Stop Here! Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters

While I love the colonial and early American history found in Winchester, Virginia, I learned about this town through Civil War studies. The first time I remember reading about Winchester was in a children’s biography of “Stonewall” Jackson, and in later years, I started researching about families in the town and that general’s time in the area.

It’s only fitting then that one of the very first historic sites I visited on my very first trip to Winchester was connected to Jackson’s history and time in the community. Let’s stop and take a look… Continue reading

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1864: “I Am 21 Today! Of Age!”

Wednesday, Jan. 20th, 1864

On Sunday we all went to hear Mr. Grasty preach. He gave us a very severe sermon against dancing. Willie Lewis came and brought us a letter from George. Bob Saunders was shipped. Willie has a furlough of ten days. Mr. Miller and Beverly Whittle came. On Monday Brother James and his company left. On Tuesday Cary and Brother Gilmer went away. I never felt so sad at parting with my brothers. What dear, noble fellows they are! We spent the day very sadly.

I read, “Marius” – it is not as beautifully written as “Fantine” and “Cosette.” Today I wrote letters and awaited the arrival of the mail, hoping to hear from Mr. Bassett, but I was bitterly disappointed. I felt that my love was freezing and wanted something to keep it alive. I do not know what to think of his not writing. This evening Eliza and I took a delightful ride – I rode Cary’s fine, grey charger; Eliza, Little Dorrit. Dr. Lake overtook us as we were coming home. I did not feel very genteel, having no hat on, but did not mind the Dr. much. There is one good thing about being engaged – it makes one so indifferent. Eliza enjoyed her ride intensely and looked so innocent and funny.

I have been gay today. I have laughed more than I have done for months. I cannot help thinking that something sad is going to happen. 

Monday, Feb. 1st, 1864

I am 21 today! Of age! Independent! I feel right old now. This birthday is much happier than last; all of my brothers are at home. George came last night. He was so discontented at the Institute that we all thought it better for him to come home. I wish Emma was here so we could once more have a united family…

Lucy Breckinridge, Journal Entries

Breckinridge, Lucy. edited by Mary D. Robertson. Lucy Breckinridge of Grove Hill: The Journal of a Virginia Girl, 1862-1864. (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1979), 168.

Miss Lucy Breckinridge

The Question of Age & Situation

Lucy Breckinridge’s statement in her private journal about her twenty-first birthday reflects several attitudes of the Civil War era. Twenty-one was the year to “come of age” legally. Sure, it meant more for young men than young women, but Lucy took the opportunity to celebrate the milestone. Then, she quickly confessed that she felt old!

For young women, reaching certain ages limited their matrimonial chances, at least in conventional society’s views. That particular age threshold between young woman and spinster seemed to vary in different regions and, of course, in different social levelss.

Twenty-one year old Miss Breckinridge from a well-to-do family she wouldn’t have to worry about being an “old maid.” She was already engaged in 1864. Though in other diary entries she talked about breaking the engagement to Mr. Bassett, in the end, she married him in January 1865.

In the Civil War – aside from the societal pressures about age and marriage “chances” – a woman’s age could factor into other important situations. For example, Dorothea Dix, the official supervisor of Union nurses, was very particular about older, matronly women applying to be hospital nurses. The Confederacy also looked for older, responsible women for hospital service. Younger women – however dedicated and capable they might be – were often seen as frivolous or possibly too focused on making a good match to perform serious service. Although the historical record stands up to prove that those views were often wrong!

Young Women’s Leisure Pastimes

Through Lucy Breckinridge’s two years of journaling in the far southern region of the Shenandoah Valley, readers get an inside glimpse of her worries, dreamers, religious struggles, and daily pastimes. Living in a well-to-do family offered leisure time, and Lucy filled her day with a variety of activities. In this short excerpt, she mentions going to church, entertaining, writing letters, reading, and riding, and apparently writing in her diary.

Her record and hints reveals that she read some large books. In January 1864, she was reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. How do we know? Well, that book is divided into sub-books that are titled Fantine, Cosette, Marius, etc. etc. Presumably, she had also read Charles Dickens since one of the family’s horses had the name of one of his leading characters – Little Dorrit.

Certainly not all young women had the leisure enjoyed by Miss Breckinridge. Others faced involvement directly in the war – by choice or by default. Some worked in factories, shops, or private homes. But a few lived the idealized life with time to enjoy the finer arts, literature, and pastimes of the era.

Historical Musings

Lucy writes that her brother left “the Institute.” Those words jumped off the page to me. I’ve spent a couple years looking at primary sources and records connected to Virginia Military Institute which is often called “the Institute” in regional writings from the Civil War era. So…I had to take a break from the civilian musings and go see if George Breckinridge had been a cadet.

A quick search in VMI’s online records and presto! George Breckinridge (and verified by the same parents as Lucy’s records) attended the military school from July 1863 through the end of January 1864 and his academic notes even say he left at his father’s request.

I just love it when historical threads tie together and research can be cross-checked. Here, we have Lucy’s journal entry and records from VMI all adding up to tell the same story of a discontented teenage boy making an escape from school with his father’s permission. Now, if we could just find his letters to his family. Those are probably priceless gems of boyish complaining!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

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One Huge Map, One Historic Campaign

“I want you to make me a map of the valley, from Harpers Ferry to Lexington, showing all the points of offense and defense in those places.” Simple, but now legendary words which started the partnership of Jed Hotchkiss and Thomas J. Jackson, leading to the 1862 Confederate military triumph in the Shenandoah Valley.

Today, we’ll talk about the history of this extraordinary mapmaker and how his HUGE map became part of Civil War legends and a major campaign success… Continue reading

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Stop Here! Abram’s Delight – Historic Home Museum

Last week we talked about early colonial history sites to tour in Winchester, Virginia. You just might need to plan longer than a day to explore this wonderful town, located about 75 miles west of Washington D.C. in the pristine Shenandoah Valley.

Today, our tour notes will take you out of the old town district to another important site preserved by the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society and open for tours from April to October every year. Called Abram’s Delight if offers a glimpse of early settler life and the homes and typical furnishings found in the area during the antebellum period. Let’s stop here and take a look… Continue reading

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1864: “Three Hundred Pairs of Stockings, Knitted By Yourself”

Executive Mansion

Washington, Jany. 8, 1864

Mrs. Esther Stockton.

Madam: Learning that you who have passed the eighty-fourth year of life, have given to the soldiers, some three hundred pairs of stockings, knitted by yourself, I wish to offer you my thanks. Will you also convey my thanks to those young ladies who have done so much in feeding our soldiers while passing through your city. Continue reading

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See It, Measure It, Draw It – Creating Civil War Maps

Continuing the discussion of mapmaking during the American Civil War, we must ask the question: how were the maps made? Last week we highlighted the need for maps, but how did the cartographers actually solve the problem and create the needed charts?

Let’s take look at some history and a little science… Continue reading

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