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Sunday, August 6, 2017

"During the war, the girls saw sights"

Hawkins sisters, 1866 (American Antiquarian Society)

     On May 2, 1863, the Hawkins family had front row seats to the opening act of one of the greatest military successes of the Civil War.
     The patriarch of this large family was James H. Hawkins, born about 1804. James was a farmer and slave owner, and was himself also a child from a large family. On October 2, 1829, he married Frances Pendleton (born about 1807) in a ceremony held in Spotsylvania. They made their home on the north side of the Orange Turnpike, modern Route 3, on a farm just behind Wilderness Church. Their homestead can be seen in the Civil War-era map detail below. The home of Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor, pastor at Wilderness Church, can be seen just south east of the Hawkins place, across the turnpike:

Map detail of western Spotsylvania, 1863 (

     During the first 20 years of their marriage, James and Frances Hawkins had 10 children who lived until adulthood. They were:

John Thomas (1830-1918)
Lucy (1832-1897)
Sally (1833-1915)
Martha (1837-1904)
Fannie Garrett (1838-1906)
Elizabeth (1839-1905)
Huldah (1841-1919)
Cordelia (1843-1922)
Alexander Bennett (1844-1923)
Isabella (1849-1939)

     Both Hawkins sons joined the Confederate army during the first year of the war. John enlisted in Company C of the 30th Virginia Infantry on July 7, 1861. He served for the remaining years of the war, attaining the rank of sergeant. John was surrendered at Appomattox by General Lee on April 9, 1865.
     John's brother, 17-year-old Alex, joined Company G of the 47th Virginia Infantry on August 2, 1861. The following spring, Alex was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 on Richmond on May 15, 1862. The record does not show if he suffered from illness or wounds, but he was returned to his regiment just three days later. Ultimately, Alex served less than two years, and was discharged due to disability and returned home (RK).
     By May 1, 1863, the elaborately planned Chancellorsville campaign of Union General Joseph Hooker was well underway. Hooker made the Chancellor house east of Wilderness Church his headquarters. His subordinates chose more modest homes nearby for their use. Major General Carl Shurz chose the Hawkins home for his headquarters. Alex, who had traveled toward the Rappahannock earlier in the day to deliver some mail, was captured on his way back, and was made a prisoner in his home. As many as 25 people, both Hawkins family members and neighbors, assembled here for their safety (NH). During the brief time that Union soldiers were encamped near Wilderness Church, Hawkins family lore says that Huldah befriended one of them and actually hid him in the house during the cyclonic violence of the following day. It is said that after the war Huldah and this soldier exchanged letters (RK).
Wilderness Baptist Church, by Robert Knox Sneden (Virginia Historical Society)

     On May 2, Confederate General Thomas Jonathan Jackson spent a long and difficult day leading as many as 30,000 soldiers northwest along modern Jackson Trail and Brock Road. His single minded purpose was to get his troops into a concealed position just west of Wilderness Church, where the Union right flank lay dangerously exposed. By 5 p. m., a sufficient number of Confederates were assembled in formation astride the Orange Turnpike. Buglers sounded the attack, and thousands of southern soldiers stormed out of the tree line and made straight for the astonished Federals, who had been butchering beeves and making ready for a hearty supper. As the gray tide rolled on, it is said that Huldah waved her apron at the Union soldiers nearby and shouted, "Here they come!" Standing in the doorway of the house, Alex saw his old regiment, the 47th Virginia, racing across his garden. "This was too much for me," he later said, "and, picking up a gun, I went off with them down the road, yelling with the rest of them" (NH). A soldier with the 47th remembered seeing "several ladies who were wildly rejoicing." Most of the women and children, however, cowered in the cellar (RK).
     Confederate soldiers lingered at the Hawkins farm for a few days after the flank attack. While camped there, they turned their horses loose in James Hawkins' fields, where they ate up most of his wheat and rye crop and munched the grass in the open meadow. The Confederates also helped themselves to the fencing on the property, always a handy source of firewood. They burned up 20 panels of worm fence, and a further 730 feet of plank fencing. Nine months later, in February 1864, James Hawkins presented Confederate authorities with a claim for this appropriation of his property. Reverend Melzi Chancellor gave a deposition on his behalf. In March 1864, restitution in the amount of $263.50 was made to James. Here is the record of his claim (www.

     In April 1866, Dr. Reed Bontecou came to Spotsylvania with a wagon load of photographic equipment and made a visual record of the local battlefields. While he was there, he also took photographs of several families--the Dobyns, the Chancellors, the Triggs and Stephens, and the Hawkins. The portrait of six of the eight Hawkins sisters, which appears at the beginning of today's post, was taken on the porch of their house. Exactly which sisters appear in the photograph is not known to me. If any of my readers is able to identify these young women, I would appreciate hearing from you. The note on the back of the photograph reads: "Hawkins girls, who lived near the Church, during the War, and saw sights." Indeed they did.
     It is not known when James and Frances Hawkins died. It is assumed that they did not survive the 1860s, as their names do not appear on any subsequent census. Four of their ten children married. Alex married neighbor Lucy Matilda Trigg in 1868. Lucy was the daughter of Joseph W. Trigg, whose second wife was Alex's aunt, Huldah Hawkins. Fannie married John H. Pendleton in 1870. John married Mary Tanner in 1879. Isabella married Thomas Faulkner in 1880.
     Most of the Hawkins family lived together in their house behind the church for the rest of their lives. This page from Noel Harrison's book, Chancellorsville Battlefield Sites, shows two 20th-century views of the old house and its replacement:

My primary sources of information for today's post are the work of two historians with the National Park Service, Noel Harrison and Robert Krick. The parenthetical notations (NH) and (RK) indicate specifically were certain passages come from:

Harrison, Noel G., Chancellorsville Battlefield Sites. H. E. Howard, Inc., Lynchburg, VA:1990.

Krick, Robert K. Civilians in the Midst of Battle. Published in the Free Lance-Star on August 17, 2002.  His article can be read online here.


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