The 1868 Auction of Long Branch was just one example of the fate that fell on many Southern Plantations after the Civil War. Some estate owners were lucky enough to be able to keep their plantations, but many faced foreclosure on debts or had seen their homes burnt to the ground as a tactic of total war. Adelaide Nelson resourcefully purchased back much of Long Branch at its auction, keeping the plantation in the Nelson family name. A neighboring estate, Carter Hall, was also fortunate, having escaped destruction during the Civil War, though its livestock had been stolen and its fields lay fallow. The Burwells of Carter Hall, like so many other families living in the post-Civil War South, faced previously unknown poverty. Just a few years after the death of her husband in 1873, Agnes Burwell was forced to sell Carter Hall. Another nearby plantation, Oatlands, could not maintain itself as a wheat plantation after emancipating its slaves. Faced with heavy debt, the Carter family there tried running the estate first as a school for girls, and then as a summer boarding house. They sold the plantation in 1897.
The Civil War had harsh economic ramifications on Southern farms and plantations. Much of the land had been ravaged by war, the livestock slaughtered or stolen, and the crops taken or destroyed. The small percentage of those who were plantation owners found themselves without a source of labor, and many plantations had to be auctioned off (often at greatly reduced value) to settle debts and support the family.
-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern
“I come from the banks of the sparkling Shenandoah, “daughter of the stars,” as its name imports. I live within a day’s march of the Thermopylae of Virginia. That valley, now beautiful and peaceful “as the Vale of Tempe, may be a very Bochim– a place of weeping.” Those green fields, where now “lowing herds wind slowly o’er the lea,” may become fields of blood. Can you blame me,then, if I wish to try all peaceful mean, consistent with Virginia’s honor, of obtaining our rights, before I try the last resort? I promise you, when the contest does come, if come it must, the people whom I have the honor to represent on this floor, will meet it like men.” -Hugh Mortimer Nelson’s speech at the Virginia Secession Convention
Hugh Nelson, owner of Long Branch from 1842 to his death in 1862, was voted Clarke’s Constitutional Union Party delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention in 1861. Virginia voted to secede on April 17th, 1861, and Nelson organized the Clarke Cavalry later that June. Despite his readiness to lead Virginian troops into battle against the Union, Nelson’s speech reveals that he was in strong opposition of secession: “I pray to God,” Nelson said to the other convention delegates, “that the time may not be far distant when all our difficulties will be adjusted, and we shall again be a united, prosperous and happy people.” Though he did not wish to separate from the United States of America, Nelson also believed that Virginia, along with other Southern states, required “constitutional guarantees” from the Union. Those, he urged, could be solved through compromise and not bloodshed. Nelson succumbed to the dangers of campaign life and died of typhoid on August 6, 1862.
Hugh Nelson is not the only Virginian who fought for his state despite opposing secession. In a letter to his son, soon-to-be famous General Robert E. Lee states: “As an American citizen, I take great pride in my country, her prosperity and her institutions, and would defend any State if her rights were invaded. But I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation. I hope, therefore, that all constitutional means will be exhausted before there is a resort to force. Secession is nothing but revolution.”
Why did these and other men fight for the Confederacy if they were against its very existence? Both Nelson and Lee mention honor. Indeed, many recruitment posters played on the idea of honor as well. Men were called to defend their brothers, their wives, their sisters, and the land they called home. Recruitment posters such as the one below bore heavily upon the conscious of many young Virginian men.
To refuse to defend one’s state was considered equivalent to sitting back and allowing the invaders to kill one’s brothers and rape one’s sisters and wives. This and other posters made it clear that dying an honorable death fighting for one’s homeland was preferable to living as a traitor and a coward. Local social pressure to join the war effort was also high and had a large initial impact on joining the army. Young men often enlisted simultaneously with the other men from their town– joining in arms the same friends they had known since their childhood days for their greatest adventure yet.Those who stayed home were shunned. Men who refused to fight often found themselves labeled as undesirable bachelors not worth marrying. They were known to receive women’s drawers; not as a romantic invitation, but as a disdainful assessment of their manliness. Of course, men joined for more practical reasons as well: men who joined were promised bounty and, at times, military furnishings.
And so these men known as Southern Unionists marched off to fight a battle they did not believe in. Some fought for honor, their families, and their homes. Others fought for adventure and the promise of money. Some fought to avoid the scorn that came with refusing to fight. No matter what reason lay behind their enlistment, though, none of the Virginian men could have anticipated how dearly they would pay. Matched by only one other Confederate state in number of casualties, Virginia would bury over 30,000 of its men.
-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern
The Shenandoah Valley’s fertile soils and its extensive system of easily-navigable rivers made it the perfect site for agriculture in Virginia.The Shenandoah Valley so prolifically produced wheat that it during the Civil War it was known as the Breadbasket of the Confederacy. Long before the Civil War, though, wheat was considered a major cash crop of the Shenandoah Valley. Wheat was introduced into Virginia by English colonists in the 1600s, allowing them to reach self-sufficiency by 1630. By 1739, Virginia exported much of its wheat crop to the West Indies. By the mid 19th century, the Valley was producing 22% of Virginia’s wheat crop, and Alexandria, Norfolk, and Richmond had turned into major wheat-exporting cities.
Due to the total war strategy employed during the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley became a strategic theater of operations. In 1864, General Grant directed General Philip Sheridan to raid the Valley, “so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Sheridan burnt large tracts of land in the Valley, along with destroying barns and killing livestock. The inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley were left destitute, but wheat production continued to eek up in numbers. Despite the 40% decrease in production other wheat-producing areas in Virginia incurred, the Shenandoah Valley’s wheat production increased 10% during the 1860s. Part of this was a result of farmer’s determination to revive their biggest cash crop so that they could recover from the ravages of war.
Though the Shenandoah Valley still produces wheat today, most of the state’s wheat planting takes place in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Today, the Shenandoah Valley boasts a rich tourism trade, as well as a number of vineyards.
-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern
While this year’s Cabin Fever Speaker Series has come to a close, all of us here at Long Branch will continue to think about what we learned and are already looking forward to next year’s series! Despite some schedule shifting that had to take place because of bad weather, 2015’s series was a great success, with talks focused on history and tradition.
Our series kicked off on March 12 with a talk from historian David Goetz, an expert on Confederate cavalry commander John Singleton Mosby. His book, Hell is being Republican in Virginia: The Post-War Relationship between John Singleton Mosby and Ulysses S. Grant, was released in 2012 and it was this subject which was the topic of his talk. We heard background about Grant and Mosby’s lives, as well as the role each played during the Civil War, and then traced their relationship after the war when they both worked towards reconciliation between the North and South. Despite the dislike that those in the South felt towards Grant, and by extension towards Mosby for aligning himself with “the enemy,” Mosby understood the importance of reconciliation and dedicated himself to this cause, becoming a very controversial figure, particularly in his native Virginia.
Our speaker in week two was award-winning storyteller Adam Booth, who also participated in our series in 2014. This year he told us two different traditional Appalachian stories and sang us a ballad. The first story, called “Raw Head and Bloody Bones” (a scary name, but an excellent story!), was learned during a fellowship at Berea College in Kentucky. Booth is committed to studying traditional storytelling in Appalachia and often learns from veteran storytellers, but had interestingly learned this story from recordings of young storytellers.
The Civil War theme continued in week three with local singer/songwriter Clark Hansbarger speaking about the creation of his 2013 album “Dream of a Good Death: New Songs of the Old War.” We heard the stories behind five songs off this album, and then got to hear the songs themselves! The audience learned interesting facts that Hansbarger discovered throughout his research and writing. For example, did you know that 40% of the soldiers that died during the Civil War were unidentified? And that number jumps to 60% for African American soldiers. Quite the sobering fact.
The final talk for 2015 took place on April 2, when Monticello’s head vegetable gardener Pat Brodowski cam to speak about historic gardening. She demonstrated early pieces of agricultural equipment and showed us samples of edible plants while explaining how the Monticello gardeners harvest seeds to use from one year to the next. We also learned about many of the ideas that Thomas Jefferson had about gardening and how these ideas are still in use at Monticello, including planting in a quincunx pattern as the ancient Romans did.
This year’s series was fascinating, informative, and just plain fun! Long Branch wishes to thank all of our speakers, as well as those who attended our talks. We hope to see you all again for next year’s speaker series!
–Frances Monroe, Long Branch Plantation Intern
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Beginning in late April, Long Branch Plantation will host an exhibition of works by local artist Doug Pifer. Over the last 30 years, Pifer’s illustrations have been featured in numerous books, with pieces currently residing at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA and the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg, PA.
Pifer’s subjects for this exhibit will be life sized portraits of various farm animals. He says this about his works: “I show these animals up close and life-sized, just as an early 1900s farmer might have seen them.” Pifer also emphasizes that historically, animals were well known by all, including those who lived in cities, as a result of the way humans and animals interacted. Horses were the main form of transport and were used by everyone.
Pifer’s works present general purpose livestock, as these were the kinds of animals used by most Virginia farmers. For example, chickens were kept for their ability to produce eggs, but also served as a source of meat for many who raised them. However, breeds gradually became more specialized, with cattle being separated into dairy and beef, chickens into meat or egg-laying, and sheep into mutton or wool producers.
The works will be on display for the majority of our open season through August 2015, with a preview night to be held on April 17 from 6:30 – 8pm.
– Frances Monroe, Long Branch Plantation Intern