Poplar Forest

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The restoration of Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest home is proceeding beautifully.

Because of Mr. Jefferson’s love of symmetry, and my carelessness, I don’t have a direct shot of the front of the home. When reviewing the photos I deleted those I took, believing them to be duplicates.

But there is an important difference between the view from the front and the view from the rear. In the style that Mr. Jefferson was following, it was fashionable for homes to appear to be only one story high. So from the front Poplar Forest only seems to have one floor. The second floor is clearly visible, however, from the rear.

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A front view, lifted from the internet

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From the rear the second story is plainly visible

Photography is not permitted inside the home, unfortunately. The kitchen was in the wing and was state-of-the-art in the late 18th century.

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An excellent way to spend a few hours, and getting better all the time.

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Sutherlin Mansion

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When the Army of Northern Virginia was forced to abandon the defenses of Richmond in April 1865, the Confederate government evacuated the city and fled south. Jefferson Davis and his cabinet retreated to Danville, Virginia. Because of their time in the city, during which the final Confederate cabinet meetings occurred, Danville has since claimed to be the “Last Capitol of the Confederacy.”

During his time in Danville, President Jefferson Davis stayed at the home of Major William T. Sutherlin, a prominent Danville politician and businessman. When the home was sold by the family in 1911, it was purchased by the City of Danville and the UDC. For many years it served as the Danville Public Library. Since 1974 it has been operated as the Danville Museum of History and Fine Arts.

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The principal rooms of the home have been well-preserved for their historic importance.

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The Parlor

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The Dining Room

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The “Davis Bedroom”

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Mementos of the Davis stay

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It was at this table that President Davis wrote what would be his final proclamation to the people of the Confederate States.

To the People of the Confederate States of America

Danville, Va., April 4, 1865.

The General in Chief of our Army has found it necessary to make such movements of the troops as to uncover the capital and thus involve the withdrawal of the Government from the city of Richmond.

It would be unwise, even were it possible, to conceal the great moral as well as material injury to our cause that must result from the occupation of Richmond by the enemy.  It is equally unwise and unworthy of us, as patriots engaged in a most sacred cause, to allow our energies to falter, our spirits to grow faint, or our efforts to become relaxed under reverses, however calamitous.  While it has been to us a source of national pride that for four years of unequaled warfare we have been able, in close proximity to the center of the enemy’s power, to maintain the seat of our chosen Government free from the pollution of his presence; while the memories of the heroic dead who have freely given their lives to its defense must ever remain enshrined in our hearts; while the preservation of the capital, which is usually regarded as the evidency to mankind of separate national existence, was an object very dear to us, it is also true, and should not be forgotten, that the loss which we have suffered is not without compensation.  For many months the largest and finest army of the Confederacy, under the command of a leader whose presence inspires equal confidence in the troops and the people, has been greatly trammeled by the necessity of keeping constant watch over the approaches to the capital, and has thus been forced to forego more than one opportunity for promising enterprise.  The hopes and confidence of the enemy have been constantly excited by the belief that their possession of Richmond would be the signal for our submission to their rule, and relieve them from the burden of war, as their failing resources admonish them it must be abandoned if not speedily brought to a successful close.  It is for us, my countrymen, to show by our bearing under reverses how wretched has been the self-deception of those who have believed us less able to endure misfortune with fortitude than to encounter danger with courage.  We have now entered upon a new phase of a struggle the memory of which is to endure for all ages and to shed an increasing luster upon our country.

Relieved from the necessity of guarding cities and particular points, important but not vital to our defense, with an army free to move from point to point and strike in detail the detachments and garrisons of the enemy, operating on the interior of our own country, where supplies are more accessible, and where the foe will be far removed from his own base and cut off from all succor in case of reverse, nothing is now needed to render our triumph certain but the exhibition of our own unquenchable resolve.  Let us but will it, and we are free; and who, in the light of the past, dare doubt your purpose in the future?

Animated by the confidence in your spirit and fortitude, which never yet has failed me, I announce to you, fellow-countrymen, that it is my purpose to maintain your cause with my whole heart and soul; that I will never consent to abandon to the enemy one foot of the soil of any one of the States of the Confederacy; that Virginia, noble State, whose ancient renown has been eclipsed by her still more glorious recent history, whose bosom has been bared to receive the main shock of this war, whose sons and daughters have exhibited heroism so sublime as to render her illustrious in all times to come – that Virginia, with the help of her people, and by the blessing of Providence, shall be held and defended, and no peace ever be made with the infamous invaders of her homes by the sacrifice of any of her rights or territory.  If by stress of numbers we should ever be compelled to a temporary withdrawal from her limits, or those of any other border State, again and again will we return, until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of a people resolved to be free.

Let us not, then, despond, my countrymen; but, relying on the never-failing mercies and protecting care of our God, let us meet the foe with fresh defiance, with unconquered and unconquerable hearts.

                                                                                                Jeff’n Davis.

Six days later, having received the news of General Lee’s surrender, Jefferson Davis and the rest of the Confederate cabinet left Danville, fleeing south. A month later Davis was captured in Georgia and thereafter was imprisoned in Fort Monroe for two years, awaiting a treason trial that never occurred.

 

 

Celtic Festival

Many of the immigrants who found their way to our part of the world originated in the Celtic Fringe. So the stories of the Celts are our stories too.

Yesterday the Sedalia Community Center hosted a Celtic festival. It was an enjoyable event, despite the bitterly cold weather, and the snow that arrived mid-afternoon. I’m hopeful that it will become a tradition here.

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Representing Clan Henderson

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Powhatan

Wahunsenacawh, better known as Powhatan. Father of Pocahontas. Supreme king of Tsenacommacah.

In the county that bears his name, in the bowels of a mall in Short Pump, stands a statue in honor of the man. In front of Nordstrom’s.

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I can’t help but wonder what the great chief would think of what’s happened to the land he once ruled and loved.

The Crossing of the Dan

On February 14, 1781, General Nathanael Green got his beleaguered Patriot army safely across the Dan River. By marching his men 19 hours a day, he had won the “Race to the Dan” with British General Lord Cornwallis, saving them to fight another day–a crucial and essential step on the road to Yorktown, and to American independence.

Today we attended the ceremony honoring the Crossing of the Dan, at the site where it occurred 237 years ago.
Following an interesting lecture by author and Revolutionary War expert Mike Cerece, which put the event within the greater historical context of the War in Virginia in 1781, there was a commemoration and presentation of colors by a group of re-enactors and a local cadet color guard, honoring the bravery and sacrifice of those to whom we owe our independence.
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The Winter of 1918

On January 3, 1918 the temperature in Danville, Virginia fell to 3 below zero, believed at the time to have been a record low. The following day the low was 6 degrees below zero, and the Danville Register newspaper announced that it was surely the lowest temperature any living Danville resident could recall, and likely the lowest ever.

On January 6 the Register reported that snow had now been on the ground for 28 consecutive days. On January 28 the paper noted that as of that date it had snowed 16 time in Danville that winter.

Truly the winter of 1917-18 was brutally cold in Southside Virginia.

The record cold, and the demands of the war, resulted in severe coal shortages across the nation.  As a consequence the federal government ordered all businesses in the country to close for five consecutive days in January, creating hardships for business owners and employees alike.

Meanwhile, there were food shortages that winter as well, due also to the demands of the military mobilization. On January 18, 1918 President Wilson, directing his appeal directly to the patriotism of American housewives, called on Americans to have two meatless days per week, one meatless meal each day, no meat on Tuesday and no pork on Saturday. Southern farmers were urged to direct their efforts to production of food, rather than cash crops. But with the surge in demand for tobacco (thanks to the government’s decision to issue cigarettes to soldiers) there was also a great opportunity for local farmers. The Register called on local farmers to grow food of course, but to step up tobacco production as well. The effects of the war on our textile and tobacco economy were profound and far-reaching. But that story is for another day.

 

Passing On

Over the last month the Slatesville community has lost two of its oldest and most distinguished residents. It is sad to see that generation fading away.

Nelson Terry died on December 19 at age 96, and Delly Eastwood died on January 10 at age 94.

Mr. Terry and Mr. Eastwood were my neighbors and I’ve known them both my entire life. They were fine men–honest, hardworking men who raised wonderful families imbued with the ethics and values they taught them.

James Nelson Terry was born in this community on April 14, 1921. His mother died when he was 16 months old, and he was taken in by his uncle and aunt, Charlie and Hattie Slate Terry, who raised him as their “adopted” son, along with their nine natural children. Like nearly everyone else in this community, the Terrys were farmers. Mr. Terry had a deep love of the land, and his farms repaid that love with abundant crops. He was a successful tobacco farmer and gardener, growing most of his family’s food. His wife Hattie Vaughn Terry worked alongside him on the farm and later worked a second-shift job at the mill (along with housekeeping and farming) to earn the money to send their daughters to college. Mrs. Terry died in February 2015, the couple having been married 67 years. In their retirement they visited all 50 states and lived to see their family grow and thrive. The family draped a burlap tobacco sack across Mr. Terry’s casket at his funeral.

William Delly Eastwood, Jr. was born in this community on September 10, 1923. Like Mr. Terry, Mr. Eastwood was a deacon, trustee and loyal member of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. He too was a skilled farmer and, later in life, a realtor. He passed away just days before his 67th wedding anniversary. His wife Alice Dodson Eastwood survives him, along with his three children. I recall many pleasant days spent playing with their son, my boyhood friend, at their home. A mere half mile or so away, they were our closest neighbors.

Both Mr. Terry and Mr. Eastwood loved this community, and contributed much to it.

As this generation passes away, they leave us both a legacy and a responsibility.

May they rest in peace.

A Belated Happy Birthday

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Pittsylvania County celebrated its 250th birthday in 2017.

Formed in 1767 when separated from Halifax County, the county was named in honor of William Pitt, a member of Parliament who was sympathetic to the concerns of the colonies.

It is home.

I am reminded of something Henry Hurt said to me recently. “Why do we love this place so much?” he asked. “It’s not better than other places. It’s not even that different from other places. We love it,” he said, “because it is our place.”

So happy belated birthday to this place, that is my place.

Colonial Williamsburg

Virginia’s colonial capital has been beautifully restored and maintained.

Visitors can see and tour the Governor’s Palace, where the colonial governors resided, as did Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, the first two Governors of post-independence Virginia.

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Of course there are many other things to see and experience as well.

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The original courthouse

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The Capitol.

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The House of Burgesses met here, inside the Capitol. It was here that Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, upon which the federal Bill of Rights is based, was drafted.

A visitor today might even get to meet Mr. Jefferson.

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THE VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS

Introduced by George Mason at the Virginia Convention in the Capitol in Williamsburg.

Unanimously adopted June 12, 1776

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free Convention, which rights do pertain to them, and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.

  1. THAT all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
  2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.
  3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of mal-administration; and that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right, to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the publick weal.
  4. That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of publick services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge, to be hereditary.
  5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative; and, that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burthens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.
  6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the publick good.
  7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.
  8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favour, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty, nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land, or the judgement of his peers.
  9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
  10. That general warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offence is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.
  11. That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other, and ought to be held sacred.
  12. That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotick governments.
  13. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.
  14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of, the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
  15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
  16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

 

Some Stories From Spotsylvania

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The Spotsylvania battlefield is beautifully preserved, the peacefulness and serenity of the place belying the fact that in May 1864 it was the scene of what is often called the most horrific and brutal combat in American history.

Here are some stories of a few of the men who were there.

Despite the severe losses he had suffered in the Wilderness, General Grant decided not to retreat (as his predecessors had done), but rather to press on, relying his numerical superiority and what Abraham Lincoln called “the terrible arithmetic.” So he disengaged and began to march his army southeast, toward Spotsylvania Court House.

General Lee correctly guessed Grant’s plan, and raced to intercept him. But he had farther to travel, and on inferior roads, giving the Federals a decided advantage. To buy the time he needed, General Lee sent his cavalry to block the Spotsylvania Court House road.

The 5th Virginia Cavalry (commanded by General Tom Rosser) arrived first and drew up in a line of battle across the road, fighting desperately to hold back the Federal wave. Holding out for nearly a day, the regiment suffered badly and was in danger of being routed when Munford’s 2nd Virginia Cavalry arrived, charging the enemy and saving the day.

When the 5th was on the verge of collapse, Reuben Medina, a blacksmith who had been recruited from a Richmond machine shop, rallied some of the men, encouraging and inspiring them to hold on a little longer. Reuben had earned the respect of his comrades, who knew him to be a “brave man and a good scrapper.” In the fight he took a saber slash across the face that nearly severed his nose. But he and his colleagues held on.

The propitious arrival of Munford’s cavalry relieved Rosser’s embattled men, broke the Federal momentum, and gained the Confederate army more time as it hurried toward Spotsylvania. Among Munford’s troopers was Private Calhoun Clay. A son of Odin Clay of Campbell County, a long-serving Virginia legislator, Calhoun had enlisted along with his three brothers, Cyrus, Junius and DeWitt. The others would survive the war, but Calhoun was killed that day alongside the Spotsylvania Road.

With the benefit of the time the cavalry’s delaying action had bought them, the Confederate army began to arrive, immediately going to work building entrenchments and earthworks. Following the contours of the land, the line laid out by the engineers included a salient that came to known as “the Mule Shoe.”

The Federal commanders recognized the opportunity the salient presented them. Emory Upton, a brash young colonel from New York, devised a plan to break the Confederate line. He proposed to concentrate a large mass of men on a small area of the line, and to charge it without stopping to fire, counting on the sudden rush and numerical advantage to overwhelm the defenders. Conditions were nearly perfect for the assault and Upton’s predictions proved accurate. His men swarmed into the Confederate earthworks and threatened to break the entire line. Unfortunately for the Federals, the planned reinforcements and support never arrived, and Confederates hurried in from other parts of the line were able to drive Upton’s men away.

Private William Walker Ellington of the 45th North Carolina Infantry was among the men who were rushed in to meet Upton’s Charge. From Rockingham County, N.C., 18-year-old William had enlisted in Danville, Virginia just two months earlier. He was wounded in the battle and unable to return to duty until February 1865. Less than a month after his return he was captured at Hatcher’s Run and sent to Point Lookout prison.

William’s neighbor 19-year-old Lieut. Archer Watkins was acting commander of Company H of the 45th North Carolina that day. Like William, Lieut. Archer was also wounded (although whether on May 10 or May 12 is unclear). Archer recovered from his wound, returned to his company in September, survived the war, and went on to father at least 8 children.

Archer Watkins

Archer W. Watkins

Inspired by the success of Upton’s Charge, General Grant decided to repeat the tactic, but on a much larger scale. Two days later he would launch an entire Federal corps–20,000 men–at the tip of Mule Shoe salient.

The attack was launched at 4:30 a.m on May 12, in the foggy darkness and driving rain. The assault was predicated upon surprise, so the Federal troops advanced silently, under strict orders not to cheer or fire their weapons until they were inside the Confederate works.

Five hundred yards in advance of the Mule Shoe was a thin line of Confederate pickets and skirmishers, whose mission was to detect and delay any attack, and to alert the defenders in the main line. To prevent them from doing so, the Federal troops were instructed to rush the pickets, using only clubbed muskets and bayonets. In the pre-dawn rain, with near zero visibility, the skirmishers never saw them coming. A few made it back to the Confederate lines, but most were gobbled up and captured immediately.

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At the center of the skirmish line was the 48th Virginia Infantry, composed of men from the mountains of western Virginia. Brothers John and James Henderson and their 19-year-old uncle Hiram Henderson, were serving in Company F and were among the men captured as the assault began. John and James were the illegitimate sons of Sarah Henderson, the daughter of a Scottish immigrant. Their uncle Hiram was also illegitimate, although under more curious circumstances. John was eventually exchanged, but James and Hiram spent the rest of the war in Elmira prison. James was known as “Greasy Jim,” which may help explain why he was never married.

Having bagged the Confederate pickets, the Federal wave surged toward the Mule Shoe as the defenders scrambled to meet them. The tip of the salient was the most vulnerable point in the Confederate line, so General Lee had packed it with artillery. Artillery massed at that point may well have broken the Federal assault that morning. But General Lee had made an uncharacteristic mistake the previous day. Believing that the Federals were withdrawing, he had ordered the artillery removed from the Mule Shoe. At the last minute frantic Confederate officers had been able to recall most of it, but the guns weren’t in position when the Federal troops swarmed into the works, and were almost all of them were captured before firing a shot.

Nor was the infantry able to stop the attack. When the men rose to deliver a volley into the attackers, they were dismayed to discover that the rain had dampened and ruined their ammunition. Instead of a devastating volley, they were answered with fizzles when they squeezed their triggers.

The famous Stonewall Brigade was annihilated. By the time the fighting ended, there were only about 200 men left, the rest having been killed, wounded or captured, and the brigade ceased to exist. John Hogston of Smyth County, a Private in the 4th Virginia Infantry, was one of the thousands of men captured in the Mule Shoe that day. Along with many of his Stonewall Brigade comrades, he would spend the rest of the war in Elmira Prison.

The 44th Virginia Infantry was positioned just to the right of the salient’s point, part of the brigade under the command of Col. William Witcher. Like the Stonewall Brigade, Witcher’s brigade was swept away in the assault. Sgt. William Guerrant was one of the many men taken prisoner.  He had been wounded the year before in the assault on Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg, where John Guerrant, his only brother, had been killed. Like John Hogston and thousands of others, William was sent to Elmira prison. He died there, of chronic diarrhea.

The Federals poured into the Mule Shoe, collapsing the Confederate lines. The situation was desperate and the stakes were high. If the Confederate lines broke, the Federals would be able to roll up their flanks and destroy the army.

To stave off the impending disaster, General Lee pulled men out of other parts of the line, sending them into the Mule Shoe in a desperate effort to plug the hole. A brutal, all-day hand-to-hand melee followed.

To prevent the Confederates from pulling reinforcements out of other parts of their line, General Grant had ordered simultaneous attacks on the right and the left of the Mule Shoe, in order to pin down the Confederates there. The attack on the right by General Warren never happened. On the left Burnside did attack, but was readily repulsed. Edward Thomas’ brigade of Georgians was instrumental in turning back the Federal attack. Calhoun Clay’s cousin William Thaxton of the 14th Georgia Infantry was shot in the face and captured during the attack. The gunshot fractured his jaw and left his face paralyzed and disfigured for the rest of his long life.

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In the end, the Confederate lines held. General Grant would continue to probe and attack for a couple of more days, before concluding that would not be able to punch his way through. Instead, he moved again to the southeast. And again, the Army of Northern Virginia moved to block him.