Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Death of a Confederate Washington

John Augustine Washington III

John Augustine Washington III (1821-1861), was the last private owner of the Mount Vernon Estate.  The estate passed to John Augustine in this way:  George Washington willed the estate to his nephew Bushrod Washington.  The childless Bushrod, in turn, willed the estate to his nephew John Augustine II, the father of John Augustine III.  John Augustine II died in 1832, when John Augustine III was eleven years old.  The widowed Jane Charlotte then took possession of the property.
John Augustine III graduated from the University of Virginia in 1840, and proposed to manage Mount Vernon for his mother.  Jane Charlotte contracted his services for a period of seven years, at an annual salary of $500 (about $14,500 today).
In the forty some years since the death of George Washington, Mount Vernon had deteriorated sadly.  Soil degradation, bad weather, and poor harvests all contributed to the downward economic spiral.  John Augustine brought in money selling and renting out slaves, by land rents, by selling wood, and by running a fishing operation on the Potomac.  Farming still brought in some revenue.
By the 1850s, Mount Vernon had become a tourist Mecca.  Thousands of people descended on the Estate annually to gawk and ask questions.  John Augustine recognized the profit potential of historical tourism, and contracted with the steamboat Thomas Collyer to bring people to the estate.  Slaves sold bouquets of flowers, fruit, milk, and hand-carved canes to tourists. 
By the late-1850s, John Augustine, now the owner of Mount Vernon after the death of his mother, was ready to sell the property and manage other more lucrative family plantations.  He set about trying to find buyers, approaching both the state of Virginia and the federal government.  There was no relief to be found from either.  Finally, in 1858, John Augustine accepted the offer of a new organization, styling itself the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA), to buy two hundred acres of the Mount Vernon Estate, including the mansion, outbuildings and the family tomb for the sum of $200,000 (about $5.5 million today).
John Augustine and his family left Mount Vernon in February 1860, moving to Waveland plantation in Fauquier County, Virginia.  John Augustine’s wife, Eleanor, died in childbirth that same year.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, John Augustine joined the Confederate Army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.  He served as aide-de-camp to General Robert E. Lee during the early days of the war. 
During Lee’s campaign in the mountains of western Virginia, in September 1861, Lee ordered Col. Washington to make a reconnaissance near Cheat Mountain (in what is today West Virginia).  The zealous Washington advanced deep into enemy occupied territory with his detachment.  When the detachment made to return to friendly lines, enemy pickets opened fire.  Col. Washington fell from his horse, as the rest of the detachment scattered. 
The wounded Confederate officer was surrounded by Union troops.  Col. J.H. Morrow, of the third regiment of Ohio volunteers knelt next to the stricken man and “…raised him so as to enable him to recline against his breast, and directed one of his men, standing near, and who wore a felt hat, to run and fill it with water from the stream.”  Col. Morrow bathed the wounded man’s forehead and endeavored to press water between his lips from a saturated handkerchief; but he could not swallow as blood was flowing from his mouth and nose, and a few moments later he was dead.  The dead officer wore a valuable ring, a pin in his shirt bosom, and a gold watch and chain.  These Col. Morrow removed, and also took possession of his sword and pistols, and ordered a new ambulance, under his control, to be brought at once from camp, in which he had the body placed and taken to his headquarters, nearby.
Not long after, Gen. William L. Loring, bearing a flag, and accompanied by a two-horse wagon, arrived from Gen. Lee’s camp in order to obtain possession of and remove the body.  It was then that Col. Morrow learned the name of the officer who had fallen….
General Loring desired to transfer the body from the ambulance to the wagon, but Col. Morrow kindly insisted upon his taking the ambulance.  General Loring’s driver sprang upon the box, taking the reins, with Col. Morrow sitting beside him, and in this manner, the body was taken to General Lee’s headquarters.
The watch and chain, with ring and pin, were turned over to Gen. Loring, and later the sword and pistols were turned over to Gen. J. J. Reynolds…who at that time was serving in the command of Union General George B. McClellan.
From an account written by Thornton Washington for the Washington Examiner, printed in the Spirit of Jefferson (Charles Town, West Virginia) on March 5, 1889.
John Augustine Washington died on September 13, 1861.  He is buried at Zion Episcopal Churchyard in Charlestown, West Virginia.

A distant relative to John Augustine, through the Lees, and a childhood friend, Gen. Lee was hit hard by one of the first personal losses he would experience in the War.  Lee penned the following letter to the eldest of John Augustine’s children, Louisa, aged seven.

Camp on Valley River
Sept. 16, 1861

My dear Miss Louisa,

With a heart filled with grief, I have to communicate the saddest tidings you have ever heard.

May ‘Our Father, Who is in Heaven’ enable you to hear it, for in his Inscrutable Providence, abounding in mercy and omnipotent in person, he has made you fatherless on earth.

Your dear father, in reconnoitering the enemy’s position yesterday, came within range of the fire of his pickets and was instantly killed. He fell in the cause to which he had devoted all his energies, and in which his noble heart was enlisted. My intimate association with him for some months had more fully disclosed to me his great worth than double as many years of ordinary intercourse would have been sufficient to reveal. We had shared the same tent in morning and evening as his earnest devotion to Almighty God elicited my grateful admiration. He is now happy in Heaven. I trust with her he so loved on earth. We ought not to wish them back.

May God, in His mercy, my dear child, sustain you, your sisters and brothers under this heavy affliction. My own grief is so great I will not afflict you further with it.

Faithfully your friend
R. E. Lee

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

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