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.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Mystery Solved?

We’re not Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, but I think we solved the mystery of Avenel. Well, part of it.

For well over a week, Farrar Richardson and I have been emailing back and forth between Virginia and France. June Goode, author of Our War, and I chatted on the phone last week and compared notes. Our conclusion: Henry Brown Richardson was indeed the Lt. Richardson who was in Bedford to recuperate from wounds suffered at Sharpsburg, who visited Avenel, and who was mentioned as “Lieut. Richardson of Louisiana” by Lucy Breckinridge in her diary.

We've concluded that Mary D. Robertson, editor of Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill, just might have made an error in thinking that that Lt. Richardson’s first name was Frederick. (Lucy never mentioned his first name.) No doubt Robertson consulted Records of Louisiana Confederate Soldiers and Louisiana Confederate Commands by Andrew B. Booth, found the name Richardson, and assumed that Frederick Richardson was the correct one. (p. 79: Lucy mentions meeting “Lieut. Richardson of Louisiana.” Robertson's footnote: "Frederick Richardson was at this time on sick leave. He was later promoted to Captain of Company F of the Fifth Louisiana Infantry and killed in action at Gettysburg on 4 July 1863. Booth, Records, III., Bk 2, p. 390.")

According to June Goode, soldiers were often received as guests at Avenel, which was within walking distance of some of the buildings used as hospitals. Naturally, good Confederates such as the Burwells would extend hospitality to those brave young men who fought for the cause. June Goode also told me that William Burwell owned a newspaper in Louisiana and sometimes visited there. It makes sense, then, that he’d open his home to soldiers from that state.

One of those visitors was Captain Frank Clarke from New Orleans, who was in Bedford to recuperate from his wound at Sharpsburg; Henry, an engineering staff officer during the Civil War, was seriously wounded at Sharpsburg, hospitalized at Winchester, and also sent for rest and recovery to Bedford County. Odds are good that Henry and Frank were friends. They were both wounded in the same battle.

But was Henry Brown Ricardson really “from Louisiana”? The plot thickens here: According to Farrar Richardson, Henry was “both son and grandson of New England Congregational Ministers. His grandfather was a founder of the American Anti-slavery Society. A maternal uncle ran a station on the Underground Railway. A paternal uncle said that if he had had seven sons rather than seven daughters, he would have joined John Brown in Kansas. Henry seems to have been the only non-abolitionist in the family.” Consequently, Henry probably didn't speak much, if at all, of his family while he was fighting for the opposition. Better to let everyone think he was from Louisiana—which he sort of was.

So, how did Henry end up in Louisiana? In the spring of 1860, the young engineer arrived in Tensas Parish to help supervise a levee construction and went into the surveying business with Charles B. Tenney. After the war broke out, Tenney became first captain of the Tensas Rifles.

Henry enlisted as a private in the Tensas Rifles (F. Richardson thinks became Co. D of the 6th Louisiana). Richard Taylor, who commanded the Louisiana Brigade under General Ewell, chose Henry to be a mounted orderly during Jackson's Valley campaign. After this campaign, Henry was commissioned as First Lt. and thereafter served as Engineering Staff Officer under General Ewell.

After the war, Henry’s records probably wouldn’t have shown up in Andrew Booth’s book because Henry served out the War as a Virginia soldier.

Another clue: Lucy’s comment on August 10, 1863: “Mr. Burwell says that Lt. Richardson received a very severe lung wound, and is expected at Avenel as soon as he can travel.” Now, this is over a month after Frederick Richardson was killed at Gettysburg on July 4, 1863, so Mr. Burwell couldn't have been referring to Frederick. Farrar Richardson, in his email to me, reports that Henry’s lung was bruised at Gettysburg, he was given first aid at a Confederate field hospital there, and he was left behind when Lee withdrew. So—Henry was alive after Gettysburg and had a severe lung injury.

Why didn’t Henry soon go to Avenel when he was able to travel? Because he had been taken prisoner and sent to Johnson’s Island. It was there he received the July 27, 1864, ad that someone from Liberty (the former name of Bedford city) cryptically wrote and signed “Avenel.” When he was finally paroled in February 1865, he headed first to Richmond where he stayed at General Ewell's and then journeyed to Bedford.

Why did he go to Bedford in April 1865? Who might have written that ad? Who might have been writing him letters for so long before taking placing the ad. Our guess is Lucy Breckinridge. While she didn’t live at Avenel, that’s where she first met Lt. Richardson in Oct. 1862 and was so taken by his good looks. We know from her diary that she climbed the Peaks of Otter with him in November 1862.

Now for another clue: Lettie Burwell was quite smitten with Frank Clarke, and they were engaged for a time. Mention is made in Lucy’s diary (Dec. 12, 1862) of Frank Clarke receiving “a smart, well-written letter from Lt. Richardson today.” According to Farrar Richardson, Henry Brown Richardson was known to write “lengthy and frequent letters to his parents” before the war.

Lucy had a number of beaus. For instance, she broke off her engagement with Captain Houston in Dec. 1862—less than two months after first meeting Lt. Richardson. But by 1864, though—when Henry had not been heard from for more than a year—Lucy was engaged to Thomas Jefferson Basset, whom she married on January 28, 1865, in a quiet ceremony at her home, Grove Hill.

Less than two months after Lucy married Tommy, Henry received his parole and “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.”

He no doubt visited Avenel during the month he was in Bedford, and there he must have learned that Lucy Breckinridge had married.

Why did he leave for Botetourt (the next county to the west of Bedford)? Was it because that’s where Lucy’s home Grove Hill was? Did he visit Lucy? Or was it merely because Botetourt was the gateway to the west? But why did he stay there a week?

On June 16, 1865, Lucy died of typhoid fever. She was 22.

Lettie Burwell never married. She remained at Avenel until her death in 1905. Captain Frank Clarke—to whom she was engaged at one time—was permanently disabled in April 1863 from wounds suffered in the Battle of Fredericksburg.

And Henry? He eventually married Anna Howard Farrar, of St Joseph, Louisiana, a descendant of Capt William Farrar of the Virginia Co. and Farrar's Island. Despite the two bullets he carried around from his war injuries, Henry lived to be 72, raised nine children, and served many years as chief engineer for the state of Louisiana.

This part of the mystery still remains: who wrote the numerous letters to Henry and eventually took the ad in the newspaper and signed it “Avenel”? Was it Lucy? Lettie Burwell? Lettie’s sister Rosa? Or someone else entirely?

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Blogger CountryDew said...

Very interesting. Hope you write that up for an article for some local historical societies or something.

3:34 PM  

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