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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

June 21, 1863

Letter of Martha Row Williams 21 June 1863

     Last year I wrote a piece about my great grand aunt Martha Row Williams in which I featured a letter written to her brother, my great grandfather George W.E. Row. This letter was written on George's twentieth birthday and his sister marked the occasion by dispensing some sisterly advice. She reminds her younger brother that he is the man of the family and has responsibilities to his mother Nancy Estes Row and his unmarried sister Nan. Martha also admonishes him to stay clear of those temptations which bedevil young soldiers in all wars. Today I want to go into more detail about the persons and events that are mentioned in the letter. In the photograph below Martha is seated at right next to her mother. Her sisters Bettie and Nan stand behind them.

The Rows of Spotsylvania

     Martha married Lynchburg merchant James T. Williams in Spotsylvania in December 1850 and for the next sixteen years they made Richmond their home. James was a partner with Samuel C. Tardy in the wholesale grocery and auction house of Tardy & Williams, located at 13th and Cary streets.

Richmond

     For at least part of the 1850s James and Martha lived in the Clifton House on 14th Street. Its design is attributed to Benjamin Latrobe, the architect most well known for his work on the U.S. Capitol building. By the 1860s the Williams family was living elsewhere in the city and it is said that this stately boarding house was utilized as a hospital during the Civil War.

Clifton House

     Samuel Tardy and James Williams sold goods at auctions advertised in the Richmond newspapers. At this they made a good living indeed. During the war they added to their wholesale customers the Confederate government and military. They also served as an outlet for goods brought up the James River on ships after having eluded seizure by the Union blockade. Below is one of their many receipts found in the archives. This one was signed by auctioneer and Fredericksburg native Gabriel Johnston, who returned to his hometown after the war.

Tardy & Williams

     In the late 1850s two young men from Lynchburg also worked at Tardy & Williams and they figure prominently in Martha's letter to George.

Transcription of Martha's letter

Transcription of Martha's letter

     "Tip" was Tipton Davis Jennings (1841-1915). Jennings enlisted in the Eleventh Virginia Infantry in April 1861. The details of his service coincide with what Martha wrote of him. He was wounded in September 1862 and for the next several months he was absent on leave due to ill health.

Tipton D. Jennings
                                                                   
     Jennings is marked "present" in the June 1862 muster roll when Martha writes that he is on his way to rejoin his regiment in Culpeper. But he had not fully recovered and within a month he was again too ill to serve in the ranks. In November 1863 Sergeant Tipton Jennings was "Permanently exempted by the examining board from Field Service." He spent the remainder of the war working as a clerk in the quartermaster department.

Williams, Urquhart and Jennings

     After the war Jennings returned to Lynchburg and for a time was a partner with James Williams, as reflected in the letterhead shown above. Jennings married Annie Seay, a niece of James Williams, and lived near the Williams' house on Federal Street in Lynchburg. Tipton Jennings served in the House of Delegates in the early 1900s and was active in Confederate veterans' organizations.

Garland-Rodes Camp No. 1521

     "Dick Adams" was Richard Henry Toler Adams (1839-1900). Like Tipton Jennings, Adams also joined the 11th Virginia Infantry in April 1861.

R.H.T. Adams

     The following year Captain R.H.T. Adams was serving on the staff of General A.P. Hill as his signal officer. In her letter Martha was obviously hoping to use this connection to coax her brother out of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry and seek safer work in the signal corps (in this well-intended effort she was not successful). Adams was fiercely loyal to General Hill and found himself a casualty of Stonewall Jackson's wrath when he was caught up in the long running feud between Jackson and Hill. Adams was present the night General Jackson was wounded at Chancellorsville. While General Hill attended to the bloodied Jackson Adams gave Hill a flask of whiskey. The usually abstemious Jackson gratefully took a swallow before being carried off to a nearby field hospital.
     In June 1863 Private George W.E. Row was a courier for General W.E. "Grumble" Jones, also mentioned in the letter. Martha refers to the grand cavalry review (actually there were two, one on June 5 and the other June 8) held in Culpeper. My great grandfather was present for these impressive (some would say ostentatious) displays of the Confederate cavalry at the zenith of its power. Martha does not mention what happened on her birthday, June 9.
     Early on the morning of the 9th Union General Pleasonton stole a march on Jeb Stuart and his troopers, who were likely still tired from all the parading of the day before. Union cavalry under the command of Pleasonton splashed across the Rapidan River, catching the southerners off guard. A Confederate battery lay exposed and was in danger of being captured by the Yankees. Troopers of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry--some without their boots on and their horses unsaddled--flung themselves on their mounts and rode to the sound of the guns. Prominent among these were the men of Company I--my great grandfather's outfit--which the year before had been led by his cousin Captain John S. Row. Lieutenant Jonathan T. Mann led the charge of these unprepared Confederates against their attackers. Mann was one of the very first casualties of the Battle of Brandy Station when he died from a gunshot wound to the face. J.T. Mann was a friend and neighbor of John Row and for years afterward John did what he could for the widow Mann.

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