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.

1 comment:

  1. I'm no Civil War expert, but this seems to me an important document. The vignette concerning JEB Stuart's beard is priceless, and you also get a picture, not always sufficiently stressed, of the civilian suffering in the last year of the Confederacy