This yellowed newspaper announcement was carefully preserved by a relative, and sent to me when they cleaned out their clutter. Fortunately. My parents divorced when I was a young adult, and their wedding momentos became casualties of the fight. I am grateful to pack rats who unload their goodies to subsequent generations of pack rats. And to those of you who are divorced, a tiny plea to preserve memories of your relationship’s beginnings. Someday your children and grandchildren will want to see where they came from.
The land of Mecklenburg County, Virginia rolls from pasture to forest to creek. Wild roses and honeysuckle form dense thickets, and glossy leaves of poison ivy climb oak and ash and maple. In the 1860s this was farm country, dependent on bonded black labor to make its red soil produce abundant crops of tobacco, corn, hay. And from her male ranks came soldiers prepared to fight for the right to prosper by the South’s peculiar institution–slavery.
Among these men, in March of 1864, were William Green Dodson, age 18,and his uncle, Benjamin Franklin Dodson, age 37. Digging around in the archived Civil War Service Records within Footnote.com I discovered the elements of Ben and Greene’s 1864 story. I then correlated that keystone data with information from the 1860 Federal Census and the book Chase City and Its Environs to tell this family tale.
Ben Dodson enlisted 8 March 1862 with Captain Thomas Taylor Pettus, commanding officer, signing his papers in Mecklenburg County. The husband of Delia Boyd Dodson and father of five little ones signed up for the duration of the war. Ben Dodson was mustered in a 3rd Sergeant in the 4th Regiment Virginia Heavy Artillery, which was attached to the command of Brigadier-General Henry Wise. During the Battle of Seven Pines, 31 May-1 June 1862 in Henrico County, Virginia, this unit manned the heavy guns at Drewry’s Bluff, successfully repulsing the advance of the Federal gunboats the Monitor and the Galena. The men of Company B saw action again during the Seven Days Battle, at Frazier’s Farm and Malvern Hill, Virginia 25 June-1 July 1862. The Brigade was then attached to the Department of Richmond and held the lines around the capital until 1863.
Ben Dodson fell ill during that guarding of Richmond. The farmer was furloughed to recover at his home 25 October 1862 and rejoined his company in early 1863.
Ben Dodson led his men throughout the company’s 1863 defense of Charleston, South Carolina’s seacoast, under the command of Colonel John T. Goode, Major John R. Bagby, and Lieutenant-Colonel Randolph Harrison, with the regiment attached to the forces commanded by General G. T. Beauregard.
8 March 1864 the 4th Regiment Heavy Artillery was redesignated the 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.
On 17 March 1864 Ben received leave to go home to Mecklenburg County for 15 days.
On 15 April 1864 William Greene Dodson enlisted, again,
There are no muster cards on file to shed light on how Greene Dodson went from being a private with Company I, 25th Infantry Battalion in Richmond, December 1863, to being a private with his uncle’s regiment April 1864. I am left with questions: Why did Ben come home? Was he just needing a break? Was he recruiting? Why was Greene home? What words were exchanged between nephew and uncle? Did Sarah feel more or less relieved that her son was joining a close relative’s company?
One thing is certain: Ben and Greene returned to Company B that April 1864 in time to be swept up in General Beauregard’s move toward Petersburg, Virginia. The families would be changed forever by that hot and dusty summer.
Next: The Dodsons of Company B defend Petersburg.
In my last post, A Mom’s Goodbye, I began the story of Greene Dodson and his home-leaving to join the Army of the Confederate States of America. Today I continue building proofs which document my family’s lore.
All sorts of paper have been saved by our federal, state and local governments, and while I may groan about filling out the forms today I am sure grateful my ancestors completed theirs. The Confederate’s Citizens File is one such collection of forms and notes, offering proof of services and goods rendered by private citizens and businesses to the Confederate States of America. My search of this data-mine was possible through the entity of Footnote.com through which I pulled up a file on James H Dodson, Mecklenburg County, Virginia. Previous work with Federal census data from the mid-1800′s has confirmed the existence of only one James H Dodson in Mecklenburg County, and therefore this file documents some of the transactions my great-great-grandfather made. Bonanza! for among these records was this scrap:
The search moved to the files of Civil War Soldiers, Company I, 25th Battalion, Virginia Infantry (Richmond Battalion). Upon clicking my cursor I felt a connection so palpable, I could almost talk to my ancestors. In November of 1863, with the war continuing far longer than anyone had ever dreamed, Greene Dodson dropped out of school and traveled the hundred or so miles to Richmond, Virginia, capital of the Confederate States of America. His father accompanied him in order to give his consent, which reads:
Richmond, Virginia Nov 21, 1863
I hereby consent for my son, William G. Dodson, to join and become a member of Capt. Aston’s Co. I 25th Inf Batt. James H Dodson
Witness: W.E. Hitchcock
It appears that someone had written out the text, with James filling in his son’s name, and signing his own name.
Four other documents are included in this file, yielding precious nuggets of information, keystone elements of my family’s story. William Greene Dodson, seventeen years and eight months, stood 5’9″ tall. Greene was light complected with dark hair. His hazel eyes must have burned with earnest bravado as the young farmer signed the enlistment papers for Captain Samuel T. Bayly. Volunteering to serve three years or the duration of the War, my great-great-uncle took the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America and its leaders. By the end of the day 25 November 1863 all the forms had been filled out, all the recruitment exams and procedures conducted–William Greene Dodson was a Private with Company I, 25th Battalion Virginia Infantry.
I imagine James and Sarah down home in southside Virginia, pausing during their chores, half expecting to see their son’s lanky frame come ’round a barn door. And then remembering with a mixture of pride and fear that Greene had stepped into being a man, answering a call to duty.
We leave Greene in Richmond, where he is on the List of Recruits, 31 December 1863. There are no further muster cards for this ancestor with this company. I can only speculate at this point what Greene did between December 1863 and 15 April 1864 when he re-enlisted.
Next: The Dodsons of Company B, 34th Regiment Virginia Infantry.
This morning, as I steeled myself to watch my son’s back recede into the maze of airport security this weekend, I felt a tug from the past. ”Remember,” she said, “he is going on an adventure, following his dream and his loyalties, to become the man he needs to be. At least he enters into a world of safety and civility, with a university’s throbbing pulse. He won’t be put deliberately into harm’s way. You are lucky.”
Sarah Jane Rowlett Dodson must have felt awash with anxiety and sadness as she watched her son’s back recede down toward Dodson’s Corners, Virginia. Greene left home to pursue his adventure as a soldier for the Confederate States of America. He didn’t get the chance to become a man.
It is going to be much easier to ponder this mother’s goodbye than to say mine. So my next few posts will be a bit of productive coping.
My proof that Greene Dodson actually existed and fought in The War Between The States begins with my Grandmother Strickland’s family history, “Some Genealogical Facts of the Strickland-Sayles Family”, compiled and written by Florette Sayles Strickland, March 1976.
James Dodson and Sarah Jane Rowlett, united in marriage 18–, in Mecklenburg Co. Virginia. Born to this union: Greene, Virginia, Harvey, Henry, Dora, Molly, Adlaide, Rebecca Eulelia (Lillie), born Aug. 15, 1856, Edward (Ed), and William Rowlett (Bud). ….Greene, the oldest son, was killed while serving in the Confederade (sic) Army near Petersburg, Va. shortly before the War ended. He had left school to join up, tho (sic) he was under age.
The 1860 Federal Census provides further evidence. Listed among the residents of Regiment 22, Mecklenburg County, Virginia are Dodson, James (45), Sarah (35), William (13), Eugenia (10), Harvey(8), Maria (6), Mary (5), Lilly (3), Usebia (2).
Because my grandmother referred to the eldest son as Greene I have concluded that Sarah Jane’s boy was named William Greene, after James’ mother, Mary Greene. The search among Confederate Soldier records included all the possible variations: William, Wm., William G., W. G., Greene, William Greene Dodson. After falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, I found the muster cards provided some confusing results.
Next: The Confederate Citizens’ Papers yield an important clue.
Map of Mecklenburg Co., Va. Surveyed under the direction of A.H. Campbell Capt. P.A.C.S. in Ch’ge Topl. Dept. [by] H.M. Graves Lt. Engrs. Sept. 1864.
The front of the 4″ by 5″ packet declares :
W John P Minor Green County PA Big Whitely Ofice Pa
Kirkwood O 25 August 22nd
On the back hidden amid some scribbled numbers is a thumbnail-sized circular stain, the remnant of some long ago wax seal. The parchment-colored paper unfolds to reveal a letter, one long paragraph, written on two 7.5″ by 12″ pages. There are no commas or periods to help the 21st century reader mark the beginning and ending of thoughts. Capital letters are used indiscriminately for proper and common nouns, verbs and adjectives. Spelling is often phonetic and the same word can have multiple spellings throughout the note. Fortunately the handwriting is legible, the ink still dark, the script remarkably like the cursive I learned in Mrs. Flora’s fourth grade classroom.
This is a letter written by Asa Minor (b. 1796) to his big brother John Pierson (Pearson) Minor(b. 1791) in 1837. *1 I have taken the liberty to present the letter with corrections, so that the intent of the letter is clear:
Warren County Ohio August 22nd 1837
Dear brother & sister,
I take my pen in hand to inform you we are enjoying good health at present & our friends as far as I can hear are enjoying health through the tender mercies of a kind Providence. I hope these few lines may find you all enjoying good health. I have nothing particular to write you at present, only to scold you a little; that is if you ever received my last letter which I wrote, I think, in May last. I know it was shortly after Uncle Stephen Minor came with his news of having a bill against us & I have never received a line from you since. I thought I would set down in a brief manner to inform you we are all well & also to try to persuade you to write me an answer to let me know if you are coming down this fall or not.
Also Concerning this money Scrape (*2): if our Ohio paper will answer you any purpose, I can have $200 hundred for you this fall if it will. As I have 100 hundred coming into my hands & I have to take that or nothing. I thought if you intend to buy any stock it would answer, as it will on all purposes here with the exceptions of Land.
We have had a tolerable wet summer here. Our corn looks well and oats but we have had a tedious time for harvest. Our markets is as follows: wheat is from 90 to $1.00; flour is 3.50 per hundred wt barrel $7.00 per lb. Oald Corn is 50 pr, oats 33 ½. The horses is high but not so high as was in the spring, for you could buy tolerable good gelding from 65 to 75 dollars.
I must come to a close as I am in a hurry to move at present but we remain your friends until death. Give our love to all inquiring friends and please to write in haste.
Asa Minor , Eleanor Minor
(to) John P. Minor, Izabel Minor (PS) for Wool 33
*1:The brothers were part of the large Abia Minor family, which began with the marriage of Abia to Margaret Pearson in 1790, Middlesex, New Jersey. When the boys were small Abia and Margaret joined the extended Minor family living in Greene County, Pennsylvania, at the southwestern corner of the state. Abia outlived his first wife, remarried and continued to contribute to the nation’s population growth. At some point after 1820 it appears that Abia moved his family to Warren County, Ohio; this migration certainly included the youngest members but may have also included children from his first marriage, including Asa, who married Eleanor Thompson. John P. Minor married Isabella McClelland, and remained in Greene County to become a very successful farmer and investor.
*2 The money scrape refers to the Panic of 1837 in which a wave of state and private banks defaulted on deposits. Loans were called in and credit was no longer extended, creating a cycle of business failures, high unemployment and rapid inflation. Ohio had nine state banks, which had lent beyond its means and printed money unsecured by gold and silver deposits. Paper money was not accepted by the federal government for postal transactions or land sales. The depression that followed the crash lasted until around 1844.
Travel south from Chase City, Virginia on the Boydton Road about 15 minutes, turn left at Dodson Corners onto Hunter’s Lane. Follow the bend to the left, through a grove of pine to the meadows shorn of their grass by cows now shunning the noon heat among the shade of oak trees. Sitting on your left will be the headquarters of the Butcher’s Creek Hunt Club. This house marks the site of the Old Dodson Place, the homeplace of George and Florette Strickland’s family during the depression, and where my father, Norman, grew up. The youngest son in a family of four boys, Norman was born this day 1928.
This past spring I returned to this land, to breathe some ancestral smells, look out on rolling land my father once walked. Had it not been for the company of coon dogs who rushed to greet me, I would have tramped through the long grass, risking contact with some very healthy poison ivy, to look for crumbled buildings and civil war trenches, farm garbage dumps and Grandfather-dug watering holes. The air was hot and muggy, heavy with the fragrance of wild honeysuckle and white wild rose.
Towering above me were oak trees, just acorns on the ground when my dad shot squirrels out of their predecessors. Thick brambles of poison ivy, honey suckle, rose, and pricker bushes grew at their base. It would have been along hedgerows like these that rabbits hopped out, to eat by the road’s edge. And my father with buddy Charles D. would slowly approach in his daddy’s 1938 Ford pickup truck. While one boy drove, the other would lie on the huge front fender, flat on his belly, rifle in hand. Spot the rabbit, catch it in the scope, pull the trigger. The rabbit went from being vermin to being dinner.
Norman Scott Strickland grew up to leave this farm, to leave Chase City. He was coworker to fellow General Electric electrical engineers for 35 years, a choir member of countless church groups, a community leader, a good neighbor; a gardener, a bird watcher, a dog lover. Most of all Norman Scott Strickland was a gentle friend, ever ready with a smile, particularly for his wife, and six children, and two grandchildren. After losing a third battle to cancer 16 July 2006, Norman returned to the red soil of Mecklenburg County, where I can come and leave a stone in remembrance of his life well lived.
Inside the valise, its leather cracking from decades of storage, lie my treasure–letters, receipts, documents, small notebooks–tokens of family business conducted over a century ago. Today’s transcription is of a letter posted from A. D. Clarke of Woodlands, Virginia to my great to the third grandfather, John P. Minor of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, on the 28 May 1839. It reads:
Many thanks for your kind favor which came to hand on the 19th but R Wills informed me all particulars and directed me to forward you the draft and that you would bring me the amount of charges as the Bank agreed to pay the am’t in a ? money . Accept my best acknowledgments for the trouble you have taken. Mr. Wills expects you this week. I would feel ablidged for acknowledging the rec’t of the Inclosed unless you are coming on. I seen Rolly this –he expects you see the letter about the lands.
From your ablidg’d Friend,
John P. Minor was one of several Minor family members living in Greene County, Pennsylvania in the 1800s. The patriarch of his branch, John P. evidently purchased large tracts of land, raised cattle, and lent money to family and friends, as this letter indicates, as early as 1839.
Summer has not always been the season of horse shows, family picnics and riding roller coasters. For John Minor, my great ^5^ uncle, summer was a harrowing time of enemy movements and secret attacks. Captain Minor was stationed during the summer of 1777 at Fort Stadler on the western frontier where Pennsylvania and West Virginia now meet. The men of the 3rd Pennsylvania Regiment were part of the Continental Army, charged with keeping the region safe from Indians and settlers sympathetic to the Crown.
On the 14th July at 8 o’clock, Captain Minor wrote to his commanding officer, Colonel Morgan, the following:
This minute Alex’r Clegg came in great haste, who escaped the shot of a number of Indians while we were getting ready to go after them John March and Jacob Jones came in and say that they think they saw at least 20 and followed them, but they escaped. The Indians fired at Jacob Farmers House. Two men and a boy were kill’d, a young woman and two children missing. It is supposed that he is killed, and Nathan Winley and two of Jacob Jones’ Children and a Daughter of Farmer’s, we shall march after them in less than an hour. The truth may be relied on.
John Minor, Captain
As our summer is blown into fall, I have to work hard to imagine the tension these early settlers and soldiers felt that 1777 season. The exercise helps me keep life real–see the good, grab the love, endure the fear–its all part of life and the opportunities we have in a democratic experiment.
I imagine my ancestors traveling with loaded wagons and packs, babies and small children, through the Appalachian blanket. Perhaps they stopped for lunch in woods carpeted by ferns, leaves and pine needles, and, like me, paused to admire a beautiful orange lichen. Protruding from a tree trunk a child could easily have reached up to break off a “platter” for playtime. Parents would brusquely remind the child to leave it behind as they set off through the woods, the air sweetly scented by sun-warmed pine.
These are the trees my ancestors saw–oaks, maples, pines–as they relocated from eastern communities in Rhode Island, New Jersey and Virginia to the frontiers of western New York, western Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Up and over mountains that chained from Maine to Georgia, the Sayles, Minors and Bradfords sought land and liberty. Generations later I can still smell those trees, see those ferns, climb those mountains, free to explore me because those families dared to labor through the forests of the Appalachians.