Named for her mother, Nancy Estes Row was born in Spotsylvania in 1831. She was known as Nan or Nannie to her friends and relatives. She herself often spelled her name Nanny; her brother seemed to prefer Nannie. Like her sisters Martha and Bettie, Nannie was schooled by tutors. The one that has become known to us, Adeline McDonald, taught the Row girls (as well as the children living at nearby plantations) in the early 1840s. A letter written from Vermont by Adeline to Nannie's father Absalom, dated November 1844, survives. Absalom's will, which he wrote in January 1847, made provisions for the education of his two youngest children, Bettie and George. He wished Bettie to be "sent to a good school until she is seventeen years of age." Likewise, George was to receive a proper education from age seven to eighteen. It is curious that Nannie, who was just one year older than Bettie, is not mentioned in this regard. Did she not show an interest in her studies? Did her father believe that she lacked the potential that would justify a further investment in her education? We will never know the answer. However, in the coming years she would prove herself to be a woman of steadfast character, loving and loyal to her family, and a main reason why Greenfield would survive and endure after the Civil War.
Nannie never married. No reason for this is ever hinted at in the letters and papers we have found so far. My opinion is that Nannie was so devoted first to her mother, then to her brother George and his son Abbie, that she never made room in her life for romance. Both her surviving sisters did marry; Martha in 1850 and Bettie in 1860. Bettie and her husband Zachary Rawlings were married at Greenfield and likely lived there with Nannie and Nancy Row. In the years prior to the Civil War, we know virtually no details of Nannie's life. Because of the letters that survived during the war years we have our first real glimpse of Nannie Row.
During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Stonewall Jackson's army passed through Greenfield as it made its way north in its spectacularly successful attempt to outflank the Union army. This singular event, more than any other, literally brought the war to the doorstep of Greenfield. There can be little doubt that the Rows were shaken by this experience and would not have been anxious for another one like it. In early 1864, when it became evident that the Union army would again cross the Rapidan and invade Spotsylvania, the Rows made an important decision. They loaded up what possessions they could into wagons and, together with Bettie and Zachary and their daughter Estelle and Zachary's parents, traveled south to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County, There they would stay as refugees for much of the time until the end of the war.
This would prove to be a wise decision. The battle of the Wilderness would be fought over a wide swath of northwestern Spotsylvania, including Greenfield. This excerpt from "Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion" describes the action at the deserted Row plantation: "May 6th. Reveille early in the A.M. Heard heavy firing on our left, indicating that a great struggle commenced between Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. We were ordered up the front. Filing left we took the Cartharpin Road. Crossed the river Po. Filed to the left through the farm of Leroy Dobyns, then file to the right again crossing the Po and through to Mrs. Rowe's farm. Here we met with many of our wounded cavalry fighting against great odds as yesterday. Our battery was soon in position and commenced firing on the enemy, their artillery returning fire. We were too much annoyed by sharpshooters. Heavy firing on both sides kept up till near night. We, however, did not renew the fight. The enemy making no advance we parked for the night on the farm of Mrs. Rowe." A sergeant in the Union army killed in this fight was buried at Greenfield. His remains were later removed to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
By far the most vivid account of the fighting near Greenfield is found in a six page letter written on June 17, 1864 to Nannie by Maria Dobyns, who lived at Oakley plantation which was next door to Greenfield. Maria emphasized to Nannie how fortunate they were to have fled Spotsylvania for Hadensville: "...you should feel that it was the interposition of Providence which caused you to leave when you did, for had you remained here no doubt you would be as most of us are now." Maria goes on to describe the fighting and dying that occurred in the very front yard of Oakley, and the suffering of the wounded men brought into the house to be operated on. When the fighting subsided Union stragglers pillaged Oakley: "They came, searched the meat house, took all we had including the flour...They broke open the house and searched it from top to bottom at least fifty times, broke open every door but the parlor, took every grain of corn and left us without one dust of flour. Nearly all of our meat , every fowl we had, both carriages, all the horses, played destruction generally."
Nannie Row, March 6, 1865
On March 6, 1865 Martha Williams wrote a letter from Richmond to her mother and sister. In it we learn more of what life was like for the Row family immediately before the war. In order to raise cash, Martha had hired out William, one of the Row's slaves. Martha also mentions what is owed her in an accounting of what she has been able to provide from her husband's wholesale store. Newspapers, cotton, wool, locks and so on are among the items she is able to share with the family. Nannie Row made reference to this letter in one of her own written to her mother at Hadensville. It is addressed to "Mrs. Nancy Row. Forlorn Hope, Goochland."
Nannie and the younger Rawlings by this time felt safe to spend time in Spotsylvania, where this letter was written. We learn that the slave William was being provided with passes so that he could transport goods as needed between Richmond, Hadensville and Greenfield. Nannie describes picking cotton at Greenfield and that the gin was making such a noise she did not know where she would sleep at night. Nancy Row was apparently helping in making George's uniform by this time, as Nannie wrote: "I have put the cloth for George's pant in the bag I send, you must have it dyed as soon as you can as George will need them."
Within weeks of this letter, the war in Virginia would be over. George Row received his parole in Richmond in May and he signed his oath of allegiance that same month at Wallers Tavern in Spotsylvania. The plantation had suffered from neglect but had been spared the devastation visited upon others. Soon Nancy, Nannie and George returned to Greenfield to start anew.