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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Greenfield and the Battle of the Wilderness

Nancy Estes Row and her daughters. Lynchburg, about 1870.

     Although my ancestors would have likely disagreed with me, the Rows of Greenfield plantation may have been among the most fortunate of western Spotsylvania's inhabitants during the spring of 1864. During the battle of the Wilderness and the Overland Campaign that followed, many of their neighbors suffered from hunger, terror, privation, imprisonment and a permanent diminution of their financial security. By a happy confluence of circumstance and geography, the Rows managed to avoid the most serious of these consequences of the Civil War on the civilian population.  [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     A daughter of Richard Estes and Catherine Carlton, Nancy Estes Row lived at Greenfield virtually her entire life. In the photograph above she is shown wearing a mob cap and sitting next to her oldest daughter Martha Row Williams. During the war Martha lived in Richmond with her husband James Tompkins Williams, a partner in the wholesale grocery and auction house of Tardy & Williams. Standing behind Nancy and Martha are Bettie Row Rawlings and Nan Row (known affectionately to the family as Nannie, she remained unmarried all her life).
Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     Greenfield, a sprawling 889 acre farm, extended northwest from Brock Road towards Orange Plank Road. In the detail of the wartime map shown above, Greenfield can be seen in the middle of the image where "Mrs. Rowe" is indicated. That portion of Greenfield which included the family home, the slave cabins and other dependencies (site of the present day subdivision of Fawn Lake) was situated far enough from Orange Plank Road and Brock Road so that it was not the focus of the most intense fighting which occurred during the battles of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness.

Sketch of Greenfield by Roger Mansfield

Map of Greenfield area by Roger Mansfield

     On May 2, 1863 Stonewall Jackson led his Second Corps on a circuitous march which culminated in the successful ambush of the Union Army's exposed right flank near Wilderness Church. A portion of this march was made on a narrow farm road that began on Brock Road near Todd's Tavern and meandered to the north until it came out on Brock Road once again near its intersection near Orange Plank Road. A section of this farm road, known today as Jackson Trail West, traversed the Row farm. In 1936 my grandfather donated to the National Park Service the section of that road that had once been part of old Greenfield.

Bettie Row Rawlings

     Bettie, the youngest daughter of Nancy Estes Row, married neighbor Zachary Herndon Rawlings in a ceremony at Greenfield in November 1860 conducted by Zachary's uncle Reverend Herndon Frazer. Zachary was one of five children born to Ann Cason and James Boswell Rawlings  of Green Hill near Shady Grove Church, seen at the lower center of the Spotsylvania map above and indicated as "Rawlings." James B. Rawlings, a large powerful man, was a farmer, slave owner, justice of the peace, miller, gold miner and a gambler whose intemperate habits caused occasional difficulties with the law.

Benjamin Cason Rawlings

     After the election of Abraham Lincoln, talk of secession and war dominated the news and the thoughts of millions of Americans. This historic tumult made a special impression upon young Benjamin Rawlings, the second son of James B. Rawlings. During Christmas 1860 Ben, still two weeks shy of his sixteenth birthday, secretly absconded from his parents' home and made his way by rail and on foot to Charleston in order to be at the center of the southern rebellion. There he joined Maxcy Gregg's regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, thereby becoming the first Virginian to join the Confederate Army.
     Soon after Virginia's secession, Maxcy Gregg's regiment came to Virginia to aid in the defense of Richmond, the Confederacy's new capital. At the urging of his father, Ben transferred to a unit nearer home, Company D of the Thirtieth Virginia Infantry. Ben's brother Zachary enlisted in Company A of the same regiment.
     The following year Ben and Zachary fought at the battle of Antietam where Zachary was wounded, thus ending his career as a soldier. After his convalescence Zachary Rawlings helped both his parents and Nancy and Nan Row and he also provided livestock and fodder to the Confederate Army. In the meantime, most of the slaves belonging to Nancy Estes Row escaped to freedom, leaving only a small handful of servants who faithfully remained behind.

Letter of Ben Rawlings, 1 March 1864

     In late November 1863 eighteen year old Benjamin Rawlings, now captain of Company D, was captured by Union forces which had surrounded his parents' house. So began Ben's dreary eleven month incarceration in a series of Federal prisons. By late winter of 1864 Captain Rawlings was confined at Point Lookout, Maryland, where he wrote a letter to his mother on March 1. He asked her to send greenbacks and chewing tobacco, both of which could be exchanged for better food. He concluded his letter by issuing this stark warning to her and his father:

     You should be careful not to allow yourselves to become in contact with the yankee army on its next advance. Save what you can. Fall back with the negroes.

     By the time Ann Rawlings received this letter, Generals Grant and Meade had already assembled a huge army just north of the Rapidan River. This blue host was poised to strike into northwestern Spotsylvania County in early spring 1864, as soon as the roads became passable. The Rawlingses of Green Hill and the Rows of Greenfield took heed of Ben's advice and laid plans to escape the inevitable onslaught.
     At some time before the Union juggernaut surged south in May 1864 the Row and Rawlings families prepared to leave and head south to the relative safety of southern Goochland County:

     Family valuables were buried, and the horses were hidden in the woods. The plantation mules were fastened in the corral. Federal troops attempted to capture these, but they became frightened and escaped. It was weeks before they were all rounded up and returned. The plantation was looted, but the residence was spared. (From Roger Mansfield's history of Greenfield)

Southern Goochland County

     By now the owners of Greenfield and Green Hill had fled to the tiny crossroads hamlet of Hadensville in Goochland (at the center of the image above), located on the Three Chopt Road, which ran from Richmond to the Shenandoah Valley (the road was so named for the distinctive notches cut into the trees when the trail was blazed in colonial times). Nancy and Nan Row, Bettie and Zachary Rawlings and their young daughter Estelle, James Boswell and Ann Rawlings and their youngest son James (future merchant and postmaster in Fredericksburg), together with a small retinue of slaves, had loaded onto wagons and carts those possessions which they could take with them and trundled south to Hadensville. Here they would live as refugees for most of the remaining months of the Civil War.
     Meanwhile, fighting raged near Greenfield as Confederate and Union troops fought for the intersection of Orange Plank and Brock Roads. Elements of Stuart's Horse Artillery fought at Greenfield:

Friday [May] 6
     Reveille early this A.M. Heard heavy firing on our left, indicating that a great struggle had commenced between Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. We were ordered up to the front. Filing left, took the Catharpin Road. Crossed the River Po. Filed to the left through the farm of Leroy Dobbins, then filed right again crossing the Po and through to Mrs. Rowe's farm. Here met with many of our wounded cavalry fighting against as great odds as yesterday.
     Our battery was soon in position and commenced firing on the enemy, their artillery returning the fire. We were too much annoyed by sharpshooters. Heavy firing on both sides was kept up till near midnight. Our ammunition giving out, we fell back to replenish which was quickly done. We, however, did not renew the fight. The enemy making no advance we parked for the night on the farm of Mrs. Rowe.
     Our casualties today were very severe. Killed, Parson W. Crouch. Wounded, Corporals John Cary and George W. McDonell. Privates James A. Musgrove, Samuel T. Preston, George Stump and Joseph H. Torrence. Also James A. Cobbs and Robert W. Irving, but so slightly they did not leave the field. 
     We also had many horses killed and wounded and among them my own, which was wounded in the face as I sat on him. A few inches to the right or left and I might have been severely wounded in the leg. I had rather a a singular experience in today's fight. While First or Orderly Sergeant I was always at the head of the battery and was foremost, generally, in all fights, but after receiving the appointment of Lieut. had charge of the caissons of ammunition which in battle were kept in the rear. Today was my first experience in the rear and having always been in front, had much curiosity to know how I would feel and what would be the results of my rear experience. The above shows the killing of one and the wounding of eight of my men at the caissons, the wounding of my horse and a minnie ball striking my clothes. While at the front no one was hurt.
     Our army in this day's contest was very successful.
["Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery: Moorman's and Hart's Batteries. Edited by Robert J. Trout. From the diary of Lewis Tune Nunnelee]

Nan Row

     A month after the battle of the Wilderness, Maria Dobyns - a daughter of the Leroy Dobbins mentioned above - wrote a letter to Nan Row describing the chaos and terror that had occurred at Oakley, the farm adjacent to and south of  Greenfield. Maria affirmed the wisdom of the Rows' decision to be absent from the violence:

     A long, long time has elapsed since I heard from you, and no doubt you are anxious to hear from your friends in Spotsylvania. Many changes have taken place since you left us, and I really think you should feel that it was an interposition of Providence which caused you to leave when you did - for had you remained here no doubt you would be as most of us are now.

George Washington Estes Row (right)

     Still six weeks shy of his twenty first birthday at the time of the Wilderness fight, George Washington Estes Row - Nan's younger brother - was a private in the Sixth Virginia Cavalry. The Sixth was part of the brigade of General Lunsford Lomax , for whom George Row served as a courier. Since he left behind no diary of his wartime experiences, I have often pondered what his feelings were as he was called upon to fight - almost literally- in his own backyard. What is known, however, is that George captured a memorandum book from a trooper of the Fifth New York Cavalry, in which was described the opening phases of the battle of the Wilderness and the fighting that continued for several weeks thereafter. Moreover, in the same letter written to his sister Nan, Maria Dobyns remarked:

     George was here last Wednesday. He was looking very well. His brigade was then at Waller's Tavern. Miss Nanny, 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.

     For those of you who may be interested, I have written detailed accounts of well documented raids on four farms in Spotsylvania and Orange: Oakley, Walnut Grove, The Oaks and Ellwood