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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

"The horses are actually starving to death"

George Washington Estes Row, about 1870

     Thanks to the diligent efforts of James Duffy and Deborah Humphries, a cache of my family's papers was recently discovered in Spotsylvania. Some of this material dates back 150 years and includes letters, estate papers and recipes. Today's offering is of particular historical interest: a letter written by George Washington Estes Row to his sister in January 1865.
     By the time 21 year old George Row wrote this letter, he had been fighting as a trooper with the Confederate cavalry for almost four years. He joined the Ninth Virginia Cavalry at age 17 immediately after Virginia's succession and transferred  to Company I, Sixth Virginia Cavalry in 1862. Commanding Company I at that time was his cousin, Captain John Row.
     This letter traces the movements of Private Row during the month of January 1865. Although he had been denied a furlough, he had spent some time away from his regiment, traveling through Spotsylvania, Orange and Louisa counties.
     Of special interest is his mention of the Beverly Raid, which had occurred on January 11. It is apparent that Private Row was not part of that expedition, but a number of his comrades from the Sixth Cavalry did participate. Because of his reference to this raid and to General Rosser, my great grandfather's letter was cited in Michael Musick's classic history of the Sixth Virginia Cavalry.
     The Confederates had learned that a substantial store of desperately needed provisions could be found at Beverly in Randolph County, West Virginia. These supplies were being guarded by the 8th Ohio Cavalry and the 34th Ohio Infantry. General Rosser conceived a high risk plan to lead a group of mounted troopers across the mountains and launch a surprise attack on Beverly. He assembled a force of about 300 volunteers from the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th Cavalries. One of those troopers, Cornelius Baldwin Hite of the Sixth Cavalry, wrote about this battle and much of what follows is based on his published account.
     Rosser and his men began their foray on January 9, setting out on the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike via Monterey. Although there was snow on the ground the weather was mild. When they camped for the night they became inundated by a torrential rain that continued until dawn. The men were still thoroughly soaked when they resumed their march on the 10th. That afternoon they were beset by a punishing north wind and over the next several hours the temperature plummeted to near zero.
     These half-frozen men camped briefly for a second night and started out again very early. The troopers' wet overcoats and capes were now frozen stiff and rattled like boards as they rode in the darkness. The men suffered intensely from the cold as they arrived at Beverly about an hour before daybreak. According to Musick, many of the men were "so stiff with the cold that they had to be taken from their horses, their pistols removed from the holster and placed with the cock drawn in their hands."
     The Federal garrison was taken completely by surprise. Which was a good thing, since they outnumbered their Confederate attackers three to one. With few casualties suffered by either side, Rosser's men were able to gather up about 580 prisoners and a large quantity of supplies. They successfully recrossed the mountains and made camp near the Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County.

George Row to Nan Row, page 1

George Row to Nan Row, page 2

                                                                                                   Camp 6th Va Cav Jan 29th 65
Dear Sister [1],

     Doubtless you have given me out, for I expected to have gotten my furlough in a few days. But when I applied Gen Lee [2] disapproved it and ordered me back to my company. I went to Spot[sylvania] to spend a few days, but was caught up in that bad weather at Uncle Nathan's [3] and had to stay with him for five days. I then spent one night with Uncle Elhanon [4] and took the cars at Louisa C.H. the next day. Left my mare with cousin John [5]. I expected to find my company near Staunton, but when I got there found out it was here. We are three miles from the Natural Bridge on the Lexington Road. The times are very hard. The boys can't buy anything for their horses and they are actually starving to death. All they get they have to steal. I am glad I have left mine in Louisa. A great many of my company were frosted on this Beverly Raid of Rosser's [6] among them Elhanon Sisson [7]. Rosser has ruined our Brigade. We have not over a hundred men in my regiment. I hired Uncle Limus [8] to Mr. Childs for $200 and the plantation on the same terms as last year.
     I will try to get home soon. Give my best to Mother [9]. When Limus got home he found our sow dead and has never been able to find any of the pigs. I will be home before you can write.

                                                                                                  Your Bro  George

Miss Nannie E. Row
Hadensville, Va
From Geo. W.E. Row
Nat Bridge
Rockbridge, Va

Mrs. Nancy Row
Spot., Va.

Miss Nannie E. Row
Goochland Co., Va.

Because he had left his horse in Louisa County with his cousin, John Row, George was obliged to buy another one from General Lunsford Lomax after he returned to camp. Shown below is the receipt for that horse, signed in Millboro, Virginia by James M. Culton of the 43rd Tennessee Cavalry on behalf of General Lomax.

General Lomax's receipt to George W. E. Row for a horse


[1] Nannie Row (1831-1889). She, her mother and her sister Bettie Row Rawlings' family spent much of 1864-65 living as refugees in Hadensville. Nannie Row's life story can be read here and here.

Nannie Row

[2] Major General Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee.

[3] Jonathan Johnson (1802-1873), husband of George Row's aunt Frances Estes. Johnson owned Walnut Grove plantation in southern Spotsylvania. A very wealthy and influential man in his day, you can go here to read more about him. Jonathan Johnson's home was attacked by Union cavalry in 1864--here is where you can find that story.

[4] Elhanon Row (1798-1873) of Orange County was a colonel of the local militia and had been the first elected sheriff of Orange.

[5] John Sanders Row (1831-1892) was a son of Elhanon Row and had served as sheriff and deputy sheriff of Orange County. In 1862 he was Captain of Company I, Sixth Virginia Cavalry. By 1864 he had moved his family to Louisa County to protect them from the depredations of marauding Union cavalry. The Rows returned to Orange in 1869. John Row's biography can be read here.

Captain John Sanders Row

[6] Thomas Lafayette Rosser (1836-1910) started the Civil War as a lieutenant colonel of artillery and finished it as a major general of cavalry. George Row joined Rosser and other die hard elements of the Confederate cavalry in their breakout from the Union encirclement at Appomattox in 1865. They remained at large for several weeks before surrendering to Union authorities. After Beverly, Rosser became highly unpopular among many of his men, including George Row. Ironically, George Row's oldest son married a cousin of General Rosser in 1893.

General Thomas Rosser

[7] Elhanon Benjamin Sisson (1845-1915), a grandson of Elhanon Row. Sisson spent much of his time in Confederate hospitals, but recuperated in time to volunteer for the Beverly Raid. His photograph appears here courtesy of Wesley Higgins.

Elhanon Benjamin Sisson
[8] A slave belonging to the Row family.

[9] Nancy Estes Row (1798-1873). Nancy's father Richard Estes bought Greenfield plantation in 1795 and Nancy lived there virtually her entire life. She was quite a woman. More can be learned by going here and here.

Nancy Estes Row