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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Jaunt up the James IV- The Fate of Dr. Ritchie

 The ending of a Jaunt up the James . . .

The James River from windmill Point to Dancing Point

In 1863, Mrs. Isabella Harrison, the widow of Mr. George Evelyn Harrison, late proprietor of Brandon, was warned by sagacious advisers that it would be prudent to remove her family, with such valuables as were portable, to Richmond. Reluctant to leave home and dependants, she delayed until danger of invasion was imminent before she took a house in town and filled it with furniture, pictures and other effects' sent up the river from the plantation. There were left behind her brother, Dr. Ritchie*, a son of the famous "Nestor of the Virginia Press," Thomas Ritchie of The Enquirer, two white managers, and 150 negroes, field-hands and their families, the house-servants having accompanied the ladies to Richmond.
At one o'clock, one January morning in 1864, Dr. Ritchie was awakened by a knocking at the door, and answering from a window was told that the visitors were Federal officers. Hastily arraying himself in an old pair of hunting-trousers, the first he could lay his hands upon, with dressing-gown and slippers, he admitted the unseasonable arrivals. They were respectful, but peremptory in their assertion that he must go with them immediately to the gunboat moored at the wharf. That he was a non-combatant, and simply acting here as the custodian of his widowed sister's property; that he was far from well and not in suitable garb to meet strangers, availed nothing to men acting under orders. He and the two managers were hurried down to the vessel, and from the deck saw the flames of burning "quarters,"barns, hayricks, out-houses, 2500 barrels of corn and 30,000 lbs. of bacon, rolling up against the black heavens. The negroes were routed from their cabins, the women wailing, the men paralyzed with terror all alike persuaded that the Day of Judgment had come and forced on board the transports. In the raw cold of the winter morning they were taken down to Taylor's Farm, near Norfolk. The younger men were enlisted in the army, the older men and women were set to work on the farm. Most of them returned to Brandon at the close of the war.
Dr. Ritchie and his companions were confined in a cell at Fort Monroe with several negroes, until the news of his arrest reached General Butler, who gave him pleasanter quarters and offered him many civilities.
 "I ask only for a sheet of paper and an envelope, that I may write to my sister," was Dr. Ritchie's reply to these overtures.
A Baltimore paper printed next day a sensational account of the Attack upon Brandon, heading it A, Bloodless Victory. It was the intention of the officer in charge of the expedition, the report further stated, to return and complete the work of demolition.
This article was read that morning by Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Harrison's sister, in Washington, whose husband, a distinguished physician, was Mr. Lincoln's medical adviser and friend. Newspaper in hand, Dr. Stone hastened to the President, and laid the case before him. The name and fame of Thomas Ritchie, the wheel-horse of the Old Democratic Party, were known to Mr. Lincoln, with whom humanity . always stood ready to temper justice.
"That, at least, they shall not do?" he said, on reading the threat of a return to Brandon, and instantly telegraphed orders to Fort Monroe to that effect.
 Mrs. Harrison and her sister, Miss Ritchie, had been deterred by the unfavorable aspect of the weather from coming down the river on the very night of the attack, as they had planned to do, and thus escaped the worst terrors of the scene. Arriving two days later, they found that the troops had been with-drawn, pursuant to the President's command.
They had made the most of their brief season of occupation. Not a habitable building was left standing except the manor-house, and that had been rifled of all the mistress left in it. The few pictures which were too bulky to be removed to town, had been cut from the frames and carried off. Some family portraits are still missing the sadly significant note, taken by the enemy in 1864; recording their loss in the catalogue of the Brandon Gallery. Every window pane was shattered. Those inscribed with the autographs of J. K. Paulding, John Tyler, Millard Fillmore and his Cabinet secretaries, Edward Everett, etc.,etc., were not spared. The wainscoting was ripped from the inner walls ; the outer shutters were riddled and hacked and, in aiming at the quaint, nondescript ornament on the roof, the marksmen had battered bricks and cement into holes that remain until this day.
-Colonial Homesteads And Their Stories
by Marion Harland the Author of 'Where Ghosts Walk," etc,
G. P. Putnam's Sons,New York and London
The Knickerbocker press 1912

A note on the two Brandons.
"The two plantations, Brandon and Upper Brandon, include some of the 5,000 acres granted in 1616 by King James I to Captain John Martin, Esquire, one of the founders of the Jamestown Colony, in gratitude for Martin's good services to his king and country. In 1807 upon the death of Benjamin Harrison III, a descendent of the property's early owners, the estate was divided between Benjamin III's two sons - George Evelyn Harrison receiving the Brandon manor house and acreage and William Byrd Harrison, a legacy of the remaining 3,555 acres from which he created Upper Brandon plantation."
 -Daily Press(Newport News, Va.) April 21, 1996

*Robert Ruffin Ritchie

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