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Legend has it around Tazewell and Wythe Counties, about a young woman. Molly Tynes, and her heroic ride to warn Wytheville of an impending Union raid in July 1863 during the Civil War.
Legend is the important word, here, because little of the story has been documented. But there are some facts we know.
In the aftermath of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, and Vicksburg’s surrender in Mississippi, the Union Army devised a plan to strike vulnerable Southwest Virginia. Union leaders gave Col. John T. Toland three goals: take the Confederate salt mines at Saltville in Smyth County, take the lead mines at Austinville in Wythe County, and wreck the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad lines at Wytheville. By July 16, Toland’s troops camped just outside Jeffersonville, present-day Tazewell, and prepared for an overland raid, east across the mountains, to Wytheville.
The Tynes family household in Jeffersonville seemed tame enough. Samuel Tynes, though healthy, was getting on in years. His wife, Frances, was ill. His son, Achillies, was off fighting with Confederate infantry Col. John McCauland.
This left Samuel’s daughter, Mary Elizabeth, or "Molly," a 26-year-old graduate of Valley Union Seminary, later Hollins College, to tend to her ailing mother. Toland’s troops likely determined they had little to fear from an old man, a sick wife, and their care-giver daughter.
As the legend goes, Molly learned about the Union plans and decided to risk a harrowing ride across several mountain ranges to warn Wytheville’s townspeople of the Yankee approach.
So it was Molly left home late in the afternoon on July 17, 1863, on her mare, "Fashion," rode more than 40 miles over mountain ranges, through historic Burke’s Garden and finally across Big Walker Mountain, and arrived in Wytheville at about dawn the next day, July 18, to exclaim, "Yankees are coming."
Later that morning a Union force of nearly 1,000 soldiers, under Colonel Toland’s command, struck Wytheville with plans to destroy a railroad bridge over Reed Creek and disrupt the Confederate rail supply line. The battle of Wytheville, Toland’s Raid, occurred along Tazewell Street in front of the present-day Rock House. Colonel Toland was on horseback when a bullet shot from a Tazewell street home struck him in the heart. He died instantly. The enemy set afire a number of buildings and private homes, including the Rock House.
Did Molly save Wytheville? We know that Wytheville’s defense was a group of about 50 individuals, mostly older men and young boys. The town did receive a warning of the Union attack. Because of the warning, the enemy failed in its missions. Toland was fatally wounded; his men escaped into nearby woods.
Little is known of Molly after the war, except she married her soldier-sweetheart William D. Davidson, who became a member of the West Virginia legislature. Molly lived until 1891, she was 54 when she died. She is buried in a family plot in Tazewell.www.scv840jb.tripod.com/mollytynes.htm,
Written by Kendall L. Gleason for the Fall-Winter 2000 Edition of Virginia, a
magazine on history and travel.