"A MATCH MADE IN HELL" - Nancy Hart's Renegade Life

(07/23/2016)

Youth drinks from Hart Spring,
still flowing good drinking water
along the West Fork of the Little Kanawha

By Bob Weaver 2006

     If you are a Civil War buff, you likely know about Confederate spy and renegade scout Nancy Hart (1847-1912), but most Calhoun residents are unaware of Hart's connections to the local landscape.

      Known as the "lady guerrilla" of Calhoun's Moccasin Rangers, she once stayed along the banks of the lower West Fork of the Little Kanawha, between the villages of Rocksdale and Richardson.

Nancy Hart was photographed unsmiling and unemotional by itinerant photographer and telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, who befriended Hart while she was imprisoned and wrote about her in Leslie's Magazine, her dress was quickly put together with borrowed clothing, including the use of a Union soldiers hat adorned with feathers

MAP OF NANCY'S CALHOUN CONNECTION
Most Calhouners are unaware of the life and times of Nancy Hart, who for a time dwelled on the lower West Fork of the Little Kanawha, and joined the Moccasin Rangers, roaming the hills and hollers of Calhoun, her exploits became legendary

      Nancy's name invoked with the Rangers would likely bring fear to Calhoun citizens during the Civil War, The other "irregulars" were a murderous bunch.

      Calhoun oldtimers say Nancy's parents, Steven and Mary Hart, lived on both sides of the West Fork in Roane and Calhoun counties. The primitive dwelling was near the mouth of Triplett, a short distance from a well-known landmark "Nancy's Dancing Rock," where the free-spirited Nancy was said to display her talents.

      Accounts say the Hart family came from North Carolina and Virginia, and were "wilderness dwellers," frequently moving, attaching few roots.

Eighty-Nine-Year-Old Randall Whytsell (pictured left), who officially resides in the long-gone Village of Hassig, said tales about Nancy abounded when he was a small child coming of age along the Fork.

      Whytsell said during the years leading up to the Civil War, the family was said to have lived in a hillside house on the Calhoun side, site of the current Hart Spring, whose water is now piped down-hill to the Whytsell Park and is collected by local residents for drinking.

      What likely endeared young Nancy to the Rebel cause was the murder of her brother-in-law William Price of Countsville, Roane County. A group of Union Guards came to the Price house and said that William was needed in Spencer, saying they were taking him to town for an oath of allegiance.

      A short time later, William's wife heard gunshots, to find his body two days later, tied to a tree and shot. After the shooting, several family members joined the southern army.

      Nancy's life took a turn to toward the wild side when she met the notorious leader of Calhoun's Moccasin Rangers, Perry Connolly, quickly becoming his girlfriend.

      A Calhoun resident wrote "It was a match made in hell."

      The strapping Connolly was eight years her senior, a man known for abusing his physical prowess, able to better any man in the territory. He was known to win every fight and could ride by horseback up to sixty miles a day.

      Young Nancy, the only female member of the hellfire band often led Perry's non-commissioned troupe of southern sympathizers across several counties, their exploits told in "Calhoun and the Civil War." ... see   Calhoun County WVGenWeb

      Nancy was able to ride and shoot with the best of the Rangers, and was a talented navigator and spy who would cross-over to the Union camp and gather information.

      Her mean temper and deadly encounters caused a Calhoun woman who knew Nancy to write "I'd rather tease a copperhead snake than tease Nancy Hart."

      After being captured by Union troops and held captive in Summersville, Nancy charmed the heart of a homesick guard, using sweet talk and smiles, to turn a pistol on the soldier, shooting him in the heart.

      Nancy then escaped to a Confederate troop camping along the Greenbrier River and gave them information that easily allowed them to re-capture Summersville.

      Her boyfriend, Perry Connolly, was ambushed and critically shot by Union troops in 1862 - "Badly injured, unable to run, he fought like a cornered animal before being beat to death by gun butts."

      After serving as a guide for General Stonewall Jackson, she ended her guerrilla-life and married former ranger Joshua Douglas, and moved to the Richwood, West Virginia area. They had two sons. She died about 1912 and is buried at Manning's Knob near the Nicholas-Greenbrier County line.

MORE ABOUT NANCY: FOOTNOTES

- Nancy Hart's story has been recreated in the novel, Rebel Hart, by Edith Hemingway and Jacquelin Shields

- Richwood writer and journalism teacher Susan Johnson is the author of two plays about Nancy Hart, including "Bury Me by Nancy Hart" produced in 1992 and "Nancy Hart Live!"

- A Play "A Divided Hart" about her life, was produced by Jim Bush in Parkersburg in the 1980s

- "Nancy Hart" West Virginia Women: The West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia. Vol. 25. Richwood, West Virginia: 1974 (Jim Comstock)

- Hollandsworth, Myrtle, granddaughter of Nancy Hart. [Personal interview] February 1992

- McCollam, Moppie Douglas, granddaughter of Nancy Hart. [Personal interview] August 1992

- "County History: The Story of Nancy Hart." The Times Record. Spencer 1979 (Jim Mylott)

- "Calhoun in the Civil War" (Calhoun Gen-Web)


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