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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead


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May 01, 2015

A friend recently shared an article on her Facebook page that I found to be quite interesting.  An eighty-seven year old grandmother from Texas sold her collection of Civil War photographs which she had collected over a span of four decades to the Library of Congress.  Her collection included five hundred photographs (mostly 3D) which included images of Abraham Lincoln's house after his assassination and trees that had been struck by musket fire during battles.  Her interest in the Civil War began while reading the book entitled Lee's Lieutenants.  Most of her collection was based on findings found at antique shows and purchased from people contacting her with photographs to sell.  This article could not have been shared at a more appropriate time as this year our country concludes its four year commemoration of the 150th anniversary of America's Civil War.  When most of us think of heroes from the Civil War names like Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Jubal Early, and JEB Stuart certainly come to mind.  But have you considered heores of this war being just your everyday patriot eager, but hesitant at the same time, to leave loved ones behind to defend what he believed in?  In addition to numerous books, photographs, and history files, the Civil War collection here at the Center includes a variety of items such as a plantation baby doll, a canteen found on the battlefield of Appomattox, buck and ball ammunition, and a gavel made from a tree that Robert E. Lee sat under in Appomattox.  As I have investigated my own family roots, I have discovered that I have several ancestors that played a role in the Civil War both on and off of the battlefield.

My four times great grandmother on my mother's side is a perfect example.  Sally Michaels lived in Burke County, North Carolina with her husband, Thomas, who was disabled.  When three of her eight children left to fight in the war she had to become the bread winner for her family which included her other children and their families.  In order to support her large family, Sally made smoking pipes from clay that she found on the banks of the Silver Creek.  Her pipes became popular among soldiers, both Union and Confederate, and she sold them for twenty-five cents per dozen.  Known far and wide as the "Pipemaker", Sally would walk down the mountain to sell her pipes leading her blind mule each morning and then return home later each evening by the same route.  Orders for her pipes became abundant as her self-made business began to grow.  I guess you could say that she had the first North Carolina based industry!  Unfortunately, her three sons did not return home from the war and she eventually gave her business to one of her daughters-in-law.  We are fortunate to have one of her pipes here at the Center given by a collector who was eager to donate it once he found out that Mom was her descendant.  It amazes me that I can actually hold in my hands (don't tell Mom) a pipe made during the time of the Civil War that my four times great grandmother made with her own two hands!

A three times great grandfather, also on my mother's side, was named Spencer Fulcher.  After "being forced into service" at the Patrick County Courthouse in 1861, he soon went AWOL!  Now don't panic because that does not mean what you might think.  Going AWOL at that time meant that a patriot may have left his company for a short period of time to return home to check on family or to help harvest the crops.  That is exactly what he did and while at home he met and married Sallie Taylor.  Shortly after he returned to his unit, he was taken prisoner in 1864 when he was captured in Mechanicsville, Virginia and was taken to Point Lookout, Maryland.  He was transferred to Elmira Prison in New York where he died on April 1, 1865, only eight days before the end of the war.  His only child, a son, was born in September of 1864 whom he sadly never had the chance to see.  His heroism in leaving his unit to come home is a reason that I am here today.  One of my two times great grandfathers, Eli Lewis Clay, enlisted in the war at the young age of sixteen.  He was a Private in Company B of the 8th Battalion of the North Carolina Junior Reserves, was captured soon after the war began, and was eventually sent to Point Lookout, Maryland.  He was released on June 24, 1865 after taking the Oath of Allegiance.  Point Lookout was known as the largest Union run prison camp having the reputation of being the worst and holding up to a total of 50,000 prisoners over the course of the war.  Now what are the chances that Eli Clay and Spencer Fulcher (two of my great grandfathers) could have met one another while there?  One might say slim, but I like to believe that it was possible.

David Lee Ross, my two times great grandfather on my father's side, lived in Patrick County, Virginia.  In June of 1861, men from Patrick County gathered together on his land for field artillery practice and to volunteer their services for the Confederate Army.  They chose David Lee as their captain and in July he enlisted to become part of the 51st Virginia Infantry.  The land where he held this so-called training camp still exits today with the house that he built.  A picture of the Patrick County Civil War Veterans taken in 1900 in Ballard, Virginia is part of the Civil War collection here at the Center and of which Captain D. Lee Ross is a part.

There are other members of my family who served not only in this war but also in other wars and in other military service throughout history.  Even though none of them may have been high ranking generals or a Commander in Chief, they helped to make this country what it is and, for that, I am very proud.  They may not have done great things, but the small things they helped to do were certainly great!

"The patriot volunteer, fighting for a country and its rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth."  Stonewall Jackson

Fran Snead










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