Marmion

When the Civil War tore the United States apart in 1861, the nation was 85 years old.  Marmion, the home of the Lewis family, in King George County, Virginia, may have been 100 years older.  The two-story frame house, which presents a rather unprepossessing face to the outside world, boasts one of the most elegant interiors in the state.  Built by Col. William Fitzhugh, as early as 1674, though some accounts put the date at 1686, the home eventually passed to George Washington Lewis, an officer in the Continental Army and a favorite nephew of George Washington.  In time the home was named Marmion, almost certainly after the epic poem of the same name published by Sir Walter Scott in 1808.  Interestingly, Waverley, a neighboring property, may also have been named for one of Scott’s novels.  Waverley no longer stands.  Marmion, which remained in the Lewis family during the Civil War, survives.

marmion-house

Nannie Brown Doherty, of Waverley, remembered the long trains of Union wagons passing her home en route to Marmion’s corn fields.  “The Yankees took it all,” she later declared; “I do not know that they left any” corn.  She also recalled the Yankee’s affinity for Virginia ham, and how her father learned to bury his hams under piles of ashes and firewood in the smoke-house.  Her family also devised a means of quickly hiding their chickens and other fowl.  As soon as Yankee soldiers were spotted approaching the home, her children rushed to throw grain through the cellar windows.  The fowl chased the grain through the windows, whereupon the children hastily closed the shutters.

Union cavalry maintained a presence in King George County for much of the war, especially the winter of 1862-63, when the Army of the Potomac encamped in neighboring Stafford County.  Lamb’s Creek Church, dating to about 1769, often served as the headquarters for the picket force, though it was not the only structure in the county used as such.

hopyard-with-highlights

Picket duty in King George County was not especially dangerous, but the men manning the line along the Rappahannock River, between Falmouth in Stafford County and Port Conway in King George County remained active.  From Port Conway the picket line “extended across the country at right angles with the river, for some three miles.”  The eastern, or lower part of the county, was “open and unguarded,” though regular patrols harassed Southern smuggling operations downriver in Westmoreland County.  The men manning the posts running “across the country” would have known the families at homes like Waverley and Marmion in the interior of the county.

archives-map-copy

“If I were to try to tell of all the raids those men made on us, searching the house and carrying off anything they wanted,” Nannie Doherty stated postwar, “I would write a big book and you would all be tired of my story.”  The Yankees burned every tree and fence rail, and left the land “desolated.”  To ease their plight, the beleaguered residents scavenged old camp sites for food, as well as discarded uniforms and tents, which the ladies converted to under-clothes.  Lucky scavengers occasionally recovered a worn-out horse, abandoned by the troopers.  Officers gave government receipts for food and forage taken by authorized forage details, but few, if any, residents recouped measure for measure the property they lost in the unequal contest with unsanctioned foragers.

Riding past Marmion on March 1, 1863, Surgeon Thomas Stillwell, 23rd New York Infantry, observed an authorized foraging detail at Marmion.  Shocked by the behavior he witnessed, Stillwell submitted the following report to Brig. Gen. Marsena Patrick, Provost Marshal General, for the Army of the Potomac.  The diverging points of view, as stated below by Stillwell, the officers in command of the foraging party, their superior officer who investigated the complaint, as well as Mrs. Hattie Lewis, confirm one point – conflicts between soldiers and civilians were seldom black and white.

On Sunday afternoon, March 1, 1863, at about the hour of two while in the pursuance of my duty visiting the sick near the picket line, as I came in sight of “Marmion House” I observed it surrounded by men and horses whom I subsequently learned belonged to the First Regiment Pennsylvania Cavalry, and on riding up to the house the occupants who saw my approach from the window unfastened the door and requested that I would remain until the cavalry left, as they were in fear of personal violence.  When I got to the house the piazza was thronged with men who were making violent demonstrations to gain admittance to the house by the piazza windows.  Others were engaged in destroying the garden.  The stables were forced open and animals driven out of the yard and with difficulty recovered.  The men said they were in charge of two officers, one of whom had been several times petitioned by the ladies of the house to have this violence cease, but not only did [they] not comply but turned insultingly and assisted personally in the destruction.  I sent for the other officer and demanded the cause of this violence, he replied that he was sent to obtain corn and it was not his business to watch the men at the house.  He then ordered his men to mount and he remained behind and delivered to the lady of the house a piece of writing to this import –

Received of Mrs. Lewis at Marmion House __ bushels of corn, 2nd Lt. [Samuel] W. Morgan

I further declare that all of this and much more violence was perpetrated in my presence before it could be stayed; that the house is occupied solely by ladies and children having no male protection, and that Marmion House is situated in King George County and the property of the Lewis family

PS – The occupants of Marmion House state that they have a safe guard from Gen’l Burnside and request it renewed by Gen’l Hooker

On March 9, General Patrick sent Stillwell’s complaint to Cavalry Corps headquarters “for a full investigation & report, with instructions to place in arrest immediately the offending officer or officers.”

Four days later, Maj. Richard Falls, 1st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and Acting Inspector General for the 3rd Cavalry Division, sent a final report of his investigation to Lt. Col. Joseph Taylor, Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s Inspector General.

I have fully examined and investigated the case of Lieuts. [Samuel] Morgan and [John] Nelson, 1st Regiment Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry.  As regards the charges preferred against them by Asst. Surgeon Stilwell, 23rd Regt NYV, relative to outrages supposed to have been committed by a portion of the 1st Penn Res Cavalry, under command of Lieuts. Morgan and Nelson of the same, I …forward the following report.

I find that Lieut. Morgan was on or about the 1st inst. ordered by Col. J. P. Taylor to take charge of a detail of 130 men and proceed to the nearest farm house, at which he might find a superabundance of corn (shelled if possible) [the major’s reference to a “superabundance of corn” confirms Mrs. Doherty’s statement that “Mr. Lewis had a large amount of corn stored.”] and procure a sufficiency, if possible, for the animals of the entire picket, consisting of between seven and eight hundred.  On inquiry he was informed that the Marmion Farm was the nearest and best house for the purpose, and to which they accordingly proceeded, and on arrival there, informed the proprietress, Miss. Hattie Lewis, that he was a commissioned officer, and was sent there for the purpose of obtaining corn, at the same time asking her if she had any to spare, and if so, whether it was shelled or not, to which she replied that she had no shelled corn, nor in fact any sort to spare, but if he must have it, there it was and for him to go and help himself.  Upon which he proceeded to make examinations of the corn cribs, which he found to be four in number and to contain in the aggregate, not less than a thousand barrels, and in one of which he found quite a quantity of shelled corn, and as the latter was much more convenient for him to carry on his horses, in front of his men he ordered his men to take down the door in front of that crib and fill their sacks from it as far as it went, without saying anything more to the lady proprietress on the subject of shelled corn (as he had no desire to be again rebuffed in such a true Southern lady like style, as he had a few moments before).  Leaving Lieut. Nelson at the house, to prevent any impropriety on the part of any of his men, he himself superintended the sacking of the corn, after which on being requested the privilege from his men of purchasing some extra provisions, which they said were to be had from the occupants of the house, he informed he informed them that no one of them could enter the house under any circumstances whatever, but if Miss. Lewis had anything in the way of eatables that she was [voluntarily] willing to sell, and they had the money to pay for it, he had no objections, upon which Lieut. Nelson asked Miss. Lewis if she had any pies, cakes, bread, milk or anything of that sort she wished to dispose of for the money.  She replied she had on hand a few cakes that she would sell, as also a few turnips, which she would sell at the rate of $1.00 per bushel or ten cents per dozen and accordingly brought out on the piazza a large pan of cakes which the men bought, paying her her own price.  In the meantime she sent a Negro boy to measure and count out the turnips, telling him to reserve a sufficiency for seed, but that he might sell the balance and receive the pay therefor, which he accordingly did, the men paying for them as they received them.

From all the information I can get, there was not one pennies worth taken without permission and remuneration, and so far from the occupants of the house being in danger of personal violence, I find that there was not an uncivil word spoken to either of the ladies or any of the family, nor did a solitary one of Lieut. Morgan’s command enter the house, much less to attempt doing so by force, via the parlor windows.  Neither were the stables forced open further than was necessary to procure the corn.  As for the yard, of course the gate was opened and so left, while our people, with their horses, were engaged in filling their sacks at which time, animals, if there were any there, might have gone out, but as for them being driven out, they were not, as near as I can learn, and it is my firm belief that this on honor, certified to outrage is without a shadow of foundation and entirely gratuitous on the part of Asst. Surg. Thomas Hunt Stilwell, 23rd Regt NY Vols, and the only thing I blame Lieuts. Morgan and Nelson for is, not having arrested and sent to the Prov. Marshal Genl’s Department, as a prisoner, said Doc. Stilwell, for being found prowling around, not only outside of his own picket line, but that of the cavalry also miles distant from any of our patients at least, especially as he peremptorily refused to inform Lieut. Morgan who he [was], or what his business was, where he came from or where he belonged.  And, as I have further learned that he, the said Medical gentleman, is said to be quite a favorite and frequent visitor at the place in the immediate vicinity of which to my knowledge reside three civilian doctors.  If his duty makes that necessary, all right, but for the soul of me, I can’t see it in that light, as there are none of our troops in the neighborhood of the Marmion farm, and as an evidence that Miss. Lewis did not consider herself (at the time) so mortally insulted or grossly outraged I here insert a verbatim copy of a note sent by her to Col. Taylor, Comd’g 1st Penn Res Cav on the return of the supposed to be marauding party, by its commander Lieut. Morgan – “Will Col. Taylor please send me a guard, as there are only ladies living here.  It is necessary to have one. Respectfully, Hattie Lewis”

If the conclusions I have arrived at, after a full and careful investigation of the matter, are correct (and I have every reason to suppose they are) I think it would be but an act of simple justice to Lieuts Morgan and Nelson that they be released from arrest and restored to duty.  And, as it would appear from all the circumstances in the case that they are the only parties in the case whose rights have really been infringed on I would respectfully recommend their release from arrest.

Beyond the crops and livestock seized by the Yankees, Mrs. Doherty also recalled how, “The Yankees were determined to take all the servants away, and used every means in their power to induce them to leave.”  One month after the incident reported by Surgeon Stillwell, an officer on Marsena Patrick’s staff confirmed both the flight of slaves from Marmion, as well as the extensive loss of property, in a brief message to Maj. Gen. James Wadsworth, then commanding the 1st Division in Maj. Gen. John Reynolds’ 1st Corps.

On my reporting to General [Marsena] Patrick the substance of my interview with you, he desired me to address you a line saying that the ox team and cart taken from the Marmion estate by the Negroes ought to be returned to the owners as the estate has suffered largely by having horses, cattle, forage and provisions taken by our troops.  It is necessary this team should be returned for the use of the farm from which it was taken.

He desires you to turn over the team and cart…at Belle Plain and the general will take measures to have it returned or you can order it to be returned yourself as you deem proper.

Marsena Patrick was not a man to be trifled with or ignored.  Still, there is no certainty the team and wagon were ever returned to Lewis family.  There is a greater certainty, however, that the Lewis family had not seen the last of the Yankees at their door.

Thanks to Elizabeth Nuckols Lee and Jean Moore Graham with the King George Historical Society

Sources:

Documents from the National Archives

Files of the King George County Historical Society

History of the First Reg’t Pennsylvania Reserve Cavalry

Journal of the American Institute of Architects, March 1916

King George News, February 19, 1975

Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 1978

The Official Military Atlas of the Civil War

 

 

4 thoughts on “Marmion

  1. Great post, Bob!
    In following the 1st Pennsylvania around the Northern Neck I tried to see Marmion but realized I’d have to venture up a long driveway for a decent view. That remarkable painted paneling from the parlor was removed in 1916 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, where you can walk through it today.
    I think the truth of the incident lies somewhere between Stillworth’s and Falls’s interpretations. In my account I lean a bit toward Falls, while noting that four enlisted men were held under arrest for several months for their behavior at Marmion. The sergeant of one of them reported, “he is never with company when there is any danger he has not been in no fight since he been out he [is] one of these that get his money easy.”
    As you note, civilians—especially large property owners—were in extremis even if they were females with no men in CS service. Later in the spring, when the 1st Pennsylvania was picketing down by Port Conway, they took great pains not to approach houses unless under orders, even when the picket line passed through a yard. Some women, perhaps for their safety, established bantering relationships with officers, which gave them some measure of respect with the “enemy.” Others offered food, like bread and milk, and were rewarded with an exchange of federal rations, like sugar and coffee. It remained an unbalanced relationship, but both sides found ways to adapt and maintain a little civilized behavior in a very uncivilized environment.

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    • Andy thanks for your comments. Most important I believe is your closing – while an unbalanced relationship both sides did, more often than not, seek to maintain civilized behavior.
      I look forward to hearing the rest of the story as to the four men held in arrest in your study of the 1st PA Cavalry.

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  2. Fascinating, Bob.. Never saw either of those maps, and it is interesting to observe how closely today’s roads (mostly) track the original routes. I do note, however, that you did not insert your own King George County home on either map.. (Perhaps because it wasn’t there in 1862!)

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    • Thanks Bud. Finding picket maps at the Archives has largely been a matter of luck or happenstance for me. The 1st PA map was found by happenstance years ago. The reports of the incident at Marmion were also found by happenstance more recently. The combination, as well as a discussion with Andy, set the seed for the story.

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