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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

George Row's horse

George Washington Estes Row (right)

     When historical fact collides with family legend, the results can be unsettling. But the truth that emerges from that impact is always welcomed here in this space. We are all about telling these stories as honestly as we can. [All images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     One of the hoary legends in my family concerns the time that 17 year old George Washington Estes Row enlisted in the Ninth Virginia Cavalry. Once Virginia seceded from the Union, George abandoned his studies at the Locust Grove Academy in Albemarle County and returned to Spotsylvania to sign up for anticipated martial glory on April 25, 1861. Like many young southern firebrands, George was likely worried that the war would be over before he could see it.
     In any event, the legend handed down by his daughter, Mabel Row Wakeman, told us that George's mother provided him a slave about his age from Greenfield, and gave them the two best horses from the plantation to go off to slay Yankees. For now, I feel pretty confident about the part about the body servant sent with George, and Nancy Estes Row would have been obliged to provide him with a mount. But George Row had to make other arrangements for his own horse.

GWE Row's note to Nathan Johnson, 26 April 1861

     In 1856 George Row's uncle, Richard Estes of Boone County, Missouri, died and left to George a tidy sum in his will. Jonathan "Nathan" Johnson of Walnut Grove, who was married to Richard's sister Francis Estes Johnson, was appointed by the court to act as George Row's legal guardian, protecting his rights in the Estes legacy (George Row's father died in 1855). Settling estates in the nineteenth century often took years, if not decades. In this case, the fact that Missouri is a long way from Virginia complicated matters. And then there was that little thing called the Civil War, which made transacting business at Spotsylvania Court House all but impossible.
     Just recently Ginger Chadduck, owner of Walnut Grove, sent me the note shown above. In it, George Row is asking his uncle and guardian, Nathan Johnson, to pay from his "interest money" for a horse he had to buy:

Dear Uncle,
      When this acct. is brought forth, pay it from my interest money. I had to get me a horse to go into service as I am called out tomorrow. By so doing you will much oblige your

                                                                                      Nephew G.W.E. Row
                              April 26, 1861

     The day before George wrote this note he was enlisted into Company E, Ninth Virginia Cavalry by Francis C. Beverly, owner of Whig Hill.
     For several years, I had the key to this horse conundrum in my hand, thanks to the Central Rappahannock Heritage Society, where I scanned the legal papers regarding George Row's legacy from Richard Estes. A page from that file is shown below. I needed George's note to Uncle Nathan to understand what I had.

Account of George Row's inheritance

     About the middle of the page, you will see an entry for $100, dated April 26, 1861, payable to William Massie Simms.  This is the horse on which George Row rode off to war.
     Nancy Estes Row provided her son neither a horse nor the money to buy one. I suspect that she had great misgivings about her 17 year old son going off to war, and may even had found out about his enlistment after the fact.
     And what of the servant who accompanied him to the Ninth Cavalry? His name is lost to history, but many years later his grandmother told Mabel Wakeman what he had told her: "Master George said if had had known as much about war as he learned, he would have stayed at the Academy, for he never slept well except one night, when he awoke head to heels in snow, and as for food he lived on parched corn, and life was not pleasant."

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