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Monday, August 14, 2017

"Since the war, I have been fighting them politically"

This is the second in a series about the experience of two families, the Armstrongs and the Colemans, who left their homes in the north and settled in Spotsylvania County before the Civil War. For those of you who may not have already read the first installment, it is available at this link:  "They would have him dead or alive"

Paul Coleman (Vickie Neely)

     On Friday morning, May 26, 1865, the steam ship Wenonah, commanded by Captain Daws and with 90 souls on board, slipped her moorings in Baltimore harbor and made her way south down the Patapsco River toward the Chesapeake Bay. Slowed by heavy weather, Wenonah at last arrived at the Fredericksburg wharf on Sunday, May 28. Among her passengers who disembarked that morning were Paul Coleman and Peter Couse [1]. These men, driven into exile by Confederate authorities and hostile neighbors in 1862, were finally able to come home. Peter returned to his farm, Laurel Hill, near the homestead of Benjamin Armstrong. Paul went to Pea Ridge, his home south of Spotsylvania Court House.

Beechwood, 1940s (The Free Lance-Star)

     Also returning to Spotsylvania that spring after a long absence were Benjamin Armstrong and his 28-year-old son, Mahlon. In 1862, Benjamin had fled from Spotsylvania, leaving his home, Beechwood, in the care of his wife, Ann, and a daughter, Anna Maria. Benjamin spent the last three years of the war at his old farm in New Castle County, Delaware. Mahlon, who had been forcibly conscripted into the Confederate cavalry, successfully deserted in April 1862 and spent the rest of the war in Milwaukee, Wisconsin [2].
     The Spotsylvania County to which these men returned in the spring of 1865 was a far cry from the Confederate-dominated slave culture that had threatened them. There were few farms in the county that had not suffered considerably during the war. The economy was shattered, Confederate currency was worthless and a great number of young men had been crippled or killed. The two main issues for which the south fought--slavery and states' rights--had been decided on the battlefield. For the next four and a half years, Virginia did not exist as a state, but rather as a military district ruled by officers of the United States army. Ex-Confederates who did not take the oath of allegiance were disenfranchised. A new political and economic reality soon took shape, one that benefited new arrivals from the north and marginalized local southerners.
     The Armstrongs and Paul Coleman became part of the new order. On October 18, 1867, The Fredericksburg Ledger reported the names of the registering officers for the county. Paul was one of three appointed for the 1st District. Benjamin and Mahlon, together with Samuel L. Alsop, were appointed for the 4th District.
     By June 1868, Paul and Peter Couse felt comfortable enough to associate their names with a notorious episode which, had they done so during Confederate rule, would have placed their lives in jeopardy. On June 5, 1868, Fredericksburg constable James Taylor went to the house of a Mr. Tibbets, a black man, to collect overdue rent. Tibbets refused to pay, and then he locked and bolted all the windows and doors of the house. Colonel Mallam, the military mayor of the town, then went to Tibbets' residence and informed him that if he did not surrender himself, a posse would be summoned and the house would be torn down around him. With that, Tibbets gave himself up and was taken to jail. While he was incarcerated, a large crowd of both blacks and whites gathered at the jail, where Tibbets gave an incendiary speech through the bars. The substance of Tibbets' tirade was to incite blacks to "strike a blow for their freedom" by opening the jail's doors and setting him free. Fortunately for all concerned, the blacks in his audience ignored his appeals and the peace was maintained. Peter Couse and and Paul Coleman acted as his sureties when he was granted bail [3].
     Paul continued to be active in local Republican politics for years to come. His next reported appointment came in 1869, when he was named registrar for the 14th Military Division, 32nd District of Spotsylvania County [4]. Two weeks later, Paul served on the nominating committee that named Captain Edwin McMahon as a candidate for the state legislature [5].
     Meanwhile, a significant change occurred in the lives of the Armstrong family at Beechwood. It seems that Benjamin was experiencing some stresses that lurked beneath what the written record tells us. In letters written by Mahlon in the 1870s, it is apparent that the members of the Armstrong family were still the objects of resentment and distrust by their neighbors. This unhappy state of affairs was made even more so by the Armstrongs' high-profile participation in Republican politics. In any event, Benjamin left Spotsylvania about 1869 and returned to his old farm in New Castle County, Delaware [6], where he remained for several years. By 1876, 72-year-old Benjamin was living with the family of his son, William, at 604 Orange Street in Wilmington, where he lived for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, his wife, son and daughter continued to live at Beechwood, which was still owned by Benjamin.

William L. Armstrong (Rich Morrison)

     By the late 1860s, a throng of ambitious northern men and their families came to Spotsylvania. Unlike the Armstrongs and the Colemans, these new arrivals were a different breed. They were the carpetbaggers, men seeking to make easy money in the vanquished Confederacy. They took advantage of the opportunities made available by the dominance of the Republican Party in local politics, and they used these political connections to procure patronage jobs for themselves whenever possible. Here is an overview of some of the men who became part of the orbit of the world of the Armstrongs and Colemans:

Business card of Wilcox & Kinsey

     - Thomas C. Westby, born in England in 1819, came to America and settled in Wisconsin. He brought his family to Spotsylvania in the years immediately following the war. In March 1869, General George Stoneman [7], in his capacity as military administrator, appointed Westby as clerk of court of Spotsylvania County, replacing Robert C. Dabney [8]. In 1872, Westby was named secretary of the Republican Party in Spotsylvania [9]. By 1878, Westby was living in Washington, DC, where he died on October 26, 1882.

     - Wyatt Allen Forsyth (1830-1908) was a mechanic in Tompkins County, New York, where he married Lavinia Hile before the Civil War. Forsyth quickly got into business once he came to Spotsylvania. In March 1870, Forsyth--together with Allen Hakes and Albert Wilcox--bought 1/5 acre of land adjacent to Christ Church near the court house. These three men established a spoke factory there. Hakes died the following year, and Edward Wood Kinsey then joined the business. Forsyth took his leave soon thereafter, and by 1875 was living in Washington, making a living in the lumber business. A few years later, he moved to Kanawha, West Virginia, where he continued as a lumberman for the rest of his life.

     -Albert Gallatin Wilcox (1823-1894) also came from Tompkins County, New York. Wilcox entered into a partnership in the spoke factory with Edward Wood Kinsey in 1871. That partnership dissolved a year later. In 1873, Wilcox was appointed postmaster at Spotsylvania Court House. Like Mr. Forsyth, Wilcox moved to Washington, where he was engaged as a lumberman. He later followed Forsyth to Kanawha, where he made his home and continued in the lumber business.

    - Edward Wood Kinsey (1842-1927) was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He appears to have been the only carpetbagger mentioned here who served in the Union army during the Civil War (Company A, 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry). He came to Spotsylvania soon after having married Sarah Jane "Sallie" Snowden in Philadelphia in 1868. Kinsey remained in the spoke business for several years after acquiring the factory from Wilcox. He ultimately sold out to Thomas A. Eipper. His wife, Sallie, served as postmistress at Spotsylvania Court House 1876-1881. Kinsey served as postmaster there 1882-1883. By 1887, Kinsey was living in Washington, where he was in the furniture and lumber business for many years. He was also a partner in the furniture store of his son, Nathaniel Bacon Kinsey, which was located on Commerce Street in Fredericksburg. Kinsey is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

     -Herbert B. Vincent was born in Pennsylvania in January 1836. In 1873, he was appointed as an election judge in Spotsylvania's Finchville District. In 1874, he sold his farm to James R. Curtis, who sued Vincent for cheating him in that transaction. By then, Vincent was living in upstate New York, where he listed his occupation as "capitalist." He died in Chatauqua in 1905.

     In 1871, Paul Coleman was forced to declare bankruptcy. A check of the historic cases of the Fredericksburg Circuit Court reveals that he owed a considerable amount of money to a variety of merchants and other creditors, including a debt shared by Wyatt Forsyth to Hart, Hayes & Company of Fredericksburg. A levy was placed on Paul's private property, and Spotsylvania attorney William B. Sanford was appointed as receiver.
     Fortunately for Paul, he was able to use his political connections to obtain patronage work in Washington, principally at the Bureau of Public Works. He moved from Pea Ridge, his house in Spotsylvania, and lodged at the boarding house of a Mrs. Holbrook at 717 Fourth Street NW. His wife Esther, his daughter Romelia and one of his sons, George, remained at Pea Ridge.
     Likewise, Mahlon Armstrong also began to spend time in Washington, leaving his mother and sister, Anna Maria, to manage Beechwood with the help of a teen-aged black servant, Fanny Parker. Taking care of Beechwood was a responsibility that the Armstrong women were well-qualified for, as they had managed and defended Beechwood after Benjamin had been obliged to seek refuge in Delaware in 1862. Mahlon was living in Washington for at least part of the time by 1872. Like Paul Coleman, Mahlon had ambitions to find a patronage job in the nation's capital. He was also helping his father with an effort important to the Armstrongs' financial well-being.
     The Southern Claims Commission was an organization of the federal government created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1871. It established a process by which citizens of the southern states who had remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War could seek reimbursement for property taken from them during the war. The two key provisions were that the petitioners had to prove their loyalty (usually accomplished by affidavits or depositions provided by their neighbors), and the property had to have been officially taken, and not merely stolen by Union soldiers.
     Mahlon helped his father prepare his application, which was submitted to the Claims Commission on February 12, 1872. Depositions were taken from witnesses in Washington on May 24, 1872, including those of Mahlon, his cousin Archibald Armstrong, his sister Anna Maria, Moses Morrison and Isaac Silver. In addition, General George Meade, who had stayed for a day at Beechwood during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, submitted a letter in which he attested to the loyalty of the Armstrongs. Benjamin was ill at home on the day depositions were taken, and he did not make an appearance before the Commission. During his testimony, Mahlon affirmed his loyalty and that of his father: "Our sympathies have always been with the north & against the south, & I have since the war been fighting the rebels politically" [10].

A page from the claim of Benjamin Armstrong (

     Benjamin Armstrong sought reimbursement in the amount of $3,540 for the taking of fencing, timber, livestock and farming utensils, two buildings, and the destruction of growing crops and pasture. As they always do, the bureaucratic wheels turned slowly, and it would take three years before Benjamin received an answer to his petition.
     During the times he stayed in Washington with Paul Coleman, Mahlon attended what he called "Hamlin" Church, today known as the Simpson-Hamline Methodist Episcopal Church. He became friends with the minister there, Reverend Greenleaf G. Baker. On January 16, 1873, in a ceremony held in Washington, Reverend Baker officiated at the wedding of Mahlon and Paul Coleman's only daughter, Romelia.

Marriage certificate of Mahlon and Romelia (Vickie Neely)

     Nine months later, Romelia found a midwife she could rely on, and on October 10, 1873, she gave birth to Mary, the only child she and Mahlon would have. Romelia and Mary continued to live in Spotsylvania at Pea Ridge with her mother and brother, while Mahlon sought work in Washington.
     Even though Mahlon and Paul were dividing their time between Spotsylvania and Washington, they continued to remain active in local politics. In April 1873, Judge John T. Goolrick appointed Mahlon and Paul as judges of election in their respective precincts:

From The Fredericksburg Ledger, April 11, 1873

     In spite of (or perhaps because of) his continued activity in Republican politics, Mahlon remained an unpopular figure in Spotsylvania. The arrival of his daughter, the stress of living among unfriendly neighbors, together with the financial pressures exerted on many Americans by the Financial Panic of 1873, added new impetus to Mahlon's efforts to land a patronage job in Washington. His goal at the time was to leave Spotsylvania and bring Romelia and Mary to the capital to live with him.
     According to letters written by him to Romelia from December 1873 to January 1875, Mahlon spent considerable time and effort searching for a suitable job in Washington, where he stayed in the Fourth Street boarding house with his father-in-law. He sought help from a variety of people, including James Beverly Sener, an attorney and publisher of The Fredericksburg Ledger. Sener represented Fredericksburg in Congress 1873-1875. For reasons that are not known, Sener seemed unwilling to provide help to Mahlon, who wrote in November 1874: "Sener could give me a job, but won't."
     In between his job-hunting efforts, Mahlon sat in on sessions of Congress. In December 1874, he described the state visit of the King of the Sandwich Islands (modern Hawaii), who was received with all the pomp and ceremony the capital could provide. He was the first king to visit the United States since the Revolution.
     Mahlon's efforts to find employment often proved fruitless, but he seemed determined not to go back to Spotsylvania: "I am beginning to despair & when I think of coming back to Va it makes me feel [sick] all over. No church no school for little Mary poor little her & nothing but starvation both for Mind & Body."

Letter of Mahlon Armstrong, January 1, 1875 (Vickie Neely)

      Then, briefly, there was a ray of hope. On January 1, 1875, Mahlon wrote to Romelia about his new job, obtained through the intercession of judges Chandler & Morton: "I go to it  tomorrow for the first [time] so do not know what my duties will be." Then, four days later, he had to give Romelia the bad news: "My job proved too much for me, they wanted me to shovel dirt. I politely declined after a week's chase of it. So now I have no prospects & I shall be home Saturday if not sooner unless something else turns up. It is too bad."
     During this period, Paul continued to be employed at the Bureau of Public works. His son, Oscar, who had a patronage job of his own, was dating Amelia Hile, the sister-in-law of Wyatt Forsyth. Paul was an acquaintance of former Union General Benjamin F. Butler, now a member of the House of Representatives. Paul had made arrangements to meet Butler in Washington in October 1873. Butler had written to Paul at Pea Ridge, and Romelia forwarded that letter to her father. But not everything was going well for Paul Coleman. He was still dogged by the ongoing litigation of his bankruptcy, and he was apparently unhappy with his wife. He was also suspicious of what he called "The Court House Circle" in Spotsylvania, and their gossiping, double-dealing ways. In particular, he had some choice words for the Kinseys and Herbert Vincent.
     Before leaving Washington, Mahlon checked on the status of his father's petition pending before the Claims Commission. It is obvious that he does not want word of the successful prosecution of the claim to become public knowledge in Spotsylvania: "I have never written to anyone about the claim except you [Romelia], so far as I know all are in ignorance." For the vast majority of Spotsylvania property owners whose farms had been ransacked during the war, there was no hope of any compensation for their losses. If Mahlon's neighbors learned that the Armstrongs had received money from the federal government for their loss, their unpopularity in the county would only have increased. As it happened, of the 33 Spotsylvania Unionists who applied to the Southern Claims Commission, only nine received any money, and virtually no one got all that they asked for. When their claim was settled in March 1875, the Armstrongs received only $1,540 of the $3,540 that they sought.
     Mahlon returned to Spotsylvania for good in 1875, and Paul some time later. Mahlon, Romelia and Mary moved to Beechwood to live with his mother and Anna Maria. Mahlon's mother, Ann Mendenhall Armstrong, died on April 3, 1879. Ann Armstrong had suffered much during her 20 years in Spotsylvania. Her husband had been driven into exile by the Confederates, she had been considered an outcast by her secessionist neighbors, and her dog was shot by a Confederate cavalryman during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Despite her many misfortunes in this land of rebels, the choice of her final resting place was an act of unintended irony; Ann Armstrong was buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg. Anna Maria left Spotsylvania some time after her mother's death and returned north, where she remained unmarried and worked as a domestic. She died in the Penn Widow's Asylum in Philadelphia on August 25, 1920.

Esther Coleman (Vickie Neely)

     Like Benjamin and Ann Armstrong, Paul and Esther Coleman decided to separate, and he moved to Baltimore, where he lived near or with his son, Royal Bunker Coleman. Paul died there on February 26, 1888.

Baltimore Sun, February 27, 1888 (Ancestry, Barbara Spears)

     Benjamin Armstrong spent the last 15 years of his life with his son, William, at 604 Orange Street in Wilmington, Delaware. Two years before his death, he wrote his last will and testament:

Will of Benjamin Armstrong (Ancestry)

Will of Benjamin Armstrong (Ancestry)

     Benjamin died at William's home on May 23, 1891. His funeral was held at his son's home. Benjamin is buried in the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church Cemetery in New Castle County.

Wilmington Daily Republican, May 25, 1891

Death certificate of Benjamin Armstrong (Ancestry)

     In his will, Benjamin left Beechwood to his surviving children. In due course, Mahlon bought his siblings' shares in the old Spotsylvania homestead. By 1895, Beechwood belonged to him.

Stay tuned for the final installment of the saga of the Armstrong family, in which the course of Mahlon's life takes some unexpected turns. The Adventists come to Screamersville.


[1] "Arrival of the Pioneer Boat Wenonah," The Fredericksburg Ledger, May 30, 1865, p. 3.

[2] Armstrong, Benjamin. Publication M2094, Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880, Claim Number 37018. National Archives and Records Administration, p. 4.

[3] "Tibbets in Jail," The Fredericksburg Ledger, June 9, 1868, p. 3.

[4] "Fourteenth Military Division," Richmond Daily Dispatch, Jue 8, 1869.

[5] "Candidate for the Legislature," The Fredericksburg Ledger, June 25, 1869, p. 3.

[6] Armstrong, Benjamin. Southern Claims Commission, pp. 4-5.

[7] Years earlier, while a cadet at West Point, Stoneman's roommate was none other than future Confederate General Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson.

[8] "Civil Appointment," Richmond Daily Dispatch, March 9, 1869.

[9] "Republican Convention at Spotsylvania Court House," Daily State Journal, March 8, 1872.

[10] Armstrong, Benjamin. Southern Claims Commission, p. 10.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Story Behind the Portrait

A mother with Lucy Matilda Trigg and Susan "Sudie" Stephens (American Antiquarian Society)

Label on the reverse of the photo above (American Antiquarian Society)

     In April 1866, Dr. Reed Bontecou brought his photographic equipment to Spotsylvania County. Bontecou was a Union surgeon during the Civil War, and is best known for the photographs he took of his surgical patients. His primary aim in Spotsylvania, however, was to document the local battlefield sites. While he was in the vicinity, Dr. Bontecou also made portraits of several Spotsylvania families: Dobyns, Chancellor, Hawkins Stephens and Trigg. I have just recently written about two of those families--here are the links to those articles: "During the war, the girls saw sights" and "The Chancellors Revealed".
     Today, I will discuss the identities of the women in the photo above. First, let me give a little background about the Stephens and Trigg families.

Detail of 1863 map by J. F. Gilmer
     In the map detail above, the homesteads of the Stephens and Trigg families can be seen side-by-side in the upper center of the image. Their farms were located on modern Jackson Trail West near its northern outlet on Brock Road.
     William A. Stephens (1821-1886) married Mary Eleanor Scott (1826-1897) in Washington, DC in June 1843. They settled in Spotsylvania at the location shown above; they called their place Rosemount. Mary came from a well-to-do family. She was a sister of wealthy Robert Scott, whose story I have told in this article: The Enigmatic Mr. Scott. William was a man of business--farmer, slave owner, auctioneer and real estate appraiser, and postmaster at Danielsville. After the completion of the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad, one of the stops was "Stephens Station," a small white building on his property.
     William and Mary Stephens were the parents of three children: Sarah (1846-1865), John James (1847-1929) and Susan "Sudie" Ellinor Stephens (1849-1906)
     The Stephens' neighbors were the Triggs, whose farm was called Poplar Neck. Joseph W. Trigg was also a farmer and slave owner, and postmaster at Brockville. He married Amanda Fox in June 1848. They had two children, Lucy Matilda (1849-1927) and John William (1850-1935).
     Amanda Fox Trigg died in June 1860. Just three months later, in September 1860, Joseph married neighbor Huldah Hawkins (1819-1891).
     So, now we know that there was only one young Stephens woman and one young Trigg woman living in that area in 1866. Therefore, I am confident that the two young ladies sitting are Sudie Stephens and Lucy Trigg, although I cannot say which is which.
     Which leaves us with the older woman standing with them. All that can be said with certainty is that it is either Huldah Hawkins Trigg or Mary Scott Stephens.
     Lucy married Alexander Bennett Hawkins in December 1868. Alex was a nephew of Lucy's stepmother, Huldah. Alex and Lucy lived at the Hawkins farm behind Wilderness Church, where they raised eight children.
     Sudie Stephens married Oscar Beadles Todd in January 1869. Oscar's family owned Todd's Tavern before the Civil War. Sudie and Oscar lived on a farm opposite the railroad from Rosemount. They never had children.


Monday, August 7, 2017

The Chancellors Revealed

Melzi Chancellor and family, 1866 (American Antiquarian Society)

     Last week, I discovered two photographs in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society that I believe show Reverend Melzi Chancellor and several of his family members.  One of these pictures, shown above, did not have any identifying information on the back. The other, shown below has written on the back "Chancellor Family Group."

Chancellor Family Group, 1866 (American Antiquarian Society)

Label on the back of the picture above (American Antiquarian Society)

     Note that the woman seated at right in the second photo also appears standing second from left in the first photograph.
     Now take a look at the photograph below. It shows Reverend Melzi Chancellor, seated at left, with his brothers Dr. James Edgar Chancellor, standing, and Lorman Chancellor:

Melzi Chancellor and brothers

     Based on the known likeness of Melzi taken later in life, it is my opinion that he is the same man seated with his family in the first picture above. The two outdoor photographs were taken in Spotsylvania County in April 1866 by Dr. Reed Bontecou, who had come to make a photographic record of the battlefields there. While in Spotsylvania, Dr. Bontecou also took pictures of several families, including the Chancellors.
     Assuming that the photograph labeled "Chancellor Family Group" correctly identifies the subjects, I believe that this photo shows at least two of Melzi's daughters. Since there was no other Chancellor family in Spotsylvania at the time these pictures were made consisting of people of this age, the second picture can only be that of Reverend Melzi Chancellor and his family.
     Melzi Chancellor married Lucy Fox Frazer in 1837. They had ten children together, nine of whom were living in 1866 (a son, 18-year-old Thomas, died in July 1863 from wounds sustained during the Battle of Gettysburg). Those children and their dates of birth are shown below:

Vespasian (1838)
Anna Cora (1840)
George Edwards (1842)
Edmonia (1846)
Bedell (1848)
Lucy Monroe (1852)
Susan Monroe (1853)
Leona (1857)
Melzi, Jr. (1859)

     It is my opinion that the group photo at the beginning of this post shows standing left to right: Lucy Fox Frazer Chancellor, either Anna Cora or Edmonia, Bedell, and either Lucy or Susan. Seated are Reverend Melzi Chancellor and George Edwards. Melzi Jr. is seated at his father's feet.
     It is also my opinion that two of the women in the second picture are Anna Cora and Edmonia. None of these three women seem young enough to be Lucy or Susan.
     If my identification of these photographs is correct, then they are exceedingly rare likenesses of this well-known family.
     Over the years, I have written extensively about the Chancellor family. I invite you to have a look at those articles:

The Chancellors, Part 1

The Chancellors, Part 2

The Chancellors, Part 3

Lorman Chancellor

Reverend Melzi Sanford Chancellor

"O the horror of that day"

Dr. James Edgar Chancellor

Three Who Rode to War

Chancellor & Rawlings


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.


Monday, July 10, 2017

"They would have him dead or alive"

Beechwood today (Vickie Neely)

     One of the facets of Spotsylvania's history that does not always receive the attention it merits is the story of those who remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War. That has certainly been true of this blog, which generally focuses on the lives of people who were native to this area. However, I recently had the good fortune to have been allowed access to the family archive of Spotsylvania resident, Vickie Neely. This collection of papers and photographs pertaining to the Armstrongs, Colemans and related families opened my eyes to their importance in local history. Their experiences during the turbulent Civil War era shed light on what it meant to be a patriotic American among hostile and suspicious neighbors.
     During the 1840s and 1850s, northern families in increasing numbers began to buy farms in Spotsylvania County. They were motivated to do so because of improving agricultural conditions in Virginia, and also because land prices here were significantly cheaper than  in northern states [1]. Among the families that came to Spotsylvania during those years were the Harrises [2] and Couses, who arrived from New Jersey in the 1840s; the Colemans from New York; and the Alrich, Armstrong and Morrison families from New Castle County, Delaware.
     The manner in which these new arrivals accommodated themselves to the mores of their adopted state varied. While I find that only one of these northerners was a slave owner (Moses Morrison owned a 60-year-old woman), a number of them rented slaves from their neighbors: Thomas, James & Moses Morrison; John Roberts Alrich; Peter Couse; and Archibald Armstrong. Robert McCracken Harris employed free blacks to work on his farm. In addition, most of these northerners remained loyal to the Union, but this was not true for all of them. Alrich voluntarily joined the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Three of Robert M. Harris' sons fought for the Confederacy. However, one of them, William, left Virginia and served in the Union army. He returned to Spotsylvania after the war.

Archibald Armstrong (Rich Morrison)

     The first of the Armstrong family to own property in Spotsylvania was Archibald, who in August 1857 bought a 207-acre farm from Parmenus Pritchett near the intersection of Brock and modern Gordon roads. In December of that same year, Archibald's uncle, 53-year-old Benjamin Armstrong, bought "Beechwood" from William H. Hansbrough. This was a 500-acre farm on modern Gordon Road at the Ni River, for which he paid $4,000 [3]. Benjamin's youngest son, Mahlon, came to Spotsylvania first, and began to get things in order for the other Armstrongs, who arrived in 1859. With Benjamin came his wife, the former Ann Mendenhall, and their daughters Anna Maria and Hannah. Mahlon's older brother, William L. Armstrong, brought his wife and two children. Benjamin and William shared the responsibility of operating the farm.

Spotsylvania, 1863 (

     In the Civil War-era map detail shown above, the Armstrong home at Beechwood can be seen at the upper center. Just southeast of the Armstrong farm was "Laurel Hill," the property of the Couses. Spotsylvania County Court House is at lower right.
     The Armstrongs, like the other northern families that came to Spotsylvania before the Civil War, would certainly have been aware of--and sensitive to--the sectional differences that had long divided the country. Before the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, however, few thought that a war between north and south would become a reality. For reasons of his own (perhaps as a way of making friends in his adopted county), Mahlon joined Mercer's Cavalry soon after his arrival [4]. This militia unit was the forerunner of Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Mahlon joined the militia against the advice of his father. He would have ample opportunity to regret his decision.
     It is not known what sort of reception the northerners received from their neighbors when they first came to Spotsylvania. However, as the nation moved closer to civil war after the 1860 election, the Armstrongs, Colemans, Couses and Morrisons and others faced increasing levels of suspicion and hostility because of their undisguised loyalty to the United States. "It was a crime to be born north of Mason and Dixon's line at that time," Moses Morrison testified after the war [5].
     As secessionist fever gripped Virginia during the spring of 1861, men like Benjamin Armstrong, Peter Couse, Paul Coleman and Moses Morrison and his relations found it necessary to down play their Unionist sentiments. Although southerners often trumpeted their desire for liberty and to be free from northern "tyranny," they were utterly intolerant of anyone who harbored beliefs at odds with their own narrow orthodoxy. Southerners felt highly threatened by those whose loyalties remained with the old Union, and they were quite willing to take whatever action they deemed necessary to defend their cause from such heretics.
     On April 17, 1861, the Virginia Secessionist Convention voted to take the state out of the Union. On April 25, the Mercer Cavalry assembled in Fredericksburg, where its members were mustered by Captain Francis Corbin Beverly into what would become Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Most of these young men joined willingly, often with great enthusiasm. Twenty-three-year-old Mahlon Armstrong, who shared his father's allegiance to the Union, was "compelled" to join [6].

Mahlon Armstrong, early 1900s (Vickie Neely)

     Company E was sent to Camp Salvington in Stafford to be outfitted and trained, and then they were moved to Camp Potomac in King George County. It was while there that the men of Company E were assembled for the purpose of voting for the articles of secession. In his testimony before the Southern Claims Commission in 1872, Mahlon described what that episode was like: "The company that I was in was drawn up into a line and marched by a ballot box. It was not a ballot box, either. It was a fraud. It was down here on the Potomac River...I was threatened if I didn't [vote for secession] I would be shot [7]."
     Meanwhile, back home at Beechwood, Mahlon's father was contending with his own difficulties. The men of Spotsylvania qualified to vote were scheduled to cast their ballots for secession on May 23, and intense pressure was exerted on known Unionists to get in line and vote the "correct" way. This was not a ballot cast in secret. Each man had to stand before his neighbors and vote affirmatively by voice. Some of the Unionists went along with this charade to avoid immediate confrontation. Benjamin Armstrong, on the other hand, simply chose not to participate in the vote [8]. While he felt free to speak his mind with his family and other loyalists, Benjamin avoided talking with any else about the momentous events of that time. The official tally of Spotsylvania's vote on the question of secession was 1,323 in favor, 0 against [9].
   In late 1861, Mahlon fell ill while in camp, and he was furloughed to go home and convalesce [10]. By this time, Mahlon had given careful thought as to the timing of his planned desertion from the Confederate cavalry. He was fortunate that Company E had spent much of its first year in camp on the Potomac. When he returned to the 9th after recuperating, he still had not fought in any major engagement. On February 1, 1862, Mahlon was reenlisted for an additional two years of service and he received a $50 bounty. With that extra money in hand, Mahlon's chances of escape were much improved. On April 18, 1862, Private Mahlon Armstrong deserted from his regiment [11].
Moses Morrison (Steve Armstrong)

     Mahlon made his way back to Spotsylvania County, where he hid in the pine woods near the farm of Moses Morrison. It appears that Moses had some prior knowledge of Mahlon's plan, or somehow learned where he was hiding. Confederate patrols were prowling about, looking for Mahlon, and "they were determined to have him, dead or alive." One of Moses' brothers, Thomas Love Morrison, also hid in the woods with Mahlon [12]. By now, the Union army encamped in Stafford would soon cross over to Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. In anticipation of the Federals' invasion, Confederate authorities had already arrested Peter Couse and other loyalists to prevent them from rendering any aid to the Union army. The Morrisons were also being closely watched. Moses came to Thomas and Mahlon's hiding place at night to provide food and other help. On April 25, 1862, Moses and Thomas led Mahlon to the headquarters of Union General Rufus King, thereby ensuring his freedom [13]. Their heroic deed was reported in The New York Times three days later:

The New York Times, 28 April 1862 (Rich Morrison)

Moses and Thomas Morrison were then arrested, and spent several months in a series of Confederate prisons. Mahlon made his way north, and spent the rest of the war in Milwaukee, Wisconsin [14].
     During the spring of 1862, life for Benjamin Armstrong and his extended family became intolerably stressful and dangerous. "It was not safe for any of us [northern men] to say anything in favor of the U. S. Gov't, and the consequence was we had to hold our peace [15]." While Confederate armies were still winning dramatic victories early in the war, the Armstrongs' neighbors would come by to crow about the north's apparently declining prospects. Benjamin received threats from his fellow Spotsylvanians, and beginning in late 1861 he would hide in the woods from time to time to avoid capture and imprisonment. In May 1862, Benjamin fled for his own safety and made his way back to New Castle, Delaware. With the exception of one brief episode, he would not see Beechwood again for three years [16].
     Almost all the other Armstrongs left Spotsylvania about this time. Hannah joined her father. Archibald and William Armstrong and their families also returned to their previous homes. Remaining at Beechwood were Benjamin's wife, Ann, and their eighteen-year-old daughter, Anna Maria. One reason they stayed behind was to protect Benjamin's property interests. Had the Armstrongs abandoned Beechwood altogether, Confederate authorities would have been all to happy to seize the farm. Anna Maria was also threatened with imprisonment. "I was sometimes afraid they would do it," she later testified [17].

Portrait presumed to be that of Paul Coleman (Vickie Neely)

     The example of Paul Coleman (Mahlon Armstrong's future father-in-law) demonstrates why Spotsylvanians were so sensitive to having northern sympathizers in their midst while a huge Union army loomed just across the Rappahannock River. Paul and his family lived on a farm south of the court house. Paul, his wife Esther, their daughter Romelia and three sons came to Spotsylvania from New York in the 1850s. They settled on a 300-farm on the Court House Road. The family called this place "Pea Ridge," a place name that generally referred to the Partow area. Like most of his northern neighbors, Paul remained devoted to the Union. By early spring of 1862, Paul left Spotsylvania and divided his time between New York and Maryland. On April 5, 1863, he wrote this letter to Union General Joseph Hooker. Had his southern neighbors had any idea to what lengths Paul would go to serve the interests of the United States, he would have been in mortal danger.

Letter of Paul Colman to General Joseph Hooker (

"Flat Brook April 5th 1863
"Major General Joseph Hooker
     "My Dear Sir. although personally unknown to you, I thought perhaps I might be of Service to you in case of a forward movement from your present position having lived three years in the centre of Spotsylvania County and being familiar with the three main Routs from Fredericksburgh South for Some forty Miles perhaps I might be of Service as a Guide South by the Plank Court House or Telegraph Roads either of which I am conversant with (and the intervening country) for Some thirty Miles South or I might be of use to an Engineer in getting up a Map of that part of the County.
      "If in the way I have proposed or in any other way I can be of any Service to you or your command you can direct a line to me at the Eutaw House Baltimore Md accompanyed by an order or Recommendation to the Secretary of War or any other properly authorized person at Washington and it will be promptly and cheerfully attended to. with regarding my Loyalty, my Exile from my Home Should be a Sufficient guarantee I can also refer you to General Doubleday or Major Charles E. Livingston Genl Patrick or Genl Burnside. perhaps Genl Doubleday is more acquainted with me than any other Responsible person within your command. Yours Respectfully
"Paul Coleman
"To Major Genl Joseph Hooker Head Quarters Army of the Potomac Va"

     The Battle of Chancellorsville was fought north and west of Beechwood, so it was not until the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House in May 1864 that Ann and Anna Maria would learn for themselves what price they and their family would pay for their loyalty. On May 4, 1864, a large Union army commanded by General George Meade, and accompanied by Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, left their camps in Culpeper County and crossed the Rapidan River into the Wilderness of Orange and Spotsylvania. During the battles that took place over the next several days, the Confederates were pushed southeast down Brock Road toward Spotsylvania Court House. Beginning May 7, the opposing armies fought a series of pitched battles in the vicinity of the court house.
     On the morning of May 12, General Grant moved his headquarters from the Alsop farm north to Beechwood. In his Memoirs, Grant described his first meeting with Ann Armstrong: "During the day I was passing along the line from wing to wing continuously. About the centre stood a house which proved to be occupied by an old lady and her daughter. She showed such unmistakable signs of being strongly Union that I stopped. She said she had not seen a Union flag for so long a time that it it did her heart good to look upon it again...She was without food, or nearly so, so I ordered rations issued to her [18]."
     Accompanying General Grant were two members of his staff, Horace Porter and Adam Badeau. Porter later gave this eyewitness account of Grant's meeting with Ann Armstrong: "...the general came to a humble-looking farmhouse, which was within range of the enemy's guns, and surrounded by wounded men, sullen-looking prisoners, and terror-stricken stragglers...An old lady and her daughter were standing on the porch. When the mother was told that the officer passing was the commander-in-chief, she ran toward him, and with tears running down her cheeks, threw up her arms and cried, "Thank God! thank God! I again behold the glorious flag of the Union that I have not laid eyes on for three long terrible years [19]."
     Anna Maria asked General Meade if he would mail a letter to her father, who was staying in Wilmington with his son, William. Instead, Meade generously "sent a telegram in which he informed her father (prematurely it turned out) that it was safe to come home. Later in the day Grant, Meade and [General Marsena] Patrick sat down to dinner at the Armstrong house [20]."
     The following day, Grand and Meade moved their headquarters from Beechwood and "the hospitals of the Second and Fifth Corps that had been at the Couse farm arrived. The Union medical corps also moved forty Confederate prisoners to the Armstrong barn from the Landrum house...On May 16 army ambulances and wagons transported all the wounded, including Confederates to Spotsylvania Road and from there to Fredericksburg [21]."
     As it happened, Benjamin Armstrong successfully made the journey from Wilmington to his home in Spotsylvania. But his stay would be brief. As the Union army moved away, Confederate cavalry began to sift in behind them and were soon present at Beechwood. Benjamin managed to get away without being seen, and returned to Delaware.
     Several days later, on May 23, Anna Maria wrote a letter to her sister, Hannah, in which she provided a vivid and emotional account of what she and their mother had just experienced. Her letter was published in the June 2, 1864 edition of the Wilmington Delaware Republican [22]. That article was clipped from the newspaper and saved in a family Bible:

Letter of Anna Maria Armstrong (Rich Morrison)

"The following letter from a young Delaware girl residing near Fredericksburg, Va., dated Beechwood, May 23d, 1864, shows the hardships to which the people of that section have been subjected.
"Dear Sister--Once more I take my pen in hand to let you know we are well and still staying here, but that is all. You dont know how lonesome we are since the U. S. soldiers left. On Thursday night we went to bed completely worn out and slept very soundly. On Friday morning when we got up the pickets were gone. We had just done breakfast when we saw some of the rebels, they came on and one of them shot our dog; mother begged him not to do so, but it was no use. The rebel cavalry came soon after and Ewell's Corps of infantry arrived in the evening and went on about half a mile, where they had a severe fight. They owned they got a complete whipping. They brought about 80 wounded back to our barn--the last one of whom got away to-day, much to our relief. On Friday there was a skirmish line thrown on around our house, and it was really laughable to see the greybacks walking up and throwing down their guns. They say they are starving and will not fight. They were trying to cut off a wagon train, but thank God they did not succeed. If our house had been directly in range you would have seen us before now. They have got the cars running from the creek to Fredericksburg I heard to-day, and I hope you will come home soon, if you think you can be satisfied. Send us word before you come, and we will try to send for you. I tell you it is hard doing without a horse. I hope father got home safe. He just got away from in time. They came and took the horses from the hospital in about half an after he left. Mother begged them to leave them to take care of their own men, but they would not. You dont know what people they are; I wish that the U. S. soldiers would let the rebel wounded stay on the battle field, they deserve nothing better. I could see every one of them shot before my eyes. There were six buried in our lot. I wish Gen. Lee and all his men were in the same condition. There was one buried this morning; I expect if you were here you would be afraid to go to the wagon house after hearing them groan so. I believe one can get used to any thing. Our yard is almost covered with blood, you cannot pick up a piece of wood that is not completely wet with human gore. Do not faint or be afraid to come home when you read this letter. The little pig-pen is almost full of guns, so you see if they should hunt us we can shoot them. I must tell you what we have to pay for things here, flour is selling in town for $800 per barrel, bacon from $8 to $10 a pound; coffee $16, sugar $12, rice $1, and not much at those prices; calicoes $12 per yard. I do not know what muslin is now; I gave 50 cents for 1 pair of shoestrings; I will send you a sample of some dresses we got last summer and gave $8 a yard for them, and got them very cheap. I have got one home spun dress, it was a long time before I would wear it, but I had to come to it. I am afraid we will see no more of the U. S. boys; I wish they would camp on our place until the war is over, which it will soon be. The soldiers are getting dissatisfied and discouraged. I expect to hear of Richmond being taken soon.
"A. M. A."
     The damage done to the Armstrong property during its brief occupation by Union forces was extensive. Six miles of fencing, comprised of some 28,000 rails, was used for firewood. The engineer corps seized a considerable amount of timber that was used in the construction of a corduroy road. Two outbuildings were dismantled to provde wood used to build a bridge. Eight hundred dollars worth of growing crops were either seized for army use or trampled underfoot by horses, wagons and soldiers [23].
     Ann and Anna Maria Armstrong continued to live alone at Beechwood for the remainder of the war. Mahlon and Benjamin returned home in May or June 1865, and the hard work of rebuilding the farm began. It would be many years before Beechwood was restored to some semblance of its pre-war condition.


- Many thanks to Russell Smith,  who kindly gave me permission to quote from his superbly researched  article, "Opening the Gates of Hell:" A Unionist Family on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.

- A special thank you to my friend, Rich Morrison, for the research he undertook on his own initiative, which helped make this article better than it would have been otherwise. And, as always, there are treasures to be found in his family's vast photo archive.

- Thanks also to my friend, Vickie Neely, who shared her ancestors' archive with me, and trusted me to tell part of their story here. Vickie greatly improved the quality of this article by contributing her own research. I am also grateful for her transcription ability and her editing skills, which have made writing this a joy.

There will be future posts about the Armstrongs and the Colemans. Stay tuned.


Armstrong, Benjamin. Publication Number M2094, Southern Claims Commission Approved Claims, 1871-1880, Claim Number 37018. National Archives and Records Administration.

Armstrong, Mahlon. Publication Number M324, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers who served in Organizations From the State of Virginia. National Archives and Records Administration.

Coleman, Paul. Publication Number M345, Union Provost Marshal's File of Papers Relating to Individual Claims. The National Archives and Records Administration.

Hennessy, John. "Democracy's dark day--the May 1861 secession vote in Fredericksburg, Part 2."

Neely, Vickie. Papers of the Armstrong and Coleman families.

The New York Times, "Department of the Rappahannock, April 28, 1862, p. 8.

Smith, Russell P. "Opening the Gates of Hell:" A Unionist Family on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Originally published in Fredericksburg History and Biography, Volume 5, Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, 2006. The version I cited for this article is a PDF shared with me by Rich Morrison.


1. Smith, "Opening the Gates of Hell," p. 3.

2. My article on the Harris family can be read here.

3. Armstrong, Benjamin, Southern Claims Commission, p. 5.

4. Ibid., p. 7.

5. Ibid., p. 50.

6. Ibid., p. 6.

7. Ibid., p. 9.

8. Ibid., p. 8.

9. Hennessy, "Democracy's Dark Day."

10. Armstrong, Benjamin, Southern Claims Commission, p. 22.

11. Armstrong, Mahlon, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, p. 7.

12. Armstrong, Benjamin, Southern Claims Commission. p. 54.

13. The New York Times, "Department of the Rappahannock."

14. Armstrong, Benjamin, Southern Claims Commission, p. 4.

15. Ibid., p. 23.

16. Ibid., p. 5.

17. Ibid., p. 34.

18. Smith, p. 6.

19. Ibid., pp. 6-7.

20. Ibid., p. 9.

21. Ibid., p. 10.

22. Ibid., p. 1.

23. Armstrong, Benjamin, Southern Claims Commission, p. 2.


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