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Tag Archives: Civil War

- Our History as Told by the Pittsylvania County Court Records


Photographic view of the Pittsylvania County courthouse, State Route 57 & U. S. Route 29, Chatham, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

In the past few months, I have examined dozens of boxes of unprocessed Pittsylvania County court records dating back to the 1760s, searching for chancery causes for a future project. Most of the bundles appeared to have remained unopened since the day they were filed away over two centuries ago. Along the way, I discovered various documents that told the individual stories of people from different backgrounds that when brought together produced a integrated historical narrative of Pittsylvania County.

One box contained a bundle of declarations for Revolutionary War pensions filed in the Pittsylvania County Court. Declarations are narratives recorded by Revolutionary War veterans recounting their tours of duty fifty years earlier. One veteran named Lewis Ralph was 100-years-old at the time he filed his declaration in 1820. A native North Carolinian, Ralph enlisted in 1775 for a three-year term. He noted that he served “two years and a half a sargent [sic] under General Washington” and fought at the battles of Monmouth, Germantown, and Brandywine. He was discharged at West Point in 1778 and after the war moved to Pittsylvania County.

In a bundle of court papers dated 1811, I found the naturalization record of Alexander Brown. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Brown immigrated to the United States at the age of 18 in 1799. He initially resided in Petersburg where he worked as a … read more »

- Collateral Damage: An Elizabeth City County Debt Case

Debt collateral usually consists of something prized by both parties. As a temporary form of payment, something of value is offered to hold or use as a lien until the debt is paid. In the mid-1800s, lenders considered enslaved persons to be prime collateral because their ownership represented wealth.  In many cases, however, lenders exploited these debt arrangements to the detriment of the borrower. Enslaved persons used as collateral were often abused or simply sought for their monetary value. Such was the case with Thomas Phillips, a slave owner pressured to leave his enslaved people behind as a surety for unsettled obligations to a creditor named N. C. Giddings.

By all indications, Phillips was a financially upright man who seemed to take full responsibility for his debt. Phillips voluntarily submitted a trust deed in Elizabeth City County (now the City of Hampton) in 1859 to use two enslaved people as collateral. Although the debt value is not given, one might reasonably assume that the amount was substantial given Phillips’s willingness to place his valuable human property in jeopardy. To make matters worse, heightened tension between the country’s northern and southern sections increased the likelihood that authorities could seize these enslaved people, leaving Phillips with little hope of their return.

Upon executing the deed, Phillips attempted to relocate to Richmond, but N. C. Giddings balked at … read more »

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- ‘It’s a Southern Sun That Shines Down on This Yankee Boy’: The E. L. Molineux Collection

The Edward L. Molineux collection, 1861-1915, was scanned as part of the CW150 Legacy Project and recently added to the Library of Virginia’s Transcribe web site. Molineux served in the Union Army and his letters document his military career and his experiences throughout the South during the Civil War. You can help make these fascinating handwritten letters more accessible by volunteering to help transcribe them.

Edward L. Molineux was born in London, England on 12 October 1833, and later moved to New York. He joined the 7th New York Infantry Regiment, 2nd Company, at the start of the war and participated in organizing the 23rd Regiment, 11th Brigade of the New York National Guard. In August 1862 he organized the 159th New York Infantry Regiment and rose to the rank of Colonel. He served as military commander of the La Fourche district, Louisiana in 1864; Savannah, Georgia in 1865; and the northern Georgia district in 1865. He married Harriet D. Clark on 18 July 1861. Molineux died on 10 June 1915 and was buried at Saint James the Less Cemetery in Scarsdale, Westchester County, New York.

Throughout his career Molineux and his family gathered a large collection of papers and photographs relating to his military career and experiences during the American Civil War. The collection includes circulars, drawings, letters, memoirs, orders, photographs, reports, and reunion … read more »

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- Virginia Untold: Requisitions for Public Use

This is the third in a series of blog posts on the record types found in the forthcoming Library of Virginia research database: Virginia Untold: The African American Narrative. The initial database release will be on 1 February 2016.


African Americans impressed into Confederate Army service. Library of Congress.

During the Civil War, Virginia enacted legislation to force African Americans, both slave and free, into “public service” supporting the Confederacy. Their primary responsibility would be to erect “batteries, entrenchments or other necessities of the military service,” which could include working in mines and factories, preparing meals and washing clothes for Confederate soldiers, or driving supply wagons.

Legislation to impress free African Americans was passed shortly after Virginia’s secession from the Union. In July 1861, the state convention that had approved secession passed an ordinance “to provide for the enrollment and employment of free Negroes in the public service.” This ordinance was amended and re-enacted by the General Assembly in February 1862. The legislation authorized local courts to enroll for “public use” all able-bodied male free African Americans between the ages of eighteen and fifty. They would not serve more than 180 days and would be fairly compensated for their services.

When a commanding officer of the Confederate Army had need of the services of free African Americans, a local board would select from the list of free African Americans “such number of laborers as in … read more »

- The Art of Mapping War


Atlas to Accompany the Official Records Union and Confederate Armies, compiled by Calvin D. Cowels, 1861-1869.

New ideas are sometimes birthed out of tragedies. In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill passed by both houses of Congress authorizing an ambitious task, the creation of an official account of the Civil War using records that commanders wrote while in the field. The records considered “official” included correspondence, telegrams, and general orders. From the start, major issues surfaced with the project. The Adjutant General’s Office created the first set of records in the form of forty-seven volumes; however, they lacked clarity and organization, making useful research nearly impossible. The added failure of Congress to provide additional funding to correct and complete the project brought the entire effort to a standstill.

It was not until 1874 that Congress approved funding to begin the project once again, this time moving it from the Adjutant’s Office to the War Department.  It was at the War Department that Lt. Col. Robert N. Scott took the lead on the project, and with dedication, thoroughness, and detail, he began assembling the records. He implemented an organizational structure by compiling the records into series and then arranging them chronologically. The series included battle reports, reports on prisoners of war, reports on political prisoners, and general correspondence between state and federal officials.

In March 1889, serious work began on developing atlases to compliment the completed official record. Over a thousand … read more »

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- Howdy!: The Letters of John R. Morris

Recently I was approving some transcriptions done by our virtual Library volunteers on the Making History: Transcribe website and came across a collection of letters written by the Morris family of Louisa County, Virginia. This one letter caught my attention because it was written in July 1863 and I’ve always found the Battle of Gettysburg to be fascinating. The author, John R. Morris (1835-1905), served with the 57th Virginia Infantry Regiment which was a part of General Lewis A. Armistead’s Brigade and participated in Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Morris wrote to his father Richard A. Morris (1805-1881) on 10 July 1863 recounting the news that several Colonels were killed during the battle, stating, “Pickets Division got cut all to peases [pieces]. Our regiment went in with 500 and 20 men and come out with 200 and 70 men. Tha [there] was half of our company kill [killed] and wounded and missing.”  Morris also writes about family members that were in battle noting that “John W. Morris has not bin [been] seean [seen] sence [since] the fight.”

While I find it interesting to read a letter written by someone who participated in Pickett’s Charge, what I also found so endearing about this letter, and over fifty others written, were the simple things that Morris wrote in his letters. Almost every other … read more »

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- Montgomery County in the Civil War

Editor’s note: This blog post marks the close of the grant-funded Montgomery County chancery processing project (in Civil War terms, the “Last Dispatch”). Thanks to generous support by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), over 200 boxes of Montgomery County chancery are now flat-filed, indexed, conserved, and awaiting digitization. Dedicated LVA staff Sarah Nerney, Regan Shelton, and Scott Gardner, along with assistance from Clerk of the Circuit Court Erica W. Williams and her staff, completed not only the processing of chancery records but the organization and identification of scores of other historical court records. To revisit some of the discoveries made over the course of this two-year project, re-read some of the earlier blog posts. The chancery causes are now slated for digital reformatting. Researchers should contact the Montgomery County Circuit Court Clerk’s office with inquiries regarding access or copies.

 


Detail, Major R. L. Poor, Report of Survey for location of Supply Depot on New River, 1864. Montgomery County, Chancery Causes, 1864-005, James P. Hammet vs. General John C. Breckinridge, Montgomery County Circuit Court, Christiansburg, Virginia.

When one thinks about the Civil War, usually the first thoughts are about military battles, but there were many battles fought in the courts over resources such as supplies and land. The chancery records in Virginia’s courthouses can provide tantalizing insights into conflicts on the home front. They also reveal how complicated life became in Civil War Virginia as individuals, businesses, and even localities fought each other and the Confederate government to defend their property or what they viewed as rightfully … read more »

- Jacob Yoder and Educating Virginia’s Freedpeople after the Civil War

This is the second in a series of four blog posts concerning post-Civil War Virginia and the lives of freedpeople after Emancipation. The posts precede the Library of Virginia exhibition Remaking Virginia: Transformation through Emancipation opening 6 July 2015.

 


The Freedman's Spelling-Book  (Boston, 1865).

“It is too plain that this people still love Slavery with some blind Madness.” Jacob Eschbach Yoder (February 22, 1838–April 15, 1905), a transplant to Virginia from Millersville, Pennsylvania, had lived in Lynchburg for only a month when he noted this observation in his diary on April 28, 1866. The Civil War had ended the Confederacy’s dream of a slaveholding nation, but Yoder perceptively feared that white Southerners had “only accepted the result of this war, because they must.” A teacher who had come to Virginia after the Civil War to help educate the freedpeople, Yoder perceived that many whites “hate every measure that is intended to elevate them. Education is their only passport to distinction. Therefore the whites so bitterly oppose it.”

Shortly after the Civil War began, African Americans of all ages, both free and enslaved, quickly took advantage of any chance to gain the education that had been denied to them under slavery. Despite widespread and often violent opposition from white Virginians, opportunity came from a variety of sources. During the war, numerous religious and private organizations began sending people to Virginia to … read more »

- A Wedding, a Death, and a Pension: Charles and Sarah Butler’s Story


Commemorative stamp based on painting, dated 1892, by J. Andr_ Castaigne (painting courtesy of the West Point Museum, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York).

Portsmouth, Virginia, occupied by the Union army, was the scene of a wedding in November 1863.[i]  The happy couple was Charles “Charley” Butler, a private in Company E, 1st Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT), and Sarah Smith.  Butler’s service record at the National Archives shows that he joined the Army on 17 June 1863 at Mason’s Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island) in the District of Columbia, and that he was a nineteen-year-old farmer born in Prince William County, five feet seven inches tall, with “Very Black” complexion, “Black” eyes and hair, and “scars on right foot and breast.”  His next of kin was listed as a brother in Alexandria.[ii]  Sarah later stated that she and Charles “married by consent of our respective parents, being both free born.”[iii]  Sarah appears in the Norfolk County Register of Free Negroes in 1853 as a sixteen-year-old with “dark” complexion, height four feet eleven and a half inches, “born free in this county,” daughter of Nancy Smith.[iv]  Charles has not been located in antebellum records but may have been the son of Flora Butler, who was listed in the 1860 census as a 55-year-old free black washerwoman in Alexandria.  Living with her was 20-year-old blacksmith Alonzo Butler, who was presumably the brother mentioned in Charles’s service record.[v]

Charles had … read more »

- Stafford County Chancery Goes Digital


Stafford anniversary logo

2014 has been a special year filled with special events for Stafford County. Celebrating its 350th anniversary, the county held numerous community-based historical celebrations to mark the occasion.  On January 4, some 4,300 people kicked off the commemoration with an inaugural event—complete with an interactive history tent and a “live history timeline” enacted by elementary students. Founders Day festivities, held May 3-4, gathered together 59 groups with 655 participants to showcase different aspects of the county’s history—with a parade, history square, and county-wide school fine arts program. Close to 13,000 people turned out for this unique sesquarcentennial jubilee. The Local Records Services branch of the Library of Virginia was selected to participate and staff a table displaying mounted reproductions of county documents found in its archival collections.

Individuals researching Stafford County history know that it is a locality that has experienced a massive loss of its loose records and volumes. Helping provide a context for earlier surviving documents (see the Lost Localities Digital Collection) as well as adding to the county’s ongoing story, the digital images for the Stafford County (Va.) Chancery Causes, 1866-1912, are now available online through the Chancery Records Index on the Library of Virginia’s Virginia Memory site. Because these documents rely so heavily on the testimony of witnesses, chancery causes contain a wealth of historical and genealogical information … read more »