Search This Blog

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Three Who Rode to War

Vespasian Chancellor (National Park Service, with thanks to Tom Myers)

     Over a span of 21 years, Reverend Melzi Chancellor and his wife, Lucy, had 10 children together. Of their five sons, three were old enough to enlist in the Confederate service when Virginia seceded from the United States in 1861.
     Vespasian Chancellor, the oldest of the 10, was born in Spotsylvania County on November 22, 1838. In 1860, he was still living in his parents' household, working as a farmer at their home at Dowdall's Tavern on the Orange Turnpike. The following year, on April 25--just as Virginia was formally withdrawing from the Union--Vespasian was appointed postmaster at Chancellorsville. He would serve a second time as postmaster at the newly rebuilt Chancellorsville in 1877.
     On July 3, 1861, Vespasian enlisted for one year in Company C of the 30th Virginia Infantry. Much of his time was spent as a wagon driver for the quartermaster department. He was admitted to the General Hospital (where his uncle, Dr. James Edgar Chancellor, was chief surgeon) on May 12, 1862. He was furloughed five months later with a diagnosis of "Functional disease of the heart and anemia."

Vespasian Chancellor (The Photographic History of the Civil War)

     At some time after his departure from the 30th Infantry, Vespasian began to operate as a scout and spy for the Confederate cavalry, and was attached directly to the headquarters of General J. E. B. Stuart, for whom he became "one of his most successful scouts." On February 11, 1864, he officially enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry and served with that regiment until at least January 20, 1865.
     After the war, Vespasian returned to Spotsylvania and lived with his parents, his three unmarried sisters and his younger brother, Melzi, Jr. As he had before the war, Vespasian continued to work as a farmer. However, because of his experiences during the Civil War, and also because of his family's unique place in Spotsylvania's history, he was able to supplement his income with much more interesting work.

     Over the years, Vespasian Chancellor was called upon by a number of veteran's groups to provide guided tours of the area's battlefields. Some of these are well documented and will be presented here. In the photograph below, taken in May 1884, Vespasian is seated at far right.

Veterans at Chancellorsville, 1884 (National Park Service, with thanks to Tom Myers)

     Standing in front of the tree at left is Warren Dudley Foster of Spotsylvania, who had been captured with Captain Benjamin Cason Rawlings during the Mine Run campaign in November 1863. Next to him is Reverend James Power Smith, who as a young lieutenant was among the first to render aid to General T. J. "Stonewall" Jackson after he was wounded on May 2, 1863. Seated at center and holding a cane is Joseph Dickinson, former adjutant of General Joseph Hooker. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Dickinson saved the Chancellor family and other civilians by shepherding them from their burning house. Standing second from right and sporting the Dundreary whiskers he affected in his later years, is General James Longstreet.
     Although Vespasian does not appear in the picture below, it does show some well-known personages at Chancellorsville. General James Longstreet is standing third from right next to the one-legged Union General Daniel Sickles.

Veterans gathered at Chancellorsville (Donald Colvin)

     During the fighting on May 2, 1863, Reuben Towle Leavitt, Jr., of the 12th New Hampshire Volunteers was shot in the knee and brought into the Chancellor's house with scores of other Union wounded. The following day, the house--which was also used by General Hooker as his headquarters--came under heavy bombardment by Confederate artillery. Hooker was knocked unconscious after a solid shot hit the pillar he was standing next to. The house very shortly thereafter caught fire. Joseph Dickinson escorted the Chancellor family and other civilians there to a place of safety in Stafford County. Leavitt and other incapacitated soldiers gathered in a room were startled when a chimney collapsed from the fire and bricks came tumbling into the room. These men were saved from the burning house, but were captured by Confederate forces. Leavitt was imprisoned for six months before being paroled. He was permanently disabled by his wound. In October 1888, Leavitt and other surviving members of the 12th New Hampshire visited Chancellorsville, which was then undergoing repairs. The photo below, from Asa W. Bartlett's history of the 12th New Hampshire, shows Leavitt, at left, seated in the carriage next to Vespasian Chancellor. Damage from the battle 25 years before can still be seen in the wall facing the camera.

Reuben T. Leavitt and Vespasian Chancellor (Asa W. Bartlett)

    Vespasian also played a role in deciding where to mark the spot where a monument would be erected to commemorate the wounding of "Stonewall" Jackson. In an episode recounted in Charles Royster's book, The Destructive War, Vespasian, James Horace Lacy (owner of Ellwood and Chatham) and Lacy's son-in-law, Reverend James Power Smith, identified a likely spot on the old Chancellorsville property while giving a tour to Union veteran J. O. Kerbey. It was decided then that, because it would never be known for certain precisely where Jackson had been shot, the monument would be placed close enough to the Orange Turnpike to encourage tourists to visit it.
     In 1888, a granite marker was dedicated on the spot chosen by Chancellor, Lacy and Smith. In May 1899, Vespasian acted as tour guide for the 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the Collis Zouaves, who had come to Spotsylvania for the dedication of the monument which listed the names of the 38 men lost by that regiment during the Battle of Chancellorsville. The Zouaves and Vespasian also visited the Jackson monument nearby and posed for this photograph. Vespasian Chancellor is leaning against the tree at right:

114th Pennsylvania Volunteers and Vespasian Chancellor at Jackson monument (Donald Colvin)

The Free Lance, May 11, 1899

     Vespasian was a member of the Chancellorsville Battlefield Association, which bought property at the battlefield sites of Chancellorsville and Spotsylvania Court House. Although their timing was off by 30 years or so, the Association anticipated that the federal government would create a national park encompassing these locations, and that money could be made by catering to the expected influx of tourists to the area. Good intentions notwithstanding, the enterprise was a financial failure by the late 1890s.

Sue Chancellor (Rich Morrison)

     Vespasian married his first cousin, Susan Margaret Chancellor, in Washington, D.C.  on March 8, 1893. Sue Chancellor was one of the fortunate people saved by Joseph Dickinson at Chancellorsville in 1863, and her memoir of that event was published in 1921. Vespasian and Sue made their home in Fredericksburg at 300 Main (modern Caroline) Street.

300 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg (Google)

     On January 28, 1904, Vespasian took a spill on the icy pavement near his home in Fredericksburg. He fractured his right hip and was attended to by Dr. J. E. Tompkins. Vespasian died at his home on April 28, 1908. He is buried in the Chancellor family cemetery in Spotsylvania.

George Edward Chancellor*

G. E. Chancellor broadside, 1884 (Library of Virginia)

     Vespasian's brother, George Edwards Chancellor, was born in Spotsylvania County about 1842. On April 25, 1861, George enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Except for a period of time in late 1864, during which he was reported absent without leave (this occurred a month after he had been granted a furlough by General Robert E. Lee), George served for the duration of the war. His horse was killed in action at Buckland Mills in Fauquier County on October 19, 1863. Lieutenant Chancellor received eleven hundred dollars for the mount he had furnished to the Confederate service. Near the end of the war, George was wounded while fighting near besieged Petersburg. When he returned home a war's end, he brought with him the jacket he had worn as a trooper with the 9th Cavalry, which bore "a dozen or more bullet holes."

Invoice of George E. Chancellor (Author's collection)

     In 1868, George moved to Fredericksburg, and by 1870 he was living in the household of Irish-born merchant Patrick McCracken, in whose store he worked as a clerk. By 1873, George had established his own business, where he sold groceries, feed and seed, and farming implements at the corner of Commerce (modern William) and Charles Streets. He was active in the Conservative Party and was elected as a delegate to its state convention in 1870.

Receipt of George E. Chancellor (Author's collection)

     In October 1876, General Joseph Hooker (who had never fully recovered from his injury at the Battle of Chancellorsville) and his literary executor, Samuel P. Bates, visited the battlefields of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. Bates wrote an account of their experience at the Chancellorsville battlefield in an article he wrote for The Century Illustrated Magazine:
     "We were accompanied on our ride to the Chancellorsville field some ten or twelve miles above Fredericksburg by Major George E. Chancellor, a son of Melzi Chancellor, whose home at the time of the battle was at Dowdall's tavern, where General Howard had his headquarters. On setting out, General Hooker suggested that we should take some lunch along with us, as when he was there last, there was very little to eat in all that region. Major Chancellor thought it unnecessary, and, in fact, we feasted most sumptuously at his father's house."
     The house where they had lunch that day, "Chancellor's Retreat," stood behind Wilderness Baptist Church, as shown in the 1884 photo below. The Orange Turnpike (modern Route 3) is in the foreground.

Wilderness Church and "Chancellor's Retreat," 1884 (National Park Service)

     George Chancellor never married. In 1880 he was sharing a home on Commerce Street with merchant John J. Berrey, also a life-long bachelor.
      In 1883, a fire occurred in George's store, while it was a serious event for him, the fire did not actually threaten any other nearby buildings. However, this focused the minds of the member of city council on the fact that the city did not have a municipal water system, and not fire-fighting equipment to deal with the next unexpected blaze. Steps were then taken to remedy both situations.

The Free Lance, February 13, 1885

     On November 12, 1887, George died at home of "a lingering disease of the stomach and secretive organs." He is buried in the Chancellor family cemetery in Spotsylvania. His obituary appeared in the November 1887 edition of The Free Lance:


*To see the original photograph from which George's portrait was taken, please see my post The Chancellors Revealed

Thomas Frazer Chancellor (National Park Service, with thanks to Tom Myers)

     The youngest of Reverend Chancellor's sons to fight for the Confederacy was Thomas Frazer, born in 1845. He enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry on March 1, 1862.
     On October 10, 1862, General J. E. B. Stuart led a force of 1,800 cavalrymen on a raid into  Pennsylvania. They cut telegraph wires, seized ammunition, clothing and other supplies, and burned the railroad depot and trains at Chambersburg. They accomplished this at the cost of a few wounded men and two unaccounted for. One of these missing troopers was Private Thomas Chancellor.
     Thomas had been taken prisoner "near Gettysburg," and spent the next two months incarcerated at Fort Delaware. He was sent to Fort Monroe in Virginia on December 15 and was exchanged on December 20, 1862. He then rejoined his regiment and served as a courier for General Stuart.
     Late in 1862, Thomas Chancellor issued an invitation to General Stuart to attend a party to be hosted by his aunt Fannie Chancellor at Chancellorsville. Although Stuart was well acquainted with Fannie and had been her guest a number of times previously, he sent her his regrets. But he allowed Major John Pelham, Colonel Heros von Borcke and some others to attend, including a couple of musicians. This party of 10 men commandeered an ambulance and set out from Fredericksburg for Chancellorsville. En route the ambulance hit a snow covered stump and wrecked violently four miles from Chancellorsville. When this battered group finally arrived, they were greeted by Thomas Chancellor. Fannie Chancellor's guests danced until midnight, ate supper, and then resumed dancing until the wee hours of the morning. (From Jerry Maxwell's book, The Perfect Lion, 241-243).
     Private Chancellor accompanied General Stuart's cavalry a second time into Pennsylvania, arriving at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. Thomas was mortally wounded during the fighting there and died on July 15, 1863. In 1939, George Harrison Sanford King, a grandson of Thomas' sister Anna, ordered a headstone for Thomas from the Department of War and had it placed in the Chancellor family cemetery in Spotsylvania.


Maxwell, Jerry H., The Perfect Lion: The Life and Death of Confederate Artillerist John Pelham. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL: 2011.

Bartlett, Capt. A. W., History of the Twelfth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion. Ira C. Evans, Concord, NH: 1897.

The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. May 1886, to October 1886. Volume XXXII, New Series Volume X. The Century Company, New York, NY: 1886.

Miller, Francis Trevelyan and Lanier, Robert S., editors, The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes. New York, NY: 1911.

Royster, Charles, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson and the Americans. First Vintage Civil War Library Edition, January 1993.


  1. Thomas F Chancellor memorial

    related to the Virginia Chancellors?

  2. I love your blog! Do you use a digitizing service? I just had my whole families stockpile of photographs digitized by ScanDigital. It is so great to not have to worry about those photos deteriorating.

    1. Thanks for reading my blog, and for your kind words. I am glad to read that you are digitizing your family's photographs--it's the best way to preserve them and to organize and share them.