Category Archives: Virginia Homefront

1862: “Sallie” to Joseph R. Dickerson

How Sallie might have looked

I can’t be certain of the identity of the author of this letter who signed her name “Sallie” but she was clearly a cousin of several members of the Gravely family who lived in Pittsylvania county, Virginia. I believe she wrote the letter to her friend Joseph R. Dickerson who was, at the time, sick in a hospital at Staunton, Virginia, while serving as a private in the Danville Artillery. Joseph enlisted in the spring of 1861 and was with the company in the Battle of Greenbrier River (West Virginia) in early October where he was wounded, but was taken ill in November and December of that year. In April 1862 when the company reenlisted, he was elected 3rd Lieutenant.

The letter contains a lot of news about local soldiers. More research would likely lead to the author’s identity.


Danville, Virginia
January 29th 1862

Dear friend Josephene,

I received your interesting communication last night and hasten to reply. As you expect to get a furlough, I thought I would write before you left Staunton. I was exceedingly glad to hear that you was improving and was also glad to hear that my sweetheart (as you say) (Mr. William Lawrence) was improving. I thought he had gone to his last resting place long ago.

Mr. George Wooding 1 came up on the cars one day last week. He is improving, but very slowly indeed. I think he is about as smart a young man as there is in Danville, “don’t you?” I have heard him deliver some excellent speeches. Mr. Henry Stamps (your orderly sergeant) is also at home. He has gotten well again. He has made him up a company. Has nearly 100 men already. 2

Capt. [T. D.] Claiborne of the Danville Greys 3 has made up an artillery company out of that regiment. He is in town now on 30 days furlough. Uncle Marshall has not joined. Neither has Lewis or Frank.

Uncle Abner McCabe 4 has procured a discharge and has gone home on account of his health, I suppose. John Burch has also procured a discharge and I heard from very good authority him and cousin Bettie Gravely is about to knock up a wedding. Perhaps you will get home just in time for it. I am rather opposed to chat but if she does marry him, I hope she will give me an invitation to the nuptial feast.

I received a letter from Dr. Wingfield last mail & he said they were camped near Winchester. The enemy has possession of Romney—a town about forty miles from them. He said they had a dull Christmas, those that were not drunk. I enjoyed myself very pleasantly during Christmas. I was in company with several of my acquaintance from the army which made the time fly much faster than if otherwise spent. I thought of you all and wondered how you spent your Christmas.

I heard from a very good authority that Cousin Joe Morton Gravely 5 was in the Northern army and had made official reports to Washington. I was somewhat surprised to hear that. His father [Edmund] was looking for him to come home Christmas but if he has joined the Federals, I reckon he has been at home his last time.

I received a letter from cousin John Gravely not long since. He enjoyed himself finely Christmas. John R. Brown & Boleyn were at their camp & spent the Christmas with them. I suppose you have heard of Oliver Witcher’s resignation 6 & T. J. Martin being elected in his place. Mr. [George W.] Dickinson 1st Lieut. & cousin John W. G[ravely] 2nd Lieut. 7

I have not had the pleasure of seeing your Dules Parella (Miss Mollie) since I returned home but I reckon you are posted as regards her health & the news in general about there as I understand you write to her about 17 times a week and sometimes oftener. I don’t wonder at paper and envelopes being hard to come at. I am sorry that you are sick enough to be compelled to go to the hospital. Staunton seems to be an unlucky place for soldiers. You are not the only one of my acquaintances that has been sick there, but from accounts, some of Captain Hereford’s officers are destined to remain in the hospital at Winchester for some considerable time as they are quite sick. But enough of that foolishness.

Joseph Henry Harrison Gravely (1840- ) was born in Leatherwood, Henry Co., VA. He was the son of Willis Gravely and Ann Marshall (Barrow) Gravely.

I will not trespass on your patience any longer but will now conclude. Permit me to express many kind wishes for your happiness & with a hope of hearing from you very soon, will now desist. I remain as ever your true friend, — Sallie

I would almost bet my sweetheart against Barkmill that you can’t read this letter.

P. S. My kindest regards to anyone that may enquire after me. Write soon. Excuse all defects as I write in great haste. Joe Henry Gravely 8 has been elected 3rd Lieutenant in place of Lieut. Law who died some time ago.

1 George W. Wooding, a lawyer in Pittsylvania county, Va., was 23 years old when he enlisted in May 1861 to serve in the Danville Artillery. He was elected 2nd Lieutenant and was with the unit until late in 1861 when he was reported sick at Warm Springs. In December 1861 he returned to Danville, as noted in this letter. In April 1862, he was elected Captain of the Danville Artillery and was with them at the Battle of Fredericksburg where he was wounded on 13 December 1862. He appears to have been court martialed the following month.

2 Timothy “Henry” Stamps was a 41 year-old Pittsylvania county farmer who enlisted at Danville in Capt. L. M. Shumaker’s Company (“Danville Artillery”) in May 1861. He was selected as the 1st (Orderly) Sergeant. Late in 1861, he was reported sick and at Warm Springs. We learn from this letter that Henry raised another company in 1862 which became part of the “Ringgold Battery,” 13th Battalion Virginia Artillery. He resigned his commission of captain in June 1863.

3 The Danville Greys became Co. B of the Eighteenth Virginia Infantry. Capt. Thomas D. Claiborne led the company. Claiborne’s men were covered with glory at the Battle of Bull Run when they captured Union guns (Sherman Battery) posted between the Henry House and the Sudley Road. They successfully turned the guns around and used them against the federals.

Susan (Gravely) McCabe)

4 Abner McCabe (1831-1866) was married in 1853 to Susan Eleanor (“Sue Ellen”) Gravely (1834-1920). He enlisted at Danville as a private in Capt. Claiborne’s Co. B, 18th Virginia Infantry and served until 20 August 1861 when he was hospitalized with a hernia. (Perhaps he injured himself dragging the guns at Bull Run.) He was discharged for disability on 15 January 1862. He was a farmer in Bedford county, Virginia. Susan Gravely was the daughter of Willis Gravely (1800-1885) and Ann Marshall Barrow (1812-1885) of Henry county, Virginia.

5 Joseph Morton Gravely (b. 1832) was the son of Edmund Gravely (1788-1883) and Susan Robertson (1800-1879) of Henry county, Virginia. Willis Gravely mentioned in footnote 4 was Edmund’s younger brother.

6 Vincent Oliver Witcher was the captain of Co. F, 57th Virginia Infantry from July 1861 until 21 October 1861 when he became ill and went home to Pittsylvania county on furlough. He resigned his commission in November 1861 and his successor was T. J. Martin.

7 John W. Gravely, the author’s cousin, was wounded in the wrist slightly at the Battle of Malvern Hill (or Crew’s Farm) on 1 July 1862 while serving as lieutenant in Co. F, 57th Virginia. He resigned his commission in late September 1862 for medical reasons claiming his eyesight was failing due to congenital blindness.

8 Joseph Henry Harrison Gravely (1840-1920) became a lieutenant in Co. F, 42nd Virginia Infantry. He was a younger brother of Sue Ellen Gravely (wife of Abner McCabe) mentioned in footnote 4.

1861: Jane Margaret Brown to Christopher Valentine Winfree

How Jane might have looked

This letter was written by 40 year-old Jane Margaret (Winfree) Brown (1821-1910), the daughter of Christopher Winfree (1785-1858) and Cornelia Meyer Tilden (1798-1836) of Lynchburg, Campbell county, Virginia. Jane married attorney Edward Smith Brown (1818-1908) in 1845, the son of James and Mary (Spearman) Brown of Cumberland county. The couple had three children: Cornelia (b. 1846), Mary Virginia (b. 1849), and Anne (b. 1856). After the Civil War, Edward and Jane moved to Lynchburg where he resumed his law practice.

Jane wrote the letter to her younger brother, Christopher Valentine Winfree (1826-1902)—a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and a civil engineer on the Norfolk & Western railroad. In November 1860, just a few months before the Civil War, Christopher was married to Virginia (“Jinnie”) Ann Brown (1838-1884)—a younger sister of Jane’s husband. Christopher was commissioned a Lieutenant in Co. E, 11th Virginia Infantry on 19 April 1861 and promoted to Captain in August 1861. He was dropped from the reorganization in April 1862.

Illustration from Steve Cottrell’s Book, Civil War in Tennessee


Addressed to Mr. Christopher V. Winfree. Lynchburg, Virginia

[Sunnyside, Va.] 1
May 27, 1861

My very dear brother,

As you may so soon have to leave home, I will address this letter to you. We reached Farmville very safely after a pleasant trip. Old Mrs. French, mother of Mrs. Powers, came down with us. One of her granddaughters (Miss Woodson) came in with her. Mrs. Loomis, daughter of Mrs. Sam Hobson came also. After we got to Farmville, several Tennessee soldiers came out of the cars. A good many girls and gentlemen had collected at the Depot. The girls threw bouquets to the soldiers. One of them (the soldiers) made a nice little speech in return for the flowers. Mrs. Loomis said he was an Editor and a very nice gentleman. She came to Virginia under his care. One of the soldiers proposed three cheers for the Virginia girls and they were cheered in style. 2

We got home about three o’clock. Mary Virginia had a little dinner for us. She had gathered strawberries and insisted I should let her have cream with it. I did so and they were very nice. The next morning she and Willie gathered some for dinner. In the evening Mary and Anne Eliza gathered a large mess for Sunday. Mary and Toliver have gone again. They are wild strawberries but larger than wild ones are generally.

Philip St. George Cocke (1809-1861) was a wealthy planter in Powhatan county with hundreds of slaves and thousands of acres. He organized a cavalry troop in response to John Brown’s Raid. He committed suicide on 26 December 1861.

Willie went with Mr. Brown Saturday to drill. He drilled one squad. He says they drilled pretty well. A few members of the Powhatan Troop have returned to visit their friends. They say Mr. [Philip St. George] Cocke wants more persons in his troop. I understand he authorized Mr. Murray to get new members. They say Mr. Cocke is very kind and furnishes them with many comforts. Some of them spoke of sending for money. He told them that was unnecessary—he would furnish it to them. That if they would spend their money right, he would not mind letting them have what they wanted. It is quite convenient to have a Colonel who is able to supply the wants of his men.

John French is still sick at Culpeper Court House. Old Mrs. French insists she will go to see her boys. Wesley Garrett 3 came up to see Pattie last week. He left the troops well. He says they have great difficulty about getting their food cooked. They made him cook a good deal. He says they would put thick pieces of meat in the pan to fry and burn up the outside before the inside was cooked at all. You had better learn to cook before you go. Pattie stood Mr. Garrett’s leaving better than at first. She thinks of going to see him in about three weeks. She is much better.

I understand George Palmer has made oath to keep the Constitution of the United States. Mr. Palmer from Cumberland (Tell Parlin [?] he is cousin of Sam Garrett’s children) was so sick when the troops got to Powhatan Court House that he had to be left. He was taken either to Willis Dance’s or Mrs. Dance’s.

We heard yesterday that Federal troops had taken Alexandria. Is the report correct? If it is, I reckon Lynchburg is in danger. Willis Hobson is anxious for Mr. Daniel to join the Powhatan troop. When I got home, I found no one here but Mary and Anne. Cornelia was at Mrs. Haskins’. I brought here and Salina home with me from church yesterday. I saw sister Ann, Mollie, and Laura yesterday. All were well and asked many questions about Jinnie and other Lynchburg friends. Our relations are well. Cornelia looks a good deal better than she did when I left home.

Miss Mary is still at Mrs. Haskins. She told me she would come home with me from church next Sabbath. Next Saturday and Sunday will be our Quarterly Meeting. I expect Mr. [William H.] Christian to come home with me. Our preacher is not on the circuit. Brother Jordon preached for us yesterday. His sermon was on Temperance. It was very good. Old Mrs. Clack is very sick. I have been to see her. She told me she did not think she would ever be well. Ellen and Bently staid with us last night. If you see Mr. Figgai, you can tell him she is well. Only staid last night. Also Willie seems to be enjoying himself very much. He seems quite well. Says I must say that as I am writing, he will wait till another time. He sends much love to all and will write soon. The boys see, delighted to have him with them. My children seem to be very glad indeed to have him here.

Did Hoppie go to Aunt Betties when he got to Lynchburg Friday? I felt afraid he would have some difficulty in getting along. Cousin Frances got a letter from home Friday evening saying her Pa would meet him at the Bridge. We have been more cheerful since I got home than before I left. I will try and keep so. I know it will be much best if I can…

Mr. Brown has gone to Cumberland County today. He will begin to teach in the morning. He says it will give him much pleasure to instruct Willie in arithmetic.

How are the sick soldiers? Have the leaders been in to see any of them? Cousin Robert saw Dr. Walton when he was in Richmond. He told him he had some very ill patients with measles. Some have pneumonia. He has about thirty to attend to. Mary and Salina have returned with their berries. I wish you were here to have some. Give much love to every one for me. Sister Anne says when you go, Jinnie must come down to Cumberland.

My dear brother, try and prepare your heart for what is before you. I am not writing this because it is my custom to give you advice, but because I want you to find more delight in waiting on God. Don’t be satisfied without the constant evidence of your acceptance. This is your privilege. You ought to prepare yourself so that you may discharge your duty in camp. The responsible position given you by your company, God will require you to improve. It is your imperative duty to watch over the souls given to your care whether poor human nature is willing or not. Be sure to have prayers in your camp and get, if you can, every member of your company to sign the pledge. If you will start right with your company, you will be able to wield a moral influence over them that will tell in eternity. Let songs of praise rise to God from your tents and let every man have morning and evening in prayer to the giver of all good.

The Charlotte troop 4 passed while I was in Lynchburg. At the Court House they took their seats in the court yard and sung hymns. None of them drank liquor at the Court House. There were 88 in their troop. 44 were married men.

Dr. Lewis Walkin was a member of Mr. Harrison’s Company of this county. He was sent back because he was too feeble to bear the fatigue of the service.

Goodbye dear brother. No one is with me ot lots of love would be sent. Kiss Jinnie, my sisters, and Aunt Bettie for me. I hope Mrs. M____ is better, Give much love to John and all at his house. write very soon to your devoted sister. — Jane M. Brown

Dear Jinnie,

I have written a long letter to Christopher & as I wrote you a long letter before I went up, I will only write a few lines to return you the hardy thanks of little Anne for her doll. She is also much obliged to Aunt Bettie for the piece of ___. Salina is delighted with her flat [?] and other things and is much obliged to you for her doll. She says she wrote to you a few days ago. She seems pleased to get back to school and looks well and happy. Receive for yourself and C. the warmest love of Salina and all the children. Mrs. Wilkerson has gone home and the children are at Father’s. Mr. Brown went round to see his relatives while I was away. Bro. Daniel Bently and Bro. Zack expect to go to Richmond this week. James Reynolds was here yesterday. He said he would go in a short time to Randolph-Macon [College] to commencement. He hopes he will take measles while away as he wants to join the army and is afraid to have it in camp. Bently hopes he will take it while in Richmond. Willis Hobson advised Dr. Thomas not to let Bently join the army.

Go to class, Jinnie. Try to get more of the love of God in your heart. you can never be as happy as you might until you have an assurance of your acceptance. The love of God sweetens every joy, soothes every sorrow. You have so much leisure time, spend more of it in prayer and in the study of God’s Hold Word. There you will find every duty made plain. Write very soon. Kiss my dear brother for me. I don’t feel very sad about his going into camp. I believe the good Lord will be with him. So few of our family are in the army, I would do nothing to prevent his going. Be sure to write very soon.

Your affectionate Aunt, — P. M. Brown

1 Sunny Side was an unincorporated village in Buckingham and Cumberland counties, Virginia. It was a stop on the Farmville and Powhatan Railroad. It is located approximately four miles east of Cumberland and some 50 miles west of Richmond.

2 These Tennessee soldiers were probably members of the 1st Tennessee Infantry. This regiment was ordered to proceed by the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad to Lynchburg, Virginia on 3 May 1861. Six companies arrived there on 5 May 1861; the other four companies arriving shortly afterwards. They were mustered into Confederate service for twelve months on 8 May 1861. They were then ordered to proceed by the Southside Railroad to Richmond on 19 May 1861 and arrived there very late on 20 May 1861. They probably passed through Farmville (midway between Lynchburg and Richmond) on the 19th or 20th of May. A private in the 1st Tennessee named Sam Watkins remembered, “Leaving Nashville, we went bowling along twenty or thirty miles an hour, as fast as steam could carry us. At every town and station citizens and ladies were waving their handkerchiefs and hurrahing for Jeff Davis and the Southern Confederacy. Magnificent banquets were prepared for us all along the entire route. It was one magnificent festival from one end of the line to the other. At Chattanooga, Knoxville, Bristol, Farmville, Lynchburg, everywhere, the same demonstrations of joy and welcome greeted us. Ah those were glorious times…” [Civil War in Tennessee, by Steve Cottrell, pg 13]

3 John “Wesley” Garret was married to Pattie Frances Clark of Cumberland county, Virginia, in July 1860. Wesley served as a corporal in Capt. Henry R. Johnson’s Company (Cumberland Light Dragoons) or the 3rd Virginia Cavalry from 14 May 1861 till he was wounded on 29 May 1864 at Haw’s Shop.

4 The 14th Virginia Cavalry, Co. B, was sometimes referred to as “the Charlotte Troop.”

1861: Joseph Hiden to Angus Rucker Blakey

This December 1861 letter was written by 58 year-old Joseph Hiden (1803-1869)—a wealthy Orange County, Virginia, businessman, landowner, slave owner, and public official who was well connected politically as this letter demonstrates. Though prominent and influential, Hiden’s cantankerous nature was observed by others such as Philip B. Jones, Jr., aide-de-camp to General D. R. Jones who used Hiden’s house for his headquarters in 1862. In a letter dating from that time period, Philip wrote, “During our stay at Mr. Hiden’s, he treated General Jones with neither consideration or respect…As a citizen of Orange [county] I deem it my duty to say that Mr. Hiden has always been regarded as a very eccentric person.” How eccentric? Enough to write his friend in this letter, “I desire a good, long, bloody cruel war. Why? Because I know of nothing less that will make a gulf [sufficiently] wide, deep, and dark to save us from Yankee invasion and pollution.”

Hiden mentions in the opening paragraph of his letter a favor he has asked in regard to his son Philip Barbour Hiden (1842-1915), a 19 year-old private in the 13th Virginia Cavalry. The favor was probably a request to have his son dismissed from the service so that he could enter the Virginia Military Academy—a rather disingenuous request given his firebrand tirade in the balance of the latter. Philip was discharged from the service just two weeks after this letter was penned.

Joseph addressed his letter to Angus Rucker Blakey (1816-1896) of Madison county, Virginia. From Blakey’s “Confederate Application for Presidential Pardon” submitted after the war we learn that he was a representative from that county to the February 1861 convention that assembled in Richmond and voted for the Ordinance of Secession. He claimed that ill health kept him from military service during the war until 1864 when he was compelled to serve in the Reserves of Rockbridge county where he had relocated during the war. From Hiden’s letter we can also infer that Blakey represented Madison county in the Virginia legislature during the war and that Hiden felt no inhibition in sharing with Blakey his ideas for laws that would limit the future rights of any “Yankee” found living within the state’s borders and which he believed, if enacted would lead to the Southern Confederacy becoming “the greatest, freest, happiest, safest, most long-lived nation on the whole earth.”

The Cover of The Civil War Monitor, Spring 2016

Hiden’s letter is a classic illustration of the importance placed on shared enmities by the leaders of the Confederacy. In his book, “Damn Yankees: Demonization & Defiance in the Confederate South,” George Rable reveals the ways in which Confederates demonized their opponents. He shares his belief that this hatred of the Yankee was an important part of Confederate nationalism. In fact, the Confederate national vision was construed as “a quest for republican purity that sought to ‘quarantine the southern world from the plague of northern radicalism, infidelity, and abolitionism’. Similarly, Rable’s research on the religious history of the Civil War notes how southerners drew on civil religion to reaffirm their belief that they were fighting a just and righteous war…Hatred of the Yankee came to serve as an emotional and psychological crutch for some southerners. ‘To imagine that the dastardly enemy might ultimately triumph just did not fit in with pervasive ideas about virtuous Confederates who would eventually prevail over evil Yankees. Clear-eyed assessments of the Confederate military and political situation became difficult if not impossible when looking through the clouded lenses of sectional chauvinism and righteous anger.’” 

Click here to see an article on Joseph Hiden’s war-time home in Orange County, Virginia. Click here to see an article about a home Joseph Hiden built after the war.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Addressed to A. R. Blakey, Esqr., Virginia Convention, Richmond

Orange Court House
December 5, 1861

My Dear Sir,

Your very kind and most excellent letter reached me today for which please accept my sincere thanks. Anything you and our mutual friend Barbour may do in behalf of my soldier boy will be properly appreciated, whether we succeed in our application to the President or not.

But my dear sir, your letter in relation to the Yankee invasion which will certainly overrun and demoralize and ruin our good old commonwealth after this war shall terminate, has been read and reread with the greatest interest and satisfaction. No matter what may be the length of this invasion—what force the enemy may bring—what may be his hellish designs of murder, arson, theft, and every villainy and wickedness, from this invasion, we have but little to fear, compared with that invasion, which is certain to occur, as soon as peace is restored, unless we guard against it by every species of legislation that may be calculated to save our state from Yankee pollution. 50 or 75 years—the period you name when we might expect another secession movement from the Cotton states is, it seems to me, too remote. In every word of your most excellent letter I most cordially concur with this exception.

I have no shadow of doubt but that the hand of a just but angry God is upon our enemy & that our resistance will be crowned with full success [and] that we will, in God’s own good time, drive him from our borders and beat him into good behavior—so far as his corrupt nature is capable of good behavior; but I tremble for what I awfully fear will follow after peace shall come. Such is my dread of the consequences that are to be apprehended after the war that I instinctively dislike to think about peace, and wicked, silly, or whatever else it might be, I desire a good, long, bloody cruel war. Why? Because I know of nothing less that will make a gulf wide, deep, and dark to save us from Yankee invasion and pollution. I know of many good men, even now, that could not be trusted to make a treaty. Let salt and taxes get higher and peace will be in their eyes still more desirable. I hope you will do all you can—in season and out of season—to raise the purpose of our good citizens to proper legislation.

How much can Virginia do by state legislation? We have more to apprehend that any other state in the Confederacy. Our contiguity, water power, minerals, timber, &c., and above all the unsuspecting, forgiving temper of our people. I sometimes hear unguarded remarks from good people that are indeed truly alarming. One of high intelligence with an officer’s uniform on his precious person and a commission in his possession, said to me, “O, Mr Hiden, we shall never have such another government!” meaning such an one as the old United States. I have a settled purpose never to vote for any man for any office whom I suspect of any partiality for any of the whole Yankee tribe.

I would, if consistent with the Confederate Constitution, provide in our [State] Constitution and in our laws, that no Yankee should hold land within our borders, sit on a jury, give testimony in court as a matter of right, vote in an election, nor sue in our courts. This last—and no suffrage—I would most earnestly insist on. I have thought and prayed on this subject, tried to examine my poor, feeble, wicked heart—tried to understand my duty to my country’s enemy, and above you have the result.

Unless I am vastly deceived, a terrible future awaits the whole Yankee nation, and woe, woe to the bastard Southerner that now sides with the Yankee. It were better that Heaven’s lighting should blast him forever.

But my dear friend, let us turn from these sad thoughts and raise our souls in praise to a gracious Providence that we are cut loose from these people, that our good old Commonwealth is now in the Southern Confederacy, and if our people will be wise & humble themselves before God and seek light from the Father of Lights, all will be well. We shall be the greatest, freest, happiest, safest, most long-lived nation on the whole earth. And here, religion and piety and virtue, and the arts and sciences, and everything that makes a people truly great, will flourish and endure beyond anything that our earth has yet seen.

Please take a night with me on your return from Richmond. Truly yours, — Jos. Hiden

1862: Jane M. Ayre to her friend “Minnie”

Ginnie’s parents, William and Martha (Reid) Ayre of Centreville, Fairfax county, Virginia

This letter was written by Jane (“Ginnie”) M. Ayre (1844-1885), the 17 year-old daughter of English emigrant William Mason Ayre (1818-1899) and his Virginia native wife, Martha Ann Reid (1817-1889), of Centreville, Fairfax county, Virginia. Ginnie and her older sister, Mary Catherine (“Kate”) Ayre (1843-1926) were the oldest of nine children born to the couple. The William Ayre farm was located on present-day Stringfellow Road (Section 45-3) near Chantilly, six miles west of Fairfax. It was known as the Buena Vista Farm in later years.

She wrote the six-page letter to a dear friend named “Minnie” who probably resided in Maryland, beyond enemy lines, with whom she mostly likely had a previous acquaintance while attending the Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls. Ginnie married Leander Makely in 1878 but died seven years later. The mail had to be smuggled across enemy lines by those who were able to obtain passes—more easily done at this stage of the war than later.

In her January 1862 letter Jennie speaks of the family’s displacement from Fairfax to Farquier county, Virginia, due to the war and also of the depredations by Union troops in their former home near Centreville.

[Note: This letter is from the private collection of Richard Weiner and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]


Benvanue 1
January 16th 1862

My dearest Minnie,

Months, long long months fraught with good and evil have passed. What have I been doing during this time? Moving from place to place, fleeing from our enemies. Oh, Minnie, you know not what we have suffered. You have been spared the many trials we have undergone—driven from our home in dead hour of night. I fear never again to enter its portals. Our once bright and happy home—the scene of so much happiness—is now nothing but misery and ruin. Where once the merry laughter which once resounded through its halls, the groans of the sick and dying are heard. I will not complain though for it might have been worse. I left home the 1st day of June and did not return until August & then left again in October and never expect to return.

We are [now living] about three miles from Rectortown at the “Old Glasscock House.” It is called Benvanue. It was once an elegant house. We did not succeed in getting our furniture from Fairfax. Our parlor though boasts of six chairs, centre table, two book tables, one writing desk with book case attached, piano, & a few pictures. I forgot a carpet. Now, is not it an elegant parlor [these] war times? The remainder of the house is furnished tolerably enough to say we are comfortably fixed. We came here two weeks before Christmas & have had company every day since; persons in the neighborhood are very kind. We had four soldiers to spend Christmas. Two of them were those “hot headed South Carolinians” as we used to say. Four South Carolinians left us last Tuesday. We are looking for a sick Lieutenant up every day & two Captains.

Oh, I have so much to tell you. I would give anything to see you tonight and have a good old Fair Hill talk. 2 Oh please come and see me soon. I would rather see you tonight than anyone in the wide, wide, world. Minnie, do come soon to see me. When the Yankees came up to Manassas, they pilfered our house—but only took two negroes. You must not say or think anything of my writing on this paper for I have better but Mother is from home and has the desk.

All I have written is about myself. How egotistical (one big word in this letter). How about Minnie? I know you do not think I deserve to be forgiven for not answering your letter before this—but did you know all circumstances, you would not censure me one particle but be surprised that I had lived long enough to write this. I heard you all had gone away and knew no better until last August. I passed through Hamilton and enquired at the toll gate and found report to be false and since them I have not had sense enough to write a letter and have not yet. Please forgive me this time and I will promise never to be so remiss again.

The Charleston Tri-Weekly, 26 November 1861

Lacie Glasscock was over to see me last week. We had a long talk about you & wished for you. I heard last week that Fair Hill school was quite full. A Mr. Brooke from Maryland, [who] escaped the same time Mr. Berry (Uncle [James] Thrift’s Lieutenant) [of Co. G, 8th Virginia] did, told me all about the Federals taking Bettie Posey & her parents prisoners 3 and sending to Washington D. C. [Gen. Dan] Sickles has their house for [his] headquarters. Mr. Brooke returns in February and will carry several letters for me. If you know Alice Matthews’ address, please send it to me. Would not you love to see Alice & Sallie Cole? I have had one letter from Edie Smee. It came home by private conveyance. Have you heard from any of them? I have so many things to tell you that I cannot write.

Pappa starts to Alabama next week and will be gone a month & when he returns, we all expect to move out. I believe it will break my heart if I have to leave Old Virginia. I’ll tell you a secret—I am not going there. I’ll tell you where I am going when we meet—-if we ever do, that is. I would come and see you tomorrow if I could. I expect I would talk you to death in one hour so I’ll not come. Please come and see me and stay several weeks with us. I would write with ink but there is company in the parlor and the only inkstand we have is in there. I am up in Mother’s room with slight headache (or heartache). I could write all night but old Professor Bartenstein 4 is here and is obliged to leave early tomorrow so I will have to take my music lesson tonight. I wish he had not come this evening.

When the Eighth [Virginia] Regiment 5 was at Leesburg, I visited it frequently and always thought of you as I passed through Hamilton. We have two lady friends of Mother’s from South Carolina staying with us. Minnie, I would not send you this scribble but knowing you will not think any less of me for it, for you know I am writing at night without paper, pen or ink—am I not excusable? I won’t have anything to do but write letters this whole winter and I expect you will get tired of reading my productions.

George Dandridge is down at [ ville]. Papa is going to Fairfax in the morning. He goes down about once every week. He expects to bring some soldiers up with him when he comes. I wish you could have seen Grandfather’s old place after the Yankees left it. They cut up all the carpets with their bayonets, poured out all the preserves, broke every door about the place, took all the wearing apparel of five families who had deposited them there & a quantity of bed clothes. Took all the horses on the place and then gave all the negroes free papers. Oh, you who have not seen them know nothing about the depredations they commit.

At our home, they were not quite so vicious. They enquired of the negroes where Kate and I were and sent their love to us. I expect some of our acquaintances were them. In fact, I know they were. Please don’t show this miserably written letter to anyone but burn it as soon as read. Please write soon—very soon—and the next letter I write I will promise to write more legibly.

I must go down now and take my music lesson. Please write soon. Your devoted friend, — Ginnie Ayre

Direct your letter to Rectortown P. O., Fauquier county, Va.

P. S. What has become of the Mr. Hopkins?

1 Built of stone construction, Benvenue was constructed around 1824 on 335 acres then owned by John P. Duval. Enoch Glasscock purchased the farm in 1849 and just as the Civil War began, Glasscock sold it to Samuel Tebbs. Interior chimneys are present on either end of the house. The facade (south elevation) holds a centrally located entrance that is flanked by tall six-over-six, wood-sash windows. A round-top transom is set above the entrance door and the bay is detailed with an elaborate pedimented aedicule surround. Other classical elements include the modillion blocks along the cornice line of the house. [See National Register of Historic Places.]

Benvenue as it looks today

2 The Fair Hill Boarding School for Girls (Fair Hill Seminary) was “one of the earliest schools in the county to include a program for girls. With the help of the Baltimore Yearly Meeting, Samuel Thomas and his wife Anna, both Quakers, opened a school for boys at Fair Hill in 1819. A year later, Margaret Judge added a girls’ department. The Thomases’ school closed in 1829; ten years later, Phineas Paxson bought Fair Hill, and turned it into a girls’ boarding school. In 1850, Richard and Mary Kirk took over the school, with William H. Farquhar as Principal. Mary Coffin, a young woman from New York state, taught at Fair Hill from 1854 to 1865, when the school closed. Her memoirs, published in 1916, provide a wealth of detail about the school during its last decade. According to her recollections, the school averaged 45 students a year, primarily drawing from Montgomery County. About a quarter of the students were Friends (Quakers), and some of these girls were from Quaker families in DC and Alexandria. In the early days of the Civil War, nearly two-thirds of the students withdrew, because of the school’s proximity to the fighting in Baltimore. The school closed for good in 1865 (the building itself burned down in the 1970s), although the Fair Hill Fund continued to provide money for local education.” [See Digital Maryland

Daily National Intelligencer, 4 Nov. 1861

3 Richard Barnes Posey (1806-1880), his wife, Elizabeth (Berry) Posey (1812-1887), and his daughter Elizabeth (“Bettie”) Posey (1844-1923) were all arrested and taken to prison in Washington D. C. on the charge that they signaled Union troop movements to Confederates by displaying signal lights (see newspaper clipping above). The family was released from prison in late November 1861, “no just grounds of suspicion having been established against them.” The Posey residence was described as sitting on an eminence “some sixty or seventy feet high” commanding a view of the Potomac river approximately “a half mile or so” from the river behind Budd’s Ferry in Charles County, Maryland. Bettie Posey probably was a school mate of Ginnie’s at the Fair Hill Boarding School. Ginnie claims that the Posey Home was used by Gen. Daniel E. Sickles for his Headquarters. See historical marker on the Port Tobacco Road. Sickles was in Charles county from October 1861 until March 1862 while training troops.

4 Ferdinand Bartenstein (1815-1884) was a music teacher who resided in Alexandria, Virginia in 1860. He was born in Hochkirch, Saxony, Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1846 and married Elizabeth Cole Gordon in 1847.

5 Co. G of the the 8th Virginia Infantry (“The Bloody Eighth”) was recruited in Fairfax county by Captain James Thrift, Gennie’s uncle. The regiment took part in the Battle of Manassas. Held in reserve until afternoon, it then advanced to Henry Hill where they fought hand to hand with the 69th New York and the United States Marine Battalion. In August, they relocated to Camp Carolina, just outside of Leesburg where they remained until March 1862, taking part in the Battle of Ball’s Bluff during that time. In April 1862, Capt. James Thrift was promoted to Major of the regiment. He was mortally wounded in the Battle of Seven Pines. He died at Richmond on 2 June 1862.

The Fairfax )Virginia) Herald of October 5, 1888 contained the following article: “War Incident. An incident occurred after the battle of Gettysburg, at night, which shows how kindness is appreciated by soldiers who have been prisoners in the enemy’s hands. A private by the name of Iden, a member of one of the companies of the 8th Va. Infantry, being wounded and left in the hands of the enemy, but able to walk, asked to be taken to the officer of the day. He was conducted to that officer, who asked what he wanted of him. He politely asked him if he would make a detail and have the wounded of his regiment brought off the field and carried to the hospital and cared for. The officer asked him what regiment he belonged to. He answered, ‘The 8th Va. regiment of infantry.’ Whereupon he promptly replied: ‘Certainly; I was taken prisoner by that regiment at Ball’s Bluff and caried to Manassas by Capt. Thrift, of that regiment, who treated me so kindly while I was a prisoner under his charge, that it will give me a great deal of pleasure to render any assistance to that command to alleviate their sufferings.’ He at once had the detail of men made, procured a flask of brandy and went in person with Iden, and had every man of that regiment removed to the hospital that could be found that night. I am sorry that I cannot give the officer’s name. He belonged to a Massachusetts regiment. A member of the 8th Va.”

1865: Elizabeth C. Shirley to Ezra Paul Koontz

This letter was written by 22 year-old Elizabeth (“Bettie”) C. Shirley (1842-1873), the daughter of Zachariah Shirley (1819-1908) and Mary Polly Koontz (1815-1856) of Massanutten, Rockingham county, Virginia. Bettie married William E. Gaines (1833-1893) in 1866.

Bettie wrote the letter to her cousin, Ezra Paul Koontz (1846-1926), the son of Michael Koontz (1818-1870) and Hannah Fitzmoyer (1811-1882) who had a farm on Millcreek in Rinkerton near the town of Mt. Jackson, Shenandoah county, Virginia.


Addressed to Mr. Ezra P. Koontz, Mt. Jackson, Virginia

Massanutten, Virginia
Sunday evening, February 5, 1865

My Dear Cousin,

Your very kind and welcome letter of January 30 was received with a great deal of pleasure yesterday. I just returned from Lexington a few days ago. I found them all well at home. Also left them well.

We have a great deal of talk here about peace…I hope and pray it may be so. I am indeed tired of this cruel war. I know you all will be glad when you will be done looking at Yankees. I for one never want to look at another one as long as I live.

Bettie Shirley, Massanutten, Va., 5 Feb. 1865

We have a great deal of talk here about peace. There are a great many people think we will have peace soon. I hope and pray it may be so. I am indeed tired of this cruel war. I know you all will be glad when you will be done looking at Yankees. I for one never want to look at another one as long as I live.

I have no news to write that would interest you and the girls must come up to see me if we have peace. I am so very anxious to see you all. Tell Cousin Milly she has never answered the last letter I wrote to her. I am glad to hear you have a chance to stay at home for awhile. I really hope you will never have to go in the army again but if you do have to go, be cheerful with the thought that you are fighting for a good cause and that through God’s providence, it will all be right some day.

Cousin Ezra, when you write again, I want you to let me know what you think about the times. I think it as bad as it can be.

Give my love to Cousin Milly [Emelia] & Addie [Adeline] and your Mother & Papa and tell them I would like to see them. I will now close my badly written letter as I have nothing of importance to write. I want you to write to me whenever you can. I will always be glad to hear from you. I have been looking for a letter from you for a long time. I began to think you did not intend to write to me when at last I got one. Goodbye and believe me your ever affectionate cousin, — Bettie C. Shirley

N. B. I will send you an obituary of sister Eveline’s death. I hope you will excuse all mistakes for you see they are plenty. I don’t know when I have made as many before, — B. C. S.