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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ralph Happel's Eulogy to Phenie Tapp

     Since my recent post on the life and times of Phenie Tapp, I have received a number of inquiries about the substance of National Park Historian Ralph Happel's interview with Phenie about the battle of the Wilderness. If that interview were still extant, I would have happily included it in my article about Phenie. Unfortunately, according to Eric Mink, historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, neither the text of that interview nor Happel's notes survive. [Please click on images in my blog for enlarged viewing]
     What we do have, however, is the eulogy to Phenie that Ralph Happel wrote for the Free Lance Star when Phenie died in 1944. Since Phenie Tapp was only four years old at the time of the battle on her family's farm, I think that this excellently written piece by Mr. Happel serves as a more than adequate substitute:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sprig Dempsey and the Battle of Catherine Furnace

Catherine Furnace (National Park Service)

     A couple of years ago I wrote one of my most popular pieces, which described the fighting that took place at Catherine Furnace on 2 May 1863. New information has come to light this week which allows me today to solve one outstanding mystery and to add to what is already known about the foundry and the people associated with it.
     My earlier post described the crucial role of master blacksmith Absalom Herndon Chewning in the foundry's operation, as well as a highly entertaining account of the battle that occurred there during Stonewall Jackson's flank march. For those of you who have not already read it, now would be a good time to click here and enjoy this little known piece of Spotsylvania history. You won't be disappointed, I promise.
     The identity of Sprig Dempsey has remained a mystery until now. Thanks to the investigative talents of two of Spotsylvania's premier genealogists, Wil Bowler and Tom Myers, I can now share with you his name and his story.

1921 pension application of James Thomas Dempsey

     James Thomas Dempsey was born in the Mine Run section of eastern Orange County in June 1845, the son of John L. Dempsey and Susan Nash. In 1875 he married Ann Elizabeth Brown of Culpeper County, where he thereafter lived until his death in 1931.
     Late in life James "Sprig" Dempsey submitted two applications in order to obtain pension benefits as a disabled Confederate veteran. By this time he was suffering from rheumatism and heart disease and was no longer able to work. The first of these applications, dated 21 May 1917, was rejected due to a "misunderstanding of my service; papers being not clear." The second one, dated 23 December 1921 and shown above, provides us with much of what we now know. Dempsey did not enlist in one of the local regiments. Instead, he was detached from service in Richmond to work at Catherine Furnace. This makes me think that perhaps he was conscripted by Confederate authorities in June 1862 (not 1863, as he incorrectly remembers on his application). In any case, he notes that he "served faithfully."
     On his pension application Dempsey listed two comrades who served with him during the war. One, of course, was Absalom Herndon Chewning, with whom we are already familiar. The other was another teenaged boy impressed into laboring at Catherine Furnace, John Lewis Morris.
     John Morris was born in the Indiantown area of Orange County in 1848. He was inducted into the Confederate service in Spotsylvania on 1 September 1864 and worked at Catherine Furnace until December of that year, when he "left to join the regular Confederate army." Whether he was successful in doing so in unclear, as his name does not appear in any regimental roster that I can find. After his death in 1934 his widow filed for pension benefits as well. She cited his service in Company I of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, but I find no record of him there.
     The fact that Sprig Dempsey and John Morris worked together at the Furnace in the autumn of 1864 lets us know that at some point after his capture during the battle of Chancellorsville he had been exchanged. In 1865 Dempsey was "discharged at the close of the war after Lee's surrender and paroled from Fredericksburg."
Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     Both Dempsey and Morris mentioned the fact that their commanding officer was Charles Beverly Wellford (1829-1885).
     John Spottswood Wellford, C.B. Wellford's uncle, was responsible for establishing Catherine Furnace. Apparently named for his mother, the former Catherine Yates, the foundry was an integral part of the Fredericksburg Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1836. The company relied heavily on military contracts, thereby missing a good chance at long term profitability in the pig iron business while prices were high. By the time of J.S. Wellford's death in 1846, the furnace became inactive and ownership passed to his brother Charles Carter Wellford, father of C.B. Wellford.

Charles Carter Wellford (National Park Service)

     In addition to their house in Fredericksburg, the family of C.C. Wellford owned a home in Spotsylvania on modern Jackson Trail East. The nearby furnace which he owned can be seen in the center of the map detail above, just north of the unfinished Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad.
     The coming of the Civil War brought new opportunities to both father and son. Charles Beverly Wellford enlisted as a private in Captain Pollock's Company Virginia Light Artillery. Meanwhile, in 1862 his father signed a contract with the Confederate government to produce 2,000 tons of pig iron at the newly reopened furnace. The determination was made that Private Wellford's talents were better utilized in his father's iron enterprise than with the army. Accordingly, on 4 April 1862 George Minor, Chief of Ordnance and Hydrography, petitioned Secretary of War George W. Randolph to release C.B. Wellford from active service in order to assume new responsibilities at Catherine Furnace (as a civilian Minor was a professional musician and he resumed his avocation after the war).

Petition of George Minor to G.W. Randolph, April 1862

     During the battle of Chancellorsville, at the time that Sprig Dempsey and Absalom Chewning were seeking to escape from Union forces probing the rear of the Confederate column, Charles B. Wellford acted as a guide for General Jackson, taking him through the country lanes leading to Brock Road.
     In 1864 Catherine Furnace was destroyed by Union cavalry commanded by General George Custer. It was rebuilt, however, and continued to produce iron for the Confederacy until 1865.

     A bizarre footnote to the Wellfords' wartime experience occurred during the Federal occupation of Fredericksburg in the weeks following Lee's surrender. From the 7 June 1865 edition of the Fredericksburg Ledger:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

William Lee Andrews

William Lee Andrews

     William Lee Andrews was born in Caroline County on 18 January 1827. Before the Civil War he was a member of the local militia, the Sparta Grays, when this reversed image photograph of him was taken. During the war, William served in the 30th Virginia Infantry and the 9th Virginia Cavalry.  His daughter, Myrtle Clyde Andrews, married Irvin Malcom "Mack" Chewning of Mount View in Spotsylvania. W.L. Andrews died in Caroline County on 3 August 1895.
     One of the best images of a Confederate soldier I have seen.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Return of Lizzie's Stone

Lizzie Houston Row, 1875

     This is the story of how a wanton act of destruction has been redeemed by the kindness of strangers. Motivated only by a sense of decency and a desire to do the right thing, they have done my family a great service. Today's post is dedicated to them.

     Long time readers of Spotsylvania Memory are already familiar with my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston Row, whose eventful life's story has been the subject of many posts here. Born in Rockbridge County in 1854, Lizzie was a member of the storied Houston family, which included her grandfather's cousin, General Samuel Houston. She enjoyed a storybook upbringing in a loving and strictly Presbyterian household at her family's farm, Mount Pleasant. She was educated at the Ann Smith Academy in Lexington and by the time she was twenty one was being courted by a number of young suitors. She was also ardently pursued by George Washington Estes Row of Spotsylvania, who met her while he was in Rockbridge on business. Although eleven years her senior, and a widower with a young son, George won out over his younger rivals and married her in December 1875. He brought her home to Spotsylvania, where he built a house for them at Sunshine, his farm adjacent to Greenfield, his family's ancestral home. Lizzie lived there until her death in January 1928. She was buried in the cemetery at Greenfield.
     During the 1800s Greenfield was a sprawling plantation in western Spotsylvania. A portion of it, including the house and dependencies, was sold out of the family in 1905. Today the old burying ground is surrounded by Fawn Lake subdivision beside a man made lake. There are actually two Greenfield cemeteries - that of my ancestors and the other set aside for their slaves - at the foot of the dam which created the lake. For those of you who may be interested in reading a brief history of Greenfield and how this section of it became an upscale subdivision, click here. This photograph of the cemetery was taken in 2007 from atop the dam by fellow researcher Mary Edith Arnold:

Greenfield cemetery

     For almost seventy years after it was sold, this cemetery and the surrounding acreage remained undisturbed by encroaching civilization and was still undeveloped farm land until it was sold to a development company more than forty years ago. The explosion of growth in Spotsylvania County since that time has put pressure on the two cemeteries. Changes in air quality have obliterated the inscription on the headstone of George Washington Estes Row, and the field stones that once marked the burial sites of the slaves are strewn about. However, years ago Fawn Lake installed a handsome picket fence around my family's graveyard and the grass is kept mowed.

Lizzie Houston's headstone

     Unfortunately, unlike the other stones there, that of great grandmother Lizzie's was not set in the ground. Instead, it sat in the opening of its stone base. This arrangement made it more vulnerable to problems as its connection to the base became undone. Still, as late as fifteen years ago the headstone  was still in one piece. However, by 2007 it had broken in two. In January 2009 it looked like this:

     In April 2011 a group of Lizzie's descendants, including myself and accompanied by Spotsylvania historian John Cummings, returned to the cemetery with two goals in mind. We came prepared to straighten the three oldest stones there, those of Richard Estes and his wife and daughter, which had been leaning for decades. We also intended to attempt a repair to Lizzie's headstone and join the two fragments together.
     We were instead shocked by what we found. The top portion of the stone was gone. The bottom piece had been smashed to bits. Sadly, all we could do that day was load the shattered remains of Lizzie's stone into the truck, and also the foot stone of Catherine Estes, which seemed to me damaged by tree roots:

Photo by John Cummings

     Our intention has been to replace the stone some day.
     This state of affairs remained unchanged until I received an email earlier this week from Fawn Lake resident Sandy Fitzpatrick, who took it upon herself to track down my email address. In her long and generous letter, Sandy described how she and her fourteen year old son Liam had solved the riddle of the missing portion of Lizzie's vandalized headstone. With her kind permission I quote from Sandy's letter:

     My son and I were down at the dam yesterday - the water level is very low due to an incident last week when the valve on the dam would not shut and as a consequence the lake level is extremely low. I do not believe that the water had anything at all to do with the headstone being moved, but it may be why people, especially teenagers and strangers to our community, might have been in the area and may have been drawn to the cemetery. [Sandy and I have since decided that the stone was likely thrown down the dam embankment at the same time when the bottom half of the stone was destroyed.] My son found the top of the stone on the water-side of the dam. It looked as if it had been dropped there as it is cracked in half horizontally over Mrs. Houston's name. Additionally, it was not buried in the muck of the area where the water had receded, rather sitting directly on top without any water debris or stains anywhere that would indicate it had been in the water itself. We came home immediately and notified our security and they assured me that they were already on the way to retrieve the stone...The officer on duty at the time was Tabitha, who was very concerned about retrieving the headstone as soon as possible. 
     Indeed, with the intercession of Helen Bradley, manager of resident services for Fawn Lake, the fragments of Lizzie Houston Row's headstone were soon returned to her grave:

     We are fortunate that the stone was spotted by alert and caring persons like Sandy and Liam Fitzpatrick. Because of their energetic and selfless response, this part of our family's long history in Spotsylvania has been saved. With gratitude and appreciation I tip my hat to my new friends, the Fitzpatricks.