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Friday, November 17, 2017

"Your kindness shall ever be remembered"

James Tompkins Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

Martha Row Williams (Ellen Apperson Brown)

     This is the story of a chance encounter between two men during the Civil War, an encounter that would leave a lasting impression on both men.
     Born in Lynchburg, James Tompkins Williams (1829-1900) was a son of Jehu Williams, one of Virginia's preeminent silversmiths and clock makers. By 1850, 21-year-old James was working as a merchant for Lynchburg tobacconist, James Leftwich Claytor, in whose household he was living at the time. That same year, James married Spotsylvania native Martha Jane Row, a sister of my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row.
     Once married, James and Martha settled in Richmond, where James was a partner with Samuel C. Tardy in the firm that became known as Tardy & Williams, auctioneers and commission merchants, located at 13th and Cary Streets. Their advertisements frequently appeared in the Richmond newspapers, including this one in The Richmond Enquirer dated October 7, 1863:

Tardy & Williams advertisement

     During the Civil War, Tardy & Williams were able to stay in business, thanks in part to the success of blockade runners. They were a reliable supplier of goods to the Confederacy, and a substantial number of their invoices survive in the National Archives, including this one to the Institute Hospital in Richmond:

Tardy & Williams invoice, 1863

     Tardy & Williams also enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for assisting individual soldiers whenever possible. I came across one instance of this generosity while writing Corporal William White and the Wrong Man. Here is an excerpt from White's own account of his relationship with Tardy & Williams:

Corporal White and Tardy & Williams

     James T. Williams would also befriend another Confederate soldier, whose letter is the topic of today's post.
     Thomas N. Powell was born in Louisiana in 1840. On July 22, 1861, he enlisted as a lieutenant in the 10th Louisiana Infantry, which served much of the war fighting with the Army of Northern Virginia. Powell quickly rose in the ranks (partly due to the death and injury of several of his superiors); he was elected captain in January 1862, and was promoted to major in May 1863, when he assumed command of the 10th.
     Major Powell's service was not without its moments of peril. He was wounded at the Battle of Second Manassas on August 29th, 1862. He was wounded a second time on May 14th, 1864 when he was shot in the right hand while fighting in Spotsylvania. He received a 30-day furlough to recuperate in one of the hospitals in Lynchburg, and then returned to his regiment. Powell was captured at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864, but within several weeks was able to escape and he once again returned to the 10th. By early 1865, the 10th was serving in the trenches defending Petersburg.
     In early 1864, Major Powell met James T. Williams, and enjoyed the hospitality of his household. Powell recounted this experience in an appreciative letter he wrote to James in early spring of that year:

Letter of Major Thomas N. Powell (Ellen Apperson Brown)

Hd Qrs 10th La Regt
Mar 21st, 1864
Mr. Jas. T. Williams
Dear Sir
     I received your kind letter of the 15th inst. a few days ago while on picket. Though I have just returned to camp and am much fatigued I must not miss another mail.
     I am Mr. Williams deeply indebted and highly appreciate the friendly sentiment you manifest in the closing lines of your letter, insisting that when I "turn up" in Richmond I must regard your residence as my home. Rest assured that your kindness shall ever be remembered even longer as I have in no way merited it. I regret exceedingly that I will not have an opportunity of enjoying your truly Virginian hospitality so graciously tendered. Your house, though deprived of a great attraction by the departure of young ladies, is not without many others and I must say it was rather inappropriate in you to say that you had lost your chief attraction.
     In order not to impose more than circumstances might compel me in your kindness, I requested another friend of mine to make the purchase of a saddle for me from the Dept enclosing an order on you for $125. I have not yet heard from him. Should he not draw the money, as per my order, prior to the 28th inst. please find the [illegible] in 4 per cent bond.
     Present my compliments to your lady and the young ladies when you write. I am most respectively
Thomas N. Powell

Major Thomas N. Powell was killed in the entrenchments in front of Petersburg on March 28, 1865.

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