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Saturday, April 9, 2022

"I may never see you all again"


Salem Baptist Church, 1870s (Confederate Memorial Literary Society)

     John C. Davis was born  in 1837 on a farm in Limestone County, just west of Huntsville, Alabama. He was the oldest of fourteen children born to Elizabeth Covington Davis and James Brown Davis, a farmer, slave owner, constable and justice of the peace. 

James Brown Davis (Ancestry)

Elizabeth Covington Davis (Ancestry)

       John C. Davis married Elizabeth Jane Jackson by the mid-1850s and they had at least three children together--James "Buck" Buchanan, Mary Helen and Elizabeth. By 1860 the Davis family was living on a farm, one they likely rented.         

Muster of new recruits in Company H, 9th Alabama

     John enlisted in Company H of the 9th Alabama Infantry in Athens, Alabama on March 22, 1862. He was soon sent to Virginia to join the rest of his regiment. Like many new recruits, John soon fell ill with one of the many ailments that afflicted soldiers new to camp life. He was twice a patient at Chimborazo Hospital No. 4 in Richmond during the summer of 1862, with a diagnosis of "Debility," meaning general weakness from some undiagnosed illness. He returned to active duty after his second hospital stay on September 28.

First page of John's letter to Betty Jane

     Just three days before the Battle of Chancellorsville, John sat down to write a four-page letter to his wife. My transcription of this letter follows below. To make it easier to read, I have corrected many of his misspellings but have otherwise let his writing speak for itself. 

April the 28th 1863

Camp Near Fredericksburg Virginia

Elizabeth Jane

Dear Miss

After my love and respects to you I will answer your very welcome letter. I received it a few days ago and was mighty glad to hear from you all and you were all well, was very good news. You gave me great satisfaction to hear and see a letter should come from under your loving hand. Betty Jane I can look at it and think that your hand has been the instruction of it & I can bring the very image of your lovely looks. Betty Jane I can see that black spot on your face in my mind as plain as noon day. Betty Jane never cease writing me for I love to hear from you and the little children. Now if I  just could see Buck & Mary's little sharp teeth a-smiling at me once more. Betty, you say that you have a mighty pretty little girl [Elizabeth Jane, their youngest child]. Well Betty I expect she is pretty if she is any kin to Mary. Betty I know Mary is a pretty child. Her eyes will always help her out for beauty. Please give me the Baby's name in full. I thought I never would ask you her name because you would not tell me. But Betty it is no time for curiosity for I may never see you all again. Tell Buck to go to school and you try to encourage him to learn. For if I ever should get home I am determining to educate him if he will partake of it and if I should never get home I will Request you to give him good learning if you have to live on dry Bread never think Poor folks can't send their children to school it is all a mistake. We know that if you could live with his work you could live without it. Betty I reckon it will be a great while before I can see you again but make yourself sure if we can but only live that time will surely slip off after a while and then it will be for life time. I do not intend to ever go into another war. It is a rough one and when I get home again it will take a great deal more than the Yankees ever done to make me mad enough to come away to old Virginia and leave all that is near and dear to and bind myself tighter than any negro you ever saw. I tell you my dear Betty Jane I can never do it again. You say a heap of the Boys have deserted. I can't blame them much for they do not treat the private soldiers right. You written to me that you was glad when the cavalry came in there a-picking up the Conscripts that I was gone. I will join you there. I am glad I was not there but I wish I had a-stayed longer and a-got in Thompson's Cavalry and then I would have a-been so much closer to home. You said that you would not blame me to desert. Betty I would be afraid that you would not give me anything to Eat. Well do not think I shall ever desert if I am treated as well as I have been. We do not get enough to eat. We get a quarter of a pound of Bacon and a heap of time there is half of that dirt and a pound and 2 ounces of flour and then it is all [illegible]. We have got two messes of Irish potatoes this spring. Tell me in your next letter all of the deserters' names and do not let everybody be a-reading your letter. It is not concerning anybody but you. What I write to you I do not care for pap a-reading them. Tell me whether Sam Cot was in the army or not. Tell me whether Pink Davis has ever gone back to the army  and all about the connection. You take good care of all the things. Mind the horses and do not let them be rode to death. I expect my saddle and my fiddle will both be ruined before I ever get home. Well my paper is gone and I must stop for this time.

John C. Davis to Elizabeth Jane Davis

     At the time John wrote this letter, the 9th Infantry was one of five Alabama regiments in the brigade commanded by General Cadmus Wilcox. This brigade would undertake some serious work in the days ahead.

     On the morning of May 3, 1863, Union forces commanded by General John Sedgwick attacked General Jubal Early's Confederates defending Fredericksburg. This was the beginning of an effort to open a second front against General Robert E. Lee's troops at Chancellorsville. The outnumbered Confederates were pushed off Marye's Heights, and the Federals began to march west on the Orange Turnpike (modern Route 3) toward Chancellorsville. Most of Early's troops retreated a couple of miles south to defend the railroad to Richmond. Hearing that Sedgwick had dislodged the defenders at Fredericksburg, Lee sent the divisions of McLaws and Mahone to reinforce Early.

The Battle of Salem Church (Official Military Atlas of the Civil War)

     Wilcox's brigade, which had been guarding Bank's Ford on the Rappahannock, moved to the turnpike and occupied a position across the road at Salem Baptist Church. They were soon joined by McLaw's and Mahone's men. Wilcox set up a skirmish line, which included two pieces of artillery, at the turnpike's toll gate about a mile east of his main line at Salem Church. After exchanging a few shots with these Confederates, the U.S. army then pushed them back and advanced toward the church.

     The men of the 9th Alabama, together with those of the 10th Alabama, stopped the advance of the 121st New York, which suffered fifty percent casualties. Then the 9th, 10th and 14th Alabama, joined by the 51st Georgia, pushed the Union troops back toward the toll gate, where their artillery was placed. The retreating soldiers in blue reformed their line there, and poured withering fire into the charging Confederates. Wilcox called off the attack shortly before dusk.

Salem Baptist Church (Library of Congress)

Salem Baptist Church (National Park Service)

     A makeshift hospital was set up at Salem Church, and hundreds of wounded soldiers were brought there for treatment. Among those men was John C. Davis, who died of his injuries. John and the many others who died there were buried in the church yard. Later, his remains were taken to the Confederate Cemetery in Fredericksburg.

Headstone of John C. Davis (Dan Janzegers)


-John C. Davis's letter was shared with one of my readers by one of his descendants, Robin Burchfield

-Battle of Salem Church: Final Federal Assault at Chancellorsville



Saturday, March 26, 2022

Reverend Elmer Grant Barnum


Elmer Grant Barnum

     Elmer Grant Barnum was born in New York near Lake Ontario in the farming community of Sanborn, Niagara County, on October 14, 1868. He earned a master of arts degree from the University of Rochester in 1896 and became a member of prestigious Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest academic honor society in the United States. He then attended the Rochester Theological Seminary (forerunner of today's Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School) and completed his studies in 1900.

     On November 21, 1900 he married Edna Westfall, who was the librarian at the seminary. Edna was the daughter of Gilbert and Emma Westfall of Rochester, where her father, previously a farmer, was a grocer and milk delivery man. The following year, the American Home Baptist Missionary Society selected Elmer to travel across the country to the little mining town of Republic, Washington to provide religious leadership to its residents. Elmer and Edna spent one year in Republic before returning to New York. 

     In 1902, Edna's father bought a farm in Girdletree, Maryland. Elmer and Edna moved to the farm with her parents, and for a time Elmer managed the farm for the Westfalls. On July 10, 1903 Mildred Edith, who would be the Barnums' only child, was born in Girdletree. 

     Elmer managed the farm for his father-in-law, who bred sheep, cattle and hogs. While Elmer was a stock man himself, his true calling was that of a minister and educator. Soon after his arrival in Girdletree, he became the principal of the local high school and a preacher in the Baptist church.


Democratic Messenger, 27 May 1905


Democratic Messenger, 24 November 1906

     Although they seemed to be prospering in Maryland, the Barnums and Westfalls made the decision to move to Stafford County, Virginia in 1908. Gilbert bought the 200-acre Riverside Farm on River Road, and he and Elmer resumed their business together as stock breeders. As he had done in Girdletree, Elmer continued his career as a pastor in Stafford County. He served as a minister at both Falmouth and Bethany Baptist churches until 1911. Elmer and his family moved to Fredericksburg that year and he was soon thereafter asked to assume the pastorship of four Baptist churches in Spotsylvania County--Salem, Goshen, Wilderness and Ely's Ford. His congregation at Falmouth Baptist Church was sad to see him go, and published a resolution to that effect in The Free Lance.


The Free Lance, 17 August 1911


The Free Lance, 7 September 1911

     At some time prior to 1920, Elmer moved to Spotsylvania County to be nearer his churches. The Barnums lived at "Pleasant View," which had been the home of the late Absalom McGee, located on the north side of Route 3 near McLaws Drive. Absalom's widow, Cicely Timberlake McGee, sold the house and 30 acres to Elmer in 1921.

     In addition to the four Baptist Churches mentioned above, Reverend Barnum over time also became the minister at Zoan in Spotsylvania and Flat Run in Orange County. While he undoubtedly left a lasting impression at each church he served, his most enduring legacy was at Goshen Baptist Church. When Elmer became the minister there, the existing church building was still the small structure erected in 1875. In 1912, Goshen's building committee laid plans for the construction of a new sanctuary. Reverend Barnum drew up plans for the new church and made a miniature model of its design. Elmer did much of the actual construction work himself, including making the large wooden columns for the front of the church (during the installation of one of these columns he fell to the ground, but escaped serious injury). The new building was completed in 1913, and remained standing until 1957, when it was replaced by the brick sanctuary that stands today.

Goshen Baptist Church 1875-1913

Goshen Baptist Church 1913-1957

     The newly built Chancellor School on Old Plank Road was dedicated in December 1912. The school offered classes for grades 1-12, and was the first public high school in Spotsylvania County. Mildred Barnum was a student there, as seen in this photograph of the high school students and principal taken about 1920 (she is number 11):

     Following her graduation from Chancellor, Mildred attended the State Normal School in Fredericksburg, the forerunner of today's University of Mary Washington. She graduated in 1923.

Mildred Barnum, 1922 (The Battlefield)

Mildred Barnum, 1923 (The Battlefield)


     When the United States entered the First World War, many of America's ministers did their part for the war effort by volunteering to join the YMCA's venture to sustain the morale of America's fighting men overseas. Hundreds of YMCA facilities behind the lines provided rest-and-recreation opportunities for the soldiers. In June 1918, Reverend Barnum applied for a passport so that he could join this effort. His application was endorsed by the War Department in August 1918, and he left for France shortly thereafter. He remained in Europe until May 1919, when he boarded a ship in Brest bound for the United States.

U.S. Army Transport List (

     After the war, Reverend Barnum served two stints as principal of the Chancellor School. The first was 1922-1924. He then served for two years as principal of the Franklin-Sherman High School at McLean in Fairfax County. Mildred taught there during his stay. He then returned to the Chancellor School, where he was principal 1926-1931.

The Free Lance Star, 24 August 1928

     On the evening of August 23, 1928, Elmer and Edna Barnum left their home and drove west on Route 3 in order to attend services at Flat Run Baptist church, where he had previously served as pastor. In an approaching car in the eastbound lane were Mr. and Mrs. Richard Irving Scott and their two daughters, Anna and Evelyn, who were on their way to Wilderness Baptist Church for evening services. Just west of Wilderness Church, one of these two cars inadvertently crossed the center line of the road and sideswiped the other vehicle. Both cars careened off the road and overturned. Young Evelyn Scott fell through an open window and the car rolled over her, killing her. No one was ejected from the Barnums' car, but after the car stopped Edna cried out, "Oh, my chest." Because she had been suffering from heart problems, it was assumed at the time that she may have been having a heart attack (her death certificate indicated that she had suffered internal injuries). Edna Westfall Barnum died shortly after her arrival at Mary Washington Hospital. Her funeral service was conducted by Reverend Edward Voorhees Peyton at Salem Baptist Church, and she was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

The Free Lance Star, 25 August 1928

     During the 1930s, Mildred Barnum worked as a writer for the Works Project Administration. She conducted research and wrote brief summaries of many of Spotsylvania's historic properties, including my family's old plantation, Greenfield (part of which now comprises a portion of the Fawn Lake subdivision):

     By the mid-1930s, the energetic and seemingly indefatigable Elmer Barnum began to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. In the 1940s he also developed significant heart trouble and was bedridden for the last five years of his life. He was cared for by Mildred, who never married and lived with her father until he died on September 5, 1951. Like Edna, his funeral service was conducted by Reverend Edward Voorhees Peyton, and he was buried next to Edna at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Free Lance Star, 6 September 1951

     During the 1940s, Mildred worked as a bookkeeper for Fredericksburg Hardware, and by the 1950s she was keeping the books for Brown Brothers and Company.

   The photo below, which was shared with me by Jim Orrock, shows Mildred Barnum with sisters Mollie and Maggie Orrock during a trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mildred stands at right:

     Late in her life, Mildred suffered from dementia and was placed in the Virginia Baptist Home in Culpeper. She died there on May 28, 1989 and lies buried near her parents at Oak Hill Cemetery.    


Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Edgar Wilton Harrison


Farm of Edgar Harrison, 1866 (National Park Service)

     About the early life of Edgar Wilton Harrison I have been able to learn very little. He was born in Virginia about 1829, but I cannot say with any certainty where he was born, or who his parents were. He first appears in the written record, so it seems, in the 1850 census. A 22-year-old "E.W. Harrison," a clerk, was living in King and Queen County in the household of merchant Moore Boulware. 

Fredericksburg News, 23 September 1851

     In 1851 Edgar was living in Caroline County. On September 18 of that year, Edgar married Ann Maria Smith Goodwin at St. George's Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg. Reverend Edward C. McGuire presided at the ceremony.

     Ann's parents were William Peter Goodwin and Mary Byrd Crutchfield Burke. A veteran of the War of 1812, William was active in the civic life of Fredericksburg. He was a merchant, a member of the Hope Fire Company and he was active in Democratic politics. 

   In 1829, Ann Goodwin's maternal grandmother, Frances Crutchfield, wrote her will. She left to Ann and her brother, William Mary Byrd Goodwin [1] her interest in Rose Hill plantation in Spotsylvania. This land would remain in the Goodwin family until 1915.

Ford's Hotel (Encyclopedia of Virginia)

     The obituary of of Edgar W. Harrison revealed that at some point in his life he had been the proprietor of Ford's Hotel in Richmond, located at the intersection of Broad and 11th streets. This may have been the case, but I have not found any contemporaneous sources to substantiate that. 

     Sometime during the 1850s, Edgar and Ann acquired property on Brock Road near Spotsylvania Court House, just south of the Neil McCoull farm. Although they could have not foreseen this at the time, this would be the place where the Bloody Angle battle would be fought in May 1864. In the meantime, they farmed their property in peace and raised their young children: Edgar Wilton, Jr., William Henry, Ellen Byrd and Temple, whom they called "Temmie."

     The 1860 census tells us that the Harrison family was well-off for their time and place. They owned 190 acres, worth $1,500, and their personal property was valued at $9,500. This amount was based primarily on their ownership of nine slaves: a 39-year-old man, a 34-year-old woman, and seven children aged four months to eleven years. 

     Edgar and Ann's youngest child, Temple, was born on February 10, 1861, which may possibly explain why he did not rush off to join the Confederate army when Virginia seceded two months later. On April 1, 1862, Edgar Harrison enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry at Camp Boulware in King George County. He signed up for a three year stint, and received a $50 bonus for doing so.

     His surviving compiled service record shows that Edward was marked present on most muster rolls, except for the four month period January-April 1864, when he was absent without leave. He was then present until October 1864, which is the final entry in his military record. Although there is no mention of his being a patient in any hospital during the Civil War, his wife attested in her 1900 application for benefits as the widow of a Virginia veteran that Edgar had been badly wounded and could not perform manual labor for the rest of his life. Ann also mentioned that he was receiving a $30 year veteran's  pension at the end of his life. 

Approval for Harrison's claim for damages (

     In May 1863, Edgar hired James L. Taliaferro to represent his interests in a claim for damages to his property. During the Chancellorsville campaign, soldiers of the 16th Virginia Infantry, while passing through the Harrison neighborhood, helped themselves to 64 panels of  his worm fencing. In his letter to General Robert Hall Chilton, Lieutenant Colonel H.W. Williamson recommended the payment of $32 to settle this claim. He noted: "This fencing was destroyed and burnt by the trains of this army in passing to and from the Battle field and Spotsylvania Court House during heavy rain storms..."

Receipt for the hire of Jeff (

     In October 1864, Edgar received payment for the hire of one of his slaves, Jeff, by the Confederate quartermaster department for the period January 15 to October 5, 1864. For Jeff's work as a teamster, Edgar received $319.33.

     The most profound impact of the war on the Harrison family took place in May 1864, as the Federal Army emerged from the Wilderness and began to make its way to the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House. As it so happened, the Harrison farm stood very near the spot where some of the most savage fighting of the war occurred. 

Jedidiah Hotchkiss map of the Mule Shoe Salient (

     On May 4, 1864 the Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George Meade and accompanied by Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, crossed the Rapidan River and plunged into the Wilderness of Spotsylvania County. The Union army fought pitched battles against the outnumbered Army of Northern Virginia commanded by General Robert E. Lee. On May 7, the Union army sidestepped the Confederates and made an attempt to reach the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House before Lee could get there. Had they been successful, the Union troops would have been between the Confederate army and Richmond, and the war could have taken a very different direction.

     As fate would have it, however, the Confederates got there first and interposed themselves between the Federals and the court house. The rebels were able to block Brock Road on May 8 and repulsed Union attacks at Laurel Hill, the Spindle farm. On that same day, General Jubal early assumed temporary command of the Confederate Third Corps, replacing General A.P. Hill, who was ill (likely with another flare-up of the venereal disease that he had contracted as a cadet at West Point in the 1840s). General John Brown Gordon assumed command of Early's division. 

     The Confederates immediately set about constructing more than four miles of fortifications extending across Brock Road from Mrs. Spindle's place to a point beyond the home of Neill McCoull, a neighbor of the Harrisons. Because of its shape, as can be seen on the Hotchkiss map above, this defensive position was called the Mule Shoe. 

     On May 11, the usually canny Lee made an error that could have had catastrophic consequences for the Confederacy's fortunes. Movements of some Union forces were misinterpreted and Lee ordered the artillery in the Mule Shoe salient to be withdrawn and be prepared for a movement to the right. Unbeknownst to the Confederates, the section of the Confederate line now stripped of artillery was precisely where Union General Hancock planned to attack the following morning. On the night of May 11, Confederate General Richard Ewell made his headquarters at the Harrison house, and General Lee pitched his tent in the yard.

     Early on the morning of May 12, Union troops came crashing through the Mule Shoe salient near McCoull's. Word of this disaster now unfolding soon reached Lee and Ewell. General Gordon assembled his division in the Harrison's yard, and the Confederates quickly advanced to stem the Union tide. Thus began a 22-hour fight known as the Battle of Bloody Angle. Huge losses were incurred on both sides, but Meade was not able to budge the Confederates and advance to the court house.

     Meanwhile, all was confusion and panic in the Harrison household. Joseph F. Walker [2], a young slave at the Harrison farm at this time, remembered the events of that day in a memoir written in 1940: "Later in the afternoon my mistress Miss Harrison and my mother began gathering up the silver to leave...My mistress asked if there was any danger, and we all clustered around the officers for safety; but in a few minutes we were ordered to get out as the firing was going to begin, which it did like a thunderstorm. All I could hear was "Go to the rear!" We managed to get through the three lines of soldiers and went to a house known as the Dabney [Spotsylvania Clerk of Court Robert C. Dabney] House."

     The war would grind on for another 11 months after the fighting near the Harrison farm. When Edgar mustered out of the cavalry he was impoverished, and his injuries prevented him from adequately rehabilitating his farm.

     In 1870, Edgar and Ann, with her brother acting as her trustee, bought a 60-acre property from Dr. Addison Lewis Durrett across Brock Road from their first house. The Harrisons called their new residence "Forest Home." Edgar, Ann and their two daughters lived there for the rest of their lives. 

     In order to finance this purchase from Dr. Durrett, the Harrisons borrowed $250 from Fredericksburg attorney John Minor Herndon, who died a year later. Except for one $30 interest payment, the Harrisons did not pay anything toward the principal. In 1881 Charles Minor, acting as executor of his father's estate, sued the Harrisons for the money they owned. In court papers, Edgar was described as "insolvent." The following year an arrangement was made regarding the outstanding debt, and the Harrison family continued to live at Forest Home.

In order to supplement his meager income from farming, Edgar Harrison became a school teacher. The first mention of his new career in the local newspapers was in September 1875, when he was teaching at the "Alsop Gate School," presumably at the Alsop farm at the intersection of Brock and Gordon roads. Throughout the 1880s, Edgar's name was mentioned in the papers as a teacher in the public schools. 

     Edgar's obituary reveals that he also taught at the "Hotel School." In 1887, New York native Joseph Bittle bought the Spotswood Inn at Spotsylvania Court House. He established a private school there called the Virginia Collegiate Institute. The Bittles were Free Methodists, and their school curriculum was infused with that religious philosophy. In 1894, Bittle sold the inn to local merchant Thomas H. Harris (whose family owned nearby Bloomsbury farm). School continued to be held at the inn, but without the Free Methodist teachings, and the name of the school was also changed. The school closed for good in 1898.

     By the 1890s, Edgar's health began to decline. In February 1896 he suffered a paralytic stroke and died two days later on February 9. He was buried in the cemetery at Christ Episcopal Church at the court house.

The Daily Star 11 February 1896

The Daily Star 12 February 1896

     In 1939, Edgar's daughter Temple ordered a veteran headstone for her father from the War Department:

Temple Harrison's application for headstone

Headstone of Edgar Wilton Harrison

     Ann Harrison outlived her husband by 9 years; she died December 18, 1905 and was buried at Christ Church. Her daughters Ellen and Temple, neither of whom ever married, are also buried there.

The Free Lance 20 December 1905


The Free Lance 17 September 1889

[1] William Mary Byrd Goodwin was born about 1828. In 1852 he married Nancy Holladay, and they raised their two daughters at Rose Hill. After the death of his father in 1859, he inherited some of his slaves, including Joseph H. Walker (the 1860 census shows he owned a total of 13 enslaved people). On March 1, 1862 he joined Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry at Camp Boulware in King George County. His military record is notable mainly for his being absent without leave during much of 1863-1864. The last mention of him was on February 7, 1865 when he was a patient at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. 

     After the Civil War,William, like his father, was active in local Democratic politics and for a time served as chairman of the Spotsylvania Democratic Party. He was also a justice of the peace in addition to farming at Rose Hill. 

     In 1877 Charles E. Pendleton killed a black man with whom he worked at Bradley's lumber yard in Fredericksburg. He was found guilty at trial and sentenced to serve five years in the state penitentiary. Upon Charles's release in 1882, William offered him a job working at Rose Hill. William's impressionable 17-year-old daughter Kitty fell in love with Charles. Kitty and Charles eloped to Washington, D.C. where they were married in August 1882. William strongly disapproved of their union, and forbade them from coming to his house. That being the case, Kitty and Charles lived in Orange County. 

     After a time Kitty-who by this time had two daughters of her own--pleaded with her father to allow them to come stay with him. She was living in poverty and her marriage was not a happy one. William relented, and allowed Kitty and Charles and their children to come live at Rose Hill. He still did not like Charles, and they quarreled frequently, but William adored Kitty and his granddaughters and so he put up with Charles. 

     On September 13, 1889 Charles announced that he was going to buy some pigs at Jack Carter's, and William asked him to buy some pigs for him as well. When Charles returned that evening, he was roaring drunk and instead of the pigs he brought back a couple of hunting dogs. Charles and Kitty got into an argument and Charles called her a "damn liar." Upon hearing that, William rose from his sick bed and picked up a 2-inch piece of wood about 18 inches long. He then delivered two blows to Charles's head. Stunned but still full of fight, Charles grabbed William's shotgun and pointed it at him. William grabbed the barrel of the gun and pointed it at the ceiling and then pulled the trigger, emptying the gun. He and Kitty then pushed Charles out of the house on to the porch and secured the door behind him. Charles picked up another loaded gun that was on the porch and fired it through the door, striking William in the thigh. Doctors Martin and Voorhees were summoned and with the help of Spotsylvania County sheriff  Thomas Addison Harris they amputated William's leg. Their efforts to save William's life were in vain. William died the next day, September 13, 1889. A few days later Spotsylvania clerk of court Joseph Patrick Henry Crismond wrote a memorial for William on behalf of the Zion Methodist Church Sunday school:

The Free Lance 27 September 1889

     At trial, Charles Pendleton was found guilty of murder. For the second time, he was sentenced to serve a term in the state penitentiary, this time for 12 years. The year after he killed her father, Kitty divorced Charles and took back her maiden name. In 1893, while suffering from tuberculosis, Charles appealed for clemency from the governor. His appeal was denied. 

     Some time in the early 1900s, Kitty Goodwin moved to the household of now former clerk of court J.P.H. Crismond. She worked for him as a domestic servant for the rest of her life. In 1915 she sold Rose Hill to Fredericksburg builder Elmer Grimsley "Peck" Heflin. Kitty died of complications from a perforated ulcer in 1923.


[2] Joseph F. Walker (1854-1943) was born a slave in the household of William P. Goodwin at Rose Hill farm. Upon Mr. Goodwin's death, ownership of Joseph passed to his son William Mary Byrd Goodwin. Joseph's mother and sisters were given to William's sister, Ann Harrison. After the Civil War, Joseph served for decades as sexton at St. George's Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg and also worked as a butler for Judge William S. Barton. Joseph was a member of Shiloh Baptist New Site, where he was a deacon for 48 years. Together with educator Jason Grant, Joseph helped establish the Fredericksburg Normal and Industrial Institute in 1905, which was the forerunner of the Walker-Grant School named in their honor.

Joseph F. Walker


Joseph Walker

Walker-Grant School 

Library of Virginia Chancery Causes

Fold3 Compiled Service Records for Confederate Soldiers, Confederate Citizens File, Civil War maps

Contemporaneous newspaper articles from The Daily Star, the Free Lance and the Fredericksburg News

Fredericksburg Research Resources



Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Great Fire of Orange


The ruins of Orange Baptist Church, 1908 (R. Duff Green)

About 5:30 Sunday morning. November 8, 1908.

     While making his customary rounds on the streets of Orange, the town's only policeman noticed a fire in the apartment over the drugstore of Dr. Lawrence Sanford Ricketts on Railroad Avenue.

     The policeman raced to the Baptist church and sounded the alarm on its bells. Within minutes, all able-bodied people within the sound of those bells grabbed pails from their homes and formed a bucket brigade to battle the blaze. Water was drawn from private wells and cisterns while terrified residents did heroic work in battling the flames. Unfortunately, there was a high wind that morning, and in a very short time the main business district was engulfed in flames.

     Shown below is a detail from the December 1905 Sanborn Company fire insurance map showing the section of Main Street and Railroad Avenue affected by the fire. Pink indicates buildings made of brick; yellow means it was a wooden structure. The note next to the Sanborn stamp sums up the inadequacy of Orange's readiness to react to a fire: "Water facilities: Private wells and cisterns. Fire Department: None. The town has two water tanks of 300 gallons each, mounted on wheels and drawn by hand. Hand pump of 40 gallons per minute capacity attached to each tank. Also one hand pump of same capacity used to fill tanks. About 600 feet of 1/2-inch hose. Carts equipped with buckets and axes. Topography mostly level, Streets not graded."

     By 8:00 a.m., it was obvious that the town's resources were inadequate to deal with the emergency. A message was sent to Charlottesville, and the fire department there responded with the urgency the situation demanded. A special train was outfitted with a steam-powered pumper, three horses, a tanker car filled with water and additional fire-fighting equipment. Fourteen trained firefighters were also on board. Within an hour of receiving the alert, the train reached Orange. 

     The unlikely team of townspeople equipped with buckets and professional firefighters from Charlottesville worked together to battle the flames. The Baptist church marked the easternmost extent of the fire, which stopped at Church Street to the south. An estimated $100,000 damage had occurred, only half of which was covered by insurance. Despite those uninsured losses, reconstruction on some of the now emptied lots began shortly after the fire.

     Based on newspaper accounts published in the aftermath of the disaster, I compiled this list of the destroyed properties:

-The Orange Baptist Church, which was valued at $6,000. Soon after the fire, members of the congregation began a subscription to raise the money to rebuild, and $4,000 was contributed right away. A brand new organ (valued from $1,350-$2,000 by the newspapers), obtained by the Lady's Aid Society, had just been installed. It was to be played for the first time on the morning of the fire.

-The drug store of Dr. Lawrence Sanford Ricketts and the two apartments above the store.

-The Ware-Watts Hardware Company.

-The real estate office of Adonirum Judson Harlow, who also owned the undertaking business mentioned below.

-Two vacant stores owned by G.A. Gaines. 

-The building owned by Mrs. J.E. Perry which housed the grocery store of J.D. Morris and the clothing store of Sol Cohen. 

-Emil Levy's dry goods store, "Levy's Busy Corner."

-Waite & Chewning Furniture Company.

-Dwelling owned by J. Martin and occupied by Mrs. Carrie Anderson.

-Dwelling of Mrs. Jane McDonald.

-Building owned by Mrs. Emma Slaughter of Washington, DC, which included an apartment and a bakery owned by Mr. Bushby.

-Business and residence of A.J. Harlow. Mr. W.L. Randolph was the licensed undertaker employed by Mr. Harlow. 

-The Southern Railway telegraph office and interlocking tower. The nearby telephone and telegraph lines were also destroyed.

     The following six photographs, taken the day after the fire, were shared with me by historian Ray Ezell. They are part of the Grymes Collection in the archives of the Orange County Historical Society. The captions for these pictures were written by Mr. Ezell:

     This photo is taken from Church Street, east of where it crosses the railroad tracks, and gives the widest perspective on the damage caused by the fire. The partially standing brick walls of the Orange Baptist Church are visible frame-right and the steeple of the Orange County Courthouse is visible frame-left.

     This view shows the wholesale destruction along Railroad Avenue and the south side of East Main Street. The burnt out walls of the Orange Baptist Church are visible in the background and the ruins of Levy's Busy Corner building are in the foreground. Mayor Perry's distinctive turreted house is also visible in the background obscured by the smoky haze from the smouldering hot spots.

     This view is taken from where Main Street crosses the railroad tracks and looks to the south. Levy's Busy Corner (built earlier in 1908) had been destroyed by the fire, as well as Z.W. Chewning's Furniture Store directly east across the tracks from Levy's. The Southern Railway telegraph station, also destroyed, would have stood directly behind the photographer. Careful interpretation of the photo shows men at the tops of the telegraph poles re-stringing telephone and telegraph lines which were destroyed in the fire.

     This photo is looking northeast from where Main Street crosses the railroad tracks. The ruins of the building on the north side of Main Street are visible as well as the impressive (former) People's Grocery Warehouse which borders the burnt district on the north.


     This photo is looking south from the north side of East Main Street through the burnt district. The pile of rubble in the foreground is from the former Z.W. Chewning and Waite Furniture Company, which today is the location of the Orange Railroad Depot building. This shot makes clear the extent of the fire damage to the south along Railroad Avenue and on West Main Street.


      This photo is taken from the railroad tracks, probably near the location of the railroad passenger depot. Large crowds are visible that have descended upon the burnt district to survey the damage. Railroad Avenue is at the left of the frame, and the ruins of the Orange Baptist Church is visible at the right of the frame.

     So, what caused the great fire of Orange? [1]

     In the immediate aftermath of the fire, there was some speculation that the cause of the conflagration was a cat that had knocked over lantern. Like the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the Chicago fire of 1871, the cat tale  proved to be apocryphal. It soon became apparent that the unknowing culprit was 77-year-old Towles Terrill, who lived in one of the apartments over Dr. Ricketts's drug store. Towles lived in the most meager of circumstances in his modest quarters. It was said that his bed consisted of a large wooden box filled with crumpled newspapers. While perhaps lighting his pipe that morning, his unextinguished match found its way into the detritus of his room, which then caught fire. Although he did not suffer serious burns from his mishap, by the time he was carried to safety he had lost consciousness from smoke inhalation. He did not regain his senses until Tuesday. He was still in critical condition, however, and it was feared that he might succumb to broncho-pneumonia. He was taken to the hospital in Charlottesville, where he eventually recovered. 

Map detail of Orange County, 1863

     Born on March 20, 1831, Towles Terrill was one of ten children born to Dr. Uriel Terrill (1793-1885) and the former Janet Lovell. The Terrill farm lay along the Orange Turnpike about five miles east of the town of Orange. On the map detail shown above, the Terrill farm can be seen at the right-center of the image. Towles Terrill spent his first 31 years working on this farm. 

     In addition to being a well-respected physician in Orange County, Dr. Terrill was also active in the political life of Virginia. In the 1840s, Dr. Terrill's name appeared in various newspapers because of his activities with the Whig Party. When that party lost its influence ten years later, Dr. Terrill switched his allegiance to the Democratic Party, to which he remained loyal for the last thirty years of his life. 

     On the eve of the Civil War, Dr. Terrill would have been considered a wealthy man. The 1860 census shows that his personal and real estate was valued at $48,460. The high value of his personal estate reflected his investment in the 37 enslaved people he owned. 

     During the Civil War, Dr. Uriel Terrill willingly sold goods and services to various quartermaster officers of the Confederate army. In 1863, he filed a claim for losses incurred when the divisions of Confederate generals Early and Johnson camped on his property. The claim involved the confiscation of a large amount of his fencing, which was then used as firewood. On October 31, 1863, Confederate quartermaster Major Robert H. Turner paid Dr. Terrill $319.20, the full amount of his claim.

     Dr. Terrill remained on his farm for just six more years after the conclusion of the war. In 1871, just one year after the death of his wife, he sold his farm to New Jersey native Henry Mason for $9,000. He moved in with the family of his daughter Mary Julia and lived with them for the rest of his days. 

     Despite the sadness and turbulence of his later years, Dr. Terrill remained active in the political arena, and was elected to the House of Delegates at least once. He was still serving as a legislator at age 90.

     Towles Terrill worked as a laborer on his father's farm until April 17, 1861, when he joined the militia company known as the Montpelier Guards. The following month, the Guards became Company A of the 13th Virginia Infantry. Towles's war record shows that he stood 5'7" tall, had a light complexion, gray eyes and dark hair.

     Except for a bout of illness early in the war, the first two years of Towles's service in the Confederate army seemed to go well. He was marked "present" on the surviving muster roles during that time. But his fortunes took a dramatic turn on May 6, 1864.

     During the Battle of the Wilderness, the 13th Virginia Infantry was part of Pegram's brigade in General Jubal Early's division. During the fighting on May 6, Towles was struck by a bullet in his left leg "just below his knee and fractured the bone somewhat." After a long convalescence, he appeared before a medical examining board on March 21, 1865. The board then issued a certificate of disability, which stated that he was "entirely disabled and cannot perform in any branch of field service." The board recommended that he be reassigned to duty with Major Cornelius Boyle [2], provost marshal at Gordonsville.

Certificate of disability of Towles Terrill

     Towles was greatly troubled by his injury for the rest of his life. In 1884, he applied for aid under the provisions of an act of the General Assembly which entitled soldiers and marines "wounded in the late war" to receive some small compensation. His application included a certification from Dr. William Shepherd Grymes (who served as regimental surgeon of the 13th Virginia Infantry at the beginning of the war) that Towles's wound "required the resection of one of the bones of the leg and is to be presumed that he is more or less disabled for physical labor." For his sacrifice during the war, Towles received $60 on February 12, 1886.

     After the war, Towles returned to his family's farm. Unable to endure the physical rigor of farm labor, he looked for work in another sphere. In 1869, he was hired as a traveling agent for the firm of Miller & Hopkins, land agents. His work carried him to destinations across the state, and he became well known for his outgoing personality and the knack for telling a good story. His popularity and ability to gain the attention of people he wished to impress was documented in an article that appeared in the Alexandria Gazette on May 11, 1887. By then he was known as "Colonel" Terrill, and was turning on the charm during an extended stay at the Metropolitan Hotel in Washington, D.C. Apparently, his reason for being in the nation's capital was to draw attention to the sad condition of the graves of the Madison family at Montpelier. He hoped to convince those in power to provide funding for a suitable monument for the father of the constitution. Such was Towles's eloquence on this subject, reported the Alexandria Gazette, that a New Yorker at this gathering offered to pay Towles's expenses to come back to Washington during the next session of Congress. 

     In his later years, Towles became a teacher in the Orange County schools. The Daily Star reported in October 1899 that Towles was teaching in one of the "colored" schools. When he retired from teaching in 1911 at age 80, he was granted an annual pension of $91.50.

     "Colonel" Terrill seemed to have learned little from his brush with death in November 1908. By 1916 he was living in an apartment on the second floor of the Gaines Building on Railtoad Avenue. On October 30, 1916, a fire broke out in his room. What happened next was reported in the November 3 edition of the Culpeper Exponent:

     The cause of death listed on his death certificate is "suffocated by smoke, caught in a burning building. His undertaker is shown to be A.J. Harlow, who lost his residence and businesses in the 1908 fire. Towles Terrill is buried in Graham Cemetery.

Special thanks to Ray Ezell for his assistance with this article.

[1] While the fire of 1908 is usually thought of as the "great" fire, another blaze struck Railroad Avenue just nine months later on July 20, 1909, as reported in that day's Richmond Times Dispatch:

     The Sanborn Company fire insurance map of September 1909 shows an empty void along Railroad Avenue where the destroyed buildings once stood:


 [2] While it is unlikely that Towles spent very much time, or any, with Cornelius Boyle at Gordonsville, I thought it worthwhile to write a little about him. Dr. Cornelius Boyle (1817-1878) was a lifelong resident of Washington, D.C. until the start of the Civil War. He was one of the city's leading physicians, and was well-connected politically and socially. In 1852, Boyle wrote the death certificate of John Payne Todd, the step-son of President James Madison:

Dr. Boyle also treated Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner after he was caned by South Carolina Senator Preston Brooks on the Senate floor in 1856.

Dr. Boyle sympathized with the Southern cause and was part of a network of other influential people in Washington who wished to give aid and comfort to the Confederacy. At he beginning of the Civil War, Boyle and his family left Washington and moved to Virginia. He was selected by Robert E. Lee to act as provost marshal at the critical rail junction at Gordonsville, which was linked to both Richmond and Washington. Intelligence gathered by spies in Washington would be sent to Gordonsville, and from there Boyle would ensure that it reached Richmond. 

Dr. Boyle led a fascinating life, which is referenced in this article which I think many of you will find interesting: Secret Societies of the South

My primary sources for this article were contemporaneous articles from the following newspapers:

-The Alexandria Gazette

-The Daily Press (Newport News)

-The Free Lance (Fredericksburg)

-The Culpeper Exponent

-The Culpeper News

-The Richmond Times Dispatch

-The Shenandoah Herald (Woodstock)

-The Native Virginian (Orange)

-The Daily Star (Fredericksburg)

I also used information from the website of the Orange Volunteer Fire Company