Pamunkey River

Pamunkey River
The Pamunkey River in 1864

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Sounds of New Kent

(Originally posted Christmas 2013)

That Christmas shooting? It's older than you think.

We have quite a merry Christmas in the family; and a compact that no unpleasant word shall be uttered and no scramble for anything. The family were baking cakes and pies until late last night, and to day we shall have full rations. I have found enough celery in the little garden for dinner.
 Last night and this morning the boys have been firing Christmas guns incessantly- no doubt pilfering from their fathers cartridge boxes. There is much jollity and some drunkenness in the streets, notwithstanding the enemy's pickets are within an hour's march of the city

From A Rebel War Clerk's Diary at the Confederate States CapitalJohn Beauchamp Jones, 1866

 Robert Mitchell, Mayor, to the Governor
 Dec. 25, Richmond

Having a moment of time to spare, I take that opportunity of acknowleging the receipt of your letter enclosing the advice of our Council of State, bearing date the 3rd of last November, and yours of the 19th of same month. It did not come to hand at that date or for many days after. I have done all in my power to prevent that evil of unlawful Gaming within this city pointed out by you; besides it encourages the unguarded youth in Idleness vice and Immorality. You may depend on my doing all in my power to prevent such violation of our laws, and punish them when detected.
 Your favor of the 24th Inst. came very late to hand on the evening of that day. Had I rece'd it early in the day I might have had it more in my power to have its contents put in execution more compleat in order to comply with your wish and my own desire. On the 23rd Inst. I wrote Maj'r Wolfe to furnish a Serg't Guard out of the militia, in order to aid our city Patrol to patrol the city and its Jurisdiction during the Christmas Holydays, which has been complyed with, but it does appear to me to be impossible to prevent firing what is called Christmas Guns, being an old established custom, although there is an ordinance of the city police fixing a fine of 5s. for every offence of firing Guns within this city. The addition of the militia to the city patrol may prevent in part the evil pointed out to me in your letter.
 I am &c                    

- From Calendar of Virginia State Papers and Other Manuscripts: ... Preserved in the Capitol at Richmond, Virginia- Volume 9, Henry W. Flournoy, 1890

March 1655-6    6th of Commonwealth  
                                                           ACT XII 
WHEREAS it is much to be doubted, That the comon enemie the Indians, if opportunity serve, would suddenly invade this collony to a totall subversion of the same and whereas the only means for the discovery of their plotts is by allarms, of which no certainty can be had in respect of the frequent shooting of gunns in drinking, whereby they proclaim, and as it were, justifie that beastly vice spending much powder in vaine, that might be reserved against the comon enemie, Be it therefore enacted that what person or persons soever shall, after publication hereof, shoot any gunns at drinkeing (marriages and ffuneralls onely excepted) that such person or persons so offending shall forfeit 100 lb. of tobacco to be levied by distresse in case of refusall and to be disposed of by the militia in amunition towards a magazine for the county where the offence shall be comitted.

From The Statutes at Large: Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619William Waller Hening,ed. 1823

Friday, December 18, 2015

Reconnaissance of the Chickahominy, June 1862- Part Two

Report of Capt. Wilhelm Heine, Volunteer Topographical Engineer.
  FORT MONROE, VA., August 21, 1862.
GENERAL: Respectfully I submit the following report:
According to instructions received on Saturday, June 28, at 5.20 I embarked on board the steam-tug C. P. Smith. with the usual escort of 40 men, commanded by Captain Lee, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and proceeded up James River. At 11:10 o'clock I reached the gunboat flotilla, and at 11:25 o'clock I handed the dispatch addressed to the senior naval officer to Commander McKinstry, U. S. Navy, on board the United States sloop of war Dacotah. He could not supply me with a pilot; therefore I had to anchor for the night at the mouth of the Chickahominy.
On Sunday, the 29th, at daylight, Captain Lee went ashore in the cutter and brought on board a negro well acquainted with the locality, who piloted us in and up the Chickahominy River. At 11 o'clock we got aground, but got off again after a short delay, and reached the place called the Windsor Shades, where, as directed, I anchored at 12 p.m. A short distance below this the United States gunboat Delaware was aground, and after having communicated to the commanding officer the object of my mission, and requested him to render to Captain Lee such assistance as the emergency of the case might require, I went, as directed, ashore with the prescribed escort of 6 men and a non-commissioned officer. The Windsor Shades are situated on the north-east shore of the Chickahominy, at the end of a narrow neck of land flanked on both sides by an impenetrable swamp. The southwest shore for miles above and below is also a dense swamp, rendering the position favorable for defense. Two roads lead at about right angles from it one toward New Kent Court-House, the other toward Long Bridge; at that time, as I had reason to believe, in possession of our troops. I took the latter. The bridge marked on the map Forge Bridge was burned; the ford near an old mill impassable on account of the high water. Some negroes on a plantation warned me that the enemy's cavalry was on the other side of the Chickahominy in the lower White Oak Swamp and on the road toward Charles City Court-House. Anxious to reach General McClellan's headquarters, I pushed on without delay and near sunset got up to Long Bridge. This was also burned; the river unfordable, and so I pushed on toward Bottoms Bridge. About this time firing of cannon and musketry could be heard in that direction, receding toward Richmond. With my nearly exhausted men I hastened on, and reached Bottoms Bridge at about 11 p. m. Here all was darkness and silence. The firing had ceased; a drizzling rain made the night still darker. No trace of living beings could be discovered, and exhausted we laid down in the road close to the destroyed bridge to wait until daylight.
Daylight of Monday, the 30th, came, but no traces of either friend or foe could be discovered. Finding the river unfordable, we went as far as the railroad bridge. This, as well as an ammunition train on it, was on fire. We crossed the swamp on fragments of railroad cars,. boxes, & c., and marched up the railroad, where firing of skirmishers was heard. One sick soldier of the Sixty-third New York was lying on the track. His mind was wandering and he gave a confused account of the fight of the previous day. A short distance farther a rebel sentinel stood on the edge of the wood. Corporal Young, of the Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and two privates went and captured him. He belonged to the Fourth Georgia Regiment. From him I learned that Toomb's brigade and some cavalry had moved down Charles City road through the lower White Oak Swamp and joined Jackson in his attack on Sumner's Corps. The sick and wounded, of whom many hundred filled the station house and the adjoining farms, confirmed the report, and I stated that the last of our troops had left about sundown, pursued by the enemy.
The firing in front had ceased and a large body of the enemy's infantry was now seen approaching on the railroad. Accordingly I assembled 8 or 10 stragglers and convalescents, formed them, and retreated across the Chickahominy, covering front and rear with skirmishers. I hoped to reach the boat and Charles City by way of James River. Striking the same road by which I had come the previous evening, and which was then free from the enemy, I marched about 5 miles until at a cross-road I met a squad of the enemy's cavalry. With Privates Joseph Cathcart and Owen Dougherty, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, and one of the convalescents, whose name I am sorry not to know, I went forward to attack them and drove them back, while Corporal Young and the other 4 men of my escort prevented the stragglers and convalescents, who declined to fight, from running away. We succeeded in gaining the woods and marched 2 miles farther, when, just as we were emerging in an open space, two companies of cavalry fell upon us from all sides, riding us down. I had previously directed the men of the Ninety-ninth, in case of an attack by overwhelming numbers, to disperse and to make each separately his way to Captain Lee, to advise him of what had happened. Five men succeeded. Corporal Young and Private Casey were taken with me prisoners. In the flutter that succeeded the attack, I managed, as directed, to destroy the papers by eating them up unobserved.
I was sorry to learn afterward that of the 5 who succeeded in escaping 4 were taken the next day. The fifth, Joseph Cathcart, refused to surrender, killed the captain of the enemy's cavalry, and was shot dead. I recommend respectfully that this mans family, which is poor, may have the benefit of such a pension as the law allows.
I was taken to Richmond and confined, with about 130 of our officers, in the Tobacco Warehouse until August 15, when we were all sent to Aiken's Landing, and returned to this place in a flag of truce.
With great regret I learn that Corporal Young and Private J. Casey, Ninety-ninth New York Volunteers, are still prisoners of war in Richmond. Their fate concerns me greatly, and I feel sure that you will effect their release if it is in your power to do so.
Very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
                WM. HEINE,
    Captain, Volunteer Topographical Engineer.
Major-General DIX, Commanding Corps d'Armée.

-The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. ; Series 1 -Volume 11 (Part II) 

*USS Dacotah had had a busy life so far. Built in Norfolk, only commissioned on May 1, 1860 she sailed in June to join the East India Squadron, arriving at Hong Kong  January 1861. Notified of the outbreak of hostilities she was ordered to return in August 1861 and returned via the Cape of Good Hope. She arrived in the Virgin Islands in November where she started blockade operations. She started operations in the Hampton Roads area after a winter refit.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Reconnaissance of the Chickahominy, June 1862- Part One

 Expedition from Fort Monroe to open communication with the Army of the Potomac, June 1862

Report of Capt. John C. Lee, Ninety-ninth New York Infantry.

        FORT MONROE, VA., July 5, 1862.
 SIR: In obedience to your orders of June 28, I started at 7 p. m. for Windsor Shades, on the Chickahominy River, on board the steamer C. P. Smith, at which place we arrived at 11 a. m. June 29, where we found the United States gunboat Delaware aground on the bar.
At 11.30 a. m. Captain Heine, volunteer topographical engineer, and a guard of 6 privates and 1 corporal, started with dispatches for Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's headquarters. About half an hour later I heard the discharge of musketry in the direction that Captain Heine had taken, and thinking that he was attacked I landed 20 men and searched the country for about 2 miles around, but could find no trace of either friend or foe. As six days has now elapsed since Captain Heine left the steamer and nothing has been heard from him, I am led to the painful conclusion that he and his men have been captured by the enemy.
At 2 p.m. June 29 I took 12 men in the cutter and sounded the river for 6 miles above Windsor Shades. I found an average of 14 fathoms* of water in the channel for about 24 miles up. Above that I found many places where the channel was not more than 4 feet deep. The river is so crooked above Windsor Shades and the channel in many places so narrow that navigation with a steamer is impossible.
At 3 p.m. the same day the United States gunboat Satellite arrived at Windsor Shades and got aground on the bar.
At sunset of June 29 several negroes came down to the boats and stated that 5,000 rebels were coming down to attack us. This was rather bad news, as all our boats lay on the north side of the river fast aground and could not be got off until high water, which would be at daylight next morning. While aground we were in a dangerous position, for we could only bring a few of our guns to bear on the point of attack, and the enemy's riflemen could have picked off the guns crews at their leisure. Finding that I could do but little in this position I immediately mounted a 12-pounder mountain howitzer on the bank, having a clear sweep of half a mile in all directions. I also took all the men I could spare from the boat and posted a picket guard, forming a half circle, for 14 miles, for the purpose of giving us timely warning of the approach of the enemy, as well as to prevent spies from coming down and ascertaining our helpless condition.
During the night the guard was attacked several times and twice after daylight next morning by small parties, but my men held their ground and let no one pass their lines.
About 5 a.m. June 30 we got our boats off the bar and placed them in position for anything that might offer. I remained in this position until the morning of July 3, when, learning that the rebels were making a forced march to the bluffs, about 6 miles below, with a large quantity of artillery, to command the river and also to obstruct the channel by felling trees across narrow places, I deemed it imprudent to remain any longer at Windsor Shades. I then, in company with the gunboats Satellite and Port Royal, which latter arrived on July 1, dropped down the river about 10 miles, where I had to stop, as the engine broke down; but in about two hours we had it in working order again, and immediately started for the James River to report for orders to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. I arrived at Harrison's Bar at 3.30 p.m. and reported at headquarters at 4 p.m. Was ordered to wait for dispatches.
At 3 p. m. on July 4 dispatches were given me for the President of the United States and for Maj. Gen. John A. Dix, which I delivered to the proper authorities at Fort Monroe at 11.30 p.m. of July 4.
I have the honor, sir, to be, your obedient servant,
                    JOHN C. LEE,
Capt., 99th Regt. N. Y. Vols., Comdg. Steamer C.P. Smith.
Maj. Gen. JOHN A. DIX,
    Commanding Division, Fort Monroe, Va.

-The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies.; Series 1 - Volume 11 (Part II)

* a fathom is six feet of depth.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Presybeterian History of St. Peters Church

The Historical Committee would report as follows:
1. There has come into our hands a manuscript history of St. Peter's Church in New Kent County, written by Dr. S. P. Christian, and one of Olivet Church. Olivet Church for years shared with Episcopalians the use of St. Peter's Church. We recommend that these documents be printed as a supplement to the next issue of the minutes of this Presbytery. The manuscripts have been deposited in the Union Seminary Library.

By the Late Dr. S. P. Christian, Ruling Elder in Olivet Church, Who Died in 1909.
This is one of the oldest colonial church buildings in the State of Virginia. As the old records have been destroyed the exact date of its erection cannot be ascertained, but from inscriptions on tombstones in its cemetery it dates back to some time in the seventeenth century, and not very long after the first settlement of the colony at old Jamestown. It is believed by a good many that the bricks of which it was built were brought from England, but I have always regarded this as a myth, as there is all around the church an abundance of good clay soil suitable for the manufacture of bricks, and the erection of the old brick church at Jamestown and others in different parts of the State soon afterwards proves that there must have been among the immigrants some who brought over with them the knowledge of brickmaking.
Of the old Episcopal rectors who preached there preceding and for a considerable time subsequent to the Revolution, there seems to be no knowledge left, except of the Rev. David Mossom, who officiated at the marriage of Genera] Washington, and whose memorial tablet is now on the walls of the church. It is said that during the war and for some time afterwards it had fallen so completely into decay that sometimes cattle took refuge in it as a shelter in stormy weather.
In the early part of the last century Christian people in the vicinity, mostly of the Presbyterian faith, repaired it, and the first worship conducted in it was by Presbyterian ministers. The Rev. Jesse Turner, whose wife taught a large female school in Richmond, and who was the son of the Rev. James Turner, a noted preacher in his day and the grandfather of the late distinguished divine, James Turner Leftwich, of Baltimore, preached occasionally at St. Peter's about this time, but there was no stated supply until the Rev. Jonathan Silliman was called from New England to take charge of the field.
In addition to his ministerial duties, he conducted a large classical school for boys. For the accommodation of the school, a portion of the church, which was originally built in the form of the letter T, was separated from the main auditorium by a brick wall and used as a schoolroom. I remember in my early manhood having seen this apartment in the rear of the church in a good state of preservation, but there is now not a vestige of it left.
The pastor took his meals at a neighboring farm house and slept in the old vestry room, which was in the tower of the church. He was a man of singular simplicity and purity of character, but had the peculiarity of not liking to answer a question directly, if he could do it indirectly. A friend once, knowing that he had performed a marriage ceremony, asked him what fee he received on that occasion. His reply was, "I lost a pair of gloves there and came off about even".
When someone, knowing that he slept with graves all around him, asked him if he did not sometimes dream about ghosts, he replied, "I was very much startled one night by hearing a loud noise on the long flight of steps leading to my chamber. On opening my door to find out the cause of it, I was met by an old negro man, who had hobbled up on a cane to talk to me about religion". His chamber in the tower, having to be reached by a long flight of steps extending from the archway below on the outside of the church solved the mystery.
My own acquaintance with him commenced in a very peculiar manner. When I was about five years old and just beginning to learn to read, my good old grandmother, proud of my accomplishments, as all old people are apt to be of the progress made by the youngest scions of their houses, persuaded me to go into my father's medical office at Cool Well, where Mr. Silliman was convalescing from an attack of fever, and read a verse in the Bible to him. I went in with a brave heart, but as I reached his side I was taken with a stage fright or something of that sort. My cowardly tongue refused to utter a word, and I broke down in a flood of tears. To console me in my distress he drew from his vest pocket and presented to me a small silver coin, the like of which I had never handled or ever seen before, but which I soon learned to know was a "fopensapenny", which translated into intelligible language meant four pence one-half penny in old English currency and six and a half cents in American coin.
I, do not remember whether I reported to my grandmother the utter failure of the main object of my mission, but as far as I was personally concerned I had abundant reason to be well satisfied with its result. Soon after this (at least to the writer) interesting event Mr. Silliman married Mrs. Meacher, a sister of Rev. Wm. J. and George D. Armstrong, and moved to the North.
He was succeeded by the Rev. John Watt, who was a brother-in-law of the Rev. Dr. Wm. S. White, General Jackson's pastor in Lexington, and an uncle of Mr. W. W. Jones, who now lives at my old birthplace, Cool Well, and is a ruling elder in Olivet Church. Mr. Watt remained but a short time, when the Rev. Henry Smith, who had been pastor of the Pole Green Church in Hanover, took charge of the work at St. Peter's. During the most of this period, extending back for several years, the church was in a very languishing condition, and on the occasion of the meetings of the Presbytery at Pole Green, which occurred quite frequently, the pastor, who was a tall, spare man, with a very solemn countenance, arose to make his report from the New Kent Church, which was invariably a discouraging one. A lady member said that every-body in the congregation seemed to have a long face.
After Mr. Smith left the Rev. John Howard occupied the pulpit. He remained but a short time, but while there, by his ardent piety and consecrated life, made a deep impression upon the community. At the close of his ministry, the Rev. Alexander Martin, who had a regular pastorate in Hanover, preached steadily once a month, and it was during his term of service that the Presbyterians ceased to worship in this old building and erected a church of their own.
During the latter part of these several Presbyterian pastorates, extending from about 1820 to 1856 (?), the pulpit was occupied by Episcopal ministers on alternate Sundays in the following order, Rev. Messrs. Dalrymple, Caldwell, Poyntz. The two congregations worshipped(sic) together in perfect harmony, and from the regularity of their attendance on each other's services, it would have been supposed that they all belonged to the same denomination. I believe that the Episcopalians were very sorry when we left, and one of the ladies remarked that it was like taking two bites at a cherry.
There seems to be a general belief that General Washington was married in this church, but owing to undoubted evidence to the contrary, the writer is not prepared to accept it as a fact. Mrs. Macon, who was a member of the church and the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman of the Establishment before the Revolution, said that she knew it was not so because she had been told by an aunt of hers that she was at the wedding and the marriage took place at the White House, Mrs. Custis's home, about three miles from the church, and that it occurred in the morning, as it was an invariable custom among the clergymen of that day, if not according to a canon of the church, to perform all marriage ceremonies before twelve o'clock in the day. In addition to this, it was not then a custom to perform them in churches, but in private homes.
As a matter of sentiment, I would have been glad to believe that so interesting an event occurred in the building, where I first registered my covenant vows to the church, as no doubt would the venerable lady, to whom I am indebted for the above facts, and who was deeply attached to the church of which she was a member, but no one has a right to substitute sentiment for facts. There is an old saying that if you give error a good start it is bard for truth to overtake it. As this one has had so good a start, as to become hoary with age, it goes without saying that it is high time that truth was sent out in pursuit of it, even if it should be so unfortunate as never to overtake it.

- Minutes of East Hanover Presbytery
Presbyterian Church in the U.S. Presbytery of East Hanover
Volume 1931:Jan./June