Virginia: Confederate Veterans appeal dismissal of Lexington flag suit

ROANOKE — The Sons of Confederate Veterans is appealing the dismissal of its lawsuit challenging Lexington’s decision to banish the Confederate flag and other banners from city light poles.

Attorneys for the Rutherford Institute signaled their appeal Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Roanoke. The civil rights group is appealing to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

A judge in Roanoke concluded last month that Lexington officials did not violate the group’s free speech rights when it limited the flying of flags on city light poles to flags representing the state, the nation and the city.

The Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead contends, however, that the city’s actions amount to “viewpoint discrimination.” Attorneys for the so-called Southern heritage group are preparing legal briefs for the filing in the 4th Circuit.


Kentucky:19th Century Life: Handwritten Letters Detail Lives Of Freed And Enslaved African Americans 

Life for an African-American southerner was a mixed bag of “troubles” and personal success circa 1841, experiences revealed in a series of 27 handwritten letters that have been recently acquired by the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS).

“What makes these letters so interesting is that they give us a glimpse into the personal and social lives of African Americans before the Civil War,” Jennifer Duplaga, Manuscripts Curator at the Kentucky Historical Society, told The Huffington Post.

The letters, written mostly by a woman named Isabel/Isabella Watson between 1841 and 1883, originate in Mississippi City, Miss. and include news of people’s health and illnesses, activities, church and religion, the enslaved status of people in the Hopkinsville, Ky., community, births and deaths, and the sale of individuals.

“The bulk of these letters were written before 1859,” Duplaga said. “The post Civil War letters, which begin in 1873, appear to have been written by a different generation.”

Those later letters focus more on individuals working as teachers, buying homes, purchasing household items, and their general health and economic situations, Duplaga explains. Those written before the war are more outward looking, she says, detailing efforts to gather information about others, while the post-war letters focus more inward and offer more personal insights.

Several of the letters are addressed to a “man of color” named Reuben Faulkner and a colored servant named Violet Ware, according to KHS, but the relationship between the correspondents is unknown.

“They often refer to each other as brother and sister, but it is unclear if they mean that in the biological sense or if they are simply members of the same church family,” Duplaga says.

KHS staff have been working to establish a family history of the correspondents, but records from this time period, particularly for the enslaved, are sadly limited.

Perhaps one of the most touching exchanges within the letters is the news a man named Ferdinand Robertson relays to his “uncles” Ruben and John Robertson about his status as a slave. In a letter dated 4 August 1850 he writes, “I remember in your answer to my letter that you wished to know whether I was free or not. To this I answer dear uncles I am free.”

Based on research from the 1850 census, it is believed that Ferdinand would have been 28-years-old at the time.

Aside from Ferdinand, however, none of the correspondents write about their enslaved status, Duplaga said. “Slavery, in fact, is hardly acknowledged in the letters, except in cursory statements about acquaintances being sold or having new masters.”

“The true significance of these letters won’t be understood until more information about these individuals and their communities have been unearthed.” she added. “We hope that by making these letters available people will contact us to share their connections to these letters.”


Virginia: Archaeological Dig at W&M Yields Civil War Clues

As war raged through the South, the campus of the College of William & Mary became housing for Union troops from 1862 to 1865.

That period of the college’s history has become more vivid this summer as archaeologists have excavated a small plot south of the Brafferton Kitchen in the historic part of the campus. Visitors have been able to observe the dig, which will remain open until Monday, when the 12-by-20-foot area will be backfilled.

During the War Between the States, the college suspended operations. The campus was raided by Confederates and occupied by Union troops; at one point, a Pennsylvania unit burned the Wren Building.

William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR) Director Joe Jones said his archaeologists have uncovered remains of ditches that marked palisades erected by the Union troops in 1865. The palisades were erected to help the Union troops defend their position from possible attacks by Confederates from the west; the Union feared their rivals might move down the Peninsula after the Union took control of Richmond and Petersburg.

The site also holds the remains of a well that was dug, then abandoned, by the occupying troops. WMCAR also uncovered the remains of a foundation previously unrecorded on maps; Jones believes it was an outbuilding that pre-dated the Civil War and might have been dismantled for building materials.

Several artifacts have been removed from the site, including an unfired Mini ball, which was a common rifle round used during the Civil War, clay marbles that might have been used for recreation and a gold-amalgam pen nib. WMCAR also found several buttons, including a Confederate-issue button from a Virginia regiment.

Jones told W&M News that the findings are in accord with an 1865 account of the war years given to the Board of Visitors by then-President Benjamin Stoddard Ewell. Ewell’s account mentions defensive works constructed between the ruins of the Wren Building, the Brafferton and the President’s house.

The defensive palisades were described as being constructed from 10-foot logs set vertically in ditches three feet deep. The direction of the ditch runs, providing an angle for a flanking fire, is consistent with the kind of strategic and engineering principles that guided the construction of earthworks and fortifications, Jones said.

There’s little doubt Ewell would have known what he was talking about when he described the fortifications. A West Point graduate and Confederate officer, Ewell designed the defensive fortifications used in the Battle of Williamsburg.

The well remains were found in the fall of 2011, when the test excavations were conducted ahead of planned utility work related to the scheduled renovation of Brafferton, a building that dates to 1723.

The excavated area of the dig shows several generations of life at the college. Archaeologists also found PVC drain line, turn-of-the-century tile drain and evidence of a brick wall since torn down. Jones said further analysis will be needed to understand the construction sequence.


Virginia: Cemetery for Alabama Civil War dead to be dedicated

By Mary Orndorff Troyan — Washington Bureau 

A newly restored Civil War cemetery in northern Virginia will be formally dedicated next month in a ceremony that is expected to draw descendants of the Tenth Alabama Infantry Regiment soldiers who died there.

The small but significant portion of Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park was reborn after decades in private hands, overgrown and surrounded by farmland. Prince William County saved the battlefield area in a deal with a real estate developer, and historic preservationists determined that up to 90 Alabama soldiers died there during a disease outbreak in the late summer of 1861.

An Eagle Scout candidate, guided by park officials, helped clear the cemetery site and make it accessible to the public in a project last December. Since then, park officials have been raising money for a monument and, in the absence of engraved tombstones, using historical documents to try to piece together the names of the fallen soldiers.

So far, 42 of the men have been identified, said Rob Orrison, site manager with the Historic Preservation Division of the Prince William County Department of Public Works.

The Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans donated the stone for the monument. Among those who drove it up to Virginia was a descendant of a soldier buried there, Orrison said. The four-foot rock was added to the site Monday and plaques are coming.

The Sept. 22 ceremony, at 9 a.m. CDT, will be open to the public and include remarks from park officials and a historian, music, a color guard, and a gun salute by a Virginia-based re-enactment group.

Orrison said the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans collected dirt from around each of the courthouses in the counties that were home to members of the 10th Alabama Regiment.

“I have two buckets of dirt in my office right now, and they’re bringing the rest up in September,” Orrison said. “They’re going to spread some Alabama soil on the cemetery.”

The Eagle Scout candidate who organized two days of site-clearing, fence-raising and bridge-building, Dane Smith of Nokesville, also will participate in the ceremony, as will a second Eagle Scout candidate who will be laying the patio around the monument with flagstone brought from Alabama.

The 133-acre Bristoe Station park opened in 2007, marking the Battle of Kettle Run in 1862 and the Battle of Bristoe Station in 1863. It is about an hour’s drive west of Washington, D.C., in Bristow, Va., near the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The 10th Alabama Infantry Regiment included companies from Jefferson, Shelby, Calhoun, Talladega, St. Clair, Calhoun, DeKalb and Talladega counties, according to the Alabama Department of Archives and History.


Virginia: Historic discovery in Roanoke becomes Civil War book

By Ralph Berrier Jr., The Roanoke Times

My Dear Sir:

In compliance with your request I will give you my recollection of what I saw and heard from the time of leaving Gen. Lee’s line covering Richmond and Petersburg to the close of his army’s career at Appomattox.

So began a letter dated July 25, 1895, from former Confederate Gen. William Mahone to Petersburg attorney and fellow Civil War veteran George Bernard. The handwritten pages detailed the final days of the war, including vivid recollections of Southern soldiers’ reactions to Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant.

The letter was stuffed in a cardboard box, along with reams of other papers — letters, hand-drawn maps, speeches and other firsthand accounts from Civil War veterans who had seen action in Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Seven Pines, Richmond, Petersburg and other bloody battlefields.

That box of history was discovered by a collector at a Roanoke estate sale in 2004.

Eight years later, the letters are now a book. “Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans” recently was published by the University of Virginia Press, in conjunction with the Historical Society of Western Virginia in Roanoke, where the papers are now housed.

“It’s an accomplishment,” said George Kegley, longtime Roanoke newspaperman and historian, whose foundation helped put up the money to buy the papers for the historical society. “These are first-person accounts straight from the horse’s mouth. I’m tickled to death it’s finally out.”

As it turned out, the papers were always meant to be a book. Bernard had published a similar book in 1892 called “War Talks of Confederate Veterans,” which contained accounts by soldiers of the 12th Virginia Infantry Regiment. That book sold well and prompted Bernard to work on a follow-up.

The second volume never appeared, however. The financial panics of the 1890s dried up money for publishing. Bernard attempted to raise money by offering advance copies of the book to “subscribers” at $1.50 each.

After his death in 1912, Bernard’s collection of letters, speeches, maps, newspaper clippings and other papers were scattered to the winds. Some papers were acquired by the University of Virginia, the University of North Carolina and Duke University. Other papers were bequeathed to family members, who then might have sold or given them away. The papers discovered in Roanoke were not in the possession of any Bernard descendents and it is unclear how they found their way here.

The papers were bought at the estate sale by a person who then contacted Dave Robbins, a member of the historical society board and a noted antiques “picker” who specializes in historical papers. The buyer — whom Robbins would not name — knew that the papers were historically significant and wanted to sell them to a historical society or museum.

The papers were a treasure-trove of Civil War history, especially in Virginia.

The siege of Petersburg and the Battle of the Crater are seen through soldiers’ eyes. A Union effort to tunnel its way underground and blow a hole in Confederate lines caused the giant crater and led to a rout of federal troops on July 30, 1864.

“I have never seen such a slaughter in any battlefield,” Bernard wrote in his diary after that fight.

Mahone, who would become a leader in the railroad industry and own a railway that would evolve later into the Norfolk and Western and today’s Norfolk Southern Corp., led the Southern fight at the crater. Later, he wrote at length to Bernard about his service with Lee. Some of Mahone’s lines bear the tint of embellishment:

“Gen. Lee asked his staff to retire. ‘General Mahone, you know that I always send for you when I am in trouble.’ ‘What is the matter now, general?’ was my reply. ‘General Grant,’ said he, ‘has demanded surrender of the army and I want to know what you think about it.’ My reply was, ‘Let me warm, for my teeth may chatter and you may think I am scared.'”

Mahone also wrote that Lee was “the most perfect specimen of manhood and the proudest man I ever saw.”

Historical society leaders knew they had to move fast to purchase the collection.

The Historical Society of Western Virginia had started the Kegley Publication Fund about 2001 to help publish books about local and regional history. The purchase of the Bernard papers cost the society more than $12,000, said former director Kent Chrisman.

“We knew it was a significant find,” said Chrisman, who now lives in Waynesboro. “There were also connections to Western Virginia through the valuable signatures â? people like Jubal Early and Mahone.”

The society could afford the price, Chrisman said, because members knew that if they were unsuccessful at publishing the collection as a book, they could always sell the papers and recoup their expenses.

The society enlisted the help of Roanoke College history professor John Selby to edit the book. Not long after the purchase of the collection in 2004, Selby and others learned that two other men were editing a manuscript Bernard had written as a memoir.

Those men, attorneys Hampton Newsome and John Horn, were brought in as editors and the projects were combined. “Civil War Talks” reads chronologically from 1861 to 1865, with the real-life stories of soldiers interwoven with Bernard’s own recollection.

Distinguished Civil War scholar and retired Virginia Tech professor James “Bud” Robertson wrote in his review of the book for The Roanoke Times that “Selby has done a masterful job of organizing and introducing the material. … Scores of books recount the saga of the great Southern army entrusted with the defense of the Old Dominion. Yet the front row of that library now must make room for a wealthy addition to the annals of what its members proudly called ‘Marse Bob’s Boys.'”


Who was George Bernard?

Born: 1837

War experience: Bernard was a soldier in the 12th Virginia Infantry Regiment. As part of Gen. William Mahone’s brigade, Bernard participated in almost every major campaign fought by the Army of Northern Virginia, including the battles of Second Manassas, Antietam, Gettysburg, Petersburg and others.

Postwar life: After the war, Bernard returned to Petersburg to practice law. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates. He also wrote about his wartime experiences. He collected firsthand accounts from other soldiers and published “War Talks of Confederate Veterans” in 1892. He worked on a follow-up book, which was never published.

Death: 1912

New book: The discovery of his papers at an estate sale in Roanoke made it possible for a team of editors to reconstruct the manuscript for that second volume. “Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans” was just published by the University of Virginia Press in conjunction with the Historical Society of Western Virginia.

About the book

Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans” (University of Virginia, 2012) is $35 and can be purchased at the History Museum of Western Virginia in its temporary quarters at 128 Campbell Ave. The book can be bought online at