Davy Getz, Casualty of War

by Don Silvius


In the years since, the Civil War has been romanticized until it has taken on a "larger-than-life" quality. This war was the most significant event in the history of these United States of America, but all the romanticizing does not make the events that occurred any less terrible than they really were. One such event was the fate of the hapless Davy Getz.

Davy Getz was the thirty-nine year-old son of Andrew Getz of Woodstock. His younger brother Levi served in Thomas Rosserís brigade of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry and Davy may have looked up to his brother as a hero.

You may wonder why Davy himself was not enlisted in the service of the Confederacy. He has been described as having the mind of a child and being harmless and half-witted, he was even described as the "village idiot." When it was suggested that Davy enlist in the Confederate Army, he became terrified to extremes.

In late September of 1864, General Philip Sheridanís forces were frequently the targets of snipers and bushwhackers when they were burning barns and mills throughout the Valley. One day, Federal troopers under command of General George Armstrong Custer, came upon Davy Getz in the woods with a rifle.

Getzís personal appearance, to most observers, would indicate his ineptitude. Despite this appearance, Custerís men seized him as a bushwhacker. Davy stated that he was in the woods hunting squirrels. Given his mental status, one might wonder why his parents would send him out on such a mission while Federal troops were in the area.

When his parents learned that Davy had been captured, they found where his captors had taken him and pleaded with the Federal soldiers for his release. As bad news has a tendency to do, the word of Davyís capture and possible execution spread quickly throughout the town of Woodstock. Some of the areaís prominent citizens, Mrs. J. L. Campbell, Mrs. Murphy, Moses Walton, Dr. J. S. Irwin and Adolph Heller tried to intercede on Davyís behalf.

Dr. Irwin and Mr. Heller, an Austrian-born Woodstock merchant, were both staunch Union men. Both were held in high esteem by both sides for their honesty and moderation. In his appeal to General Custer, Mr. Heller said: "General Custer, you will have to sleep in a bloody grave for this. Surely, a just God will not permit such a crime to go unavenged." Despite their appeals to Custer, Davy was tied to a wagon and forced to march with the Federal army as an example to other citizens in the Valley. It was quite apparent that Custer meant to shoot Davy, but he did not do so immediately.

Davy Getz was forced to accompany the Federal army to Harrisonburg, where he awaited his fate with the supply wagons (during this last week of September, Custerís men were off in Augusta County burning the barns and mills, along with the yearís harvest). Getz was later moved to Custerís headquarters in Dayton, Rockingham County. Here, a court was convened and Davy was condemned to be shot as a bushwhacker.

Davy was led through Joseph Coffmanís orchard to a small rise of ground. The harmless Davy Getz was forced to dig his own grave. All the details are not known, but in this orchard, Davy was executed. His body lay uncovered for at least a day, during which time his shoes were stolen.

A few days later, on October 6, Rosserís brigade of the Seventh Virginia Cavalry passed through the little town of Dayton. Davyís brother, Private Levi Getz, a member of this brigade, unknowingly rode past the grave of his older brother that day. Shortly after the end of the war, seventy-six year-old Andrew Getz, Davyís father, could no longer bear the grief of his sonís fate and committed suicide.

The irony in this story is the fact that the Custer/Kuester families of the Brockís Gap area of Rockingham County and the Custers of Berkeley County in the Lower Shenandoah Valley were descended from the same German immigrant as General George Custer. Some of his destruction was carried out against members of his own family.

Twelve years later, in 1876 at Little Big Horn, Custer met his own fate. Chief Rain-in-the-Face and his men slaughtered Custer and his entire force. Adolph Heller had indeed described Custerís fate twelve years previous in the Shenandoah Valley when he said that Custer would "sleep in a bloody grave".


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Originally published at An Appalachian Country Rag, February 26 1999
Created March 29 2001
Updated April 14 2006
© 1999, 2001, 2006Don Silvius