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Sunday, February 19, 2012

"I was a Union woman to the backbone"

Battle of Cedar Mountain

     Last year I wrote a two-piece article on the life and times of Sarah Jane Daniel, which can be read here and here. Sarah was the first mother in law of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row. Sarah's long life was touched many times by traumatic events, not the least of which were those arising from the battle of Cedar Mountain and the alternating occupation of Culpeper County by Union and Confederate armies.
     During the course of my research into the life of Sarah Jane Daniel I came across the story of Lucy Colvin, who lived near the Daniel farm, Forest Grove. In many respects I think Lucy's experiences during and after the war years are emblematic of those of her long-suffering neighbors in Culpeper and as such they are worthy of our attention. Because much of her story is part of the official record, the events of her life make her a unique and, in my estimation, admirable figure.
     Lucy (sometimes spelled "Lucie") was born in 1821 to Robert and Mary Mitchell Hudson. Robert was a farmer and grist mill owner whose property was located just south of Forest Grove and can be seen on the map above as "Hudson's Mill" on the east bank of Cedar Run. The Hudsons were a large family; Lucy had five brothers and three sisters.
     Lucy Hudson married neighbor William Warder Colvin on February 25, 1841. The 170 acre Colvin farm was evidently called Rose Hill and it took me some time to understand that it had no connection to the Ashby-Covington property of the same name that survives today as a game preserve near Pony Mountain in Culpeper. The Colvin farm, like that of the Hudsons, was just a few miles south of Culpeper Court House. William and Lucy had at least five children--Susan, Mary, Gabriel, William and John.
     As was a common practice in those days, William Colvin depended on credit and by the mid-1850s he owed quite a bit of money to various merchants and bond holders. Unlike many of his neighbors on larger farms William did not own many slaves. At the time of his death he owned a woman and her four children and an older man. In order to acquire additional labor as needed without the capital outlay of buying black servants, William hired them on an annual basis. In the promissory note shown below, William hired Albert from neighbor Thomas Hill for the sum of twenty eight dollars for the year 1853. He also promises to "give to said negro boy such clothing as are usually given to hired servants with a hat and blanket."

Hire of Albert 1853

     William Colvin's health steadily declined for the last year and a half of his life. Among his estate papers are bills of sale from various grocers that show frequent purchases of liquor. Whether these were the cause of, or treatment for, his ailment is not known. He was frequently (and ineffectively) treated by family physician Dr. A.A. Davis. When William Colvin died in early October 1857 he left Lucy a legacy of heartache and troubles. He had no will and his indebtedness far exceeded the value of his personal property.

Bill for William Colvin's coffin, 8 October 1857

     Lucy's older brother Jeremiah Hudson qualified as administrator of William Colvin's estate. In order to satisfy the debts owed to the creditors of the farm itself, William's brother John Nelson Colvin bought Rose Hill farm in November 1858, thus allowing Lucy and her children to remain at the house for the time being. Other creditors would have to wait until after the Civil War for the estate to be settled.
     When Virginia seceded from the Union Lucy's father and brothers supported the Confederacy, some making deep sacrifices for their allegiance. Her father Robert furnished supplies to various Confederate quartermaster officers for commodities like hay and grain. Robert Hudson also sought compensation for the loss of fencing and trees used by Hood's Division when it camped on his farm in 1862. Garnett Hudson served in Purcell's Artillery, the same outfit in which served Forest Grove's master, Samuel Alpheus Daniel (who was mortally wounded at Mechanicsville in 1862). Because he owned an iron foundry Garnett qualified for a statutory discharge from the Confederate army in May 1862. After the war Garnett testified that he "was conscripted into the Confederate army twice, and against my will, and got away from them and should have gone North if I could have done so." Instead, Garnett remained in Culpeper and continued to support the South by selling supplies to the Confederate army.
     Two of Lucy's other brothers fared less well than Garnett. Simeon Hudson served in the Thirteenth Virginia Infantry until he was shot in the foot while fighting near Fredericksburg during the Chancellorsville campaign. His foot was later amputated at the ankle joint. Isaac Newton Hudson was a second lieutenant in the Forty Fifth Virginia Infantry until he was captured at Winchester on September 19, 1864. He spent the rest of the war imprisoned at Fort Delaware. Jeremiah Hudson was a little too old for active military service and so did his bit by selling supplies to the Confederates.
     How willingly the Hudson family served the Confederacy and to what extent peer pressure may have played a role in their allegiance to the lost cause would be a point of ambiguity after the war.
     For Lucy Colvin, however, there would be no such ambiguity.
     "I was a great sufferer," she testified in 1876, "but I was a Union woman to the backbone. When the State seceded the news fell like a dead weight upon me. It was like a heavy cloud. I was but a poor weak woman and could do nothing but give it up to the Almighty and pray that He would direct all things aright."

Map detail of Culpeper, 1863

     Shown above in the detail of a wartime map of Culpeper, Lucy's house-designated as "Mrs. Colvin"-is directly south of Culpeper Court House. South of her farm is the property of William Flint, brother in law of Samuel and Sarah Daniel, whose farm is shown further south from the Flints. Two of the Hudson farms can be seen south and west of the Daniels.
     Lucy's two older sons joined the Confederate army "against my wish." Sixteen year old William Colvin enlisted in the Thirteenth Virginia Infantry in 1862. Probably because of his tender age he spent part of his service detailed as a teamster and wagoner. He was captured on July 5, 1863 and imprisoned at Fort Delaware and Point Lookout. He was exchanged the following year and rejoined his regiment after recuperating in a series of hospitals in Richmond. He was surrendered at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
     But that was not the worst of it for Lucy Colvin. "My greatest trial of all was my son Gabriel Colvin who got in with a gang of young men at Culpeper Court House and was making preparations to go off to the army before I knew of it." She said Gabriel had been a delicate child and a record of Dr. Davis' visits to attend to him while a sick youngster seems to confirm that. Shortly after enlisting in the Seventh Virginia Infantry Gabriel Colvin died of typhoid fever in the Confederate hospital at Culpeper Court House on November 19, 1861.
     On June 8, 1862-the day before the armies of Stonewall Jackson and John Pope collided at Cedar Mountain-Lucy Colvin received the first of several visitors. "My saddle and bridle was taken from the porch of the house by a party of soldiers who took my father's horse at the same time." A bit too late to prevent that act of pilfering, a group of Union officers rode up to her house that evening and asked if she wanted protection. She gladly accepted their offer. "I provided accommodations for the guard and furnished them breakfast the next morning.''
     Once the battle of Cedar Mountain got underway on June 9, Lucy Colvin was evacuated from her house for her own safety. "I was living on Rose Hill up to the time of the battle of Cedar Mountain, when my house and all I had was taken for a hospital by the Union forces." Her house remained in Union hands as a hospital until June 15. Amputations were performed in the parlor and wounded men filled every corner of the house. Every blanket, quilt, duvet, counterpane, sheet and towel-even the window drapes-were used as bandages for the wounded or shrouds for the dead. All of Lucy's clothing was torn into strips to be used as bandages. "I had nothing left except what was upon my body."
     When she was allowed to return, her home resembled nothing so much as a human abattoir. The walls and floors were splashed with blood and gore and amputated limbs had been flung through the windows into the yard. "My furniture was injured and broken down and most of it rendered valueless. And when General Pope came there it was thrown into a pile in the yard." Lucy said Pope used her house as a headquarters after it was cleaned up. She welcomed these Union officers into her home. "I cooked for them and attended on them voluntarily and cheerfully." As for her feelings regarding the utilization of her house as a hospital she later testified: "I was glad it had been so used."
     Northern soldiers continued to take from Lucy whatever they needed. Lucy had four head of cattle, including a young heifer, but despite her entreaties they were all "butchered for beef in front of the house and in plain view." Her buggy was "taken to pieces and the springs taken out and used to repair an ambulance to carry away the wounded men." Her harness was also stolen for good measure.
     Despite these hardships, and despite the exertions of her father, brothers and sons for the South, Lucy remained unshakeable in her loyalty to the Union. "I never belonged to any sewing society organized to make clothing for the Confederate soldiers or their families, furnished no supplies to the Confederate hospitals or soldiers beyond giving the soldiers [something] to eat when they demanded it." She sympathized with the sufferings of her relatives but refused to materially support their regiments.
     Lucy also refused to accept passes from Confederate authorities to travel between the lines, although she frequently accepted them from Northern officers. On one such occasion she was given a pass to go visit one of her sisters who had fallen ill. While attending to her a squadron of Confederate cavalry galloped into the yard and entered the house. "But I secreted myself so they did not see me."
     On March 2, 1863 Lucy's brother in law John N. Colvin sold her house at public auction to William J. Wharton. For the rest of her life Lucy would live among her various relatives, earning her keep as a farm laborer.

Items claimed for compensation by Lucy Colvin

     On March 3, 1871 Congress approved legislation creating what has become known as the Southern Claims Commission. Southerners who could prove their loyalty to the Union were now allowed to submit claims to the federal government for property losses incurred by official confiscation by Union forces during the war. Compensation was not allowed for items that were simply stolen without a receipt given.
     Many are the stories written about how divided loyalties tore many southern families apart. Few places suffered more than Culpeper County and bitterness between Unionists and southern loyalists festered long after the war ended. The men in Lucy's family gave their lives, their limbs and their treasure for the south. Lucy never backed down from her patriotic feelings for the United States. You would think she would have been treated as a pariah by her family.
     But that was not the case.
     Perhaps the Hudsons and Colvins were able to set aside such prejudices because family ties trumped political affiliations. In any event, Lucy appears to have remained the family's good graces since she stayed in their homes for the last twenty six years of her life. In addition, her father, her brothers Jeremiah and Garnett and her brother in law John N. Colvin all provided affidavits on her behalf in the claim for compensation she initiated in July 1871.
From Lucy Covin's deposition June 1876

     The wheels of the bureaucracy turned slowly and it was not until 1876 that Lucy was summoned to give her deposition and submit to the 80-question interrogatory required by the claims process. She had asked for $525 for the loss of her beds, bed clothing, cattle, buggy and harness and saddle and bridle. Fourteen years after these things, and so much more, were taken from her Lucy received $250 from the government to which she had remained a loyal citizen under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.

Items allowed from Lucy's claim

     Lucy Colvin died of Bright's disease on September 19, 1889.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

William George Houston

Will Houston, 1885

     William George Houston was the younger brother of my great grandmother, Elizabeth Houston Row. Like his older brother Finley (whose remarkable life story can be read here), Will lived a long life of hard work and service to his church and his community in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He was called "Willie" by his family and friends but always signed his letters "Will." I recently had the good fortune to meet his granddaughter who generously shared with me a large number of photographs, a number of which are seen here today in a public format for the first time.
     Will Houston was born at Mount Pleasant farm in Rockbridge County on October 31, 1864. Mount Pleasant was the ancestral home of his mother's family, the Willsons. The original house at Mount Pleasant was built in 1756 by his mother's great grandfather James Willson. The property on which Mount Pleasant stood was on the site of a school that later moved to Lexington and is known today as Washington and Lee University. Coincidentally, Will's father George Washington Houston was an 1840 graduate of Washington College. Before Will's birth Mount Pleasant had been bought by his father (whose biography can be read here) and would remain in the Houston family for another 100 years.

Will Houston

Will Houston with Rushie Lambert

     Many of the studio portraits of the Houstons were done by well known photographer Michael Miley, who is best known for the pictures taken of Robert E. Lee during his tenure as president of Washington College. Miley was also an early experimenter in colorized photography, an example of which is Will's baby picture above (the old custom of dressing infant boys in girl's clothing and letting their hair grow to girlish length is one that I am glad has fallen by the wayside). Rushie Willson Lambert was one of his mother's cousins.

Will Houston, early 1880s

Will Houston, early 1880s

     During the Civil War Will's Houston and Willson uncles served in the Confederate army, several of them in Company H of the Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry. My great great uncle Dr. Elhanon Winchester Row was regimental surgeon for the Fourteenth Cavalry. At the battle of Cedar Creek in 1864 Will's uncle William Howard Houston was killed and Matthew Doak Willson was shot, received a saber gash to the head and was captured for the second time during the war. Will's father was forty one years old at the outbreak of the war and did not serve in the military but supported the Confederacy with supplies and was a justice of the peace as well.
     Will's family and Mount Pleasant survived the war, escaping the outrages and wanton destruction visited upon so many other households in the Shenandoah Valley. With the emancipation of their slaves a new and economically diminished way of life became the lot of the Houstons and their neighbors. George W. Houston borrowed heavily to maintain a certain level of comfort for his family. His daughters attended the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington and Will was sent to the Augusta Military Academy for his schooling.
     When Will's father died in February 1882, the family began to feel the consequences almost at once. Will left school to return home to be of help to his mother at Mount Pleasant. George W. Houston died leaving no will and a long list of creditors, some of whom would wait twenty years for the settlement from his estate.
     In the wake of the heartache and turmoil that came with the death of the head of the household there was yet another source of stress for the Houstons in 1882. George Houston had earlier sold land to the Valley Railroad for the construction of the section of track that ran at the rear of his property. An additional one acre was condemned in order to build the depot for the Fairfield stop. The railroad hired contractors Hardin & Young for this work. Not long after George Houston's death it became obvious that Hardin & Young intended to make timely progress without regard for the safety of the Houstons. Dynamite was used to blast away earth and stone to prepare the rail bed. On more than one occasion large rocks came whistling through the orchard and struck the house. One such missile even crashed through a window, narrowly missing one of the servants.
     Will's brother Finley came to Mount Pleasant to speak with a representative of Hardin & Young, seeking a swift and amicable resolution. Instead, Finley was rudely told to take his grievances to the railroad company. In response Finley took his grievances to court, seeking an injunction against the dangerous practices of the contractors and recovery of costs. The Houstons prevailed. A few of the court papers related to the case are shown below, including a sketch of the property.

     Winning this case, however, did nothing to help with the larger problem confronting the family. The Houston estate owed much more money than it could raise from the sale of personal property. Finley hit upon the idea of subdividing the land and selling the lots. There were no buyers, unfortunately, and so there was no ready solution to their money woes at hand. Meanwhile Will continued to farm the land and make do.
     Like his father and grandfather before him, Will Houston was a devout Presbyterian and served as deacon at New Providence Church for fifty years. He was also an elder there and an important force in the construction of the Sunday school building in the 1920s.

New Providence Presbyterian Church

     In the early 1890s Lizzie Row sent her daughter Mabel (my great aunt) to live with her brother and mother at Mount Pleasant. Mabel attended a private school organized at New Providence. Will kept an accounting of monies spent on clothing, books and tuition. In the page shown below is mentioned the name of T.M. Smiley, the school's superintendent. "G.A.W." refers to George A. Willson who was pastor at New Providence as well as one of Mabel's tutors. Mabel went on to attend college in Richmond and taught school in Spotsylvania for several years before marrying.

Mabel Row's account with Will Houston

     Things began to look up for Will and the Houstons in 1894 when he married his distant cousin, Mary Frances "Fannie" Ervine. Will and Fannie proposed to assume the debts of his father's estate in return for the other siblings--Finley Houston, Annie Houston McNutt, and Lizzie Row Houston--signing over their shares in Mount Pleasant. This plan succeeded and by 1902 George W. Houston's estate was settled and the creditors paid.

Fannie Ervine Houston

Invitation to Ervine-Houston wedding

     Will and Fannie's first child, Francis, was born in March 1898. In a letter Fannie wrote to Lizzie Row in November of that year she mentions that Francis had given them a scare during a bout with croup and pneumonia, but "He is quite well again and so sweet and bright. I so often wish you could see him now. He has a good many tricks and we think he can say kitty quite plainly." In the photo below Fannie is seen holding Francis and Lizzie is seated to her right and Annie McNutt is seated far right. Finley's daughter Mary is seated far left and her sister Annette is standing beside her. A distant Willson cousin stands at the rear.

In that same letter Fannie refers to the precarious health of Will's sixty nine year old mother, Annette Louise Houston. From her description of Annette's symptoms it seems she has already suffered a mild stroke.

Will Houston, 1898

     In addition to the birth of his son, the year 1898 also saw Will elected as a school trustee, a position he would hold for many years. He would be instrumental in the construction of Fairfield High School. An amusing (to me) sidebar to the beginning of his tenure on the school board was the affidavit he was required to sign. This oath, signed in December 1898, contained the usual pledge to support the constitutions of the United States and Virginia and so on. The second and somewhat longer paragraph required Will to affirm that he had never "fought a duel with a deadly weapon, or sent or accepted a challenge to fight a duel with a deadly weapon." Given the current level of discourse in our politics, such an affidavit might be a good thing to reinstate as a prerequisite for holding office.

Will Houston's oath, 1898

     A double tragedy was visited upon the Houstons in June 1899. During dinner at Mount Pleasant on the evening of June 2 Will's mother was beset with a severe stroke. Will called Finley who came to help. While there Finley wrote two letters to Lizzie telling her the particulars and letting her know the end was near. Other family members were summoned and a vigil was kept all night. Annette Louise Houston died just before dawn on June 3.
     Lizzie Row took the train to Rockbridge to attend her mother's funeral at New Providence. She intended to stay several days with her brothers to grieve (her sister Annie was living in Texas at the time) and to make plans for the future. Lizzie's oldest son Houston, not quite twenty two years old, was left in charge of Sunshine Farm in Spotsylvania. My great grandmother received an entirely unexpected message urging her to return home at once. Houston had fallen ill with pneumonia and his condition appeared to be dire. She hurried home to Sunshine where Houston Row died on June 12, 1899.
     Finley was unable to get away from his duties as quartermaster at VMI and so Will traveled alone to Spotsylvania to attend his nephew's funeral. Will had been unwell for several days, but Fannie urged him to go, hiding from him the fact that their son Francis was also more sick than he appeared. By the time Will returned home to Rockbridge Francis had improved and Will was none the wiser.
     Will's daughter Louise was born in 1901. She attended the State Normal School in Harrisonburg, later known as Madison College, my alma mater. Katherine, called Kitty by the family, was born in 1904. She graduated from Agnes Scott College in Georgia in 1927. Francis, like his father, attended the Augusta Military Academy.

Francis and Will Houston

Louise Houston 1918

Katherine Houston 1926

     By 1911 the farmhouse built at Mount Pleasant by James Willson in 1756 had aged to the point that the decision was made to pull down the old structure and rebuild. During the summer this took place Will and Francis slept in the yard. Part of the demolition included razing the massive stone chimney and fireplace. The Houstons engaged a man who specialized in taking down old chimneys. He told Fannie that it was the largest and most difficult chimney he had ever demolished. A photograph was taken of seven year old Katherine standing in front of the colonial era fireplace.

Katherine Houston and chimney 1911

     Like the old house, the new place was a T-shaped affair and included a front porch that wrapped around two sides of the house. In the photographs below we are reminded that Mount Pleasant was a working farm and that Will and his family spent many happy years here.

Mount Pleasant, 1936

Mount Pleasant

     Both Francis and Louise married in 1924. Louise moved to Red House, the old Alexander place, where her husband James Alexander ran the Veranda Fruit Farm. After Francis married Mary Eileen Lawrence they moved to Akron, Ohio where they worked in a factory. They were out there just a short time before returning to Mount Pleasant. Katherine came home after graduating from Agnes Scott in 1927 and taught school in Rockbridge before moving to Hampton, Virginia to accept a teaching position there. She met and married George Sheild and lived in Hampton for most of the rest of her life.
     But as it was so often for these ancestors bad news had a way of insinuating itself into the lives of the happy, prosperous people. Will and Fannie's first grandchild, Ann Eliza Alexander, was tragically blinded during her delivery in 1925. Will shared his grief in a number of letters sent to his sister Lizzie. Over time the family accommodated itself to this sad turn of events. As for herself, Ann Eliza was a beautiful, healthy girl who could navigate so effortlessly in many situations that Will even thought she must be able to see a little. The Alexanders sent Ann Eliza to New York to be educated at the Lighthouse School for the Blind. She continued to live in the city for years afterwards. When Louise came to visit her Ann Eliza cautioned her mother to hold her arm so that Louise would not get lost.
     As the years passed Will continued life as a farmer and public servant. In addition to his work in the church and on the school board he was also elected county supervisor. He was a member of the building committee that oversaw construction of the county courthouse built 100 years ago. His name appears on the cornerstone of that building. Will was influential in the establishment of the Bank of Fairfield and served on its board of directors. Like his brother Finley Will was an active Mason. He was also a member of the Rockbridge Historical Society and he and Fannie were acknowledged for their contributions to "A History of Rockbridge County" by Oren Morton.
     Willie is reputed to have owned the first automobile in Rockbridge County.
     Fannie died in February 1936. Despite this loss and the fact that he was now seventy two years old Will continued running the dairy at Mount Pleasant as well as raising pure bred Jersey cattle and Poland-China hogs. He also continued to write letters to his sister Lizzie in Spotsylvania, including this one dated December 8, 1927. He wrote: "I wish we could enjoy looking in on you and your lively bunch of grandchildren and hear them talk about what each wanted Santa to bring them." Will was fated never to see Lizzie again. She died three weeks later on January 2, 1928.

Will Houston to Lizzie Row 8 December 1927

     Inevitably Will's energy flagged and he was no longer able to do the heavy work at Mount Pleasant. He moved in with his daughter Louise, now a widow, who continued to operate the Veranda Fruit Farm. The last of Will's letters to the Rows of Spotsylvania was written to my mother in May 1946. She had invited him to attend her high school graduation. "I wish so much I could be present on this eventful occasion," he wrote with regret, "but feel it would be too much of a drive for me by myself...I congratulate you on your successful attainment, and earnestly hope this only the beginning of your achievements, also that you will find this just the beginning of a wonderful life."

Will Houston to Judy Row May 1946

Will Houston to Judy Row May 1946

     Will Houston's own wonderful life came to an end just three months later on October 20, 1946 at the age of eighty two. He is buried next to his beloved Fannie at New Providence, the church he had dedicated his life to.

Obituary of William G. Houston

At rest at New Providence