Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Civil War Memoir of Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee, Part 2

            The following spring (1863) my husband again went into active service, and I boarded at Fishersville31, near Staunton. Gen. Jeb. Stuart32 was stationed there for a while and the ladies greatly enjoyed going out to see the dress parade in the evening. The officers were often entertained at the house where I was staying and the General took a great deal of interest in my little girl. She in turn took delight in playing with his long beard and would get her hands so tangled in it that when she pulled them out she would bring long strands of hair with them, to her amusement. There was much rivalry among the girls as to who should have these strands as keepsakes, and this caused much satisfaction to the general's vanity, he being as much noted for his gallantry to the ladies as for his soldiering.
            That summer, I went down to Richmond, where my husband secured employment, being too much broken in health to continue in active service in the field. Nevertheless, whenever there was a call for men in and around Richmond, he was always one of the first to respond. About this time there were many alarms coming in and whenever the city was threatened the men in the office were called on for assistance. One evening the whole city was aroused by news that the enemy were very near and fast approaching. My husband, not having means to provide for us while he was absent on the fortifications, decided to send me to my sister in Rockbridge Co33. So hastily packing the few things I would need on the journey, Hugh bought me a ticket on the canal boat for Lexington34 and gave me five dollars, which was all that he had, and started me off. It was a very sad journey. In the boat with us were dead bodies of the poor soldiers who had been killed in battles around Richmond. At every landing along the route, we found weeping friends and relatives waiting to convey to a last resting place the brave father or brother who had fallen in defense of his country. This coupled with the fears I had for my own dear husband, leaving him behind, made the journey a hard one to bear.

The James River and Kanawha Canal in Richmond, Virginia

            Besides these things, I had a series of unfortunate accidents on the trip. The first was the loss of my rings, which was a real misfortune, as they were the only things I had which could be converted into money, and we might be dependent upon them for our bread and meat. All of my other jewelry had gone for that purpose, and these rings were the only things I had left. When we arrived at Lynchburg35 the next morning, I was horrified to find that the dam had washed away and that our journey could not be continued by way of the canal. I was only half way on my journey with little Gertie and her nurse depending on me to look after them. I had some lunch with me, so we went to the hotel and asked if we could have a room. They would not rent a room without meals, and those at an exorbitant price, which we did not have. I was feeling much dismayed, and, when the bell rang for dinner, I watched the people as they passed down the hall to the dining room, with the hope that I might see some friend who would help me in my dilemma. Much to my delight, I saw an old gentlemen who had boarded with us in Staunton, and who was a great friend of Capt. Lee's. His name was Mr. Vance36. I sent for him at once and explained my troubles, upon which he readily offered to lend me any amount of money that I needed. I borrowed a sufficient amount to resume my journey, and taking the train for Salem, Va.37 we once more started on our trip to my sisters home. We reached Salem safely, and there took a stage for Lexington. We spent the night there, and, the next morning, I hired a vehicle to take us to Collierstown38, a little settlement about fifteen miles away, where my sister, Mrs. Johnston, was staying. We had only covered about half of our journey when our conveyance broke down and we had to finish our trip in an ox cart. What a ride that was, jolting over the Rockbridge road, composed chiefly of rocks and mud. It well deserved the first part of its name.

Mary (Criss) Lee and her daughter Gertrude, 1867

            At last we reached our destination, and needless to say, were glad of it. The scare, in Richmond, was over in about two weeks, and things had somewhat quieted down, that is as much as usual. My husband had been very uneasy about me, not knowing whether I was dead or alive, or had ever reached my destination. One morning he suddenly appeared at Collierstown, much fatigued, having walked the whole fifteen miles from Lexington. He was much relieved, to say the least, when he found me safe and well with his little "war baby". He had been very much worried about me, because it had been during my stay there that General Custer39 made his famous raid through that country, and he had been unable to hear a word from me or to come to me until this time. General Custer's men were an awful terror, and behaved dreadfully, but I was not bothered at all. I remember how we discussed what we should do with our clothes, whether to let the soldiers have them or to put them in the garret and run the risk of the rats gnawing them to pieces. We unanimously decided in favor of the rats, thinking that remnants would be better than no clothes at all.

Judge John James Allen

            On the day after my husband arrived, he took us down to a place called Beaverdam40, to visit Judge John J. Allen41, who was his great uncle, and I spent a very pleasant time there. During my visit, I learned how to pleat straw and make it into hats, and I made a fine two-story hat out of black and white straw for the Judge, which pleased him immensely, and of which he was very proud. When I left there to return to Richmond, he drove me ten miles to the depot and saw me safely on my way. My husband and I secured rooms in Richmond, but we found it a difficult matter to provide ourselves with the necessities of life, as everything had increased in value to the most exorbitant prices. They were unable to run the blockade as had been done earlier in the war, so it was very difficult to secure any assistance from home, so it called forth all my resources. I found it necessary to make shirts for my husband out of my fine chintz dresses, and to use my linen underwear for constructing garments for my little girl. My talent for making a pot of soup out of nothing, and at the same time making it both palatable and nourishing, also became quite remarkable. Once in a while, when I indulged in a real cup of coffee, at the house of a friend, I always had to pay the penalty of lying awake all night, so unused was I to that common beverage. It was then a highly prized delicacy. The art of pleating straw, which I had learned at Beaverdam, came in very handy at this time, and I made my little girl a hat of split straw, which she wore for a whole season, and which I then sold for thirty dollars, an amount which purchased us a small roast of beef for dinner. A half pint of sorghum molasses, a loaf of baker's bread, was at that time considered an excellent breakfast, and, if we could add to this, it was an unusual treat.

Beaverdam, residence of Judge John James Allen, 2008

            The last winter, which I spent in Richmond, was one of great hardship. Our rooms were without carpet and we had not even sufficient bed-clothes to keep us warm. On the 3rd day of Oct. 1864, my second little girl, Jennie42, was born. Xmas was drawing near, and, in spite of the hard times I was able to provide some small entertainment for my little girl, Gertrude. An old friend from W. Va. sent us a bountiful Xmas dinner, which was gratefully received.

Jennie Lee, 1867

            In the following dreadful winter, came the surrender of Lee43 at Appomattox44, and I was present in Richmond when the awful conflagration occurred at that time. The whole city was envelloped in clouds of smoke. The ordinance and supply departments were all being destroyed, and rapidly consumed by fire. The books and records were taken from their places and burned, and all the powder and ammunition had been taken from the arsenal and magazines and were exploding in the street. Houses were burning in all directions, having been set on fire by their owners, rather than have the yankees take them. It was a time never to be forgotten, as long as I live. We were in the hands of the enemy, and without means. I had the mortification and chagrin of seeing the city filled with blue-coats. My husband was a paroled prisoner, and a friend of his, more fortunate than he, gave us a silver dollar to buy some food. I communicated with my friends from West Va. and my father45 sent me the means to return to my home (Clarksburg). This home I had not seen for four long years. My husband could not return home until he had gotten the consent of the government, and was, of course, looked upon by the West Va. people with much disfavor. We found that we could not remain there so we picked up our things, sold our little home and moved to Salem, Roanoke Co.46, Va. My father, who had distinguished himself as a rampant rebel, during the war, also left Clarksburg, at a great financial sacrifice, and went to Baltimore, Md.47 to live. Of course there were many incidents, both exciting and amusing, which occurred during these four years, but they are too numerous to tell of, and so, in this little personal history I have told simply of the facts with which I was most closely related, and of my own personal experience.

Aaron Criss, father of the author of the memoir

                          Signed,            Mary L. Chandler48 (formerly Mrs. Hugh Holmes Lee)
                                                            May 31st, 1897

The above was copied from a manuscript so faded as to be hardly legible. Slight changes have been made, but the sense and meaning are retained, even where portions of sentences had been obliterated. 

31  Fishersville: town in Augusta County, Virginia, between Staunton and Waynesboro
32  Gen Jeb Stuart: James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart, b. 6 Feb 1833, d. 12 May 1864, famous Confederate general
33  Rockbridge County: established in Virginia in 1777 in the Shenandoah Valley, between Augusta and Botetourt Counties; it is named for Natural Bridge, which lies within its boundaries; county seat Lexington
34  Lexington: town and county seat in Rockbridge County, Virginia; site of Virginia Military Institute and Washington College (now Washington and Lee University)
35  Lynchburg: important city in Campbell County, Virginia; location of ferry, then bridge across James River, important center for transportation and commerce
36  Mr Vance: unidentified; from context, old gentleman, acquaintance from Staunton
37  Salem: city and county seat of Roanoke County, Virginia
38  Collierstown: town in Rockbridge County, Virginia, just west of Lexington
39  General Custer: George Armstrong Custer, b. 5 Dec 1839, d. 25 Jun 1876; United States Army general notorious for his defeat by an alliance of Plains Indians at the Battle of the Little Bighorn on 25 Jun 1876; as a junior officer in the Civil War, he had built a solid reputation, and took part in the Valley campaign under Sheridan in the summer of 1864
40  Beaverdam: Allen family residence in Botetourt County, Virginia, near Buchanan
41  John James Allen: b. 26 Sep 1797, at Woodstock, Shenandoah County, Virginia; d. 18 Sep 1871, at Beaverdam, Botetourt County, Virginia; lived in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), where he began his law practice; appointed to judgeship in the 17th Circuit east of the Alleghenies and moved to Botetourt County; later appointed to the Supreme Court of Virginia, serving from 1840-1852, for a number of years being president of the court; ardent upholder of the doctrine of Secession; retired in 1865. It is not known how he was a great uncle of Hugh Holmes Lee, but his daughter Mary Jane Allen married the father of John Allen Watts, who married Gertrude Lee
42  Jennie or Jane Lee: b. 3 Dec 1864 at Richmond, Virginia, d. 8 Oct 1873 at Baltimore, Maryland; daughter of Hugh Holmes Lee and Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee (later Mrs Chandler)
43  General Robert E. Lee: Robert Edward Lee, b. 19 Jan 1807, d. 12 Oct 1870; most famous of all Confederate generals
44  Appomattox: Appomattox County was formed in 1845 from neighboring counties in Virginia, and lies a short distance east of Lynchburg; Appomattox Court House, a small community in the center of the county, was the site of the final battle of the Army of Northern Virginia and of Lee’s surrender to General Ulysses S. Grant on 9 Apr 1865
45  Aaron Criss: b. 1811 at Harrison County, Virginia (now West Virginia), d. 1885 at Harrisonburg, Virginia, buried in Woodbine Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Virginia
46  Roanoke County: created from Botetourt County, Virginia, in 1838; county seat Salem; main city Roanoke
47  Baltimore: major city and port on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland
48  After the death of Hugh Lee in 1869, age 32, his widow remarried to the Rev. Charles N. Chandler, and the couple lived in Salem, Virginia.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Civil War Memoir of Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee

The following document was written in May 1897 by Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee (later Chandler), widow of Hugh Holmes Lee. It describes her experiences during the Civil War, leaving her family’s home in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), after her husband’s enlistment, and shuttling between Richmond and Staunton, Virginia, and other places in the Shenandoah Valley, trying to stay close to him. The original manuscript is no longer among the family papers; it was probably given to a library or historical archive, but the location has not been identified. Before it was given away, the author’s granddaughter, Jean Duncan (Watts) Staples made a typewritten copy of it, which has been preserved. That transcription is the basis for this text. The first paragraph was added by someone else, probably the author’s daughter Gertrude (Lee) Watts; and the last paragraph was also added, by Jean Duncan (Watts) Staples. The title was added for this blog.

Mary (Criss) Lee, seated; Gertrude (Lee) Watts; Jean Duncan Watts, age 7; 1893

Part 1

            Mary Marsh Criss1 and Hugh Lee2 were married in Clarksburg, Va.3 just prior to the out break of the War Between the States. He, together with many friends and relatives, volunteered in the Company4 formed in Clarksburg to serve the Cause of the South, and was given a Commission in the Provisional Army. Mary Lee followed her husband, and remained as close to him as possible throughout the war. The following recollections were written by her many years later, in May 1897.

            Two weeks after they had left Clarksburg, I was notified by my husband to join him as the troops would be obliged to move on, being threatened by a much larger force of Union men, who were advancing upon them from Ohio5. I joined him the day before our troops were attacked at Philippi6, in company with my sister7, whose husband8 was in the same company with my husband. My own brother (John Criss)9 was also in this company. We made the hard and rough journey in a private conveyance, a wagon following with our baggage, and reached Philippi on the following night. We were aroused the next morning by the loud booming of cannon and crash of exploding shells, and received word from our troops to hasten on as the enemy were very near. When we reached the main road, we found our soldiers drawn up in line of battle. My husband, Capt. Lee, had been appointed acting Capt. of Capt. Stearns10 Company. I, being a young girl, and knowing nothing of the rules of war, cried loudly to him to come to the carriage and go with us, which of course he could not do. So we were driven on, and that night reached a house in the mountains, kept by an old lady, Mrs. Long11, who took us in for the night.

                                            Philippi, West Virginia

            Our soldiers came along next morning. Among them were many sturdy mountaineers who, at the first boom of cannon, had taken down their old and rusty firearms and readily responded to the call for men. Our forces, being insufficient to with­stand the attack of the enemy, were in rapid retreat. These same poor boys, foot-sore and weary, with neither food nor clothes, later in the war distinguished themselves in a way that made them an honor to the country under whose flag they fought. One among them, who left Clarksburg as a private in the ranks, although at the time a distinguished lawyer, was later celebrated for his bravery, and, at the time of the surrender, he was lying in Richmond12, with his leg amputated, having fought gallantly during the whole four years of the war, until he was wounded at the battle of Hatcher's Run13. I speak of Col. John S. Hoffman14. My brother-in-law15, who also started in the ranks as a private, was later persuaded that he could better serve the South as a member of the Confederate Congress, being a lawyer of ability, and he left the ranks to become a member of that body.
            We continued our journey over the mountains, day by day, and, at the end of a week, reached Staunton, Va.16 at which place I lived much of the time during the war, going to Richmond when my husband was stationed there, and returning to Staunton when he was with Gen. Jackson17 in the valley. I remember an incident which happened during our stay in Staunton. We had all assembled at Church one Sunday morning, when it was announced that there would be no service. Instead, we were all dismissed and told that Capt. Skinner's Company18 had been ordered to the front and that we must get the men ready to leave. Another lady and myself set to work making pantaloons and, as it was my first experience making any men's clothing, my efforts brought forth much laughter and good natured comment.
            In the fall of 1861, Capt. Lee was taken ill with typhoid fever, in consequence of being in Pocahontas Co.19 where there was an epidemic of typhoid and dyptheria. Wishing to be near him, I left Staunton and went to board at Warm Springs20 in Bath Co.21 The hotel there was being used as a hospital for the sick soldiers and there were only two women to take charge of the whole place and attend to them. These were two nurses from N.C. I boarded at a cottage nearby and, growing anxious about my husband, I persuaded the little lady, with whom I stayed, to go with me to Huntersville22, where she had formerly lived. We secured two wagon horses and started on our journey, a distance of twenty five miles. The road was in mud, up to our horses’ knees but we reached there that evening, much to my husband’s consternation, because, as I have said, the place was filled with ill and wounded soldiers. He took us back the very next day, to my chagrin, but at the end of a week he was brought to the Springs ill with fever. I then went to the hotel to nurse him, and suffered greatly from embarrassment, as I had to eat my meals all alone, besides running the gauntlet of eyes of many dozens of convalescing soldiers. I felt the need of my husband’s protection, but due to the gallantry of the southern gentlemen, and being a soldier's wife, I was in perfect safety, and my fears quite groundless.

                                               Warm Springs, Virginia

            After a few weeks, my husband was convalescent, and we were able to climb the hills and enjoy together the beautiful scenery which surrounded the Springs. We spent many pleasant hours together in this way until he was able to travel and we could return to Staunton. Capt. Lee was not yet physically able to resume active service, and secured a position in the ordnance department in Richmond. We boarded there with a Mrs. Dabney23 at the corner of Fourth and Franklin Sts24.
            In the following Spring (1862) my husband had sufficiently recovered from the attack of fever to return to the field, and, in the month of May, while acting as Aide-de-camp to Gen. Jackson in the battle of Macdowell25, he was shot from his horse, a minnie ball striking his temple and severing the temple artery. He had left me in Richmond, and, on the evening when that battle was fought I had been down town and seen the dead and dying brought in from the battle of Williamsburg26. In passing by a house I heard the heart-rending scream of a wife, whose husband had just been brought in dead. Hastening home, I fell on my knees and entreated our Heavenly Father to spare my dear husband and send him back safely to me. He always thought that it was my prayer which curved the bullet and saved his life, because it was at that very hour that the battle of Macdowell was fought.

              MiniĆ© balls, which were more lethal than standard spherical shot

            I was sick when the telegram came announcing that he had been wounded, nevertheless took the first train for Staunton. Col. Wm. Thompson27, of Wheeling, W. Va.28 kindly took me under his care on the journey, and made a pillow for my head out of his great military overcoat. I reached my destination in Safety and found my husband with his head in a bloody bandage and looking very frightful. He was in a room with three other officers who had been brought in wounded, from the field. Dr. McChesney29, who was surgeon of that post, dressed his wound daily, until it was safe to leave him in my care, and I then continued to dress it for some days.
            But he returned to the field before he was able to remove the bandage, and, in the following Oct. he came to me in Staunton, greatly broken in health, caused, the doctor said, by his going back to the field before his wounds had properly healed. A few days after his arrival, my first little girl, Gertrude30, was born, on Oct. 15th, 1862.

                                               Gertrude Lee, 1874

1    Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee (later Mrs Chandler): b. 18 May 1843, at Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia,) d. 19 Nov 1906 at Salem, Virginia; married 25 Dec 1860 Hugh Holmes Lee
2    Hugh Holmes Lee: b. 26 Aug 1836, at Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), d. 12 Jul 1869 at Salem, Virginia, studied law at the University of Virginia; volunteered to serve in the Confederate army; married 25 Dec 1860  Mary Marsh Criss
3    Clarksburg: important town in Harrison County, Virginia (now West Virginia)
4    Company formed in Clarksburg: not identified
5    Ohio: admitted to the Union as a state 1 Mar 1803; having a long border with Virginia in 1861, it was a natural invasion route for Union forces
6    Philippi: town in Barbour County, Virginia (now West Virginia), site of the Battle of Philippi on 3 Jun 1861, in which a superior Union force surprised and routed a Confederate force
7    Laura Ellen (Criss) Johnston, b. 1838 in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia), d. 1893, buried in Woodbine Cemetery, Harrisonburg, Virginia; married Robert Johnston; many children in census reports 1860, 1870, 1880, living in Harrisonburg, Virginia
8    Robert Johnston: b. 14 Oct 1818 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, d. 6 Nov 1885 in Harrisonburg, Virginia; served in the Virginia legislature before the Civil War, in the Provisional, 1st and 2nd Congresses of the Confederacy
9    John T. Criss: b. c. 1840, d. aft. 1880; brother of Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee; enlisted in 31st Virginia Infantry 21 May 1861; in 1860 census, age 20, with Aaron Criss family in Clarksburg, Virginia (now West Virginia); in 1880 census, age 40, general merchant, married to Sarah T. Criss, age 33, b. in Maryland; no children present; living in town of Frankford, Falling Spring District, Greenbrier County, West Virginia
10  Captain Stearns’ Company: Captain Stearns is unidentified; from context, c. 1861-62, officer in the Confederate army
11  Mrs Long: unidentified; from context, in 1861 landlady near Philippi, Virginia (now West Virginia)
12  Richmond: capital city of Virginia and the Confederacy
13  Hatcher’s Run, Battle of: the battle took place 5-7 Feb 1865, as part of the Siege of Petersburg; Confederate forces halted a Union advance, but at a heavy cost
14  Col John S. Hoffman: b. 25 Jun 1821, d. 18 Nov 1877; was a staff officer of the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment at its formation in 1861;
15  brother-in-law: Robert Johnston; see note 8.
16  Staunton: important Shenandoah Valley city in Virginia, seat of Augusta County
17  General Jackson: Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson, b. 21 Jan 1824, d. 10 May 1863; famous Confederate general
18  Captain Skinner’s Company: Captain Skinner is unidentified; from context, c. 1861-62, officer in the Confederate army
19  Pocahontas County: county established in 1821 in Virginia (now West Virginia); lies along the Virginia-West Virginia border; county seat Marlinton
20  Warm Springs: spa town and county seat of Bath County, Virginia
21  Bath County: county established in 1790 in Virginia; county seat Warm Springs; the county now lies along the border with West Virginia
22  Huntersville: town in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, just west of the Virginia border
23  Mrs Dabney: unidentified; from context, in winter 1861-62, landlady in Richmond, Virginia
24  Fourth and Franklin Streets, Richmond: an address in the center of Richmond, Virginia
25  McDowell: town in Highland County, Virginia, site of the Battle of McDowell on 8 May 1862, “Stonewall” Jackson’s first victory
26  Williamsburg: historic town in eastern Virginia, site of the Battle of Williamsburg between two large forces on 5 May 1862; neither side won a clear victory, but the Confederate forces were able to continue their retreat toward Richmond in the Peninsula campaign
27  Col William P. Thompson: b. 7 Jan 1837 at Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), d. aft. 1889; after the war became an executive at Standard Oil;
28  Wheeling: city established in 1795 in Ohio County, Virginia (now West Virginia), on the bank of the Ohio River in the northern panhandle of West Virginia; it was the site of the convention that voted West Virginia’s secession from Virginia in 1861, and was the first capital of the state
29  Dr McChesney: unidentified; from context, Confederate army surgeon
30  Gertrude Lee: b. 15 Oct 1862, d. 30 Jan 1953, mar. 12 May 1880, John Allen Watts; three children; daughter of Hugh Holmes Lee and Mary Marsh (Criss) Lee (later Mrs Chandler)

The second and final part will follow.