Advance To The Rapidan

September 16th - October 9th, 1863

Part 2:  Advance to Pony Mountain & The Stringfellow Family

General Meade & Staff, September, 1863

General Meade & Staff Officers, Wallach House, Culpeper Courthouse, VA, September, 1863.

Table of Contents

What's On This Page

 This period of the war in the Eastern Theatre  is largely ignored, but there was a lot of activity happening.  This section, “On the Rapidan”  is part high-command drama, part cavalry action, and part local history, with just enough ‘13th Mass”  thrown in to tie it all together.  Sources from the regiment are scarce for this period, so I have enhanced them with stories from the 16th Maine, the 39th Mass, and the 9th NY Militia; some of the other regiments of their brigade.

After explaining the drama in Washington it begins with the army's advance into Culpeper County.  Funny stories from the 16th Maine brighten the march.  The regiment camped for a week around Pony Mountain.  Here, a new voice from the ranks is added to the history of the 13th MA –– the diary entries and comments of Private Charles, "Calvin"  H.  Conant, Company G.

A special section was added to summarize the military career of Sergeant Joseph Kelley, Company D, who died at Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C., September 18, 1863.  Anecdotes of Kelley's impressive soldiering, come from the Journal of Sam Webster.

A brief synopsis of another cavalry reconnaissance intrudes upon the narrative once again, because my G-G-Grandfather was there.  The little known Battle of Jack’s Shop, or Buford’s Reconnaissance into Madison County, is only outlined in the simplest terms, with very basic sources here, (for time considerations), but I hope to explore it further in the future.

More drama ensues when General Halleck and President Lincoln decide to send the 11th & 12th Corps to Tennessee.  Just when General Meade had formulated a plan of action, his plan was thwarted by the loss of troops.  Meade ordered General Newton down to the river on September 24th, to relieve the 12th Corps and take its place.

For the next week, camp is changed several times in the flat, low marshy region, –– to find a dryer spot.  Chief of 1st Corps Artillery Charles Wainwright elaborates on that subject.

Commentary on the new recruits is ever-present, and the comment surfaces, “If those fellows are trusted on picket, the army will soon be in hell.”  The history of the 83rd NY explains more.

This page ends with an unusual look at the local population, in particular the prominent Stringfellow family that occupied three plantations between Raccoon and Morton’s Fords along the Rapidan.  This distinguished family of the Old Dominion had influence far and wide, (for good or bad), throughout our country’s early history.  In all cases they were acting on strong convictions which they believed right.  The reader will meet Reverend Thornton Stringfellow and his 18 year old great-niece Lizzie ––And then, accompany her on a date.

This  page and the next are eclectic, but in my opinion they are also lyrical.  If the reader goes slow and immerses him or herself in each moment, they may experience a deeper understanding of the American Civil War in mid-stride.

PICTURE CREDITS:  All  images are from the Library of Congress Digital Collections with the following exceptions.   View to Pony Mountain by Clark B. Hall; Captain William Cary, Sam Whitney from the Army Heritage Education Center at Carlisle, PA;  Charles Horne, from Mr. Steven Heinstrom;  Picture of the Stone House on Manassas Battlefield by Larry West ], 2017 at the 155th Anniversary of the battle; Map of the Battle of Jack's Shop from the Piedmont Environmental Council; Sketch of the Devil by Albert Hurter from the book, "He Drew As He Pleased," accessed via the Internet;  The Awkward Squad by Walton Tabor from Century Publication's Battles and Leaders of the Civil War;  Portrait of Rev. Thornton Stringfellow was found at the Findagrave website; Bel Air from Historic Culpeper Bicentennial Edition, Culpeper Historical Society 1976; Portrait of James H. Kidd from his book, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman, by J.H. Kidd, Sentinel Printing Company, Iona MI, 1908, accessed at the web archive; Portraits of Robert & Eliza Stringfellow, and Lizzie Stringfellow, from,  The Life of Horace Stringfellow With Some Instances in the Life and Work of His Decendants, by Lizzie Stringfellow Watkins, Paragon press; Montgomery, AL, 1931, accessed at the web archive; Images of Retreat Farm and Cemetery from Cricket Solar Phase 1A Cultural Resources Assessment of the 1242 Acre Cricket Hill Project Area, Culpeper County, by Dutton & Associates, LLC, David Dutton, Principal Investigator, Hope Smith, Project Architect, August, 2018;   The panoramic views and other photographs of contemporary Culeper Madison & Orange Counties,were taken by the author.    ALL IMAGES have been EDITED in PHOTOSHOP.

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Abraham Lincoln, November, 1863The Big Picture

Strategically nothing had changed in the east after Gettysburg.  It was a period of tension between President Lincoln who wanted Lee’s army crushed, and General Meade who didn’t want to attempt any campaign with a small chance of success with his weakened army.

Its worth taking another look at the military situation of the opposing armies along the Rappahannock river during the six weeks prior to General Meade’s advance into Culpeper county on September 13th.

The Gettysburg campaign had taken a heavy toll on General Robert E. Lee’s army.  He needed some time to recuperate.  News of the Confederate loss at Vicksburg and the Union occupation of the Mississippi Valley didn’t brighten prospects for the Confederacy either.  Immediately after the battle morale was low, and desertions increased.   Food and clothing were low in quantity and quality, and so where the number of horses needed for wagons, cavalry and artillery.  The high casualties sparked anti-war sentiment in North Carolina.  Both the army and the commanding General needed some rest. Back in Culepeper on  August 1st, General Lee telegraphed Jeff Davis, "I shall not fight a battle north of the Rapidan, but will endeavor to concentrate everything behind it.  It would be well to snd all reinforcements in Richmond to Orange Court-House."*

Jefferson Davis suggested General Lee re-position his army south of the Rapidan, which was more easily defended than Culpeper County.  On August 2nd Lee started pulling back.  Lee explained to his adjutant General, "I could find no field in CUlpeper offering advantages for battle, and any taken could be so easily avoided should the enemy wish to reach the sourth bank of the Rapidan, that I thought it advisable to retire at once to that bank."**  If General Meade followed Lee into Culpeper, he would have to extend his supply lines.   Confederate raiders would have more opportunity to disrupt them, which is what happened.  General Lee set up his headquarters at Orange.  He issued furloughs to reduce desertions.

Plagued by the failure of the ambitious Gettysburg campaign which he had lobbied for, and concerned about his failing health General Lee wrote Jefferson Davis on August 8, and suggested he be replaced by someone more capable.  Davis replied on August 10, there was no one who could replace General Lee.

The two went to work to restore the battered army of Northern Virginia.

General Meade had his own problems.  Though he won a brilliant victory at Gettysburg he lost 3 Corps commanders.  John Reynolds of the 1st Corps was killed, Winfield Scott Hancock of the 2nd Corps had a debilitating wound from which it would take time to recover, and Dan Sickles for better or worse, was out of combat with the loss of a leg.  The performance of General Meade’s replacement officers, John Newton, G. K. Warren, and William H. French remained untested at the corps command level.  And, like General Lee, Meade lost many experienced leaders at the brigade level.  Men and animals were likewise suffering from the fatigues of the Gettysburg campaign.  General Halleck informed General Meade no horses were available and, to take what he could find in the field.  “Every possible effort has been made to send remounts to your cavalry but the destruction of horses is enormous.”   The hot weather in early August didn’t help matters.  It was too hot to do much at all.

Artist Edwin Forbes sketched the idyllic scene below of Union  Pickets at Beverly Ford on the Rapphannock, September 9, 1863.

Union Pickets at Beverly Ford Sept. 9, 1863 sketched by Edwin Forbes

Halleck wanted Meade to establish a strong defensive line north of the Rappahannock river.

There from late July through August, the Army of the Potomac, re-grouped, rested the animals,  and awaited re-enforcements of newly drafted conscripts. The draft had resumed August 19, following the bloody New York Draft Riots in early July.  These new men swelled the regimental ranks, but many of them were troublesome at best. And, they all needed training.

For 6 weeks, both sides kept careful watch on the enemy.  General Meade relied heavily on his cavalry to picket the Rappahannock river from Orleans to Fredericksburg.  The responsibility was especially hard on that branch of the service.   Aug 21 Meade wrote Halleck:

“The necessity of employing my cavalry on both flanks and watching my rear, at such distances from depots and supples, causes the service to be as hard upon this branch of the army as when in active operations.  I have therefore to hope that every effort will be continued, as I know heretofore has been exerted, to keep my cavalry up to the maximum standard.” [Meade to Halleck, Aug. 21; O.R. vol. 29, part 2,  p. 83.]

When the advance finally came in mid-September, cavalry again cleared the way, as seen on the previous page.

As stated the loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi Valley was demoralizing to the Confederates.  In Tennessee Braxton Bragg’s army continued losing ground to General Rosecrans aggressive advance.   This was the more immediate and urgent crisis for Jefferson Davis to address.   He contemplated sending General Lee west, but decided Virginia couldn’t spare him.  Instead he decided to detach General Lee’s foremost army corps to bolster Bragg’s numbers.  On Sept 9, General James Longstreet’s 1st corps was ordered to Tennessee.  Union prisoners, at Belle Island in Richmond noticed the troop trains headed south and commented on them.  John Bowdwin, 13th Mass., Company A, who was a prisoner there at this time, observed on September 11:

“large trains of troops going out all night.  also this morning 2 large trains went out loaded.”

When the cavalry reconnaissance of September 13-15 confirmed that General Longstreet's corps had departed Lee's army,  President Lincoln urged General Meade to attack his weakened opponent as soon as possible, and thus determine his condition.  General Halleck was more cautious, as always, and equivocated whether or not it was advisable to attack. “No rash movements can be ventured,” he wrote to Meade on September 15.  In truth, Halleck was also more concerned and focused on events in Tennessee.

What should General Meade do ?   To confound matters, General Meade knew he was laboring under the notion that President Lincoln was dissatisfied with his leadership after Lee’s army escaped from Maryland during the Gettysburg campaign, and during the subsequent pursuit.  Under these influences General Meade, aware of his army’s weakness, advanced into Culpeper County on September 16.

        * From the book, Remembering: A History of Orange County Virginia, by Frank S. Walker, Jr., Orange County Historical   Society, Orange, VA, 2004;         p. 150.  Citation:  Dowdey/Manarin, Eds., Wartime Papers,zzzz p. 566.
        ** Same; p. 150-151;  Citation:   Pfanz, A Soldier's Life, p. 330.

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On The Move Again

After the cavalry cleared the way to the Rapidan, General Meade advanced the Army of the Potomac across the Rappahannock river into Culpeper County Virginia.  The First Corps marched from Rappahannock Station and took up its first position at the eastern base of Pony Mountain.


General Meade's Letter to His Wife

General Meade confides to his wife Margaret, his thoughts on the current state of affairs.

Headquarters Army of the Potomac,  September 16, 1863.

...The enemy seem disposed to keep quiet the other side of the Rapidan, and to let me hold the country between that river and the Rappahannock, which I took from them on Sunday, including Culpepper Court House.  I have now got as far as Pope was last year when he fought the battle of Cedar Mountain.  I trust I will have better luck than he had.  I am now waiting to know what they in Washington want done.  Lee has certainly sent away a third of his army, but he has enough left to bother me in advancing, and though I have no doubt I can make him fall back, yet my force is insufficient to take advantage of his retiring, as I could not follow him to the fortifications of Richmond with the small army I have.

At the time Mr. Covode was here, he was accompanied by a Judge Carter, of Ohio, recently appointed Chief Judge of the new court created in the District of Columbia by the last Congress.  These gentlemen spent the night with me, and I had a long talk on national affairs, and I saw what I was before pretty well convinced of, that there was not only little prospect of any adjustment of our civil war, but apparently no idea of how it was to be carried on.  The draft is confessedly a failure.  Instead of three hundred thousand men, it will not produce over twenty-five thousand, and they mostly worthless.  There is no volunteering, and this time next year the whole of this army of veterans goes out of service, and no visible source of resupply. And yet no one seems to realize this estate of affairs, but talks of going to war with England, France, and the rest of the world, as if our power was illimitable.  Well, Heaven will doubtless in good time bring all things right.

Halleck Prevaricates, Lincoln Communicates

When General Meade requested guidance from Washington, this is what General-in-Chief Henry Halleck said:

Washington, D.C., September 15, 1863.

Major-General MeadeArmy of the Potomac:

General-in-Chief Henry Halleck

General:  After preparing my telegram to you this morning, I received a note from the President, of which I send you a copy.  I do not understand this note as materially differing from my dispatch.  The main objects are to threaten Lee’s position, to ascertain more certainly the actual condition of affairs in his army, and, if possible, to cut off some portion of it by a sudden raid, if that be practicable.  And especially every effort should me made to ascertain if any considerable forces have gone by the Valley Railroad toward East Tennessee.  This is exceedingly important in regard to General Burnside’s operations. His forces are ordered some days ago to move toward Chattanooga to co-operate with Rosecrans against Johnston and Bragg.      This will leave East Tennessee comparatively open on the Virginia side.  Railroad communication, however, has been entirely destroyed to near Abingdon.  The great danger, however, is that Bragg may attempt to turn Rosecrans’s right and cut off his communication on the Tennessee River.  It was to enable Rosecrans to strengthen his right that Burnside was ordered to move on Chattanooga.  Hurlbut and Sherman were also ordered to concentrate all their available forces at Tuscumbia, or in that vicinity, to co-operate with Rosecrans.  This exhausts all the available forces we have in the west on the east side of the Mississippi River.  Banks and Steele are operating in Louisiana and Arkansas, and no troops can be withdrawn from them without breaking up their expeditions.

You will see from this statement that I have done all in my power to meet the contingency of the probable re-enforcement of Bragg by a part of Lee’s army.  The enemy probably fear an attack on Atlanta, or seek to crush Rosecrans and recover East Tennessee.

In regard to your own army, you are aware that it will be impossible at present in any contingency to give you any considerable re-enforcements.  No rash movements can, therefore, be ventured.  Nevertheless, if Lee’s force has been very considerably reduced, something may be done to weaken him or force him still farther back.  Moreover, all the country this side of the Rapidan can be stripped of supplies, to support our army and to prevent their falling into the hands of the enemy if he should again advance.   All provisions and forage not required for the immediate support of non-combatants should be taken.

The enemy probably saw that if you and Rosecrans could hold your present position till Grant and Banks cleaned out the States west of the Mississippi, the fate of the rebellion would be sealed.  His policy undoubtedly was to concentrate all his available forces against you or Rosecrans.  All the information I could gather until within the last few days indicated that you would be attacked.  It would now seem that Rosecrans and Burnside will be made to receive the shock.

I think, for obvious reasons, that this letter should be immediately destroyed.  You can at any time obtain a copy from the archives here.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,                  
H. W. HALLECK,               

President Lincoln was a little less vague.


Executive Mansion,
Washington, September 15, 1863.

Major-General Halleck:

If I did not misunderstand General Meade’s last dispatch, he posts you on facts as well as he can, and desired your views and those of the Government as to what he shall do.  My opinion is that he should move upon Lee at once in manner of general attack, leaving to developments whether he will make it a real attack.  I think this would develop Lee’s real condition and purposes better than the cavalry alone can do.  Of course, my opinion is not to control you and General Meade.

    Yours, truly,                                                         A.  LINCOLN.

General Meade Orders the Advance

Circular.]                                               Headquarters Army of the Potomac,   
September 15, 1863 –– 11.25 p.m.

To all Corps and Independent Commanders:

The following movements of troops are ordered, and will take place to-morrow, the 16th instant, and will commence punctually at 5 a.m.:

Twelfth Corps, to Stevensburg.
        First Corps, midway between Stevensburg and Culpeper Court-House.
        Second Corps, Culpeper.
        Fifth Corps, in rear of Culpeper.
        Third Corps, midway between Culpeper and Stone-House Mountain.
        Sixth Corps, at Stone-House Mountain.
        Eleventh Corps will be distributed to guard the bridges at Rappahannock crossing, Catlett’s          and Bristoe.
        The depots at Bealeton, Warrenton, and Warrenton Junction will be broken up, and all                 supplies drawn from Culpeper Court-House, where a depot will be established.
        The Artillery Reserve will move forward and take position in the vicinity of the Fifth Corps.
        The cavalry will picket the front and guard the flanks of the army.
        Headquarters will be at Culpeper Court-House or vicinity.

By command of Major-General Meade:

S. WILLIAMS,        
Assistant Adjutant-General.


Charles E. Davis, Jr.  from “Three Years in the Army:”

Charles Reed illustration of grinning mule and horse

Wednesday, September 16:    A general alarm was sounded at 3 A.M., whereupon we crossed the Rappahannock River, and marched by way of Brandy Station and Stevensburg to Mountain Creek, at the foot of Pony Mountain, near Culpeper, a distance of twelve miles.

An order was received to-day that “until further orders, five days’ bread and small rations, including salt, will be carried by troops in their knapsacks, in addition to the subsistence stores they are required under existing instruction stop take in their haversacks.”

How the mules must have grinned at that order !

[Illustration by Charles Reed].


The boys of the 13th Mass., liked to use Colonel P. Stearns Davis of the 39th MA as a foil, and nicknamed him "Bowells."  Young Sam Webster of the 13th MA didn't have a favorable opinion of the 39th, when he was keeping his war-time  diaries, but the regimental history of the 39th is a good one, and it speaks favorably of the 13th.   Some excerpts are included on this page, including the following description of this march.

Map, March of Robinson's Division, Sept. 16, 1863

The following is from the History of the 39th MA titled "The Thirty-Ninth Massachusetts Regiment; 1862 - 1865"; by Alfred S. Row, Worcester, Mass., 1914.

Constant activity across the river, the passing of many heavily loaded trains and their return with loads of prisoners and wounded Union soldiers indicated the rapid pushing of things in that direction, and the inevitable advance of the remaining portions of the Federal force.

Early in the morning of the 16th came the expected order to be ready to march at 5 a.m.  Everything was in readiness, but the start was not made until 7 o’clock and then the regiment and the entire First Corps again crossed the Rappahannock by means of pontoon bridges and advanced towards Culpeper.

A considerable part of the way was over an excellent road, though the rations, extra supplies of cartridges and the recently filled knapsacks made the way a hard one.  Recent experience of cold nights had taught the men the necessity of retaining their extra apparel but, if some of the unnecessary ammunition were thrown away, it was because the men soon learned that large quantities of cartridges are entirely too burdensome.  Though the distance marched was only twelve miles it seemed very much longer, leading by Brandy Station, a name in a few months to become almost a household word both North and South, and in general along the line of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.  While the Second and Sixth Corps had advanced to the Rapidan, the First Corps was held in reserve, some three miles east of Culpeper.

View to Pony Mountain from Stevensburg area

The View to Pony Mountain from Jonas Run, north of  Stevensburg.  Photo by Clark B. Hall


Please check your modern sensibilities, before proceeding...

The following is from “The Sixteenth Maine Regiment in the War of the Rebellion”;  by Abner Small, Portland, Me., Published for the regimental association by B. Thurston & Company, 1886. 

Sept. 17:    Camp duties resumed.  While encamped here, a sergeant of Company K, and friend of his, of the Ninety-fourth New York, happened to be in a negro shanty, conversing with the wench in charge, when an orderly, attached to General Robinson’s headquarters, came in with a large and choice roast of beef, which he gave the negress, with the remark, “General Robinson desires you to have this nicely roasted by two o’clock this afternoon.”  With many courtsies, the wench replied, “I’ll done gone cook it right up, massa,” and the orderly departed with his saber dangling at his heels.

The sergeant and his companion listened to the conversation with much interest, and immediately left the shanty for camp.Rising Sun Stove Soap Illustration  “What a bully joke it would be on the general, if we should steal that roast,” said the sergeant.  The other laughed, and swore he would have it for a late dinner, or burst in the attempt.  So, after reaching camp, he borrowed his lieutenant’s saber, with the avowed intention of cleaning it, but he buckled it on, and, about half-past one, strode into the wench’s presence, and demanded, “Is General Robinson’s beef done?”

“Lor’ bress you, massa, I’se just hooked it out de oben;  here t’is,” and she presented to the delighted soldier a beautiful loin of beef, cooked to a turn.  His mouth watered, but having no time to lose, he gave her a twenty-five cent scrip, thanked her in the general’s name, and left the house in quick time.

Soon after, the real orderly came into the shanty, and demanded, as his counterfeit had done, “Is the general’s beef done?”

The negress looked at him in astonishment, and doubtless thinking him an impostor, gruffly replied, “Course its done cooked, an’ de gineral’s man come an’ got it half hour ago, an’ carried it away wid him.”

“The devil he did!” said the surprised orderly.  “I’m the ‘gineral’s man,’ and if any one has stole that beef you’ll get hell.”

“I tells ye de gineral’s man hissef come an’ took it, and’ dat’s all I knows.”  And this explanation was all she would condescend to make.  The orderly was obliged to retire, and report the loss to the general, who  immediately remarked, “O, the Sixteenth Maine.”


Our regiment bivouacked one night in September, 1863, near an old mansion which stood a short distance south of Brandy Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and which General Robinson, Commanding Division, had chosen as his headquarters for the night.  As usual the mansion was nearly surrounded by negro shanties, some of which Sergeant Dunbar, of Company K, concluded had been used for smoking ham and bacon;  at least his suspicions  were so strong that the building contained these two commodities that, accompanied by a comrade, he resolved upon a critical examination so soon as it became dark enough to pursue his investigations without fear of interruption by the headquarters guard, who occupied the veranda of the mansion and only a rod or two away.

Louis K. Harlow illustration of two soldiers foraging

As soon as it became dark, therefore, Dunbar and his comrade slowly approached the suspicious shanty, and after smelling around to “Make assurances doubly sure” that they were right in their conjectures, they commenced operations by cutting an aperture through the logs and in a comparatively short time it was large enough to admit Dunbar to the interior.  Just at this moment a stranger put in an appearance from around the corner of the building, and upon being roughly seized, announced himself as the “Kernal’s nigger, don’t ye know me?”  and being recognized was released and invited inside by the sergeant.  The invitation was at once accepted, when he was told to feel around overhead until he found a pole, then to mount it and pass down the bacon and hams.  The darky followed the instructions to the letter and all hands were soon busy at work “confiscating the subsistence.”  Dunbar passed the smoked hog to the comrade outside who carried it on a run to his shelter tent, covered it with blankets and retuned for more.  In this way a large quantity was collected in a short time, but in an unlucky moment, the darky dropped a ham which struck a box in its descent, thereby causing a thundering noise and arousing the guards.

Dunbar jumped to the opening and easily escaped, but the unfortunate darky leaped from his perch on high and landed in a barrel of soft soap!   He floundered around in the barrel several moments before he could extract himself from the slippery stuff, muttering to himself in the meantime, “Oh, de Lor!   Oh, De good Lor!”  which the guards, endeavoring to open the door in front, could plainly hear.  When they finally succeeded in opening the door they found the bird had flown. The matter was duly reported to General Robinson in the morning by the planter, who was exceedingly indignant at his loss, and Lieutenant-Colonel Farnham, of our regiment, who happened to be field officer of the day, was ordered to trace up and punish the offenders.

This was not hard to do, for the darky had left a trail of soft soap behind him in the grass which led the surprised officer to his own quarters, where he found his servant sick and lying covered in blankets.  Just what Colonel Farnham reported to the general is unknown, but he probably had ham for breakfast and “Jack” got a reprimand.

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In Camp at Pony Mountain; Sept 16 - 24, 1863

Pictured below are the fields in front of the eastern slope of Mount Pony, or "Pony Mountain" as the "Yankees" called it.  The heights were used as an observation post and signal station by both sides.

View of the Eastern Slope of Pony Mountain

The narrative from the History of the 39th MA continues:

For a little more than a week this was to be the camping place of the Thirty-ninth and with accustomed diligence there speedily followed the regular round of inspections, drills and parades, though there were many and large details for picket duty.  An inspection on the 17th seemed largely for the purpose of ascertaining how generally or otherwise the men had retained the extra ammunition dealt out to them;  Division Commander John C. Robinsonhow successfully delinquents were helped out by those who had retained their heavy loads was long a theme for lengthy dessertions in company circles.  The location of the camp upon a rising knoll made it the sport of the winds and the distance of both wood and water was a special hardship.  Even then, when water was obtained, it was found to be so hard or so impregnated with lime as to be very distasteful to New England men who had been rout up where soft water was quite the vogue.  An indication of a more or less prolonged stay appeared on this, the 17th, when the regimental sutlers put in an appearance and setting up their tents were ready for business.  They were not likely to follow too closely an army in motion.  Also drills and inspections marked the resumption of regular soldier regimen.  The weather was singularly cold for the season of the year; in strolling about the vicinity, it was easy to discover where the enemy had lately camped.

The advent of eight days’ rations on the 22d with an instruction to pack five days’ portion in our knapsacks made us think that some unusual stunt was impending.  A Division-drill signalized the 23rd, General Robinson conducting the same.  The 24th brought the expected change, the regiment marching a few miles down the Rapidan near Raccoon Ford, occupying some portions of the camp held until this morning by the 12th Army Corps,...  ...Of far greater consequence to some of the men in the Thirty-ninth was  the fact that home-boxes just arrived from Washington had to be left behind.

Diary of Calvin H. Conant Company G

Private Calvin H. Conant of Stoneham, Mass.,  had a unique war record.  He was a 20 year old shoemaker upon enlistment in July, 1861.  On August 30, 1862 he was captured at Manassas, and paroled by the enemy following the Union defeat at 2nd Bull Run.  The next three months he spent at home in Massachusetts awaiting word of his official exchange.

He returned to the regiment in the field, the last day of  December 1862, thereby missing the hard marches and horrible battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg.  He was present for General Burnside’s Mud March, and General Hooker’s Chancellorsville Campaign.  He was also present at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he was again captured and made prisoner, July 1st.  Calvin took the offered parole and spent the next six weeks with other comrades at the parole camp in West Chester, PA.  He returned to the regiment at Rappahannock Station August 15th.

Where others suffered terribly and even died during their captivity, Conant twice experienced a respite from war.

His diary excerpts are extremely useful not only for their overall content, but also because he is one of the few voices I have from Company G of Stoneham.  I am grateful to Daniel Stowell and Seth Kaller for sharing the contents with me.  The diary is currently listed for sale at Seth Kaller, Inc.

 Captain William Cary, Co. GLt. Sam WhitneyLt. Charles E. Horne

Pictured are Captain William Cary, Lt. Sam Whitney and Lt. Charles Horne, Company G.

Diary of Calvin Conant:
        Tuesday, September 15:  [At Rappahannock Station]  Sent home $100.00.  Came off Guard at 10 o’clock;   cloudy.  Got Paid off this Morning;  received 4 months Pay up to the 1st of September.  Company G presented Lieut C. E. Horne with a new sword.  He returned his thanks in the shape of 2 quarts of Whiskey,  Lieutenant Whitney also gave us 2 quarts and the boys got gay.  We also received a good ham from Captain Cary.

illustration of 17th century cavaliers carousing

Conant Diary, cont'd:
        Wednesday, September 16:   Reveille at 4 o’clock this morning.  orders to march.  Started at 7 o’clock; went to Brandy Station, 5 miles.  The Rebs near Culpepper.   Marched about 10 miles [Charles Davis says 12miles] went in to Camp about 4 o’clock for the night.

Thursday, September 17:  Reveille at 5 o’clock;  looks like rain;  very foggy;  cleared off hot all day.  Dress parade at night.

Sergeant Charles H. Lang, Company G

Friday, September 18:   Rainy day;  tent leaks like Siv   am in a double one with Lang,  Greene, Bancroft,  McKay.  Cleared off in the afternoon.   Some had a Battalion drill under [Lt-Colonel N. Walter] Batchelder;  dress parades. [NOTE:  The soldiers mentioned as tent-mates are probably Charles H. Lang, (pictured right) age 35, Orne Greene, age 24, Marcus or Thomas Bancroft, ages 21, 23 respectively, and James McKay, age 32. all of Company G.––B.F.]

Saturday, September 19:   Cool but plesant.  Was a camp guard.  The Court martial of 5 of my  Reg. was read on dress parade.  Sentence to be shot next Friday in presence of Division.   [NOTE:  Calvin was on guard at headquarters and did not report on the executions supposed to take place on the 26th. –– B.F.]

Sunday, September 20:   Come off guard;  pleasant but cool.  Inspection was at 9.

Monday, September 21:  Quite warm day.   Battalion drill was consolidated with the 107 P.V. [Pennsylvania Volunteers] drilled by Colonel Batchelder.

Monday, September 22 - Cool day  Company and Battalion drill to day ordered to have 5 days rations on hand besides 3 in the haversack making 8 days in case of a march    our cavalry are reported beyond Gordonsville.  [Buford's Cavalry Reconnaissance, Sept 21 - 23 –– B.F.]

Wednesday September 23 - Pleasant day Company Drill in forenoon Division Drill in the afternoon by [General John C.] Robinson  the Brigades were consolidated to 3 Regiments each   received a letter from Home

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The Death of "Corporal" Joe Kelley, Company D

––A brief time-out to record the death of another 13th MA Soldier.

On October 24th Sam Webster recorded in his journal, “I have omitted mention of Corporal Joe Kelly, left at Rappahannock Station in September.  He died underlined in hospital September 18th of typhoid fever.”

Another soldier of the regiment passed away quietly.   Here is Kelley’s record from the roster of the Regimental History:

Joseph K. Kelley;  age, 20, born, Boothbay, Maine; mason; mustered in as private, Company D, July 28, 1861; mustered out as sergeant; died September 18, 1863 of fever at Armory Hospital, Washington, DC.

In many instances the roster provides the only readily available information on a soldier without some serious searching.  In many instances I regret that I haven’t been able to provide more color to a deceased soldier’s record.  However, because Kelley was in Company D, I found several references to him in previous entries of  Sam’s journal.   So in remembrance of Sergeant Joseph Kelley, here are a few personal incidents in his career as a soldier, as recorded in Sam’s journal at the time they occurred.

When Sam first joined the 13th Mass., at Williamsport, MD, and subsequently enlisted as a drummer in early 1862, he found Company D doing Provost duty at Hagerstown, MD.  His first journal entry, February 22nd, describes his circumstances and several of his chums in the company.  At the end he writes, “I can add that Peck and Kelly prove admirable cooks, though they do hold forth in the back cellar, in the back room of which I occasionally “practice.” underline practice.

During this period of time the various companies discovered that if certain men were good cooks, it was best to leave them at that post and excuse them from duty.  This was better than rotating the post and relying on men with lesser talents in the culinary arts.  The next mention of Joe Kelly is at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, August 30, 1862.

View to the Stone House, from the area of the 13th MA Position

In the utter confusion of the battle, when the regiment was on Chinn Ridge, surrounded on 3 sides by the advancing enemy, their brief stand was shattered.  Here is Sam’s full description of the fight, Kelly is mentioned briefly towards the end.

“Halted at side of road, in a woods between 1/2 and 1 mile south of turnpike, and while resting, Gen. McDowell, with his staff dashed up, from further to the left, and shouted "Fall in! fall in, boys!  We've got them now.  Gen. Porter's in our rear, with 30,000 men! We've got them now," and passed on toward the stone house.   We followed;  turned to our left, midway between edge of the woods and the turnpike, down a hill, then "filed left" again going up a hill, and on "right by file into line," which  brought us into line facing nearly west.

“I had picked up  a gun in the morning, and a cartridge box, and was covering Ike Dana on the left of Co. D., it being the right of the Regiment.  The stone house was now diagonally behind, to the north. We were ordered to kneel down, as a very heavy fire poured into the division in front of us was cutting, and we could do nothing.  Gen. Tower was in command of two brigades owing to sickness and absence of Gen. Hartsuff.  One brigade in front tried to break over us, but we fixed bayonets and kept them up.  Gen. McDowell and staff were right up with us at this time in the thick of the fight.  We were ordered –– the rebels having got a battery posted to rake our line –- to "left flank file left," and then to "front" as soon as the right had cleared the turn.  The left wing dashed forward a hundred yards or so before the right got the order.  Then they went also.  My gun proving not good, I stopped and got that of Harry Holden of Co. A. who was wounded, and lying on the field, and followed them up.

Saw Capt. Whitcomb come back wounded, Lt. Little of Co. D. and a number of others, but where the regiment should be was nothing.  All seemed gone.

Turned and went to the woods which lay on the left –- and where Gen. McDowell had passed us –- and found Kelly, Greenwood and others.  Got beside a small tree, against which I steadied my gun to aim, and fired on the rebels, now only three or four hundred yards distant, and advancing in three lines of apparently a brigade each.  Shot at a color sergeant and missed him.  A skirmisher put a bullet within six inches of my ear, and I changed position to get a shot at him.  Found myself likely to be taken, as but one person was with me, and the rebel skirmish line less than 100 yards off, and so concluded to retreat.’

So Kelley survived the battle of 2nd Bull Run.

Two weeks later, at South Mountain, Kelley captured some prisoners.  Sam wrote,

Summit House - Mountain Tavern, South Mountain

…In front of Mountain Tavern…Joe Kelly captured a couple of woeful looking Johnnies, up in the rocks, who were afraid of being shot.”

Again on September 21, a few days after the battle of Antietam, Sam wrote,

“Joe Kelly has a fine sword given him by a rebel Lieut. he captured.  Joe was on piquet, and advanced with the skirmish line when it was found the rebels were gone.”

So far, Joe Kelly has quite a record.

Mountain Tavern, pictured right.

At the end of the year, when the weather turned cold, and after considerable attrition in the ranks, Joe Kelley became one of Sam’s tent-mates. In what would prove to be an ironic comment, Sam reflected on his past tent-mates.

“Thursday, December 25, 1862.
        Am hard at work on a new house.  Built one and had to tear it up, as the “line” was straightened.  All my messmates seem unfortunate.  Bacon, Reed, Dana, Demerritt, Lyford, one and all, have been “punched” more or less, and are gone. Five of us now have agreed to build together;  Kelly and Tom Prince, Watts and Cushing, and myself.  The cover will be three tents — about 17 feet — long, arranged something like the one at Brooks Station, except that the earth is all thrown out, and beds built of poles and crotches, covered with pine boughs.  Fire plac ; an oven dug into the bank — chimney outside of crossed sticks plastered — draws bully — when it don’t smoke.  The upper part of the sides of tent is made of logs crossed and notched at the ends. Taken altogether it is quite comfortable.  Our Christmas Dinner is half broiled beef and hard bread.”

Prince was wounded in May, 1863, survived and continued with the regiment. John M. Watts not only survived his term with the 13th, but he re-enlisted and mustered out of the 7th MA in 1865.   Seth Cushing would also live to muster out with the 13th in August 1864.

Sam’s tent mates Kelly and Watts had a little adventure together, in late January.  They went down to the Brigade Commissariat with some others on a working party to build ovens for baking bread.  And for Watts at least, the “commissary ‘whisky proved too much for him.”  When they got back to camp,

“…Watts cussed Captain Harlow, fired his gun into the fire, and tumbled into Whitney and Miles’ tent all within a few minutes.”

Louis K. Harlow Illustration of 2 soldiers Foraging

Sam split from his tent-mates when the Spring campaign began - he was ordered to stay with the drum corps which traveled with the ambuiance train.

Joe Kelly is mentioned again on the march north in late June 1863.  Several of the boys went on  a foraging jaunt, a mile or so beyond Middletown, MD.  Sam wrote, “Went out a mile or two to a little village called Beallsville, and got some milk, soft bread, and apple sauce. …Jo Kelly and some more of the fellows got as far as Myersville, a mile further. [They] found a man with a 50 cent sutler’s check he had had put on him for produce while we laid at Antietam last fall.  He gave it to one of them, saying, he “couldn’t pass it nowheres.”

After the Battle of Gettysburg on July 5th, Sam noted “Joe Kelly is acting Orderly Sergeant.  Only seven of us left.”

Kelley has been remarkably fortunate so far in his military career.  He was with the Regiment and survived the battles of Thoroughfare Gap, (in which 2 Company D men were the only regimental casualties); He survived the 2nd Battle of Bull Run; the Battle of South Mountain; the Battle of Antietam; the Battle of Fredericksburg; The Chancellorsville  Campaign, and the Gettysburg Campaign.  It was a different kind of enemy, ––not flying projectiles of metal and lead, that took Kelley’s life.

Having survived all those campaigns, it was back at Rappahannock Station in September that he took sick.  And it was at one of the many hospitals in Washington, D.C. that he died.

I am grateful to have these glimpses, no matter how insignificant, to recap the career of a brave soldier, who might otherwise be forgotten.

Kelly died September 18, 1863 at Armory Hospital.  The next day, September 19, 1863, Sam Webster turned 18 years old.

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Buford & Kilpatrick's Cavalry Reconnaissance

While the 1st Corps  camped along Pony Mountain, General Meade examined the river crossings in his front and on the Confederate Right. The consensus of his officers was that the army could cross at Mortons Ford, but under many disadvantages.   The Ford at Germanna Mills  8 miles down river, would be the best place to cross because the north side of the river had the high ground and controlled the ford.  The other fords were strongly defended.   After assessing the strength of Lee's army on the Confederate Right, General Meade ordered General Pleasonton to send two cavalry divisons with an engineer, into Madison County on the Confederate left, to explore the rivers, roads and crossings on that side of the enemy's line.  This was done September 21 -23.

There was a significant and interesting cavalry engagement during the reconnaissance known locally as the Battle of Jack's Shop.  Again, my G-G-Grandfather, William Henry Forbush accompanied the expedition with the 3rd U.S. Artillery Battery C and was engaged , so I offer this short synopsis of the little known affair.

The view from the road

It would be remiss not to include a photograph of the absolutely beautiful view from the road where much of the action occurred.  This scenery is typical of the reg.

Report on the Confederate Right

Pony Mountain Signal Station,      
  September 20, 1863. –– 6.15 p.m.

Captain Norton: 
            Enemy are intrenching at Morton’s and Stringfellow’s Fords to-day.  No movements seen.

Signal Officer.

    I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L.B. NORTON,          
Captain, and Chief Signal Officer.   

General Meade orders a Reconaissance on the Confederate Left

Headquarters Army of the Potomac,  
September 20, 1863 –– 9.30 p.m.

Commanding Officer Cavalry Corps:

The major-general commanding directs that a reconnaissance be made with two divisions of cavalry, those at Stevensburg, between Robertson’s River and the Rapidan, extending from Madison Court-House on the former, and from Burtonsville at the mouth of the Ballard River on the latter, down to Robertson’s Ford and to Barnett’s Ford.

The object of the reconnaissance is to ascertain the position and force of the enemy between those rivers and along the Rapidan, the number and character of the roads leading to the Rapidan along the extent indicated, and of the character of the fords and of the ground on both sides where those roads cross the Rapidan, and the advantages such points afford for effecting a crossing in the face of the enemy.  It is particularly desirable to learn the character of the south bank of the Rapidan along the road leading to Orange Court-House from Burtonsville, since it is along that road that the army may march, should Orange Court-House be approached from above.  A sufficient force of cavalry should be left to picket the Rapidan from Stringfellow’s Ford to Ely’s Ford, and from the right of General Warren’s pickets near the foot of Cedar Mountain, along the present cavalry picket line.

If you should deem a less force than two divisions sufficient to make the reconnaissance, you are authorized to send a smaller number.  The enemy is reported to have a cavalry force between the two rivers, and some artillery in position at Rochelle, on the pike from Madison Court-House to Orange Court-House.  Major Duane will be directed to send an engineer officer with the expedition, if one can be made available: if one is not sent by him an officer should be detailed from your command to perform engineer duty on the reconnaissance,

Very respectfully &c.,

A.A. HUMPHREYS,             
Major-General, and Chief of Staff.   

P.E.C. Map of Buford's Reconnaissance

This map was created by the Piedmont Environmental Council for their study of the Federal Reconnaissance into Madison County, in September, 1863.  It depicts the many roads traversed by Union & Confederate Cavalry on the first 2 days of the 3 day affair.  Confederate Cavalry Comander J.E.B. Stuart was alert to the Union patrol,  and deployed a force around the village of Rochelle, to confront the Federal scouts.  After taking Madison, General John Buford spread out his force to reconnoiter as many river crossings as possible, and to hold his line of retreat.

On September 22nd Stuart fought Buford's lead column in the area defined by the blue circle.  (See photo below).  Buford sent word to General Kilpatrick to assist, and part of  Kilpatrick's scattered force crossed the Rapidan to the South, at 3 places, to come to Buford's aid.  Stuart was surrounded, and nearly captured, but he managed to skilfully detach part of his troops fighting Buford from one direction, to attack Kilpatrick's inferior force from another direction.  It was a brillian maneuver out of a tight spot.  There is very little source material on the engagement.  Author William Jeffrey Hunt has done an extensive study and his work on the subject is highly recommended.  For my purpose, here are a few of the scant reports on the affair, beginning with General Buford's first dispatch.

The Cavalry Takes Madison Court-House, September 21, 1863

Headquarters First Cavalry Division,     
Madison, September 22, 1863 –– 7.30 a.m.
(received 1.15 p.m.)

General:   My whole command reached this vicinity before sundown yesterday evening without opposition.  Madison Court-house was occupied by about 15 cavalrymen, who fled upon our approach.  General Kilpatrick had the advance, and captured some 8 or 10 prisoners.

The roads passed over by each division were good military roads, with a few mud holes, which can be easily turned.  The pioneer party of a single regiment can repair them as fast as an army can march.  General Kilpatrick is en route to Wolftown, from thence to Burtonsville, then down the Standardsville and Orange Court-House roads, down the river, examining fords, &c., and to recross at Liberty Mills.

My first division is moving down the Gordonsville pike, and will connect at Liberty Mills with General K., and communicate with him between Jack’s Shops and Burtonsville.  My Second Brigade will move down the road to Barnett’s Ford, sending one regiment down the road that runs on south side of Robertson’s River to Locust Dale.  We hope to concentrate to-night, between Robertson’s River and Barnett’s Ford.

It is reported that the rebel cavalry is all between Robertson’s River and the Rapidan.  There is a small force of infantry at Liberty Mills.

I send in two reporters who have accompanied the command, after being notified that they could not be allowed to do so.  Can they not be sent out of the army?  One is Davidson, of the Herald, and the other Paige, of the Tribune.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JNO. BUFORD,      
Brigadier-General of Volunteers.

Major-General Pleasonton.

P. S. –– The people here say Hill’s and Ewell’s corps are at Orange.

Route 231 at Shiflett's Corner - Battle of Jack's Shop

Colonel George H. Chapman's Brigade, (8th IL, 12th IL, 3rd IN, 8th NY) came down this road from Madison Court-House in the lead of Buford's troops headed towards Liberty Mills.  Stuart's scouts atop Lookout Mountain saw the Federal column advancing from Madison, and deployed his troops across the road here.  The fight was a standoff for a while until General Kilpatrick's 2nd NY approached the area from the South. Kilpatrick's assistance came in answer to a courier Buford sent him.  Stuart had to disengage to face this new threat.  (View to the North).

There is a lack of material on this engagement so what happened next is speculation.  But Stuart's force made it  to Liberty Mills, either chased or chasing Kilpatrick.  The next morning Union forces re-united and returned to their lines, their rear-guard closely pursued by Stuart's cavalry. Fighting occured around Beautiful Run Church & Barnett's Ford.  Both sides claimed victory.  Buford successfully gathered the information General Meade needed, and Stuart creditably opposed the expedition and inflicted some casualties on the Federal troopers.

Edwin Forbes sketch of a Cavalryman, date Sept. 26, 1863

Artist Edwin Forbes sketched this cavarlyman September 26, 1863, in Culpeper.

General Buford's 2nd Report, September 23, 1863

Hdqrs. First Cav. Div., Army of the Potamac,      
September 23, 1863 –– 8.30 a.m.

My whole force is concentrated between Providence Church and Barnett’s Ford.  The reconnaissance has been a triumph.  I will return to-day.  A. P. Hill’s corps reported to be just south of Great Run.  I do not believe it, but the authority is so reliable that I must pay attention  to it.  I have sent out scouting parties to ascertain the truth.  I have the Sixth New York and a section of artillery at Locust Dale.

Kilpatrick crossed the Rapidan at Simms’, White’s and another ford 1 1/2 miles above Liberty Mills.  He made a bold attempt to cross back at Liberty Mills, but a large force of infantry and artillery prevented.  He deserves great credit for the enterprise he has displayed.  The whole of Stuart’s division opposed the reconnaissance, yet I am proud to say that he was whipped, his forces dispersed, and the reconnaissance made.

Just as soon as I can make it safe for the engineers to return, I will send them back to report upon the nature of the country and roads.  At Liberty there is a large force of infantry and another at Barnett’s.  At the latter, yesterday, they opened on Devin with eight guns.  I send a dispatch showing that Lee was advised of my movements, and accounts for the serious opposition I met.

General Kilpatrick’s information is, that “there are two corps on the other side, both of which are north of Gordonsille;  Gordonsville was totally unguarded yesterday.”  Our captures are about 100 prisoners and 12 or 15 wagons and a small herd of beef-cattle.  Chapman had the hardest fight, and behaved elegantly.  The enemy’s loss is very severe in killed and wounded.  The casualties in the First Division are trifling.  In the Third I fear it is more severe.  I have just received word that the road is clear to Locust Dale, and will start my command to cross at Robertson’s Ford.


Major-General Pleasonton,
Commanding Cavalry Corps.

Fields near Providence Church

View of the fields near Providence Church.  View Southeast.  The view to Barnett's Ford would be in a more easterly direction.

Boston Transcript Report of the Action

From the Army of the Potomac,  Washington, 24th.   A letter from headquarters of the Army of the Potomac, today, says:  Gen. Buford with a portion of his division, drove the rebel pickets on Tuesday through Madison Court House.  Three miles beyond he encountered a strong force of the enemy’s cavalry.  After a spirited fight he forced them to retreat across the Rapidan at a point where the Gordonsville pike reaches the river.

This action reflects the highest credit on all our troops engaged.  Our casualties were one killed and about twenty wounded.  We took forty-five prisoners. among them Lieut. Col. De Long, of Cobb’s Georgia Legion, Lieut. Bryce and two privates of a North Carolina regiment, who were severely wounded.

The wounded, under care of Dr. A. Hurd, have been properly attended to and sent to the division hospital at Culpepper.  Among our wounded are Lieut. Hines of the 6th New York cavalry, Lieut. G. Wheelock of the 9th Indiana cavalry, R. Mumshall of the 3d Indiana cavalry; Sergeants Dunning, Cummings and Bell, all of the 8th Illinois cavalry, and J. Symonson of the 12th Illinois regiment; B. F. Soder of the 3d Indiana was killed.

Letter of General Meade to his Wife, September 24, 1863.

silly photo of a surprised man

The result of the reconnaissance helped General Meade formulate a plan to advance. But just as he was decided, President Lincoln ordered Meade to detach two Corps, the 11th & 12th, 16,300 men, to send west to assist General Rosecrans who was bottled up in Chattanooga. Once again, General Meade confided to his wife, Margaret.

Headquarters Army of the Potomac, September 24, 1863.

The last time I wrote I told you of my having referred to Washington the question of a further advance.  As I expected, no decisive answer was sent to me, but I was told to act in accordance with my own judgment.  The next thing I was summoned to Washington and informed that the President considered my army too large for a merely defensive one, and proposed to take a portion of it away.  I objected and reasoned against this, and left Washington with the belief that the President was satisfied.

I had just arranged the program for a movement, and was about issuing orders, when orders came from Washington taking troops away.  Of this I do not complain.  The President is the best judge of where the armies can be best employed, and if he chooses to place this army strictly on the defensive, I have no right to object or murmur.  I was in Washington from 11 P.M. Tuesday till 1 P.M. Wednesday; saw no one but the President, Mr. Stanton and General Halleck; was treated very courteously by all.  I told the President and General Halleck that if they thought I was too slow or prudent, to put some one else in my place.  Halleck smiled very significantly, and said he had no doubt I would be rejoiced to be relieved, but there was no such good luck for me.  I cannot very well tell you all that transpired; the intelligence, by no means favorable, had been received from Rosecrans, and it was evident, without any one knowing what exactly might or could be done, that there still existed a feverish anxiety that I should try and do something.  Now that I have been weakened, I presume the country will not be so exigeante.

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The First Corps Relieves the Twelfth Corps on the Rapidan River

Just as Gen. Meade was formulationg  his plans for an advance he received these orders:

Orders from General Halleck

Headquarters of the Army
Washington, September 24, 1863 –– 2.30 a.m.

Major-General Meade,
                Army of the Potomac:

Please answer if you have positively determined to make any immediate movement.  If not, prepare the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps to be sent to Washington, as soon as cars can be sent to you.  The troops should have five days’ cooked provisions.  Cars will probably be there by the morning of the 25th.

H.W. HALLECK,         

General Meade's Response

Major-General Halleck:

I contemplate no immediate movement, though until your telegram the decision was not positive –– awaiting information to be obtained to-day.

The Twelfth Corps is in the front on picket, and could not well be withdrawn and got ready in the time you name.

GEO. G. MEADE,      
Major-General Commanding.

General Halleck's Reply

War Department, Washington,   
September 24, 1863 –– 9.30 a.m.

Major-General Meade,
                Army of the Potomac:

Your telegram of this morning has been shown to the President.  He directs that the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps be immediately prepared to be sent to Washington, as conditionally ordered before.

H. W. HALLECK,      

The orders having been given, General Meade promptly obliged.  He estimated the numbers of the 12th Corps at 10,600 men.  General Howard's 11th Corps strength was 5,700.

General Meade orders General Newton to relieve the Twelfth Corps

Headquarters Army of the Potomac,
September 24, 1863.

Commanding Officer First Corps:

The major-general commanding directs that you move with your corps immediately and relieve the Twelfth Corps, * Major-General Slocum commanding.  It is important that this should be done with the utmost dispatch and that the movement and relief of the Twelfth Corps should be effected without the knowledge of the enemy so far as it is practicable to accomplish it.  The Twelfth Corps pickets the Rapidan from Somerville Ford to Stringfellow’s Ford.  The headquarters and main body of the corps are east of Summerduck River, not far from Raccoon Ford.  An officer is sent or will be sent to guide your corps to the Twelfth Corps.

Very respectfully, &c.,

A.A. Humphreys,         
Major-General, and Chief of Staff.

Charles Wainwright Journal (excerpt)

The journal of Colonel Charles Wainwright, Chief of 1st Corps Artillery, gives detail about the condition of the corps, as well as a glimpse into the topics of interest and affairs at the high command level of the Army of the Potomac.  He writes the following about the move south.

Camp three miles from Raccoon Ford, September 24, Thursday.
       We received sudden orders about 11 o’clock this morning to move to this place.  I have no idea what is up;  but think that there must be some thing in the wind or we should not have been started off without more of a warning.  We broke camp at once & are now again located at the house of one “Smith”;  John Smith’s I believe it is, but rather, there are a host of other homes around here.  In coming the 5 miles to the place we passed on the east side of Poney Mountain:  the country traversed was mostly woods & perfectly flat.   Our present position so near as I can make it out this afternoon commands nothing, is low, wet & very undesirable.  Tomorrow I hope to get around & make myself somewhat acquainted with the lay of the land.  Shall also get a glance at  the Rapidan probably, as we are to picket its banks.

J Smith House Location, Culpeper County

The location of the J. Smith House would have been here on the right side of this road.  View looking east.

I believe that Gen’l Meade has just returned from Washington, & suppose that this move is due to some orders he must have received while there. —  It is said that Buford made a reconoissance yesterday from our extreme right, & captured about 100 prisoners.

Shall try to get up to H’d Qts* again so soon as I can, where I shall learn all about it.  The nights are right cold now;  but the weather is clear so that we have a warm sun, & comparatively dry roads — I passed William’s old reg’t on the road to day;  it has rec’d some 200 Conscripts & looks very respectable;  the Lt Col.  told me that they had but seven officers present.   Most of the troops have received new uniforms which make the army look better than I have ever seen it before.

NOTE:  Meade's Head-quarters were established at the Wallach House near Culpeper Court-house.  Not the head-quarters shown on the map below, which is Division or Corps HQ.

  Map of Marches & Camps;  September 24 - 29, 1863

Map of Marches, Estates & Campsites

When President Lincoln sent the 12th Corps, west the 1st Corps moved down toward the Rapidan River to take their place.  Because the ground was low & marshy, camps were moved every few days to find a better spot to pitch tents.  This map shows the 4 general campsite positions as stated by Colonel Charles Wainwright in his journal.   On September 24th, the 13th MA marched from their camp on the east side of Pony Mountain (#1) to the John Smith house, (#2).  They marched about 2 miles west on the 27th, to what was then a major road intersection at the Colvin/Burke house; site #3.  Wainwright's artillery division moved again on September 29th, to the J. Vaughn home; site #4.  He needed better ground for his heavy equipment.  But I believe the 1st Brigade (13th MA) camped nearer #3a on the map, (an educated guess).  They all wrote that camp was moved about a mile closer to Mitchell's Station on the 29th, and that they camped where the 2nd Mass., had been camped.  But I couldn't find any clues as to the whereabouts of the 2nd MA in their regimental history.   In any case, here they stayed through October 9th, ––unless on picket duty down on the river.

Division head-quarters along the Rapidan was established at Sumerduck House, where the 12th Corps had set up head-quarters.  Sumerduck was owned by Lawrence Stringfellow the newphew of Rev. Thornton Stringfellow.   The church indicated on the map is pictured below.   It is mentioned in Wainwright's text.

The road network and landscape is so changed today, (except along the river where it is relatively unchanged), it is very difficult to re-trace the steps of the brigade, but I've identified a few key locations and taken pictures for this website ––B.F.

Sumerduck Farm

Charles E. Davis, Jr.  from “Three Years in the Army:”

Albert Hurter devil sketch

Thursday, Sept. 24.  At 1 P.M. we started with eight days’ rations, and marched round Pony Mountain to Raccoon Ford, a distance of five miles, and camped on ground vacated by the Twelfth Corps.

The Eleventh and Twelfth Corps were sent to Tennessee.

Friday, Sept. 25.  An order was received to-day that “until further orders conscripts, substitutes, or other new troops will not be detailed for picket duty, and will not be considered on the roster for such.

“While in camp they must be drilled at least four hours daily, and otherwise instructed in their duties.”

To our mind this was a wise order.  As one of the boys pithily remarked when these recruits arrived from Boston, “If those fellows are trusted on picket the army will soon be in hell.”


The newly arrived drafted men, or conscripts, weren't just troublesome to the 13th Massachusetts.   Other regiments in General Robinson’s 2nd Division had similar experiences with the new “recruits.”  On September 16th, Colonel Bates and two other officers of the 12th Massachusetts left the front to go and pick up another allotment of  recruits.  The first batch of 176 that arrived on August 15th, a month earlier, were nearly all gone.  Sixteen deserted in one day.    Friends in the equally proud "9th New York" (83rd New York Volunteer Infantry) had some things to say about the recruits: but first a news item from the Boston Transcript.


September 11, 1863


On Monday night the gunboat Teazer overhauled five deserters from Gen. Meade’s army while attempting to cross the Potomac.  The men had been sent out as substitutes but a few days previous.  The inhabitants on the Maryland shore report that a great number of this class are escaping, some of whom have been known to swim the river on rails and boards the distance of nearly three miles.  The deserters captured on Monday night on the Potomac were sent to the army today for trial by court martial.

Two hundred and thirty-six deserters arrived here last night under guard from New York.

From the history of the 83rd NY (9th NY Militia):
        About this time the conscripts began to disappear rapidly.  How they could make their way — undetected — to the north side of the Potomac is a mystery explainable only by the suppositions that guards and teamsters were bribed to favor the escape.  On the 28th [September] Lieutenant-Colonel Moesch, other officers and Sergeant Bowne, [sp] with a detail for guard, who had been sent to New York for the purpose, arrived with three hundred and sixty-five conscripts.  What a medley !  A number of them could not speak English.  Many of them were French Canadians, and had doubtless been sent on as substitutes for drafted citizens.

Cartoon of Ethnic troops

One of the men in writing home about this time said:

The new men are from all parts of the world.  We have got blustering Englishmen, canny Scotchmen, jolly Irishmen, jabbering Frenchmen, slow and go easy Dutchmen, and a lot of mongrel Canadians.  There is a Chinaman in one company and an Indian in another.  We have also got a lot of countrymen who glory in being called — “Yankees.”   Take them all together they will make good soldiers, if properly handled.”

When it was afterwards learned that among the recruits were criminals, who had been induced to enlist in the army in order to escape incarceration in jail, the old members were justly indignant.  It is a fact  that judges of petty courts gave the convicted prisoners the choice of going to jail or enlisting in the army or navy !  Is it to be wondered at, that when the three years for which the regiment enlisted had expired, the original members refused to reenlist, as a body, in the old regiment ?

The new men kept the non-commissioned officers busy all day long.  Squad drills, with and without arms, were the order of the day, and by dint of much hard work, the new material soon presented a fair appearance on parade.

The 2nd of October was signalized by the execution a member of one of the Pennsylvania regiments, who had been found guilty of sleeping upon his post while on picket duty.  Infliction of the extreme penalty was rare in the army, but occasionally the commanding general found it necessary to make an example of a particularly flagrant case, in order that the men might not think the articles of war a dead letter.  The firing party was taken from Company E of the Twelfth Massachusetts, and the execution witnessed by the whole division.

Diary of Sam Webster, Company D

Excerpts of this diary (HM 48531) are used with permission from The Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

refugee illustration

Thursday, September 24th,   March around to side of Pony Mountain next to the Rapidan, and occupy camp vacated by the 12th Corps, which goes to the left.  Brother Ike sick and carried in an ambulance. [Isaac Lee Webster].

Friday, September 25th,  Was away off in the woods with Charlie Dyer, and found a wagon, and evidence of a runaway, or a refugee, having remained there several days.

Diary of Calvin H. Conant, Company G

Thursday, 24 — Very plesant day Company drill in morning — Marched at noon went where the 12th Corps was encamped and stopped on the same ground about 3 miles from the river Rapidan

Friday, 25 — Pleasent day Company drill and Battalion drill was excused from drill by Captain and sent over to Comisars to get 2 canteens of whiskey   in sted he gave us 1/2 pail

Saturday, 26 — Was all day at Head Quarters   Pleasant day   two drills this day

Walton Tabor illustration titled The Awkward Squad

Illustration titled "The Awkward Squad" by Walton Tabor

Sam Webster Diary, continued:

Sunday, September 27th, 1863.  While washing my clothes received orders.  Marched, through the woods to the front, about two miles.  Camp in a clearing to the left of the road.  A little log cabin is opposite, not so good, scarcely, as some shanties I have made for myself. [Colvin/Burke house vicinity?]

Calvin Conant Diary, continued:

Sunday, 27 — Inspection at 9 o'clock, marched noon about 2 miles down to where the 2d Mass was encamped and stopped.

Monday, 28 — Pleasant day we are still here   we had orders to be under arms caused by the pickets firing down on the river (countermanded) are drawing over Coats   Company drill inspection  noon dress parade   cold.

Pictures of the Road & Fields around the Colvin / Burke House on the Map

The Old Road to Raccoon Ford The old road intersections going off into the woods
The Fields Around Colvin/Burke's House

This picture montage shows the road and fields around the location of the old Colvin / Burke's home site, #3 on the map above.  The top-right picture is the road just north of the split, where the house supposedly stood on the right side.  The view is to the South.   The photo at top-left shows the fork in the road depicted in the map.  The old road beds can be seen continuing south through the trees.  These are the two 'dark spots' in the photo.   Its hard to believe this was the main road to the ford back then.  Thousands of soldiers must have marched down these roads.  One road led down to the church pictured below.  The other led to the west of Retreat Farm.  The panoramic photo shows the fields on the right side of the road, looking west.  Wainwright and his artillery camped here briefly.  I believe the "13th Mass,"  camped a bit farther to the west beyond the trees in the horizon, closer  to Mitchell's Station, as they said.

Letter from Colonel Leonard's Papers

With all the threats about shooting deserters the following letter is of interest.

“GLC 3393 #50  John C. Moore to Colonel Leonard, 29 September 1863. (The Gilder Lehrman Collection.  Not to be reproduced without written permission.)”

Journal Office, Boston,
September 29, 1863

My Dear Col.
        I have got wind of one of the boys belonging  to your regiment — one who I believe was a good soldier.  He was wounded and came home on furlough — overstayed his time — got frightened and Stayed away — deserted you will call it.

He is anxious to get back, and would gladly, as I understand, avail himself of any chance of returning to his regiment that would leave him a liberty to do some more fighting.

His name is Bartlett — a son I believe of Mr. Bartlett who was wont to lead the Brigade Band some years ago, but is now deceased.  Through a friend I have been consulted in this matter.  Can you — and will you — do anything to restore the young man to his country and his duty?  If so please let me Know, and, probably within a fortnight, he will be on hand wherever you may direct him, with the security for his life under military law.  I spoke to Major Rogers about seeing you concerning this subject, attention to which will favor and oblige

Your Most Obedient Servant      
John C. Moore.

NOTE:  The record of Private Darwin Bartlett of Co. D, does not suggest he deserted, so his efforts to re-join the regiment must have succeeded.  Here is his record from the regimental history:  Darwin F. Bartlett; age, 27; born, Boston; whitener and colorer; mustered in as priv., Co. D, July 16, '61; mustered out, Aug. 1, '64; residence, Boston, Mass.

Colonel Charles Wainwright Journal (Excerpt) continued:

Lime Church on Algonquin Road

Sunday; September 27th. —
        We moved our Hd, Qts & the Artillery camp again to day;  not very far, only to a more open & findable spot.  We are now close to a sizable house on the main road from Culpepper to Raccoon Ford put down on some maps as “Colvin's,” on others as “Burke’s;”  We are a mile nearer the ford, & the artillery position on this side of it are more easily got at from here than from Smith’s house.  There is a very large open plain west of this spot across which we can see the rail road, almost down to the Bridges, which is still standing, & is held by the rebels. [Probably Rapidan Station, the view is obstructed by trees today––B.F.] The Corps lays by divisions between us & the river.

On Friday I rode down to our picket line which skirts the woods about half a mile or more from the river.  There is a road runs along the south side of these woods, nearly parallel to the river.  I went along it for a short distance but the pickets said it was not safe to ride further up the river, than the little church which stands at the junction of the Culpeper & Raccoon Ford road & the one along the river.  I could not see the river itself the banks being high on both sides.  The south bank is much higher than ours, its positions very strong, & quite extensively fortified.  Any attempt on our part to cross at this point would be absurd, nor do I think that we shall attempt it at all.  The object of the late move was no doubt merely threatening, to keep Lee from detaching any more troops to strengthen Bragg.

View South from Lime Church

The view South from the church toward the Rapidan River.  Clark's Mountain commands the landscape south of the river.  Generals Lee, Jackson, and Stuart were all atop the mountain at various times in the war because the view there commands the entire region north of the Rapidan River.

The 11th & 12th Corps started from here on Thursday to report to Gen’l Hooker at Cincinnati.  They are to be pushed through by rail as fast as it is possible.  They say that Hooker asked for this Corps & the 3d but Meade would not consent.  I almost wish we had gone for I am heartily sick of Virginia;  & yet I should hardly like to leave the Army of the Potomac:  the very fact of its being so much vilified attaches one to it;  & having been a part of this army now for nearly two years through all its misfortunes one is inclined to hold to it for the bright days which must come sooner or later; especially as the signs are that they will come by next year.

[This entry continues with a long diatribe against the Radical Republicans in Washington, the war, its causes, slavery and the Lincoln Administration.  I have skipped this for the purpose of focusing on the common soldier's daily experiences picketing the river.  Those interested in Wainwright's opinions can find them in Diary of Battle, edited by Allan Nevins. — B. F.

Return to Table of Contents

Welcome to the  Neighborhood -  Prologue

 Boston Evening Transcript
September 30, 1863

The following newspaper report seems to fit in nicely here...

A Southern Matron in a Rage.

The correspondent of the New York Times gives the following description of the railing of a woman he met at Culpepper during the occupation of the place by our army:

This woman is the unfortunate possessor of considerable property, and failing to secure a guard for it in the quarter where such little favors are sometimes extended, she vents her indignation by telling all who came in her way and would listen, how “derned mean” the Yankees were.  Falling into her clutches one day, and hearing her tale of woe, I meekly suggested that she might display the Stars and Stripes, and beneath the folds of that banner her property would not be molested.

Fred Opper cartoon of angry woman

This was the signal for an outburst of furious indignation.  She would never raise the stars and stripes over her property, not she:  Rather die first.  Having raised the ire of a “200-pounder,” and weighing some forty pounds less than that myself, prudence dictated the discretion was the better part of valor, and accordingly I gaze at the creature before me in silence.  Now, this very discretion seemed to annoy her exceedingly, and placing her arms akimboo, she swelled unlike the frog in the gale, and finally, doubtless feeling that the English language was not copious enough to do the subject justice, she exclaimed:

There, sir— there’s my barn yonder; hay all stolen, pigs all killed;  chickens gone boards off — and I can’t get a safeguard from you mean Yankees!”

I was transfixed — puzzled — and said nothing.  Her indignation continuing to rise, she finally screamed out  “I’ll come up with ye — I’ll come up with ye mean Yankees.  I’ll go into the barn loft, and burn the barn, with myself in it !

I still remained silent, and she ended — after taking breath — with the explodent:   “Then where will ye —- Yankees get boards from?

Having nothing to say, and fearing this original she-sesh might burn by spontaneously combustion while on my hands, I left.

Return to Table of Contents

Reverend Thornton Stringfellow & Bel Air Farm

When General Robinson’s 2d Division moved camp toward the Rapidan river to picket the area between Raccoon and Morton Fords, they were entering the neighborhood of the Stringfellow family.  They owned three of the several plantations dotting the neighborhood along Rapidan River.  They are marked on the map above as, Retreat, H.Q., (which is Somerduck Farm) and Belair.  I'd like to present  a brief look at the life and times of Rev. Thornton Stringfellow, and his estate “Bel Air,” then a glimpse of the now vanished “Retreat Farm,” owned by the family of Thornton’s older brother Robert Stringfellow.

Reverend Thornton Stringfellow

Reverend Thornton Stringfellow gained national notoriety as an articulate defender of slavery within Southern society.  He was born to prominent Virginia parents in 1788, the youngest of 10 children.   His father owned about 1,000 acres of land and an unknown number of slaves at the time of his death in 1815, some of which young Thornton inherited.  His mother wished him to pursue higher education and Stringfellow fully intended to enter a university in South Carolina, but his education was interrupted when a “general derangement of his nervous system .. affecting especially his eye-sight, scattered all his mother’s vision with respect to his collegiate training.” 1

His nervous condition would continue to intermittently plague him throughout his life.

Young Thornton remained in South Carolina for several years with hopes of succeeding at commerce.  In 1811 on a visit to his parents, both of whom were Baptist “New Lights,”  Stringfellow experienced an emotional conversion which caused him to remain in Virginia and enter the ministry.  In 1814 he was ordained and soon thereafter assumed responsibility for several congregations in Fauquier County.” 2

Reverend Thornton was one of a class of reformers, plentiful at the time, that believed in a pro-active “moral stewardship” of his congregants.  As God’s steward on Earth,  his role as minister and religious leader, was one in which he actively looked after the spiritual and physical well being of his community.  The most important way to do this was to explain God’s will as discerned through scriptures, and thereby set appropriate standards of righteous behavior for society.  These were the  primary goals of his mission work and the core of his Christian duty.  Religious education was a natural outflow of this philosophy.

Like-minded reformers demonstrated their commitment to the community through the development of Sunday schools, Temperence work, and participation in tract and mission societies. 3

Rev. Thornton’s  concern with matters of physical health manifested itself in his enthusiastic promotion of nearby Fauquier Hot Springs.   The healing power of the waters of these famous hot springs were a wonder to him, and he published numerous examples of their ability to cure various ailments.  He urged the scientific community to study the phenomena in order to understand how to make use of the remedies God had provided to treat sickness. 4

Thornton's defense of the institution of slavery which was integral to his community, was an extension of his duties as a civic leader to protect the peace, prosperity, and stability, of that community.   This is where many Southern ministers broke with their counterparts in the north.

When baptists began debating the issue of slavery, Reverend Stringfellow turned to scripture to present what he considered an enlightened view on the subject.  In 1841 he laid out his thoughts in a forcefully argued article published in Religious Herald, later re-published in pamphlet form.

He wrote,  “With men from the North, I have observed for many years a palpable ignorance of the divine will, in reference to the institution of slavery.  Rather than depending on the Bible for definitions of right and wrong, these reformers from the North proclaimed the power of their individual conscience.”

“Elder Stringfellow began to develop his biblical justifications for slavery in 1841, about a year after the issue was raised in the Baptist Church.  His arguments began with Leviticus 25:  44-46.  These versus, taken out of context, justify the Hebrews’ holding, buying, and inheriting of slaves.  He then linked the time-honored passages to the New Testament by stating that Christ came to fulfill the Old Testament.  And since Christ did not condemn slavery, he must have sanctioned it.  In Stringfellow’s first major essay, “The Bible Argument:  or Slavery in the Light of Divine Revelations,” he did not mention Paul’s Epistle to Philemon, a letter sent to Philemon along with Philemon’s escaped slave, Onesimus.  Paul had convinced Onesimus it was his Christian duty to return.  Stringfellow deleted the argument because he felt Northern abolitionists thought it was the only scripture Southern slaveholders ever referred to.” 5

Rev. Stringfellow’s ability to debate with scripture gained him notoriety among slavery apologists.  South Carolina governor James Henry Hammond wrote a colleague that “Stringfellow wrote with “irresistible force” and had advanced the “best scriptural argument” for human bondage. 6

By 1845 tensions over slavery, between Baptists in the North and the South created a schism in the church.  Similar factions fractured the Presbyterian community in 1837, and split the Methodist community in 1845.

The same year, 1845, the General Conference of the Baptist Church, although they declared neutrality on the position of slavery, voted to ban slaveholders from missionary work.  Reverend Thornton responded to this decree by calling for a separate convention of Southern Baptists, whom he urged to break with the church in the North.   He attended the seperatist conference, held at Augusta, Georgia, and was appointed  the first Vice President of the newly established Southern Baptist Domestic Mission Board.

Regarding slaves themselves, Rev. Stringfellow reasoned, their condition of servitude, provided a great opportunity for the enlightened to preach the Gospel to the heathen.  Teaching the gospel to everyone was a primary goal of his evangelism.  In his view, this was the great moral good of slavery.  Christian ministry would teach morality, character and obedience, to the slaves, which went hand in hand with a peaceful society.  And in his view, the physical well being of slaves was greater than their free counter-parts in the North,  because “[Slaves] receive wages in the shape of a comfortable home for life and a supply for their wants that is equalled by no such number of free laborers on the globe.”

His thoughts on the matter were an extension of his patriarchal concern for the morality of members of his community.  Within his society he had a great deal of support, though it was by no means unanimous. 7

As the rift in the country over slavery escalated and turned violent, Stringfellow increasingly saw the men of the north as evil.  The abolitionists were tearing apart the country to oppose what he believed was sanctioned by God.

On October 23, 1833, Rev. Thornton with another pastor established the Stevensburg Baptist Church.  The church grew rapidly and by 1847 it had 97 black and 58 white members in its congregation.  In 1856 a new building was constructed.  The congregation continued to grow and by 1860 had 124 black and 67 white members.  Blacks were a majority in the congregation as well as in the general population of Culpeper County at the time.  During the war, the building was used as a hospital by both sides.  It eventually burned and would not be rebuilt until 1874.

Thornton's Church on the hill

Reverend Stringfellow's church on the hill, 1874.  The church was remodeled in 1961 and veneered with brick in 1978.  The buildings footprint approxiates the original 1856 structure. ––American Battlefield Trust.

Modern Biblical Commentary on Slavery

For modern scholarly commentary on the Bible and slavery, I turned to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book, “Biblical Literacy,” and found this important passage, “ Nineteenth-century Southern, and some Northern, clergy often defended the enslavement of blacks in America on the grounds that the Bible permitted slavery.  But given that the Hebrew Bible legislated that kidnapping a person and selling him into slavery was a capital crime, and given that slaves in America either had been kidnapped and sold into slavery or were descended from people who had suffered this fate, obviously the Bible could only have condemned slavery as practiced in the United States.

“Because kidnapping is one of the most vile of crimes, the Bible deems it worthy of the harshest punishment.”   And, “Although slavery as practiced in the United States violated many of the Bible’s norms, the fact that the bible allowed it enabled many nineteenth-century clerical charlatans to argue that God approved of slavery as practiced in the United States.

“It is important to note, however, that the abolitionists –– whose reading of the Bible’s intent was closer to the truth than that of their proslavery adversaries –– were generally deeply religious students of the Bible.

“There is one final biblical ruling which stands in the sharpest possible contrast to slavery as practiced in the United States.  At the termination of the Hebrew slaves’ six yeas of service, the Bible rules:  “When you set him free, do not let him go empty-handed:  Furnish him out of the flock, threshing floor, and vat with which the Lord has blessed you. (Deuteronomy 15: 13-14).” 8

The declarations expressed by Biblical scholar Telushkin, are re-stated in Biblical scholar Dennis Prager's book, “The Rational Bible:  Exodus.”  The book states with regard to the Eighth Commandment, “You Shall Not Steal” :   This commandment was always understood to mean, before anything, we are not allowed to steal human beings.  The early rabbinic tradition interpreted this commandment as specifically referring to kidnapping.

That is one reason no one with even an elementary understanding of the Eighth Commandment could ever use the Bible to justify the most common manner by which people became enslaved:  kidnapping.  Kidnapping people and selling them into slavery, as was done to Africans and others throughout history, is forbidden by the Eighth Commandment.  Critics of the Bible who argue the Bible allowed such slavery, and defenders of such slavery who used the Bible, were both wrong.

And lest there be any confusion about this issue, the very next chapter of the Torah specifies a person who kidnaps another ––particularly when done with the itention of selling the victim into slavery ––“shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:16).10

Personally, my favorite quote in the slavery debate  comes from the Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln :  “Whenever [I] hear any one, arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” 11

Part II;  “BEL AIR”

Bell Air Farm, Culpeper County

The world of Thornton Stringfellow, Bell Air Farm, Culpeper County.  Clarke's Mountain in the background.  View looking Southwest.

Reverend Thornton increased his wealth considerably in 1819, when he married his first wife, (and her fortune) Miss Amelia Walker of Madison. (He was married 4 times).  In 1833 Thornton established a Baptist church at Stevensburg, and purchased the property where he would live the rest of his life.  Here, he built two plantations, “Sumerduck,” and “Bel  Air.”  A contemporary colleague commented,  “In a point of worldly wealth,  Elder S. is more highly favored than most Baptist preachers.” 12

His wealth and authority must have added to his sense of right and importance in the community.  It was at these estates he and his relations, would confront the Union army in 1863.


“Bel Air,” where he resided, consisted of 700 acres.  “It sat on a high hill overlooking the junction of Potato Run and the Rapidan River.  It commands a beautiful view of fertile river land up the valley to the Rapidan with Clark’s Mountain in the near foreground and the Blue Ridge in the distance.”  The old part of the dwelling was two and a half stories with dormer windows at the back.  The first floor was a few steps below the ground, and there was no basement.  It had a brick wall some nine feet up from the ground with weatherboarding above.” 13

Pictured:  Bel Air with the Victorian editions.

Inside the first floor were large rooms with 16' ceilings,  plastered walls covered with paper, 9 inch floorboards, and plain painted mantels in the older part of the house.  Doors were painted with four panels and common locks and hinges.  The staircase was open with turned balusters and railings.  The mantels in the newer edition contained mirrors and shelves. The front door was wide with stained glass. 14

“In 1888 a two-story frame Victorian section was added.  A two-room outdoor kitchen, which predates the house, probably dates to the ownership of Joseph Hansbrough, who was given the 700-acre property in 1819 by his father, James Hansbrough.  “Belair remained in the Stringfellow family until 1971.” 15


General Meade’s advance into Culpeper county brought the dreaded Yankees up to the very door of Reverend Stringfellow’s home.  Undaunted in his belief of Southern moral superiority, the old preacher handed out copies of his pro-slavery tracts to the soldiers camped on his front lawn.16

He left a record of his impressions in a diary, retained by his family. 17

September 19, 1863;  “I have never met with such atheistical profanity –– they play cards Sunday & all the days all over my yard –– they curse God –– They breathe out cruelty.”

September 25;  “We are surely strengthened by a divine hand or we could not bear up under the present pressure.”

A week after writing this he woke one morning to find all his slaves had run off, a hard blow to the advocate of benevolent masters.  Author Drew Galpin Faust wrote, “Unable to confront the thought that his servants had fled from his benevolent care, Stringfellow insisted they had been all but kidnapped by the Yankees.”

His diary entry on that day reads:

October 5, 1863;    “We feel great relief in the Exodus of our servants as the Yankees crowded their houses day and night using persuasion & threats if they refused to go –– they kept before their eyes houses ready to receive them –– everything provided to meet their wants ––schools for their children –– social equality in the best families –– the highest price for their labour…”

The Yankee intrusion ended a week later when General Lee got the jump on General Meade and caused a forced march north for the Yankees, away from Rev. Stringfellow and out of Culpeper county.  But the relief he surely felt was only temporary.  The Yankees returned in November, and they stayed.

Seeing his farm and ground destroyed before his very eyes the dismayed preacher blasted the Northern host in his diary.

Dec. 2, 1863;  “Vain confidence and inhumanity are the element which make up the northern army.  Truth has takin its flight –– sentiments of honor are not known . . . we are at the mercy of as base beings as God has ever permitted to live on this planet.”

This essay ends with an interesting reminiscence from Colonel J. H. Kidd of the 6th Michigan Cavalry, who years after the war still retained his impressions of Elder Stringfellow, whom he met while picketing the Rapidan.  Curiously, Thornton Stringfellow’s last diary entry for 1863 mentions the regiment.

Thursday, December 31;   “Rainy and warm –– the celebrated 6th Michigan has been on picket line 3 days.  They have fully sustained their characters as rogues and cow milkers –– they are everywhere plundering and destroying a part of what little remains.”

J. H. Kidd

Cavalryman James H. Kidd, of the 6th Michigan had more sympathy for the old clergyman than Rev. Stringfellow knew, or probably cared.  The following is from his memoir, Personal Recollections of a Cavalryman With Custer's Michigan Cavalry in the Civil War; 1908.

Colonel J. H. Kidd, 6th Michigan Cavalry

Life in winter quarters was at best dull and it relieved the monotony to go on picket.  The detail as field officer of the day was welcomed, although it necessitated a ride of forty or fifty miles and continuous activity for the entire of the tour of duty, both night and day.  On these rides I made the acquaintance of a number of Virginia families, who lived near the river and within our lines.   Of these I can now recall but two.  On the banks of the Rapidan, directly in front of Stevensburg, lived a man named Stringfellow, who owned a large plantation, which had been despoiled of everything of value, except the house and a few out-buildings.  Every fence was gone, and not a spear of anything had been permitted to grow.  Mr. Stringellow was a tall man, with gray hair, and clerical in garb and aspect.  He was, in fact, a clergyman, and the degree of doctor of divinity had been conferred upon him –– a thing that in those days meant something.  Degrees, like brevets, were not so easily obtained before the civil war period as they have been since.

Mr. Stringfellow was a gentleman of culture, a scholar and profound student of Biblical literature  He had written a book, a copy of which was to be seen in his house, in which he had demonstrated, to his own satisfaction, at least, that the “institution of slavery” was  of divine origin.  It was said that he was a brother of the Stringfellow who became so notorious during the Kansas troubles, as a leader of the “border ruffians,” who tried to force slavery into that territory, before the breaking out of hostilities between the states.*

Living at home with this Virginia doctor of divinity, was a married daughter, whose husband was an officer in the confederate army.**  They were people of the old school, cultured, refined, and hospitable, though hard put to it to show any substantial evidences of their innate hospitality, on account of their impoverished condition, which they seemed to feel keenly, but were too proud to mention, except when driven to it by sheer necessity.  The federal cavalrymen were always welcomed in that house and the officers  in many instances were very kind to them.  Indeed, I suspect that more than once they were spared the pangs of hunger by the thoughtful kindness of officers who had found shelter in their home and had broken bread at their table, only to suspect that the family larder had been stripped of the last morsel, in order to keep up the reputation for Virginia hospitality.

*The two family members so active in the Kansas war, were Benjamin Franklin Stringfellow and Dr. John Stringfellow.  They were Thornton’s nephews. They were sons of Thornton’s older brother Robert, by his 2nd wife, Polly Plunkett.  in 1863, Dr. John Stringfellow of Kansas fame, was just a couple miles down the road at Retreat Farm, settling his father’s estate.  See more about him on the next page of this website.

**This gets confusing.  Thornton Stringfellow had two daughters by his first wife;  they were, Penelope (1813-1852). & Elizabeth. (b. 1817).  Penelope  married her cousin James Laurence Stringfellow in 1843.  He was the son of Thornton's older bro. James.  Penelope & James L. had no children.  She died 1852. James managed Bel Air and Sumerduck Farms,.   James L.'s 2nd wife had 2 sons, one of which he named Thornton, who inherited Bel Air.   Thornton's other daughter Elizabeth, married Charles Catlett Taliaferro in 1832. Their daughter Betty, (1833-1876) [Thornton's granddaughter)  married  Joseph Mortimer Spindle, who was serving in the 4th VA Cavalry & 51st VA Cavalry.


Drew Gilpin Faust, “Evangelicalism and the Meaning of the Proslavery Argument:  The Reverend Thornton Stringfellow of Virginia,”  Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, #85 (January 1977).
Justin Barrett Stowe, “Virginia’s Steward:  A Re-examination of the Life and Work of Thornton Stringfellow 1788-1869,”  A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the School of Religion, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary & Graduate School (May 2009).
Patty Stringfellow, (G G G G Niece), Typescript:  “The Reverend Thornton Stringfellow,” Culpeper Town & County Library.
Eugene M. Scheel, “Culpeper, A Virginia County’s History Through 1920,” The Culpeper Historical Society Culpeper, Virginia.
“Historic Culpeper”, Bicentennial Edition.  The Culpeper Historical Society Culpeper, Virginia.
Thornton Stringfellow, “Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery,” 1856.
Thornton Stringfellow Papers, “Finding Aid,” Clements Library, MI
Margaret Jeffries, Works Progress Administration Historical Survey, “Bel Air,” circa 1937.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, “Biblical Literacy,” William Morris & Co., 1997.


1. Faust, p. 5.  (note:  Faust’s1977  article in print says Robert died in 1813, but several other sources on line say 1815.  As the Clements Library in MI agrees with the 1815 date I favored that source).   From Obituary of Thornton Stringfellow, Minutes of the Shiloh Baptist Association (Alexandria, 1870) p. 12.
2. Faust, p. 6.  ”New Lights” is the term given to religious factions within denominations that split with established beliefs regarding religious practices.  The Baptist “New Lights” supported activism in the service of God.  They were more emotional, they believed in evangelizing, broke from pre-destination thought, they promoted missionary work partly through Sunday schools devoted to  biblical literacy and education.
3. Faust, p. 4.
4. Faust, p. 8.,  Stowe, p. 64.
5. Scheels, p. 161.
6. Faust, p. 4.   Stowe, p. 63.  “James Henry Hammond to William Gilmore Simms, June 11, 1852, Hammond Papers, Library of Congress.
7. Scheels, p. 161 - 162. “Slavery rankled the Rev. Philip Slaughter, and like many Virginians, –– but unlike his neighbor and colleague of the cloth, Thornton Stringfellow –– he felt slaves should be freed and colonized in Liberia.  In March, 1850, the assembly voted to fund fifty dollars for the transport of each freed Virginia slave to Africa.  Slaughter then moved to Richmond and worked as a lobbyist for the program.  Until 1855 he edited the Virginia Colonizationist, a periodical issued to promote African settlement, and that year he published his Virginia History of African Colonization.”  Rev. Slaughter retired in 1855 & then built a church on his Cedar Mountain Farm to minister to locals.  The August, 1862 Battle of Cedar Mountain took place in his front yard.
8. Telushkin, p. 444.
9.   Talmud Sanhedrin 86a.
10. Dennis Prager, "The Rational Bible: Exodus"; p. 264-265, 2018, Regnery Faith, Washington D.C.
Abraham 11. Lincoln, March 17, 1865 speech to Union Army regiment.
12. Scheels,  p. 161.
13. Stringfellow, p. 4.  Historic Culpeper, p. 104.  Stringfellow, p. 5.  “County Landmarks,” Culpeper Star Exponent (Oct.. 29, 1953). Historic Culpeper, p. 104.
14. Margarite Jeffries WPA report.
15. Historic Culpeper, p. 104.    1.    Joseph Hansbrough built and occupied a house at “Belair” located about a quarter of a mile northeast of the present site and nearer the old entrance which was originally in the Lignum-to-Batna road.–– Culpeper Star Exponent (Oct. 29, 1953).
16. Stringfellow’s writings published in various forms, are:  “A Brief Examination of Scripture testimony on the Institution of Slavery,” Washington, 1841;  “Scriptural and Statistical Views in Favor of Slavery,” 1856.  (compilation of the 1841 article paired with the new article of this title.) (This publication was used in book Cotton is King –– The Bible Argument:  Or, Slavery in the Light of Divine Revelation).  Final writing on slavery:  “Slavery:  Its Origin, Nature, and History Considered in the Light of Bible Teachings, Moral Justice, and Political Wisdom,” Alexandria, 1860.   He published articles on baptism, health, church governance  and other subjects.]
17. Diary entries from Stringfellow, p. 5-6. & Faust, p. 11 - 12.

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Robert Stringfellow & Retreat Farm

Four miles down the river road from Reverend Thornton’s home, “Bel Air,” was the farm that belonged to his brother, Robert (the 2nd) Stringfellow.  Robert (1773-1858) was the 4th child of the father, Robert Senior, whereas Thornton (1788 - 1869) was the youngest and tenth child.  Robert the 2nd, was known as “Robert of The Retreat.”   He had already been living along the Rapidan river at his “Retreat Farm” two years prior to brother Thornton’s arrival in 1833.

The land changed hands a couple of times before Robert purchased the property which stretched for a mile and 1/2, along the river.  Robert acquired sections of the land between June and September, 1831.

Robert of Retreat Farm and his devoted daughter Eliza

“Robert Stringfellow lived before this in Fredericksburg where his parents had settled upon their arrival to America.  He married Nancy Herndon and they had five children who lived to maturity.”   He was a successful merchant before he came to live at “The Retreat” circa 1831. 1

Lizzie Watkins, Robert’s granddaughter described the farm in a book she authored about her father Horace, who was Robert's son.  When I read her descriptions of 19th Century life at the farm I feel like I am there.

Pictured at right is Robert of the Retreat, as he liked to be called, to distinguish himself from his father of the same name, pictured with his devoted daughter, Eliza.  Aunt Eliza was described as the neatest little lady you ever saw, but the kids who visited their grandfather's farm while growing up claimed she deserved no credit for it as dirt would not stick to her.

“The land which [Robert] bought was near Raccoon Ford on the Rapidan.  The house had been built by Brigadier General Gordon, who was a retired paymaster in the army, and named the Retreat.  The site for this house had been selected with great care.  It stood in a grove of fine trees, many of them Aspens of unusual size whose white bark afforded a place upon which grandsons might cut the names of their sweethearts.  That they took advantage of it was shown by the number of names thereon.

“On one side of the house, a well-laid out garden extended almost to the river, with fruits and vegetables in abundance in season, and flowers almost the year round.  On the other side of the house stood kitchen, smoke house, and other necessary buildings.  The negro quarters were a little bit farther off near the stables and overseer’s house.  The house grounds were enclosed by a white picket fence.

“Near the small entrance gate stood a horse block for the convenience of those who were not nimble enough to spring from the ground to the back of a horse.  Farther on, was a long rack to which horses were tied while waiting for their riders.  Then came the ice house, one of the first to be dug in the County.  The Rapid Anne, as it was then called –– a doubtful compliment to the Queen for whom it was named, –– was too fast-flowing a stream to freeze over; but there was a more sober minded creek from which ice two or three inches thick was cut and packed away with a layer of clean straw on top.  As the ice was used up, a ladder was put in and many a time the children watched the descent into the depths of that ice house, sure that, when the servants came up there would be bits of ice for them also.  To make The Retreat a complete home, a small cemetery was inclosed with a brick wall which was covered with English ivy planted by some loving but unknown hand.

“The distance between the house and the public road was divided into three fenced-in-fields.  The first, counting the house, was for grazing purposes; the second for some low growing crop such as wheat or oats; the third was corn which grew so high that the tallest man could not be seen when the crop was a good one, as it generally was in that rich ground.  As the fields were fenced in, there had to be gates to pass through before you reached the house.  The one opening on the public road was known as the ”Big Gate” and to see it plainly from the house, a spy glass was kept on a table in the front porch.

Retreat Farm

The land that once encompassed “Retreat Farm.”  The clump of trees is where the house, once stood.

“On fair days, it was the duty of young and old to use it and report if a carriage could be seen coming through.  If so, it meant from four to six visitors were coming to spend the day.  Then Mistress and servants got busy preparing a dinner which would reflect credit on The Retreat.  Giving and receiving visits was the order of that day and the only members of the household who did not enjoy it were the children who, having been taught that they must be seen and not heard, were generally miserable fearing that they would soil the clean clothes before they had been inspected by the visitors.  Another serious grievance with them was the knowledge that they would have to wait for the “second table” before getting any of that extra good dinner.  The dining room was part basement with windows from the grass up, and there never lacked a boy rash enough to crawl on his stomach and report to the others the progress of that meal.  If he said that the stock of fried chicken was getting low, someone immediately dashed to the kitchen to see if there was more a frying.  As there always was, the news was spread abroad among the ten or twelve children.  The critical moment came when the visitors were seen by the boy to be pushing back their chairs.  If the whoop of joy was not heard, then it only goes to prove that there are none so deaf as those who willl not hear.”

“Let us go back to the Retreat house.  It was three and one-half stories high;  the half-story being the basement dining room with an immense fire place which was never without its back log from Fall to Spring.  In the summer it was kept full of evergreens.  There were three smaller rooms.  One was the milk room where milk was put in large pans morning and evening ready to have cream skimmed off at a moment’s notice.  All of the butter was made in that room.  The splash of the churn was never ending when the house was full of visitors in Summer.

“On the outside of the milk room under the large roots of a close growing shrub was a mysterious looking round hole kept open, the servants said, for the convenience of a black snake who earned his living by catching rats.  As their elders would neither affirm nor deny this, the children fought shy of this room.

“Then came a large store room with its rows of shelves where six months’ supplies of groceries were kept. Twice year, a list of everything that could be needed during the coming six months was made out and given to a trusted negro who carried it to John Byrd Hall (Robert’s son-in-law) in Fredericksburg.   By him, it was divided between the different merchants.  It was more than a fifty mile trip from The Retreat to Fredericksburg over the worst roads in Virginia which is saying a good deal for the roads at that time.  At one place, the rocks were so large and smooth that the horses would slide down on their haunches with the big covered wagon almost on top of them.  That spot was known as the “Devil’s Feather Bed.”  There are other places almost as bad.  So you can see that making that trip, particularly the return, when the wagon was loaded with barrels of white and brown sugar, heavy goods and groceries, was no easy matter.

“But to return to the house.  The dining room although half basement was well lighted.  At one end, there was a door leading up three steps into the yard and across to the kitchen.  In the third story were two very large rooms with dormer windows.  Each room had two double beds.  It was there that visiting boys were packed away in the Summer.” 2

Lizzie continues with a description of her grandfathers’ bed-chamber in his old age at the time she knew him.

“His bed-chamber was on the first floor, next to the big parlor.  Like the four-posted beds of the time, his had a hair mattress and then the feather bed so high that little carpeted steps were necessary to enable one to get into it.  The bed stood sufficiently high from the floor to admit of a trundle bed being kept under it.  A white valance around the bed hid it from sight.  The one under [Robert's] bed was always kept sheeted and ready to be pulled out any night that his daughter Eliza decided that he had taken a cold and needed her attention.”

She sketches in a bit of Rapidan history:

“…At the upper end of the Retreat farm, when the Rapidan was low, could be seen remains of the old bridge that Lafayette constructed when on his way to Scottsville  after Cornwallis had driven him back into the wilderness to await aid with which to return to the peninsular where the British were finally conquered.  This is also where Lafayette crossed the Rapidan River and began the “Marquis  Road” so often referred to.  He stayed for some days at Mr. Ben Porter's while his soldiers were building their bridge.  Lafayette again crossed the river at Germanna in coming to Culpeper, where there had been a bridge constructed by private subscription about 1740.  So you see, the Rapidan is not without Revolutionary history.   After living for some years at The Retreat and suffering the inconveniences of having to send to Fredericksburg for the necessaries of life, [Robert] decided to open a general merchandise store at Raccoon Ford, when he secured the services of a most reliable man.”

“The store proved to be such a success that, in time, it became the property of your Aunt Anne's eldest son Staunton, who had married and was living there whe the war broke out.” 3

“…[Robert] was a lover of fine horse flesh.  He would slip a few pieces of cut loaf sugar into his pocket, never remembering the time it had taken a servant to break up the pyramid of sugar wrapped in blue paper and, going to the pasture, he would give a peculiar call that brought every colt running.  Then, how he would laugh as they nosed around him for a piece of sugar.  His own particular mount was a handsome grey mare named May who was always saddled and waiting for him when he left the dining-room after breakfast.  It was then that he made the rounds of the plantation, sometimes accompanied by the overseer but more often not, as, he considered it better to see for himself how work was being done than to hear from another.”

Cemetery at Retreat Farm

“When the youngest of his grandchildren saw that a piece of sheepskin had been placed behind the saddle on May, you might have heard, "It's my time now", "No, you went last."  Then more likely than not, a certain big boy would settle the question by lifting a little cousin to the horse-block and waiting to place her on the sheepskin.  During the few minutes it took for [Robert] to bring May to a "close-up" with the block, the big boy gave the little girl many instructions as to how to sit steady, etc.  To all of which, she crossed her heart and promised obedience.”

“...I rembember that there was one occasion when your great-grandfather, anxious to make a certain point in a given time, and forgetful of the little girl behind him, touched up May so sharply that sheepskin and child slipped off on to the road, and a high old time he had getting them back.  The little girl had to balance herself on top of a rail fence and then make a flying leap for May's broad back and her grandfather's outstretched hands.  The old Gentleman always enjoyed telling that story when the little girl was not present.  It was not thought well in those days to foster pride in children.” 4

Lizzie  ends her description of the farm this way.

“Now I have told of many things which doubtless seem insignificant but, as the dear old house of many joys and few sorrows was burned to the ground during the War between the States, I want you to know it as it was.  Even the close growing trees did not escape and those too far off to take fire had to be used later on as fire wood by the family who were glad enough to take refuge in the log cabins of such servants as had followed the Northern army.  Not a paling of all the fencing on that big place had been left by the enemy.  Fortunately Robert Stringfellow, had died October 4th, 1858, and was buried in the private cemetery with the ivy-covered walls which he had prepared in sight of his house.” 5

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I encountered some ambiguity about the burning of the house. The family narrative states it was burned late in the war, and I can't imagine they would be incorrect about such a traumatic event.  But there was a house  standing on the spot in the 1930’s when Margaret Jeffries, (of the Works Progress Administration)  did a report on it,  and it was still standing in 1963 when the Culpeper Star Exponent did a feature article on it.  Both survey's dated the house to 1825.

From Margaret Jeffries' report: (copies of which are in the Culpeper, VA Library & on-line).

“Situated on a low hill, this old house is a two story, frame structure of rectangular shape.  The roof is a gabled one of metal.  There are two brick chimneys at the rear.  The weather boarding is plain and is topped off with a boxed eave.  There are eleven windows which have some twelve, some six and some eight panes of ten by twelve and ten by sixteen inches.  The front porch is one story and measures about ten feet by eighteen feet.  The front entrance has a plain frame with a three light transom.

“There are eight rooms inside, four of which are large with ten foot ceilings.  The stairway is closed in on both sides.  The doors have four panels, are of plain design and are painted.  The locks are on the outside and the hinges are plain butt hinges.  The walls are plaster and whitewashed.  The mantels are very plain, of pine wood and are painted.  The flooring is six inches wide.  The condition of the house is good and it has not been spoiled by remodeling.”

Sadly today, the house no longer stands, its fate a mystery to me.  I've heard from a prominent local farming family that it was torn down about 30 years past.

NOTES:  1.  Margaret Jeffries, Works Progress Administration Historical Survey, “The Retreat,” circa 1937.  (The source for Jeffries report is Lizzie Stringfellow Watkin's book.
2.  The Life of Horace Stringfellow With Some Instances in the Life and Work of His Descendants.  Lizzie Watkins Stringfellow, Montgomery, AL The Paragon Press, 1931. pages 8-12.
3. Ann Stringfellow was married to Robert Rittenhouse Stringfellow (1803 - 1842).  He was the son of Robert II.  Rittenhouse was called to Mississippi on business and contracted Yellow Fever.  He died at a young age, and his wife and 3 sons were left at Retreat, and grew up with his Father, Robert II.  Anne's 3 sons were Staunton, Frank, (who was a famous Confederate Spy) and Martin, who also served in the Confederate army on the staff of Gen. Magruder.
4.  same, pages 13-16.  I think the youngest grandchild is Lizzie's little sister Mary, b. 1852.
5. same, p. 17

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Lizzie Goes on a Date

Lets hear one more story (of many) from Lizzie's memoir.  When the war broke out, pretty doe-eyed Lizzie and her younger sister Mary, were the perfect ages, 18 and 16 respectively, to attract the attentions of the thousands of young soldiers camped along the river in her neighborhood. The following narrative reveals a quaint episode in the life of a soldier during quieter times.

Lizzie Stringfellow, age 17

“You hear people say that they had the “time of their lives,” in speaking of events, but, if ever girls had it, your grandfather’s daughters surely had.  For, with regiments of Confederate soldiers in easy walking distance of the Ford, it goes without saying that the house was full of them.  And yet your Aunt Anne kept in her head a roster of who was who and the line was drawn, accordingly.  Not that officers alone found a welcome, for there were as many “high privates” such as General Lee’s youngest son and the girls’ own brother and cousins.  Any man wearing the grey was made welcome to a glass of buttermilk and pone of hot corn bread, and with words of appreciation which sent him back to camp happier than when he came.  With two other girls in the neighborhood, Fannie Nalle and Nannie Porter, the soldiers begged or borrowed horses for all.  It became a common thing to see a cavalcade set off for a day on the Mountain which was a signal station for the army,  General Lee himself sometimes using it.

On one occasion, when the four girls were waiting for their escorts, a very small mule, instead of a horse appeared.  The soldier leading it was most profuse in apologies.  It was the very best he could do.  There was not a horse to be had in the neighborhood.  He would have offered the one he was riding but knew it would shake her to pieces.  It happened that the girl had been reading Scott’s novels and, remembering how the luxury loving Abbotts had chosen pacing mules, she asked if that mule could pace.  Assured that it could, she took her seat on the side saddle that was much too large for the animal.  She soon declared that she felt as if she were in a rocking chair and would not change places with a girl there.   Going up the mountain, she still remained of the same opinion.

But, when, coming down the steep side, the mule broke into a much faster gait and the saddle slipped over neck and head, she began to wonder.  However, her escort had a very strong arm and, by dint of riding close with one hand on the back of the saddle, he managed to keep the mule’s ears in sight. There were men in that party who would have liked nothing better than to have played a game of “Tug-o-War” with that mule. If one man could have gotten firm hold of his tail and the others lined up behind him, they would soon have put an end to his mad career.  But the girl’s escort was not only strong of arm but of speech as well and not one to brook interference with his job.  So all they could do with their less sure footed horses was to slip and slide behind that fast moving mule. Meanwhile, the girl sat as steady as she could on the slippery saddle, encouraged by words spoken in an undertone by her escort.  When a stretch of level ground was in sight, that mule stopped so suddenly it almost unseated the girl.  It would have been interesting to know if there was not a gleam of mischief as of triumph in the eyes of that animal when he planted his feet and looked from under the saddle. At their best, mules are uncanny creatures.

photo of a smiling mule

At it was getting late, it was moved and carried that they take a short cut home.   The only objection to this was that they would have to pass through camp and there was the very small mule with the very long ears to be considered.  Every old soldier knows that the sight of a mule is always an occasion for laughter and jokes.  One of the girls ventured to express fear that the mule might plant his feet as it had done at the foot of the mountain and refuse to budge.  The spark of anger in the escort’s eyes at the mere suggestion boded ill for that mule if he should.  Finally, it was decided that the girl on the mule be placed in the middle with riders on the largest horses on either side and that all ride rapidly in close formation through the camp.

The band had played their last piece and were about to put up their instruments when the cavalcade was  seen approaching.  They resumed their seats and struck up, “the Girl I Left Behind Me.”  The soldiers joined in and altogether, it was a magnificent concert of band and male voices.  When the party reached the confines of camp, the girls turned in their saddles and waved their handkerchiefs; all but the girl on the mule.  She knew too well the danger of making any unusual movement while on the back of that animal.  For that bit of self restraint, she received a handsome compliment from her escort.”

“But all this frolicking came to an end about the middle of August.  Soldier friends hurried in to say farewell and certainly two most promising affairs came to an untimely end.  The girls waved their handkerchiefs to fast disappearing men, who, having forded the Rapidan, were then entrenching themselves beside other troops who had been there all summer."

Next Up:  Picketing Along The Rapidan

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Page Updated  December 5, 2019.

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“If those fellows are trusted on picket the army will soon be in hell.”