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Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Letter from Maria Dobyns

Oakley, 1935 (Frances Benjamin Johnston)

Maria Lindsey Dobyns (Wesley Pippenger)

     Oakley is one of the very few antebellum houses in Spotsylvania to survive the Civil War and many years of neglect afterwards. Built almost two hundred years ago, it still stands today as part of a beautiful and thriving farm. It's continued existence is due mainly to the care given it by the family who has owned Oakley since 1926, and to a bit of good fortune it had one day in May 1864. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     The land upon which Oakley sits was once part of a 7, 777 acre land grant given to Gawain Corbin by the King of England. In 1816 Samuel Alsop, Jr. bought 849 acres of this tract, and in 1826 he built the house as a wedding present for his daughter Clementina and son in law Thomas C. Chandler [1].
The property was sold to Enoch Gridley in 1839 who in turn sold it to Leroy Dobyns in 1854.

Map detail of western Spotsylvania, 1863

     In the upper center of the map shown above, Greenfield--my family's home for 110 years--is shown as "Mrs. Rowe" (Nancy Estes Row, my great great grandmother). Adjacent to Greenfield to the southeast is Oakley ("Dobyns"), located on Catharpin Road at Corbin's bridge. Shady Grove Church is just to the south, and the intersection of Brock and Catharpin roads is north at the upper right of the image.
     The Row and Dobyns families were close friends and the name of Leroy Dobyns appears in the old ledger books of Greenfield. Leroy was one of the appraisers of the estate of Absalom Row, my great great grandfather who died in 1855. Like Absalom, Leroy Dobyns was a justice of the peace and was serving as such during the Civil War.
     In May 1863 my Row ancestors saw the war up close and personal when Stonewall Jackson led his troops through Greenfield (via modern Jackson Trail West) on their way to his planned ambush of General Hooker's right flank. The following year it became increasingly apparent that Generals Grant and Meade planned to use some of the same river fords to shoot their way into Spotsylvania a second time. The Rows had little appetite for tempting fate again. In addition, Benjamin Cason Rawlings--the brother of Nancy Estes Row's son in law Zachary Rawlings--had written a letter from a federal prison to his mother, warning his family to "fall back" and not to have contact with the Union army during its expected advance through Spotsylvania in the spring of 1864.
     Before the fighting began the Rows buried the family's valuables and the horses were hidden in the woods.  Wagons were loaded with what belongings they could carry with them on their flight south. Nancy Row and her unmarried daughter NanZachary and Bettie Row Rawlings and their infant daughter Estelle and Zachary's parents traveled south to the crossroads village of Hadensville in Goochland County. Accompanying them were the handful of slaves who had not already escaped to freedom inside Union lines. The Row and Rawlings families lived as refugees in Hadensville for much of the last year of the war. In the photograph below, Nancy Estes Row is seated with her daughter Martha Row Williams, and Bettie and Nan stand behind them.

The Rows
     The inevitable collision of the armies of Lee and Grant occurred on May 4, 1864. During the battle of the Wilderness Greenfield--abandoned and desolate--escaped destruction, although Stuart's Horse Artillery parked there overnight. Union forces made their way southeast down Brock Road toward Spotsylvania Court House. Lee's army shadowed them as they moved in the same direction south of Oakley. A sharp little fight occurred at Todd's Tavern, but fortunately for Oakley and its inhabitants a pitched battle on the farm was avoided.

Nan Row

     Six weeks later  twenty four year old Maria, a daughter of Leroy Dobyns, wrote a letter to Nan Row, who was still staying in Hadensville. Although photocopies of the letter exist in several archives, the fate of the original is unknown (unknown to me, at least). It was, of course, in the possession of my family for a long time and may still languish in the dark recesses of someone's attic. A transcription of the letter is presented here in its entirety.

First page of Maria Dobyns's letter to Nan Row

                                                                                                     June 17, 1864

My dear Friend:
                         A long, long time has elapsed since I heard from you, and no doubt you are anxious to hear from friends in Spotsylvania. Many changes have taken place since you left us, and I really think you should feel that it was an intervention of Providence which caused you leave when you did, for had you remained here no doubt you would be as most of us are now. When Grant first crossed the river, his cavalry force passed here on its way back after having met Gen. Rosser up near Craig's. You have no idea what our feelings were when we first saw them, but they were too much frightened to do much then. However they took William [2] and sent down for Papa. Mama went up just as as Gen. Wilson [3] ordered him on a horse. She begged him not to take Papa, and after a considerable time they concluded to leave him. We had no idea our forces were so near us until they rushed up the hill in front of the house. It was the first time I had ever been so near a fight and of course was frightened, but an all wise Providence saw fit to protect us through it all.
     Our artillery was planted by Aunt Harriet's [4] house and on that hill in front of our yard. We stood and watched the shelling during the evening from our windows and did not feel afraid, but had a shell been thrown from the enemy's guns I imagine we would not have been so composed.
     Two of our loved soldiers are buried in our garden, one only lived about an hour after he was brought here. We also had a Yankee major [5] here who was wounded just by our barn, sister saw him when he fell from his horse. He was moved to Mr. Buchanan's [6] the next day. Three weeks ago Captain Jordan was brought here from the hospital. Poor thing! The ball passed through his arm, completely shattering the arm and then into his side. His arm had been amputated just below the shoulder. I dressed his wounds twice every day and I never in all my life saw one who complained so little. Never did one murmur escape his lips. His suffering was very great and after having been here several days, he concluded to have the ball taken from his side. We sent for the surgeons, who came and took it out. It had become fastened in his rib. Extracting the ball made him very sick indeed. A few days after Dr. Daily came and brought his son, who had been shot through the lung, the ball passing through his body. He is now a little better, but still a great sufferer. Dr. Storry and Harrison are here every day and night with him. I fear he will never recover from his wounds.
     Last Tuesday we were very quiet, nursing the sick, when Mr. Dick Todd [7] called to me and said the yankees were advancing. Before we could get the horses off they came dashing up to the house. Papa fortunately made his escape to the woods. They came, searching the meat house, took all we had, including the flour. I started up to Mr. Buchanan's for a guard, but found it useless to go, as they were not sending out any. 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 of the horses, played destruction generally.
     Our cattle were in the field and I heard them bawling. I asked a yankee who had come of his own accord to try and protect us, to go with us. We started and I was driving the cows to the house when I met a whole regiment. I succeeded in getting them into the yard and I saw a few sheep they had not killed, so I went immediately with the same yankee and while driving them to the house several fired into them, but I knew they did not dare shoot me and I got them up in the dairy and succeeded in keeping them through the night. Several cussed us and in fact I believe they were the worst that ever lived. Dr. Daily who was here at the time says he knew that there was more than one thousand in the house. They got here Tuesday morning and did not leave till twelve o'clock Wednesday. They threatened to take the Captain off, but did not fortunately. He left yesterday. We hated so much to give him up. All became so much attached to him.
     Dr. Storry has been very kind indeed to us, he has provided us with all that we have had to eat since they left. They tore up the Chancellors' clothes, destroyed almost all they had and as far as we can tell nearly all have fared alike. I've not been able to hear from Mrs. Todd, presume she fared as we did. There is nothing before us now but starvation, but I trust a just God will protect us. 
     George [8] was here Wednesday. He was looking very well, his brigade was then at Waller's Tavern. Miss Nancy, when you write or speak to him about religion he seems very much concerned indeed, and from his conversation, I trust he is a converted boy. He gave me a pen knife he captured together with a watch from Gen. Custer's Adj. General.
     The yankees even tore off the plaster of Dr. Pulliam's [9] cellar, thinking something had been hid, took money off Lucie's [10] and his clothes, together with everything else. Lucie is with the Doctor. It is perfectly useless to try and tell what they have done, for we are constantly finding that they have taken things we did not miss at first, and left us only seven towels. Also robbed the servants of their provisions and clothing.
                                                                                                Fondly yours,
                                                                                                Maria Dobyns

Leroy Wonderful Dobyns and family (American Antiquarian Society)

[1] Chandler and his second wife Mary Frazier moved to Fairfield plantation in Caroline County. In 1863 the wounded Stonewall Jackson was brought there to recuperate from the amputation of his left arm. He stayed in the small building used as an office, where he died.
[2] A slave of Leroy Dobyns.
[3] General James H. Wilson, 3rd Cavalry Division.
[4]  A slave of Leroy Dobyns.
[5] Major William B. Darlington of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry. He is believed to have been shot by Confederate sharpshooter John Cooper, who was sitting in a cherry tree on Keller's Hill. Darlington's leg was amputated and he was later freed by Sheridan's troopers while still recuperating at the home of William Shelton Buchanan.
[6] The Buchanans lived across Catharpin Road from Oakley.
[7] Richard Todd and his brother Oscar served in the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Their family owned Todd's Tavern.
[8] George Washington Estes Row, my great grandfather. More about his Civil War exploits can be read here. About the time Maria wrote her letter George also captured a memorandum book from a trooper of the 5th New York Cavalry.
[9] Dr. John D. Pulliam, a neighbor who served in the 9th Virginia Cavalry.
[10] Dr. Pulliam's wife.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Furnace, the Rheumatism and the Yankees

Madora and Absalom Chewning

     It's one of those stories whose circumstances were not amusing to the participants at the time, but is very humorous in its retelling years later.
     In the far reaches of western Spotsylvania County, next to the sprawling plantation of Ellwood, was Mount View. Built in 1825 by William V. Chewning (with substantial improvements and repairs made after the Civil War) the house stood until 1947, when it mysteriously burned after it was sold by Irvin "Mack" Chewning, William's grandson.[Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on fro enhanced viewing]

Mount View

     William V. Chewning (c.1790-1863) married Permelia Henderson in 1813 and over the next twenty three years she bore him eleven children, including Absalom Herndon Chewning, born September 3, 1833. In the photograph below, Permelia is seated next to one of her sons, possibly Absalom. The original photograph was shared with me by Chewning descendant and researcher Diane Gray, who generously gave me permission to feature it today. Diane was present with Absolom's granddaughter when the photograph was discovered in the Chewning family Bible forty years ago.

Permelia Henderson Chewning and son
     William Chewning was killed in a freak accident at Herndon's mill on Wilderness Run in 1863. Permelia and Absolom continued to live at Mount View. The Chewning family's story at Mount View during the Civil War is one of high drama, including the near capture of a Confederate general and the single-handed capture of a group of Union soldiers by Marcus Chewning during the battle of the Wilderness. 
     Two circumstances prevented Absalom Chewning from serving in the Confederate army. Even as a young man Absalom suffered from rheumatism. So much so, in fact, that at times he could scarcely get around. Even had he not been so afflicted, Absalom would have been exempted from conscription by virtue of his skills as a master blacksmith. His knowledge and ability in forging iron was much too important an asset for the Confederacy to risk having him exposed to the dangers of battle.

Catherine Furnace

     This depiction of how Catherine Furnace may have looked, by artist Stuart M. Barnette, was generously shared with me by my friends at the National Park Service in Fredericksburg. Built in the 1830s, the iron works here had fallen into disuse before the Civil War. Once Virginia seceded it became immediately apparent that facilities such as this one would be vital to the war effort. During the war high quality iron was made at Catherine Furnace and shipped to the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. Cannonballs were also manufactured in Spotsylvania. Absalom Chewning was in charge of the operations there.

From the story on Absolom Chewning, 1932

     The August 17, 1932 edition of The Free Lance Star featured a story about Absalom at Catherine Furnace which was reprinted from The Infantry Journal, USA. Local resident Jeter Talley told this story of Ab Chewning's dramatic experience during the battle of Chancellorsville to the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Memorial Commission:
     "Ab was not allowed to enlist in the Confederate army, first because he was needed at the Furnace to help turn out iron; second, because he had such a bad case of rheumatism they had to carry him in some of his spells and hoist him to places in a sling so he could check up on jobs.
     "One of Ab's chief helpers was Sprig Dempsey, who was a good-hearted big fellow and a great friend of Ab's. Well, Sprig told me himself Ab got cured of his rheumatism in a way that seemed to everybody at the time nothing short of a miracle. They were fitting a ventilator, or something, on the roof of a low building connected with the foundry. Jackson's men went marching by, but everybody was used to seeing troops moving, so they kept right on with their work. But hardly had Jackson's men gone and the wagons were passing at Welford's when here came a Georgia regiment [the 23rd Georgia Infantry], left by Jackson to guard the road up toward Hazel Grove, moving back to the foundry and moving fast. The woods were full of Yankees, they said, and they couldn't stand them off much longer. Well, that didn't phase anybody, because they were used to scares; and, anyhow, Ab and Sprig and the rest of the iron men had no doubt for a minute those Georgia boys could whip a woods full of Yankees anytime. So they just went on with their tinkering while the Georgians got into the foundry and spread out on both sides of it and fixed everything for a fight. A chance of them were on the bluff above the foundry, others were in those low-ground woods skirmishing like Indians.
      "All of a sudden up on the bluff there broke out such a racket of shooting and yelling that Sprig and Ab got uneasy and then--Whooee! Georgians began to pour over the bluff like a waterfall and the sky behind them clouded up and rained Yankees down into the Furnace hollow. Sprig and the rest of the iron men took out for Scott's Run yonder, the other side of which Posey's brigade was fortifying. The Georgians outside the foundry drifted back towards the railroad, jumping from tree to tree and shooting at the Yankees surrounding the soldiers in the foundry.
     "Sprig said he reached the bank of Scott's Run in what seemed three bounds and was just about to plunge across when he remembered poor Ab Chewning back there on the roof. He stopped short and was studying what he could do to help Ab get away when a man shot by him like a bat out of a barn and made a leap that carried him clear across Scott's Run, which was more than Sprig could do or had thought of doing.
     "It was Ab.
     "Ab had been completely cured of his rheumatism; and if you don't believe it you can go down to Scott's Run and look at the place, which is there just like in 1863.
     "Well, sir, Sprig Dempsey was so astonished he couldn't believe what he was looking at with his own eyes. He just couldn't. And as he stood gazing where Ab had vanished through the forest a parcel of Yankees that thought they were chasing Ab came running up and captured Dempsey.
     "To his dying day Sprig Dempsey said he had never seen anything like it in his life how those Yankees had cured Ab Chewning of that rheumatism, which even bee-stinging had failed to cure."

     Absalom Chewning survived the war and his near capture by Union soldiers. He married Madora Ann Spicer in 1869 and together they raised ten children at Mount View. Absalom died on February 23, 1923 and is buried at New Hope Baptist Church in Orange County.

Absolom Chewning, about 1920


Sunday, September 16, 2012

John Edgar Willson

John Edgar Willson

     J. Edgar Willson, one of my great-grandmother's uncles, was born in Rockbridge County at the Willson farm "Mount Pleasant" on April 30, 1833. He was the oldest son of Thomas and Elizabeth Poague Willson. In 1858 Edgar married Elvira Brooks and about that time bought a farm near Mount Pleasant where their seven children were born 1859-1872.

Edgar Willson home, Rockbridge County

     Edgar Willson is believed to have served in the Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry with his brothers Matthew, Thomas and William. He evidently "lost the use of his arms" temporarily and was mustered out. On October 23, 1864 he enlisted in Company I of the Fourth Virginia Infantry in Lexington.
     Private Willson was badly wounded on April 2, 1865 when Union forces breached the Confederate defenses at Petersburg. He was taken to Chimborazo Hospital and was captured there the next day. Two weeks later he was sent to Jackson Hospital in Richmond and by the end of the month he was under the jurisdiction of the provost marshal. Edgar still appears on a roll of prisoners of war at Jackson Hospital on May 28, 1865.
     But he eventually recovered and came back home to Rockbridge. He worked as a farmer for the rest of his life and four of his seven children were born after his return from the war.

Edgar and Elvira Willson and family, 1870s

     The year after the Civil War ended saw the beginning of a long train of sadness and misery for most of the Willson children. In 1866 his first born, Elizabeth, died at age seven. Eighteen year old Mary died of tuberculosis on Christmas Day 1879. His daughter Elvira passed away in 1894 at twenty years of age. After Edgar's death two of his three surviving daughters were declared insane and were committed to what was then called the Western State Lunatic Asylum in Staunton. Harriet was sent there in 1888 at the age of twenty two. She died while still an inmate there some time after 1910. Her younger sister Lucy was institutionalized on January 1, 1898 and died in November of the same year.

Lucy Willson

     Fortunately, the stories of his other two children have much happier endings. Ann married Finley Willson McClure and they inherited her father's farm which was still in their family fifty years later. All four of the McClure children lived long and apparently normal lives.
     Edgar's only son, James William Willson, graduated from VMI and became superintendent of the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, where he served until his death in 1922.

James William Willson

James William Willson

     J.E. Willson's first wife, Elvira, died in 1877. Two years later he married Martha Brooks Dold, a widow from Augusta County. Her first husband was killed while fighting at Bethesda Church near Richmond, just ninety days after their wedding in February 1864.
     John Edgar Willson died on April 22, 1887, leaving behind an estate heavily burdened by debt. He is buried at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Rockbridge.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Maria Newton Marshall

Maria Marshall (standing, second from right) and family, 1898

     In my previous post I mentioned in passing that my great grandmother, Elizabeth Houston Row, engaged the services of Maria Newton Marshall of Orange County to teach at Sunshine, our old home place in Spotsylvania. One of my alert readers picked up on my reference to the fact that Maria was a great granddaughter of John Marshall, who had been Chief Justice of the United States.
      Indeed, she was. Maria was the daughter of Fielding Lewis Marshall, grandson of the Chief Justice. Fielding was the father of nineteen children by two wives. Maria was born in 1869 of Fielding's second wife. The family was closely affiliated with St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Orange and they were very active as teachers and missionaries. Maria herself worked as a missionary in the mountain communities of Virginia. The photograph above comes from an article in the June 2007 number of the newsletter of the Orange Historical Society, written by Frank Walker, Jr. It is a short and interesting read and can be found here.
     I am not certain how my great grandmother linked up with Maria. The Marshalls were well known in the area because of their missionary work. Also, Maria's father served in the Sixth Virginia Cavalry with my great grandfather during the Civil War. Based on the ages of Lizzie Row's children, I would guess that Maria taught at Sunshine sometime during the late 1880s to early 1890s.
     In June 1899 my great grandmother lost both her mother and her oldest son, Houston Row, within nine days of each other. This double tragedy triggered an outpouring of grief from many friends and family members who wrote letters of condolence to my great grandmother. Among them was one from Maria Marshall. The first page of that letter is shown below, followed by my transcription.

Maria Marshall to Lizzie Row, 16 June 1899

Transcription of Maria Marshall's letter

     Maria Newton Marshall lived until 1934 and is buried in Graham cemetery in Orange County.

Monday, September 10, 2012


Glenburnie, Spotsylvania 1897

     In today's offering we will be taking a look at the stories behind some of the faces in another captioned photograph of old Spotsylvania. In this collection of photographs shared with me a few years ago, the persons were identified and the captions were composed, I am told, by historian Robert Hodge.
     Long before the era of unified school districts and the brick and mortar buildings most of us are familiar with, schools in Spotsylvania were often affiliated with churches or had prosaic names like "Public School # 1." Other had more intriguing names like "Pineapple" and "Chivis". Frequently families taught school in their own homes. My own great grandmother, Lizzie Houston Row, hired Maria Marshall, a great granddaughter of U.S. Chief Justice John Marshall, to teach her three children at home. Lizzie herself taught a session at Sunshine, the family farm, and included some of the children of neighbor John James Stephens. The following term the Stephens family did the honors.
     John Henry Biscoe was another Spotsylvania resident who held school in his house. He is (3) in the photo above. Glenburnie, owned by the Biscoe family for 150 years, is still actively farmed by his descendants. JH Biscoe's wife Mollie (4) is standing next to him at far right.
     John Henry's half sister Sallie (1) stands next to him at far left. She was married to Marcus Aurelius Chewning, who fought with the Ninth Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War. During his checkered career as a Confederate trooper he served as a scout, bugler and tracker of Confederate deserters. Marcus is well known for a daring exploit during the battle of the Wilderness. This story is told in a superbly researched article written for the Culpeper Star-Exponent by Josef Rokus and can be read here. I highly recommend it to my readers. Mertie (9), a daughter of Marcus and Sallie, stands in the second row.
     Also seen in the photograph are JH and Mollie Biscoe's sons (11) and (19) and their daughters (15), (16), (18), (19), (20), and (22).
     John Henry Biscoe (1857-1943) was an energetic and enterprising man. He served as county surveyor and registrar and for a time was postmaster at Granite Springs. In 1901 he was elected to the House of Delegates. The small photo below below comes from the Library of Virginia. Below his likeness is a ringing endorsement of his candidacy written by a Democratic supporter who signed himself as "Citizen."

John Henry Biscoe

The Free Lance 13 June 1901

     JH Biscoe and his son Henry Curtis (11) owned an establishment in Fredericksburg located at 407-409 Commerce (now William) Street, JH Biscoe & Son. Here they sold feed and seed, buggies, wagons and farm equipment. In 1913 H.C. Biscoe opened the Buick dealership at the corner of Commerce and Winchester Streets.
JH Biscoe & Son (Courtesy CRHC)

The Free Lance 23 April 1904

     One of the Biscoes' customers was my grandfather, Horace Row, who bought an Osborne hay mower from them in 1904.

JH Biscoe receipt to Horace Row, September 1904

Friday, September 7, 2012

Matthew Willson

Matthew Doak Willson

     James Willson, born in Ireland in 1715, was five years old when he boarded a ship with his parents and his brother Moses, bound for America. The ship foundered off the coast of France and James's parents were lost at sea. James and Moses were spotted by a nearby ship, also making for America, and were rescued. The boys landed in Philadelphia and were taken in by relatives who raised them. Moses would remain in Philadelphia; James moved south to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     In 1754 James built a house named "Mount Pleasant" in Rockbridge County. Here generations of Willsons and Houstons, my ancestors, lived for 200 years. Matthew Doak Willson, one of my great grandmother's uncles, was born on August 3, 1844, the youngest child of Thomas Willson and Elizabeth Hopkins Poague.
     Like his great grandfather's experience on the Atlantic Ocean, Matthew's career as a Confederate soldier would take some unexpected turns and was fraught with danger.
     Eighteen year old Matthew Willson enlisted in Company H of the Fourteenth Virginia Cavalry on September 1, 1862. As far as I know his first seven weeks as a cavalry trooper went routinely. All that changed on November 26, 1862 when he was captured during a fight in Greenbrier, (West) Virginia. The records show that he was taken captive by Colonel John Paxton of the Second (West) Virginia Cavalry. Paxton had a brief stint as a Union officer which was characterized by certain personality flaws which doomed his career. This is worth a brief digression.

Letter of Colonel Don Pardee, 8 November 1862

     On November 8, 1862--three weeks before he captured Matthew--Colonel Paxton was observed indulging in some ungentlemanly behavior. In the letter shown above, provost marshal Colonel Don Pardee wrote to the adjutant general: "Sir: I regret to be obliged to report Colonel Paxton 2nd Va Vol Cavalry for intoxication, and unofficerlike conduct at a public table." In May 1863 Paxton was dishonorably discharged for "neglect of duty and drunkenness whilst under orders to attack the enemy." Some political strings were evidently pulled behind the scenes and Paxton was later given an honorable discharge in exchange for his resignation.
     Served him right, for capturing my great grandmother's uncle.
     Private Matthew Willson was first taken to the Atheneum prison in Wheeling, (West) Virginia on December 4, 1862. Two days later he was taken to Camp Chase in Ohio.

Camp Chase

     A month later Matthew was again transferred, this time to the grim federal facility at Alton Illinois. Here he would languish for three months until he was exchanged on April 1, 1863. He soon rejoined his regiment. During his first seven months as a Confederate cavalryman Private Willson had spent just seven weeks in the saddle.

Prison at Alton, Illinois

     For the next nineteen months Matthew is marked present on company muster rolls. The Fourteenth Cavalry battled at Antietam, Gettysburg and dozens of other fights big and small. Whatever good luck Matthew had enjoyed during this period ran out at Cedarville on November 12, 1864.
     What had started out as a Confederate rout of the Yankees quickly went the other way and the Fourteenth Cavalry was badly mauled. William Howard Houston, another uncle of my great grandmother, was killed that day. Matthew was captured a second time, again by the Second (West) Virginia Cavalry, this time without the services of the bibulous John Paxton.
     Just before he was captured, Matthew's head was gashed by a saber cut and he was shot in the left arm. The doctor's notes described a "GSW left forearm radial art[ery] was ligated." The Union doctors helpfully noted that the missile was a pistol ball. "GS wound of forearm entering in front below elbow and passing out near ulna." Had he not been captured, Matthew would have been treated by my cousin Dr. Elhanon Winchester Row, the regimental surgeon of the Fourteenth Cavalry.
     Matthew was first treated at the Union field hospital in Winchester and then was packed off to the prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. Over the course of three months he was treated at three different hospitals before being deemed well enough to join the general prison population on March 31, 1865. And there he remained until June 19, when he took the oath of allegiance and was released.
     Matthew Willson returned to Rockbridge and married Ruth Patterson in 1869, with whom he had six children. He survived the Civil War by 52 years, dying on December 8, 1917.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Faces from the Past

     There was a time in Spotsylvania's history when most people either knew each other, were related to each other or otherwise enjoyed some sort of connection. Those days, of course are long gone. The most significant of the changes in the historical and physical landscape of Spotsylvania have occurred during my own life time. The influx of tens of thousands of new residents over the years have wrought profound changes in the county of my youth. Growth and development are inevitable, I suppose, but the loss of that sense of community, the erasure of the memory of relationships that spanned generations among people whose ancient homesteads have disappeared beneath shopping centers and subdivisions are, for me personally, heart wrenching.
     It did not used to be that way.
     A few years ago I was given access to a few dozen photographs dated about 1885-1920. These consist of posed group portraits taken at the court house, county schools and church camp meetings. I am told that the captions identifying most of the persons in these pictures were prepared by historian Robert Hodge. I love these pictures. In this and in a few future posts I will highlight some of those people who gaze out at us from a time long gone by.
     The photo above was taken at Spotsylvania court house about 1900. Sitting in front second from left is Thomas Pearson Payne. He was the grandfather of Spotsylvania researcher Kathleen Colvin, who is the source of all the photographs mentioned above. Thomas Payne owned a farm near Todd's Tavern. He was active in Spotsylvania politics and served as commissioner of revenue. Kathleen told me that on court days Thomas and his brother James would stage mock boxing exhibitions on the court house lawn to entertain the crowds between court sessions.

James Payne (left) and Thomas P. Payne

     In the second row at far left is James Powell Turnley. Turnley was married to Mary Irene Jerrell, a daughter of Robert Henry Jerrell, also seen on the back row. Turnley was appointed sheriff of Spotsylvania after the strange disappearance of JPH Crismond in 1903. John Bland Jerrell, Robert's brother, stands next to Turnley. (Another daughter of Robert Jerrell, Nettie, was the mother of Spotsylvania historian Roger Mansfield. (Mansfield corresponded for many years with my great aunt Mabel Row Wakeman about the history of Greenfield plantation).
John B. and Mary Jerrell

     Next to J.P. Turnley stands sheriff Thomas Addison Harris, who was appointed clerk of court by Judge Waller (seated, first row) in the wake of the Crismond fiasco.

Thomas Addison Harris

     Richard Lewis Todd (and his brother Oscar), T.A. Harris and Robert Jerrell all rode in the 9th Virginia Cavalry with George Washington Estes Row, my great grandfather.

Robert and Sarah Jerrell

      And, oh yes, Robert Jerrell's wife, Sarah Johnson, was the granddaughter of Richard Estes, my third great grandfather.