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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.


  1. Wonderful post, as always. You are a talented story-teller! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you very much, Anne. I appreciate it.

  3. Thanks, John. Your input means a lot.

  4. Thank you for a great article. The rich history and information presented had great value to me.

  5. Pat, thank you a great article and a presentation of facts and information. I have learned much from your research.

    1. Russ, thank you for your kind words. I enjoyed doing the research and did my best to do Lucy justice.