Thursday, July 21, 2011

Civilians and the First Battle of Manassas, July 21, 1861

On July 16, the great Union army, marched out of Washington City to meet the Confederates at Manassas Junction. On July 21, 1861, the two great armies grappled. By evening the lives of the people of Manassas had changed forever.


Judith Carter was born at Pittsylvania in 1777 in the midst of the Revolutionary War. She was the daughter of Landon Carter, who inherited the plantation in direct descent from Robert “King” Carter, who from 1702-1732 managed to patent some 300,000 acres in Northern Virginia for himself and his children.

In 1801 Judith Carter married Dr. Isaac Henry, one of the first surgeons in the United States Navy. Dr. Henry established himself and his family on 333 acres purchased from the Pittsylvania estate. He called this estate “Spring Hill.” The doctor died in 1829 but the family continued living at Spring Hill.

On July 21, 1861 the eighty four year old, invalid Judith Henry lay in her bed, as the battle began around Pittsylvania, her childhood home. Shells from Union artillery began to fall around the widow’s house. Mrs. Henry’s two sons, shocked to find Union troops on their doorstep, decided something must be done to move their mother to safety. Mrs. Henry was unwilling to leave, but after several shells struck the house, the terrified woman gave in.

The two sons placed the old woman on a mattress and carried her out of the house, intending to carry her to the Reverend Compton’s house, which was about a mile away. The small party was quickly caught in the open, between two opposing armies engaged in a furious battle. Terrified and hysterical, the old woman begged piteously to be taken back to her own home. The three Henrys returned to the house, and Mrs. Henry was returned to her bed. She was only there a short time before a shell burst in the room where she lay. She was struck by five shell fragments and lived for several agonizing hours, dying about nightfall. Rosa Stokes, a young slave who had been caring for the old lady was wounded by the same shell that killed Mrs. Henry.

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