With all its horrors and in spite of the wretchedness it has wrought, this war of ours, in some of its aspects at least, begins to look like a very ridiculous affair, now that we are getting too far away from it to hear the rattle of the musketry; and I have a mind, in this chapter, to review one of its most ridiculous phases, to wit, its beginning. We all remember Mr. Webster’s pithy putting of the case with regard to our forefathers of a hundred years ago: “They went to war against a preamble. They fought seven years against a declaration. They poured out their treasures and their blood like water, in a contest in opposition to an assertion.” Now it seems to me that something very much like this might be said of the Southerners, and particularly of the Virginians, without whose pluck and pith there could have been no war at all worth writing or talking about. They made war upon a catch-word, and fought until they were hopelessly ruined for the sake of an abstraction. And certainly history will not find it to the discredit of those people that they freely offered themselves upon the altar of an abstract principle of right, in a war which they knew must work hopeless ruin to themselves, whatever its other results might be. Virginia did not want to secede, and her decision to this effect was given in the election of a convention composed for the most part of men strongly opposed to secession. ...
Why, then, the reader doubtless asks, if this was the temper of the Virginians, did Virginia secede after all? I answer, because circumstances ultimately so placed the Virginians that they could not, without cowardice and dishonor, do otherwise; and the Virginians are brave men and honorable ones. They believed, as I have said, in the abstract right of any State to secede at will. Indeed, this right was to them as wholly unquestioned and unquestionable as is the right of the States to establish free schools, or to do any other thing pertaining to local self-government. The question of the correctness or incorrectness of the doctrine is not now to the purpose. The Virginians, almost without an exception, believed and had always believed it absolutely, and believing it, they held of necessity that the general government had no right, legal or moral, to coerce a seceding State; and so, when the President called upon Virginia for her quota of troops with which to compel the return of the seceding States, she could not possibly obey without doing that which her people believed to be an outrage upon the rights of sister commonwealths, for which, as they held, there was no warrant in law or equity.
She heartily condemned the secession of South Carolina and the rest as unnecessary, ill-advised, and dangerous; but their secession did not concern her except as a looker-on, and she had not only refused to be a partaker in it, but had also felt a good deal of indignation against the men who were thus endangering the peace of the land. When she was called upon to assist in reducing these States to submission, however, she could no longer remain a spectator. She must furnish the troops, and so assist in doing that which she believed to be utterly wrong, or she must herself withdraw from the Union. The question was thus narrowed down to this: Should Virginia seek safety in dishonor, or should she meet destruction in doing that which she believed to be right? Such a question was not long to be debated. Two days after the proclamation was published Virginia seceded, not because she wanted to secede, – not because she believed it wise, – but because, as she understood the matter, the only other course open to her would have been cowardly and dishonorable.
The Wolver Beagles competing in the Beagle Pack Trials at the Institute Farm in Aldie, Virginia, November, 2010. (Photo: Karen L. Myers)
The Wolver Beagles celebrated their hundred anniversary of operation as an organized hunting pack this fall. By my count, Wolver is the fifth oldest beagle pack in the United States, preceded only by the Waldingfield Beagles (founded 1885), the Somerset Beagles (founded 1888, disbanded 1922), the Sir Sister Beagles (founded 1897), and Richard Gambrill’s Vernon Somerset Beagles (founded 1912, disbanded 1953). Only two older beagle packs still survive, and Wolver can additionally boast a more continuous operation under fewer masters than any other beagle pack in America.
Wolver’s colors, displayed on the collar, are buff with light blue piping. Wolver is a private pack, operating out of Middleburg, Virginia and hunting only bitch hounds. Wolver is recognized everywhere as a crack pack, performing typically at a superior level and winning far more than its share of competitions.
Barbara Riggs produced an article on Wolver’s history appearing this week in the Chronicle of the Horse.
Famed retired Orange County huntsman, who still hunts hounds as Master of his own Bath County pack, Melvin Poe celebrated his 93rd birthday with a pre-season trail ride near his home in Hume, Virginia.
D. Harcourt Lees Jr. of Warrenton, known to many as the quintessential Virginia gentleman, died at home Sunday, July 21, after a brief illness.
Mr. Lees, 91, for decades owned and operated an insurance and real estate firm. He was a past president of the Fauquier County Chamber of Commerce and the Fauquier Club and a former director of The Fauquier Bank. He was a longtime member of Warrenton Rotary Club.
He had a lifelong passion for horse sports. Mr. Lees served as the Warrenton Hunt Master of Foxhounds from 1968 to 1981. He continued to ride to the hounds until 2001.
A Warrenton native, he loved practical jokes and parties.
Mr. Lees and the late Billy Wilbur made their legendary “Midnight Ride” after a hunt ball in the 1950s. On horseback and still in tuxedos, they visited a half-dozen farms, procuring cocktails along the way.
A 1997 profile in The Fauquier Citizen, described Mr. Lees’ impeccable manners. Always well dressed — or “turned out” — he bowed and tipped his hat when meeting friends and strangers on the street.
“His manners are flawless,” the late Byrd Greene told Don Del Rosso, who wrote the newspaper profile. “But they’re manners from the heart; he’s a gentleman because it’s inside of him.”
Randon Billings Noble (Now, that is a Southern name!) commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville and Stonewall Jackson’s accidental wounding and death by searching for the internment site of General Jackson’s amputated arm.
I was walking through a cornfield in search of a cemetery in the middle of Virginia. A fox trotted across the path in front of me and disappeared in the forest of stalks with barely a rustle. I was searching for Stonewall Jackson’s lost arm. ...
In Chancellorsville, 150 years later, the story of this arm is surprisingly well documented. A large quartz boulder marks the place where Jackson fell and signs along Route 3 mark the “Wounding of Jackson” and “Jackson’s Amputation.” But the cemetery in which the arm was buried is not marked. I knew that an aide had taken the arm to his own family graveyard, and I learned from one of the markers that the cemetery was called Ellwood, but I didn’t know where it was—only that it was nearby.
I drove through Chancellorsville National Military Park with my eyes open for anything that looked like it might lead to a cemetery. Late in the day, in a gray misty rain, having already given up, I pulled into a driveway to turn around and stopped short at a rusty iron gate with soldered block letters, E L L W O O D.
I hesitated. It was clearly a locked gate, but a faint trail led around it and continued through dense woods. While I didn’t want to trespass, I didn’t want to retreat either. The mystery of the arm was too great; I left the car in the driveway.
Col. George Washington, Foxhunter (Ralph Boyer, aquatint, Fathers of American Sport, Derrydale Press, 1931)
David Hackett Fischer (who first traced the pre-Revolutionary influence of four different regions and cultures of Great Britain upon the United States in Albion’s Seed, 1989), in Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, written with James C. Kelly and published in 2000, identifies another major and distinctive pre-Revolutionary regional American cultural strain: a tradition of elite patriotism most prominently exemplified in George Washington, but originating from the influence of his friend and mentor, Lord Fairfax.
The Northern Neck [i.e. the region between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers] rapidly developed into a distinctive region of Virginia with a character that was largely defined by Lord Fairfax himself and his friends and agents, who included the Washington, Lee, and Marshall families.
Fairfax liked the country so well that he returned as an immigrant in 1747 and made his permanent home in Virginia. He built himself a long, rambling hunting lodge called Greenway Court and a small stone land office high in the Shenandoah country at the western end of his domain. At the same time he became justice of the peace of all the counties in the Northern Neck, county lieutenant, and commandant of the militia. Lord Fairfax acquiesced in the American Revolution and was treated always with honor both by the people of the Northern Neck and the Virginia General Assembly. He died at Greenway Court in 1781 at the age of eighty-eight.
In the course of his long life, a circle formed around him. Lord Fairfax’s drawing room became a school of manners for young gentlemen of the Northern Neck —among them, many Washingtons, Lees, Marshalls, and others who shared a distinctive set of values and beliefs.
Lord Fairfax Fox Hunting with George Washington, engraving by Henry Bryan Hall, after Felix O. C. Darley, from Washington Irving, Life of George Washington, 1855-1859
The Northern Neck was very much a part of the culture of Virginia, but it gave that culture a special meaning. On this frontier there was little of democracy and nothing of equality, but a strong tradition of service, character, right conduct, and the rule of law.
We have been trained by the materialism of American social science to think of regional culture as a reflex of economic interests and environmental conditions. So it is sometimes, but the culture of the Northern Neck was shaped when it was a frontier, in large degree by the interplay of culture, environment, and the purposes of a single individual. A cultural tradition was planted by Lord Fairfax at Greenway Court. It took root in the fertile soil of the Northern Neck and flowered in the careers of George Washington in the Revolution, Robert E. Lee in the Civil War, and George C. Marshall in World War II.
The values of this tradition were in many ways different from the liberal ideas on which the American republic was founded. Yet this tradition supplied that nation with many leaders who served it in a distinctive way. The Northern Neck was the cradle of their culture, and Lord Fairfax was its founding father.
George Washington, born today in 1732, was obviously the greatest epigone of the Northern Virginia tradition of scrupulously dutiful aristocratic leadership. Without Washington, the thirteen colonies could not have won the War for American Independence. As president, Washington then proceeded to establish personally the examples of Republican modesty and executive forbearance which defined the fundamental character of American goverment.
The New York Times visits the region many would contend is actually the best portion of Virginia. People describe it in whispers, using phrases of approval like “preserved in amber.”
Sleepy and rural, gently undulating, known variously as “the garden of Virginia” and “the Athens of the New World,” the Northern Neck is a 61-mile peninsula bracketed by the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
Originally settled by members of eight Algonquian tribes, it was scouted in the early 17th century by Capt. John Smith, the English explorer, and eventually settled by planters whose impressive wealth derived mainly from stoking a global demand for a modish new stimulant: tobacco.
The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once wrote that never was there a crop of genius such as was produced here in the colonial era. For the production of genius, it seems, Northern Neck soil was especially rich.
George Washington was born here near a bend of pretty Popes Creek, and so in other nearby towns were James Madison and James Monroe. Among other early colonists who got their start in life on the Northern Neck were the brothers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, both signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and their descendant, the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
The Lees’ ancestral great house — an imposing H-shaped structure noted for its elegantly laid brickwork facade, high chimneys and a cube-shaped great room acknowledged as among the handsomest chambers in the United States — was built on a rise commanding a broad and strategic view of the Potomac, and was just a short walk along a farm road from my cabin in the woods.
There are many such houses here, salted away on the Neck, and seemingly forgotten by all but their caretakers or inhabitants. There are scruffy graveyards scattered with the tumbledown headstones of neglected worthies. There are remnants of terraced boxwood parterres and early brick orangeries. There are poplar groves surrounding historic temperance camps and churches of such refined severity that architects from around the world come to study them. There are wineries, too, because the Northern Neck is a developing winemaking region, but these I never saw because day drinking is something a writer on his own is well advised to avoid.
Despite or perhaps because of its historic import, the Neck is largely untrammeled, its monuments scarcely visited, the rural two-lane Historyland Highway bisecting it empty of traffic as often as not.
Why so few visitors make their way to places like Stratford Hall, in my eyes one of the architectural wonders of the nation, is a source of bafflement. Maybe it is because we are becoming, as David McCullough said, a nation of historical illiterates. Or perhaps it is because, as locals improbably assert, the Northern Neck is so hard to reach, although the peninsula lies no more than two hours by major Interstate from the capital of the nation and an hour and change from Richmond, the capital of the state.
There can be no doubt of its historical significance. The Northern Neck is the real birthplace of the Virginia aristocracy, and by extension the fons et origo of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the American Republic.
It is today an isolated and neglected backwater filled with history and bathed in the marine light that falls only on special places intimately connected to the sea.
Some of Karen’s photos of Stratford Hall are here and here.
Old Dominion Masters Douglas Wise and Gus Forbush in front of Henchman’s Lea announcing the beginning of the hunt and identifying the leadership of the various fields of riders.
We’ve been having a balmy Fall hunting season up until yesterday. The previous night a front rolled in dropping the temperature 20 degrees and bringing biting winds.
Nonetheless, an exceptionally large field turned out for the Saturday meet at Henchman’s Lea, doubtless motivated in part by the lavish hospitality of the hosts manifested at a Lucullan post-hunt breakfast.
Watch Karen’s photography site for the eventual appearance of a full photoessay devoted to this particular hunting day.
Huntsman Gerald Keal leads the Old Dominion Hounds out to hunt.
Yesterday: there is an addition to the Blue Ridge Hunt’s field waiting for the appearance of huntsman and hounds on the road outside Greenwood in White Post, Virginia.(photo: David Norman) click on picture for larger image
Although it’s the preseason, and Blue Ridge is cubbing and therefore the field is attired in Ratcatcher, our professional staff wears red as a safety measure while cubbing to help deer hunters who often share the same woods distinguish them from the local whitetails.
The Melungeons are an ethnic group, commonly described as a “tri-racial isolate,” resident in the Cumberland Gap neighborhood of Eastern Tennesee, Southwest Virginia, and Eastern Kentucky. The Melungeons’ comparatively dark complexions and other exotic characteristics have been attributed to mixed Amerindian and Spanish or Portuguese descent. Other alleged origins included shipwrecked Turkish slaves or descent from Gypsies. One legendary account claims that they descend from a native people resident before the arrival of European colonists.
Recent research seems to offer a much simpler explanation: descent from African freedmen.
[A] new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy [Not apparently yet available on-line] attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.
Connor Husain finishes the last jump of the Intermediate course of the Morven Park Spring Horse Trials on Piece of Hope, a bay Swedish Warmblood 17 hands high. (photograph: Karen L. Myers) Click on photo for larger image.
I was standing next to this obstacle all day working as a jump judge for the trials.