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.

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