The Civil War: Woman Risks It All to Retrieve Hidden Gun Powder

As Union Army approached, woman hides gun powder in graveyard, only to later find Union Army soldiers camped on the spot.

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Elizabeth Ann Obershain had much to worry about that summer in 1864. When word came that Gen. David Hunter's army was marching with a large part of the Union Army up the Valley of Virginia to attack Lynchburg from the rear, Elizabeth Ann was especially worried. Her eldest son, who was serving in the Confederate Army, had left at home some eight or 10 pounds of gun powder.

When Hunter's advance guard appeared on the opposite side of the river from Buchanan, Mrs. Obershain feared her house would be searched by Union soldiers as soon as they entered the town. Wishing to save her son's powder, she carried it over to the graveyard of St. John's, which adjoined her premises. She concealed it under some rank, matted grass near an old tombstone in the rear of the church, where from the solemn ness of the place, she supposed no soldier would go, and that the powder would be safe.

Great then was her surprise and amazement when, going out on the back porch at about 10 p.m., she saw several fires burning in that part of the churchyard and soldiers lying around them on the ground. She realized at once the situation. "Should fire get to that powder," she thought, "and cause it to explode and do any injury, the soldiers, supposing it was intentional, would become infuriated and burn the town." The mere thought of being the cause of such a calamity, though innocent, was more than she could bear.

Followed by her housemaid, Hannah, she went out through the garden and crept cautiously up to the dividing fence. Soldiers were stretched out on the ground here and there on the other side, fast asleep. Some of the fires were spreading slowly into the grass.

Thinking not of her own danger, but only of what might happen to others, she whispered to Hannah to remain where she was, climbed the fence noiselessly, crept steadily among the sleeping soldiers, got the powder and returned safely with it to the house.

When told afterward that she was in great peril at the time; that if she had been detected when coming out with the powder in her possession, the soldiers would have believed she was attempting to do the very thing she had gone there to prevent, she replied, "I did not once think of that."

Mrs. Morris Borden Tucker
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.