According to Browne, all the Confederate officers who were able to leave the ship did so. Now free from their Yankee captors, they found themselves in Princess Anne County, Virginia, and knew they would be safe if they could reach North Carolina and its swamps. To get there, they had to travel south down Knott's Island, then cross Currituck Sound to the mainland. The officers walked 30 miles at night. Before crossing Currituck Sound, they stopped at the south end of Knott's Island.
On Knott's Island, the Confederate officers were sheltered and fed supper at the home of Confederate sympathizers. W. B. Browne interviewed the daughter of a "Mr. White" (reportedly the Nancy White who was later taken prisoner by Colonel Draper). She told Browne that after the officers had eaten at her home, Mr. White took many of them in his own boat across Currituck Sound to the mainland, where he let them off near the Currituck Courthouse. Soon after the officers left Knott's Island, the Federal cavalry arrived in pursuit of them, and were intent on arresting anyone they could find. A "little maid of less than ten summers" (Miss Nancy White or someone else?) was arrested by the cavalry and brought a prisoner to Norfolk and charged with aiding and abetting the escape of rebel prisoners. According to Ed McHorney in 1899, the girl's father, Henry White, and other family members were arrested, and their homes burned.
The Confederate officers succeeded in reaching Richmond, Virginia, partly because of the help they received from people on Knott's Island. Accounts differ as to the part the White family played in giving aid to the escaping officers. Stories have persisted that when Federal troops visited Knott's Island to interrogate Mr. White, he was not at home, and the Federal troops "took a young girl to Norfolk" in his stead." The undocumented story of the abduction of a 10-year-old girl in July may have gotten "telescoped" with the documented abduction of Nancy White, a 23-year-old, in December of 1863 by Colonel Alonzo Draper.
It is documented that six months after the officers escaped from the Maple Leaf, Miss Nancy White of Knott's Island was arrested in December of 1863 (although no charges were ever brought against her), taken to Norfolk as a prisoner of the Union forces and placed in the custody of Brigadier General Edward Wild. The question remains: Was Miss Nancy White taken a hostage in retaliation for the escape of the officers from the Maple Leaf, or was she taken because her mother spoke with disrespect and threatened Colonel Draper? Was it a coincidence that six months after the escape from the Maple Leaf Brigadier General Wild was sent to the area, or was the entire raid planned by General Dix as a-means of revenge? We may never know the real reason, but the story gets even more complicated after Miss White's abduction.
On Monday, December 21, 1863, Brigadier General Wild sent Colonel Alonzo G. Draper and a detachment of 250 men from the 2nd NCCV to Knott's Island.
The events on Knott's Island were described second-hand in a report penned later by Brigadier General Wild. Wild defended the actions of Colonel Draper, and reported that Mrs. Susan White stood up to Colonel Draper and threatened him. She warned the Colonel that "if you burn my house, there will be no houses left standing on this Island," which Draper took to mean that her family would burn the houses of Union sympathizers on Knott's Island. Draper then insisted that Mrs. White accompany him. When Mrs. White found herself under arrest, she began to beg off. Colonel Draper remained firm, because the nature of her threat made it imperative she be taken into custody. However, someone pointed out to Draper that Mrs. White was very pregnant, and near her time of confinement. Draper relented, but asked Mrs. White's daughter Nancy if she would surrender in her mother's place. The young lady hesitated some 5 minutes, so Draper decided for her, and demanded that she go with them. Immediately, Miss White thought of her clothing, and gave a typically female reply that she had "nothing to wear." Colonel Draper allowed her to take her trunk along, and promised to give her time to dress at another house where they were to pass the night.
At the time Nancy White was taken hostage, she was living with her parents, Henry and Susan Ann Fentress White, and several brothers and sisters. The youngest child, Marshall, was born, according to family tradition, the night that Nancy was taken hostage by Colonel Draper and his men. Henry had three brothers - James, age 37, Caleb, age 24, and William, age 22.
After destroying the homes of Caleb White and Henry White, Colonel Draper and his troops left Knott's Island, taking Nancy White" in tow as a hostage. He and his men headed back to Virginia by way of the Federal outpost at Pungo Point on the east bank of the North River.
Although Wild may not have ordered Draper specifically to take Miss White hostage, he came under fire because of the situation, especially when he did not release her for several weeks. She was still being held hostage on January 10, 1864, when Wild had to make a report to General Barnes regarding her situation. He explained that there were no charges against the young lady, but that she was being held "as hostage, to be offset against any of my colored soldiers taken prisoner by the Guerrillas." Wild stated that Miss White had been "uniformly well treated-and comfortably lodged in company with 2 other women-wives of guerrillas." He noted that she had not complained about her situation, and he dismissed allegations that she had not been allowed to write her mother, or that news of her family had been kept from her. On the contrary, in writing to her mother, Miss White had "praised our kind treatment and consideration, "although she did say, "After all, it is not like home."
Wild continued to defend Draper's actions as necessary because of the threats made by Mrs. Susan White to burn the homes of Union sympathizers on Knott's Island. However, he assured Barnes that Miss White was now being held only as a witness in the Draper court martial. After that matter was resolved, she would no longer be needed as a witness, and would be released sometime in mid-January of 1864.
Miss White ReleasedIn a postscript to his letter to General Barnes, Wild excused his actions in keeping Miss White because she was needed as a witnesses in the trial between Colonel Draper and Lieutenant Colonel Wead, to take place before Major General Butler. Wild admitted he had been willing to release the girl ten days earlier, but since the trial of Draper had to be postponed until January 12, he had to retain her in custody. He declared: "She must appear at that time. And I do not intend to have her in the meantime tampered with by Lt. Col. Wead and his gang. I therefore keep her as close as ever." He promised to release her immediately after the trial, since she was no longer needed as a witness.
During the time that I have been a prisoner under you and confined in Capt. Croft's Quarters, I have been treated very kindly, indeed more than I could expect and have had everything done that could conduce to my comfort and shall ever feel grateful to you for your bounty, and to Capt. Croft and family for the many kindnesses that I have received during my imprisonment.
The envelope in which Miss White sent her letter has been
reproduced in Galen Harrison's Prisoners' Mail from the American
Civil War. Before her release, Miss White was required to pledge
"her word and honor as a lady not to give Aid and Comfort to the
Rebels," and to "do all in her power to restore the United States
Government to its former Supremacy."
Once the trial was over, as promised, Wild released Miss White from custody.
After Nancy White was released, she returned home to Knott's Island. She eventually married Eugene Ballance, son of Willoughby and Arsenth Ballance, on May 25, 1875. Nancy was born November 27,1840, and died May 8, 1920. The couple had two children to die in infancy, Nannie Ballance (August 27, 1879-June 4, 1880), and Susan Ballance (October 7, 1882-August 14, 1883). Her only surviving child, Mary Ballance, married a Mr. Dey. Mary Dey died in Norfolk, Virginia, about 1945. A family legend relates that Nancy White kept a diary about her days as a hostage, but that her daughter, Mary Ballance Dey, would never release it. Alyda White (Mrs. Emory Beasley), 74-year-old great-niece of Nancy White, wrote an account stating that Nancy "thought it was a disgrace to stay in jai1." Alyda had heard also that Nancy was only 16 at the time of her abduction. She also said that Henry White was not on Knott's Island when Draper and his Federal troops arrived and began burning homes and outbuildings, but that he watched his barn and boats burn from a safe distance. Mrs. Beasley also notes that Marshall White was born the same night Nancy was abducted.
Alyda White was the daughter of William Fentress White and Verna Irene Bowden, granddaughter of William Henry White (Nancy White's brother) and Lenora.