Birthday: September 9, 1839
Died At Age: 81
Sun Sign: Virgo
Also Known As: William Anderson Hatfield
Born in: Logan, West Virginia
Famous as: Patriarch of the Hatfield Clan
father: Ephraim Hatfield
mother: Nancy Vance
siblings: Ellison Hatfield, Martha Hatfield, Valentine Hatfield
children: Elias M. Hatfield, Elliott Rutherford Hatfield, Emmanuel Wilson, Joseph Davis Hatfield, Mary Hatfield Hensley, Simpkins Howes
Died on: January 6, 1921
U.S. State: West Virginia
Who was Devil Anse Hatfield?
William Anderson Hatfield was a Confederate soldier and the patriarch of his family during the Hatfield–McCoy feud, which has come to be known as one of the bloodiest family rivalries in the history of America. He was also referred to as Devil Anse Hatfield. A native of the Old South, he grew up deeply believing in the Southern causes and when the American Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate army, and was commissioned as a First Lieutenant. After the disbandment of his unit, he joined the newly formed 45th Battalion Virginia Infantry as a private. Hatfield garnered a reputation for being efficient and ruthless in the battlefield, and gradually rose through the ranks to become a captain in the unit. Later, he co-founded the infamous Logan Wildcats to wage guerrilla warfare against the Union sympathizers. During this period, he was accused of murdering Asa Harmon McCoy. This set off the almost three-decade-long feud, where both families lost several of their members. Hatfield went on to survive the bloodshed, as did his main rival, the McCoy family patriarch Randolph McCoy, and died at the ripe old age of 81. Their story has since become an important part of American folklore and a metonym for any bitter rivalry.
Childhood & Early Life
William Anderson Hatfieldwas born on September 9, 1839, in the Tug Valley of East Virginia (now Logan, West Virginia), as one of the eighteen children of Ephraim Hatfield and Nancy Vance. He was of English and Swedish descent from his father’s side and of Scottish and Irish descent from his mother’s. He had brothers named Valentine, Ellison, and Elias, and a sister named Martha.
There are several contradictory stories of how he came to be known as Devil Anse. According to one account, it was given to him by his mother. Another one states that Randolph McCoy gave him moniker. It is also possible that he got the name during his service in the Confederacy army, or maybe it was used to differentiate him from his good-tempered cousin, Anderson "Preacher Anse" Hatfield.
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The Hatfields were an affluent family, and prominent and politically well-connected members of the community. Even in his youth, Devil Anse was a well-respected marksman and rider. He married Levisa "Levicy" Chafin on April 18, 1861. Chafin, who was also a Virginia native, was the daughter of Nathaniel Chafin, a neighbouring farmer, and Matilda Varney.
They had 13 children together, sons Johnson "Johnse" (1862–1922), William Anderson "Cap" (1864–1930), Robert E. Lee (1866–1931), Elliott Rutherford (1872–1932), Elias M. (1878–1911), Detroit W. "Troy" (1881-1911), Joseph Davis (1883-1963), Emmanuel Wilson "Willis" (1888-1978), and Tennyson Samuel "Tennis" (1890-1953), and daughters Nancy (1869-1937), Mary (1873-1963), Elizabeth (1876-1962), and Rose Lee “Rosie” (1885-1965).
Hatfield grew up in a turbulent period in American history. Virginia was the epicentre of the Old South, all facets of that culture—frommusic to cuisine to slavery—thrived there at the time. So when the Republicans, led by President-elect Abraham Lincoln, following the 1860 election win, gave their full support to banning slavery from all the US territories, Virginia and the rest of the Southern states saw it as an infringement of their constitutional rights and as part of the Republicans’ grander plan to abolish slavery.
Virginia wasn’t one of the earliest states to declare secession from the Union. In fact, they voted against it at the State Convention on April 4, 1861. However, war broke out later in that month and soon the public opinion shifted. There were many other causes for the Civil War besides slavery, including states’ rights; the social, political, and economic difference between the North and the South; territorial crisis; and Lincoln’s election.
The Hatfields were ardent believers in Southern causes. After his marriage, Devil Anse did not spend much time with his new bride and joined the Confederate army at the height of the Civil War. In 1862, he served in the Cavalry in the Virginia State Line as a first lieutenant, guarding the territory at the border between Kentucky and Virginia where people of loyalties to both the Union and the Confederacy resided.
When the Virginia State Line disbanded in 1863, Hatfield joined the 45th Battalion Virginia Infantry, a newly-formed unit. They were experts in guerrilla warfare, and spent the majority of their time either patrolling the border against the Union-sympathising bushwhackers and fighting against the Union soldiers themselves.
In time, he became a first lieutenant with this unit as well. He was later promoted to the position of captain of Company B. Hatfield distinguished himself on the battlefield by being cunning and resourceful. Sources connect him to multiple battles and killings of several prominent Union fighters, such as Ax and Fleming Hurley in 1863.
At the tail end of the Civil War, Hatfield, with the aid of his maternal uncle Jim Vance, founded the Logan Wildcats, a Confederate unit adept in guerrilla combat. They turned out to be very successful, taking out numerous Union combatants, including General Bill France, whose unit had earlier killed a member of the Wildcats.
In 1865, it was implied that he was involved in the murder of Asa Harmon McCoy, who had enlisted in the Union army, despite being at home at the time. However, in all probability, Vance was the one who orchestrated the crime.
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After the war ended, Hatfield began working as a farmer and buying real estate. He also owned a logging business, which turned to be hugely profitable. He fiercely defended what he considered was his. Hatfield successfully sued Perry Cline, a relative of Randolph "Randall" McCoy. He also had an illegal moonshine business.
The McCoys were staunch supporters of the Confederacy just like the Hatfields, with Asa being a rare exception. Compared to the Hatfields, they were a struggling middle class family, though they were early settlers in the area just as the Hatfields were. The Tug Fork, which is a tributary of the Big Sandy River and flows along the border of Kentucky and Virginia, separated their lands, with the Hatfields living on the Virginia side and the McCoys residing on the Kentucky’s.
While Asa’s murder started the animosity between the families, the feud truly began with an 1878 court case involving a hog. In the farming economy of the 19th century South, hogs were highly valued commodities and Floyd, one of Devil Anse’s cousins, was accused of stealing one from Randall. The case was presided over by Preacher Anse Hatfield and Floyd was eventually cleared of all charges. The McCoys were furious as they thought the Hatfields were the reason for the loss.
In 1880, Roseanna, Randall’s daughter, eloped with Johnse and started to live with the Hatfields in Virginia. The relationship produced a child who died soon after. She was eventually abandoned and died of a broken heart at the age of 29. In 1882, Devil Anse’s brother, Ellison, was murdered by Randall’s three sons. In retaliation, Hatfield executed all the three boys without a trial.
Cap and Jim Vance conducted a raid on the McCoys’ property on New Year’s Day 1888. While Randall and his wife survived the attack, many of their children perished. The situation was so dire that on one occasion, both the Kentucky and Virginia Governors threatened to invade the other state with their militias.
The feud came to a jarring halt following the Battle of Grapevine Creek on January 19, 1888. Jim Vance had been captured and killed by the McCoys and Devil Anse was seeking to avenge the death. Hearing of this, a posse led by deputy sheriff Frank Philipps rode out to capture the Hatfields. The opposing parties met at an area around the Grapevine Creek on the Virginia side of the Tug Fork River. The Hatfields were soundly defeated. Many of them were captured and brought to Kentucky for trial.
After the trial, the majority of the prisoners were given life sentences. Ellison Hatfield “Cotton Top” Mounts, the illegitimate son of Ellison Hatfield, was sentenced to death for the murder of Alifair McCoy. However, Devil Anse escaped capture and in 1891, agreed to end the feud.
Later Years & Death
For the major part of his life, Devil Anse Hatfield had remained agnostic or kept an anti-conformist view about religion. On September 23, 1911, at 72 years of age, he was baptized by William Dyke "Uncle Dyke" Garrett in Island Creek. He later established a Church of Christ congregation in West Virginia.
At the age of 81, he passed away due to pneumonia on January 6, 1921, in Stirrat, Logan County, West Virginia. Buried at the Hatfield Family Cemetery, his grave is marked by a life-size marble statue of him.
Unlike Randolph, who lost six of his 17 children during the feud, all of Hatfield’s children survived the bloodshed. He was the uncle of Henry D. Hatfield (1875-1862), the 14th Governor of West Virginia. Many of his descendants still live in those parts of the state.
Portrayals in Popular Culture
Devil Anse was portrayed by Kevin Costner opposite Bill Paxton’s Randall in History’s miniseries ‘Hatfields & McCoys’ (2012). Costner received both the Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actor for his performance. In the same year, a direct-to DVD film, ‘Hatfields & McCoys: Bad Blood’ was released. In it, actor Jeff Fahey was cast as Hatfield.
In 1979, both the Hatfield and McCoy families appeared on the game show ‘Family Feud’ as contestants. The McCoys won the series that lasted a week.