Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Avenel Mystery?

One thing always leads to another.

Last summer I blogged about doing a reading with fellow Lake Writers at a luncheon at Avenel, the historic Burwell residence in Bedford. I mentioned Avenel again in my post about the Bedford Bookfest. I also mentioned June Goode’s book, Our War, the annotated diary of Lettie Burwell, who may or may not be the “White Lady” who haunted Avenel for a number of years.

Farrar Richardson, a retiree who now lives in Bordeaux, found my blog when he Goggled “Avenel.” He was searching for information about his great grandfather, Henry Brown Richardson, who’d been wounded at Sharpsburg and hospitalized for a time in Bedford, where he’d developed a romantic interest with someone (possibly at Avenel). Henry Richardson later returned to battle and was wounded at Gettysburg.

Farrar Richardson emailed me yesterday and provided this information about his ancestor:

Henry, an engineering staff officer during the Civil War, was seriously wounded at Sharpsburg, hospitalized at Winchester, and sent for rest and recovery to Bedford County, presumably Avenel, where there seem to have been hospital facilities.

Normally Henry wrote lengthy and frequent letters to his parents, and these are usually my main sources. But this correspondence dried up during the war, because Henry was a Yankee who fought for the South. Therefore, I am digging around for bits and pieces in archives, wherever I can find them.

What intrigues me about his stay at Avenel is that he may have developed a romantic interest there. He was wounded again and taken prisoner at Gettysburg, and sent to Johnson's Island. There he received a letter from Baltimore, enclosing the following newspaper ad.

Liberty, Va., July 27, 1864
MAJOR HENRY B. RICHARDSON, Engineer Corps, Ewell’s Staff.— Wounded and left on the field at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863. Supposed to be at Johnson’s Island. Why don’t you write? Have sent you many letters. So anxious to hear from you. Old circle unbroken. All miss you. R., your old physician hopes to take your case in hand again, and would like to know if you have found a new physician. AVENEL.

Henry was finally released on parole in February 1865. I do not know if he was able to reply to the above ad, but as soon as it became obvious that Lee's army was doomed, he headed straight for Bedford County. He later wrote from Louisiana:

I arrived in Richmond on the 22nd of March and rec’d a leave of absence “for thirty days unless sooner exchanged.” Stopped in Richmond, at Gen’l Ewell’s house for ten days, and on the first of April went to Bedford Co., Va. (west of Lynchburg) where I remained till the first of May. Then over the mountains to Botetourt Co. and spent a week, and on the eighth started on horseback for this side of the Mississippi, or wherever I could get to anything like a Confederacy.

Farrar Richardson wondered if Our War might tell him anything about hospital facilities at Avenel. Might Henry be mentioned or the mysterious “R” identified in Goode’s book. Since Our War —published under the auspices of the Avenel Foundation—is essentially self-published, it wasn’t available on Amazon. Living abroad, Richardson didn’t have access to American libraries.

So, he asked me for any information. I emailed my friend Jean who knows how to get in touch with June Goode. Meanwhile, I thumbed through my copy of Our War. Thank goodness, Goode included extensive footnotes and a bibliography. She not only had listed buildings used as Confederate hospitals, she provided a map of their locations. There were several: Campbell's Tobacco Factory, Crenshaw Tobacco Factory, Micajah Davis Tobacco Factory, Toler's Furniture Factory, I.N. Clark Carriage Factory, Piedmont Institute, Reese Warehouse. Could Henry Brown Richardson have been at any of these?

Lettie's sister was named Rosa. She was pretty and had several beaus. Could she have been “R”? The only Richardson that Goode mentions, however, is Lt. Frederick Richardson, and that from a reference in Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl, 1862-1864 (edited by Mary D. Robertson and published by the University of South Carolina Press, 1994). Lucy was a friend of Lettie Burwell; her diary picks up where Lettie Burwell's ends.

On P. 168 of Our War, Goode, referencing Lucy’s diary, notes that Lucy and her sisters visited Avenel on October 28, 1862:

While at Avenel for a two-week visit, they met Captain Frank Clarke of New Orleans recovering from wounds he received at Sharpsburg. Lettie was later engaged to him but they never married. He became permanently disabled in April of 1863 from wounds he received at Fredericksburg [Chancellorsville?]. He continued to be in and out of the Breckinridge home through October 1863.
Could others wounded at Sharpsburg also have been there? Goode mentions:
During the two-week visit, there were many trips to the Peaks and to Natural Bridge. There were many young men who came to call . . . and Lt. Frederick Richardson, who was on leave at this time. He was later promoted to Captain of Co. F, of the 5th Lousiana Infantry and killed in action at Gettysburg on July 4, 1863.

Goode no doubt got this info about Richardson from a footnote in Lucy’s Diary. Lucy never gave Richardson’s first name; Lettie didn’t mention a Richardson, but her diary ended Friday, August 15, 1862—two months before Lt. Richardson appeared.

From the “Avenel” chapter (p.79), Lucy describes many who visited Avenel on that October evening, including a “Lieut. Richardson of Louisiana”:
Lieut. Richardson appeared that evening to be a bashful man, so they all said, but I was of a different opinion. I thought of The Spectator whenever I looked at him. He is one of the most perfectly handsome men I ever saw. I would describe him, but words fail. I did not get acquainted with him that night, but when I did I found him to be one of the least bashful and most charming persons I ever met.
The identifying footnote appears on this page. The footnote references Booth, Records III, Bk. 2, p. 309.

More Richardson references from Lucy’s diary: On Wed., Nov. 12, 1862, this Lt. Richardson and Rosa went in a carriage to Natural Bridge; he rode back on horseback alongside Lettie. (Rosa became engaged to someone else in 1863, however, so it’s unlikely she was his love interest.) On p. 80, Lucy notes that they climbed the Peaks of Otter: “. . . Capt. Pike, Lieut. Richardson, Eliza, and I went up like men and mountaineers.”

Dec. 11, 1862: “Captain Clarke got such a smart, well-written letter from Lieut. Richardson today.” A few sentences down, Lucy mentions that a week earlier she broke off her engagement with a Captain H. “and I don’t love him anymore.” (p. 88)

On January 6, 1863, Lucy makes it clear she is thinking of Richardson:
But for my companions, the Japonica, Luna and violets, and my beloved friends, Addison, Steele, etc., I think I should die of ennui. The former interesting companions are living in the window, and The Spectator is constantly before my eyes. Lieut. Richardson is very much like Addison. (p. 103)

On Aug. 12, 1863, Lucy reports "Mr. Burwell says that Capt. Richardson received a very severe lung wound and is expected at Avenel as soon as he can travel." (p.140) That was Lucy's last mention of him that I can find.

I emailed some of the above info to Farrar Richardson and received back this reply:

I think you've found him, (and her?). Henry was quiet and reserved in person-to-person contacts, but a great letter writer. I think he may have thought about a literary career. I will try to correlate with my other info and get back to you. The dates fit. If I remember correctly, Henry's Gettysburg wound involved a bruised lung. He was given first aid at a Confederate field hospital in G’burg, but was left there when Lee withdrew—considered too dangerous to be moved. His whereabouts may not have been known to Mr. Burwell in August '63. It seems Henry was promoted to Major in absentia, and he was later known as Major Richardson.
Blog Readers, here’s a mystery: Did the editor of Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl incorrectly identify Lt. Richardson as Frederick? (Could the source she referenced have been wrong?) Was it really Henry Brown Richardson who was the handsome young lieutenant at Avenel? If so, who might his love interest have been? And why did Lucy Breckinridge never mention the first name of the Lt. Richardson she found so indescribably handsome?
If you know anything about this mystery, contact Farrar Richardson.

And leave a comment here, too. I'm dying to know.

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Blogger Karen said...

Nice to read about the Richardson clan! My husband Kevin Richardson is one of Farrar Richardson's cousins and all of the history of the family is very interesting. Thanks for helping out Farrar, the family historian!
Karen W. Richardson

1:37 AM  

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