J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “soldiers”

What Led Up to Gettysburg

 

It seems incredible in this day and age to imagine what led up to the Civil War. Slavery was an issue, but an underlying issue when the war started. In 1863, abolition had become more prevalent. 
Following the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863,  J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavaliers moved north into enemy territory. For nearly the entire month of June, they traveled northward, sometimes through unfamiliar territory, to screen General Lee’s troops. Their movements came to fruition in the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place July 1-3, 1863.
Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, which describes the Confederate cavalry’s travels and challenges.
ABeckoningHellfire_MED
The horses plodded along with their eyes closed. A few of the drivers fell asleep, and their drowsy mules walked off the road into the ditch, pulling their wagons behind them. Some bucked, brayed and kicked in protest to their hunger and fatigue. Assigned soldiers rode up and down the line in the dark, looking for delays, barely coherent themselves. A few men slept while their horses jumped over fences, sending them sprawling, but even then they were too tired to awaken.
As dawn approached, General Stuart cantered alongside them, singing his battle song at the top of his lungs. His obedient soldiers, happy to see their commander alive and well, stirred themselves to sing along.
“Well, we’re the boys that rode around McClellian,
Rode around McClellian, rode around McClellian,
We’re the boys who rode around McClellian,
Bully boys, hey! Bully boys, ho!
“If you want to have a good time, jine the cavalry!
Jine the cavalry! Jine the cavalry!
If you want to catch the Devil, if you want to have fun,
If you want to smell Hell, jine the cavalry!”
The words inspired and rejuvenated the troopers. They began conversing amongst themselves in every effort to stay awake as the sky grew brighter, but the sun failed to appear, hidden behind thick clouds. The cavaliers wondered if, once again, they would be riding through a rainstorm.
“Wish there was somethin’ to eat besides dust,” Michael noted sarcastically as their mounts slowly walked along behind the wagon train.
“And I could go for a dunk in a lake right about now,” added John.
“I wouldn’t mind gittin’ me some new boots,” Custis commented. He pulled one of his feet from a stirrup and held it in the air, revealing a hole clean through the sole. “These here are plumb worn out, and I wasn’t lucky enough to snag me a pair back in Culpeper.”
“Well, if’n we’d ever git paid, I’d buy me two pairs of socks from the quartermaster, or a lucky feller who got some from home,” said Peter Smith, “make them into puppets, and send one to each of my daughters.”
David snickered at the thought of Peter drawing puppet faces on his socks.
“Seems the only one of us with any money is Summers,” Michael observed.
The men all looked over at David.
“Whatcha aim on doin’ with the grayback you won in that race?” Michael asked.
David hesitated for a moment. He realized that he was the only one in the group who’d been capable of earning rewards by racing and writing letters home, even though the practice of reciprocation had been outlawed by General Lee sometime before David’s enlistment.
“Well, I was thinkin’ of savin’ it up for college,” he casually replied.
The other troopers laughed.
David glared at them, astonished by their reaction.
“Son, you’ll be lucky if’n that gits you two cords of wood by the war’s end,” John remarked.
David frowned.
John continued, “what with the way things is goin’ with the price of things, that is. Sorry to be the one to inform you.” He smiled sympathetically.
David sighed. Even though his hope of going to school was just a pipe dream, he held onto it as tightly as he’d grasped hold of the $100 note. Now it seemed inevitable that he was destined to be a farmer all his life.

 

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Another Excellent Review

ABGL B.R.A.G. Medallion

I received another great review for my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. Here is the review:

By Francine1440

A Beautiful Glittering Lie is a historical fiction novel set during the American Civil War. Not being from the States, I have bare bones knowledge of this event in history so I found the author’s detailed telling of events and way of life during this time to be very interesting. The book provides both historical facts and a look at the conditions that both the soldiers and the citizens lived in during the Civil War. I found that some of the facts became rather dry and dragged the story down, although I do realize that they are essential to the story. For the most part, the story is told from the side of the Confederates. I’ve really only ever read information from the other side so I found it very interesting to read the alternate viewpoint. I can’t say I have changed my mind about which side I would have supported during the war but it did open my eyes as to why the Confederates felt the way they did. I found the pace of the book quite slow and I struggled to stay interested but for anyone who is a Civil War buff, this book would make for some entertaining reading. The characters are well developed and realistically written. I enjoyed the variety of personalities in the book, such as David who just wants to be like his dad and fight, and his dad, tough as nails even in horrible conditions. It can be difficult to have a lot of characters and make each one a worthwhile part of a book but the author manages to do this well throughout the whole story. For me, the pace was a bit slow but I realize the author had to do this in order to keep the realism of the story. Sometimes action sequences have to be sacrificed. Overall, I did learn a lot from this book, even with it being fiction, and I will look for more books by this author.

https://www.amazon.com/Beautiful-Glittering-Lie-Novel-Renagade/dp/1544842481/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=a+beautiful+glittering+lie&qid=1559710417&s=gateway&sr=8-1

The UDC and America’s First Memorial Day

Caddo

MAY 23, 2019 — 

What many consider the first Memorial Day occurred April 25, 1866 in Columbus, Mississippi. The town’s Ladies Memorial Association, decorated the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Friendship Cemetery.  In a nation trying to find a way to move on after a war that split the country, states, communities and even families, this gesture by these nobel women was welcomed as a way to lay the past to rest while honoring those who had fought on either side. Less than 30 years later this ladies group became the 34th chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC will forever honor all of our country’s heroes with undying devotion and that our Confederate Dead have earned their rightful place to be included as America’s Veterans.

We should embrace our heritage as Americans. North and South, Black and White, Rich and Poor, our American heritage is the one thing we have in common and it is what defines us.  The monuments we have built to chronicle this heritage must be preserved so that those that come after us will see where we have been and where we must, as a unified people, go.  Protecting all monuments to American Veterans will defend our heritage.  Our monuments are reminders of our path forward.

(Courtesy of Caddo Confederate, Shreveport, LA, United States)

https://www.change.org/p/caddo-parish-commission-we-will-not-give-up/u/24604567?cs_tk=AgrqFs2n3M5yBfdF61wAAXicyyvNyQEABF8BvJaM27qx88Mn9RHwiosM050%3D&utm_campaign=06f32116a7834a1ca3b1d52342c2cd41&utm_medium=email&utm_source=petition_update&utm_term=cs

A Special Honor

The Civil War created many tight bonds between soldiers, between comrades and enemies, as well as soldiers and animals. Cavalrymen were so reliant on their mounts that they often treated them as pets and became emotionally attached. This also happened with some of the soldiers’ mascots, which included an eagle, numerous dogs, and in one rare case, a camel. Douglas the camel was an especially revered mascot. He was killed at the Battle of Vicksburg. I have had the opportunity to see where Douglas’ headstone is located (his body isn’t in a grave), and it was quite moving to think that the soldiers who knew him loved him so much that they made him a marker.

Douglas

GRAVE OF DOUGLAS THE CONFEDERATE CAMEL

The final resting place of the camel who served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War

Among the 5,000 grave markers for Confederate soldiers in the Soldier’s Rest section of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, one pays tribute to Old Douglas, the camel of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, Company A, nicknamed “The Camel Regiment.”

It is not known how Douglas, a dromedary (one hump) camel, came to serve with the 43rd Mississippi infantry during the Civil War. He was a gift to Colonel W. H. Moore, who assigned him to carry the instruments and knapsacks for the regimental band. Douglas participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth under Major Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn, respectively, before being shot by a Union sharpshooter on June 27th, 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg.

Douglas was well loved by the humans of his regiment, less so by the horses. On one occasion, Douglas is said to have spooked one of the horses into stampeding through a camp near Iuka, injuring horses and soldiers, possibly killing some of the former. Soldiers climbed trees to get out of the path of destruction.

Douglas routinely broke free of his tether, but usually used his freedom to graze, never wandering too far from the regiment. On that fateful day in 1863, though, he wandered into no man’s land between the Union and Confederate armies, and paid the ultimate price.

The Union army responded to the camel’s death, according to legend, by eating him, since food was scarce, and making war souvenirs out of his bones. The Confederates responded by making a point of severely wounding the sharpshooter who had killed their beloved camel. His gravestone, however, states that he was eaten by his own Confederate regiment who were suffering under the Siege of Vicksburg.

Douglas was not the only camel in the United States during the Civil War. Before he became president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War, and implemented the Texas Camel Experiment in the 1850s to see how useful camels would be in the American Southwest where horses were beginning to have trouble on long trips. Camels can carry immensely heavy loads for long distances with little water. They are also not nearly as tamable as horses, though Douglas was called “faithful” and “patient” by those who knew him best. 

Camels were brought over from the Mediterranean and North Africa, and used for exploring the Southwest. The Civil War took the steam out of the experiment, and the camels eventually dispensed. Many were sold at auctions in 1864 and 1866 to work in circuses and mines, as postal carriers and pack animals and racing camels. Some even escaped or were set free, and feral camels were occasionally spotted roaming the American Southwest for years after.

Lest the contributions of camels in the Civil War be forgotten, the Texas Camel Corps promotes their stories with reenactments and hosts camel rides. Two of the camels are descendants of Old Douglas.

Know Before You Go

To find Douglas turn into the cemetery at Lindsey Street from Sky Farm Ave. A bit after the first cross street you will see a group of graves with Confederate flags on the left. Douglas’ marker (the one with the camel on it) is on the right side of the group, second row in.

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/grave-of- douglas-the-confederate-camel

(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp #1452 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Hernando, MS, vol. 43 issue 5, May 2019)

Fear the Ramrod

It is difficult to imagine what a soldier who fought in the American Civil War endured. Firearms were virtually relics at the start of the war. Soldiers fought with arms they brought from home, which were typically muskets used for hunting. These firearms were very slow to fire and were usually ineffective, and sometimes dangerous, because they were difficult to aim, load and fire. During the course of the war, increments became far more effective and deadly. Here’s an explanation of how the early muskets were used.

solders

Civil War soldiers were taught to load and fire their muskets using the “Nine-Steps.” They were drilled for hours to ensure every soldier would know each step without thinking. Step No. 6 was “return rammer” and while all of the steps were important, this one could have serious consequences if it was skipped.

Pvt. Arminius Bill of the 66th Illinois Western Sharp Shooters, recorded an incident in his diary about a man who skipped step No. 6. It was on Dec. 2, 1861,during a “sham battle” between Union forces at Benton Barracks near St. Louis. Artillery roared, cavalry galloped, and tens of thousands of blank rounds were fired. “One infantry man was killed by the man behind him in the rear rank who became excited & forgot to withdraw his ramrod. The gun went off & drove the ramrod through the head of the man in front.”

At the battle of Tupelo, July 14, 1864, Captain Theodore Carter cheered on his men of the 14th Wisconsin as they fired while lying down. Suddenly a private rose to his feet and began to hurl curses across the open ground to the Confederates. A rammer had streaked across the field and skewered his bicep, and he paused to pull out the long bloody piece of steel. “It was ludicrous to see hear him use strong invectives against the ‘rebel’ who was so careless as to leave his ramrod in the gun after loading.”

Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned, “I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth, I know not where.” A beautiful poem, he was certainly not thinking of Pvt. Alexander Downing of the 11th Iowa Infantry, and an incident on April 6, 1862, during the battle of Shiloh.

“My musket became so dirty with the cartridge powder, that in loading it the ramrod stuck fast and I could neither get it up nor down, so I put a [percussion] cap on, elevated the gun and fired it off. But now I had no ramrod, and throwing down my musket, I picked up a Belgian rifle lying at the side of a dead rebel, unstrapped the cartridge box from his body, and advanced to our company, taking my place with the boys.”

Longfellow’s arrow was found unbroken in an oak; whatever happened to Downing’s?

soldier

Shiloh National Military Park

(Thanks to Trent Lewis)

(Article courtesy of the Southern Comfort, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Samuel A. Hughey camp #1452, Volume 43, Issue 5, May 2019 ed.)

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 12)

Rose O’Neal Greenhow  

“Wild Rose” 

rose-72  Rose and kid

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was the perfect example of a Southern martyr. She was born in Montgomery County, Maryland in 1817, and acquired her nickname at an early age. Rose’s father was murdered by his slaves the same year she was born, so her mother was forced to raise four daughters and take care of the family farm. When Mrs. O’Neal died, Rose and her younger sister were sent to Washington D.C. to live with an aunt, who ran a fashionable boardinghouse at what would later become the Old Capitol Prison. Now a teenager, Rose learned the art of social etiquette. Considered to be educated, refined, loyal, and beautiful, with olive skin and a rosy complexion, she was the epitome of high society, and cultivated relationships with politicians and military officers, including Daniel Webster and James Buchanan. Her closest confidant, however, was John C. Calhoun, the powerful statesman from South Carolina who served as senator, secretary of state, and vice president.  

“I am a Southern woman,” Rose wrote, “born with revolutionary blood in my veins, and my first crude ideas on State and Federal matters received consistency and shape from the best and wisest man of this century.” When Calhoun succumbed to his final illness at the Old Capitol, Rose was in constant attendance.  

In 1835, she wed wealthy Virginian Dr. Robert Greenhow with the blessing of famed society matron Dolly Madison. Rose was 26, and Greenhow was 43. The couple had eight children. In 1850, the family moved to Mexico City with the promise of greater financial gains, and then to San Francisco. Dr. Greenhow died from an injury in 1854, so Rose and her children moved back to Washington D.C., where she resumed the role of popular socialite. 

When the War Between the States broke out in April, 1861, she was 44 years old. Staunchly pro-slavery, Rose immediately set to work contacting Confederate friends with information she obtained from pro-Union contacts. She and a close associate, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Jordan, formed an extensive spy ring that included both men and women. 

 In July, Rose obtained one important piece of information that she sent to General P.G.T. Beauregard prior to the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run). Written in secret script, she sent the ten-word message via her assistant, Betty Duvall, who carried the note wrapped in silk and tied up in the bun of her hair. The note stated that the enemy, 55,000 strong, would commence from Arlington and Alexandria to Manassas. Because of this vital information, Beauregard and General Johnston were able to deflect the Union army’s advance and win the battle. Afterward, Jefferson Davis commended her achievement. 

Rose’s activities raised the suspicions of Allan Pinkerton, head of the newly organized federal government’s Secret Service. After he spied into the windows of her home on 16th Street NW, and thought he had enough sufficient evidence, Pinkerton placed Rose on house arrest in August. Union soldiers showed her no dignity as they ransacked through her belongings, discovering maps, letters, notes, ciphered messages, and papers that she had attempted to burn. Rose didn’t hesitate to let everyone know about her plight by writing to Mary Chesnut and Secretary of State William Seward, whose letter was leaked to a Richmond newspaper. Defiantly, she still continued her spying activities, so Pinkerton sent her and her youngest daughter, 8-year-old “Little Rose,” to Old Capitol Prison in January. Rose reportedly wrapped the Confederate flag around her torso as she was being led to prison. Ironically, she and her daughter were contained in the same room where she spent hours with John C. Calhoun while he was dying. Needless to say, Confederate propaganda mills were given ammunition about the “brutal Yankees who would imprison a mother and child.” 

While she was in prison, “The Rebel Rose” waved the Confederate flag from her window nearly every day, and continued her espionage. After a judge decided in March 1862 that it was too volatile to put her on trial, Rose was exiled to Richmond in June, once again draping herself with the Confederate flag upon her exit from Washington. She was greeted by cheering crowds as a heroine. In August 1863, President Davis appointed her to a diplomatic mission in France and England, and while there, she penned her memoirs, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington in an effort to gain European support for the Southern cause. The book immediately became a best seller. She was received by Queen Victoria and Napoleon III, was granted an audience with the Emperor at the Tuileries, and became engaged to the Second Earl of Granville. 

Rose missed her home, however, so in September, 1864, she decided to return to America with classified information for the Confederacy. Sailing aboard the blockade runner Condor, she and her traveling companions attracted the attention of a Union ship on October 1. In an attempt to outrun it, the Condor ran aground on a sandbar at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Afraid that she would be captured, Rose convinced the captain to let her take a lifeboat. Regardless of the stormy weather, he relented, and she set off with two others and $2,000 in gold sovereigns that she had earned from book royalties. Tragically, the tiny rowboat capsized, and the three people aboard were drowned.  

The following day, Rose’s body washed up on shore. A Confederate soldier discovered it and took the gold, then pushed the body back into the sea. It washed up again, however, and was recovered and identified this time. (The soldier was so wrought with guilt that he returned the gold.) Rose’s body was taken to Wilmington, North Carolina, where it was laid out in state in a hospital chapel with a Confederate flag for a shroud. She was given a full military funeral, and her coffin was also draped with the Confederate flag. The marble cross marking her grave bears the epitaph, “Mrs. Rose O’N. Greenhow, a Bearer of Dispatchs to the Confederate Government.” 

Rose’s diary, dated August 5, 1863 to August 10, 1864, and describing her mission in detail, is held in the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh. The National Archives has digitalized and made available in the Archival Research Catalog 175 documents that the U.S. Intelligence Service seized from Rose’s home in August 1861.

(The photograph of Rose and “Little Rose” was taken during their incarceration at Old Capitol Prison by Matthew Brady Studio.) 

 

 

 

 

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 11)

Nancy Hart

Nancy Hart

“The Rebel in the Family” 

The life of Confederate spy Nancy Hart is shrouded in mystery. Old documents refer to her with a mixture of fact and folklore. It is believed that she was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to John and Rebecca Hart in 1846. Her mother was a first cousin of Andrew Johnson, who later became president when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The Harts were devout Christians, and her father frequently held family worship services. While Nancy was still an infant, they moved to Tazwell, Virginia. 

Nancy was tall, lithe, and black-eyed. She was a middle child who had six, or possibly twelve, siblings. In 1853, she went to live with her sister and brother-in-law, Mary and William Clay Price, in Roane County, Virginia, which became West Virginia in 1863. The family lived in the wilderness, so Nancy learned how to be an accomplished hunter and rider, but she never learned how to read and write. When the Civil War began, the Roane County held divided loyalties. Friends, neighbors, and families were separated by opposing beliefs. William was not a Confederate soldier, but he did his part by assisting them. After drawing suspicion, Union soldiers confronted him at his farm and ordered him to go to nearby Spencer to take the oath of allegiance. He departed with the Yankees, but never made it to Spencer. His body was discovered three days later. He had been shot in the back and left in the road. 

The murder of William spawned Nancy’s loathing for the Federals. She revered the Southern Cause, even though two of her brothers went to fight for the North. In early 1861, her neighbors, the Kelly’s, held a going away party for their two sons who had joined the Confederate Army. While the party was commencing, Union officers marched past the house in the moonlight. Nancy hollered, “Hurrah for Jeff Davis!” Four rifle shots rang out in response, and four minie balls struck the front stoop, one of which lodged in the door. Three days later, Nancy joined the Moccasin Rangers, who were pro-Southern guerrillas, and rode with their leader, Perry Conley (or Connolly) at the head of the column, leading the Rangers while working as a spy, scout, and guide to the local region. She travelled alone at night to deliver messages between Confederate armies, and slept during the day. She also saved the lives of many wounded Rebel soldiers by hiding them with Southern sympathizers and nursing them back to health. Posing as a farm girl, she peddled eggs and vegetables to Union detachments to obtain information, and scouted isolated Federal outposts to report their strength, population, and vulnerability to General Stonewall Jackson. She even led Jackson’s cavalry on several raids. In the fall of 1861, Conley narrowly escaped the Federals, but Nancy was captured. Deciding she didn’t know anything, they released her, which was a big mistake, because she reported back to Conley with valuable information about the Yankees. 

Nancy married one of the Moccasin Rangers, Joshua Douglas. Conley was mortally wounded in an engagement with Ohio Infantry in early summer, 1862. He fought off his attackers until he ran out of ammunition, and then the Yankees clubbed him to death. Afterward, the Rangers disbanded. Nancy’s husband joined up with the 19th Virginia Cavalry, and she moved into the mountains of Nicholas County, where she continued her work as a messenger. A reward for her capture was issued, and it wasn’t long until Union Lieutenant Colonel Starr recognized “Peggy,” as Nancy was known by both armies. She and a female friend were discovered in a log cabin, crushing corn. They were taken prisoner, and confined to the second-story of an old, dilapidated house in Summersville.  Soldiers were quartered downstairs, and a sentry was posted to guard them in their room.  

While there, 20-year-old Nancy was allowed to roam the jail grounds of her own free will. She gained the attention of several soldiers, including telegrapher Marion H. Kerner, who convinced Starr to transfer the young women to the Summersville jail, and supplied them with sewing materials and illustrated papers. When an itinerant photographer showed up to hone his trade, Kerner persuaded Nancy to pose for a picture, although she said that she didn’t have clothes “fittin’ to be pictured in.” Kerner requested clothing from some Union women, and fashioned a Yankee officer’s hat by folding the bill and inserting a plume. The resulting photograph is the only one in existence of Nancy Hart, who, according to legend, refused to smile because she had to wear Yankee attire.  

Here is where the story differs. One version states that, later that night, Nancy tricked a naive soldier. After talking to him extensively, she convinced him to show her his pistol. The young, enamored Yankee willingly obliged. She promptly fired into his heart, killing him instantly. Nancy jumped headlong out of a second-story window into a clump of tall jimson weeds, and escaped bareback on Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse.  

A week later, on July 25, she returned with 200 Confederate cavalrymen. She was still riding Lieutenant Colonel Starr’s horse. At 4:00 a.m., the Rebels burned three buildings, including the commissary storehouse. They also destroyed two wagons, and captured eight mules and twelve horses. In all, only ten shots were fired, and two soldiers were wounded. The Confederates easily arrested the slumbering Yankees, including Starr, who was shipped off to Libby Prison with his officers. Marion Kerner was also captured, but Nancy convinced the Confederate officers to release him because of the kind treatment he had shown her. He was immediately arrested, however, after attempting to send a telegraph to Union forces. 

Nancy faded out of the picture as an active partisan, no doubt knowing that, if she were to be captured again, a rope would be waiting for her. After the War Between the States ended, her husband returned, and they lived in Greenbrier County, raising two sons. Nancy’s last public appearance was in 1902, when she testified at the Courthouse in Lewisburg on behalf of her son, Kennos, who was charged with killing a man at a dance. Nancy died in either 1902 or 1913.  

The other version of her story isn’t nearly as colorful, and is much sadder. According to Hart family legend, Nancy was born to rebel, and paid with her life after she was arrested and confined in Summersville. Because Union troops didn’t want the locals to know, her hanging on Cold Knob Mountain was kept a secret. Nancy remained calm, but once allowed to speak, she hollered out the Rebel yell, as well as “Wahoo! Whoop! Hurrah!” and “Yay for the President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis!” However, there is little or no evidence suggesting that Nancy was executed by hanging. On the other hand, there is little or no evidence stating that she ever married, either, and no official record of her killing a Union soldier. Census records are sketchy at best, as are family records. 

She is buried at Mannings Knob Cemetery in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, near Richwood, where the Mannings family buried their slaves. The cemetery is also known as Nancy Hart Cemetery. She was originally buried with only a pile of stones to mark her grave. Years later, Jim Comstock, a publisher and Civil War buff, decided that she deserved a proper marker, so he and Nancy’s granddaughter found the top of Mannings Knob, but the area had been bulldozed to make room for a beacon tower. Her grave was never located. However, a marker was erected in the cemetery in her honor. 

Hart Grave 

Marion H. Kerner, the Union officer who convinced Nancy to pose for a photograph, said that the last glimpse he caught of her was shortly after the Summersville raid, and he never “heard of her since. She may be dead.”  He later wrote about her, making her story famous in Leslie’s Weekly Magazine. The article was published in 1910. A large rock, known as “Nancy’s Dancing Rock,” still exists on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha River, near the place where Nancy grew up. 

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 8)

Mary Anna Custis Lee – Wife of Robert E. Lee

Mary_Custis_Lee
     Born on October 1, 1808, Mary Anna Randolph Custis was the only surviving child of Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, who was George Washington’s step-grandson. Mary Anna was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. She enjoyed all the benefits of growing up in a wealthy family, and spent most of her time at Arlington, which her father built in honor of George Washington.
     Mary had many suitors, and received a marriage proposal from Sam Houston. The man who stole her heart, however, was her second cousin, Robert Edward Lee, whom she had known since childhood. They were married at Arlington on June 30. 1831. Robert had already become an established military man, so he brought Mary with him to West Point. It wasn’t long before she gave birth to a boy, and over the course of several years, bore two more sons and four daughters. She was fluent in four languages, and was an avid painter, author, and horticulturalist, propagating eleven rose varieties in her garden at Arlington. Mary was also deeply religious, and as her rheumatoid arthritis progressed, she accepted it as the will of God. She inherited Arlington after her father passed away in 1857, and two years later, published his memoirs, which she titled “Recollections.” She included an editor’s note stressing the urgency of reconciliation between northern and southern states, as the approaching Civil War seemed imminent.
     Following Virginia’s secession, Mary’s sons enlisted, and Robert resigned from his position with the U.S. military to serve under the newly-formed Confederate States of America. He traveled to Richmond, but Mary remained at Arlington until May, when she received word that Union soldiers were crossing the Potomac from Washington to seize her estate. Reluctantly, she departed, believing that the move was only temporary. How strange she must have felt knowing that she, the descendant of George Washington, was now the enemy. She traveled to different family-owned plantations until the encroaching Yankees forced her to retreat to Richmond. Once there, she set up housekeeping at several locations, all the while diligently knitting socks and mittens for her husband and his soldiers, despite her crippling arthritis.
     In 1863, following the Battle of Brandy Station, Mary witnessed the arrest of her wounded son, Rooney, who had been transported to a local plantation home to recuperate under Mary’s care. She found it necessary to travel to hot springs because of her condition, where she learned of the battles at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Once she returned to Richmond in the fall, she busied herself with knitting, even though inflated costs made it difficult for her to obtain yarn, and she was saddened by the loss of a daughter due to typhoid fever. Rooney’s two children and his frail wife also succumbed to disease.
     During the war, she rarely saw her husband or sons. While her daughters attended services at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on April 2, 1865, they observed as President Davis was called away, and learned afterward that General Lee’s forces had fallen back: Richmond was being evacuated. Mary, however stubborn, refused to leave, and watched from her window as residents scrambled to get out before the Yankees invaded. Following a still quiet, bummers entered the city, looting, cursing, and setting fires. Still, Mary resiliently held tight. Union forces soon appeared, restoring order, and a sentry was placed at her door for protection. Out of the goodness of her heart, she sent down a breakfast tray every morning to the weary soldier who stood outside her door. It wasn’t long before she learned that her husband had surrendered his army. Robert, along with their sons, returned home soon afterward.
     Once the war ended, Robert received many job offers, finally accepting the position as president of Washington College in Lexington. By December, Mary joined him. They spent many happy years together until the summer of 1870, when Robert caught a cold that aggravated the angina he’d developed seven years earlier. He died on October 12, and was buried in a crypt beneath the campus chapel. Mary did not attend the funeral.
     Bedridden for a month, her health finally improved. She was allowed to remain at what was renamed Washington and Lee College, since her son, Custis, had been elected to succeed his father. In 1872, she filed a petition with the Judiciary Committee of Congress to receive payment for Arlington, but her request was denied. Meanwhile, her arthritis had grown so bad that she could no longer sew, so she painted and sold tinted photographs of herself, Robert, and George and Martha Washington, donating the proceeds to charity. The following year, she toured Virginia, where her travels brought her back to her beloved Arlington. Appalled by the desecration, she remained in the carriage as old servants ran out to greet her. Grand trees that had once stood on the property had been reduced to stumps, and headstones cluttered the lawn. She returned to Alexandria, and continued her charity work. In October, her daughter, Agnes, died, which broke Mary’s heart. The loss was too much for her: on November 5, 1873, she, too, passed away. Per her request, she was entombed in the basement of the college chapel next to her husband.

     (In 1874, Custis took up his mother’s crusade to obtain Arlington and won. Because the house was surrounded by a cemetery, he immediately sold it to the U.S. Government. Ownership was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Eventually, all of the Lee children’s remains were moved to the Lee Chapel.)

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 5)

Laura Ratcliffe

Laura_Ratcliffe_Portrait

If it wasn’t for Laura Ratcliffe, Colonel John Mosby, the infamous “Grey Ghost,” might have been captured by the Yankees. Not only did she aid Mosby in his mission to serve the Confederacy as a Partisan Ranger, but she also provided valuable information to Confederate cavalry commander Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart. 

Laura Ratcliffe was born on May 28, 1836 in Fairfax City, Virginia. Her parents were Francis Fitzhugh and Ann McCarty (Lee) Ratcliffe. Laura was a distant cousin to General Robert E. Lee on her mother’s side. When her father died, she moved with her mother and two sisters to Frying Pan (now Herndon) in Fairfax County, just south of Washington D.C. Once the Civil War broke out, the area bore witness to numerous raids and encampments from both sides. 

Laura and one of her sisters volunteered to serve as nurses. During the winter of 1861, while they were assisting wounded soldiers, Laura met General J.E.B. (James Ewell Brown) Stuart, and the two became friends.  He wrote several personal letters and four poems to her, imploring her to continue with her espionage. In return, she provided him and fellow cavalryman Colonel John Singleton Mosby with valuable information concerning Union troop activity in the county. 

A year later, Stuart led his cavalry on several raids in the area, and he visited Laura at her home many times. While at the Ratcliffe home, Mosby asked if he could remain there and continue operations instead of going into winter quarters. Stuart consented, and departed the area. Mosby and nine other soldiers from the 1st Virginia Cavalry continued to use the Ratcliffe home as their headquarters. Oftentimes, Mosby met Laura at a large rock near the top of Squirrel Hill to exchange information. Following one particularly lucrative raid, he requested that Laura keep the Federal greenbacks he had confiscated for safekeeping, so she stashed them beneath the rock. 

In February 1863, Mosby captured several Federal soldiers, and returned their plunder to local citizens. Laura discovered that the Yankees had set a trap for Mosby, so she warned him of the intended ambush. Because of her valuable information, Mosby avoided arrest and captured a sutler’s wagon.   

Captain Willard Glazer with the 2nd New York Cavalry complained that Laura “is a very active and cunning rebel, who is known to our men, and is at least suspected of assisting Mosby not a little in his movements … by the means of Miss Ratcliffe and her rebellious sisterhood, Mosby is generally informed.”  

In March, Mosby managed to capture Union Brigadier General Edwin Stoughton by surprising him in his sleep. Arriving in the general’s room, Mosby asked him, “Do you know Mosby?” 

“Yes,” replied the general. “Have you captured the devil?” 

“No,” Mosby responded. “The devil has caught you.” 

Mosby captured the general, two of his captains, and 58 horses without firing a single shot. When President Abraham Lincoln heard of the event, he reportedly said that generals are replaceable, but he deeply regretted the loss of so many good horses. 

Although it was obvious to the Federals that Laura’s house was being used for Confederate headquarters, she was never arrested or tried for any crime. After the war ended, she lived with her mother in an old farmhouse named “Merrybrook.” In 1890, Laura, who was now 54 years old and destitute, married a neighbor, Union veteran Milton Hanna. She became wealthy because of it, but her husband died in an accident seven years later. 

Laura was a very private person, and never sought or received recognition for her courageous contributions to the Confederacy. Instead, she directed her attentions to the poor and unfortunate. In 1914, she fell and presumably broke her hip, but because she refused to receive medical treatment from a male doctor, the diagnosis was never verified. However, the accident left her an invalid for the rest of her life. Before her death at age 87 on August 8, 1923, she requested that “a neat grey granite stone” be placed at her gravesite with the names of Ratcliffe, Coleman, and Hanna carved into them. In 2007, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Laura Ratcliffe Branch, erected such a marker.  

Merrybrook is now under direct threat. The current owners are striving to have the home preserved, but development is encroaching. The rock where Laura and Colonel Mosby exchanged information still exists, and a monument on the country highway nearby has been erected with an inscription that reads: 

This large boulder, located just south of here, served as an important landmark during the Civil War, when Col. John S. Mosby’s Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry) assembled there to raid Union outposts, communications, and supply lines. Laura Ratcliffe, a young woman who lived nearby and spied for Mosby, concealed money and messages for him under the rock. Mosby credited her with saving him from certain capture by Federal cavalry on one occasion. She also was a friend of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. 

Among the items discovered in her effects after her death was a gold-embossed brown leather album, which contained several poems, as well as the signatures of General J.E.B. Stuart, Colonel Mosby, and Brigadier General Fitzhugh Lee, son of Robert E. Lee. A gold watch chain belonging to Stuart was also found with her possessions. 

For more information, and to learn how you can help with preservation, please visit:  

www.lauraratcliffe.org. 

 

 

 

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 4)

Juliet Opie Hopkins

“Florence Nightingale of the South”

Juliet Opie Hopkins

Juliet Opie Hopkins was a pioneer in the advancement of women at a time when most were overlooked for supervisory positions. Her extraordinary abilities awarded her the position of leadership and power that didn’t exist anywhere else.

She was born on May 7, 1818 at her family’s Woodburn Plantation in Jefferson County, Virginia. Her father owned around 2,000 slaves, which established him in elite society. During her childhood, Juliet was home-schooled, and was sent to Miss Ritchie’s private school in Richmond when she reached adolescence. When she was sixteen, however, her mother died, so she left school to return home, where she helped manage Woodburn.

In 1837, Juliet married Commodore Alexander Gordon of the United States Navy. However, Gordon died in 1849, leaving her a young widow. She remarried in 1854, to a widower who was twenty-four years her senior. Arthur Hopkins was a lawyer and prominent businessman who had served as a United States senator and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. They adopted a niece, and considered the girl to be their daughter.

When the War Between the States broke out, Juliet sold her estates in New York, Virginia, and Alabama. She donated the money to the Confederacy for the establishment of hospitals. The Confederate military system dictated that each state was responsible for the care of its own patients.

In June 1861, she moved to Richmond and began organizing money and supplies that were sent from Alabama. In August, she set up a hospital for Alabama’s soldiers, and by November, had established a larger second hospital as well. During the November session, the Alabama legislature assumed responsibility for supporting the hospitals and appointed Juliet as chief matron. In the spring of 1862, she established a third hospital, and received the help of 92 women’s auxiliary groups in Alabama who made clothing and collected supplies.

During the Battle of Seven Pines on June 1, 1862, she was shot twice in the leg while attempting to rescue wounded men from the battlefield. Her injuries required surgery and left her with a permanent limp.

Although her husband was technically named State Hospital Agent, she was the one in charge. Regardless of her tremendous responsibilities, Juliet found time to personally care for soldiers by writing letters, making furlough requests, providing books, and keeping a thorough list of the deceased. She even collected hair samples from the dead to send to their families, which was common practice at the time.

A nurse in the Third Alabama Hospital, Fannie Beers, wrote about her:

“I have never seen a woman better fitted for such work. Energetic, tireless, systematic, loving profoundly the cause and its defenders, she neglected no detail of business or other thing that should afford aid or comfort to the sick and wounded. She kept up a voluminous correspondence, made in person every purchase for her charges, received and accounted for hundreds of boxes sent from Alabama containing clothing and delicacies for the sick and visited the wards of the hospitals every day. If she found any duty neglected by nurse or surgeon or hospital steward, her personal reprimand was certain and very severe. She could not nurse the sick or wounded personally, for her whole time was necessarily devoted to executive duties, but her smile was the sweetest, I believe, that ever lit up a human face, and standing by the bedside of some poor Alabamian, away from home and wretched as well as sick, she must have seemed to him like an angel visitant.”

In March 1863, the Confederate Medical Department assumed control over all hospitals. Many patients were sent to larger facilities, which prompted the closure of 35 units, including two of Juliet’s hospitals. The third hospital was closed in October, so she moved back to Alabama. Finding supplies scarce, she had the carpets in her Mobile home cut up and used for blankets. She continued her work in Tuskagee and Montgomery hospitals. When the state was invaded in April 1865, she and her husband fled to Georgia.

After the war ended, they returned to Mobile, and her humanitarian efforts became more well-known, making her a living legend.

Judge Hopkins died later that year, so Juliet left Alabama to live on property she still owned in New York City. Because she and her husband had lost most of their wealth, she lived the rest of her life in relative poverty. She died on March 9, 1890 while visiting her daughter in Washington D.C. Scores of veterans attended her funeral, including Confederate Generals Joseph Wheeler and Joseph E. Johnston, as well as Union General John Schofield. Members of the Alabama congressional delegation served as pallbearers. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in the same gravesite as her son-in-law, Union General Romeyn Beck Ayers.

In 1987, a marker was finally placed on her grave.

It is estimated that Juliet donated between $200,000 and $500,000 for the Southern cause. She was so revered by her peers that her picture was printed on Alabama Confederate paper currency 25-cent and 50-cent bills. She is a member of the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

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