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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Incident at Ellwood


     In August I wrote a piece about my great great grandfather, Warner Kent ("I will do no act hostile to the union of the States"). Warner's long and eventful life was often touched by traumatic incidents, not the least of which were the Civil War years. One such event occurred on May 8, 1864 when he was arrested by Federal forces while plowing on his farm, "The Oaks," in Spotsylvania County. Three weeks later he found himself in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington City with three other men from his neighborhood who were seized the day before. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     Two of those men, Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell, were at that time living at Ellwood, the sprawling plantation located in the Wilderness. Recently I received a note from a direct descendent of Joseph Hall, which reawakened my interest in this case. Neither Hall nor Manuell are related to me, but because so much of the official record deals specifically with them (and by extension to Warner Kent) I will do my best to tell their story today.

James Horace Lacy

     Horace Lacy (1823-1906) married well. Ellwood became his home when he married Betty Churchill Jones in 1848. When her sister Hannah Coalter died in 1857 they bought from her estate Chatham, the magnificent mansion overlooking Fredericksburg from Stafford Heights. Chatham became the primary residence of the Lacy family. Horace Lacy joined the Confederate army in 1861 and was captured while home on leave. He spent two months imprisoned at Fort Delaware before being exchanged. Upon his release he rejoined the army and served as Major in the Quartermaster department. (Chatham was ransacked by Union troops during their occupation of Stafford and was sold for taxes by the Lacy family in 1872. Betty Lacy and the children lived in Fredericksburg during the war).
     After Stonewall Jackson was wounded on May 2, 1863 during the battle of Chancellorsville his shattered arm was amputated near Wilderness Tavern, which was a stone's throw from Ellwood. Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy, chaplain of Jackson's Corps and Horace's brother, buried Stonewall's arm in the family cemetery at Ellwood. In January 1864 Horace Lacy invited Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell to bring their families and stay at Ellwood as caretakers.
     Joseph Hall was born in Spotsylvania about 1813. He married Jane Wood in 1845 and together they had six children. Joseph was a carpenter by trade and the 1850 and 1860 censuses taken in Spotsylvania show that. He also owned property in Fredericksburg.
     Thomas Manuell was born in England about 1808 and came to America in 1838, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1844. In about 1839 he married Mary Wood, sister of Joseph's wife Jane. Thomas and Mary apparently did not have any children of their own and ultimately adopted a daughter of Joseph and Jane, Medora Louis Hall. Thomas Manuell was a well known and prosperous blacksmith in Fredericksburg. He lost the sight of one eye in an accident at his foundry in 1857. He also advertised his business in the local newspaper:

Fredericksburg News 14 January 1851

     And so, Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell and their families were living at Ellwood in May 1864 when the Union army crossed the Rapidan River and swarmed into Spotsylvania. Unfortunately for Joseph and Thomas, Union General Governeur Warren chose Ellwood as the site for his headquarters. On May 7, 1864 Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell were arrested by Federal troops. The nominal reason for their arrest--and a quite reasonable one given the circumstances of the moment--was to prevent them from conveying information about the size or disposition of Federal forces to the Confederates. The intention was to release them once the Union army moved out of the area and these two would no longer pose such a threat.
         Of course, this is not what happened.

Belle Plain (Library of Congress)

     Once Hall and Manuell were taken into custody they were, according to Provost Marshal M.R. Patrick: "...sent to the rear, to be kept with the trains. The trains having been suddenly moved, all prisoners were ordered to Fredericksburg, where they passed beyond my immediate control, and these men were forwarded with the others without my knowledge." So it was that Hall, Manuell, Kent and Jones were mixed in with captured Confederates and were assembled at Belle Plain. From there they were hauled off to the Old Capitol Prison, arriving by May 25.

Old Capitol Prison (Library of Congress)

     Here they languished for more than three weeks in a sort of administrative purgatory. Little seemed to be working in favor of their early release. Each of them signed statements of very similar wording, shown below, stating their case and asking for their liberty. Neither was enthusiastic about signing an oath of allegiance, fearing for their physical safety back home once the word got out. However they were amenable to the idea of signing a pledge promising not to materially aid the Confederacy, if that would facilitate their release. They both stipulated that they voted for the Ordinance of Secession and that their sympathies were with the South, but that neither they nor anyone in the immediate families had taken arms against the United States.

Statement of Joseph Hall

Statement of Thomas Manuell

     Their prospects brightened considerably thanks to the help that came in the person of one Francis Hamilton Bell. Francis Bell (1809-1880) was born in Orange County, New York. At some point he moved to Fredericksburg and married Sarah Broaddus Wood in 1832. This union made him a brother in law to both Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell. In the years prior to the Civil War he worked as a gunsmith. When Virginia voted for secession Bell sought refuge in a friendlier environment and moved to Washington City.

Fredericksburg News 15 November 1850

     It was lucky indeed, then, that Joseph's and Thomas' brother in law was living in Washington City at the time of their imprisonment and was a willing and able advocate for their release. On June 15, 1864 Bell wrote an earnest and respectfully worded appeal to Secretary of War Edwin Stantton seeking their release.

Francis Bell to Secretary Stanton 15 June 1864

     Bell sought to reassure Stanton that his brothers in law: "...have not participated in this rebellion by bearing arms against the government." He then went on to make a more emotional plea: "Mr. Hall and Mr. Manuell have both families solely dependent upon them for support. They have lost everything they have accumulated by this war which render it necessary that they should be with their families. Both of them are advanced in years and Mr. Manuell is partially blind..."
     Letters were also penned by Judge Advocate Levi C. Turner and William P. Wood, superintendent of Old Capitol Prison, shown below. Both acknowledged the fact that there was no reason to keep these men behind bars any longer.

Levi Turner to Secretary Staunton 13 June 1864

William P. Wood to Colonel Ingraham 21 June 1864

     Despite the combined efforts of Major Turner, Superintendent Wood, Francis Bell, and Hall and Manuell themselves, the wheels of justice turned slowly. An order for their release, over the signature of Levi C. Turner, was finally handed down on July 15, 1864. Addressed to the Superintendent of Old Capitol prison it said simply: "You will discharge from custody Joseph Hall, Thomas Manuell, W.W. Jones and Warner Kent upon their taking an oath not to aid the rebels in any manner. All four men took the prescribed oath; only that of my great great grandfather Warner Kent is part of the record and I include it here:

Oath of Warner Kent

     After more than two months in prison on the spurious charge of being "suspicious characters" these men walked out of prison free to return home. For Warner Kent, that meant walking home to Spotsylvania from Washington City without his captured horse, which was not covered by his parole. How Joseph Hall and Thomas Manuell made their way home is not known.


  1. Could you please tell me the name(s) of any of the 6 children of James Horace Lacy and his wife, Betty (Churchill, Jones) Lacy?

    Cant find them anywhere:(


  2. I am not an expert on the Lacy family genealogy, but here are some names and dates that you may wish to consider:
    Agnes Alexander Lacy (1851-1916)
    William Jones Lacy (1855-1884)
    Elizabeth Lacy (1856-1929)
    Graham Gordon Lacy (1858-1952)
    Lucy Lyle Lacy (1860-1892)
    James Horace Lacy (1863-1944)
    Sallie McGavock Lacy (1865-1960)
    Beverly Randolph Lacy (1868-1937)