State Highway Marker

State Highway Marker

Monday, July 3, 2017

July 3 1863- Grand Carnival of Mars

New Kent County's two infantry companies in the Confederate Army, the Pamunkey Rifles and the Barhamsville Greys, were elements of the 53rd Virginia Infantry Regiment. The 53rd Virginia was part of Armistead's brigade of Pickett's division and as such was one of the lead elements in Pickett's Charge on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Below, part of a much longer piece about his experiences during the war, are the recollections of Benjamin Lyons Farinholt (Pamunkey Rifles) about the battle.




Finally the supreme trial came, when, after having lost thousands at Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, and, as Gen. Lee aptly said, "lost our right arm" in the death of that great and inimitable Christian soldier, Stonewall Jackson, and after many other small battles — small only in comparison with larger engagements — we crossed once more the Potomac and took up our line of march for the fat pastures of Pennsylvania.


Our especial command, Pickett's Division, was engaged in the destruction of a railroad near Chambersburg by piling up the wooden ties and kindling them into huge fires, on which the iron rails were heated and bent, when, on the 2d of July, we received orders to prepare three days' rations, and in a few hours thereafter were on the road for Gettysburg, where we arrived about daybreak, after a hard march of twenty- eight miles, and took our place in line on the verge of the battle-field on the morning of that memorable 3d of July, 1863.

These two mighty armies, after rapidly concentrating their forces during the heavy fighting which had lasted for two days with thundering cannon, charge of infantry, and onset of cavalry, with varying fortune for advantage and position, and so far without any decisive result, now plumed their banners, reformed their lines, and confronted each other on this arena for the greatest battle of modern times — Lee with sixty-five thousand, Meade with one hundred and seventeen thousand, trained and tried veterans of two years' hard service. Thus, on this lovely midsummer day, when all nature in her luxuriant garb seemed wooing peace, was fought the battle which made the whole world stand aghast. Absolute chaos seemed to reign — the resounding boom of three hundred pieces of cannon, the incessant whir of bombs, the deafening explosion of whole caissons of ammunition, the whiz of canister and shrapnel, followed by the at first sharp crack and then steady roar of musketry, as regiments, brigades, and divisions would come to close quarters, forgetful of everything but this grand carnival of Mars.

Some idea may be gained of the concentration and intensity of the artillery fire when, within thirty minutes after the opening guns announced the battle commenced, the stretcher and ambulance corps had to be doubled to take off the wounded and dying. As the heavy artillery fire, kept up for hours, gradually ceased, it proved only a prelude to the general advance of our infantry all along the line. When, after advancing about a thousand yards under a withering fire from both infantry and artillery in front and a galling fire from several batteries stationed on Little Round Top Mountain, on our right flank, with unbroken ranks, save to close the gaps as men fell to the right and left, our decimated ranks pressed forward, delivering their fire in the very faces of the brave Federals, who defended their guns with great coolness and sheer desperation, but could not withstand our impetuous charge with the bayonet. Over we went into the Federal rifle-pits and over the re-enforced stone fence (called now the Bloody Angle), behind which the foe was entrenched. There, in a hand-to-hand engagement, where bayonet and pistol and butt of musket were liberally used, we captured all who wen killed or had not tied, virtually conquering and holding for a time the strongest position of the Federal line of battle on Cemetery Ridge, the very center and key of the Federal defense. Gen. Armistead claimed the day as ours, and, standing by one of the captured pieces of artillery, where the brave Federal Capt. Gushing had fallen, with his dead men and horses almost covering the ground, called on us to load and use the captured cannon on the fleeing foe.

Just then Hancock's command came forward with full ranks and fresh for the struggle, attacking us with great impetuosity and delivering against our much decimated ranks at close range at least fifty bullets to our five. Gen. Armistead was laid low by three wounds at their first fire: Gen. Kemper had also fallen in the charge, desperately wounded: Garnett had been killed, and three-fourths of our field and company officers were either killed or wounded. The writer was shot through the thigh, and Col. Martin, our gallant regimental leader, received a shot through the hip which almost proved fatal. Pandemonium complete, and for a time no quarter was asked nor given, and many on each side lost their lives. Many shots were fired at such close rang afterward to burn the clothes or flesh of the victims with powder. From sheer exhaustion and overpowering numbers, the remnant of Pickett's Division, the flower of Virginia's contribution to the Confederacy, yielded themselves captives, being literally surrounded and beaten into submission. Heth's Division, on our left, having given away, the enemy had advanced their columns so as to overwhelm us.

While we were receiving and returning as best we could the fire of Hancock's fresh regiments, at the extreme climax of this fight the writer saw a grandson of President Tyler, Robert Tyler Jones, himself already bleeding profusely from a serious wound, wave his pistol and threaten to shoot the first man who offered to surrender.

What must have been the feelings of the handsome and brave Picket as he saw the greater portion of his division, of which he was justly so proud, killed, wounded, or captured, and only about six hundred return from the bloody charge

The writer was taken from the field with other wounded who were captured, and we were guarded for the night with a cordon of infantry and cavalry. In being taken to the rear we could see the terrible loss we had inflicted upon the Federal army, for every nook in the fence, every little stream of water to which they could crawl, every barn and shed, every yard and shade-tree were literally burdened with their dead, wounded, and dying. The writer remarked to a fellow officer, who was terribly disconsolate over our loss, that, while our division was nearly annihilated, it must have been the dearest victory ever purchased by any commander, and a few such, while crippling the Confederacy, would almost destroy the enemy.

The next day we were taken to Westminster, Md., under a heavy guard, but not before Gen. Meade had ascertained that Gen. Lee would not again give battle, for really Meade was in no hurry to keep up the fight after so heavy a loss as his army sustained. Lee presented with his depleted ranks, after three days of this conflict, such a front as kept the Federal commander in doubt as to what he would do.


-Confederate Veteran Magazine, September 1897



Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ordinary for Sale- 1835


FOR RENT OR SALE, the old and valuable Tavern stand, at New Kent Court-house. The advantages of this stand are, that it is the site of the Court and Superior Court- is just half way between Williamsburg and Richmond. There is Land sufficient attached to it to work six hands. The crop is about four barrels of corn to the acre. There is a sufficiency of land of fine quality in wood, to make a good Farm, independent of the Tavern part- on this, a sufficiency of tobacco or cotton might be made to pay for the land in a few years. There is on this land fine shell marl, which could be used to great advantage. Any person wishing to rent or purchase, will be pleased to apply to the subscriber in Williamsburg, or to Mr. G.P. Crump of Richmond, who is authorised to sell or rent.                                  BURWELL BASSETT. 
Oct. 9. 


- Richmond Enquirer, 9 October 1835



The Burwell Bassett advertising the tavern(ordinary) at New Kent Courthouse is Burwell Bassett II, nephew of George and Martha Washington(his mother was Martha's sister). Bassett owned Bassett Hall in Williamsburg and Eltham plantation in New Kent. The Bassetts were the second largest landowners in the county after the Custises. Burwell Bassett II was a long time congressman, serving some  terms between 1805 and 1829. He never represented New Kent however representing Tidewater Virginia and the Eastern Shore from his Williamsburg residence. He died some five years after this advertisement in February 1841. After his death his nephew George Washington Bassett, of Clover Lea in Hanover, inherited his estates including the tavern.




Thursday, June 8, 2017

"The Fullness of Midsummer with the Vivid and Tender Green of Southern Spring- 1862"



We are lying in the Spaulding (medical transport, S. R. Spaulding) just below a burnt railroad-bridge, on the Pamunkey River, and, as usual, in the middle of the fleet of forage boats. The shores are at once wooded and wonderful to the water's edge, the fullness of midsummer with the vivid and tender green of Southern spring. Up the banks, where the trees will let us look between them, lie great fields of wheat, tall and fresh, and taking the sunshine for miles. The river winds constantly,—returning upon itself every half-mile or so, and we seem sometimes lying in a little wooded lake without inlet or outlet. It is startling to find, so far from the sea, a river whose name we hardly knew two weeks ago, where our anchor drops in three fathoms of water and our great ship turns freely either way with the tide. Our smoke-stacks are almost swept by the hanging branches as we move, and great schooners are drawn up under the banks, tied to the trees; the Spaulding herself lies in the shade of an elm-tree which is a landmark for miles up and down. 
The army is in camp close at hand, resting, this Sunday, and eating its six pies to a man, and so getting ready for a move, which is planning in ——'s tent. Half a mile above us is the White House, naming the place,—a modern cottage, if ever white, now drabbed over, standing where the early home of Mrs. Washington stood. We went ashore this morning with General ——, and strolled about the grounds, —an unpretending, sweet little place, with old trees shading the cottage, a green lawn sloping to the river, and an old-time garden full of roses. The house has been emptied, but there are some pieces of quaint furniture, brass fire-dogs, &c., and just inside the door this notice is posted: "Northern soldiers who profess to reverence the name of Washington, forbear to desecrate the home of his early married life, the property of his wife, and now the home of his descendants"; signed, "A Granddaughter of Mrs. Washington"; confronted by Gen. McClellan's order of protection.

-Hospital Transports: A Memoir of the Embarkation of the Sick and Wounded from the Peninsula of Virginia in the Summer of 1862- Frederick Law Olmsted
Publisher Ticknor and Fields, 1863


National Archive photo of unidentified ship- possibly the S.R. Spaulding


Monday, May 29, 2017

Hospitals on the Pamunkey


Interior of a Union hospital ship


An interesting Wikipedia article on a little known aspect of the Civil War- the hospital ships of the United States Sanitary Commission. The Commission was a privately funded and led relief organization run out Washington during the war. Some notable members of the organization include Frederick Law Olmsted and George Templeton Strong.


The Commission created and ran the Hospital Transport Service, a network of dozens of converted steamers that transported ten of thousands of Union wounded to hospitals out of the war zone.

Some of the vessels that operated specifically on the Pamunkey River were, the Elm City, Commodore, Louisiana, State of Maine, Kennebeck, Daniel Webster No. 2, John Brooks, Whilldin, Knickerbocker, St. Mark, and the Euterpe.*

Some other sites of interest on this topic:





*Note from A MEMOIR of the Embarkation of the Sick and Wounded from the Peninsula of Virginia in the Summer of 1862.-Compiled and Published at the request of the Sanitary Commission. 


"The St. Mark arrived about this time, a splendid clipper East-Indiaman, and, after her, the Euterpe, both first-class new sailing vessels, entirely reconstructed interiorly by the Commission, as model hospital-ships, and having their own corps of surgeons, dressers, &c. Drawing too much water to come up the Pamunkey, they anchored at Yorktown, and the sick were taken down on steamboats to them, and they made the voyage round to New York in tow of steamers."



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

1863: Sunken Mules and Quick-Pig

An excerpt from Thirteenth Regiment of New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865: A Diary Covering Three Years and a Day by S. Millett Thompson (Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1888)


July 8(1863). Wed. Hot; heavy showers. Reg. marches at 6 a.m. to New Kent Court House and about six miles beyond. Distance twelve miles. Roads one mass of mud. Two wagons are mired in one place, cannot be extricated and are burned. The worst roads and worst mud we ever saw. As we march to-day over a bad corduroy road, old, rotten and strewn with army waste, a big darkey, leading a mule, gets off the road with his charge and into a deep slough. The darkey is rescued with a pole, but the mule goes down down, until his ears and sorry countenance are alone visible- a sudden struggle, a gulp or two, and a few bubbles are the last signs of the mule. The darkey's sole comment, given with a scared grin, was: "I, golly! Done gone forebber!" as he plainly saw how he himself might also have gone under, but for that pole and a few strong men. The Thirteenth are all placed on picket, tonight as rear-guard, and forage far and wide for something good to eat. 
During the first halt, near New Kent Court House, of scarcely half an hour and in a pouring rain, some of the men have a lunch of 'quick-pig.' They had caught him a mile or two back, had knocked him on the head and partly dressed him while they marched. Instantly upon halting the pig is cut into very thin slices and distributed, a fire is built- of dry wood found in some wood-shed by the way, rolled in a rubber blanket and lugged may be for a mile or more- the thin slices of meat are rolled in salt, put on a green stick, and broiled in the fire. When a dozen veteran soldiers start upon an affair of this kind, a halt of ten or fifteen minutes suffices to furnish them with a hearty meal.
After this first halt, the 13th moves a little way to drier land near some buildings, and remains there for nearly two hours. Then marches about four hours to make six miles; the teams in the train, we are guarding, sticking fast in the mud at every few rods. We are marching to Hampton as a convoy to the wagon train. 



Monday, May 8, 2017

"Regarded As One of the Most Interesting Seventeenth Century Structures . . ."

                                     



                                         Historical Markers Placed in New Kent

Historical markers are now being placed in New Kent County, particularly along Highway No. 451, which follows the old county road, according to Dr. H.J. Eckenrode, head of the history division of the State Conservation and Development Commission.
Among the places being marked are the "White House," once the home of Mrs. Martha Custis, who became the wife of George Washington, and later the property of General W.H.F. Lee, son of General Robert E. Lee; old St. Peter's Church, regarded as one of the most interesting seventeenth century structures in the state; "Eltham," once a famous estate; and Eltham's Landing, the scene of a skirmish in the War Between the States. A new marker is to be placed at New Kent Courthouse.

-Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 27, 1931



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

OIL IN NEW KENT.
Four Inch Stream Forced, Out of Limb of a Tree. 
(Special to The Times-Dispatch) 
ROXBURY, VA., April 4.— Near the famous Long Bridge that spans the historic Chickahominy Swamp, a quarter of a mile from Roxbury, is a huge cypress tree which leans over the swamp. About thirty feet from the ground is a large limb, which extends over the main stream, and forced through this limb by some hidden power is a four-inch stream of pure oil. The surface of the water is covered with oil, and fears for the fish are apprehended, as the oil floats down the stream for many miles. 
Mr. M.C. Talley*, who discovered it, says he attempted to get to the limb from which it spouted to catch some of the fluid to have it tested, but the water was so high that the attempt was futile. Were the oil comes from or what it will prove to be is a mystery. The tree stands over the land of Mr. Robert Taylor, who a few years bought it from the heirs of the late John T. Harris†. Mr. Taylor, who is an expert in coal mining, which business he followed in the far West before casting his fortunes in the Sunny South, believes there is coal oil on his farm. If such proves a fact, the farm that cost $3,000 a few years ago will go up into millions. The place where the tree stands is famous place for crowds of fisherman from Richmond, and it will be learned with interest by the anglers who frequent this place all summer and fall that the sport they love so well at this hallowed spot is a thing of the past.
The pressure that forces that oil up the tree through a hollow for thirty feet and out through the limb is necessarily enormous.

- Times Dispatch, April 5, 1904


* I believe this is actually Nathaniel C. Talley.

† In 1890 Robert Taylor bought the farm, "Soldier's Rest," from the heirs of John T. Harris.



A look at the time of year when this was published might shed light on this strange story. 😃