Tag Archives: Civil War

- Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom


Nast, Thomas, Emancipation, LC-DIG-pga-03898, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that Juneteenth spread to other parts of the country, including Virginia. Inspired by a Juneteenth event at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum in 1992, Juneteenth celebrations were being held each year in cities and towns throughout Virginia by the end of that decade. In a 2007 resolution, the Virginia House of Delegates recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Freedom Day” in the state. Across the country, Juneteenth events now can … read more »

- African American Land Ownership and Loss


African American man plowing with a pair of horses in Hampton, Virginia, circa 1899. (Image used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

Prior to the abolishment of slavery, the idea of landownership was an impossible dream for most African Americans, but in the years following the Civil War, African American landowners began to appear in Virginia’s chancery records. Unfortunately, these new landowners most often came to court because they were in danger of losing ownership of their property, or they felt they had been cheated out of the true value of their lands. With little support to aid in their pursuit of landownership, many minorities lost their property in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two such examples were found in the Patrick County chancery causes.

In 1872, Enoch Wilson, an African American, sold a parcel of land to Gabriel Hylton, a white man, at a price that was much lower than it was worth.  Hylton, regarded as a shrewd man and apparently not averse to taking advantage of others, vowed to pay Wilson $1.25 per acre for 217 acres of land.  The transaction even included an offer to allow Wilson to continue to reside on the property until his death.  Unfortunately for Wilson, the agreement was simply verbal and no money or documentation was ever exchanged.

Wilson’s grandson lived with him and was unaware of the verbal agreement with Hylton.  As the assumed heir to the property, he decided to grow and sell … read more »

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- Early Warwick Co. Records Added to Lost Records Digital Collection


Picture frame once containing a writ taken from the Warwick County courthouse by Union soldier George H. Sterling. The writ is believed to have been Simson vs. Hubbard, 1725. Inscribed on the frame back: This Writ was taken from Warwick Court House, Warwick Co. Virginia by Geo. H. Sterling.

Warwick County records that date from 1650 to 1840 have recently been added to the Lost Records Localities Digital Collection available on Virginia Memory. The types of records found in this addition include wills, deeds, court suits, estate records, jail reports, a docket book, a complete order book, and pages torn from order books. Many of these documents were removed from the Warwick County courthouse during the Civil War by Union soldiers as spoils of war. Over the course of the last century, they made their way back to Virginia.

A page from a 17th century order book, removed by John Hart of the 29th Massachusetts Regiment in 1862, ended up in the hands of LaRoy Sunderland of Boston, Massachusetts, who donated it to the New England Historic Genealogical Society. The society discovered the torn order book page while in the process of moving to a new location in 1964 and returned it to Virginia. Other documents were returned to Virginia after being discovered amongst family papers. E. Russell Jones of Pennsylvania and Charles Fitchorn of Missouri both discovered Warwick County records taken during the Civil War among the belongings of their deceased relatives. In 1914, James P. Williams returned Warwick County records he received from a friend named Edward G. Wood whose grandfather was a collector of relics. In a letter … read more »

- Lost 19th Century Rockingham Co. Wills Found at LVA

 

Detail of Rockingham County Will Book February 1821-April 1824 (Barcode 1172547), Local Government Records Collection, Library of Virginia.

Individuals today wishing to conduct research using Rockingham County court records may encounter a few stumbling blocks. Due to two major events in the locality’s history, Rockingham County is identified as one of Virginia’s Lost Record localities. The first loss of Rockingham records occurred in 1787 when a courthouse fire destroyed primarily wills and estate records. A second and even more devastating loss came during the Civil War.

In June 1864, with the threat of Union troops advancing into the valley, concerned citizens of the county wanted court records (mostly volumes) removed from the courthouse so that the records could not be destroyed. A judge granted permission for these records to be moved to a safer place east of the Blue Ridge.  A teamster and wagon were hired to remove the records, but the wagon was left on the Port Republic-Forge road after a rim was lost and a tire came off. During this delay, Union troops spied the wagon and partially destroyed the records by setting fire to it.  The mother of a Confederate soldier extinguished the fire by carrying water and smothering the fire with green hay just cut from a nearby field.  She retrieved what was left of the records and took them to her home for safekeeping.  The records remained at her home for quite some time, and because the … read more »

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- My dear and most affectionate lover


Letter, 16 July 1861, from George Ward to Mary Jane Ratliff. Scanned as part of the CW150 Legacy Project.

Laura Drake Davis and I spent most of 2010-2012 on the road scanning and collecting images for the CW150 Legacy Project. It was not until recently that I have had much time to study and catalog the images that we scanned. I just came across this lovely letter that was scanned in Tazewell County, Virginia, in September 2010.

What grabbed my attention was the first line: “My dear and most affectionate lover…”  What a way to start a letter–doesn’t it sound racy? But actually many letters written during the 19th century were as full of love and feelings as modern letters are. The difference is that the 19th-century term “lover” does not necessarily carry the same connotations as it does today. This was a letter written by George Ward (1837-1927) of Tazewell County on 16 July 1861, while serving with 21st Virginia Infantry Regiment, Company H, to his love interest, Mary Jane Ratliff. Ratliff (1842-1905) was the daughter of Abednego and Louisa Vicey Matney Ratliff, also of Tazewell County. George writes of his feelings for [Mary] Jane (“dear Jinnia”), his hopes to marry her, and how he hated parting from her. George mentions the possibility of his death numerous times in the letter, ending it with his hopes that they meet in heaven should he not survive the war.

Transcript of George Ward letterread more »

- New resource for Civil War research at the Library of Virginia


John Augustine Washington, the last Washington to own Mount Vernon.  He was killed early in the war, 13 September 1861, near Rich Mountain, Virginia. (LVA Accession 39697).

The Civil War experiences of Virginians from all walks of life and all corners of the state can be found at the Library of Virginia. The papers of Governors John Letcher, William “Extra Billy” Smith, and Francis H. Pierpont; military rosters, reports, and orders; diaries, letters, and photographs of soldiers blue and gray; county reports on indigent soldiers’ families and minutes of Boards of Exemption; records of state agencies; and both Confederate and Union documents—all detail the Civil War in Virginia.  The Library of Virginia houses nearly 2,000 (and growing) collections of state records, local records, and private papers chronicling life in Virginia during the conflict of 1861-1865.  Military life, politics, business, and the homefront are all documented in collections ranging in size from one leaf of paper to almost 600 cubic feet (Tredegar Iron Works records).  Now, information about all of these collections is gathered in the Civil War Records in the Archives Guide, an online resource located on the Library of Virginia’s website.

The guide is organized alphabetically by name of the individual, organization, business, or political entity that created the record and includes a letter index at its top to facilitate searching.  Each entry contains name, title of the collection (whether a private papers collection or a public record), date range and size, accession number, a description of the material, and … read more »

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- The Correct Answer Is, “I Do”



The Ebony Bridal -- Wedding Ceremony in the Cabin, engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 19 August 1871. (Image used courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

“It was a hot summer day on August 5, 1865, when George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner arrived at the courthouse in Augusta County, Virginia, to apply for a marriage license. They brought with them an order from Capt. John Collins, Provost Marshall, directing the court to issue the license as ‘they being in all respects entitled to such license.’ While there were other couples that day applying for marriage licenses, George and Diana were the only couple with such an order. This was indeed a historical event as they were the first African American couple to be issued a marriage license in Augusta County.”

-African American Marriage Index 1865-1899, Augusta County, Virginia

At first glance the story of George Kiner and Diana Bumgardner is one of love triumphing over the tragedies of slavery and war. But documents found in the Augusta County Chancery Causes reveal not a lovely wedding born of true love, but a shotgun affair with a groom forced to the altar at gunpoint. In his bill for divorce filed in the Augusta County courts in February 1866, George Coiner (the predominant spelling in court documents was Coiner, but Kiner and Koiner were also used) painted a less than idealistic picture of his wedding day. George Coiner, a former slave, was working in a field when two armed soldiers, one white and the … read more »

- Freedmen’s Bureau in the Local Courts


The Freedmen's Bureau -- illustration from 25 July 1868 edition of Harper's Weekly. (Image public domain/Wikipedia)

In the years following the Civil War, the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (commonly referred to as simply the Freedmen’s Bureau) provided assistance to former slaves still living in the South, helping them transition from a society based on slavery to one allowing freedom. Established as part of the War Department by an act of Congress on 3 March 1865, the Freedmen’s Bureau, operational until 1872, helped introduce a system of free labor, provided food and clothing, helped locate families and legalize marriages, promoted education, supervised labor contracts, and provided legal representation.


14 February 1866 letter from the Freedmen's Bureau found in the Commonwealth vs. Alexander McCray, Highland County Commonwealth Causes.

One of the Bureau’s most important roles was to help safeguard the rights of African Americans and ensure they received justice from the court system. Following the Civil War, several southern states, including Virginia, enacted a series of laws commonly known as “black codes” that restricted the rights and legal status of freedmen. African Americans were often given harsh sentences for petty crimes and were sometimes unable to get their cases heard in the state courts. In September 1865, Freedmen’s Bureau courts were established to adjudicate cases involving freedmen. By February 1866, Virginia had amended her laws and the Bureau courts were discontinued by May of that same year, but because of the failure of many local court officials to administer equal justice, the Bureau courts were reestablished in certain areas … read more »

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- Spoils of War Return Home to Virginia



On Thursday, October 20, staff from the Library of Virginia’s Local Records Services Branch were in Jersey City, New Jersey, to formally accept one of the Commonwealth’s long-lost treasures – a Stafford County record book taken from Virginia in 1863 by a Union officer serving in a New York regiment. 

 The volume, an order book detailing the daily activities of the court from 1749 to 1755, was transcribed by a Stafford deputy clerk in 1791.  The book was removed from the Stafford courthouse by Captain W. A. Treadwell of the 4th N.Y. Regiment and was long considered to be a casualty of the war.  A note inside the front cover and presumably in Treadwell’s hand states that it was “Taken from Stafford Court House, March 30 1863.”


Stafford County Order Book, 1749-1755, taken from the Stafford courthouse by Capt. W. A. Treadwell in 1862.

 The volume was handed down several times over many years before it was presented to the Hudson County Historical Society. The Society’s collection eventually was transferred to the collection of the Jersey City Free Public Library’s New Jersey Room. Recognizing that the order book did not fit within the New Jersey Room’s collection policy, Jersey City Public Library’s John Beekman contacted the LVA to return the volume to its rightful home in Virginia.  The volume will be conserved at LVA’s in-house conservation lab and scanned and microfilmed to ensure its preservation. Scanned images will be presented to … read more »

- Documenting Virginia’s Participation in the Civil War, Take One?


Unidentified Confederate Veteran Reunion Photograph, undated, Dept. of Confederate Military Records, Box 62, Folder 6, Accession 27684, State Records Collection.

Recent efforts by the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission to digitize Virginia’s Civil War legacy is reminiscent of a similar, yet very different, endeavor by the state of Virginia over one hundred years ago.  Created in 1904 by an act of the General Assembly as the Office of the Secretary of Virginia Military Records, the Department of Confederate Military Records was tasked with assisting the federal government in compiling a complete roster of Confederate soldiers from Virginia.  Although the modern approach is to digitize collections held in private hands, the Department of Confederate Military Records was charged with simply compiling the names of Virginia’s Confederate veterans.  This small agency accomplished their mission by borrowing or collecting original muster rolls and other records listing Confederate officers and enlisted men in the various branches of service.  The secretary also relied heavily on finished rosters gathered by the Office of the Adjutant General in 1884 and rosters sent to commissioners of the revenue throughout the state in 1898 and 1900.  Despite these earlier efforts, a truly complete roster of Virginia’s Confederate veterans was still lacking which prompted the need for a Department of Confederate Military Records.

Major Robert Waterman Hunter, a veteran and an officer in the 2nd Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, was appointed the first Secretary of Virginia Military Records by Governor Andrew J. Montague in 1904.  … read more »