Laura (Thornberry) Fletcher, On the Battle and Aftermath

3 04 2014

A few memories of the “War Between the States” by an eye witness, for my grandson, Westwood Hugh Fletcher. — Mrs. Laura Fletcher

On July 21st, Sunday, 1861 I sat on the hill side across the road from old Sudley Church and watched the firing of the muskets and the cannons, and the falling men. In a short time the army wagons began coming by piled as high as anyone would pile up wood, with the bodies of dead men that had been killed that day. They were taken to Sudley Church cemetery and dumped in a pit prepared for them. My Father, John F. Thornberry, Grandfather of Westwood Hugh, was in that great battle, was wounded and disabled for service any more. My father and mother with five little children (I was one of them) lived across the road from the church and two and a half miles from Manassas. On Saturday evening about 7 o’clock my uncle, William Wilkins came to my mother and insisted on taking her and us children to his house for the night as fighting would begin during the night. Mother said, “If you think so, I will get the children’s clothes for Sunday School and I will go.” He replied, “They will not need any clothes for Sunday School for there will be no Sunday School tomorrow.”

He was right, for 2 o’clock Sunday morning the Northern Army began pouring in about fifty feet from where my mother had just left. At Manassas they met the Southern Army from Richmond and the fighting began.

About 2 o’clock the Federal army began hauling off their dead and dumping them in the pit they had prepared for them at Sudley Church. As young as I was, I shall never forget the scene. I remember their faces yet.

Sunday night about 8 o’clock, my uncle heard someone whistling a long shrill whistle. He said, “That is someone in distress. I am going to look for him.” He found a young soldier boy about seventeen years old, lying in the woods. He asked him what he wanted. He said, “I want my mother.” He asked him where his mother was and he said at home in Michigan. He wanted to get him something to eat. He said no that he wanted water. Uncle went to the spring and filled his canteen. He drank it all. He went back to the spring and filled again and put it where he could get it, bade him goodbye, told him he would see him early the next morning. His reply was, “No, I will be gone before tomorrow.” When Uncle went back the next morning, he was dead.

When he related it, how my mother and aunt cried. I wondered why they cried, they did not know him. I know now why they cried!

That was Sunday evening. The next morning (Monday) my mother went to our home. It was desolate. She with us children left it Saturday evening as we had lived in it for 15 or 20 years, and there was not an article of anything in it. Ten men had bled to death in mother’s bedroom the night before. Carpets and all furniture were out and gone. We never saw any of it again, or anything else. The old farm well in the back yard was almost full of everything that would go in it. Such as china ware, cooking utensils, flat irons, and every thing you can imagine used in a family was thrown in it. Of course everything was broken. How we all cried over it; and no prospects of replacing any of it.

My father was brought to my Grandfather’s from the battlefield of Manassas, with typhoid fever (from a wound) and remained ill for eight weeks.

It was the Federal army that destroyed everything in its path. I don’t know how the Southern army did, as I am only writing from memory. This was the beginning of the war and terrible it was. They thought it was their duty to destroy everything they came to. My father lost in one day, over two thousand dollars worth of property. You may think I am exaggerating, but I will numerate some of the loss.

My father was a carpenter, wheel-wright, undertaker. Everything was made by hand. He also ran a blacksmith shop for his own work. I am writing that you might know how destructive everything was.

After my father got back, living in his own home, a terrible noise was heard one night about 2 o’clock. Ten Federal soldiers came to our home and burst the front door down. A piece of it struck my mother in the face and disfigured her very badly as well as hurting her. They arrested my father and oldest bother, who was 16 years old, for spies. They were not spies and never had been. They took them away to Washington, put them in the “old Capitol” prison, and it was three months before mother heard a word from them.

The next morning before taking them to Washington, the soldiers got a rope to hang my father, placing it around his neck. This did not occur in our house but just outside of our yard. My brother begged and cried like a baby not to hang his father, “He didn’t do anything.” One of the men said “Search his pockets before you draw that rope.” There they found a diary of his whereabouts. That saved him; he always kept one.

The Second battle of Manassas began the 26th of August, three years after. That was worse than the first. We were driven from our home by big cannons planted on the east and on the west of our home, and while we were at breakfast, two men soldiers on horses, came to our front door and said, “Get out of here. There are 12 cannons planted on two sides of your house, and you will be blown to pieces.” We got out as quickly as possible. We took refuge in the yard of “Uncle Tommie Hutchinson” and watched the firing all day.

About 12 o’clock the cannoning stopped, but the musketing kept on, until four o’clock in the afternoon. Such sights were never seen. My father hid in the ice-house all day. It was the 26th of August and the ice was low.

He walked out to the battlefield and tried to count the dead men, but could not. He got as far as one hundred and fifty and had to stop; he got sick and could go no farther. It was on the unfinished railroad between Alexandria and Manassas. The Southern Army ammunition train was cut off from their regiment and they had nothing to fight with and they used the crushed rock from the railroad. So many were killed with it.

Now this is true, every word that I have written.

Mrs. Laura Fletcher
December 12, 1936

NOTES

This account was written by Mrs. Laura (Thornberry) Fletcher (1854-1937), in December 1936 (age 82). She was the granddaughter of Rev. John Trone of Buckland Mills. Her mother was Martha (Trone) Thornberry. An aunt, Mary (Trone) Wilkins, was married to James Wilkins, a tenant farmer living on Stony Ridge, off the Groveton-Sudley Road. Laura had a son, Westwood Hugh Fletcher (grandson?), and three daughters: Boude Thompson, Estelle Blacketer, and Olive Carry.

Source: Norman M. Fletcher, Ft. Myers, FL

The following notes are provided by Museum Specialist, James Burgess:

1. The hillside on which Laura sat on July 21, 1861 was undoubtedly the Wilkins house site on Stony Ridge, which would have afforded a view of Sudley Church and the battlefield.

2. While not disputing the possibility of a wartime mass burial at Sudley Church, there was no established church cemetery at Sudley until 1896.

3. John F. Thornberry served briefly with the “Ewell Guards”, Company A, 49th Virginia Infantry.

4. William Wilkins was actually Laura’s older cousin (not uncle). He was 17 years old at the time of First Manassas. In 1862, he joined the Prince William Cavalry (Company A, 4th Virginia Cavalry). Laura may have him confused with his father, James Wilkins.

5. By most accounts Union forces did not arrive at Sudley Springs until 9:30 a.m. Since Laura’s mother had evacuated her and her siblings to the Wilkins home the night before, Laura’s knowledge of the Union army’s time of arrival is suspect. It is commonly known that the Union army broke camp in Centreville about 2 a.m. and this may have influenced her memory.

6. Laura’s mistaken belief that the Second Battle of Manassas began on August 26, three years after the first battle clearly reflects the effects of age on her memory. (It began on August 28, 1862, 13 months after the first battle.)

Contributed to Bull Runnings by James Burgess, Museum Specialist, Manassas National Battlefield Park

See here for more on the Thornberry children, including a photo of Laura.





Van Pelt House

12 03 2014





Portici

26 02 2014





Judith Henry

9 12 2013





William Augustus Croffut, On Sudley Church Hospital During the Battle

24 11 2012

Mr. W. A. Croffut, communicates to the National Republican of the 26th the following graphic description of scenes at the hospital:

I was on the field of battle at Bull Run on Sunday, and am sufficiently recovered from the complete prostration which followed my march of sixty miles – from Vienna to battle and back to Washington – to be able to give a brief account of what I saw. I was but a civilian; my chief occupation was to help carry off the wounded, and minister, as far as possible, to their comfort.

I assisted to bear several to the hospital at the corner of the woods – near the battle field – perhaps 150 rods from the enemy’s batteries. Such a scene of death and desolation! Men, dying and dead, covered the floor and filled the yard with frightful misery. Civilians and soldiers turned surgeons, and amputated and bound up the wounds of the injured and dying. A shell from the enemy struck harmlessly near the front yard, and cannon balls flew over and around, with their prolonged “whish!” as if the sacred white flag above our heads, honored by all the people besides, was a special target for the hateful and insolent “Confederacy.” I learn that this hospital was burned soon after, with all is suffering inmates by the heartless and diabolical foe.

Soon after, a man was brought along on his way to the other hospital, and I assisted in carrying him thither. It was somewhat farther off, on the road of approach, and was extemporized from a church which we had passed just before reaching the battle-field. It was a scene too frightful and sickening to witness, much more describe. There were in it, scattered thickly on the floor and in the galleries, sixty or seventy, wounded in every possible way – arms and legs shot off, some dead, and scores gasping for water and aid. The pulpit was appropriated for a surgeon’s room, and the communion table of pious anarchy became an amputation table, baptized in willing blood, and consecrated to the holy uses of Liberty and Law! The road and woods, on either side and all around, are strewn with maimed and mutilated heroes, and the balls from the rifled cannon go over us like winged devils. There sits a colonel, with his arm bound up, asking to be put on his horse and led back to his regiment; here lies a captain with a grape shot through his head, and blood and brains oozing out as we touch him tenderly to see if he his dead; and yonder comes in a pale chaplain, cut by a canister, while, sword in hand, he led his brave little parish, in the name of Almighty God, to the fight. And again we enter the hospital with him. Oh, God! What a hideous sight! Step into this gory tabernacle. You may grow pallid and faint, and some even of the strong-hearted do, or you may find yourself cool and self commanding, as I do, against my own anticipations, amid such sights and scenes. I have known men who could walk up to a flashing wall of bayonets unblanched, who would faint at the sight of suffering. Look around you here. The grim chambers, where the deity of a strange despotism was worshipped, is turned into an altar of Freedom, and sanctified anew by the warm life of heroes. Fit choir, that in the galleries – the intermittent yells of the dying and the subdued groans of brave men! Eloquent preacher, in that pulpit so long defiled! Glorious burden on that sacramental tablet, splendid wine there flowing – where Christ has been so often crucified. Precious and acceptable Eucharist! And these are the services to day, in this chapel of paganism, once dedicated, with lying lips, to God. The house what Baal built rises over a holocaust of heroes. And this is the holy Sabbath day – the world’s White Day, so long kept as a blessed symbol of fidelity, purity, humanity, liberty, and peace!

That ghastly picture of carnage will be ever present before my eyes, and those half smothered sobs and groans, will always ring their dreadful chorus in my ears.

And now on, and on past us fly the panic-stricken troops. We are not beaten, but these think we are, which is just as bad for our cause to night. Good generalship and guarded baggage wagons would have saved us, we of the unmilitary corps think, but it is too late now. And so the whole nation is to suffer then, for the dark crimes of years – the South for its terrible guilt of commission, and the North for its moral debauchery which has betrayed it to such fearful complicity. Had we remembered the Divine decree “though hand joined in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished.”

May God purify the religion, and warm the heart, and quicken the conscience, and open the eyes of the nation! May we learn now the lesson which a few brave souls of the North have striven long to teach, and speedily wash our bloody hands and begin to do the righteous thing!

W. A. Croffut.

St. Paul Press, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Uncle of E. J. Goodspeed, A Civilian’s Eyewitness Account of the Battle

23 02 2012

Correspondence of the Daily Gazette.

Another Account of the Battle.

———-

Messers. Editors: — The Following is the main body of a letter just received by the family of my uncle, which I copy and send to you. As it deeply interested me I think it may interest your readers, and send it on.

Respectfully yours,

E. J. Goodspeed.

——-

Willard’s Hotel,

Washington, July 24th, 1861.

My Dear Son: — [Here follows a description of the appearance of our army in their entrenchments and of the general confidence of the troops that victory would be theirs.]

“Centreville is within one mile of the first battle ground.  The enemy held the ground and were encamped on the other side of Bull’s Run; ranging over an extent of about five miles. Centerville being a little to the left of the centre of their lines in front, with a glass I could distinctly see their several encampments on the slopes of the hills beyond, and still beyond the long range of the blue mountains of Virginia, ,stretching each way as far as the eye could see. The scene was most beautiful, and the contemplation of the conflict on the morrow most exciting. The certainty that hundreds of the brave boys of the magnificent army encamped around me, were building their last camp fires, and that anxious friends whom they had left and who were doubtless then praying for their safety in the coming fight, would be stricken with sorrow so soon, made it anything but pleasant to contemplate. We camped with the 14th of Brooklyn in the tent of their brave and lamented Col. Wood. I was recognized by several of the boys of the 14th. By two o’clock Sunday morning every regiment was ready for the march, each with two days rations in their haversacks. By three they began to move from about two miles this side of Centreville. My party and myself remained in Centerville and saw every regiment pass through. The sight was imposing and grand in the extreme. The boys were in good spirits, and, with us, were all certain of victory. I shook hands with many of them, and with Edward Appleton of the Vermont 2d, for the last time. His head was shot off before noon. He was from Bennington.

From the hills about Centreville, we had a view of the whole extent of the distant battle field, though the clumps of forest hid the combatants from our view. The smoke however from the cannonading told us of the positions of the contending forces; and the thick and lengthy clouds of dust away in the distance told us of the rapid approach of reinforcements to the enemy, and of the combination of the several divisions of our own forces. About 11 o’clock the cannonading seemed to be most fearful and rapid in the centre some three miles distant. — But all were hid from our view by the smoke. We could stand it no longer. My friend Watkin of the Express (N.Y.) and myself determined on a closer and more satisfactory view. By half past 11 we found ourselves with General Schenck and his staff, whose brigade was held in reserve, just on this side of Bull’s Run, and inside of one mile of the main battle ground, though hid from the enemy by a forest. We occupied a position which with our glasses gave us a full view of the battle, for at least 4 1/2 hours. We saw every charge of the glorious 71st, the 69th, the 14th, the Fire Zouaves, Sherman’s Battery, the Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan, Rhode Island, Maine and Minnesota regiments. We were in constant receipt of the effect of their fire on our troops, by couriers who were going to Gen. McDowell and Schenck, up to four o’clock, at which time we were shelled out of our position and forced to an inglorious flight (I mean us civilians). Up to that time the victory was unmistakably ours, with a loss that could not have exceeded 300 killed. Our boys captured position after position of their murderous masked batteries until we supposed the victory was ours beyond a doubt. We distinctly saw their baggage train in full retreat, and cheered ourselves hoarse at our glorious victory. At this time a battery of five pieces, which had been pouring a cross fire into our boys on the other side of the Run, was turned upon us and gave us a more practical realization of the terrors of war. Several were killed very near me. I did not ask permission to leave, or stand upon the order of my going, but went at once. a half mile’s travel placed a heavy forest between me and their murderous shells, but not in season to prevent my being captured by the enemy’s cavalry, who had out-flanked Schenck’s brigade and who were just making a dash upon the hospital in front of me. As I emerged from the woods they drove us back and made a terrific sweep after the scattered soldiery and ambulance wagons in front of us. the 8th battalion of artillery opened a fire upon them and they were annihilated – horses riders and all – not more than six made their escape. This opened the way for me and several others to escape, and we improved it in double quick time. I left the woods mounted, though I entered on foot. I will explain when I see you. On reaching Centreville I found the entire baggage train in utter rout. I have no patience to describe the disgraceful scene and I will forbear. – On looking back from Centreville the ground over which I had just passed (Centreville is considerably elevated above the country intervening between it and the battle ground) I saw our victorious army in ignominious retreat – flight, rout, and no one in pursuit. I felt so outraged at this unaccountable panic that I determined not to leave Centreville until the disgraceful rout had passed on. – When they had all gone on, I left with the reserve brigade, composed of one battalion of artillery, the German Rifles, and the Garibaldi Guards, who marched on the Washington in perfect order – the rear guard of the Grand Army of the Potomac – with no one to pursue save a few scattering horsemen, the enemy being so badly cut up that he has not yet scarcely moved this side of Bull’s Run. I cannot explain the cause of this unexampled, shameful retreat. No matter what the newspapers say, do not believe that our loss in killed, wounded and prisoners will reach 1,500. The killed will fall short of 500, and for myself, I do not believe it will reach 300. So much for the first exploit of the army of the Potomac. I await with no little anxiety its further movements.”

He adds that the boys he has met since the conflict are eager for another engagement.

Janesville Daily Gazette, 8/2/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy





Andrew E. Elmore, On the 2nd Wisconsin After the Battle

8 12 2011

“Outsider,”(who is reported to be Andrew E. Elmore,) writes to the Wisconsin again, under date of July 24th. He says that Lieut. Col. Peck has resigned. The 4th regiment is at Baltimore, and arms have been sent to this State for the 7th and 8th regiments. The following incident is narrated:

“The men who returned this morning to Capt. Randolph’s Camp say that they got lost in the woods and getting starved out, in vain endeavored to get to Washington; they concluded to give themselves up as prisoners, and the first man they met they went up to and told him that they were United States soldiers, had got lost and were there to deliver themselves up as prisoners. He said he did not want them, and there (pointing to some rifles) are guns that do not belong to me, and you can take them if you choose. They each took one, and he pointed out to them how they might avoid the pockets and get to Washington. – They followed his suggestions and got safe to camp. This statement is very curious to say the least; but it is believed to be true.”

Janesville Daily Gazette, 7/30/1861.

Clipping Image





Confederate Veteran – Caring for the Soldiers in the Sixties

21 07 2011

A Woman Flees Battle and Finds Battle

Mrs. J.K. M’Whorter, “Caring for the Soldiers in the Sixties” *

Mrs. McWhorter lived near the intersection of Frying Pan Church Road and the Little River Turnpike, north of Centreville.  Later she would find the presence of Confederates about her exciting—“My sister and I had a great time all the summer of 1861….We were patriotic, and the Confederates stationed at this strategic point had to be looked after.”

But in July, as the Union army advanced, her family fled, heading west, taking refuge at the home of R.C. Weir, the owner of Sudley Mill, on the northern edge of the Bull Run Battlefield, a few hundred yards from Sudley Church.

One of the stirring events in which we participated was the flight from home just a few days before the first Manassas battle on July 21, 1861. We learned that the Yankees were advancing from Washington toward Manassas and became almost panic-stricken, for we supposed our homes would be in their path and that everything would be stolen, and, like the Widow Bedotte, “Our houses might conflagerate, and we be left forlorn.” So we decided there was no time to lose in getting inside the Confederate lines, as if the Confederacy could have any permanent lines!

The farm teams were hitched up and wagons packed with provisions and servants, some of the negroes being left at home to take care of things. The carriages and horses of the two families, with as many of our valuables as we could carry, brought up the rear of our procession. We moved off with no objective point that I can remember except getting inside the Confederate lines. Fortunately, we had some means in hand and supposed that would answer until better times dawned upon us.

We took the back roads leading from our neighborhood, hoping to keep clear of the Yankees. We had not gone more than seven or eight miles from home, I suppose, when, as we were going up a hill, the horses to the Cockerille carriage became unruly and commenced backing down hill. The occupants got out in a hurry, but the carriage was broken so that we could not go farther that day than Sudley Springs. Already a number of refugees were there. The house was occupied by a private family, but, as it had formerly been a hotel, it was large enough to accommodate a number of people. Mrs. Weir very kindly agreed to board us until we could get fixed up again and could see what best to do. Little did we suppose when we left home to get away from the Yankees that we would find ourselves encamped on what was to be a part of the famous first Manassas battle field.

We had been at Sudley Springs several days, waiting to see which way the Yankees were coming. Sunday morning, July 21, 1861, dawned on us clear, a typical July day. Most of the crowd had gathered about the long piazzas and front windows. We numbered about twenty ladies, several refugees from Washington among the number. Not long did we have to wait. We soon saw skirmishers scattered broadcast over the fields in front of us. One of these was a wheat field, full of shocks, each of which received special notice from a Yankee, who ran his bayonet through it in order to be sure it did not contain a hiding “Rebel.” Before long, however, Yankees discovered that this was not the way they would find the Rebels. There we sat or stood with feelings would be hard to describe now. Those were the first Yankees we had seen. A few moments more, a dark line of blue, with glittering bayonets, came slowly winding down the front of us. It was McDowell’s Corps, crossing Sudley Ford to flank Beauregard’s left. We were in the Yankee lines! Then some of them called at the house and told us of the “On to Richmond” program, of their great numbers, and how they had “Long Tom” in McDowell’s Corps and anticipated a small job in surrounding the little Confederate Army and capturing and killing the whole. Others told us they had men in a hollow and were mowing them down.

We had all of our silver buried that morning and, strange to say, we got it all again. My sister and I, with a number of the other ladies, a day or two before had helped tear up a bolt of red flannel, and a strip was tied around the arm of each soldier in a Virginia regiment to distinguish them from the enemy. Then we were all day holding up for our cause the best we could in our bearing toward the “Yanks.”

Late in the afternoon, as a fresh supply of stragglers were recounting their glorious deeds, we saw a dingy, dusty-looking body of cavalry dash over a distant hill in pursuit of some dark-looking objects. A lively little widow, who was discussing the battle with some of the Yanks, who were boasting of what they were doing, looked up and said: “What does that mean?” It was hard for them at first to think it was “Rebel” cavalry pursuing some of their panic-stricken, well-equipped men. You may be sure it did not take them long to think and say they had better be going. With that the little widow commenced singing and beating time with her hands to a quick step for them.

The fields spoken of soon presented a different appearance from what they did in the morning. Running Yanks were scattered all over them again, throwing down arms and everything that would hinder their speed. No time to run bayonets through wheat shocks! The “Rebs” were dashing after them and they were running for their lives. Soon we were in a glorious state of excitement. Our men were all about us, some bringing up prisoners and wounded Yanks.

Some of the cavalry paused at the doors long enough for us to hand them a cup of coffee or something to eat in hand. It was our supper time, and every one gladly gave up what was cooked to refresh the poor soldiers who had been fighting all day with nothing to eat. My grandmother and Aunt Martha contributed some provisions they had taken from home, and we had some of our best servants go to the kitchen and help cook. I remember handing coffee to some of our men who were on their horses at the back door; they had only time to swallow it down in a hurry, as they had to go the pursuit, and some looked after the wounded Yanks too.

We did not see a great deal of the fighting, as there was a hill between us and a part of the field where there was some heavy fighting. About dusk, when the crowd had passed on, we all went out on the field to see what we could capture in the way of arms. I picked up one of those valuable rifles; it was still cocked, and as I had not learned to handle fire arms I was afraid of it, and you can imagine how I looked when taking it to the house.

That night some of our badly wounded men were brought to the house, and we had plenty to do caring for them.  Some of us sat up all night with them. It was dreadful to see them suffering so!  Sudley church, a few hundred yards from us, used as a temporary hospital, was filled with the dead and dying, and they were scattered all about.

A few days later, when things were quiet again, we went back home, went near the Bull Run Bridge and not far from the Henry House. We walked over that part of the battle field, stood on the ground where Bee and Bartow fell, and saw the bullet holes in the old Henry House.  The elderly woman who lived in this house was sick in bed during the battle and was wounded. Dead horses were lying thick around the house, and we could see blue coats sticking out of the shallow graves, while bones and skulls lying about made a horrible sight. I saw enough of the horrors of war to last me.

* Confederate Veteran, Vol. 29 (1921), p. 410-411.





The Bensons of Sudley Church

1 03 2011

An edited version of this story ran in the April 2011 issue of Civil War Times.  I’m running it here with additional photos with permission of the publisher.  It is titled as it appears in the magazine.

Repaying a Debt of Compassion

Ruins of Christian Hill

Ruins of Christian Hill

Today a pile of rubble, hard by the cut of the still unfinished Manassas Gap Railroad and across the road from the impressive bulk of the Sudley Church, is all that marks the site of what tradition holds was the home of Amos Benson and his wife Margaret.  Precisely when the Bensons occupied the house is not clear, but by most accounts it was to the modest dwelling known appropriately as “Christian Hill” that John L. Rice, erstwhile private of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry, made his way on horseback from Washington, DC in October, 1886.  He had a debt to pay.  How he had incurred that debt and how he went about paying it is the stuff of legend, a story of compassion and reconciliation.

Amos Benson

The pre-war history of the Bensons is sketchy.  Amos was born in September, 1825, in Maryland;  Margaret Newman was born in May of 1821 and grew up in the vicinity of Sudley Springs.  The two were married sometime prior to 1850.  Census records and maps indicate that at the time of the Battle of First Bull Run the Bensons were living east of Bull Run in Fairfax County.  In March of 1862, Amos would leave Margaret to go to war with Company A of the 4th Virginia Cavalry, a unit whose roster was thick with names from the area.  He eventually rose to the rank of third corporal.

On Sunday morning, July 21, 1861, members of the congregation to which Amos and Margaret belonged made their way along roads and trails to the Sudley Methodist Church along the Sudley Road south of the fords over Bull and Catharpin Runs.  They were no doubt startled to encounter columns of soldiers marching down the main road.  The worshippers had run headlong into the advance of Union General Irvin McDowell’s army as it moved to turn the forces of Confederate generals P. G. T. Beauregard and Joseph E. Johnston from their positions along Bull Run.

John Rice

At the head of that column was Colonel Ambrose Burnside’s brigade of Col. David Hunter’s division, which included Rice’s 2nd NH.  Despite initial success in the morning, later in the afternoon McDowell’s forces were driven back from the Confederate position near the Henry house.  Prior to the retreat Rice was wounded, shot through the lungs by a musket ball.  His fellows carried him towards the rear and Sudley Church where Union surgeons had set up shop, but with the enemy closing in and Rice apparently dead, they laid him in under a fence and made good their escape.  Two days later, Rice recovered consciousness, still under the fence where his comrades had left him.  His wound had putrefied and become infested with maggots.

Later that evening, as they were making their way back to their home from Sudley Church where they had been assisting with the care of wounded Union soldiers, the Benson’s found Rice in his dire state.  Amos went back to the church and returned with a Confederate surgeon.  The exhausted doctor dismissed Rice as a hopeless case and returned to his duties, but the Bensons were determined.  Margaret brought some food from their home and Amos stripped and washed Rice and cleaned out his wound.  He was too seriously injured to move, so for ten days the Benson’s clothed, fed, and cared for Rice under the fence, until he was well enough to move to a freight car in Manassas for treatment and eventual imprisonment in Richmond.

Rice was later exchanged and re-enlisted to serve again in the war, becoming an officer.  But even twenty-five years later he had not forgotten the Bensons and the debt he felt he owed.  In 1886 while on a trip to the nation’s capital he determined to revisit the site of his near-death experience.  He made inquiries in the area and found the Bensons.  They took him to the place where they had nursed him and visited the battlefield.  Rice learned of Amos’s service in the war and was surprised to realize that he had doubtless faced his benefactor on the battlefield.

Rice of course thanked the Bensons for their kindness and attention in his time of need, and they modestly said they were simply “obeying the dictates of humanity”.  Rice persisted in his efforts to find some way to repay the Bensons, and Amos hit upon a solution:

Rebuilt Sudley Church

“If you want to do that you can help us poor people here pay for our little church yonder.  We owe $200 on it yet, which in this poor country is a heavy burden.”

Rice determined then to not only contribute, but to return to his home in Massachusetts and raise the entire sum of the debt remaining on the rebuilt Sudley Church, which had been destroyed during the war.  On November 24, he told story of his wounding, the kindness of the Bensons, and the plight of the congregation in the pages of Springfield’s “The Republican”:

“I do not know what creed is taught in that church, but it cannot be wrong in any essential of Christian faith when it bears such fruit as I have described…There must be still living many Massachusetts soldiers who can bear testimony with me to the timely aid rendered by those people when so many of our wounded were left uncared for on that disastrous field.”

By November 28, Rice had received $235 from seventy-nine people, including twenty-seven veterans.  The donations ranged from $0.50 to $20.00.  In describing the religious and political backgrounds of the contributors to the Bensons, Rice quoted Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

“Saxon and Norman and Dane are we,
But all of us Danes in welcome of thee”

And in a letter of thanks to Rice, Amos said the value of the act was more than financial.  In fact, it had “converted” the previously un-reconstructed Margaret.  John Rice’s debt to the Bensons was repaid.

Amos Benson Headstone

Margaret Benson Headstone

A history of the Sudley Church states that once the war ended Amos and Margaret moved to Warrenton, and in the early 1880′s had come back to the area of the Springs and were living in a house located 1/8 mile south of Sudley Church and owned by Reverend Henry Cushing – probably Christian Hill.  Margaret died in 1898, and Amos followed her in 1901.  They are buried together very near the southern door of the modern Sudley Church.  The shared marker says of Amos: “He was a good man and full of faith”; of Margaret: “She was a child of God, lived a happy life and died in peace.”

As is often the case, there are some parts of the story of what happened after Rice’s wounding that are in doubt. See John Hennessy’s post here.





Elizabeth Blair Lee

14 11 2010

 The author of this letter in the Resources section, Elizabeth Blair Lee (left, 1818-1906) was the daughter of Francis  Preston Blair, middle sister of Montgomery and Frank Blair, and wife of Union naval officer Samuel Phillips (Phil) Lee (right, 1812-1897).  These portraits were done by noted artist Thomas Sully.

Elizabeth wrote to her husband nearly every day while he was away on duty.  Phil would rise to the temporary rank of rear-admiral during the war, and attain that level permanently again after the war.

Elizabeth and Phil lend their name to the combined Blair-Lee house across the street from the White House - it currently houses visiting heads of state.  The left half of the house was first a wedding gift from Blair Sr. to his daughter and son-in-law.  I wrote a little bit about the Blairs and the house here and here.

You can read a more detailed biography of Elizabeth here.








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 775 other followers