Around the turn of the 20th century, the rich and ailing flocked to the Battle Creek Sanitarium — also known as “The San” — for daily enemas and all sorts of therapies. Patients maintained a meatless diet, with no coffee or tea. Coffee was said to cause liver disease and diabetes, and tea, mental illness.
Dr. Kellogg, father to 40-some foster or adopted children, also thought sex — even with one’s spouse — was harmful and should be avoided.
As a happily married coffee addict who likes a good hamburger now and then, I don’t think I would have enjoyed “The San” one bit.
The book was pretty good, however, and I recommend it.
In his diary, Columbus Williamson Holbrook usually avoids serious topics.
Mostly, the young merchant from Mt. Vernon, Texas, writes about everyday things, among them women and food. He also writes about people he and the Mt. Vernon Grays encountered during their journey from the Piney Woods of east Texas to Springfield, Missouri, where they would join the Third Texas Cavalry in August of 1861.
For instance, on Aug. 4, Holbrook writes, “We saw six or eight indians this morning at a spring which were a great curiosity to some of the boys.”
Holbrook also mentions people who gave them corn for their horses or invited them to dinner. I’d like to find out who these people were — Mr. Dowdy, Mr. Frank Simms, Mr. Starr, Mr. Leebough, Mr. Wilks and others. One could spend a lifetime, I imagine, addressing every little thing mentioned in Holbrook’s diary.
At some point, however, War had to rear its ugly head. This is a Civil War diary, after all.
On Aug. 12, not too far from Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Mt. Vernon Grays stop for the night on the property of a Mr. Calahan. There, Holbrook writes, “we heard the good news of the battle and glorious victory of our army at Springfield.”
The battle he writes about is Wilson’s Creek, fought on Aug. 10, 1861. It was a Confederate victory. After arriving in Springfield on Aug. 14, Holbrook jots down his observations (paragraphs added, but otherwise as written):
Today being the fifteenth day since we left home we set out early for the camp which is five miles this side of Springfield a distance of forty miles for to days travel. We did not stop to get diner or feed our horses but rolled on through the dust that had been beat up as fine as flour by army ahead
we met crowds of people going to and fro who had been to the battle field anxiously enquiring about their friends. For thirty miles along the road to Springfield there is scarcely a hous that is occupied, their finery torn down and crops distroyed, stacks of grain eaten up, houses lef open, beds and furniture scattered over the floor, yard gates torn down, ruin and devastation has spread over the land. …
We got to the battlefield about three o’clock this evening. When we got there, we met with Lieu[tenant] Conly from Capt Bryants Company, who went with us over the battlefield and showed us where the principal engagements were.
The Lincolnites buried their dead for three days, but when we got there four days after the battle there were plenty of dead Dutch upon the field, which presented quite a gastly specticle to see poor human beings left dead upon the sod, uncared for but by the ugly fowls that eat their flesh. …
Next week — perhaps two weeks from now, depending on how the research goes — I’ll try to answer the question, “Who were the Mt. Vernon Grays?”
In addition to the diary, I’ve been studying Holbrook’s company roster, the census and other public records to try to determine who these nine young men were. It’s not the easiest question to answer, without benefit of a time machine, but I’ll do my best.
Brunswick Stew is a popular dish here in Virginia, where it originated in 1828.
Some Georgians would beg to differ, believing it was first made in the Peach State town of Brunswick, but even the New Georgia Encyclopedia concedes the hearty stew was first created in the Old Dominion by slave cook Jimmy Matthews.
The folks at the Taste of Brunswick Festival, site of the annual World Championship Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, say Matthews concocted the stew for his master, Dr. Creed Haskins, and Haskins’s hunting buddies.
The story goes like this: “While they were on the hunt … camp cook ‘Uncle Jimmy’ Matthews stirred together the impromptu mixture that has become known as Brunswick Stew. The original thick soup was made from squirrels, onions, and stale bread.”
According to the “Food Lover’s Companion,” a great book that includes the definitions of nearly all things food-related, today’s Brunswick Stew is “generally made with rabbit or chicken and includes a variety of vegetables, including okra, lima beans, tomatoes and corn.”
Some people also make Brunswick Stew with pulled pork or a combination of chicken and pork.
I like Brunswick Stew, at least I think I do. Let me explain.
Long before I ever tried to make Brunswick Stew, the most recent time being about a week ago, I had eaten Brunswick Stew on at least one occasion. I remember the chicken, the lima beans, the corn, the potatoes. And I liked it. I swear I liked it.
But both times I’ve tried to make it, it’s been awful. No quite absolutely inedible — that would have to be amazingly terrible — but just not good. Bland. Blah. Boring.
Both times, husband John and I ate the Brunswick Stew for one meal, because we felt it would be wasteful to do otherwise, and the rest ended up in the garbage disposal.
It was only a few days ago that I realized why this was happening: the recipe I’d been using includes no potatoes. It also has way, way too many pearl onions, but mostly I’m blaming the complete lack of potatoes.
I don’t know why this recipe doesn’t include potatoes. After all, potatoes are ingredient number five on a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s Delicious Brunswick Stew with Chicken, right between “chicken stock” and “chicken meat.” Mrs. Fearnow has been making Brunswick Stew since the 1930s, so she knows what she’s doing. I obviously don’t.
Perhaps my cookbook’s author doesn’t like potatoes. Perhaps it has something to do with it being a slow-cooker recipe that also involves tomatoes. I’m no chemist, but sometimes tomatoes can cause potatoes or beans to stay hard as a rock no matter how long you slow-cook them together. Perhaps it’s a typo.
Perhaps I was over thinking the whole thing and just needed to open up a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s and call it a day.
So, one night this week, I heated up a can of Mrs. Fearnow’s and baked up a pan of Jiffy cornbread. And it was infinitely better than my attempts at Brunswick Stew. John thought so, too.
Since then, I’ve found a few more recipes — ones that include potatoes. I might try again sometime soon.
As I transcribed the Civil War diary of Columbus Williamson Holbrook, a distant uncle-in-law of my husband, John, I noticed the timelessness of it. Although it was written 155 years ago, much of what Holbrook writes could have been written in 2016.
As Holbrook wrote in his first entry, he and the Mt. Vernon Grays left “fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters and numerous near and dear friends.” No wives are mentioned (although there might have been at least one, which I’ll address in a future post).
It’s safe to say these were young Texans, off on an adventure — as Holbrook put it, “to join the army of the Southern Confederacy.”
Perhaps it’s not surprising then, that much of what Holbrook wrote about concerned women and food. I’ve pulled a few sentences from the diary on these topics. Note: for the most part, I’ve left the entries as written, with spelling and punctuation errors.
August 1: …Before we got to Clarksville T.B. Turner and myself called by to see some female friends …
Aug 11: … passed over the boston mountains and on the top of the mountain we met three grand ladies going to church two of whom had their shoes in their hands walking barefoot over the rocks. I suppose they intended to put them on before they got to church …
Aug 18: … had the pleasure of seeing some of the Missouri girls to day and five of them attended church. They look good, but poorly compare with the ladies at home.
Aug 22: … had the excruciating pleasure of being placed on guard. I have now come to the conclusion that soldiers should be paid well, honored highly and get the prettiest women in the land for wives.
Sept 1: … We were visited this evening by ten or fifteen well grown Missouri girls.
Sept 9: … All were buisly engaged yesterday and till a late hour last night writing letters. No doubt there were many aerial flights and expressions of love pened to the fair bright eyed Ladies of Texas by the way-worn home-sick lovers of this regiment. If they were all collected and published they would furnish a volumn with as much variety and mirth as Maj Jones Courtship.
While transcribing Holbrook’s diary, there were lots of things I had to Google, among them, “Major Jones’s Courtship.” A popular novel of the day, it first published in 1843 and written by William Tappan Thompson.
It’s evident from this book reference and his writing in general — however bad the spelling and punctuation — that Holbrook was an educated man.
After reading this entry, I also had to find out what “tipped our beavers” meant:
Sept 18: … heard the soft notes of a piano up the street and after taking a little Missouri peach brandy a friend of mine and myself called at the young Ladies door, tip[p]ed our beavers and walked in. Had some fine music by the lady, who was a fifteen year old girl but very talkative. The excitement caused by the young Lady, the music or the brandy, I wont say which, had some effect on my legs and head and oiled the runing … of my tongue.
After (carefully, nervously) Googling the phrase, I discovered that hats in that time period were made of beaver fur, thus, the men tipped their hats upon meeting the young lady.
Sept 22: …We were visited in camp to day by several very nice Ladies they all seem anxious to bestow any favor on us that they can I record it to their praise that the Ladis Missouri seem more zelius in the cause of liberty than the men.
[Sept] 25: … I have been in town almost all day took diner at the Hotel with my friend [A.G.] Hargrove we sasshaed around town generally and called on Miss Muller and had some fine music, for Missouri.
Aug 5: … got a supply of Bacon and some fresh buiscuit. …
Aug 6: We left camp this morning very early traveled over some rough rocky road got a birds eye view of the Ozark Mountins … found some good watermelons the owner of which was patriotic enough to charge us fifteen cents a piece. The citizens in this portion of the county would have you believe they are very patriotic, but they love to charge too well to suit me. …
Aug 9: … We staid in town all night, took supper and breakfast with Mr. Trotter it being a good place …
Aug 13: This morning, we were so anxious to go on we left without our breakfast and traveled eight or ten miles and made some coffee to refresh us and on we went again. …
Aug 20: … When diner time came, we found we had no flower. We boiled some beef and made some rosting ear soup and digned bountifully on the same without bread. … At supper, fortunately we got a little corn meal and Irish potatoes accidentally.
Aug 23: … After breakfast, Capt [Jonathan] Russel myself and ten others went out in the county foraging. We got two waggen loads of old corn some fine apples and had the unusial pleasure of digning at the table of a true Secessionist. We had a good county diner and all eat heartily of the snaps & Bacon potatoes & fried corn stewed apples and apple pies and honey and other rare dainties. …
Aug 26: This day was Tuesday but nothing of note occured except that we did not have much to eat.
Aug 28: … fine to day plenty to eat such as it is corn bread beef and coffee is the only three articles we have in our pantry …
Sept 12: This is a very drizzly unpleasant day. I got back to camp this evening about four oclock, found nothing to eat at my mess looked around among the other messes and finally found some cold bread and molasses and made a hearty diner out of it. …
Sept 13: … Nothing occured to day worthy of note except the arival of a hoghead of sugar and two bbl [barrells] of whisky … We have not had the opportunity of sampling the whisky and dont know wheather we will or not.
Sept 14: … [George] Stringfellow and myself cooked we made a peach pie, washed up the tin pans, had some good buiscuit and some beef hash and coffee with sugar in it. Asked Capt Russel to dign with us. We had a sumptious repast. It is laughable sometimes to see the boys guarding over there rashings and dividing the forage. Some allwais sware that someone has more than he has.
Sept 22: …Our mess had a fine diner today had beans the first time I have had the pleasure of eating this favorible vegetable since I left home. …
Sept 24: … took diner with Dr. Bradford, by invitation who is a good Secessionist and is a very clever Gentleman. His good Lady prepared us the best diner we have had the good fortune to partake of since we have been in Missouri and gave us a pressing invitation to come back again.
Oct 2: … Orderly [Harry] Height came in from an excursion in the country to day and brought with him three or four chickens. The boys alwais say they buy them, but the supposition is they press them.
Perplexed by Holbrook’s use of the word “press,” I did a little Googling and discovered that the young men of the Third Texas Cavalry, Company H, probably stole the chickens. Again, the diary proves itself timeless. Boys will be boys.
Next week, we’ll shift gears to the more serious subject of war and its horrors, and what Holbrook had to say about that. Until then.
On a recent Sunday, armed with a copy of “Pittsylvania County: Homes and People of the Past,” a tank full of gas and snacks, my husband John and I set off to wander the back roads of Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in search of what I’ll loosely refer to as “ancestral homes.”
John’s ancestors (and mine, albeit briefly) lived in Pittsylvania County. Among his people were the Fitzgerald, Crews and Ramsey families, all of which are mentioned in “Homes and People.” The book was written by a Fitzgerald in 1974.
Therein lies a problem: since the book was written 42 years ago, some of the homes could be long gone. For example, the author describes the Fitzgerald-Brown House as “neglected … in its setting of mighty oaks, surrounded by a score of ancient dependencies.”
So, naturally, we headed off optimistically to find the Fitzgerald-Brown House.
The clapboard farm house, with what Fitzgerald describes as “diamond-shaped panes of glass” around the front entryway, was said to be located on Route 832, near the community of Shockoe. Luckily, Siri knew where Shockoe was, but once we got to Shockoe, we couldn’t find the house.
We drove up and down Route 832. We looked for the “mighty oaks” and outbuildings. We thought we found the house once, but we were wrong. The chimney was different and where were those darn diamond-shaped windows?
We never found the Fitzgerald-Brown House, but we did find Little Cherrystone. The narrow, three-story home is named for a nearby creek and appears to grow out of the landscape.
According to the book, Little Cherrystone was likely built before Pittsylvania County was founded in 1767 and is one of only four 18th-century brick houses in the county that “have survived the ravages of time.”
One of the others is Belle Grove, which was built in the 1790s but purchased by a Crews in 1875. Another ancestral home for John! Not fair. I want an ancestral home. Perhaps we’ll find out where my ancestors lived when we go to the courthouse.
During our Sunday drive, we also visited the cemetery where John’s great-great-grandfather, William Henry Ramsey, and his wife, Rebecca Mahan, are buried.
Among family, William Henry is known as “The Colonel.” He was a lieutenant colonel in the 57th Virginia during the Civil War, was wounded at Pickett’s Charge, and later surrendered his unit at Appomattox. We have a picture of him on our wall, in his gray uniform, holding a sword.
He looks a lot like my husband, eerily so.
The cemetery is located on a dirt road in the Museville area of Pittsylvania County. In it, there are a few Ramsey and Shelton headstones and dozens (hundreds?) of unmarked, periwinkle-covered depressions.
For those who might not know this, periwinkle has long been used as a ground cover at cemeteries and can be useful in locating unmarked graves.
I don’t know who is buried in those unmarked graves, but it’s possible they were slaves. According to the 1850 U.S. Census Slave Schedule, some Pittsylvania County Ramseys and Sheltons owned slaves. Perhaps that’s where they are buried.
Also buried there is Mary A. Ramsey. She was born Nov. 7, 1879 and died Oct. 12, 1887, just shy of her eighth birthday. During our visit, I took a photo of the tombstone and wondered aloud, “Who does she belong to?”
When I got home and looked at the photo, it was plain as day: Mary is the daughter of The Colonel and Rebecca. She’s my husband’s great aunt. When we go to the Pittsylvania County Courthouse, I’ll try to find out how she died.
At the bottom of Mary’s tombstone is a sweet poem:
A precious one from us has gone. A voice we loved is stilled. A place is vacant in our home. Which never can be filled. God in his wisdom has recalled. The boon his love has given. And tho’ the body moulders here, The soul is safe in Heaven.
On July 31, 1861, Columbus Williamson Holbrook — “C.W.” to family and friends — left the little town of Mt. Vernon, in the piney woods of east Texas, with a small group of young, local men. They called themselves the “Mt. Vernon Grays.”
The Grays were headed to Springfield, Missouri, almost 400 miles away. There, they would rendezvous with the Third Texas Cavalry, which was readying for battle at Wilson’s Creek. Holbrook, then a merchant in his mid-20s, would join Company H. So would his friend, George Stringfellow, a merchant from neighboring Hopkins County.
On the 31 day of July 1861 our Little company of nine left our lovely homes in the town of Mt. Vernon, Titus Co., Texas, tore ourselves from our Fathers, Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters and numerous near and dear friends to join the army of the Southern Confederacy.
In “The Third Texas Cavalry in the Civil War,” author Douglas Hale, professor emeritus of history at Oklahoma State University, writes, “In each case, the departure of the local company from its little hometown was attended by a huge assemblage of well-wishers: patriotic speeches, the formal presentation of a company ensign, and frequently a barbecue formed the program.”
From Holbrook’s description, the same might be said of Mt. Vernon:
We left Mt. Vernon at 10 oclock A.M. amid one of the most affecting senes I ever saw. We left as cheerfully as the circumstances would admit of, and to disipate the deep gloom that hung over us we laughed and talked all the evening, and a passer by would not observed anything gloomy in our company this evening. We marched about seventeen miles to day and camped near Trents crossing … at a very beautiful lake where we had a fine time. The band gave us music till midnight when we placed our blankets on the grass and tried to sleep, but there was not much sleep for us thinking of our weeping family that was left behind and the long twelve months before we could see them again.
Holbrook must have been well-liked in Mt. Vernon, a town that in 1861 had only about 200 residents. Before he rode out of town that morning, friends penned patriotic farewell letters in the diary.
One eloquent missive was written by Mollie Mann, a schoolteacher and a member of the town’s prominent Fanning family:
C.W. Holbrook: Life — it seems — is but a varied prospect of lights and shadows — and alas! — how often we find the latter predominate — that fair landscape which gay fancy so brightly wrought marred by the rude listings of sober reality. This great national calamity which has befallen our country has probably produced more anguish of heart than can easily be conceived. When we contemplate the once happy, prosperous and peaceful condition of our country, and the benign influence of the government which was a nation’s pride — realizing that its glory has departed and the present aspect of our country portending a fearful contest of millions of civilized men, what mind could be susceptible of any other emotion than that of deep and painful regret. We are called upon to relinquish our beloved friends — to prepare them for deadly conflict — embracing them perhaps for the last time, as they wave us a long, sad farewell — leaving us all the heart holds dear and hasten to the scene of carnage. But believing that we have Divine approval in the cause you espouse, we bid you go. And tho we are not unmindful of the hardships and perils of a soldier’s life — this is no time for frail hearts — this is a period for heroes, for hearts brave and true, and while you are the objects of our tenderest sympathies and most fervent prayers — remember that Liberty is the sweetest boon of life and dearer far — that we would rather weep over a soldier’s grave, than dwell under the oppressor’s sway. Then, go bravely go, and teach the cowards how to claim our rights and pervert our liberties, and may you happily survive the conflict. “Your honor calls you hence, then go and all the gods go with you, upon your sword sit laurel victory and smooth success be strewed before your feet.”
This farewell letter was written by another friend, E.G. Patton:
Mr. Holbrook! Goodbye, for a few days past we have been deeply interested in your contemplated departure and now as the last privilege of expiring friendship, I am requested to subscribe myself in your journal among the favored ones you cherish as friends. You go to participate in the unhappy crisis of the day — and tho’ you have our fondest wishes and our never ceasing rememberance, we will not cloud your departure with regrets. But bid you go — go join the brave valiant Sons of the South and nobly defend our rights. We bid you Heavenly smiles and a joyous return to your cherished home and much loved friends you now bid adieu.
After leaving Mt. Vernon, Holbrook wrote about how the Grays were received in towns they passed through on their way to Springfield:
Aug 1: … When we marched into town, we were cordially received by the good Citizens of the place, every one wanting to do us some favor. We were conducted out of town by Mr. Frank Simms whose kindness of himself and family [will] long be remembered by our little company. We had a very pressing invitation to attend a dansing party to night but declined.
Aug 6: … found some good watermelons, the owner of which was patriotic enough to charge fifteen cents a piece. The citizens in this portion of the count[r]y would have you believe they are very patriotic but they love to charge too well to suit me. We traveled sixteen miles in the fore noon today, got our din[n]er and fed our horses at Mr. McDanels spring, had some fine buiscuits baked, eat heartily and some of the boys took a snoose in the after noon. We traveled fifteen miles and camped out at Mr. Lanes when Georg Stringfellow was a little sick. Mr. Lane had two son in laws to the war. We saw their wives. They showed us their husbands daguerreotypes and said they were man enough to fight themselves.
Next week, we’ll see that Holbrook, a typical young man (even by today’s standards), spent a lot of time thinking about two things: food and women. Until then.
It’s only a few miles from my home, in the Rivermont historic district. The museum is owned by Randolph College, which was founded as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in 1891. My mother-in-law, Mary Wells Ramsey (then Ridley), went there in the 1960s.
“The Maier,” as it’s known around town, has an interesting history. It was built 1951, during the Cold War, as a safe repository for works from the National Gallery of Art, should they need to be evacuated from Washington, D.C.
The arrangement was called “Project Y” and continued officially until 2001. In return, the college (and those of us who live in Lynchburg) got a great little art museum.
The Maier specializes in American art of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Admission is free, which is pretty great, considering the quality of the art hanging inside. My favorite piece is “Through the Arroyo,” by E. Martin Hennings, which also has an interesting history at the Maier.
O’Keeffe’s “Yellow Cactus” is another of my favorites at the Maier. My sister, Theresa, gave me a paperweight with Yellow Cactus on it. I’ve also been to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, several times.
And, there’s a poster of O’Keeffe, sitting astride a motorcycle in 1944, on the wall of my office. Yes, I’m a fan — not only of O’Keeffe’s art but of the way she lived on her own terms. She also got to live in New Mexico, which makes me a little jealous.
In 1967, O’Keeffe visited Randolph-Macon Woman’s College to receive an honorary degree. At the same time, my mother-in-law was a senior art major, and her work was being exhibited in a student show at the Maier.
In this photo (right), Georgia O’Keeffe looks at my mother-in-law’s painting, as my mother-in-law looks on. I can only imagine what both were thinking at the time.
According to O’Keeffe’s bio on the Maier’s website, the famous artist spent some of her childhood in Chatham, Virginia, which is about an hour south of Lynchburg.
Soon, John and I will travel to Chatham’s Pittsylvania County Courthouse, where we’ll look for records pertaining to both of our families.
John’s dad’s family was in Pittsylvania County from the 1700s well into the 20th century, while my mother’s family migrated through the area from eastern Virginia in the late-1700/early-1800s, en route to Southeastern Kentucky.
I wonder if any of our kinfolk married each other. I’ll let you know if they did.