One If By Land and Two If By Sea

Aug. 29th 2012

USS Corondelet
Gunboat during the Civil War

During the Civil War, one of the biggest threats for plantations along the Rappahannock River was the Union Gunboats that patrolled the waterway.

According to Wikipedia:

“A gunboat was usually a small undecked vessel caring single smoothbore cannon in the bow, or just two or three such cannons. A gunboat could carry one or two masts or be oar-powered only, but the single-masted version of about 15m (49ft) length was most typical. Some types of gunboats carried tow cannons, or else mounted a number of swivel guns on the railings.

The advantage of this type of gunboat were that since it only carried a single cannon, that cannon could be quite heavy- for instance, a 32-pounder- and that the boat could be maneuvered in shallow or restricted waters, where sailing was difficult for larger ships. A single hit from a frigate would demolish a gunboat, but a frigate facing six gunboats in as estuary would likely be seriously damaged before it could manage to sink all of them. Gunboats were also easy and quick to build.

During the Civil War, armed side-wheel steamers were quickly converted from existing passenger-caring boats by Union and Confederate forces. Later, some boats were purposely built, such as the USS Miami. They all frequently mounted 12 or more guns, sometimes of rather large caliber, and were usually armored to some degree.”

Many of the plantations in and around Port Conway and Port Royal would fall victim to Union gunboats as they patrolled the river. During restoration of these homes, scars from shots fired at the home were found. Hazelwood Plantation located just across the river from Belle Grove Plantation was completely destroyed by fire during the Civil War.

USS Thomas Freeborn at Matthias Point

One notable event between a gunboat and plantation was that of Camden Plantation and the gunboat, USS Thomas Freeborn. The USS Freeborn was a 269-ton side-wheel steam gunboat that was built in Brooklyn, New York in 1860 as a commercial steamship. It was chartered by the Navy in April 1861 and purchased early in May. The USS Freeborn saw service with the Union Navy in the Hampton Roads area, Alexandria, Virginia and along the shore batteries at Aquia Creek on the Potomac River. The Commanding Officer during the latter part of her action was James H. Ward. He would later be shot and was mortally wounded.

The USS Freeborn was part of the Potomac Flotilla where she would capture or destroy several would-be blockade runners and would take part in a number of combat actions. Two of these actions were a February 1863 fight with a shore battery near Fort Lowry, Virginia where she was hit by enemy gunfire and a raid up the Rappahannock River in April 1864.

It was during this raid that the USS Freeborn stopped in front of Camden Plantation. Camden Plantation is located on the Port Royal side of the Rappahannock River, just down river from Port Royal. It is an Italian Villa-style home that was built in 1857 to 1859. The house is clad with flush siding that was treated to resemble stone. The house was built with two stories and a tower in the front of the house. (Remember the front of the house here is the side that faces the river) The property dates back to 1760 and has been in the Pratt family from that time to now. Before 1760, this site was the home to a Native American family thought to be Portabago Indians.

Camden Plantation Drawing
With its Tower

Camden Plantation
As it is today

This plantation also has connections to Belle Grove. It was from this family that John Hipkins found his wife, Elizabeth Pratt Hipkins. John Hipkins purchased Belle Grove in 1791 for their only daughter, Fannie Hipkins Bernard. During the Civil War, the mistress of the house was Eliza Hooe Turner Pratt. Eliza was married to William Carter Pratt and was the cousin of Carolinus Turner of Belle Grove.

Eliza Hooe Turner Pratt
Mistress of Camden Plantation
During the Civil War

The story of Camden and the USS Thomas Freeborn was passed down from Eliza to her children and grandchildren. One of these grandchildren was Beverley Crump Pratt. He had heard the story from his Grandmother until her death in 1927 when Beverley was thirteen. Sadly Beverley Pratt passed away in 2005. Before he passed, he wrote a book of all his memories of the area called “Places I Have Known Along The Rappahannock River.” In January 2012, I had the honor of being able to visit this plantation on my birthday. This plantation is closed to the public, but the current owner was kind enough to allow me access.

Beverley Crump Pratt

Also in my research, I uncovered a video from a website about steamboat called “Steamboat Explorer”. In this video, you can see Beverley Crump Pratt tell about this event. What a great treasure to see the man himself!

The story is that the USS Thomas Freeborn pulled up to the dock in front of Camden. Several of the officers walked up to the front door of Camden and inquired if any Confederate soldiers or men were home. Eliza had answered the door with her sick child and told the officers that no one other than herself, her child and the servants were there. The officer reassured her that no harm would come to them or the house and returned to the boat.

When the officer reported to the Commanding Officer that no one was there except the mistress of the house, her child and the servants, the Commanding Officer gave an order to fire on the tower. The Commanding Officer was concern that the tower was being used as a lookout for the Confederate Army.

This is the actual baby cradle
used at Camden during the Civil War

The first shot was fired and entered the house through the nursery to the left side of the front of the house. Eliza had just walked back into the nursery with her sick child and had just leaned over to place that child into the cradle when the shot came through the wall. Had she been standing over the cradle as she would have been just moments before, she would have been killed. The rest of the shots hit the tower and destroyed it. It has never been replaced. Eliza survived the event, but sadly her child died just days later from its illness.

This is the actual Navy Shot
that went through the wall
and almost killed Eliza Pratt

During the war, local residence and the Confederate Army came up with a way to signal information about the gunboats and troop movement. I found this information at the King George Historic Society’s History Museum in King George. They would use flags to send signals up and down the river so everyone would know where the gunboats were and what to expect.

Flag Signals
Used by the Confederates and Locals
During the Civil War

While most plantations along the river were shot at or destroyed, during the restoration of Belle Grove from 1997 to 2003, no one scar was found on the house or frame. It is believed that Belle Grove was never fired upon. Brett and I have two theories as to why. First, Brett thought that it could have been general knowledge that this property was the born place of James Madison, Father of the Constitution and that out of respect for him it was not fired upon. The second theory is that the house was used as headquarters for one or both sides. I have recently uncovered the 1870 Federal Census and it states that Carolinus Turner and his family had two properties within King George County. My thought is that they were more than likely forced out of their home by the Union army and the Union army held the house and property as head quarters. We have not verified it yet, but maybe one day we will find it. The Turners would have returned once the Union army moved out of Port Conway and Port Royal.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 30 Comments »

Belle Grove and The Civil War

Aug. 18th 2012

Belle Grove

From the time of the first purchase in 1670 to the present, Belle Grove Plantation would see many wars come and go. But none would make as big of an impact as the American Civil War.

In December, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union. In January, 1861, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana seceded from the Union. In February, 1861 Texas would seceded from the Union. It was also in February, 1861 that these states would come together in Montgomery, Alabama to adopt a Provisional Constitution and declare themselves the Confederate States of American. They would also elect Jefferson Davis as Provisional President and Alexander Stephens as Provisional Vice President. They would be inaugurated President and Vice President of the Confederate States of America on February 18th, 1861. Abraham Lincoln would be inaugurated on March 4, 1861as President of the United States of America.

On April 12, 1861 at about 4:30am, South Carolina militia would fire the opening shots of the Civil War on Fort Sumter. After thirty-four hours, the Union would surrender Fort Sumter. Just a couple days later, President Lincoln would call up 75,000 volunteers to put down the insurrection. This was followed by several more Southern states seceding from the Union. The first would be Virginia on April 17, 1861. An important note, Virginia had voted on this bill on April 4, 1861 and had voted it down. In May, 1861, Arkansas and Tennessee would secede. On May 20, 1861, North Carolina was the last Southern state to secede. It was also on this date that the Confederate Capital was voted to be moved from Montgomery, Alabama to Richmond, Virginia.

Just four slave states remain Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. All voted down the secession and would remain neutral throughout the war. These states would become “buffer states” between the North and South. While they were considered neutral, they did provide troops to the Confederate forces.

In 1861, Belle Grove was owned by Carolinus Turner. He was a wealthy farmer with 92 slaves. At 48, he had a young family with wife, Susan, 34, Caroline “Carrie”, 12, Anna, 9, George, 8, Susan, 6, and Alice, 5. The Turner’s also had a live-in teacher, Mary Morrison, 23. His assets were listed in the 1860 Federal Census as being $272,500.00 in property. This would drastically change by the end of the war.

Plantations around Port Royal and Port Conway

The area around Belle Grove Plantation would become very important during the Civil War. On the east side of the Rappahannock River, there were six plantations, Natizco, Woodlawn, Oak Brow, Walsingham, Belle Grove and Millbank that lined the river. On the west side of the Rappannock, there were three plantations, Camden, Gaymont (known as Rose Hill today) and Hazelwood, along with the port city of Port Royal. While these plantations were productive farms, it was the port of Port Royal and its location on the Rappahannock River that would be its greatest asset.

Port Royal

The Rappahannock River in most areas is quite wide, but here between Port Royal and Port Conway, the river narrows, making it an ideal location for crossing for main road ways that had been in use since the late 1600s. Port Royal and Port Conway are also just 20 miles from Fredericksburg.

At the start of the war in 1861, the residents around this area would join the Confederate cause. Most men would enlist with the 9th Virginia Cavalry, the 47th Virginia Infantry or the Caroline Light Artillery. In the 47th Virginia Infantry, they would have been part of Company E and would have been called Port Royal Guards. They would report to Fredericksburg in June, 1861. The Caroline Light Artillery formed in July, 1861 and the 9th Virginia Cavalry would form in January, 1862. Most of these men would fight just within 75 miles of their homes.

47th Virginia Infantry

Between April, 1862 and August, 1862, Union Forces occupied Fredericksburg. It was in August that Acting Master Nelson Provost, commander of the steamer USS Anacostia conducted a two day expedition from Fredericksburg to Port Royal. He reported to General Ambrose Burnside that he and his crew, along with 25 men of the 9th New York Infantry had progressed down the river towards Port Royal because of reports of communications coming from Port Royal Confederates to both Baltimore and Richmond.

General Ambrose Burnside

In his report, informants had told of new recruits for the Confederate Army had been ferried across the river from Port Conway to Port Royal with supplies. They would then make their way to Richmond. The location of this ferry was part of Belle Grove Plantation once again. At the time, it would have been part of Port Conway, the town that Captain Francis Conway established in 1878, but was reincorporated back into Belle Grove, from where it came by Carolinus Turner as he purchased the half acre lots.

Port Conway, Virginia
Ferry House and Post Office

In this expedition, the Union detachment captured prisoners, destroyed several boats, including the ferry at Port Conway. In December, 1862, four gunboats were sent to Port Royal to support General Burnside’s campaign in Fredericksburg. These gunboats were under the command of Commander Samuel Magaw. General Daniel Harvey Hill and General Rooney Lee defended Port Royal. The Union fleet was forced back down river.

General Daniel Harvey Hill

General Rooney Lee

Just a few short days later, the Union Navy started shelling Port Royal to diverted attention from Fredericksburg. This attack lasted two days. The Confederate army held the Union navy at bay until General Hill was called to Fredericksburg. Two days later, General Magaw gave the Confederate army an ultimatum; either evacuate Port Royal or the town would be destroyed. Lt. Colonel Zachariah of the 10th Virginia Cavalry notified the civilian population of Port Royal to evacuate. On hearing the news, General Lee came to Port Royal’s defense and sent troops back to Port Royal. By this time, General Burnside had withdrawn from Fredericksburg so General Magaw did not go through with the mission. Port Royal was saved.

Port Royal Evacuation

General Robert E. Lee was born not too far from Port Conway and Port Royal at Stratford Hall. During the Civil War, he would have his wife’s cousin, Julia Stuart, wife of Doctor Richard Stuart of Cleydael, to keep his two daughters’ through most of the Civil War. Cleydael is just nine miles from Belle Grove Plantation.

General Robert E. Lee

Centre: Mary Custis, the General’s eldest daughter; left: Agnes, the third daughter; right: Mildred, the youngest. No well-authenticated picture of Annie, the second daughter, is known to exist.

Helen Bernard of Gaymont (known as Rose Hill today), daughter of John Hipkins Bernard and his wife Jane Bernard witnessed and wrote about her days during the Civil War. You might remember that John Hipkins Bernard was grandson of John Hipkins, the man that built the current center section of Belle Grove for his daughter, Fannie. Helen Bernard would write of dinners at Gaymont with Confederate officers General JEB Stuart and General Rooney Lee. She would also write about a raid that the Union army made on Port Royal in April, 1863. She would tell of five hundred Yankees pillaging the village, only to leave before the Confederate army arrived.

Helen Bernard
Daughter of John Hipkins and Jane Bernard

General JEB Stuart

In August, 1863, two gunboats, the Satellite and the Reliance were captured by the Confederate army and were kept at Port Conway. In September, Brig. General Judson Kilpatrick and his Union forces were sent to Port Conway to recapture or destroy these gunboats. He advanced from King George using three roads, forcing the Confederate forces to move across the river to Port Royal. Early the next morning, Captain S.S. Elder of Battery E, 4th U.S. artillery planted his guns just above and just below the gunboats and opened fire at a range of 700 yards, driving the Confederate forces from the boats. Two hours later, the Satellite was heavily damaged and started to sink. All weapons were fixed then on the Reliance. After another three hours, Brig. General Kilpatrick withdrew and moved to Lamb’s Creek Church, where he had a small fight with some Confederate forces. Afterward he made camp there. The Confederate army took advantage of this and stripped the gunboat of its machinery and guns. The gunboats were too damaged to save. One note; ironclads had been called to use during this fight, but had failed to show. Brig. General Kilpatrick reported only three killed and three wounded. There is no mention of a report from the Confederate forces.

General Judson Kilpatrick

This anchor was found within the last year just infront of Belle Grove Plantation in the river. Could it be one of the anchors from one of the gunboats?

By May, 1864, the Union army had control of Port Royal and made it a supply depot. Helen Bernard would write about General John Abercrombie of the Union army sending a guard to protect her family and remaining slaves. Instead the Union soldiers would take their mules and kill the remaining foals.

The soldiers from Port Royal and surrounding areas would see many from its ranks lost. The 9th Virginia Cavalry started with 1,815, but would be down to just 522 by the time they moved to Gettysburg. At the surrender at Appomattox, they would surrender 27 men, just one officer and 26 men. The 47th Virginia Infantry would start with 1,172 men. By April, 1862 it would be down to just 444 men. At Appomattox, they would surrender just two men. The Caroline Artillery start with 243 men and at Appomattox, they would surrender one officer and 11 men. 

As for the Turner Family, we know that Carolinus was involved with the war and was part of the Confederate cause because we have located his pardon issued by President Andrew Johnson. We have a copy of this pardon, but the original is housed in the library in King George, Virginia. We also know that he was part of the Memorial Association of the Confederate. Now to whether he served in the Confederate Army, I have not been able to establish yet. My thought is that he remained at home due to his age. The only son, George would have been too young to serve.

In the 1870 Federal Census, Carolinus Turner was still listed as a farmer. At the age of 57, his wealth dropped from $272,500.00 at the start of the war to $110,000 at the end in 1870. His family Susan, 33, Carrie, 22, George, 17, Susan, 15 and Alice, 14 still lived at Belle Grove.

You have to wonder what this family saw and what they endured during this war. It was just at their door step. Most girls were married by the time they were 22, but Carrie would not marry for another six years. It is no wonder with the loss of men from this area during the war.

We aren’t sure yet if Belle Grove served as a headquarters. What we do know is that during the restoration from 1997 to 2003, no bullet holes or scars from being fired on were found. We hope as we continue our research, we will be able to confirm its use during the Civil War.

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 39 Comments »

A Little Unscheduled Stop

Aug. 12th 2012

After Brett and I finished with our Afternoon Tea at The Blue Willow Tea Room in Petersburg, I made the suggestion that we head over to Hopewell, Virginia to see a plantation that I had read about the night before at La Villa Romaine. When I saw this plantation, the first thought that came to mind was, “This is what Belle Grove looked like before Carolinus Turner changed it by adding the porticos, porches and extensions.”

Weston Manor

This plantation is called Weston Plantation. It was built in 1789, right around the same time as Belle Grove (1791) was built.  Weston Plantation is located in Hopewell and sits on the Appomattox River. The house was built by William and Christian Eppes Gilliam. Today it is the only 18th Century plantation on the Appomattox River. Weston Manor is an example of late Georgian plantation architecture.  It is located on a bluff overlooking the river and still retains its rural atmosphere. Today the house contains 85% of its original architectural fabric including the original beaded weatherboards, window sash and interior woodwork.

Weston Manor (Riverview)

Door to basement and Winter Kitchen

Door Handle for the Basement door. We have the same Door Handle on the Front Entry Door to Belle Grove.

William Eppes Gilliam’s family came to the colonies in the 17th Century as indentured servants. But by the 18th century, the family had amassed several plantations in the area, most notably being Eppington Plantation. One family member of the Eppes Family, John Wayles Epps would become the son-in-law of Thomas Jefferson. Christian Eppes Gilliam was the daughter of Richard and Christian Robertson Eppes of the Appomattox Plantation. Her maternal grandfather was a descendant of Pocahontas.

John Wayles Eppes


Weston Manor

Weston Manor – During the Civil War

Weston Manor

During the Civil War, the Appomattox River was patrolled by Union gunboats. From these gunboats, many of the Confederate Plantations were either damaged or destroyed. Weston Plantation would also share in this fate. A Union gunboat fired upon Weston, leaving the house damaged, but not destroyed. During the shelling of Weston, one of the cannon balls lodge in the wall in between the first and second floor. It wasn’t until much later that the cannon ball was discovered when it finally fell to the floor from the ceiling in the dining room. Weston would also be used as the headquarters of Union General Philip Sheridan.

Major General Philip Sheridan

In the mid-1970s, Raymond Broyhill donated the house to the Historic Hopewell Foundation. Weston Manor continues to be maintained by the Historic Hopewell Foundation and is now open to the public as a historic house museum and cultural center. The Historic Hopewell Foundation has worked to find and fill Weston with period antiques and reproductions.

Main Hallway looking towards the Riverside of the Manor

Main Hallway looking towards the Front Door

Library and Office – Where they would have conducted business for the plantation

Library and Office

Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

Dining Room – I want to find a table like this! Can you image the lenght on it when those extensions are opened?

Dining Room – They said this picture isn’t someone from the house. It was just a nice period piece.

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Formal Parlor

Clock in the Front Hallway


Staircase – Belle Grove has the same kind of stair rails. We don’t curve like this, but the look is the same.

Staircase – Second Floor landing

Second Floor Hallway

Second Floor Hallway

Children’s Room – We want to get beds like this for Belle Grove… not.

Children’s Room – Note how plain this fireplace is compared to the downstair rooms

Children’s Room – Children’s Doll House

Children’s Room – Children’s Doll House

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

One of two bedrooms on the second floor

Black Mourning Dress

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

Second of two bedrooms on the second floor

What to know what it was like during the Civil War in this area? Here is a good resource.

If you find yourself in Petersburg, I would recommend a stop by this plantation. But make sure you have a good GPS system. Hopewell is laid out in winding roads, not grid blocks. So it takes a little looking to find it.

Summer Kitchen

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 25 Comments »