J.D.R. Hawkins

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

Archive for the tag “soldiers”

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)

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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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Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 3)

Emma Sansom

emma

On occasion, women became heroines of the Confederate cause purely by accident. Such is the case of Emma Sansom.

Born on June 2, 1847, Emma was a beautiful girl, tall and elegant, with large, deep blue eyes, auburn hair, and a fair complexion. In 1852, she moved with her family from Georgia to Gadsden, Alabama. Six years later, her father died, but the family managed to maintain their farm. Once the Civil War commenced, Emma’s brother, Rufus, enlisted with the 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment while she, her mother, and an older sister ran the farm.

Emma had just returned from shopping one sunny morning when suddenly, she heard the sound of approaching men and horses. Still standing in the yard, holding the reins, she watched as hundreds of Union soldiers arrived.

“We were home on the morning of May 2, 1863, when a company of men wearing blue uniforms and riding mules and horses galloped past the house and went on towards the bridge. Pretty soon a great crowd of them came along and some of them stopped at the gate and asked for some water. One of them asked me where my father was and I told him he was dead.

‘Do you have any brothers?’ asked the Yankee soldier.

‘I have, sir,’ I said.

‘Where are they?’

‘In the Confederate army,’ I told him.

‘Do you think the South will whip us?’

‘They do!’

‘What do you think?’

‘I think we will win because God is on our side,’ I said.

‘I think God is on the side with the best artillery,’ said the soldier.”

Emma stubbornly held onto her horse’s reins until another soldier snatched them away from her.

Still, the women refused to panic. The soldiers searched their house for guns and saddles. Discovering Rufus, who was home recuperating from a wound he had received, they took him prisoner. The Yankees proceeded to nearby Black Creek, which was swollen from recent heavy rains, and torched the wooden bridge. The women were standing on the front porch, grieving Rufus, when Nathan Bedford Forrest appeared.

“Can you tell me where I can get across this damn creek?” he asked.

Fifteen-year-old Emma told him that the bridge had been burned, and that there wasn’t another one for two miles. She informed him of a ford two hundred yards away where she had seen cattle cross in low water, and where he and his men could likely cross, despite the raging current. Emma offered to escort him if one of his men would saddle a horse for him.

Forrest replied, “There is no time to saddle a horse; get up here behind me.”

Taking her hand, he pulled her up behind him on his steed, and assured her mother that he would return Emma safely. The duo rode down to the riverbank, but came under enemy fire, so they rode into the foliage and dismounted. Finding the spot she had referred to, they emerged from the cover of trees, and were once again fired upon.

Emma placed herself in front of Forrest. “General,” she said, “stand behind me. They will not dare to shoot me.”

Forrest, being the gallant cavalier that he was, refused. “I’m glad to have you for a pilot, but I’m not going to make breastworks of you.”

He left her under cover behind the roots of a fallen tree. Crawling on his hands and knees, he looked back behind him, and saw that she had followed. With some consternation, he confronted her about going against his wishes.

“Yes, General,” she said, “but I was fearful that you might be wounded; and it’s my purpose to be near you.”

Defiantly, she waved her bonnet in the air. The Union soldiers on the other side realized they had been shooting at a female, so they immediately dropped their weapons and gave three cheers. Emmstarted for home, but soon came upon General Forrest again. He told her that one of his men, who had been killed, was laid out in her house, and requested that her family bury him in a nearby graveyard. After asking that she send him a lock of her hair, he rode off to later become victorious in the campaigning. By bluffing the Yankees into believing his troops were larger in number, he succeeded in capturing Colonel Abel Streight’s Union forces. He also returned Emma’s brother to her.

Emma could have faced severe retribution for aiding General Forrest. She escaped from her close call unscathed, except for a few bullet holes that had passed through her skirt.

“They have only wounded my crinoline,” she casually remarked.

Forrest was so grateful for Emma’s heroic gesture that he gave her a note of thanks:

Hed Quaters in Sadle

May 2 1863

My highest regardes to miss Emma Sansom for hir Gallant conduct while my posse was skirmishing with the Federals across Black Creek near Gadsden Allabama.

N. B. Forrest

Brig Genl Comding N. Ala

After the war, the state of Alabama awarded Emma with a gold medal, and awarded her a section of public land “as a testimony of the high appreciation of her services by the people of Alabama.”

She married in 1864, moved with her husband to Texas, and had five sons and two daughters. Emma died on August 9, 1900, and is buried in Little Mound Cemetery, twelve miles west of Gilmer, Texas. Her legacy lives on in a poem written by John Trotwood Moore. In 1946, she was featured in a comic book called “Real Heroes.”A monument was erected by the UDC in her honor, and a school is named after her. Both are in Gadsden, Alabama.

Women of the Confederacy (Pt 2.)

 

Belle Edmondson

belle

More than one Southern lady stepped up to the plate to do her share in preserving the Confederacy. Such is the case of Belle Edmondson, a Memphis belle who risked her life to do her part.

Born to Mary Ann and Andrew Jackson Edmondson on November 27, 1840 in Pontotoc, Mississippi, Isabella Buchanan Edmondson was the youngest daughter of eight children. In 1849, her father was elected clerk of courts in Holly Springs, Mississippi. “Belle” and her sisters attended Franklin Female College nearby. In 1860, the family relocated to a farm in Shelby County, Tennessee, eight miles southeast of Memphis on Holly Ford Road, which is now Airways Boulevard.

Once the countryside became engulfed in the Civil War, it wasn’t long before the Edmondson’s got involved, because they were staunch supporters of the Confederacy. Two of Belle’s brothers enlisted for the Southern cause. They both fought at the Battle of Shiloh, and Belle tended to wounded soldiers as a nurse.

When Memphis fell in June 1862, Belle’s family farm became located between opposing lines. Pickets and scouts from both sides patrolled the area. The Rebel army was less than 30 miles south.

Finding herself in a position to assist the Confederates, Belle passed information she gathered in Memphis during the day, and risked her life to transport it to the Rebels at night. She also delivered needed supplies, such as medicines and amputation tools, in her petticoats, and letters and money in her bosom, knowing that Union soldiers were reluctant to search women.

At one point, she met with Generals Forrest and Chalmers. In an entry to her diary dated February 27, 1864, Belle wrote:

Annie Nelson and myself went to Memphis this morning – very warm, dusty and disagreeable. Accomplished all I went for – did not go near any of the officials, was fortunate to meet a kind friend, Lucie Harris, who gave me her pass – ‘tis a risk, yet we can accomplish nothing without great risk at times. I returned the favor by bringing a letter to forward to her husband, Army of Mobile. I sat up until 8 o’clock last night, arranging mail to forward to the different commands. It was a difficult job, yet a great pleasure to know I had it in my power to rejoice the hearts of our brave Southern Soldiers … God grant them a safe and speedy trip.

On March 16, she wrote:

At one o’clock, Mrs. Facklen, Mrs. Kirk and I began to fix my articles for smuggling, we made a balmoral of the grey cloth for uniform, pinned the hats to the inside of my hoops – tied the boots with a strong list, letting them fall directly in front, the cloth having monopolized the back and the hats the side. All my letters, brass buttons, money, etc. in my bosom – left at 2 o’clock to meet Anna at Mr. Barbie’s – started to walk, impossible that – hailed a hack – rather suspicious of it, afraid of small-pox, jumped in, with orders for a hurried drive to corner Main & Vance … arrived at pickets, no trouble at all, although I suffered horribly in anticipation of trouble. Arrived at home at dusk …

Her diary entry of April 16, 1864, reads:

Another day of excitement – about 30 Yanks passed early this morning, only six came in for their breakfast, they did not feed their horses – they behaved very well, and seemed to be gentlemen, in fact we so seldom see gentlemen among the Yankees that we can appreciate them when they are met with.

Belle’s frequent trips back and forth across the opposing lines soon attracted the attention of Union officials. General Stephen A. Hurlburt issued a warrant for her arrest. When Belle learned of this, she wrote an entry in her diary dated April 21, 1864:

…(Hurlburt) would be compelled to arrest me if it came to him officially, but as my father was a Royal Arch Mason, and I a Mason, he would take no steps, if I would be quiet.

And on April 25:

…I am so unhappy about the trouble I have got in – oh! what is to become of me, what is my fate to be – a poor miserable exile.

Belle fled south to avoid arrest. She traveled through Tupelo, Pontotoc, and Columbus before arriving at Waverly Plantation in Clay County, Mississippi on July 14, where she remained until the war ended.

When the war finally did end, Belle returned to Memphis, but details of her life after this are sketchy. In the early 1870’s, she befriended President Jefferson Davis and his family. She was engaged twice, but both of her fiancés backed out of their commitment. After announcing her third engagement to a mysterious “Colonel H,” Belle died two weeks later in 1873 from one of three epidemics that swept through the city. She was only 33 years old. Family legend dictates that “Colonel H” was a Yankee officer.

Belle’s memory lives on through her diary. She is buried at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis with her parents.

Women of the Confederacy (Pt. 1)

In honor of Women’s History Month, I would like to feature several Confederate women who supported the cause. Since I’m starting this series a little late, I will continue the posts throughout next month as well.

Belle Boyd

(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Belle Boyd

Cleopatra of the Secession

Belle Boyd was only seventeen years old when she began her illustrious career as a Confederate spy. She quickly learned the art of espionage after her hometown of Martinsburg, Virginia became overrun with Yankees.

Born on May 4, 1844, Isabella Maria Boyd was the eldest child of a wealthy family. Her father ran a general store and managed a tobacco plantation. Belle grew up with several brothers and sisters, dominating them all with her tomboyish ways. She attended Mount Washington Female College in Baltimore at age twelve, and after completing her education four years later, enjoyed the life of a fun-loving debutante. Described as having shining blue eyes, thick light brown hair, and a fine figure, she was considered attractive but not beautiful, and made up for it by being overly feminine, flirtatious, and outgoing. A brilliant talker, she dressed colorfully and wore feathers in her hats.

At the onset of the Civil War, Belle’s father enlisted with the Virginia Cavalry, Stonewall Jackson Brigade. It wasn’t long before Belle was confronted with the enemy. On July 2, 1861, Union troops skirmished at nearby Falling Waters, and occupied Martinsburg on July 4. After looting the town, a band of drunken Union soldiers stormed into Belle’s home, tore down the Confederate flag that the Boyd Family proudly flew over their home, and attempted to hoist up the Stars and Stripes. Belle’s mother protested, and was attacked by one of the Yankees. In retaliation, Belle shot him, justifying her actions by stating, “…we ladies are obliged to go armed in order to protect ourselves as best we might from insult and outrage.” Subsequently arrested, she was soon acquitted without reprisal for her action. “

The commanding officer,” she wrote, “inquired into all the circumstances with strict impartiality, and finally said I had ‘done perfectly right.’” Belle’s home was constantly guarded by sentries afterward to keep an eye on her activities.

She soon became a courier for Generals Beauregard and Jackson, carrying information, confiscating weapons, and delivering medical supplies. By early 1862, she had developed a reputation for herself, dubbed in the press as “La Belle Rebelle,” the “Siren of the Shenandoah,”the “Rebel Joan of Arc,” and the “Amazon of Secessia.” Using her feminine qualities to allure unsuspecting Yankees, she befriended the invading soldiers to obtain information for the Confederacy. One evening in midMay, she eavesdropped through a peephole on a Council of War while visiting relatives in Front Royal, whose hotel

was being used as a Union headquarters. With the information she obtained, she rode fifteen miles to deliver the news to General Stonewall Jackson.

On May 23, she ran out onto the battlefield to give General Jackson last minute information. She later wrote that “the Federal pickets … immediately fired upon me…my escape was most providential…rifle-balls flew thick and fast about me … so near my feet as to throw dust in my eyes…numerous bullets whistled by my ears, several actually pierced different parts of my clothing.”

Jackson captured the town and later acknowledged her bravery in a personal note. She was subsequently awarded the Confederate Southern Cross of Honor, and given honorary captain and aide-de-camp positions.

Belle was arrested on July 29, 1862 and incarcerated at Old Capitol Prison in Washington D.C., but was released a month later as part of a prisoner exchange. She was arrested again in July 1863. Not a model inmate, she waved Confederate flags from her window, loudly sang “Dixie,” and sent information to a contact person outside who shot a rubber ball into her cell. She then sewed messages inside and threw it back.

She was released in December, but was arrested again in 1864, and this time was released for health reasons (typhoid fever). On May 8, she was sent to England as a diplomatic courier, but was captured while aboard a blockade runner, The Greyhound. She escaped to Canada with the assistance of Union naval officer Lieutenant Sam Hardinge, who she charmed into convincing him to marry her and switch sides. The two traveled to England, where Belle went to work for the Confederate Secret Service. Hardinge was court-martialed and disgraced for his actions. The two were married on August 24.

Belle stayed in England for the next two years, wrote her memoirs, entitled “Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison,” and achieved success onstage. When her husband died in 1866, she returned to America, where she continued her stage career and lecture tour, billing her show as “The Perils of a Spy,” and touting herself as “Cleopatra of the Secession.”

In 1869, she married John Swainston Hammond, an Englishman who had fought for the Union army, but sixteen years and four children later, divorced him. She married Nathaniel High, Jr. two months later in January 1885. He was an actor seventeen years her junior.

Belle continued the touring circuit. On Sunday, June 10, 1900, while at a speaking engagement with the GAR in Kilbourn (now Wisconsin Dells), Belle died of a heart attack. She was 56 years old and in poverty. Union veterans paid for her funeral. She is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery.

“I worked night and day for twelve years to prevent the war, but I could not. The North was mad and blind, would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came.”

-Jefferson Davis

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