The South’s 007, Part 2 of 3

Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, August 2005

At the close of the last column, Lieutenant Charles Henry Causey had received a rather favorable recommendation for promotion from Major General John Bankhead Magruder.  This letter asked of the Secretary of War that Causey be given the rank of Major, and placed in command of a battalion of cavalry that was being mustered into Confederate service in North Carolina, where he was stationed at the time.

Yet, that was not to be the fate of Causey.  Instead, he was promoted to the rank of Captain in November of 1862, and ordered once again to report to General Magruder, who was by then stationed in San Antonio, Texas.  From the records available, it appears that Causey never made it to Texas as ordered, but managed to get his assignment once again changed.  By the close of 1862, he was serving on the staff of Major General Arnold Elzey, Commander of the Department of Richmond, responsible for defending the Confederate capital.  Causey’s scouting services were once again employed in his new position, but were quickly interrupted in January of 1863.  Unfortunately, the records do not indicate how it occurred, but Causey was captured and sent to Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C.  He spent about three months in prison, but was quickly exchanged and returned to Confederate service by April.

Upon his return, Charles Henry Causey was assigned to duty under Major William Norris, Commander of the Confederate States Signal Corps, and also a former staff officer under Magruder.  For the most part, the signal service was a team of signal “flagmen” who used flags during the day and torches by night to replicate the Morse code system of dots then used with the telegraph system.  Most importantly, this signal system found great use on the battlefield between distant units, as well as across large rivers that made the use of couriers or water-passage impossible.  However, while the Signal Corps operated out of a modest office in downtown Richmond, in reality its back room was the home of the Confederate Secret Service office, where a much greater degree of intelligence was relayed.  Here, valuable information was disseminated, usually in secret code, from operatives as far away as New York City and Europe.

Though assigned to service with the “Signal Corps,” it is more likely that Charles Henry Causey was as an agent with the more covert Secret Service.  Specifically, his assignment was for duty on the lower James River, which by that point in the war was completely under the occupation of the Union army.  His headquarters and rendezvous point was located across the James River, near Burwell’s Bay and Fort Boykin in Smithfield, a relative safe-haven given the nearby 20,000 Confederate troops involved in the Siege of Suffolk at the time.  Each night, or as often as possible, Causey would cross the James River to meet with other agents and friendly Southerners within the Federal lines.  On his first crossing on April 11 of 1863, Causey returned to Smithfield with valuable information as to Union troop movements on the Peninsula, including information as to whether reinforcements were being sent to Suffolk to block Confederate attempts to regain the city.  By April 20, less than two weeks later, Causey had successfully breeched the enemy lines as far in as Fortress Monroe, and reported back to the Confederate War Department with copies of Yankee newspapers, troop strengths on the Peninsula and Suffolk, the number of rations being issued, and reports on the number of naval vessels in the James River.

Charles Henry Causey maintained this system of nightly trips across the James River up through fall of 1863.  At that point, Causey fell out of favor with his Commander, Major Norris, and was told that his services were “no longer important.”  However, Causey’s operations during the year had put him in contact with another important branch of the Secret Service, a group known as the Independent Signal Corps.  This group, stationed exclusively in the Tidewater area was not under the command of Major Norris.  Rather, it was led by Major James F. Milligan, who had actually taught Norris the signal codes & operations, but was passed over for appointment to the regular Signal Corps.  Rather than create a rift between two powerful and important leaders in Signal Corps operations, the Confederate government allowed Milligan to maintain his Independent Signal Corps without ever having to report to Major Norris.

In his defense, Causey sought the support of Major General George Pickett, who he had worked with during the Siege of Suffolk campaign.  In an October letter from his headquarters in North Carolina, Pickett stated that since April, Causey “has, with five assistants, organized a line of communication with the enemy’s line in vicinity of Fortress Monroe, and has to the present time obtained daily intelligence, the latest New York papers, and kept open mail communication with all parts of the North.”  Ironically, the same day that Pickett issued this letter, he also appointed to his command Major James F. Milligan as his department’s chief signal officer.  Not surprisingly, all of this opened up another bitter dispute between Major Norris, Major Milligan & the role of the Independent Signal Corps, and Major General Pickett.  A week following Pickett’s letters, Norris again wrote to the Confederate high command that Causey’s services were no longer needed.  Yet, this attempt to discredit Causey by Major Norris was in vain, as General Pickett made it clear in his last and final letter on the subject, stating that Captain Causey be ordered to report to him, that he was not in the Signal Corps, and that he be ordered to report for duty, “at these Hdqrs., irrespective of the Signal Corps and Major Norris.”

This ended any questions on the subject, and on November 6, 1863, Captain Charles Henry Causey was ordered to report to the famed leader Major General George Pickett at Petersburg for assignment to duty.

In my next column, read about Captain Causey’s last two years in Confederate service, his marriage, and his new life in Suffolk following the war.

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The Life of Charles Henry Causey, Part 1 of 3

Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, August 2005

Today when we think of intelligence operations, we are accustomed to hearing stories of James Bond and Britain’s MI-6, or our own Central Intelligence Agency.  However, both of these groups found their early development in military operations and activities that had occurred many years before.  In the United States, this developed through the Army’s signal service in the 1850s, and was quickly revolutionized during the War Between the States due to the necessity to quickly disseminate valuable information as to troop movements.  Though many were involved in the day to day operations of the intelligence departments on both sides of this conflict, one figure stands out quite prominently.  Though not a Suffolk native, the war and his activities brought him here, and eventually resulted in him making Suffolk his home.

Charles Henry Causey was born on July 14, 1837, in New Castle, Delaware.  He was the oldest of three children born to the Maryland native William Causey and his Scottish-born wife, Mary Colvin.  By the age of two, however, Charles Henry and the Causey family moved to Elizabeth City County (present day Hampton), presumably following a job opportunity offered to his father, who worked as an engineer.  In the same year, the second child of the Causey family was born, William N. Causey; and in 1841, the third and final child, James Colvin Causey.  As a young man, Charles Henry attended local schools and excelled in his studies.  It was no surprise then when in the mid-1850s he was accepted to Waynesburg College (formerly Madison College) in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, a prominent Presbyterian affiliated school.  Charles Henry graduated from Waynesburg in 1857, and returned to Virginia to seek a law degree from the University of Virginia.  He graduated from UVA in 1859, but before starting his formal law practice, began teaching at a school in Elizabeth City County.

In less than a year though, the political atmosphere of Virginia and indeed the country completely changed.  Following Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the “rebellion” in the spring of 1861, the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union on the 17th of April by a vote of a special convention.  One month later, the citizens of the state went to the polls, and voted overwhelmingly to secede, with the constituents of Elizabeth City County voting in favor of secession, 343-6.  Despite their support for the Confederacy, however, Hampton was occupied by the Federal armies early on in the war due to its proximity to Fortress Monroe.  In fact, on June 10 the first land battle of the war in Virginia was commenced from Hampton and occurred at Big Bethel in Newport News between Confederate forces under the command of Colonel John Bankhead Magruder and Union forces under General Benjamin “Beast” Butler.  Though insignificant in numbers, this early battle was a sign of things to come for Virginia and the Peninsula.

In the meantime, military units were springing up all across the South enlisting young men to defend their homes and sweethearts.  On June 24, having been forced away from Hampton as refugees, Charles Henry and his brother James Colvin Causey heeded the call for troops, and joined the Old Dominion Dragoons, Company B of the 3rd Virginia Cavalry.  With his vast educational background, and knowledge of the Peninsula region, Charles Henry was detailed to serve as a scout for Colonel Magruder who was quickly throwing up a line of defenses in Newport News in order to protect the new Confederate Capital in Richmond from attack.

In October of 1861, Charles Henry Causey was conferred with a promotion to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Confederate States Cavalry by President Jefferson F. Davis.  Amazingly though, no records as to his particular assignment or unit are available with his promotion or included in his service records.  Rather, he was issued a statement from his commander in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry announcing his promotion, and describing him as, “…5 ft. 8 in. high, dark complexion, dark eyes, dark hair, and by profession a farmer…”  The only explanation to such a promotion and descriptive letter hint to Causey’s early service as a scout.  Due to the nature of his work, affirming his position in Confederate military service was absolute necessary in the event of capture.

From February to July of 1862, military service records show Charles Henry Causey as serving on the staff of then General John B. Magruder.  Magruder’s own records reflect this, and in a May report to General Robert E. Lee, Causey was commended as an officer “of great advantage to the service” and whose “intrepidity and enterprise have been in the highest degree conspicuous on every occasion.”  With the help of Causey, and others on his staff with the knowledge of the area, General Magruder was able to hold the Union army at bay for a number of months, when in reality they were vastly outnumbered.

Following the Confederacy’s abandonment of the Peninsula, and subsequent fighting of the Seven Days Battles around Richmond, Magruder was transferred to the Department of Texas.  Causey requested from Magruder to stay behind until which time he could gain an official transfer to a command closer to home, and the possibility of a promotion, if available.  Being without a Command to report to, Causey was issued orders by the Adjutant General’s office to report to the North Carolina coast, a post he had first requested back in February of 1862 in the midst of the battle of Roanoke Island.  With these orders, he was told to report to General Daniel Harvey Hill.  More than likely, this was not his first interaction with Hill, as Hill had served for a number of months on the Peninsula during and after the Battle of Big Bethel.  While Causey remained in North Carolina throughout the fall of 1862, he did not stop lobbying for the promotion which he believed had been long overdue.  In September, Causey’s old friend Major General Magruder weighed in and sent a letter to the Secretary of War, George W. Randolph, urging for a promotion for his able Lieutenant.

Commenting on his abilities as a scout and reconnoitering officer, Magruder explained, “I was indebted to him during the Peninsula Campaign for valuable information as to the enemy’s numbers, position, movement, and designs.  On one occasion and at a critical period… he volunteered to undertake the perilous task of penetrating the enemy’s lines and succeeded in getting into their rear and reported to me the information he obtained which proved to be valuable as to their numbers, position, etc.  During this expedition which he undertook alone and on foot, he was nine days in the enemy’s lines and endured great hardships from hunger, fatigue, and exposure to cold & wet in the woods and marshes on the Peninsula.”

With such a high recommendation in hand, the future for Charles Henry Causey was destined to be interesting.  In my upcoming columns, read how Causey found his way into the Confederate States Secret Service, and ultimately to his future home in Suffolk.

The Gray Ghost of Suffolk, Part 2 of 2

Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, April 2006

The Great Dismal Swamp Escape 

In my last column, Richard H. Hosier had been sentenced to death by Union officials.  His punishment was overturned by the commanding Union General in Norfolk for reasons unknown, and instead his sentence was commuted to hard labor.  Robertson Arnold’s recollections of the Dismal Swamp recalled this story of Hosier’s capture with much revelry.  According to Arnold, Richard Hosier was taken to Norfolk to be put to work on the earthen defenses there, but while en route, he escaped from his captor (again!) and made haste toward the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River.  Since there was a great deal of boat traffic along the river, he waited until nightfall to cross.  Hosier then tied his clothes up in a bundle, placed them on his head, and swam across the river.  Once safely on the other side, he proceeded toward the Deep Creek Canal and then into the Dismal Swamp, where he was safe from recapture.  From there, he planned to cross Lake Drummond and make his way back home.  Picking up with Arnold’s telling of this adventure:

“It was at that place he performed his great feat.  He could not procure a boat, and the prospect before him was gloomy indeed.  If he remained there he would, in all probability, have been devoured by bears and other wild animals in the Swamp, or perhaps, starve.  Not being in the least daunted, he prepared himself to reach the western shore, which could only be done by swimming. It was seven miles across, but he nerved himself to the accomplishment of his object.  He prepared himself as before by making a bundle of his clothes, which he placed on the top of his head, and was then ready to swim across or perish in the attempt.  When he was about half-way across he was attacked by a large serpent, and had it not been for a school of gars that was following him, he would no doubt have been devoured.  He reached the shore only to meet a more formidable enemy.  It was a large black bear.  In his scuffle with the serpent he had lost his bundle of clothes and had nothing but a large knife, which was buckled around his waist. Drawing his knife, he rushed forward and was met by the bear, when a regular hand-to-hand fight was commenced.  He did not wrestle long before he found an opportunity to use his knife, and plunging it up to the hilt, he soon had the bear lying prostrate at his feet. Having lost all his clothes, it became necessary that he should do something in his nude state. The bear’s skin was the only thing that he could get, so with his knife he skinned him, and getting inside the skin, he started to find some settlement.  But his condition was as bad as before.  The idea of his being able to get near enough to any person to tell of his condition was absurd.  The very sight of him would scare every man, woman and child off the plantation.  He could not get a living soul to come to him, and it was not until he had reached his own home, some few miles from Suffolk, that he could present himself as Mr. Hosier.”

Following the war and in the midst of Reconstruction, Richard Hosier went back to farming.  As he learned to cope during such a trying period for the South, he was dealt with another blow, the loss of his wife.  Her death left Hosier with five young kids to take care of, including their last child, J. Walter Hosier, who was born during the war in 1863.

A few years later, seeing that his children needed a maternal figure in their life, Hosier remarried on January 5, 1871, this time to Sarah Henderson Williamson, whose husband Richard Williamson had died in the late 1860s.  Richard and Sarah had three children together: Blanche Hosier, born in 1872; William Paul Hosier, born in 1874; and Robbin Hosier, born about 1877.  Richard and Sarah’s time together was short though, as Sarah died sometime in the 1880s or 90s, leaving Hosier again a widow.

With most of his children now grown, Richard Hosier found other ways to occupy his time.  In 1895, the Tom Smith Camp United Confederate Veterans was formed in Suffolk, and Hosier was an active member of this veterans’ group.  By this point, however, age was catching up with him.  In 1898, Hosier turned eighty years old, but was diagnosed with cancer a month after his birthday.  He fought the illness for about a year, but finally succumbed to the disease on the morning of September 25, 1899, after being in a coma for nearly a week.  At the time of his death, he was eighty-one years old, and the second oldest person in Suffolk.  His funeral took place at the Suffolk Christian Church, followed by the burial in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Richard Hosier was survived by only six out of twelve of his known children.  The oldest was Richard T. Hosier, who moved from Suffolk in the 1870s, and became a farmer in the Western Branch area of Norfolk County (now Chesapeake).  The next was Samuel Sampson Hosier, who married Florine V. Gay in 1888, and lived in Suffolk.  One son, William Paul Hosier, eventually settled with his family in Mississippi.  A daughter, Blanche Hosier, married Charles H. Smith of North Carolina, and they moved to Boston, Massachusetts.  There is also an unidentified daughter who is noted in the obituary only as Mrs. M.E. Philhower.  The most notable of the Hosier children was J. Walter Hosier.  Walter served on the Suffolk City Council for a number of years, and also ran an insurance company in Suffolk.  Following his death in 1955, the insurance business was continued by his son, Henry Duke Hosier.  Today, while the insurance company no longer remains in the Hosier family, it still retains his name, “J. Walter Hosier & Son Insurance.”

Of course, this story is not complete without again mentioning that following his death, Hosier’s family placed a stone on his grave in Cedar Hill Cemetery with his name, no dates, and the word “Mosby.”  Of all the epitaphs, this one was certainly fitting.  Undoubtedly, his stories of adventure and escape would have made the original “Gray Ghost” very proud.

The Gray Ghost of Suffolk, Part 1 of 2

Originally published in the Suffolk News-Herald, April 2006

Circa 1890s

Richard Hosier, Circa 1890s

The word “Mosby” is etched across his tombstone, and for many years Suffolk historians believed that Richard H. Hosier served with the famous Confederate cavalry leader John Singleton Mosby.  Of course, that certainly would have been an accomplishment of which to be proud.  Mosby and his men were the famous band of partisan rangers that waged a guerilla war against the Union forces in northern Virginia from 1863-1865.  Among their successes included the capture of a Union General, and the famous “Greenback Raid,” where they seized over $173,000 in newly-printed Federal greenbacks.  In more recent memory, Mosby and his men were featured on the silver-screen in the 1950s in the famed TV-series, The Gray Ghost.  However, Richard H. Hosier never rode with the famed “Gray Ghost.”  Rather, Hosier earned that title in his own right.

Richard H. Hosier was born on August 14, 1818, in Nansemond County, the son of Sampson and Elizabeth Hosier.  Little is known of his early life, although census records show that Hosier never learned to read or write, indicating he had little, if any, formal education.  In the mid-1840s, Hosier married Sarah (some records indicate her maiden name to be ‘Duke’), and they began a family, with Richard farming on a tract of land near his parent’s farm, south of Suffolk.  Their first child was born about 1845, and she was named Mary Hosier.  A second daughter, Eliza Hosier, was born about 1847.  In May of 1850, they celebrated the birth of their first son, and named him Richard T. Hosier, after his father.  A number of other children soon followed.  About 1852, their third daughter was born, Frances Hosier; then another son, Samuel Sampson Hosier (named after his grandfather), born in January of 1855; and two more daughters, Sarah Hosier, born about 1856, and Julia Hosier born about 1858.

By 1860, Hosier’s real estate was valued at two-thousand dollars, and his personal estate at five-hundred dollars.  At the time the census was taken, there were fifteen people shown in his household.  This included the nine members of the Hosier family, a young man by the name of Richard H. Norfleet who had apparently been orphaned at a young age and was being cared for by the Hosiers, one white farm laborer, and four free blacks, that ranged in age from eight to sixteen.  Of note here is that a similar demographic was shown in the 1850 census, with a number of free blacks being shown in the Hosier household.  Apparently, Richard Hosier employed them to work on his farm.  One source from the 1920s indicates that Jason Boone, the well known black Confederate soldier from Suffolk, was one of a number of the free blacks employed by Hosier.

This was disrupted by the start of the War Between the States in 1861, and subsequent occupation of Suffolk by Union forces in the spring of 1862.  While many of his neighbors had enlisted in the Confederate army, Hosier was age 45 in 1861, and considered too old to join the regular service.  On the other hand, he was also viewed as a threat by the local Union authorities because of his Southern sympathies.  Hosier was caught in a dilemma.  He could either stay in the area and risk harassment by the Union forces, or flee the area like many locals had already done, usually becoming a refugee across the Blackwater River in nearby Southampton County.  Hosier, instead, chose another option, and joined a band of local partisan rangers organized by Captain Hamilton L. Norfleet.  This company served as a quasi-militia or home-guard cavalry company around Nansemond County.  Their purpose was to protect local homes and families from harassment by Union forces, and recruit more soldiers for the Confederate army.  The center of their activities and majority of their numbers were from the South Quay area.  Their ranks were composed of basically old men and young boys, and they carried on their normal activities as farmers by day, but served as soldiers when called upon for duty.

Richard Hosier’s career on the fine line between civilian and soldier was a dangerous one, and as a result, Union cavalry patrols were sent out to capture Hosier and others like him.  At the start of the Siege of Suffolk in April of 1863, Union General Peck issued explicit orders to capture the “leading secessionists” in the area.  It is believed that Hosier was included in that number, and was taken into custody by Union officials, only to escape shortly thereafter.  This would be an oft-repeated event in the life of Richard Hosier.  From the scant records that account for this, it seems that Hosier was likely operating as a civilian spy in and out of Suffolk and Norfolk, and reporting his findings to the Confederate forces then surrounding Suffolk.

In a similar record from the latter part of May of 1863, a “Miss Hozier” of Suffolk was detained by Union officials in Norfolk boarding a train, and found to be concealing papers that detailed Union troop strengths in Norfolk and Suffolk.  This “Miss Hozier” is presumed to be a daughter of Richard Hosier, and it is likely she and her father were working together to transfer information to Confederate authorities.  While it is unknown what punishment was carried out on “Miss Hozier” for her activities, it was not long after that Richard Hosier himself was captured in Norfolk.  Local Union officials, tired of his repeat offenses (this was his third capture) and believing that he was a spy, sentenced him to death.

The remainder of this story will be continued in my next column.

Robert Samuel Elam, Part 4 (Conclusion)

Suffolk News-Herald, March 2006

Esteemed Citizen of Suffolk (Part 4)

By Fred D. Taylor

Battle-scarred and weary, Robert Samuel Elam made the trek from Charleston back to his native Charlotte County.  Soon after and not too far away, the war in Virginia ended with Lee’s surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

With the war and its aftermath now behind him, the thirty-three year old Robert Elam decided to start his life anew in the midst of Reconstruction.  Within months of his return, Robert married Martha A. Robertson, who according to secondary sources had been widowed during the war.  Robert also returned to farming, in as much as his injuries allowed him to work.

In time, the Elam family began to grow.  In January of 1866, Robert and Martha’s first child was born.  They named the baby boy Hilary Edward Elam, named after Robert’s brother who had been killed during the battle of Malvern Hill in 1862.  Two years later, a second son was born, William Gordon Elam, named after Robert’s father and his younger brother.  Their first daughter was born in 1870, and named Etta Lee Elam.  These additions to the family brought much cause for celebration around the Elam household, but Robert felt his family needed a change of scenery from Charlotte County.

While the farming life had been good for him, Robert’s physical condition did not allow him to properly manage the scale of farm it would take to support his family.  So Robert sold his farm, and packed up his family to begin a new adventure.  Several years before, Robert’s brother Thomas Gordon Elam had done the same, moving to Suffolk.  Though not a local, Thomas’s charisma and friendliness earned him the respect of the town citizens.  Thomas married a Suffolk girl, Emily S. Arnold, in 1870, and worked as the railroad agent.  In 1872, Thomas was elected Mayor of Suffolk, and a year late became the second owner and editor of the Suffolk Herald (the predecessor to the News-Herald).  With the success of his brother in mind, Robert Elam and family made Suffolk their new home.  While in Suffolk, the last child of Robert and Martha’s was born in 1876, and they named her Alma M. Elam.

Robert Elam purchased the Washington Hotel, which he promoted as having “excellent rooms” and being “pleasantly situated” in the business center of town.  The Washington hotel also included a restaurant, where Robert served as the overall proprietor and manager.  According to the 1880 Census, the hotel was shown to have twenty-four occupants.  This included the six members of the Elam family, two clerks, four dining room servants, one cook, two family servants, a young child of one of the servants, and eight boarders.  Though the dates are not certain, it is believed that Robert operated the hotel for approximately ten years.

Unfortunately, Robert’s war injuries and exposure in prison wore on him as time passed, and eventually he was forced to give up operating the hotel.  Even while he was running it, his ability to get around was severely limited, managing to move about only with the use of crutches, or a crutch and walking stick.  In the mid-1870s, Robert was given an artificial leg through a state medical program, but it was of little use.  Several years later in the 1880s, Robert again applied for assistance from the state, and it was explained in his request that “he was only able to wear [the artificial leg] a day or two at a time on account of it giving him pains, and which, with slight wear soon wore out, it being poorly made.”  From this request, Robert received a small pension in order to support his family.

By the 1890s, Robert’s condition only continued to worsen.  Just shy of his sixtieth birthday, Robert took ill, and on the morning of October 1st, 1891, passed away after a three week struggle.  His funeral was conducted at the First Baptist Church of Suffolk, and the local newspapers noted that flowers in “every design” were sent by his friends.  The pallbearers were all former Confederate soldiers, and they escorted his body for burial in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Robert was survived by his wife Martha, and all four of his children.  Martha spent her remaining days living with family, and passed away in 1902.  She is buried beside Robert in Cedar Hill.  The oldest son, Hilary Edward Elam, married Lillian Lee Kilby, daughter of Dr. John T. Kilby and Mary Benn.  Hilary worked as a shipping clerk for Planter’s Peanuts until his death in 1925.  The next oldest, William Gordon Elam, married Mary Woodward, daughter of William J. Woodward and Augusta V. Minter.  William worked as an insurance agent in Suffolk, and he and Mary had one daughter, Martha Virginia Elam.  William died in 1938.  Of the Elam daughters, Etta Lee Elam was the only one to marry.  Etta married Charles Meigs Boswell of Charlotte County in 1895.  Census records indicate that they spent the remainder of their lives in Chase City, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, where Charles worked as a bank president.  Etta and Charles had two children, their oldest Robert named after his grandfather, and Charles, Jr., named after his father.  The youngest of the Elam family, Alma M. Elam, never married and passed away in 1947.  She is buried in Cedar Hill in the lot with her mother and father.

Though taken from his family at a young age due to his wartime exposures, the life of Robert Samuel Elam is not one of regret or sadness.  Rather, for those who read his story, it is one of fighting the odds and making the most out of one’s circumstances.  In looking back on his life, Robert Elam undoubtedly went through a great deal.  On the battlefields of Gettysburg where a wound permanently disabled him, Robert watched the men of his command go into Pickett’s Charge, where he likely would have been killed had he been leading them that day.  From there he suffered through a Union prison camp which nearly took his life, and survived a journey as a member of the Immortal 600.  Sadly, many of his comrades would suffer a much worse fate.  Finally, he obtained his freedom and parole after a year and a half spent in hospitals and prisons, only to see Lee surrender the Army of Northern Virginia, just four months later.  In the final count, only thirteen soldiers from the entire 22nd Battalion remained to the end.  Yet, Robert picked up the pieces of his life and fought on during both war and peace.  In his obituary it was remarked that Captain Robert Elam was a “much esteemed citizen” of Suffolk, but the truth is, he was much more.  He was a leader and a patriot who fought for his country, he was a devoted husband and father, and he was a loyal friend.  In the highest of honors that could ever be bestowed upon him, he was a Christian, Southern Gentleman.

Robert Samuel Elam, Part 3 of 4

Suffolk News-Herald, March 2006

The Immortal 600 (Part 3)

By Fred D. Taylor

In the last column, Captain Robert S. Elam had been transferred to Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor as a prisoner of war.  This was only a temporary holding facility though, and Robert was moved again in June of 1864 to Fort Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island in the Delaware River.  Fort Delaware had been converted into a prison in 1862, and held a capacity of approximately 10,000 prisoners.  But, for the prisoners who were sent there, Fort Delaware was no vacation spot.  Fort Delaware was notorious for its inhumane conditions, which included severe prison overcrowding, and a poor sewage system that contaminated the drinking water.  For Robert, this situation was only compounded by the fact he was highly susceptible to infections due to his amputation.

Robert was imprisoned in Fort Delaware for approximately a month when a rumor began to circulate around the prison that a large group of prisoners were to be sent south to be exchanged.  This was a surprise for the prisoners, as the United States had ended its policy of exchange in hopes of depleting Southern resources from both the loss of men and the necessity to care for Union prisoners of war.  However, a rumor of exchange was one thing – heading South was something totally different.  Needless to say, it was quite a shock then, on August 20th of 1864, when six-hundred Confederate officers left Fort Delaware on board the ship the Crescent City destined for Charleston Harbor.  With the hope that they would soon be in friendly territory, these six hundred men could never have realized their actual role was as bargaining chips of the Federal government.

During the summer of 1864, several key events had set in to motion what would develop in Charleston with the arrival of these six hundred Confederate prisoners.  Just months before, six hundred Union prisoners had been transferred from the Andersonville prison to Charleston.  The Confederate authorities did this for several reasons.  First, overcrowding within the prison had deteriorated prison conditions, placing overall health of the prisoners in serious jeopardy.  Second, the start of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta threatened the viability of a Confederate prison within striking distance.  With this in mind, Confederate authorities shifted the Union prisoners out of Andersonville for fear they would be freed by Sherman.

At first, Union authorities balked at this as a violation of the ethics of war, because it was common for Union artillery to shell Charleston, and thus their men would be subjected to such fire.  (Note that nothing was said of the shelling of civilian women and children there in Charleston.)  However, once it was clear that the Union prisoners were not in harms way, a plan to justify doing the same to Confederate prisoners sparked the interest of Union Major General John C. Foster, commanding the Union forces around Charleston.  Selling this argument to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Washington was easy for General Foster, who justified placing Confederate prisoners under fire as “retaliation.”  The difference with these prisoners, though, was that they really would be placed under fire.

Thus, the dream of six hundred Confederate prisoners who assumed their trip south was for exchange, quickly vanished.  The Crescent City arrived in Charleston Harbor on September 1st, and was immediately anchored within range and under fire of the Confederate heavy artillery at Battery Gregg, while a stockade for them was built within Union lines on Morris Island, south of Charleston.   Upon their arrival, it was realized that at least forty of the prisoners were in such poor condition that even the Union officials could not justify keeping them in the name of retaliation.  Among this number was Captain Robert Elam, whose condition had worsened since his arrival at Fort Delaware.

Robert was removed to the US General Hospital in Beaufort, South Carolina, where he remained until December.  On December 15th, after nearly a year and half as a prisoner of war, he was paroled and released to the Confederate authorities in Charleston.  As for Robert’s comrades who had been brought down from Fort Delaware, they were placed under fire for over forty-five days on Morris Island.  Amazingly, none were killed in the exchange of fire, though many died from sheer dehydration, fatigue, and malnourishment.  In subsequent years, these original six hundred men became poetically known as The Immortal 600.

As for Robert, it is not clear whether he remained in Charleston until its surrender in February of 1865, or gradually made his way back home after his parole.  Due to his condition, what little walking he could do was limited to the use of a crutch, so realistically the only way he could travel such a long distance would have been by wagon and/or train.  Given the state of the war by 1865, it is more than likely he remained in Charleston until transportation could be more easily accessible to make the nearly four hundred mile trip back home to Charlotte County, Virginia.

In the next and final column on the life of Robert Samuel Elam, we will cover his post war history, including the start of his family, and his life in Suffolk.

Robert Samuel Elam, Part 2 of 4

Suffolk News-Herald, March 2006

From Gettysburg to Captivity (Part 2)

By Fred D. Taylor

In the last column, I left off with the battle of Chancellorsville, where Captain Robert Samuel Elam led the men of Company E of the 22nd Virginia Battalion gallantly in the Confederate victory.

Following Chancellorsville, and the return of General Longstreet’s corps from Suffolk, Robert E. Lee’s army began its second campaign into the north in an attempt to relieve some of the pressure from the war in Virginia.  Today, this campaign has forever been etched into history as the Battle of Gettysburg.  In many ways, this battle began by accident.  After having spent days marching through Maryland and Pennsylvania, Confederate troops under the command of Major General Henry Heth encountered what they assumed was a small home-guard company on the outskirts of the town of Gettysburg on July 1st.  This group turned out to be several thousand veteran Union cavalrymen.  Believing otherwise, Heth ordered a full-scale attack, and was met with heavy casualties.  The two fought back and forth for the better part of the morning, with the Union cavalry being able to hold their position until reinforcements could arrive.  Heth pressed on though, gaining reinforcements himself throughout the day.

The 22nd Virginia Battalion began its journey toward Gettysburg around 5 a.m. on the morning of July 1st, and were soon ordered to proceed at a double-quick march to the sound of the guns.  By early afternoon, the 22nd Battalion arrived on the battlefield, and was immediately sent across Willoughby Run to engage the Union forces positioned near the McPherson Farm.  The Union forces they faced were members of the “Iron” and “Bucktail” Brigades, thought to be two of the hardest fighting brigades in the Union army.  According to reports, the men of the 22nd Battalion were forced to march across several hundred yards of open meadow in front of these Union infantry, “who unleashed a withering fire into the struggling Confederates.”  The 22nd Battalion made at least two full-scale charges against the Union lines, both ending in little success for the Confederates.  After being heavily repulsed by the Union troops, the 22nd Battalion received reinforcements and regrouped.  As the afternoon wore on, the Confederates eventually flanked the Union troops at the McPherson farm, forcing them into a full retreat through the town of Gettysburg.  However, the first day’s victory was a pyrrhic one for Robert, who was struck by a minié ball just above the knee during the battle.

As soon as Robert was hit, his men helped him away from the battlefield and carried him immediately to an impromptu hospital setup nearby.  After being examined, it was determined that his wound was too severe, and that the only way to save his life was to amputate his leg just above his knee, where he was wounded.  Some twenty years later, Robert still recalled the name of Dr. William R. Weisiger, the Brigade Surgeon who performed the operation.

The amputation was successful, but that was the least of Robert’s worries at the time.  On July 3rd, he watched as the remnants of his unit marched off, without him, into what became known forever as Pickett’s Charge.  Few would come back.

Yet, the long term results of the Battle of Gettysburg were even worse for Captain Robert Elam.  The day after the failed attack, Lee decided to withdraw his army from Pennsylvania, and return to Virginia.  Unable to transport or care for the nearly 5,000 severely wounded Confederate soldiers from three days of bloody fighting, they would be left in Gettysburg under the care of Confederate surgeons who stayed behind to treat them.  Robert would be of this number, and according to military records, he was “officially” captured by the Union forces on July 5, 1863.

Union hospital records show that Robert slowly improved, but remained in a Union Cavalry Corps hospital for approximately four months.  In September, Union doctors found it necessary to remove part of the bone in what was left of his femur that had been amputated.  This seemed to correct whatever remaining problems had existed from his wound, and other than a case of “diarrhea” that was noted in his hospital records, Robert continued to improve.  By October, Robert was well enough to be moved from the make-shift hospital at Gettysburg to a regular medical facility in Baltimore, Maryland.  He remained at the Baltimore hospital until Union doctors considered him to be fully recovered in April of 1864.  Robert’s status then became “prisoner of war” and he was confined to Fort McHenry prison, also in Baltimore.

In the next column, we will pick up with Robert’s life as a prisoner of war.

Robert Samuel Elam, Part 1 of 4

From Charlotte County to a Captain in Lee’s Army

Suffolk News-Herald, March 2006

By Fred D. Taylor

Cedar Hill Cemetery

Cedar Hill Cemetery

There were quite a number of former Confederate soldiers who made Suffolk their home after 1865.  Some had marched through Suffolk during the war and fondly remembered the kind townspeople.  Others ventured into the area to pursue a variety of business interests that centered around the prosperous rail system.  Of that number were two brothers from Charlotte County, Virginia.  One earned his prominence as a famed citizen, Mayor, and newspaper Editor.  The other made his mark as a distinguished soldier.  In this column, and the three that follow, this soldier’s life will be traced from his early days in Charlotte County to the battlefield to his post-war life in Suffolk.

Robert Samuel Elam was born on November 19, 1831, in Charlotte County, the oldest of nine children born to William D. Elam and Susan F. Elam.

Though little is known of his childhood, by the age of nineteen, Robert moved out to start a life of his own.  He worked as a salesman in the mercantile store of E.B. Butler in Lynchburg for a short time, but this city life did not seem to suit him.  So, Robert decided to pursue farming on land next to his parents, this time back to his childhood home in Charlotte County, about thirty miles southwest of Farmville.  On the 1860 Census, the now twenty-eight year old Robert Elam was shown as having $6,000 in real estate, and having employed a “ploughboy” to help him work on his farm.  Of special note along this same line, Robert did not own any slaves.

While Robert seemed to be doing quite well by this point in his life, hostilities between the North and South soon interrupted these successes.  In April of 1861, a special session of the Virginia General Assembly voted to secede from the Union, and a month later the citizens of Virginia voted overwhelmingly to do the same.  Like a number of counties, Charlotte County voted unanimously (883-0), to leave the Union.

Less than a year later, the war fever following Confederate victories at Big Bethel and Manassas spread to Charlotte County.  On January 21, 1862, Robert enlisted in a local company organized by Captain Samuel F. McGehee, a prosperous farm overseer, in the Drake’s Branch area of the county.  This company was combined with nine other southside Virginia units into the state service as Company E of the 2nd Virginia Artillery.  Upon his enlistment, Robert was appointed as a 2nd Lieutenant, and soon after was promoted to the rank of Junior First Lieutenant.

Due to the need for troops to defend the new Confederate capital, the 2nd was marched to Camp Anderson in Caroline County, north of Richmond, to begin training.  They trained for approximately two months, drilling in the latest military tactics, and performing various duties around the camp.  Though organized as an artillery unit, and very likely trained as such, their period of service soon came to an abrupt end.  In May, the state reorganized its military units following an influx of volunteers and conscripts.  Six of the companies from the 2nd artillery were dissolved and then reorganized to create an infantry battalion.  For the remainder of the war this unit was known as the 22nd Battalion Virginia Infantry.  At the time of the reorganization, new elections for officers took place, and on May 23rd, Robert S. Elam was elected Captain of Company E of the 22nd Battalion.

Within a month, the 22nd Battalion received its baptism under fire.  As a part of Field’s Brigade of A.P. Hill’s “Light Division,” the 22nd saw extensive action during the Seven Days Battles around Richmond.   A report from their first battle near Mechanicsville described the unit suffering under a bombardment from the enemy’s artillery batteries, but acting “coolly” considering they had never before been under fire.  Though the first, this certainly was not the last time the unit would face the enemy.  In just a few days, the 22nd saw heavy action at Gaines’ Mill and Frazier’s Farm, with casualties totaling ten killed and forty-nine wounded.

A month later, the 22nd Battalion took part in the stunning Confederate victory at Second Manassas, and made the march into Maryland as a part of “Stonewall” Jackson’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.  Once in Maryland, the 22nd took part in the capture of Harper’s Ferry, gathering needed supplies, arms, and ammunitions for the Confederate war effort.  Just days later these weary men of Jackson’s “Foot Cavalry” arrived at Sharpsburg (Antietam) just in time to save Lee’s right flank during the afternoon battles around Burnside’s Bridge.

Following Lee’s less than successful efforts in Maryland, the 22nd Battalion and remainder of the Army of Northern Virginia were stationed along the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg to set up winter quarters.  In December, Captain Robert Elam was reported as being sick, and sent to a Richmond hospital to be treated.  The records do not indicate what type of illness Robert had fallen victim to, but he was reported as being absent until February of 1863.  By March though, Robert returned to take command of Company E of the 22nd Battalion.  Coming into their spring campaign, the 22nd Battalion saw extensive action during the Battle of Chancellorsville.  Most notably, the 22nd took part in Jackson’s famed flank march, inflicting serious casualties against the Union army, which secured a much needed victory for Lee’s army to mark the beginning of the third year of the war.  This victory came at great loss though, with the 22nd Battalion suffering close to forty-percent casualties, and most detrimental of all, the mortal wounding of General Jackson on the night of May 2nd.

Suffolk Lawyer Aided Confederate General

 

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Grave stone of James Edward Jenkins in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Suffolk Lawyer Aided Confederate General – by Fred D. Taylor

Suffolk News-Herald, June 2005

Today, Suffolk is the home to dozens of attorneys.  In 1850 though, Suffolk and its small population only had four.  The youngest of the four was James Edward Jenkins.

Jenkins was born in 1824 in Nansemond County, the son of John Cole Jenkins and Elizabeth Madden.  His Jenkins family proudly claimed descent from John Jenkins, a 17th Century Governor of present-day North Carolina; and on his maternal side, the Madden family of Ireland.

Jenkins excelled at an early age academically, and attended the College of William & Mary.  It was there in which Jenkins gained his legal background.  Jenkins graduated from William & Mary in 1846, and soon returned to Suffolk to practice law.  About 1848, Jenkins married Mary Virginia Briggs, the daughter of local merchants Merritt & Lucretia Briggs.  A year later, their first child was born, and was named George Briggs Jenkins.

The 1850 Census shows James Jenkins and wife Mary residing at a hotel owned by Richard H. Riddick, Sr.  While here, their second child was born, Mary L. in 1851, and another, Anne E. in 1853.  By 1854, James had saved enough money to purchase an office and home on a lot in town which had previously been the site of Morgan & Parker’s store.  Land records indicate that the lot was located on Main Street in “uptown,” in the general area which is now the location of the Suffolk Circuit Court.

The Jenkins family continued to grow throughout the 1850s and early 1860s.  In 1855, their second son James W. was born, followed by Robert C. in 1857, Henry in 1858, and Jonathan B. in 1860.  Around the latter part of the 1850s though, Jenkins began preparations to move his family.  In 1857, he sold his lot in town, and by June of 1860 Jenkins and his family appear on a census record in St. Louis, Missouri, with James practicing law.  His three oldest children George B., Mary L., and Ann E., remained in Nansemond County, and lived with their grandparents.

Unfortunately for Jenkins, the political climate in Missouri and across the United States soon dramatically changed.  While Missouri tended to be pro-Unionist like most of the Border States, Lincoln’s call for troops to suppress the “rebellion” in 1861 was met with lukewarm reaction.  Missouri Governor Claiborne F. Jackson refused to enlist troops to invade the Southern states and in May of 1861, Union troops began to flood into St. Louis to suppress the state’s lean toward secession.  In less than a month, Governor Jackson and members of the Missouri legislature were forced to abandon the capital at Jefferson City and go into exile following an attack by Union General Nathaniel Lyon.

For James E. Jenkins, while the evidence is not clear, it is believed that he left St. Louis soon after the Union occupation of the city.  Jenkins brought his family back home in time to see his native Suffolk fall to Union occupation in May of 1862.  With no place to go, Jenkins apparently took up residence in either Isle of Wight or Southampton County, and looked on as the area braced for what became the Siege of Suffolk.  Briefly, Jenkins’ life returned to some happiness following the birth of his seventh child, Charles W., in 1863.  However, when Confederate troops under James Longstreet withdrew from Suffolk in May of 1863, only a number of Confederate cavalry troops remained along the Blackwater River to protect the region.  It was then that James Jenkins realized he had seen enough from the sidelines, and enlisted on July 22, 1863, in Franklin in Company D of the 8th Confederate Cavalry Regiment.  Ironically, just weeks before, Jenkins’ cousin John Sheffield Jenkins had fallen leading the 14th Virginia Infantry in Pickett’s Charge in the Battle of Gettysburg.  This stunning personal loss to his family no doubt weighed heavily on the mind of Jenkins when he enlisted.

Jenkins’ service in the cavalry was spent uneventful along the Blackwater River until November of 1863 when his company was ordered to report to the command of Colonel James Dearing.  Dearing, one of many senior-classmen who had resigned from West Point in 1861 following Virginia’s secession, had led an artillery unit for much of the war.  In January of 1864, Dearing’s cavalry was transferred to the command of General Robert F. Hoke to help in containing Union troops who threatened eastern North Carolina.  Dearing’s raw recruits served ably along the Carolina coast, despite an unsuccessful attempt at taking New Berne in February.  However, their successful capture of Plymouth in April of 1864 brought the congratulations of the Confederate Congress, and a promotion for Dearing to Brigadier General.  Upon Dearing’s promotion, the 8th Regiment Confederate Cavalry was broken up and reorganized into Company I of the 24th Virginia Cavalry, and by May of 1864 transferred back to Virginia.

The abilities of James E. Jenkins, however, had apparently caught the eye of General Dearing.  In September of 1864, Jenkins was recorded on muster rolls as having been transferred from the 24th Virginia Cavalry and detailed as a Clerk to General Dearing.  His service with Dearing would make him an active participant in the Confederacy’s famed “Beefsteak Raid” and the Siege of Petersburg.  In fact, Dearing’s cavalry performed gallantly to the very end of the war, participating in the Battle of Five Forks, and at the Battle of High Bridge on April 6 following Lee’s retreat.  It was at this battle that Lee’s famed Army won its last victory, capturing nearly 800 prisoners.  Yet, it was a pyrrhic victory as General Dearing was mortally wounded, and Lee would surrender his army in just days at Appomattox.  Dearing was soon removed to a hospital in Lynchburg to be treated, and on April 23 was the last Confederate General to die of wounds received on the battlefield.  While it is unknown whether James Jenkins accompanied his commander to Lynchburg, it is highly likely, as Jenkins was not with Lee’s Army at the surrender, but rather officially paroled on April 25 in occupied Richmond, just two days after Dearing’s passing.

Jenkins returned to Suffolk following his parole and began to rebuild his life.  As most former Confederate veterans had lost their citizenship rights, it is doubtful that Jenkins ever appeared again before the courts.  In 1867, Jenkins’ last child Mathew was born.  Yet, James Jenkins would not live to see his son’s first birthday, as he died of tuberculosis on September 15, 1868.  Jenkins passed away at the age of 44, leaving a wife and eight living children.  The funeral was conducted at the Methodist Church in Suffolk, with Masonic funeral rites, and burial at Cedar Hill Cemetery.