VIRGINIA: Museum Marches On Despite Confederate Flag 

Danville’s inability to legally remove a Confederate flag from the lawn of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History is not stopping the museum’s new strategic plan and its upcoming sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War.

“The museum’s board is moving forward with their strategic plan,” said Museum Director Cara Burton.

Steven Mantilla/Danville Register & Bee A Confederate flag flies in the afternoon breeze on the grounds of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History.

Steven Mantilla/Danville Register & Bee
A Confederate flag flies in the afternoon breeze on the grounds of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History.

City Manager Joe King announced Wednesday that Danville does not have the legal authority to remove the third national Confederate flag from the front lawn of the museum.

Burton, in a Sept. 30 letter to the city, asked Danville City Council to remove the flag from outside the building to inside for an upcoming exhibit of the history of Confederate flags. The museum’s board of directors had voted Sept. 25 to make the request as part of its new three-year strategic plan.

The request caused an uproar among Confederate heritage organizations and other supporters of keeping the flag on display outside the museum. The move re-ignited a debate between flag supporters and those who see the flag as a racist reminder of past enslavement of African-Americans.

During an interview Friday, Burton said the Confederate flag exhibit that will be part of the sesquicentennial will go on as planned.

People have “politicized the flag,” she said, but the museum’s board is merely trying to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.

“They’re trying to preserve the historical integrity of the [Sutherlin] mansion,” Burton said.

The move is to highlight the museum’s role in the Last Capital of the Confederacy and to celebrate that, she said.

The newly adopted strategic plan includes a vision “to be the Dan River Region’s leader for integrated awareness of history, culture and community,” according to a Sept. 30 letter from Board of Directors President Jane Murray to museum members.

The upcoming Confederate flag exhibit will include a text panel featuring photos of the first, second and third national Confederate flags, the Bonnie Blue flag and the battle flag, Burton said. The exhibit will also feature the Cabell Graves flag on loan from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, she said.

The exhibit will be next to the bedroom where Confederate President Jefferson Davis slept during the last days of the Civil War in 1865.

The board wanted the third national Confederate flag brought into the building for the exhibit.

The sesquicentennial celebration will feature other events, including performance of a play being written by Fred Motley. The play will present the Civil War from the perspective of women, Burton said.

Activities will also include the museum’s annual History on the Lawn, an additional larger exhibit, a new self-guided tour with headphones and visuals, a Civil War Christmas play presented by Danville Little Theatre, a children’s tour and an exhibit in March from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts & History, Civil War Redux.

Civil War Redux will feature sepia-toned photography of Civil War re-enactors, combining art and history, Burton said.



GEORGIA: Grim Reminders Mark Sherman’s March to the Sea

SAVANNAH, Ga. — During his famous — or infamous — March to the Sea, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s official policy was to destroy anything that might help the war effort of the Confederacy.

Troops were encouraged to forage for food along the route from Atlanta to Savannah but private property otherwise was to be left alone.

Above: A monument to Confederate Soldiers is erected in the Old City Cemetery, in Sandersville, Ga.

Above: A monument to Confederate Soldiers is erected in the Old City Cemetery, in Sandersville, Ga.

Sherman’s troops, however, didn’t always follow policy. And Sherman himself occasionally ordered private dwellings destroyed for tactical or political reasons.

So the general’s decision to make his nightly headquarters at the Brown House in Sandersville might have saved that building not once but twice.

The home had fallen into disrepair by the time it was purchased by the Washington County Historical Society.

When my travel companion — a Civil War buff — and I stopped at the house after quartering (like Sherman) in Milledgeville for an evening, we discovered that the Brown House now serves as a beautiful museum, focusing, unsurprisingly, on the house’s connection to the March to the Sea.

To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the war campaign, the Brown House, through Nov. 15, is hosting a series of events, including bus tours, re-enactments, a Blue/Gray Ball and living-history demonstrations.

Just to the south is the tiny railroad town of Tennille. The sign marking the city limits notes that the hamlet remains a railroad town. And several trains passed through the small downtown during our short visit.

We stopped to see the railroad station that was built to replace the one Sherman burned, but there is little else to the town. Tennille obviously rebounded from the war — but only for a time. These days, the downtown is largely deserted.

The small, brightly painted commercial strip at the center of town is empty, although someone cared enough to plant flowers around the empty town fountain. The ramshackle pastel buildings are hauntingly beautiful and starkly silent, like a miniature Charleston after the zombie apocalypse.

Next we headed off the main highways to find New Hope Methodist Church, established in 1776 near Davisboro. Sherman camped across from the church on the night of Nov. 28, 1864.

Our trip took us over back roads, some of them of Georgia red dirt. When we finally found the church, we congratulated ourselves on our cartographic skills — and wondered how Sherman ever found anything with the maps he had available 150 years ago.

The church has been rebuilt several times. But the old gravestones in the cemetery go back to a time long before Sherman arrived. I had to wonder whether the general noted some of the tiny graves of children there and thought of his own beloved young son, Willie, who had died just months before the campaign began.

Our next stop was Millen, with a detour north to Magnolia Springs State Park, which was the site of Camp Lawton, a prisoner of war camp where captured Union soldiers were briefly held. The soldiers were moved before Sherman’s troops could free them.

The large Andersonville prisoner of war camp, 150 miles west, was notorious for its miserable, crowded conditions and the number of Union prisoners who died of disease.

Confederate officials hoped that copious fresh water from the spring at Fort Lawton would help keep prisoners healthier. The tactic might have worked, but the camp operated for only a few months before the federal advance threatened the camp, causing the prisoners to be moved again.

The park is also a working archaeology site. Scientists are still discovering clues to the exact outlines of the camp and to its workings during the time it held prisoners.

These days, the spring is home to alligators, turtles and ducks, all living in apparent wary harmony — a lesson to human visitors.

By this time, our troops were growing weary, so we decided to sprint over the last miles to Savannah. Besides the city’s well-known culinary and architectural delights, Savannah contains several sites connected with the March to the Sea, including a railroad museum and city history museum.

One must-see destination on any Civil War trip is the Green-Meldrim House, the magnificent mansion that served as Sherman’s headquarters from Dec. 22, 1864, to Feb. 1, 1865. It’s also the place where Sherman met with leaders of black churches in the city and signed Field Order 15, giving each freed black man 40 acres and a mule from abandoned Southern plantations. (The order was later rescinded by President Andrew Johnson.)

The home, a grand example of antebellum Savannah wealth, is now owned by the adjacent St. John’s Church and, when not open for tours, is used for church functions.

We finished our own march to the sea at Fort McAllister State Historic Site, where Sherman’s troops met final, brief resistance before Savannah surrendered. Visitors can follow the route of the crafty Ohio 47th regiment, whose soldiers noted that an extremely low tide allowed them easy passage around a relatively undefended side of the seaside fort.

Restoration of the earthen fort, now the site of a Civil War museum, was begun by Henry Ford, who once owned the land.

After the fall of the fort, Sherman famously telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln, offering him the city as a “Christmas present.”

Fortunately, Lincoln had nowhere to put it — and Sherman left the beautiful city intact, and eager to host visitors down to our present day.



WEST VIRGINIA: Confederate Troops Fought, Died to Take Winfield 150 Years Ago

CHARLESTON, W.V. — One hundred fifty years ago Oct. 26, a force of about 400 Confederate soldiers, riding under the cover of darkness from the Mud River country of southwestern West Virginia, approached the Putnam County town of Winfield, where they recently learned an outpost of federal troops had been established.

Battle flag of the 7th West Virginia Cavalry.

Battle flag of the 7th West Virginia Cavalry.

The Confederates quietly divided into two columns, one led by Capt. Philip Thurmond of Fayette County, who, along with his brother, William, had raised two companies of men from Fayette, Monroe and Greenbrier Counties early in the Civil War to form Thurmond’s Partisan Rangers. The other column was led by Lt. Col. Vinson A. Witcher, commander of the 34th Virginia Cavalry Battalion, and the leader of the Putnam County operation.

While Thurmond’s Rangers operated mainly in or around their home counties early in the war, by 1863 they had been incorporated into a regular army unit, the 44th Virginia Cavalry. Witcher’s cavalry outfit, which included many soldiers from Wayne County, had acquitted itself well at Gettysburg in 1863, and fought in East Tennessee and the Shenandoah Valley earlier in 1864. In September of that year, Witcher’s battalion and Thurmond’s Rangers joined forces in Tazewell, Va., to launch an attack on Union outposts in north central West Virginia. The Confederate raiders captured and burned a small Union fort and its Home Guard garrison at Bulltown in Braxton County, and then raided Weston, where they seized a large quantity of supplies, plus $5,287.85 removed from the Weston Exchange Bank before moving on to Buckhannon, where they captured the Union garrison and its commanding officer. They returned to Greenbrier County with 300 prisoners of war, 400 horses and 200 cattle taken from farmers in the federally controlled area.

By mid-October, the Confederate force had moved into the Mud River Valley, where they learned of the Union garrison’s presence at Winfield.

Company D of the 7th West Virginia Cavalry had been ordered to Winfield primarily to protect steamboat traffic on the Kanawha River, which flows past the town. An incident that occurred in February of 1864 at nearby Red House Shoals may have had something to do with the posting. On that date, while the steamboat B.C. Levi was lashed to the shoreline, a group of about 30 Confederates boarded the vessel without incident and captured Gen. E.K. Scammon, commander of the Union Army’s Kanawha Division and the namesake of Charleston’s Fort Scammon, along with several of his staff officers and 13 enlisted men. The B.C. Levi was taken four miles downstream and burned.

A secondary role for the Union troops at Winfield was to guard the Putnam County Courthouse and the town of Winfield from Confederate attack, not an unpopular task since many of the men in the company came from Putnam and surrounding counties. The men of Company D dug rifle pits and entrenchments adjacent to a mill, around their campsite, and in the vicinity of the brick courthouse, situated on a small rise overlooking the small town and the river behind it.

According to written accounts from participants, Witcher’s battalion and Thurmond’s Rangers arrived at the upstream end of Winfield at about 9 p.m., after riding through Teays Valley, and launched their two-pronged attack about 10 p.m. The actions that followed, like hundreds of other bloody skirmishes that took place during the war, did not change the course of history or even garner much attention from either military authorities or the public. But to those involved, such skirmishes could be just as deadly, terrifying and meaningful as a Gettysburg or an Antietam.

According to an account in “History of the Great Kanawha Valley With Family History and Biographical Sketches,” published in 1891, and unearthed by Steve Cunningham of Sissonville, regimental historian of the 7th West Virginia Cavalry Association, Witcher led one column of Confederates while Philip Thurmond led the other.

“Col. Witcher with half of his force proceeded up the riverbank from the lower end of the town” while Thurmond, “at the head of the other column, reached the federal position by proceeding down a small stream known as Ferry Branch, which enters into the Kanawha at the upper end of the town,” according to the 1891 history book.

Capt. John M. Reynolds, commander of the Union force, which totaled 83 men on the date of the attack, according to archival research by Cunningham, estimated the Confederate strength to be 425 men, who “attacked my pickets at about 10 o’clock at night,” he wrote in an after-action report also unearthed by Cunningham. “They drove my pickets in and surrounded my Co. quarters.”

Thurmond’s column was the first to reach Co. D’s position “and the first to bring on the engagement,” according to the battle account published in the 1891 history text. “He ordered a charge, leading it in person, and just as the head of the column reached the corner of Ferry and Front streets, it received its first fire and Col. (sic) Thurman (sic) fell mortally wounded. He was carried to the rear where he soon expired.”

According to one account, Thurmond’s brother, Elias, was given a pass to be with his brother as he succumbed to a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

“The fight lasted about one hour, when the enemy commenced a hasty retreat,”Reynolds wrote. The Union troops gave chase for several hours, but were unable to re-engage the Confederate force. Reynolds reported that four Confederate troops were wounded and three were taken prisoner. “My loss is one man wounded, four horses killed and eighteen horses captured,”Reynolds reported. “. . .I have heard nothing of the enemy since they passed the Hurricane Bridge.”

Thurmond, 38 at the time of his death, was buried in an unmarked grave near the home of Putnam County Judge James Hoge, with the understanding that the Ranger’s family would claim the body for reburial after the war. However, no one came to retrieve the remains until 2010, when the body was exhumed and re-interred in a marked military grave behind the Hoge House, through the efforts of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and others.

Thurmond’s brother, William, survived the war and eventually returned to Fayette County, where he bought land in the New River Gorge where he correctly predicted a railroad junction would be built He built houses on his property to rent to railroad employees and their families. By 1875, 75 families were living on Thurmond’s property, along with two general stores and two coal company offices. Thurmond sought to name his new town Arbuckle, the name of a nearby creek, but after a post office was built at the site, government officials named the community Thurmond, now the site of a visitor center in the New River Gorge National River.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at 304-348-5169 or


VIRGINIA: Former Professor Honors Civil War-era Church Founder

John Preston Clarke was a dancer, an ordained minister and the co-founder of eight churches.

His great-great-grandson, former Hanover County Supervisor John E. Gordon Jr., said that after the Civil War, Clarke led efforts to establish churches with black pastors in Virginia.

The marker honoring John Preston Clarke’s role in founding eight churches will be unveiled at Abner Baptist Church today.

The marker honoring John Preston Clarke’s role in founding eight churches will be unveiled at Abner Baptist Church today.

Today, he is credited with establishing the following Baptist churches in the Richmond metro area: Abner, Bethany, Ebenezer, Fifth Baptist, Greenwood, Mount Olive, St. James and Shiloh. All eight churches remain active today.

And today, some of his descendants will gather at 3:30 p.m. at Abner Baptist Church, at 15143 Abner Church Road in Hanover County, for the unveiling of a historical marker to honor Clarke. The event is open to the public.

A former Randolph-Macon College professor, Reber Dunkel, led the effort to have the marker placed at Abner Baptist Church. He said he has wanted to honor Clarke’s contributions ever since Dunkel first heard of him around 2002 when another professor asked him if he knew about Clarke.

Dunkel soon learned from the Clarke family oral historian, Gordon’s father, the late John E. Gordon Sr., that Clarke had helped found several area churches.

“After talking to him and getting some more information. I thought it was amazing that this person founded or is associated with these churches and we don’t really know who he was,” Dunkel said.

Dunkel learned that Clarke lived on Shrubbery Hill plantation, a Quaker compound where 30 to 40 free black Hanoverians lived before the Civil War. He was an excellent dancer who performed at many private parties.

Esther Davis, another descendant of Clarke, said that according to family history, he married Lucy Ann Winston when he was 30. Together, they had nine children.

Dunkel said he tried to get approval for the marker from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources a couple of years ago. But he said he was told the site did not qualify for a marker because Abner Baptist Church has been renovated too many times.

Dunkel then turned to local government. This year, the Hanover Historical Commission and the county planning department approved an application to put the marker at Abner Baptist Church.

Anne Cross, a member of the Hanover County Historical Society, said the marker will help people put Hanover in a more complete historical context.

“There’s so much more to history than we think we know,” Cross said. “The more we know, the more we understand people in the community.”

–Richmond Times-Dispatch