Preview – Croon (Ed), “The War Outside My Window”

17 04 2018

9781611213881This is a little different for Bull Runnings. The good folks at Savas Beatie sent me a digital, advance unedited galley of a unique diary, The War Outside My Window: The Civil War Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham, edited by Janet Elizabeth Croon. The story of this diary, which I’ll describe below, has been bouncing around for quite some time – here’s a WaPo article from 2012.

I’ve read snippets of LeRoy’s diary, and enough of other online sources which you can find yourself to get a good idea of his back story (note this is a preview, not a review.) Here’s the gist – he was a very bright, well-read, and articulate young man, living in Macon, GA. He suffered from a disease resulting from a severe injury to his leg – when the diary opens, he’s already an invalid and would need to be pulled about in a wagon of sorts. Unlike the reader LeRoy was of course unaware that his condition was mortal, and he would barely outlive the war that understandably occupied so much of his thoughts. Our knowledge of his impending doom makes his daily writings, spanning the whole conflict and very much of and in the moment, all the more poignant in their innocence, ignorance, and wit. You’ll feel for the kid.

Here’s young Gresham’s entry for July 22, 1861, with the early news of the fighting at Manassas:

Macon July 22 1861: Another great battle at Manassas! Sherman’s Battery taken! Terrible Slaughter on both sides! The enemy retired from the field. The Fight commenced 4 oclock this morning and continued until about seven. The battle raged with terrible force and a heavy loss on both sides. There has evidently been a signal Victory at Bulls Run. President Davis’ message is out. It is not only well written, but beautiful in contrast to the boorish effort of Doctor Lincoln, Chief magistrate of United States. Raining very slightly before breakfast this morning. Sad news Gen. F. S. Bartow is killed. Macon Gaurds in the fight. President Davis commanded in person; Beauregarde + Johnson’s army both engaged 40 000 to 70 000 on a side. Beauregarde’s horse shot from under him. It will be sometime before we can get the truth of it. Dressed my back this morning and its healing though very slowly. General Wise has also gained a signal Victory in western Virginia, killing 150 federals and losing few of his men. Julia Ann is up and about again. Very heavy shower this afternoon. Uncle John, Deo Volente [God willing], leaves for Athens tomorrow. Father comes home but there are no more reliable dispatches. The battles undoubtedly sends a thrill of Anguish to many an anxious heart in the newborn Confederacy. Ave Maria Jose [goodbye].

Undoubtedly, some will latch on to the undeniable fact that LeRoy was a youth of privilege and wealth, a member of a slaveholding family with personal servants, and may argue that these are the most important, or even the only, aspects of his life with which we should concern ourselves, to the exclusion of all others. To the contrary, young Gresham’s story and personal observations give great insight into the mind of someone raised in the reality of the times, and should provide a tool for historians to interpret those times in context as opposed to retrospect. I mean, that’s their job, after all. It’s not everyone’s job. But it is that of the historian.

It’s hard to tell you what you’ll get with the final product. Of course you get the diary and detailed annotations in bottom of page footnotes; illustrations including a few of actual diary pages with what we refer to today as “metadata” (doodling, sweat stains, etc.); Hal Jesperson maps; extensive dramatis personae; and appendices related to LeRoy’s medical condition. A lot of detective work went into this.

I am perhaps dying ebook[7587][Dennis Rasbach, MD, has written an e-book (not yet available), I Am Perhaps Dying: The Diary of LeRoy Wiley Gresham and the Medical Backstory of his Private Battle with Tuberculosis During the Civil War. Keep on the lookout for that.]

The War Outside My Window is scheduled to drop in June, with national coverage and a feature in the Sunday Parade magazine. Advance orders or signed copies are being taken at the Savas Beatie site linked above. I think this will be an important work, and well worth your time.





Gettysburg’s Jacob Weikert Farm

20 02 2018

[A shortened version of this article ran in the February, 2011 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated. I wrote about it back then here. In that post you can see some photos of the farm and farmhouse.]

Medical staffs of the Fifth Corps, Army of the Potomac descended on the farm of Jacob Weikert on the Taneytown Road south of the town of Gettysburg like a twister on July 2, 1863. Elements of the corps were fighting just to the west of the farm, which bordered on Little Round Top in that direction. By the time the last wounded soldier was evacuated to other treatment facilities, or buried on the premises, somewhere between 750 and 950 had been treated on the farm, including some Confederates. Weikert’s family sacrificed much in material goods and performed vital services during this time, but they are possibly best remembered for a story frequently used to illustrate the greed and selfishness of the local civilian population.

Jacob Weikert (b. 1797), a carpenter by trade, married Sarah Ikes (b. 1805), in 1824: their union produced thirteen children between 1825 and 1849. In 1840 Jacob acquired a farm of 190 acres with a large, L-shaped two-story house of nearly 2,200 square feet, for a total purchase price of $3,973.16. The dwelling was situated hard-by the Taneytown Road, sturdily built with stone walls nearly two feet thick. By 1863 Jacob had sold off several tracts of land leaving him with 115 acres, on which he grew wheat, oats, corn, and timber.

At the time of the battle, two minor children, Rebecca (Beckie) and David, as well as an adult son and his family lived with Jacob and Sarah Weikert. Another daughter, Henrietta (Hettie), had married in 1855 and lived in town, where she and her husband George Schriver operated a saloon and bowling alley in their home on Baltimore Street. At the time of the battle, George was serving with Cole’s Maryland Cavalry (he would die in Andersonville prison in 1864).

About noon on July 1st, as fighting raged to the northwest, Hettie Schriver determined that with her husband away, it would be best to take her two children to the relative safety of her parents’ home to the south. She invited her neighbor’s daughter, fifteen year-old Matilda (Tillie) Pierce, to accompany her, and Mrs. Pierce “readily consented”. It is through Tillie’s memoir “At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle” that we know much of what occurred at the Weikert farm in the following days.

After a harrowing journey, upon arrival at the Weikert house Tillie immediately took up the task of carrying water from the spring on the north side of the house to the passing columns of Federal soldiers. She and others repeated this maneuver until the spring was dry – they then drew water from the pump on the south side of the house until nightfall put an end to the operation.

July 2nd saw the arrival of the medical staffs. Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Clinton Wagner had selected the Weikert farm as the hospital for the 5th Corps’ 2nd Division that afternoon. Dr. John Shaw Billings was first to arrive, finding the place deserted but with a fire blazing, dough mixed and pans ready for bread baking. Dr. Cyrus Bacon “ransacked” the house for operating tables and linens for dressings, including a “neatly worked ladies chemise” that he surrendered to one of the women of the house, but not before she provided something to take its place. Ambulances and medical supplies arrived and all was put in order as casualties began to pour in.

That same morning Tillie picked up where she had left off the evening before, carrying water to soldiers moving on the Taneytown Rd. One of the men she served that day was none other than General Meade. The Weikert women spent the afternoon baking bread. Soldiers were being struck down where they stood on the west side of the house. Artillery fire began to pick up, and the family evacuated the house for a brief time, only to return upon reaching their destination, determining it was more dangerous there. This was probably the period during which Dr. Billings arrived.

Casualties arrived at the hospital all during the day and night at an alarming rate, while the surgeons busily operated in and around the house. Limbs amputated in the improvised operating room in the southeast corner of the ground floor of the house were deposited out the south window. Later that day, the mortally wounded Brigadier General Stephen Weed was brought into the house and placed in a room in the basement. He would die there before morning. The bodies of Col. Patrick O’Rorke and Lt. Charles Hazlett were also reportedly brought to the house and laid on the porch on the evening of the 2nd. The Weikert’s cooked bread and soup and served the medical staff and wounded until late in the evening.

Early on July 3rd, in anticipation of renewed action nearby the hospital was relocated further east toward the Baltimore Pike, and the evacuation of the wounded commenced. The transfer was reportedly complete by that evening. The family had left the farm that morning for the area of Two Taverns, returning again in the late afternoon to scenes of carnage. Wounded filled the house, barn, and carriage house. Amputated limbs sat in piles. For days after, soldiers too seriously injured to be moved to the relocated hospital were treated at the farm.

Tillie Pierce returned to her home in Gettysburg on July 7. She left the Weikert farm in a distressed state, linens and clothing torn up for bandages, furniture and kitchenware broken up, walls and floors bloodstained, crops and fence rails used up.

Jacob Weikert, despite what Tillie Pierce describes as the significant hardships suffered and humanitarian efforts made by his family during those trying times, is perhaps best known as a villain. In a tale used to illustrate what has been called by one historian “the greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness of many of the citizens who lived in the vicinity of the battlefield”, Lt. Ziba Graham of the 16th Michigan claimed that on July 3rd:

“On my way back to rejoin the regiment I called at a large house for a drink of water; I saw that the well crank had been removed. I turned to a rebel captain who was lying on the grass and asked him if he knew where it had gone to; he said that but a few moments before the owner of the house had taken it off, declaring he was not going to have his well pumped dry by rebel soldiers, and that they wasted the water. This captain begged that I might get it again. There were some fifty rebel wounded in the yard, besides a few of our own men. The surgeons who had been with them, and who had partly gone around in their first examination, had cleared out and left them on the commencement of the firing, and with the fever of their gunshot wounds they were thirsting for water. I went into the house, found this man, a mean Dutchman, buried in the bosom of his family, and his family buried in the bowels of the cellar, they having taken safe refuge from the hail of iron which was bursting in every direction. I ordered him to give up the well crank. He first refused. Just at that time a shell struck his chimney, and the noise and rattle of the falling brick nearly frightened him to death. I threatened to shoot him if he did not give me the crank; this brought it out of its hiding place back of the stairway. I went out, watered the boys, put two of the least wounded in charge of it and then left, receiving the thanks of all.”

We know from Tillie Pierce that the Weikert’s had been more than generous with their water in the preceding days; that in fact their spring had been drained by thirsty soldiers. And we know from the owners of the house today that the well, now used as a supplemental water source, is nearly dry by the Fourth of July – while the overall water level in the well may certainly have depleted in the intervening 147 years, the relative annual levels are likely similar. Assuming Graham’s story is not apocryphal, was Weikert’s removal of the pump crank an act of “greed, selfishness, and hard-heartedness” or a practical act of survival in the coming days for his family and for any remaining Union casualties on his property?

Sarah Weikert died in 1877. Jacob followed her in 1878, suffering a stroke in an apple orchard near the house. Jacob made three claims to the War Department for damages incurred in 1863, including the use of his house and carriage house, damages to the house and bedding, hay, wheat, oats, corn, rails, timber, damages to the land and stone walls, clothing, and furniture. The three claims were for $186, $1,277, and $2,756. Some of the same items were listed on each claim. In the end, he received a total of $45 in payment for the loss of three tons of hay.

Today the Weikert farm sits outside NPS boundaries and is a private residence. While an antique store is operated out of the barn, please respect the privacy of the homeowners.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Weikert farm owners Gerry and Beth Hoffmann, the staff of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and to the Adams County Historical Society for their assistance in the preparation of this article.

Sources:





S. A., Personal Secretary to Secretary of the Senate, On Washington After the Battle

21 01 2018

Very Interesting Letters from Washington — Description of the Scene after the Battle of Bull Run.

———-

[We have been favored with the following copy of a highly interesting and descriptive letter from the private Secretary of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate, relative to the scenes which occurred at Washington during and after the battle at Bull Run. The letter was addressed to a personal friend of the writer, in a neighboring town, who has kindly placed it at our service. It will be read with deep interest. – Editor Am]

“Do you see, dear friend, where I am? Bodily here in my room, writing, near midnight, at the same little table. Mentally, trying to keep abreast of the grandest movement the world ever saw. The moral progress the Nation has made in the last six months is amazing.

Day before yesterday the Senate passed a bill setting free all slaves whom the rebels may use in any way for the furtherance of the war. On the 1st of January last the man would have been deemed crazy who should have said the Senate would pass such a bill in six years, even.

God is working in ways we never have dreamed of. I find no time here to read much but the papers – the new Atlantic is just out, and I must manage to edge that in somehow. My duty at the Senate commences at 9 o’clock and ends at 4. My dinner hour is 4 ½ — my breakfast hour is 8. I have but two meals daily.

What shall I tell you about the sad disaster of Sunday. You will get a history of it from the papers. The movement was unquestionably made before Gen. Scott was fully ready. Why, is one of the questions no one can answer. The day was also unquestionably ours up to about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. Our force in the battle was not over 25,000 men; yet though the rebels had the advantage of nearly double our number of men, added to that of an entrenched and strongly fortified position, we drove them from the field and won the day. Just in the moment of victory that strange panic sprung up and we lost all. It was utterly causeless –- no one can account for it. Our loss of artillery is not over twenty pieces. We saved nearly all of our army wagons and baggage. We threw away considerable ammunition, and some guns. Our loss of life is as yet impossible to tell. Each day reduces the general supposition, for men are constantly coming in. Tonight some 2,000 are unaccounted for and set down as killed, wounded and missing. I think 500 of them will yet report at camp – thus putting our killed and wounded at only 1500. I shall not be surprised if it is finally reduced to 1200. So far as we can judge, the loss of the enemy is at least double ours. We took 25 or 30 prisoners who have been brought here, and I judge the enemy did not get many of our men. Better than ours no men ever did on the field of battle.

Wednesday morning. Of course Sunday was a sad day here. Probably 200 people went out to the battle ground. I wanted very much to go, but my room-mate was sick and I did not try to get away. Sunday afternoon I went to service in the House by the chaplain of the Senate. At 6 in the evening I went to vespers in the Catholic Church. By 9 in the evening couriers began to arrive from the field of battle – and they kept coming in every half hour till after midnight. The general tone of the report was good – “severe fighting, but our men were gradually driving the rebels from the field.” Soon after midnight came in a rider who left a 5 o’clock. He brought report that “the day was ours – the firing had about ceased – the enemy was driven back some three miles.” You may be sure there was excitement. I us up town so cannot speak more in detail. Then everybody, generally, went home to sleep and pleasant dreams. The news of the disaster did not reach here till 2 o’clock. It was too awful, and no one placed the least credence, in the report. Half an hour more, and more messengers came in. Soon the panic stricken civilians and officers began to arrive. A newspaper reported tore up the avenue for the telegraph office – his horse badly wounded and gory with blood. Then soon came another who reported having a man shot from behind him on his own horse. The few people about the hotels were thunder-struck. At a quarter before 3 somebody called beneath my window. I recognized the voice as that of Col. Forney, Secretary of the Senate. Getting out of bed I went to the window when he struck me dumb with these words: “I am just in from Bull Run. We have been defeated. Our army is all retreating. We have lost nearly everything. Our killed and wounded are counted by the thousand. Some apprehensions are felt at the War Department that the city may be stormed before morning. Our men fought nobly, but it was of no use. They are awfully cut up. Col. Cameron is killed. Col. Burnside is wounded. Col. Hunter, is also wounded – his lower jaw is shot away – I have just left him. Our army is all in retreat in the most disordered manner.” Three hours before, I went to sleep with news of victory. What a tale to tell a man just roused from sound sleep! There was Col. Young, who rooms next door – it was his voice, and it was him. He was not wild or incoherent – he spoke calmly, but could it be true? Was I awake? O God, was it not all a fantasy of the brain! Before I could collect my senses – Col. Forney had passed into his room. There I stood with head stretched out the window. I remember looking to see if there was not a glare in the sky – it might be the enemy’s guns were already at work. By this time we were all awake – my room-mate and the gentlemen in the other rooms. The family were also astir. I could not speak – I lay down. But spoke my chum, “Sid, are we awake?” Surely, it was terrible. Presently he said, “It is awful!” repeating the three words every moment or two for sometime. First I thought of the ten-thousand homes in which there would be mourning on the morrow for the chosen one of the household. The great wail of wo swept over me like a thick tempest. Then came the full voice crying, “Vengeance!” and my thoughts sprung to the long line of a hundred thousand new men ready to die for Liberty and Law. But before one of them could get here the cannon would probably be upon us. Thousands of men must arm here to defend the city, to fight to the death if need be.

Was I ready? I am sure I did not hesitate an instant. I only considered, am I ready? Have I my business matters in such condition that a stranger could settle them? Is there any wrong I ought to repair before I go to another world – any farewell I must say? There were farewells to say, but I could say them in the moment of starting for the trenches. I lay and though. I did not see anything that required attention. I am sure I thanked God then that the hour had come when I was really wanted in the world – all these years of my life seemed to have been nurturing me just to carry a gun and use it nobly in the trenches and die for Humanity. Not doubting the full truth of all Col. Forney had said, in an hour I had given myself away. You had not friend – my mother had no son – my sister had no brother. My use and my life were passed over to the great cause, and I had no more concern for myself. God would deal with me as he pleased – in the end all would be well. I hope I may be as true when the real emergency does come, as I was that morning lying upon my bed. Resolving to get up and go down town as soon as I could well see, I turned over and went into a doze. I woke up to find myself saying aloud: I have fought the good fight, I kept the faith.” It was a quarter of 6 when I started up the street – just commencing to rain. Early as it was, the avenue was full of people – as many on the sidewalk as there usually are at 10 in the afternoon. By this time a few of the runaway soldiers were arriving. Each soiled, begrimed, red eyed man was instantly surrounded and made to tell his story. In the length of a square there were often a dozen of these grouped around some here. I didn’t care to hear details – the grand fact of a terrible defeat and of a probable attack upon the city was all I cared for. Having settled the case in my mind I was curious to see how the people felt. I stirred my blood strangely to hear a calm-faced man say, after hearing the story, “I have a wife and four little children – I am going home to put my house in order – I will be back in two hours – put my name down if men are wanted.” There was a hero, though fame may never catch his name. Scores of men would not believe the report of defeat – “it was impossible; these soldiers were deserters, cowards who deserved to be shot.” Here and there traitors appeared – their chuckle marked them. The stern faces of the loyal men promised harsh use of any man who spoke treason. One great man swore out roundly he was glad the government army was routed. In an instant a slight built private of the Massachusetts Sixth, stepped in front of him, and he lay sprawling on the sidewalk. It was done so quick I could hardly see it, but I know the blow was a neat one. The traitor got up and slunk away – the crowd clapped the soldier on the back and said, “Bully!” Good for you.”

At the hotel, men were getting up who had heard nothing of the disaster. First came into their faces a look of incredulous amazement – then every man’s face took on that look of stern determination to never yield. In some faces I saw as plainly as if the house-door had been open before me, all the home circle – wife and children, high hopes, desires, plans, promise of future years, and coming pride and joy. There was a look backward toward these, as it were, but in every eye was that calm decision which boded no good for an enemy who dare attack the city. On old man who appeared to be over sixty, heard the tale and said: “I have two sons in the Rhode Island First, I suppose they are both dead – I know what they were made of – I’m stout enough to handle a gun yet.” A few cowards there were – men ho had urgent business in Ohio or New York or somewhere else. Loyal men would not stay to hear their excuses. Every man was restless; there was not much talking. “Did you know Jim Harris?” said a man to one of the Michigan First. “Yes,” was the answer, he was shot dead.” Not a muscle quivered – “Where?” “In Front.” “That’s right, he was my son.” Before such heroism how mean I felt! I was ashamed of myself. I ought to have been in the field – my body might have stopped the ball which killed the son of such a father.

I am sure I came home to breakfast a better man than I was when I went away.

After breakfast we all went up street. It was the same scene. Every where knots of men around soldiers – the dreary rain pouring down – here a man standing out alone and solemnly and reverently calling God’s vengeance on the rebel fiends who came on the battle field, and bayonetted our wounded – there soldier friends rushing together, each having supposed the other dead – now a choleric old man swearing at himself for being so stiff with rheumatism that he could not march in a rank – elsewhere middle aged men shaking hands with each other, and saying almost gladly, “Now our time has come!” A beardless boy exclaiming, “I shall take Jack’s place in the 71st,” – an old man of seventy chiding one a few years younger for yielding to the fear of panic on the battle field – a coal-black negro touching his hat to me and asking, “Please, mass’sr, d’ye think we darkies can have a chance to fight dis yer day?” = one man swearing at the Tribune for urging on a battle before we were ready – another swearing at Patterson for letting Johnson escape him in the Harper’s Ferry neighborhood – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the faint chuckle of some traitor – the quick word “You are not wanted here, go away or you’ll get hurt” – in nearly every eye that strange light that never before was, which spoke in the same instant of home and friends, and consecration to the Stars and Stripes to the death. At ten I was at my post in the Senate. We could not work – we did only so much as we must. The wildest rumors were running about till near the middle of the afternoon. Every man kept an eye on Arlington Heights across the river if so be he might see the smoke of battle – crowds of soldiers poured into the city – reports of dead and wounded grew upon us – all waited in uneasy expectancy for the roar of cannon. The House was cast down and dispirited – the rain poured down faster and faster – everywhere except in the Senate was gloom – Trumbull of Illinois, Wilson of Massachusetts, Ten Eyck of New Jersey, each spoke a few nervous words in favor of the bill before mentioned, in relation to slaves – Charles Sumner’s responsive “aye!” when his name was called had the ring of an organ in it –old Ben Wade’s answer was as sharp as a sword – and when the vote was announced – “32 for, to 6 against” – the heats of the people in the galleries began to rise. Directly the bugle was heard and past the Capitol wound Sherman’s battery, which everybody supposed lost, only four men missing, and not a gun harmed. Bless me! How the people rushed out in the rain, swinging their hats and cheered! From that time things began to improve. Fact began to take the place of wild rumor – we began to comprehend and understand the great disaster. So the day wore away – rain and darkness everywhere, no booming of cannon, supposed dead men reporting themselves alive, fragments of regiments clustered in all parts of the city, everybody going to look after friends, private houses on every street opening to receive weary and hungry soldiers, stranger men giving soiled privates half dollars with which to get warm dinners. Five o’clock came and we went up town again. Straight to the quarters of the Michigan 2d, and found my friend Lester unhurt. My college mate, his is now assistant surgeon.

It was a long time before I could find a man of Company “F.” of the Minnesota First; there were not many of them left. At length, “Do you know anything of your First Lieutenant?” Dead.” That was all, then; so went down a rare nature, generous, chivalric, earnest. I saw him here and shook a “good bye” with him when the regiment crossed to Virginia, then days before the battle. His last words wot me were: “You now I’ve always been a Democrat, but I’m in for the war; I never can die in a better cause.” * *

War came home to me that evening as I moved about among the boys of Company “F.” I felt very much humiliated – they all seemed brothers to me, whom I had in some way wronged. Ah me that I could have given them twenty dollars instead of five so that they might all have put away their poor army ration, and had such a good warm meal!

* * * S.A.

Chenango American, 8/22/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

John W. Forney bio

More information on the identity of S. A. will update this post as it becomes available





Wilmer McLean – The Rest of the Story

15 10 2016

fig62We all know how it went. Wilmer McLean owned a farm (Yorkshire Plantation) near Manassas that P. G. T. Beauregard used for his headquarters prior to and during the First Battle of Bull Run. We know that a projectile from a Union cannon struck his chimney, and that it ruined a dinner cooking in the fireplace. We know from Bory’s report that Wilmer helped out the Confederate forces as a guide. We know that later on Wilmer relocated to Appomattox Court House, and that his residence was used for the proceedings of the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia in April, 1865. But here are a couple of tidbits I learned, or perhaps was reminded of, in Arwen Bicknell’s Justice and Vengeance: Scandal, Honor, and Murder in 1872 Virginia, which I’m currently reading. Things like why he moved to Appomattox in the first place, and what he did and where he went after the surrender. Since she spent good time writing them, I’ll let her words speak for themselves, with my own emphasis:

McLean, who was too old to fight, made a nice living during the war as a sugar broker supplying the Confederate States Army, and moved his operations Appomattox County, partly because his commercial activities were centered mostly in Southern Virginia and partly to protect his family from a repetition of their combat experience…In 1869, bankruptcy forced the family back to the farm in Manassas, during which time he served as justice of the peace. He secured a job under [President Ulysses S.] Grant working as a tax collector in 1873 and moved his family to Alexandria, transferring to the U. S. Bureau of Customs in 1876 …

A little less romantic than the story of a poor farmer’s failure to avoid the war and being ultimately ruined by it with which many are familiar. But that’s often the case with beloved tales.

The author cites Biography of Wilmer McLean, May 3, 1814 – June 5, 1882, by Frank P. Cauble.

 

 





A. R., CSA Citizen, On the Battle

9 07 2015

Interesting Letter.

We are indebted to the kind courtesy of Governor Letcher for the opportunity of laying the following before our readers. It is an aged gentleman’s account of that glorious victory which is still thrilling the hearts of the aged and the young, and which spreads noble joy over our whole Commonwealth, from the mansion of our Governor to the humblest cabin in the most lonely mountain gorge; and over the whole vast extent of our beloved Confederacy:

Fauquier County, Virginia,

Recotortown, July 25, 1861.

To his Excellency, John Letcher, Gov. of Va.,

Dear Sir – Being an eye-witness to the battle fought at the Stone Bridge, on Bull Run, on the 21st inst. and the battle fought on the same day on Bull Run at the old battle ground, believing it may be interesting to you to get a history of these battles who has known all the ground fought over for the last 50 years, this, together with a rough diagram of the fields of battle, I enclose to you.

The favorable position I occupied during the day with a spy glass, enabled me to see the beginning and end of that day’s fighting. The firing at the old battle ground commenced at 20 minutes after 7 o’clock. A brisk cannonading was kept up until the battle commenced at the Stone Bridge, which lasted until 5 o’clock in the evening, at which time I saw the enemy in full retreat at double-quick time, closely pursued by our forces, the artillery, and cavalry – the artillery pouring their deadly fires into the ranks a every favorable opportunity, and the cavalry charging upon them and mowing them down like a scythe in the grass. In this retreat the enemy for about 3 1/2 miles was miserably slaughtered. The object no doubt of the enemy in opening their batteries at the old battle ground, was to draw our forces to this point. Gen. Beauregard took but little notice of this firing, but in a few minutes after the first fire at this point our forces were in full march for the Stone Bridge. We had only a small force at the ford on Bull Run, where the first battle was fought, but they were well fortified, and these batteries, at the distance they were from our forces, did us no injury during the day. What was the number of their forces at this point, we were unable to judge, because they were concealed in a woods immediately in the rear of their batteries (See diagram.) [Diagram not included.] At about five o’clock, and about the time the enemy made their retreat at the Stone Bridge, a reinforcement of about 10,000 hove in sight, which had, as I understand, been stationed at the Union Mill, to prevent their crossing a ford on Bull Run, near this point. They were travelling in double-quick time, as I supposed; they were aiming to cut off the enemy’s retreat from the Stone Bridge to Centreville. They were too late to effect that object, but not too late to attack and defeat the enemy at the old battle ground. But little has been said of this battle, because of its small importance when compared with the battle at the Stone Bridge. The distance from Camp Pickens to the Stone Bridge is 5 miles. The main battle did not commence at the Stone Bridge, but at least two miles west of it. The enemy, in large force, had moved up Bull Run in the direction of Sudley, and near that point crossed over an marched towards Dogan’s. – The high ground and woods between the Stone Bridge and Dogan’s, concealed them from our view. Dogan’s is on a high ridge, which continues until you get near the Stone Bridge. Near Dogan’s is where the enemy rushed from the woods and made their attack on the left wing of our army in such force that I cannot compare them in numbers to any thing else that a pigeon roost in a forest, when the pigeons are either coming in or going out. Our left wing in numbers could not have numbered one to ten of the enemy. Here our brave heroes sustained their position for one hour, repulsing the enemy whenever they attempted to extend their line to flank them. At this point was our greatest loss. As soon as our reinforcements came to the relief of our noble band, we soon repulsed the enemy. – They soon rallied and a more dearly fire kept up than tongue can express or imagination conceive. The enemy took a firm stand, and well did they maintain it for two hours. At this warmly contested stand the firing of the small arms reminded me of a long train of cars passing speedily over a bridge. I could not conceive how a single man could escape the fire. The enemy could not stand it, and again we repulsed them; but they soon rallied and made a desperate effort. We then gave way, but soon rallied, and the fight seemed to be still more desperate than before, and each party seemed as though it was death or victory on both sides. This state of things continued for two hours or more. Then the enemy gave way. Again they soon rallied and came into the fight as they had before, determined to die or be victorious. They stood the deadly fire of our noble and heroic and brave boys, led on and cheered on by our noble and brave Beauregard and Johnson, who were seen during the day in the thickest of the fight. The Yankees stood this hot and incessant fire until five o’clock, when they took their final leave of us in double-quick time, closely pursued by our artillery and cavalry, for a distance of between three and a half or four miles, to Cub Run. At Cub Run there is a high bridge to cross, and here the cavalry made a desperate charge upon them, capturing the last piece of their cannon, fifty horses and forty wagons, with a number of other valuables. Besides the killing and taking of prisoners, we have taken in cannon in sixty-three pieces, in small arms an immense quantity. – The precise number will never be known, as the country people around in every direction have well supplied themselves with arms to defend their homes, which they were very deficient in before this battle, for arms for the home guard. Now it seems that God, in His kind providence, has provided us with all the material comforts and arms for our defence. – Yes, on the Sabbath of the 21st instant, we received a refreshing shower of blessing; yet it had some hail mixed with it, which cut down many noble sons of the South. In clothing, arm, ammunition and war materials, we are abundantly supplied for the present. I have now closed my observations on the occurrences of the 21st instant. That night we returned to our camp, our bosoms filled to overflowing with joy at the result of the day. We knew that night we had driven the Yankees to Centreville, yet we were restless that night to know what would be the action on to-morrow. On the next day, early in the morning, I found the whole army marching in the direction of Centreville. The army was headed by the cavalry, they followed by the artillery, then the volunteers. Before the last of the volunteers had left camp I saw t first of the volunteers that I had passed returning. All were anxious to know the cause of this move. I was then at the Quartermaster’s department. An officer rode up in great haste, and said they had received a dispatch at headquarters informing them that the Yankees had fled from Centreville, and they had crossed over to Washington. Then all our force, except the cavalry and artillery, were ordered back. – They passed on to Fairfax Court House.

It was, or ought to have been, very pleasing to all Southerners to witness the cheerfulness of the soldiers in their line of march on Monday Morning for Centreville. It was raining incessantly, as it had been all the morning; the road which they were travelling, was about shoe-deep in mud, yet they looked cheerful, and seemed anxious to pursue the enemy. I must mention, while the volunteers were passing, I discovered in the ranks my old and esteemed friend Philip Pitman[*], of Shenandoah, who has been a member of both branches of the Virginia Legislature, and is still a member. He is about 60 years of age; his head as white as snow. He seemed happy and contented, as if he was on a deer hunt, which sport he very much enjoys. If all the Southern boys were made of such material as Philip Pitman the Yankee boys would not stand up long before us.

A. R.

Richmond Enquirer, 8/5/1861

Clipping Image

Contributed by John Hennessy

*Philip Pitman was a member of Co. F, 10th VA Infantry. He would be discharged for old age and return to the Virginia Legislature. See here.





On the Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place

21 04 2015

This article ran in my Collateral Damage column in Civil War Times back in December, 2010, as Bennett Place, Where the War Really Ended. Click on the thumbnails for larger images I recorded over the years.

———————————-

Original road trace

Original road trace

The knock came unexpectedly at just about noon that sunny spring day, April 17, 1865. James Bennett and his wife, Nancy, opened the door to their modest three-room, two-story home and were greeted by Union Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, along with their staffs and escorts, several hundred soldiers in all. Johnston thought the farm which he had passed earlier looked like an appropriate place for them to sit down and talk and Sherman had deferred to his judgment. The Bennetts left their guests and repaired to their detached kitchen, leaving the two men in possession of the main room, which was described as “scrupulously neat, the floors scrubbed to a milky whiteness, the bed in one room very neatly made up, and the few articles of furniture in the room arranged with neatness and taste”. What followed was the first of three meetings between the army group commanders; three meetings that would end – after no little drama – with the surrender on April 26th of nearly 90,000 Confederate soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

353James Bennett (he would change the spelling from “Bennitt” after 1860: to avoid confusion the later spelling will be used here) was born in Chatham County, NC on July 11, 1806. In the 1820s he moved to Orange County, and on May 23, 1834 he married Nancy Leigh Pearson. The union produced three children: son Lorenzo in 1832, daughter Eliza Ann in 1834, and son Alphonzo in 1836. After years of struggling financially, in 1846 James was finally able to borrow $400 and purchase a 325 acre farm with an existing cabin along the Hillsboro Road outside Durham, NC, in eastern Orange County. They added siding to the cabin, and by 1854 James was able to pay off the loan, later selling 133 acres for $250.

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

James had several sources of income. He did some contract hauling; sold food, liquor and lodging to travelers on the Hillsboro Road; and made and sold shoes and clothing. But the family’s primary business was agriculture, and they grew corn which they both consumed and sold. The Bennett farm also produced cantaloupe, watermelon, oats, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Bennett owned no slaves, but hired helpers, including slaves, when he was able.

The war was hard on the Bennetts. Lorenzo, who had enlisted in the 27th NC, fell sick and died in a Winchester, VA army hospital in October 1862. Alfonso died that same year, though it isn’t clear if he died in military service. In August 1864 Eliza’s husband Robert Duke – a brother of Washington Duke for whom Duke University is named – of the 46th NC died of illness in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. Soon after, Eliza returned to live at Bennett Place with her and Robert’s son, James.

Interior of reconstructed farm house

Interior of reconstructed farm house

When the “Terms of a Military Convention” were signed by Sherman and Johnston on April 26th, James Bennett was invited to join the generals and their staffs in a celebratory toast. Afterwards, a Union private offered to purchase the table cover on which the agreement had been signed, but Bennett refused. One reporter wrote that relic hunters were so thorough that there would soon be little left to indicate where the house stood.

Two days later, a detail from Kilpatrick’s cavalry division arrived and made Bennett an offer of $10 and a horse for the signing table and cover, with the caveat that they were under orders to take them if he declined the offer. Not surprisingly, he accepted, but despite turning over the table the payment never materialized. In 1870, after learning that the table had subsequently sold for $3,000, Bennett wrote to the governor of North Carolina seeking compensation for it and other items taken from his home, but to no effect. In 1873 he filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission, but was denied restitution because he had supported the Confederacy.

While his land was spared the ravages of fighting, after the war the productivity of Bennett’s farm dropped off significantly. By 1875 sales of various parcels of his land left him with 175 acres, all of which he sharecropped out in early 1876. James Bennett died in 1879, followed not long after by his wife. By 1889 Eliza’s daughter Roberta Shields was the sole owner of the farm: she sold 35 acres including the house to Brodie L. Duke, a black-sheep son of Washington Duke, in 1890.

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

By the early 1900’s the farm was reported as deserted, the house in a state of severe 359disrepair. A protective structure was erected around the house in the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century. Richmond businessman Samuel T. Morgan purchased 31 acres and the house around 1908, but he died in 1920 before anything was done to preserve the structure. In 1921, the Surrender site burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. All that remained was the stone chimney.

"Unity"

“Unity”

In 1923 a 3 ½ acre plot including the Surrender site and a new monument (Unity) was donated to a non-profit organization, The Bennett Place Memorial Commission, by the Morgan family in return for its promise to maintain the site in perpetuity. But while small improvements were made in the first decade, the site was relatively unvisited for more than 20 years. In 1961, Bennett Place became an official NC State Historic Site. The reconstructed house, kitchen, smokehouse and split rail fence lining the historic Hillsboro Road trace were dedicated, and Bennett Place’s life as a public historic landmark began. Today the site also includes a visitor center with theater, museum, and gift shop, the Everett-Thissen Research Library, and a bandstand.

358357DCP_0040DCP_0039

——————————————————————————————-

Thanks to Tonia Smith for her assistance in the preparation of this article. See Arthur C. Menius, James Bennitt: Portrait of an Antebellum Yeoman in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1981 and the same author, The Bennett Place, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, July 1979





Thornberry House

21 11 2014

This past Saturday I paid a visit to Manassas National Battlefield Park. One of the spots we hit was the north end of the park, the area of the Thornberry House and Sudley Church. The Thornberry children were used by photographers Barnard and Gibson in many of their March 1862 photos of the battlefield, and the house was used as a hospital in both battles of Manassas. It was near this house that Sullivan Ballou’s body was buried and subsequently dug up, mutilated, and burned (see here, here, and here.) Laura Thornberry later recorded her recollections of the battle. And here are some images of the house and surroundings I recorded earlier. Below are the images from Saturday, November 15, 2014. Click for much larger images.

Interpretive Marker

Interpretive Marker

House from west

House from west

House from south

House from south

Looking south down Sudley Road trace, west of Thornberry house

Looking south down Sudley Road trace, west of Thornberry house

Thornberry House 1862

Thornberry House 1862