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Friday, September 22, 2017

The CCC Comes to Spotsylvania

Camp MP-3, Chancellorsville (National Park Service)

     When Franklin Roosevelt became President in March 1933, the United States was in a bad way. The Great Depression was by then in its fourth year--hundreds of banks had failed, farms across the country had been foreclosed, unemployment remained at staggering levels and millions of Americans were receiving some sort of public assistance. The new administration felt a great sense of urgency to implement a series of programs to provide work and help alleviate the suffering and despair of the people.
     One such program, the Civilian Conservation Corps, was considered by many to be the most successful of these government initiatives. During its nine-year life, 1933-1942, the CCC provided employment to 3,000,000 Americans (including 200,000 black Americans who served in segregated companies commanded by whites). During the CCC years, "enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, roads, bridges, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 national parks and also upgraded state parks, updated forest fighting methods and built a network of service buildings and roadways in remote areas" (Wikipedia).
     The emergency Conservation Work Act was submitted to Congress by the new administration on March 21, 1933 and was enacted into law by voice vote on March 31. In conformance with the new law, President Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps on April 5 by Executive Order 6101.
     The CCC was managed by four cabinet-level departments: Labor, which recruited the enrollees; War, which operated the camps; and Agriculture and Interior, which organized and supervised the work projects. CCC enrollees were young men, age 18-25 (later expanded to include 17-28 year olds), who were unemployed, unmarried and whose families were frequently on relief. Enrollees signed up for six month enlistments. They worked six days a week and were paid $30 dollars per month, $22-$25 of which was sent to their families. These young men were organized into companies of up to 200 individuals, and one company would be assigned to each camp. Depending on the length of an ongoing project, several companies could be rotated into the camp until the work was done.
     A military commander from the Army Reserves supervised the activities of the enrollees in the camps. The park superintendents coordinated all the work projects, and the camp superintendents organized the daily work regimen. The enrollees received educational and religious instruction, and each camp maintained a small library.
     Three CCC camps were set up in Spotsylvania at the newly established national military parks: MP-1 at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield; MP-3 at Chancellorsville (which also serviced Fredericksburg); and MP-4 at the Wilderness. "They cleared the vistas, built the trails, built the bridges, landscaped the road sides, applied seed and sod to eroded earthworks and trenches, built picnic areas and reconstructed a missing section of the famous stone wall at Fredericksburg" (Eric Mink, Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville).
     The local CCC camps published monthly newsletters for the benefit of the enrollees. These were "Out of the Wilderness," "The Battlefield News" and "The Blowout." The surviving editions of these news letters can be found online at Virginia Chronicle. For a flavor of what these publications were like, here are a few pages from the June 1939 edition of "The Battlefield News:"

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

(Virginia Chronicle)

     Eric Mink, historian with the National Park Service, shared with me several documents relating to the local CCC. This is a schedule of classes held at the Chancellorsville camp:

Camp MP-3, June 7, 1939 (National Park Service)
     These three documents list the salaried employees of the local CCC camps and their pay rates (once the CCC completed its work at Chancellorsville, its designation changed from MP-3 to NP-11):

Camp MP-1, August 23, 1934 (National Park Service)

Camp MP-3, November 20, 1936 (National Park Service)

Camp NP-11, May 6, 1941 (National Park Service)

     I have been able to put together a little information about several of the men listed in these papers. Here is some background on these salaried employees of the CCC:

William Key Howard (Ancestry)
     William Key Howard (1904-1981) was the camp superintendent, and later park superintendent, at Chancellorsville. William was a descendant of Francis Scott Key, and a brother-in-law of Spotsylvania clerk of court, Cary Crismond. His grandfather (1829-1899), for whom he was named, was born in Baltimore and served in the 1st Maryland Infantry (Confederate) until it was disbanded. He then joined the 4th Virginia Cavalry. He was captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal prison. After the Civil War, the elder William Key Howard bought Kenmore, and his family lived there for many years. The grandmother of the park superintendent was Clara Haxall Randolph (1831-1913). During the Civil War, she served as a Confederate spy who smuggled arms, letters and medicines from Maryland into Virginia. She was also captured in 1864 and spent the rest of the war in federal custody.
     Superintendent Howard's uncle, William Key Howard, Jr., spent a year repairing the artistic plaster ceiling at Kenmore damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg. A video about his work at Kenmore is well worth your time and can be viewed at Saving Kenmore's Ceilings.

Alphonzo Apperson (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo Apperson (1875-1960) of Orange County served as a foreman both at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House camps (the foremen managed work crews of 40-50 men). He was a nephew of Dr. John Samuel Apperson, about whom I recently wrote.

John Henry Apperson with his father, Eli (Vickie Neely)

     Alphonzo's brother, John Henry Apperson (1885-1964), was a blacksmith by trade. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, John and his brother, Bernard, undertook many blacksmithing jobs in the region utilizing their portable smithy, shown here:

John Apperson and his portable blacksmith shop (Vickie Neely)

     John was selected for the salaried job as blacksmith upon the CCC's arrival in Spotsylvania. He first worked at the camp at Spotsylvania Court House, and later at Chancellorsville. Among his duties were maintaining the tools used by the enrollees and fabricating hardware for the signs in the new military parks. He also held classes in blacksmithing.

John Henry Apperson at his forge (Vickie Neely)

     John routinely brought CCC enrollees to his home near Parker in western Spotsylvania County so that they could enjoy a home-cooked meal. Among these young men befriended by John was Charles Dixon Pierro (1908-1982), a self-described commercial artist. Originally from Ohio, Charles came to Fredericksburg as a young man and remained in the area for the rest of his life. At some point during his friendship with John Henry Apperson, Charles helped himself to one of the signs in the camp and painted on it the scene above showing John at work in his shop. Charles Dixon Pierro evidently led a colorful life. On his World War II draft registration card, he listed his distinguishing marks as "Left arm tattooed--Bullet hole through chest."

Florence Apperson and George Elliott May (Vickie Neely)

     Another CCC visitor to the Apperson home was George Elliott May (1909-1980), a welder and mechanic from Norfolk. George was the salaried mechanic for the camps. George and John Henry Apperson's daughter, Florence, took a liking to each other and got married. The photograph below, showing George May's work space, appears in John Cummings' book, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. The caption reads: "This photograph shows the interior of the vehicle maintenance garage. Senior project superintendent William K. Howard reported, 'Mechanic May is kept continuously busy on repairs of trucks of the three camps, being assisted by Mechanic Beasley from Camp MP-4.'"

Vehicle maintenance garage, 1935 (National Park Service)

     There were two other salaried foremen from Spotsylvania that I would like to mention here. George Day Stephens, Sr., was a grandson of Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor. Frederick Lee Parker (1895-1980) was a son of Frank and Wilhelmina Parker, who owned the general store (and one-time stop on the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad) on Brock Road where Wilhelmina served as postmistress 1895-1940.

Jodie, Sue and Day Stephens (Donald Colvin)

Fred Parker (Donald Colvin)

Camp P-69 (National Park Service)

     A fourth camp, P-69--known as Camp MacArthur--was set up on property rented from the Payne family. On the map above, Camp Malcom MacArthur can be seen at the bottom of the image on Catharpin Road near its intersection with Stewart Road. Frank Payne's store can be seen at right, at Catharpin and Piney Branch roads. Unlike the other CCC camps in Spotsylvania, Camp MacArthur was not involved in the work at the nearby military parks. As stated in John Cummings's book, "The P-69 camp concentrated its energies on the surrounding rural needs such as fire lanes and trails...The Commonwealth of Virginia administered P-69."

Frank Payne (Donald Colvin)

Freemond Payne (Donald Colvin)

Amanda Kennedy Payne and Lottie Kent Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Thomas Pearson Payne (1852-1934) once owned much of the land on Catharpin Road between Piney Branch and Stewart roads. By the time the CCC established Camp MacArthur, Thomas' sons Freemond and Frank were living on the north side of Catharpin near Stewart. Both Freemond and Frank farmed their property, and Frank also operated a saw mill business.

Camp MacArthur (Donald Colvin)


     In the photograph above, Camp MacArthur stands along the north side of Catharpin Road. In the right foreground is the drive that led to Frank and Lottie Payne's property. Just beyond the tents, out of view of the camera, is the home where Freemond and Amanda Payne lived with their children.

House of Freemond and Amanda Payne (Donald Colvin)

     Also not seen in the camp picture above, just before the drive leading to Frank and Lottie's house, was what would become Sonny Davis' Garage, which began as the motor pool for the camp. A mess hall, built to serve the enrollees, can be seen in the two pictures below. The bicyclists in the second photo are Freemond and Amanda's son, Carey, and CCC worker, Charlie Rogers.

Camp MacArthur mess hall under construction (Donald Colvin)

Carey Payne and Charlie Rogers at mess hall (Donald Colvin)

     Below are images of an unidentified officer beside a truck, and a group of CCC workers in front of one of the tents.

(Donald Colvin)

(Donald Colvin)

     According to Eric's Mink article on the CCC at Chancellorsville, Camp P-69 was staffed in June 1934 by Company 1363, which had spent the previous month at MP-3. This company was comprised of 207 veterans of the First World War. Company 1363 apparently spent a short time at Camp MacArthur before being rotated back to Chancellorsville. I do not know which companies may have stayed at Camp MacArthur before or after Company 1363.
     After the CCC left, Frank Payne made use of the camp's boiler at his saw mill. The mess hall was used by the Payne brothers to host dances. Lottie and Amanda used to prepare food that was sold at these get-togethers. A third Payne brother, Ashby, played fiddle and called tunes at these dances.

Ashby Payne

     I am told that the posts along Catharpin Road where the tents had been pitched remained in place for decades after the CCC era, and that as late as the 1950s locals would use them to hitch their horses. In the years after the camp picture was taken, three houses were built where the tents once stood, namely, those of Joe and Margaret Harding, Elton and Lucille Jones, and Embrey and Isadora Payne.

My thanks to Vickie Neely, Donald Colvin, Eric Mink and John Cummings for their assistance.


- John Cummings, Images of America: Spotsylvania County. Arcadia Publishing, Charleston: SC, 2011.

-Eric Mink:
     Civilian Conservation Corps at Chancellorsville
     A Camp in the Wilderness: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp MP-4

- National Park Service: The National Park Service Camps

- Wikipedia: Civilian Conservation Corps



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Adventists Come to Screamersville

Arrival of Adventists at Screamersville, early 1900s (Vickie Neely)

     This is the final installment of a three-part series that details the singular and epic experience of the Armstrongs and Colemans, two northern families who came to Spotsylvania in the 1850s. For those of you who have not yet read the first two articles, they can be found at "They would have him dead or alive" and "Since the war, I have been fighting them politically".

Mahlon Armstrong (Vickie Neely)

     When the three Armstrong families came to Spotsylvania in the late 1850s from New Castle County, Delaware, they joined the first Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg. Their names appear in the Manual for the Members of the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg, Virginia, 1860. Shown on the list below, they were: Mahlon Armstrong and his sister, Martha; Mahlon's brother, William, and his wife Sarah; Mahlon's cousin, Archibald, and his wife, Sarah. Mahlon's father was not a church goer and his name does not appear on the church's rolls.

From the membership rolls of Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church

     It is not known whether Mahlon resumed his attendance at the Prebyterian Church, or any church for that matter, after his return to Spotsylvania after the Civil War. While living in Washington, DC in the early 1870s, Mahlon noted in letters to his wife, Romelia, that he attended services in at least three different churches--Methodist-Episcopalian, Quaker and Catholic. From that fact it appears that Mahlon was not committed to any one denomination at this point in his life, and he may have tried several different churches seeking one that would be a good fit for him. For Mahlon, that search would end in October 1889.
     As I understand it, Adventism in America evolved from a movement called Millerism, founded by William Miller, a New York farmer, lay preacher and Bible student. One of the tenets of the Millerites held that the earth would be destroyed by fire during Jesus' second coming. Miller spent years carefully calculating the end of the world by consulting the Bible and other sources. He revealed to his followers that the apocalypse would occur in 1844. When the world did not end on the first date he predicted, he forecast the end for several other dates that year. When the world failed to vaporize on any of those dates ("The Great Disappointment"), a schism occurred among his adherents. His movement divided into several new Adventist groups, including the Life and Advent Union, started by John T. Walsh. The Virginia Life and Advent Christian Union (which will hereafter be abbreviated as VLACU) was the umbrella organization for this branch of Adventists in the Commonwealth. It was this organization that brought Adventism to Spotsylvania.
     The Life and Advent Christian Church, located at 1206 West Cary Street in Richmond, was organized in 1887. Soon thereafter, mission work was undertaken in Spotsylvania. The first camp meeting in Spotsylvania, led by Elder R. C. Brown, was held October 5-22, 1889 on property near the Screamersville depot where the  Virginia Mission Tent had been erected. Several dozen Virginia Adventists assembled there to await the second coming and the end of the world. Among them was Mahlon Armstrong. Once again, the world failed to vaporize, and the out-of-town Adventists boarded the train and returned to their homes.

Richmond Daily Times, October 24, 1889

     Despite this inauspicious beginning, Mahlon became a true believer in the Adventist creed. He helped build the Berea Adventist Church near Screamersville in 1891. Over the years, he held positions of authority in VLACU, including secretary and treasurer. He was also instrumental in organizing a number of camp meetings in Spotsylvania, the last one being in 1911.

Map detail of Spotsylvania (Vickie Neely)

     The camp meetings were held on property owned by the Adventists located between modern Chancellor Road (Route 674) and Lewis Thorburn Road (Route 743). Out-of-town attendees would arrive at the Screamersville depot (which was also a post office and general store) via the Potomac, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Railroad. In the map detail shown above, Screamersville was located where the Virginia Central Railway (successor to the P F & P Railroad) crossed Route 674. For those of you who may be interested in my brief history of the railroad that once connected Fredericksburg with the town of Orange, it can be read at Death on the Virginia Central.

The Daily Star, February 5, 1903

     The Berea Adventist Church burned in 1899 and was rebuilt the following year. The last regular camp meeting there was held in 1911, although the Life and Advent Christian Church of Richmond, which owned the property, continued to have occasional events there until the 1930s. By 1945, the church building had fallen prey to neglect and decay and burned some time after that.

Mary Armstrong Mitchell (Vickie Neely)

     Mahlon and Romelia's daughter Mary, their only child, married Joseph Clarence Mitchell on January 15, 1899. During the first six years of their marriage, they had four children together: David Lynn, Louis Clarence, Elsa Gertrude and William Eugene. The Mitchells became Adventists and attended the camp meetings in the early 1900s. Shown in the 1905 photograph below at rear are Romelia Armstrong and Mary Mitchell holding Elsa. Seated is Romelia's mother, Esther Coleman, and next to her are Mary's two oldest sons, David and Louis.

Four generations at the Berea Adventist Church, 1905 (Vickie Neely)

     Vickie Neely's collection of photographs includes a number of pictures of the Berea Adventist Church, a few of which are presented here:

Berea Adventist Church

Romelia Armstrong at Berea Adventist Church

Adventists in front of one of the tents

Adventists in front of Berea Adventist Church

A gathering during one of the camp meetings

Children posing for a photo at one of the camp meetings

      The candid photo taken of the youngsters on the grounds of Berea Adventist Church include three children of Joseph Clarence and Mary Mitchell: Elsa, seated second from left; Louis, the tall lad in the back; and Willie, seated second from right. Elsa later remarked that that her association with some of the children she met at these meetings turned into life long friendships.
      In 1907, the attendees of the camp meeting posed for the group portrait shown below. It is my understanding that the research for the caption was done by the late Dr. Robert A Hodge. The members of the Armstrong and Mitchell families are identified:

Attendees at the Screamersville camp, 1907

     Also worth noting in this photograph are:

- Johsua Scott Mewshaw (23), who was chairman of the committee of finance for the VLACU. Johsua was active in the civic life of Washington, DC and for 18 years worked as station master at the old Pennsylvania train station. He was married to Juanita (9), and they were the parents of Rosa Musetta (8).

- James Howle (not in the picture) was the pastor of the Life and Advent Christian Church in Richmond. He was a tinner by trade and a long time employee of the city gas works. James was the father of Mary Duval Howle, (3), Alice May Howle Wingfield (18), Jessie Howle (32) and Bessie Evelyn Howle (35).

- Bennett Lee Fraysier (21) was president of the VLACU. His paying job was that of buyer and manager of the shoe department at the J. B. Mosby Company in Richmond ("The Finest Store in the South"). His mother (5) stands behind him and his future wife, Lula Baughn (6) stands next to her.

- Bennoni Milstead (24) was a government laborer and one-time chairman of the committee of finance for the VLACU.

     In addition to his work as an Adventist, Mahlon Armstrong continued to farm at Beechwood, his home on Gordon Road. In addition, he trained as a surveyor and was hired to survey the property of the late Richard Comfort in 1905 so that the land could be divided among his heirs (Virginia Chancery Causes).

Bramble Hill Post Office (Ancestry)

     Mahlon also ran a general store on a section of his property called Bramble Hill. In July 1911, he was named post master of the post office established there. This remained active until May 1913, when the post office at Bramble Hill was discontinued and its functions were transferred to the nearby Homedale office. Two months later, Homedale was also closed and its postal duties were consolidated at Screamersville.
     Mahlon's mother-in-law, Esther Coleman, died at his home in 1906. His daughter, Mary Mitchell, died of tuberculosis in 1910. Both are buried in the cemetery at Berea Adventist Church.

1918 Richmond city directory (Ancestry)

     Mahlon's long and eventful life took one more unexpected turn when by 1917, at the age of 80, he and Romelia left Spotsylvania and moved to 105 Lady Street in Richmond, where they operated a grocery. This would be the last hurrah of Mahlon Armstrong. In early 1918, he developed a carbuncle on his neck. Septicemia set in, and he died on February 6. His body was brought back to Spotsylvania and he was buried at Berea Adventist Church.

Mahlon and Romelia Armstrong (Dan Janzegers)

     After Mahlon's death, Romelia went to Baltimore and spent some time with her brother, Royal Bunker Coleman, who worked as a driver for the city trolley system.

Royal Bunker Coleman and Romelia Armstrong (Vickie Neely)

     Romelia returned to Spotsylvania and lived out her years in a small house on the Beechwood property. As her health declinced, she was cared for by her niece, Grace Coleman Alsop Harris. Grace, a practical nurse, moved in with Romelia and stayed with her until her death on December 1, 1932. She is buried next to Mahlon in the cemetery at Berea Adventist Church.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Dr. John Samuel Apperson

Dr. John Samuel Apperson (Virginia Tech Imagebase)

     "February 2, 1859. This morning was one of uncommon interest to me. I arose early and prepared myself to leave, for where, I hardly know" [1]. So begins the diary of 21-year-old John Samuel Apperson, a remarkable document written by a man confident that an adventuresome and successful future lay ahead of him. Future events would justify his optimism.

Malinda and Alfred Apperson (Jack Apperson, Ancestry)

     Born into humble circumstances in Orange County on August 21, 1837, John achieved a great deal in his lifetime. He was a man of many resources, and utilized his native talents to become successful in the fields of both medicine and business. He married twice and was the father of eleven children, some of whom became successful in their own right.
     John was the oldest of six children born to Alfred Apperson and Malinda Jones, who were married in Orange County on September 3, 1836. As a young man, Alfred had worked as an overseer. He later bought a 170-acre farm in Orange just north of the old Turnpike (modern Route 20) near Locust Grove. In the Civil War-era map detail of Orange County shown below, "A. Epperson" can be seen at right above the double red line indicating the Turnpike. Ellwood, the home of Horace Lacy, can be seen at far right. Row's Mill, the home of Elhanon Row and his extended family, lay athwart the Turnpike at far left.

Map detail of Orange County (

     John Apperson's childhood was typical for his time and place. He worked on the family farm doing chores like cutting wood, making rails and plowing with a team of oxen. He attended a school until he was 12 years old, and afterwards supplemented his education by reading whatever books and periodicals might come to his house. By the age of 17 he was working in a country store, but was handicapped by his lack of mathematical knowledge. He remedied this problem by purchasing a copy of "Key to Davies' Arithmethic," from which he taught himself [2].
     On that February morning in 1859, when his journal begins, John packed up his worldly goods--consisting of his his clothes--and placed $12.50 in money and twenty four cents in stamps in his pockets. He took leave of his family, and then walked to his grandfather's house nearby, where he spent the night. The next day, he walked to Orange Court House, where he boarded a train bound for Charlottesville. While changing cars in Gordonsville, he encountered a friend of his, identified as "J. S. R." [3]. John told his friend that he was headed west, perhaps to Mississippi or Alabama [4].
     John arrived in Charlottesville at 2:00 that afternoon. Realizing that he did not have enough money to make the journey he originally intended, he set off on foot from the train station. His goal now was to make it as far as Lynchburg and look for work. While walking down the road, John met local resident John Dudley, who lived in the hills between Charlottesville and Scottsville. The convivial Dudley invited John to his house. John spent a few enjoyable days with his sociable host and his family, which included two comely and friendly daughters. The evenings consisted of drinking, fiddle-playing and dancing. On the morning of February 7, John bade farewell to the Dudleys and struck out for Lynchburg [5].
     John continued walking south down the road (likely the forerunner to modern Route 29) toward Lynchburg. He crossed the Rockfish River by way of a bridge that was being built, and spent the night with an agreeable farmer in Nelson County. By now John was quite footsore, and had developed large blisters on his right heel and instep. His kindly host invited him to stay with him until his feet improved, but John was anxious to reach Lynchburg. On the morning of February 8 he resumed his journey south [6].
     John at last arrived at Lynchburg and took a room at an inn. While looking for work, he met a man from Marion in Smyth County, who suggested that he go to the Seven Mile Ford there and try to get a job on the railroad. John took the train to Marion, arriving with just twenty seven cents in his pocket [7].
     After a short stint at cutting railroad ties, John met Dr. William Faris. Impressed by John's intelligence and obvious potential, Dr. Faris urged John to take up the study of medicine. John did so, and began to read with Dr. Faris and accompanied him while visiting patients. The 1860 census shows that John was living with the Faris family and his occupation was "student of medicine." He continued along this path of endeavor until the outbreak of the Civil War.

Dr. Harvey Black (Virginia Tech Imagebase)

     On April 18, 1861, John Apperson was mustered into what would become Company D of the 4th Virginia Infantry in Marion. Two months later, he was assigned duty as a hospital steward under the direction of Dr. Harvey Black, the regimental surgeon. The two served together for the remainder of the war. Dr. Black became John's lifelong friend, mentor and colleague.
     Harvey Black was born on August 27, 1827 in Blacksburg, a town founded by his family. Like John Apperson, Dr. Black took up the study of medicine as a young man. In 1847 he enlisted as an infantryman to fight in the Mexican War. After three months's service in the ranks, he was appointed hospital steward, at which duty he served until he was mustered out in 1848. He enrolled in the University of Virginia upon his return home, and earned his medical degree in 1849. On September 15, 1852, he married Mary Irby Kent, with whom he had a daughter and three sons [8].
     In the years leading up to the Civil War, Dr. Black and his family lived in Blacksburg, where he practiced medicine. The 1860 census shows that the owned one slave, a 23-year-old woman. He enlisted in the 4th Virginia Infantry on May 4, 1861. He was named regimental surgeon, a post he held until November 20, 1862, when General Thomas J. Jackson appointed him chief surgeon of the Field Hospital, 2nd Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. He brought along with him hospital steward John Apperson.

Map detail of Spotsylvania County during the Battle of Chancellorsville (

      The events during the Chancellorsville campaign made an indelible impression on John's mind. Here are excerpts from his journal during that momentous week. The first entry was written while the 2nd Corps Hospital was encamped south of Hamilton's Crossing near Fredericksburg:

"Wednesday, April 29, 1863: This morning early the sound of cannon was bursting along the shore of the Rappahannock. A courier soon came back with some orders for Dr. Black. It stated that Dr. Black should be ready to move his hospital near the field. Dr. went to wash preparing to obey orders--another came ordering the ambulance train up. By 2 p. m. the wagons were ready to move...In wandering around we discovered the old Brigade. I saw the 4th and had a cordial meeting with the boys. There was considerable fighting near Fredericksburg, which resulted in some 30 killed and wounded and a company captured from our side.
Thursday, April 30, 1863: Today spent in camp speculating what would be done...The chief opinion is that we will fall back...The enemy is only making a feint here while the main body is crossing at Kelly's and Germanna...
Friday, May 1, 1863: Orders were received this morning from Dr. [Hunter] McGuire to move...At Telegraph Road we turned to the left at Mr. Wyatt's and out to the Plank Road [modern Route 610, now called Old Plank Road] at Tabernacle Church...We moved across the Plank Road and a little up to the right of the road, going west and camped. News at the front is that the enemy is falling back before our skirmishers.
Saturday and Sunday, May 2 and 3, 1863: The troops marched up the Plank Road to "New Store" [the home of John Alrich, at the intersection of modern Old Plank and Catharpin roads]. Here was a great many wounded. The house bore the unmistakable marks of a conflict nearby. Heavy cannonading toward the Old Furnace...The ambulance train took the old Catharpin Road and went up to Todd's Tavern. I was on horseback. There we took the road known as Brock's Road and paralleled it about a mile. The troops came out from the furnace [modern Jackson Trail East], crossed Brock's Road and left it to the right...Dr. Black directed us on a left hand road [modern Jackson Trail West] by William Stephens' and Mr. Triggs'. I began to expect that the fighting would occur at the Wilderness being the best position I knew of in this section of the county...We passed the old schoolhouse where I had studied the manners of spelling and arithmetic in 1845--nearly 18 years go. My feelings were such that I could not discuss them. Dr. Black was ordered forward to establish a hospital and send the ambulances on the field. When we reached the old pike [modern Route 3] the ambulances were sent down and the loaded wagons went to the Wilderness. Our tents were pitched along a gully where I have enjoyed many merry plays at "Gully's Keeper." The wounded commenced coming in and we  went to work. It seemed that Jackson commenced upon them as soon as he came up and the enemy made tracks. Our troops fought almost recklessly. The enemy left his mules. The saddest event of the day is a wound received by Gen. Jackson...he was wounded in the left arm and amputation was necessary. Dr. McGuire operated [Dr. Harvey Black assisted him]. The wounded commenced coming. The enemy's strong works had been stormed and taken principally by Trumble's Division under command of Brig. General Colston...The loss in the 4th Regiment is almost appalling--went in with 365 and lost 162. The "Blue and Gray" lost 50. The brigade charged the enemy's works three times before it was successful. General Paxton was killed; he was a brave man. Capt. Harman in the 4th Regt. was killed. Capt. Fulton lost a leg.
Monday May 4th, 1863: Nothing outside of the usual course of stirring events happened today. I saw some of the Misses Hawkins [9] and thought I knew them. A servant ran along and informed that I was right. I sent them my card and compliments...The fighting has nearly ceased. Our army is about one-half mile in advance of Chancellorsville and the enemy between that and the road. Both armies are intrenching. It was also reported that our force at Fredericksburg has been dislodged and the heights around Marye's House captured.
Tuesay May 5th, 1863: Today we were busy. Dr. Black sent Dr. Hackett and myself over to the barn to assist Dr. Straith...Dr. Straith put me to work on some mutilated hands. I took off a number of fingers and one was taken off in the middle of the metacarpal bone. This was Martin Roan, Co. D 4th Va. Infantry. I extracted a ball from among the tarsus of the foot of a soldier...
Wednesday May 6th 1863: This morning rain began to fall and soon the whole place was one mud puddle. I saw Lt. Col. Dugan and proposed that he go to my father's for a few days, but before he got off new orders came for the wounded to be sent to Guinea's Depot. Dr. Hackett and myself went over to the barn again; nothing much to do. I went home. My father had been down and brought me some things and had gone to the battlefield. He was not at home when I arrived...At home I found nothing new. The yard around the house was beautiful--as green as could be. I sat up late and went to rest with a cheerful good night. Today I met an old servant that had served under my father.
Thursday, May 7th 1863: This morning by 8 I was up and off to my post. Arrived there before some had left their bed...Today I performed my first important operation--took off a Yankee's leg below the knee. Dr. Gilkerson stood by. I felt no embarrassment whatever. Mrs. Jones gave me a full history of Yankee vandalism. It is truly distressing. No people can prosper whose propensities for wanton destruction of property and oppressing defenseless women is so great. How the blood is made to boil at such atrocities and such acts of inhumanity" [10].

     At the conclusion of the war, Dr. Black went home to Blacksburg, and John went back to the Faris home in Marion. John saved his money for a year and then applied to the medical school at the University of Virginia. The professor of surgery at that time was Dr. James Edgar Chancellor, whose family had owned Chancellorsville [11]. John received his medical degree in 1867 and returned to Smyth County, where he made the town of Chilhowie his home. On February 20, 1868, he married Ellen Victoria Hull. They had seven children together.
     Dr. Black resumed his medical practice, and he also took an interest in the Preston and Olin Institute, a Methodist boy's school in Blacksburg. The school became insolvent in 1872, and Dr. Black helped to reorganize it as the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, the forerunner of today's Virginia Tech. Black served as the first rector of the school's board of visitors. That same year Dr. Black also received the honor of being elected president of the Medical Society of Virginia.
     In 1875, Dr. Black was nominated to become superintendent of the Eastern State Lunatic Asylum. He had not lobbied for the position, and was taken by surprise by the action of the institution's board. However, after mature consideration, Dr. Black decided that he could do some good in that role. He moved his family to Williamsburg, and assumed his new position on January 1, 1876 and served until March 1882. His tenure there was characterized by his humane and compassionate treatment of his patients, and the helpful reforms he instituted [12].
     Soon after his return to Blacksburg, Dr. Black petitioned the state legislature for funding to establish a facility for the insane in southwestern Virginia. Approval was given, and he and Dr. Apperson served on the building committee for the Southwestern Lunatic Asylum, which was built in Marion and opened its doors to patients in 1888. Dr. Black was named as its first superintendent. Dr. Apperson served as assistant physician there.

Harvey Black, House of Degates, 1887 (Library of Virginia)

     Despite declining health, Dr. Harvey Black was elected to two terms in the House of Delegates, in 1885 and 1887. Dr. Black suffered from what were called "urinary calculi"--stones in his bladder. In October 1887, Dr. Black traveled to St. Luke's Hospital in Richmond, where Dr. Hunter McGuire performed surgery. The procedure was only moderately successful, and Dr. Black underwent surgery a second time on October 8, 1888. He never recovered from this second intervention. He died in Richmond on October 19, 1888. He lies buried in Westview Cemetery in Blacksburg.
Dr. John Apperson (Virginia Tech Imagebase)

      The decade of the 1880s was also a period of success and tragedy for Dr. John Apperson. He had a thriving medical practice, a position at the new asylum and had been elected vice-president of the Medical Society of Virginia in 1881, 1882 and 1885 [13]. During Dr. Black's medical crisis, death visited the Apperson home twice in 1887. His daughter, 17-year-old Pauline, died on September 2. His wife, Ellen, died on November 14.
     On February 5, 1889, John married Elizabeth "Lizzie" Arabella Black, the only daughter of Dr. Harvey Black. John and Lizzie had four children together.

John and Elizabeth Apperson and family (Virginia Tech Imagebase)

     In addition to his accomplishments as a physician, John also enjoyed success in the business and professional world. He organized the Staley's Creek Manganese and Iron Company. In 1892 he was appointed business executive commissioner of Virginia to the World's Fair held in Chicago in 1893. He was a key executive in the Marion and Rye Railway, and was in charge of its construction. He served on the board of trustees of Emory and Henry College [14]. His home gives evidence of his worldly success and prosperity:

Apperson home in Chilhowie (Anita Epperson, Ancestry)

     Dr. John Samuel Apperson died at home on August 9, 1908. He is buried in the Round Hill Cemetery in Marion.

(Virginia Tech Imagebase)


Two of Dr. Apperson's sons were well known for their public service in their own lifetimes. Harvey Black Apperson (1890-1948) served in the Virginia Senate 1933-1944. He then worked for three years as a member of the Virginia State Corporation Commission.  For the last few months of his life Harvey was Attorney General of Virginia.

John Samuel Apperson, Jr. (1878-1963) worked as an engineer for many years at General Electric. But he is best known and admired for his work as a conservationist in a lifelong effort to protect the Adirondack Forest Preserve and Lake George.

But the son of Dr. Apperson that I feel closest to is his firstborn, Alfred Hull Apperson (1869-1944).  Alfred was an electrical engineer who graduated from the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in Blacksburg in 1894. He was in charge of the school's electric plant for several years after he graduated. Alfred worked in Richmond for many years as an electrical inspector for the Southeastern Underwriter's Association. In 1905 he married Sallie Duncan Williams of Lynchburg.

Duncan's parents were James Tompkins Williams (1829-1900), a merchant in both Richmond and Lynchburg, and Martha Jane Row (1828-1885), my second great aunt, who was born on our family's plantation in Spotsylvania.


- Repairing the "March of Mars": The Civil War Diaries of John Samuel Apperson, edited by John Herbert Roper. Mercer University Press, Macon, GA: 2001.

- Diary of John Samuel Apperson of Locust Grove

- Transactions of the Thirty Ninth Annual Session of the Medical Society of Virginia, Held in Richmond, Virginia October 20-23, 1908. Capitol Printing Company, Richmond, VA: 1909. Click here for the link

- Annual Reports of Officers, Boards and Institutions of the Commonwealth of Virginia For The Year Ending September 30, 1888. J. H. O'Bannon, Superintendent of Public Printing, Richmond, VA: 1888. Click here for link

- Students of the University of Virginia 1825-1874

- Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life. A Collection of Biographies of the Leading Men in the State. Lyon G. Tyler, L. L. P., President of William and Mary College, Editor in Chief. Volume III. Men of Mark Publishing Company, Washington, DC: 1907.  Click here for link

- Culpeper Officer's Diary Tells of Chancellorsville," The Free Lance-Star, May 6, 1963.


[1] Diary of John Samuel Apperson of Locust Grove, 3.

[2] Men of  Mark in Virginia, 6.

[3] Most likely John Sanders Row.

[4] Diary of John Samuel Apperson of Locust Grove, 4.

[5] Ibid., 5-9.

[6] Ibid., 9-12.

[7] Ibid., 1-2.

[8] Annual Reports of Officers, 36.

[9] See my article: "During the war, the girls saw sights"

[10] "Culpeper Officer's Diary Tells of Chancellorsville." Although the title of the article is misleading, the content is correct. This section of John Apperson's diary had been transcribed by Chancellor descendant and historian George Harrison Sanford King while he was a student at Virginia Tech in the 1930s. At that time, the diary was still in the possession of the Apperson family.

[11] See my article: Dr. James Edgar Chancellor

[12] Annual Report of Officers, 37-38.

[13] Transactions of the Thirty Ninth Annual Session, 233.

[14] Men of Mark in Virginia, 8.