Book details local Union loyalist
Posted: October 25, 2012
The Winchester Star
Winchester — A Union loyalist in the midst of the Confederate South during the Civil War was a precarious situation for the Lewis family.
The anti-secessionist family walked a thin line between following what they believed and alienating their neighbors in Rockingham County.
The story of how they not only survived but thrived during the war and Reconstruction is explored in the new nonfiction book, “No Cause of Offence: A Virginia Family of Union Loyalists Confronts the Civil War.” Author Lewis F. Fisher, 70, of San Antonio, Texas, will have a book signing from 5 to 7 p.m. today at the Winchester Book Gallery, 185 N. Loudoun St. The book is $24.95.
“There were some pretty tough spots in there, as the book goes into, but basically, they didn’t overly offend their neighbors, so when the dust settled, it was much easier for them to take charge and rise to some positions of authority,” Fisher said.
The signing is the first of four in a promotion tour in Virginia for Fisher, who came to the area Wednesday for the events. The book was published this month by Maverick Publishing Co., which he owns.
Despite his personal connection to his ancestors, Fisher said he was careful not to approach their story wearing “rose-colored glasses,” instead working to “really understand what was going on.”
The book focuses on patriarch Samuel Hance Lewis and his three sons, all of whom were Union loyalists. Samuel was Fisher’s great, great-grandfather.
“They had their own ideals, their own principles,” Fisher said. “They just didn’t think that states should be able to secede on their own. Differences should be worked out under the Constitution.”
John F. Lewis was Samuel Lewis’ second son and the most prominent member of the family. He was elected to attend Virginia’s Secession Convention in Richmond, where he voted to remain in the Union.
He also ran the Mount Vernon Furnace, which produced iron, and covertly overstaffed it with Union loyalists to keep them from being forced into military service. In some cases, John Lewis requisitioned local pro-union men already conscripted into the army, Fisher said.
In conducting his research, Fisher said he was shocked at the number of Union loyalist workers — at least 80 men — and the fact that his ancestor successfully kept them out of the Confederate army.
“That he would have been able to conduct this operation right under the nose of the Confederate government, which had to know about it, I think they looked the other way,” he said. “They were making iron, so they were of some use to the South. They just let them do it.”
During the war, an estimated 20 percent of the business’ production was turned over on demand to the Confederate government, and the rest was for civilian use.
Mount Vernon Furnace was burned in September 1864 by Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan, Fisher said. With no furnace to provide military exemptions, workers scattered — some nabbed by conscription officers, some making it safely to West Virginia, and others finding refuge for the rest of the war in an underground room near Swift Run Gap.
After the war, Samuel Lewis’ sons each went on to prominent careers. John Lewis would become Virginia’s lieutenant governor and a U.S. senator.
The ruins of his business are now within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park and the chimney is still visible, Fisher said.
“There are archaeologists from James Madison University who have been excavating parts of the site,” he said. “The National Park Service does have plans to do some amount of restoration of the furnace. They will certainly stabilize it so it will be a site that you can visit.”
Developing this book has been a long and involved process, the author said. The idea for it started with a high school term paper on the Battle of Port Republic.
“I wrote letters to members of my grandfather's generation and got a lot of information,” Fisher said. “I was asking the questions that people always wished years later they had asked when it is too late.”
Off and on through the years, he came across extra pieces that added to the story. As his 70th birthday approached, he decided the story wouldn’t get told unless he did it. He finished researching the book, and since he owns a publishing company, albeit one that usually focuses on regional Texas nonfiction, he decided to publish it through Maverick.
“We have about 40 or more titles by about two dozen authors, so it is not just something that grinds out books by me,” he said.
For more information about “No Cause of Offence,” contact Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com