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Sunday, November 6, 2016

"To hear the shout of victory, before I die"

Letter of John Winn Moseley to his mother, July 4, 1863 (Library of Virginia)

     In the course of transcribing documents for the Library of Virginia, I am fortunate to come across a number of writings from the nineteenth century that have the power to communicate to us evocative feelings and events from that bygone era.
     This morning, I found this letter written by John Winn Moseley of the 4th Alabama Infantry. Born in Buckingham County, Virginia, in 1832, John moved to Alabama as a young man. He enlisted in the 4th Infantry in Marion, Alabama on April 24, 1861. His regiment accompanied General Lee's army as it undertook its ill-fated invasion of Pennsylvania in late June 1863.
     Sergeant Moseley would not live to see either Virginia or Alabama again. He was gravely wounded during Pickett's charge on July 3. Before he died the next day, he wrote this letter to his mother. He died convinced that his sacrifice had not been in vain.

Battlefield Gettysburg Penn.
July 4th 1863
Dear Mother
I am here a prisoner of war & mortally wounded. I can live but a few hours more, at farthest. I was shot fifty yards of the enemy's line. They have been extremely kind to me. I have no doubt about the final result of the battle and I hope I may live long enough to hear the shout of victory before I die. I am very weak. Do not grieve my loss. I had hoped to have been spared but a righteous God has ordained otherwise & I feel prepared to trust my cause in his hands. Farewell to you all. Pray that God will receive my soul.
Your unfortunate son

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"Bullets flew about me like hailstones"

Cecil Amander Burleigh (

     During the past two years, I have been part of a team of volunteers who transcribe documents from the archives of the Library of Virginia. This crowdsourced program is open to anyone who has an interest in Virginia history at
     Recently, I have devoted my time to a large cache of letters sent and received during the Civil War by Cecil Amander Burleigh and his wife, the former Caroline ("Carrie") Dickerman. I have come to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of this married couple, whose personal difficulties during the war were replicated tens of thousands of times across America.. This collection of letters, numbering in the hundreds, was made available to the Library of Virginia by Patricia Bangs, a direct descendant of Cecil Burleigh.
     Cecil and Carrie Burleigh were devout, patriotic people of high ideals whose lives were informed by a devotion to duty and a highly developed love of their country. They were also strongly opposed to the institution of slavery, and their letters make references to the "slave cursed soil" of the South. Their letters also clearly show their deep affection for each other and how well they coped with long periods of separation. Many of Carrie's letters to her husband end with some variation of "May God keep you from danger and may you be spared to return to your family." Cecil signed almost all of his letters to Carrie as "Burleigh," and the letters he received from friends and fellow soldiers usually begin with the salutation "Friend Burleigh." And so that is how he will be known in today's post.
     For those of you who may already be asking yourselves why I am writing about a Connecticut Yankee today, I hasten to say here that the first battle experienced by Burleigh was at Chancellorsville. My focus will be on those events of Burleigh's life leading up to that epic fight and its immediate aftermath.
     Cecil Burleigh was born on June 30th, 1833 in the town of Richford in Tioga County, New York. He left home at age 13 to apprentice as a blacksmith in the nearby town of Berkshire. At the age of 20, he was invited by Edward Dickerman to work at his smithy at Mount Carmel, near Hamden, Connecticut. While employed there, Burleigh met Edward's niece, Carrie, whom he married in 1855. They had one child, Louise, who was born in 1861.
     Burleigh next worked as superintendent for Ives & Pardee, hardware manufacturers, until they went bankrupt in 1860. He then taught school, reluctantly, until the outbreak of the Civil War. In April 1861, he became a recruiting officer for the Union army, a job that required a certain amount of traveling. When the 20th Connecticut Volunteers was organized in August 1862, Burleigh enlisted as a first sergeant in Company I. On August 27, 1862, examining surgeons at New Haven selected 980 men as fit for duty in the new regiment.
     After a brief period of training and equipping, the 20th was sent to Virginia, where it became a part of the 12th Corps, commanded by Major General Henry Slocum. The 20th Connecticut moved from Fairfax County and encamped near Stafford Court House by January 25, 1863. This would be Burleigh's home for the next four months.
     In a letter written to Carrie from that place on January 27, he plainly stated how he viewed the aims of the war:

     "I have no uncivil feelings against the people of this state but they need the influences of education and Christianity more than any people I ever saw. Perhaps you think it a poor way to reform them to lay waste their country & destroy their habitations but desperate diseases need energetic treatment. Before the proclamation of freedom to the blacks I began to fear we were fighting in vain but now we are fighting  for a noble cause to save from bondage not only four millions of people but all future generations."

     In at least one subsequent letter, Burleigh revealed to Carrie his willingness to lead a detachment of black soldiers. When Carrie wrote him of her ambivalence about such a notion, Burleigh told her that it would enable him to get a promotion more quickly. In any case, he never seriously pursued this as a career move.
     In late February 1863, Burleigh received a furlough and returned home to visit his family and friends in Connecticut. On his way back to Stafford in early March, Burleigh visited Washington, D.C., where he observed the House of Delegates:

     "We got there just as members were taking their seats, & listened to the prayer of the Chaplain during that time there was tolerable good order in the house but no sooner was the amen said than the bustle commenced it was not half so respectable an assembly as a town meeting in Hamden."

     The winter encampment of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers at Stafford Court House was cold and wet and stupendously boring. Burleigh shared a ramshackle hut with some friends who helped him build it. Other than occasional picket duty or other routine tasks, there was little to do but write letters, read letters, and try to remain warm and dry. It snowed or rained almost continually until late spring.
     On April 26, 1863, Burleigh wrote his last letter to Carrie from Stafford Court House. "We have positive orders to march at daybreak. I have no idea where we are to go but think we are bound to Richmond which place I hope to see in ten days (not a prisoner)." Incredibly, Burleigh had foretold his own fate.
     The 12th Corps broke camp on April 27 and marched about 30 miles west and crossed the Rappahannock River at Kelly's Ford. They then pushed on to Germanna Ford and forced a crossing against Confederates dug in on the south bank of the Rapidan. General Slocum and his command reached Chancellorsville about 3 p. m. on April 30.

Battle of Chancellorsville, May 3, 1863 (Wikipedia)

     On May 3, 1863, Union positions in the immediate vicinity of the Chancellor House came under intense artillery fire from Confederate batteries nearby. Dr. Daniel Lee Jewett of the 20th Connecticut was inside the residence attending to the wounded during the bombardment. One of his patients was killed by shrapnel while Dr. Jewett was operating on him. During the battle, the 20th heroically stood its ground during the savage fighting until it was forced to retreat when supporting forces on both their flanks gave way. The regiment suffered 197 casualties that day.
     Sergeant Burleigh, as well as other members of the 20th, was captured by the Confederates. He was taken to Fredericksburg, and was then transported to Libby Prison in Richmond,  but was soon paroled. Two weeks after the battle, he was at last able to write a letter to Carrie and tell her of his experience:

"Annapolis Md May 16th 63
Dear Wife
     I want to write you a few lines but the wind blows so here I cant keep my paper still...I dont know where my reg't is or how many were killed or wounded I know four of our Co. were killed & as many wounded & there are nine of us taken prisoners Paddock & Bradley [1] among them Bradley & I stood up & fought till we were entirely surrounded & the ground covered with dead & wounded so did a number of others perhaps it would have been better to have retreated with the regt but the rebels paid dear for our capture. We were captured on Sunday May 3d we were behind a slight breast work made of poles lightly thrown together our forces were driven back on our right & two assaults were made upon our position but we repulsed them handsomely & could have held our position till this time but our forces gave way both on the right & left of us & we were nearly surrounded when Col Wooster gave the order to retreat & the regt left on the double quick I started to follow them but it was so much against my disposition that [I] determined to sell my life as dearly as possible. I found a Co. of the 84th P. Vs. [Pennsylvania Volunteers] who where making a gallant fight. I was very much exposed to the shot & shell & bullets flew about me like hail stones but I thank God he preserved me in all that danger, & kept my heart from fear. I presume you have heard from the regt several times since the fight. I dont know how I am reported perhaps you think me dead but hope your heart has not been subjected to that terrible trial of course you have been very anxious to hear from me but I could not let you know where I was any sooner. As soon as I got inside of our lines I tore a leaf from my memorandum book & an envelope that had been wet & stuck together & wrote you a few lines which I hope you have received it was the best I could do. I will not write you much more to night we did not get here till nine oclock this morning & of course are not settled yet but I can now get enough to eat & feel better than I did but it will take some time for me to get in as good condition as I was when we left Stafford. You may direct to Parole Camp, Annapolis Maryland. I shall need some money but you need not send any till you hear from me again. I dont know how long we shall stay here before we are exchanged but presume it will be two months if so I should like to have you visit me if you felt able to for they say they wont let a paroled prisoner go home though I can see why. Give my love to all good friends & much love & many kisses to my dear wife Mother & child
C A Burleigh"

     Carrie's first knowledge that her husband was still alive came not from this letter, but from the hurriedly written note Burleigh mailed just before departing to the parole camp in Annapolis.

"May 15th 1863 Fortress Monroe
Dear Wife I send this to let you know that through the mercy of God I am still alive & well except I am nearly exausted with the hardship & privations of the last two weeks for I am on board of a transport & shall arrive at  Annapolis tonight I will write you from there as soon as I can I know nothing of the regt since I was taken prisoner Will Bradley & Paddock are with me & six others from my company there were several killed & wounded that belong to our Co but I think none that you know write me direct to the paroll camp Annapolis M. D. & I think I shall get it. I have very much to write but this is all the paper I have. I have lost everything but my Bible & your picture with love C A Burleigh"

     Carrie received this note from Burleigh three days later. She immediately sat down and wrote to him:

"Mt Carmel May 18th / 63
My dear dear Husband
My heart is so full of joy & gratitude to night that I cant begin to find words to express a thousandth part of it, your few words written on your way to Anapolis reached me to night, & it seemed almost like hearing from the dead, you can scarcely know what I have suffered in mind for the last two weeks..."
     Carrie also received a letter from Lieutenant Edward Doolittle, who reassured her about her husband's safety, and then added his own observation of Burleigh during the battle,

"...[his] earnestness is the only cause I can assign for his unwillingness to leave our entrenchments at a time when almost & perhaps all others had left. He was urged strongly by Corpl Austin to leave. I also tried to persuade him. his only reply was "he could not then." As for coolness & self possession few men possess it to the degree than did he. All through the engagement & while standing there alone, he was calm & self reliant, never for a moment seeming the least distressed or dejected. I of course had no chance for conversation  with him during the engagement but from his very looks I was satisfied that he felt that all would go well with him. He would look up at me and smile (I was very nearly directly behind him) this he did repeatedly during our stay behind the Breastwork."
     Lieutenant Doolittle himself would lose his life just five months later in Stevenson, Alabama.

Parole Camp at Annapolis, Maryland (Wikipedia)

     At this point during the Civil War, prisoner exchanges still routinely took place between the United States and the Confederacy. Captured soldiers signed paroles pledging not to rejoin their respective armies until properly exchanged. Confederate soldiers simply went home and usually awaited notification that they had been exchanged and could then rejoin their regiments. Union soldiers were confined at parole camps until they were exchanged. In the case of Sergeant Cecil Burleigh, this took quite some time.

Convalescent Camp, Alexandria, Virginia (Library of Congress)

     Burleigh stayed at the Annapolis camp for a short time and was then transferred to the Convalescent Camp in Alexandria, also a holding facility for paroled Union prisoners awaiting exchange. In late May or early June 1863, Burleigh was given a furlough to go home to Connecticut for a short visit. On his way back to Alexandria, Burleigh wrote Carrie from Baltimore on June 10: I feel more than ever how dear my little family is to my heart & I long for the time to come when I may be permitted to stay with them but I will try to exercise patience."

     It would be another two years before Cecil and Carrie Burleigh would see each other again.

     Sergeant Burleigh remained confined until the end of September, when he was at long last officially exchanged. He spent more than a week traveling by train through Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky in order to catch up with the 20th Connecticut Volunteers. Burleigh finally reunited with his fellow soldiers in Decherd, Tennessee on October 9, 1863, more than five months after he had been captured.
     The 20th was now part of the 2d Brigade, 3d Division of the 20th Army Corps. In February 1864, Burleigh was promoted to Lieutenant and assumed command of Company C. Just a couple of months later, the 20th, now part of General Sherman's army, left Tennessee and made its way toward Atlanta. During the fighting around Atlanta Lt. Burleigh had a few close calls but managed to avoid injury, illness or recapture.
     When Sherman took the bulk of his army east to Savannah, the 20th Connecticut remained behind with the rest of the troops garrisoning Atlanta. The 20th rejoined Sherman's main army shortly before the capture of Savannah. Burleigh then marched through South Carolina and then North Carolina. Shortly before the war's end, Burleigh was brevetted to Captain. At the war's conclusion, the 20th Connecticut then marched to Washington, D.C., where they participated in the triumphant military review in May 1865.
     Lt. Cecil Burleigh was mustered out of the Union army in Washington, D.C. on June 13, 1865. He returned home and took up his trade of blacksmithing. He served several terms as town councilman in Hamden and was elected to the Connecticut General Assembly in 1880. In his later years he worked in the insurance business.
     Near the end of his life, Burleigh suffered from the complications of diabetes. During his last month he was in such pain that the was kept in a constant state of sedation by the heavy use of opiates. He died on April 27, 1895 and is buried in Central Burying Grounds in Hamden, Connecticut.

Burleigh's photograph and details of his life are from
I also referred to John W. Storrs' history of the 20th Connecticut:
[1] Sergeants Robert E. Paddock and Willis A. Bradley

Friday, August 19, 2016

To Be a Slave

The Virginia Herald, June 10, 1829

     Today I write my 160th article for Spotsylvania Memory. By now, those of you who have followed my blog over the past five years, as well as those who have read my book, are familiar with my topics and style of writing. My purpose has always been to share, honestly and dispassionately, what I have learned from my research. I have done my best to avoid editorial asides or sermonizing about this or that. I believe that it is important for my readers to experience original source material as I have found it. In this way, each of you may formulate your own views about our shared past without being obliged to peer through the prism of my opinions.
     Today, however, I have decided to take a different approach. And I am doing so on a subject freighted with many complications and possibilities for controversy: Slavery. Because the history of my native state is heavy-laden with emotional investment, nuance of fact and a blurring of many boundaries, it is almost impossible for me to write about it without making my point of view a part of this story. For the history of slavery in Virginia is also the history of my own family.
     First, let us stipulate here that the 246 years existence of slavery was a catastrophe for this nation and for those unfortunate souls who were snatched from their homes in Africa and brought here to labor and live a life without hope. Some of the core principles upon which this country was established--equality before the law and the freedoms proclaimed in the Bill of Rights--were never intended to apply to enslaved blacks. This fundamental hypocrisy, made possible by the dehumanization of generations of people, was the corrosive fact of our polity that has always hindered the United States from achieving the full potential of its founding ideals. The pernicious effects of this dual standard upon the enslaved Africans and their descendants remain with us to this day.
     I also wish to give my opinion on one other matter that is a perennial source of contention among many. I have always believed that slavery was the proximate cause of the Civil War. Had not slavery existed in the United States, it seems to me unlikely that the other sectional disagreements between north and south would have in themselves been seen as justification for secession. Slavery was such a toxic issue, and the south had so much at stake in its perpetuation as a legally-protected institution, that its existence alone made any political resolution of the other issues virtually impossible.
     I have long been of the opinion that the issue of states' rights as the main cause of the Civil War is simply wrong. "States' rights," as preached by southerners in the 19th century, was merely a screen for advancing the interests of the slaveocracy. Southern demagogues who endlessly brayed about states' rights were interested in the issue only insofar as they could sustain the institution of slavery and enable its extension into new territories and states. They were vehemently opposed to the assertion of the rights of other states to be free from the intrusions of the federal government, when those states were opposed to slavery. Northern states, whose citizens found slavery to be odious and whose governments were loath to assist in the capture and return of runaway slaves, were compelled to do so by federal law. These states would certainly have preferred to offer sanctuary to slaves who sought freedom within their borders. But the slave interests who held sway in Congress made this a difficult proposition by forcing the passage of the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. These laws not only required free states to allow slave catchers to operate freely within their borders, they also obliged these same states to actively assist in the apprehension of runaways. States' rights, indeed.

Slave catchers apprehending a runaway

     Slavery in Virginia had its beginnings in the Gulf of Mexico. In 1619, a Portuguese cargo ship, San Juan Baptista, was carrying 350 Angolans to Veracruz, Mexico, where they were to be sold to the Spanish. This ship was waylaid by two English privateers, Treasurer and White Lion. Instead of sailing to Mexico, the English and their captured bounty made for the Atlantic. They sold about 20 of these Angolan men at Jamestown, Virginia and took the rest to Bermuda and other destinations.
     Because this group of Africans had been baptized as Christians, they were treated as indentured servants by the English colonists. This meant that after laboring for seven years, they would be granted their freedom, just like white servants. By 1650 there were about 300 African indentured servants living in Virginia. Some of these black workers, once freed, would buy land and farm. Some would later own black slaves.
     By this time Virginia was experiencing an unhappy transition, whereby the status of black indentured servants gradually changed to that of lifelong slaves. The labor-intensive nature of cotton and tobacco farming led Virginia plantation owners to make the switch from indentured servitude to chattel slavery.
     By 1662, Virginia adopted the doctrine of partus sequitur ventrem, which held that a child's legal status derived from that of his or her mother. A child born of a free woman--white or black--was a free person in the eyes of the law. If the mother were enslaved, then all children born to her would also be slaves, regardless of whether the father happened to be a free white man. Thus, the illegitimate children of white slave owners and their female slaves were considered to be slaves. The owners were under no legal obligation to emancipate their mixed-race progeny or even to acknowledge their paternity of them.
     Until about 1800, Virginia slave owners were at liberty to emancipate their slaves, if they chose to do so (and many did), with a minimum of government meddling. However, the Virginia legislature passed a series of measures which placed conditions on these freed persons of color. Acts were passed in 1793 and 1803 which required "every free negro or mulatto" to be registered and numbered in a book kept by the county clerk. In 1806, the General Assembly passed a law stating that all freed slaves who remained in the Commonwealth for more than one year after their emancipation would forfeit their right to freedom and be sold by the overseers of the poor for benefit of the individual parishes (Virginians strongly felt that having too many free blacks living near their slaves would put unhelpful ideas into the minds of those not yet freed). Beginning in 1837, freed slaves could petition local courts for permission to remain in the Commonwealth. These petitions would include certificates from free white citizens who could testify to the good character and free status of the petitioner.
     Freed slaves also had the right to petition the legislature so that they might be re-enslaved. And why on earth would they do such a thing, you might ask. It often happened that a master would free a father or mother only, but not the family as a whole. If the General Assembly denied the petition of a freed slave to remain in the state, he or she would be faced with the Hobson's choice of enjoying freedom far from his or her family, or rejoining them as a slave.
     In my earlier writings about slavery in Virginia, especially as a documented reality of my ancestors, I avoided the temptation to speculate on the thought processes that enabled white slave owners to perpetuate the peculiar institution for two and one half centuries. Playing the role of amateur psychologist is a task that I am not qualified to undertake, especially as it pertains to analyzing the psychology and motivations of people now long dead. But today I am willing to give it a shot, if only to clarify in my own mind how an evil such as slavery could survive so long in a country nominally dedicated to individual liberty and the dignity of man.
     In order to justify slavery in their hearts, slave owners were obliged to reconcile a number of contradictory ways of thinking. They were aided in this by the simple fact that both during the colonial era and during America's first 90 years of nationhood, slavery was a legally sanctioned enterprise which--especially in the south--also enjoyed the approbation of the church. Rare was the clergyman who would dare to preach against slavery; indeed, most ministers believed, along with their congregations, that slavery had the approval of God, and their selective interpretations of Biblical scripture reassured them that slavery was beneficial both for the enslaved and their masters. Many preachers of the gospels were themselves slave owners, and saw no irony in that fact when juxtaposed with Christ's teachings.
     Once chattel slavery became an established legal and social institution in the late 17th century, its insidious tentacles reached into every corner of Virginia society. The ownership of slaves was the underpinning of wealth for the gentry and the upper classes. In the example of Absalom Row, my second great-grandfather, the inventory and appraisement of his estate in 1856 showed that 40% of his wealth derived from the value of his slaves.

Absalom Row (1796-1855)

     In addition to being an integral part of Virginia's economy, slave ownership was intimately entwined in the social and family life of white citizens. Among the elites, one's status derived in some measure from their slave-based wealth. In many cases, it was considered a sign of good taste to have house servants whose skin color was lighter than that of the field hands. That some of these domestic servants were kin to the people who owned them was a reality known to all, but spoken of very rarely.
     The white masters of antebellum plantations in the south wielded absolute power over their own families and their enslaved laborers alike. Too many of these men fell prey to the corrupting temptations this power afforded them. The sin that dared not speak its name at that time was the coercive sexual exploitation of slave women. Often, this this took the form of the blatant rape of these poor unfortunates. In other cases, these relationships included an emotional tie between both master and slave. Many men chose to ignore the children born of these affairs. Others would openly provide money, clothing and education to these children and even emancipate them and their mothers. For the long-suffering wives of these men, they had little recourse but to gnash their teeth at the whole sordid business, and ignore the existence of the light-skinned youngsters who bore such a resemblance to their husbands. Some of these wives would take out their frustration and humiliation on the the slaves, whom they tended to blame for these incidents.
     This shadowy world of dual families living together in the same household made for a complicated and highly nuanced domestic situation. Of course, everyone knew what was going on behind closed doors, but no one dared to to confront the master of the house with the obvious truth. Even at the highest social levels in Virginia, white and half-white family members, the one free and the other slave, tacitly adhered to the roles this caste system required them to play without murmuring a word about it. George Washington's wife, the former Martha Dandridge Custis, had a half-sister, Ann Dandridge, who lived with the Washingtons at Mount Vernon. Ann was the daughter of Martha's father and a slave woman who was of African and Native American ancestry. No visitor ever had any inkling that this slave woman was a sister-in-law of George Washington. And it got worse from there. Ann Dandridge attracted the attention of Martha's dissolute son, Jacky Custis, with whom she had a daughter, Harriet, and a son, William. The Washingtons were therefore the grandparents of slaves. After Martha's death in 1802, Thomas Law, son-in-law of Martha's granddaughter, Elizabeth Parke Custis, emancipated Ann Dandridge almost immediately. [Source: Wiencek, Henry, An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves and the Creation of America, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2003]
     The Custis family also furnished a notorious example of a slave owner who openly acknowledged his paternity of his slave child and lavished him with attention and favors. Martha's first father-in-law, the fabulously wealthy John Custis, had fathered a child, "Black Jack" Custis, by one of his slaves. John doted on this child and sought to free him by extra-legal means so that the boy could inherit property from him. This was done to the detriment of his son by his white wife, Daniel Parke Custis, who married Martha Dandridge, the future Mrs. Washington [Wiencek].
     These types of shenanigans were frowned upon in polite society, not just because they were unseemly, they also posed a threat to the underpinnings of slavery itself. The prospect of large numbers of mixed-race people, whose paternity was openly acknowledged by their white fathers, meant that these people could possibly attain legal status, inherit wealth and move freely in white society. Such a possibility, unlikely though it was, challenged slave-owners' belief systems.
     Another aspect of master-slave relationships that required great mental elasticity among whites was the irreconcilable dichotomy inherent in their connections. Many whites indulged in the fantasy that their enslaved laborers were docile, willingly obedient and even affectionate. And there is no question that long-term friendships developed between the races. But there was never any ambiguity  as to who held the upper hand. And most slaves remained alert to opportunities to gain their liberty. White owners who were particularly delusional misconstrued obedience for loyalty. When these slaves took advantage of those rare opportunities to flee before the Civil War, their white owners would feel genuinely bewildered and hurt that these people, whom they had taken care of, would be so ungrateful.
     But residing just beneath this delusion was the existential reality that never quite left the awareness of slave owners. Two slave revolts, the abortive Gabriel's uprising in 1800, and Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831, made very clear to whites that a real desire for freedom lurked behind the docile visages of their slaves, and that there existed within their servants an ever-present potential to use violence to get that freedom. Successful slave uprisings were exceedingly rare, but the possibility that they could be murdered by their own slaves at any time surely must have weighed heavily on the minds of whites throughout the Commonwealth.
     Far more whites were murdered surreptitiously by slaves acting alone or in small groups than did  during the Nat Turner rebellion. For example, Ambrose Madison, grandfather of future president James Madison, was poisoned in 1732 by three of his slaves at his home in Orange County. In 1820, Carlton Row (an older brother of Absalom Row) and his wife Lucy were poisoned by their slaves after Carlton ordered one to be whipped (as family tradition has it). Carlton and Lucy's one-year-old daughter, Rachel, was spared. She was brought to Orange County and raised in the household of her grandfather, Thomas Row.
     Laws were enacted to protect white citizens from their slaves. It became illegal to teach blacks to read and write. Slaves were forbidden to congregate in meetings without a white person being present. Slaves were required to have on their persons passes signed by their masters, giving them permission to do so. Woe to the unlucky slave caught off the plantation without his pass.

Slave patrol schedule for Spotsylvania County, 1853
     The activities of slaves were monitored by slave patrols. These patrols--referred to as "paddyrollers" by the slaves, were comprised of members of the local militia and were appointed and compensated by officers of the court. As a justice of the peace, Absalom Row was one such officer who organized these patrols in Spotsylvania County, and his signature appears on a number of related documents, like the one above. Among those listed was James H. Brock, who was Row's overseer at his plantation, Greenfield. The patrols were empowered to break up any unauthorized meetings of blacks they might come across. They carried firearms for their own protection and whips to mete out summary punishment to any slave caught without a pass.
     Slaves well understood that organized resistance against whites was suicidal, and that even more subtle forms of violence--like putting ground glass in the master's food--would not save them from savage retribution. What resistance they did offer was more subtle in nature. The tempo of work songs, which dictated the pace of communal work, could be slowed down when the overseer's attention was diverted. Handles of tools stored in sheds would be found mysteriously broken. Recently honed axes would turn up dull and rusty. Planters learned that trying to introduce new farming methods or machinery was futile, as slaves would feign incomprehension and new machines could be ruined and new ways of doing things could be easily misunderstood.
     By 1860, many in Virginia understood that the slave system was a wasteful and inefficient way to make money in an overwhelmingly agricultural society. However, slavery was so deeply ingrained into southern life, no one could imagine how things could be done differently. There was no good alternative to  keeping blacks right where they were. More to the point, white southerners were horrified by the thought of over four million slaves suddenly being freed, at liberty to roam at will and to compete with whites as farmers and skilled laborers. Freedom for blacks would mean the annihilation of their world view, their financial impoverishment and the threat of violent revenge from those whom they had victimized for generations. It was unthinkable. As Thomas Jefferson observed in a letter he wrote in 1824, "We have the wolf by the ears and feel the danger of either holding on or letting him loose."

Notice to Judicial Officers, 1861
      In April 1861, the Civil War long desired by the fire-eaters of the south began. It soon became apparent to slave owners in Virginia that their human property would seize upon this golden opportunity to make good their flight from bondage and reach sanctuary within the lines of the invading armies of the United States. As slave owners began to see their labor force and the source of their wealth take refuge with Union troops, it fell to the newly-minted Confederate government to take steps to to try to reassure citizens that something was being done to provide compensation for their loss. Accordingly, in October 1861, acting secretary of state William Browne published a "Notice to Judicial Officers." This proclamation provided instructions necessary to file a claim of loss of slave property. Implicit in this exercise was the hope that some day former owners would receive compensation for their loss. That day never came.

Nancy Estes Row's list of runaway slaves, 1862

     One of those who filed an affidavit of the loss of her slaves was Nancy Estes Row, the widow of Absalom Row. During the summer of 1862, she wrote the list of the names of the "servants" who ran away from Greenfield, shown above. She duly filed her paperwork with the Corporation Court of Fredericksburg in January 1863. She documented the names, ages and monetary values of each of the persons who ran away.
     But not all of her slaves ran away that summer. Some stayed with Mrs. Row, including Horace, Henry, Albert and William, whose names appear in letters and ledger entries after the escape of most of the other slaves of Greenfield. What motivated these few to remain in bondage? It is impossible to know, and each one of them may have had his own reason. Loyalty to Mrs. Row? Perhaps. Fear of the unknown? Also a possibility.

Labor contract with Henry Slaughter

     After the war, Henry Slaughter, one of these men who stayed behind with Nancy Row, continued to work at Greenfield. His name appears on the labor contract shown above, written by Nancy's son, George Washington Estes Row.
     George W. E. Row's daughter, Mabel, was born at Greenfield in 1879 and grew up on the adjacent farm named Sunshine, established by her father that same year. In 1960, Mabel shared her recollections of Greenfield with Spotsylvania historian, Roger Mansfield. She remembered being told by those who had lived at Greenfield, family members and former slaves alike, "The relationship between owner and servant was one of mutual respect. Even after the war, when the negroes had homes of their own, and a former slave died, the body was brought to Greenfield to lie in state in the parlor. They 'belonged.' Their burial ground is near that of their earthly masters."

Sketch of Greenfield, as remembered by Mabel Row Wakeman

     The graveyards of the Estes-Row family and of their slaves are all that remain of the old plantation. The graves of the slaves buried there are unmarked except for the dark field stones that have been scattered by time and circumstance. In my writing, I have done my best to share their names and to tell their stories as I have found them in my family's archive and in the public record. They deserved so much more in their lifetimes, but for now this is all I can do for them.
     And from the shadows, their eyes implore us.

Slave sale at Greenfield, 1832

Here are links to the articles in which I have shared what I know of the slaves and free people of color who were part of my family's history. For a few, I have been able to provide a glimpse into what their lives were like after emancipation.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Book Signing Event Scheduled for June 29

     I will be attending a book signing next week in Orange County, Virginia. This event will be held  on June 29, 2016 at 2 p.m. at the Lake of the Woods Clubhouse, 205 Lakeview Parkway. I encourage my readers who are able to do so to come meet me and buy a signed copy of my book. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Orange County Historical Society. Hope to see you there!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Little Falls School

Little Falls School, 1959 (Stafford County Museum)

     During the spring and early summer of 1917, a new two-room school house was built in Stafford County on River Road (modern Route 3), a few miles east of Chatham Bridge. The school was sited on Little Falls Run on property that once belonged to the Pollock family, who operated a mill there. During the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in 1863, Union soldiers assembled into boats at this place and paddled across the Rappahannock. They were then able to drive off the Confederates on the opposite bank. Park historian John Hennessy has written an excellent article on this operation, which can be read here.

Pollock's mill on the Rappahannock River at Little Run Falls, 1863

     The school was built on land deeded by dairy farmer Edward C. Nathan, a Wisconsin native who took an interest in the progress and well-being of his adopted state. He was then the owner of Little Falls Farm. A year after helping to establish the school, Mr. Nathan died during the influenza epidemic.
     On July 7, 1917, The Free Lance published an article titled: "Little Falls School: The Building Opened for Inspection on July 4. Many Present, Varied Program."  The activities of that day were then described in some detail. The community obviously took great pride in the new building: "The Little Falls School, said to be the best, most efficient and attractive two-room school in the state was opened to the public."
     Two hundred eighty two people attended the ceremonies, which commenced at 3 p. m. with a baseball game played between the River Road Farmers' Union and the White Oak Farmers' Union. The River Road team won, 20-19. The game was umpired by two Fredericksburg businessmen, Horace F. Crismond, Jr. and John W. Berry.
     This was followed by a number of speeches and the singing of songs. There was a patriotic feel to the festivities, as the United States had recently declared war on Germany. Late in the day, a vote was taken to see if the attendees thought holding a dance in the new school would be acceptable. The ayes had it, and throngs of people danced in the school until after midnight.
     The main portion of the school was 60'x24' and included folding doors so that the space could be divided into two class rooms. On the north end of the school (the right side of the building in the photo at the top of today's post) was a hexagonal stage, 21'x15'. Bookcases built beneath the windows had room for over 2,000 volumes, and would serve as a library both for the school and for the community at large. The citizens of south Stafford were justifiably proud of their new facility.

     Four months later, on November 26, 1917, Little Falls School was destroyed by a fire. The building was insured for $2,000, but it was soon learned that it would cost $3,000 to replicate the original structure. The necessary money was raised, and the school was rebuilt to its former glory.
     Little Falls School taught children in grades 1-6. Over the years, a number of capable women served as teachers and principals there. One of these was Elizabeth Dickinson Thorburn.

Elizabeth Thorburn (Ancestry)

     Elizabeth Thorburn was a graduate of Chancellor High School and Mary Washington College. She was a sister-in-law of Thomas Thorburn, whose family was responsible for establishing telephone service in a section of Spotsylvania County. My brief history of the Fredericksburg & Wilderness Telephone Company can be read here. Elizabeth was named as principal and teacher in 1938. She was also active in an initiative in the early 1940s to provide a hot lunch to the students. Local women volunteered to provide canned vegetables to the school to be used as soup stock. In 1945, she was elected president of class room teachers at a meeting of District "A" of the Virginia Education Association.
     In 1949, Lilla Eley was named principal and teacher of grades 4-6. That same year, Virginia Hart Jones was hired to teach grades 1-3. Mrs. Jones later remarried, and as Virginia Ballard was the last principal of Little Falls School.

The Sullivan house, 1953

     Directly across River Road (Route 3) stood--and still stands--the house of my grandparents, Daniel Webster and Ethel Sullivan. The house can be seen in the photo above, taken in 1953. I am seated comfortably with my grandmother.

Daniel Webster Sullivan

     Webster Sullivan, familiarly known as "Web," owned a large poultry farm called the Northern Neck Hatchery. He bred and raised chicks for chicken farmers throughout the region. During the 1920s and 1930s, he used to advertise his business in The Free Lance-Star. Three examples appear below:

 February 6, 1928

March 7, 1931

March 29, 1934

     All six children of Webster and Ethel Sullivan attended Little Falls School. The image below is that of my father, taken in the late 1930's:

Paul Sullivan

     On January 22, 1983, The Free Lance-Star published this 1929 photograph of Little Falls School. All the children are identified in the caption. Included in this group are three of my father's sisters: Gaynelle, Catherine and Hope.

Little Falls School, 1929

     Although I cannot do anything about the quality of this reproduced photograph, I am able to provide this portrait of my four aunts. Standing are Hilda and Gaynelle. Sitting are Catherine and Hope.

The Sullivan Sisters

     Hope does not appear in the article's picture because by 1929 she was 14 years old and would have been attending high school. According to the Stafford County Museum, Falmouth High School was not built until 1931. Until then, white children from Stafford County who wished to attend high school went to Fredericksburg.
     In 1957, my family moved to Los Angeles in order that my father could earn more money than he had been making at the Sylvania Plant. While in California, he worked as a machinist at the Marquardt Corporation, an aeronautical firm that manufactured ramjets, among other things.
     I began my schooling in California, and was enrolled in the kindergarten at Fernangeles Elementary School in the autumn of 1958. I began first grade in early 1959 (a student was allowed to begin in any semester during which he became of age for that grade, in this case I turned six then). Fernangeles was a big-city school with facilities and programs that were unknown in rural Spotsylvania at that time. We raised a garden at the school (I grew radishes) and took numerous field trips, including a memorable one to a commercial bakery in Los Angeles. We held "Duck and Cover" drills, during which we crouched under our desks, as we would be expected to do during a nuclear attack. We danced the hokey-pokey and finger painted. Sometimes we would do some reading and writing.
     By 1959 my father had become restless and wished to come back to Virginia. He believed that a rural environment would be healthier for my sister and me. Plans to return to Virginia accelerated when my Grandmother Sullivan fell ill. My parents quickly sold our house on Pendleton Street, packed up our belongings and sold the family dog. My sister and I were promised that we would get another dog when we came to Virginia.
     My grandmother's health took a sudden turn for the worse in early 1960, and in February my father came back to Virginia alone to see her in the hospital and to be of some help to his father. He never saw his mother again. She died while my father was being given a speeding ticket in Georgia.
     My mother, my sister and I made the move to Virginia in April 1960. Our belongings were placed in storage and we lived at the Sullivan house. Very soon thereafter my father came home from work one day with a puppy for us. We named her Queenie, and she was ours for the next 10 years. Someday I shall write about Queenie.


     My sister and I were happy during our short time at our grandfather's house, (although it must be said that I was afraid of old Web). We used to swim in Little Falls Run, and would sit on the stone outcropping that spanned the creek. My grandfather, long-retired form the hatchery business, kept a large garden in the bottom by the creek. He grew tomatoes and other produce for sale down there. He used to keep a small box of Morton's salt on his person. Sometimes he would pick a ripe tomato for us and cut it in half, sprinkle a little salt on each open face, and give one to me.

Your blog host, 1961

     I was enrolled in the second grade at Little Falls. Although I had only just begun the second grade in California, I was, perforce, thrust into the second semester of the second grade at this rural two-room school in Stafford County.
     To this day I remember without difficulty the shock and panic I felt with this new reality. There was no hokey-pokey. No finger painting. I was a semester behind my classmates and for the first time in my life I was given homework to do. I struggled to keep up.

Report Card, 1960

     Fortunately for me, my teacher was Virginia Ballard, who was also the principal. She was wonderful to me and stayed in close contact with my mother, which was not difficult, given that we lived just 100 yards from the school.

Modern entrance to Sullivan home (Google)

     When I used to walk home from school in the afternoons (Route 3 was just a two-lane road in 1960), Queenie would be waiting for me at the stone retaining wall at my grandfather's house (the house is hidden by the trees in the Google street view above). I would set my books down on that wall and Queenie and I would tussle in the yard and then roll down the small embankment next to the wall (the utility pole was not there in those days). I held on to her and down we went. Then we would scamper up into the yard and do it again. In her excitement, Queenie bit at my hands, and more than 55 years later they still bear the scars of her playful nips. My mother did not mind my bleeding hands so much, but the fact that several of my shirts were torn to shreds while engaged in this activity did not please her.
     I remember shopping with my mother one day at the A&P in Fredericksburg during this time. We encountered Mrs. Ballard in the produce section. It was the first time I had ever seen one of my teachers outside a school setting. The adults chatted while I stood there, dumbfounded. "Mama," I said later, "I did not know Mrs. Ballard ate groceries!"
     One quiet Sunday morning my father and I went rabbit hunting in the field behind the school, near the river. My father was carrying a semi-automatic .22 rifle, which held about 18 or 20 .22 shorts, as I recall. A rabbit started out from our right and raced in front of us toward the tree line. My father threw the butt up to his shoulder and began to shoot. I remember standing behind him, awestruck, as puffs of dirt appeared just behind, and then just ahead of our prey. The rabbit did not make the tree line. That day my father showed me how to dress out a rabbit for supper, and it was a skill I utilized for a number of years afterward.
     But life at the Sullivan house was not entirely idyllic. Web Sullivan was a peculiar and difficult man, and the recent death of my grandmother made him only more so. One day, my father sat me on that stone wall near the house (behind the trees in the photo above). He tied a sheet around my neck and began to cut my hair. My grandfather appeared, and I soon became aware that angry voices were being raised and that a violent confrontation was occurring inches from me. I was terrified.

     We moved from Stafford almost right away. We rented a house at the end of modern Bernstein Road in Spotsylvania County. It was a dirt road in 1960, and it looped around our house on its way back out to Route 3. Among our neighbors were Dr. Henry Bernstein and his family.

Dr. Henry Bernstein

     I never saw my grandfather again. In June 1963, Little Falls School closed its doors for good. Virginia Ballard continued to teach in Stafford County schools for some time after this. She died in 2009 at the age of 100.
     Webster Sullivan died at home one month after Little Falls School closed. His death certificate was signed by Dr. Henry Bernstein.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

William George White and the Funeral of Robert E. Lee

William George White

     My great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth "Lizzie" Houston (the subject of numerous posts on this blog), was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia in 1854 to George Washington Houston (a graduate of Washington College) and Annette Louise Willson. Lizzie's grandfather was a cousin of Samuel Houston, who achieved some fame in the history of Tennessee and Texas. In 1875, Lizzie married Spotsylvania County native, George Washington Estes Row, in a ceremony held at New Providence Church in Rockbridge. The presiding minister was Ebenezer Dickey Junkin, whose father had once been president of Washington College in Lexington, and whose sister had been the first wife of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson.

Ann Eliza Houston White
     On January 12, 1842, Lizzie's aunt, Ann Eliza Houston, married Lexington merchant William George White. Born in Rockbridge County in 1811, William was an able man of many resources and achieved a certain stature in the Lexington of his time. He was town treasurer for a while and also served as treasurer of Washington College 1857-1865.
     William and Eliza had five children who survived to adulthood. Only one of these, Ann Eliza White, married (she was the wife of Reverend Leonidas Beverly Chaney). The widowed Ann Chaney died in Fredericksburg in 1919. Her brothers and sisters--Margaret, Clara, William Houston and Robert-- lived together as a family their entire lives until each succumbed to the infirmities of old age.
     William White's store stood on Main Street in Lexington, opposite the Presbyterian Church. In January 1854, this site became the scene of of a violent struggle and murder, and the ensuing trial made headlines in many papers of the time. Harboring a grudge against VMI cadet Thomas Blackburn, Washington College law student, Charles Burks Christian, attacked him outside the church after evening services. During the fracas at the intersection of Nelson and Main Streets, Christian stabbed Blackburn, who then staggered to the walk in front of White's Store, where he died on hay scales near the store's basement entrance. (For those of you who enjoy reading well-written history, I recommend Daniel S. Morrow's book,  Death in Lexington: VMI, Honor and Justice in Antebellum Virginia. The History Press, Charleston, SC: 2013)

William Houston White

     In 1864, William G. White's older son, William Houston White,  enlisted in the Rockbridge Light Artillery immediately upon his graduation from Washington College. He remained in Confederate uniform for a year, until the surrender of General Robert E. Lee's army at Appomattox in April 1865. Earlier in the war, General Lee's son, Robert, Jr., also served in that battery. After the battle of Antietam, young Robert was promoted and became an aide to his brother, General George Washington Custis Lee [1].
     By the end of the Civil War, Washington College was destitute and its prospects were not bright. It had invested heavily in Virginia state bonds, whose potential value was negated by the outcome of the war. Fortunately, money was raised from some of the more solvent members of the local citizenry, including $20,000 contributed by inventor Cyrus McCormick. In addition to money, strong leadership was also required to attract new students to the College. The school's trustees offered the presidency of Washington College to Robert E. Lee during the summer of 1865. The former general accepted their offer, and presided at the school for the next five years.

Robert E. Lee (Wikipedia)

     Soon after his arrival, Lee was contacted by the executive committee of the Rockbridge Bible Society, which included the Society's treasurer, William George White, inviting him to join their membership. Although most families in Rockbridge were of Scots-Irish descent and devout Presbyterians, they had no difficulty in making room for the revered former general, an Episcopalian. Lee and White became good friends.
     A house was built for Mr. and Mrs. Lee. President Lee also raised funds to build a church for the school's campus. Completed in 1868, this church came to be known as Lee Chapel.
     Robert E. Lee died Wednesday morning, October 12, 1870 at 9:30 at his home at Washington College. His death could hardly have occurred at a more inopportune time for the planners of his funeral. During the first week of October 1870, the worst flood in living memory occurred on the North (now called Maury) River. Great damage was done along the canal, including the destruction of the lumber house belonging to Archibald Alexander and James D. Anderson. Just prior to the flood, Alexander and Anderson had accepted the shipment of metal coffins intended for C. M. Koones & Brother, Lexington's undertakers. Those coffins and everything else stored there had been swept down the North River.

Charles Henry Chittum (Barbara Chittum Hutchens)

     This posed a very difficult problem for the burial of Robert E. Lee. Because of the damage done to Lexington's wharf, coupled with the fact the area's roads had been washed out, it was unlikely that a proper metal coffin could be obtained in sufficient time. Volunteers began to search the river banks for the missing coffins, and one was found two miles downstream by Charles Henry Chittum, who owned a shoe shop in Lexington.

Funeral cortege of Robert E. Lee (Washington & Lee Special Collections)

     Lee's funeral took place in Lexington on October 15, 1870. Accompanied by the solemn music played by the band from the Virginia Military Institute, the funeral procession went past William White's store, shown in the photograph above. The cortege then proceeded to the College. In the picture below, throngs of mourners are seen at Lee Chapel, where he was buried.

     Among the pallbearers that day were two of Lexington's leading citizens. One was lawyer Joseph Grigsby Steele, who at one time served as clerk of court for Rockbridge County. The other was William George White.

William George White
     William White retired from business by 1880. His son, William Houston, assumed management of the store. William died on October 2, 1888. He is buried in the Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Lexington.

There were two other pallbearers at Lee's funeral that day who deserve mention here:

Matthew Fontaine Maury (Wikipedia)

     Spotsylvania-born Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), called the "Pathfinder of the Seas," served his country as an astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meterologist, cartographer, geologist and naval officer. During the Civil War, Maury served the cause of the Confederacy. By the time of Lee's funeral, Maury was a professor of physics at the Virginia Military Institute.

William Preston Johnston (Wikipedia)
     William Preston Johnston (1831-1899) was the son and biographer of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston, who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. During the Civil War, William served as aide-de-camp to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. He was captured with Davis at Irwinville, Georgia in 1865. He spent several months imprisoned at Fort Delaware.
     At the invitation of Robert E. Lee, Johnston joined the faculty of Washington College. During his tenure there, he lived at "Clifton," a house on the North River opposite Lexington. Johnston and Lee used to sit on the porch of this house and watch collegiate boat races on the river.


     In 1897, Clifton was purchased by Lizzie Houston's brother, Finley Houston, who at that time was quartermaster at VMI. The house remained in the Houston family for the next 80 years.

Finley Houston

[1] In 1865, Custis Lee joined the faculty of the Virginia Military Institute. After the death of his father, he assumed the presidency of Washington and Lee University, serving until 1897. In 1877, Lee sued the United States government to regain title to Arlington, his family's estate, which had been seized during the Civil War. The case went to the Supreme Court, which decided in his favor in 1882. The following year, Lee sold Arlington back to the federal government for $150,000.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Goshen School

     Here are several photographs of the old Goshen School taken between 1895 and 1919. The school was located on the corner of Gordon and Brock Roads, opposite Goshen Church. You can see that the school had been enlarged by 1919. Doubtless some of you will recognize the names of your ancestors here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Funeral of Fannie Kent Row

Fannie Kent. Richmond, Virginia, early 1900s

     My grandmother died just shy of her 99th birthday in October 1982. Her death, and the effect her funeral had on me, moved me to write of my impressions from that time. I loved my grandmother, and soon after her death I began to regret not having spent more time with her when I was young. I wrote this soon after she was laid to rest at Shady Grove: