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Ex-Governor Letcher's home. His daughter tells how it was burned during the war. [from the Baltimore (Md.) sun, July 11, 1890.]

How General Hunter executed to the letter General Grant's memorable Order—Valuable Library and family Relics destroyed.

Mrs. Margaret Letcher Showell, daughter of ex-Governor Letcher, of Virginia, and wife of Mr. Robert J. Showell, a member of the Maryland Legislature, writes from her home in Berlin, Worcester [394] county, Maryland, describing the burning of her father's home near Lexington, Virginia, in June, 1864, by General Hunter, upon the order of General Grant. Mrs. Showell says:

Lexington had been shelled for three days by the advance guard of the battery, and terrific destruction marked the bursting shells and death dealing missiles, and though my father's house was a special aim of the cannon, it marvelously escaped being struck, but every building in the vicinity suffered for its supposed crime.

Ex-Governor Letcher had been warned by an ante-bellum friend, a member of Hunter's brigade, to make his escape. A large reward had been offered for his capture, and dreadful threats had been made against him in consequence of his late position as chief officer of the Commonwealth. On the morning of June 12, 1864, before the family had arisen, a posse of soldiers, with one commissioned officer, rang the door-bell, and, with no other warning of any kind, delivered a verbal order from General Hunter, in General Grant's name, for the destruction of the place and without the removal of a single article, not even a change of clothing for its inmates. The order was to be executed in ten minutes. Even that small respite was not allowed, as the work of firing began at once, before the inmates could dress and leave the building. The only articles which had been removed were a portrait of my father and a bust of him, which it had been feared would be treated with indignity. These were cared for and restored afterwards by faithful colored friends.

The silver was buried in the garden, as was a general custom at the time, it being property invariably seized by the soldiers. But the garden and grounds were bayonetted by the men and the silver was taken, although several valuable pieces were restored by the courtesy of officers.

Inflammable fluid was poured over the carpets and fired while the house was filled with blue coats ransacking and appropriating all that they could conveniently carry off. My father's personal belongings were afterwards put up in camp to the highest bidder. His Odd-Fellows' regalia, the gift of the lodges of the State, was used for the ornament of a horse, which was led through the streets. A silk dress belonging to my sister served for a flag on the point of a bayonet, and many other jests of like character were perpetrated. Among the serious losses were my father's fine private and law libraries, with valuable marginal annotations; albums, containing the autographs of prominent men for a quarter of a century and longer; a portrait, considered the best one of General Sam Houston, [395] and many objects of value and curiosity collected during an eventful and successful life; rare and prized presents from public and private admirers, family pictures and objects which embody family history.

One loss of general interest was a crucifix which had belonged to one of the early Popes, a rare curio, and of great intrinsic value also, because of the jewels, a large ruby, especially, which represented a drop of blood on the Saviour's side. Not a single article was allowed to be removed by the family, nor were the servants permitted to save their personal belongings. Not even the “black mamma” was shown any favors. She, like all of those faithful, valued institutions of the South, had quite a collection of gifts and accoutrements, each with its individual history.

A short time after the surrender, when peace had been declared, the house in which my father and family had found temporary refuge, through the kindness of friends, was one night surrounded by armed soldiers, and his surrender was demanded by a written order, signed by General Grant. Without even a private farewell of wife and children, and not entirely dressed, he was taken away, it might have been to his death, for any information vouchsafed him or his family. A time of harrowing suspense followed, when my mother accidentally heard that my father was in solitary confinement in the old Capitol prison at Washington. There his shoes and top clothing had been taken from him, lest he should attempt escape. His public and private papers were confiscated, and never returned to him, and they now form a part of “The record of the Rebellion.” His tobacco was burned and his property of all kinds confiscated. Valuable Washington city property was sold for taxes accruing during the war at a sacrifice. To give a deed for the same, he was offered and compelled to accept, by reason of his necessity, a small part of its value. After long imprisonment he was released, without a trial, nor any definite charge preferred against him.

His health, broken by confinement and with the further unlawful restriction upon his liberty, he was told that he should not leave Lexington without a written permission from the President, even in the discharge of the duties of his legal profession, on separate applications. Although repeatedly offered lucrative law cases in other counties and States, and although application was made as directed, the permit in every case was so delayed by red-tape investigation and formality that the proper time elapsed, and the consent rendered was useless. [396]

But to-day the war is over except in song and story, in which it is fought over by the firesides all over the South. The queer makeshifts of our mothers and grandmothers in those sad days only furnish us food for wonder and amusement now. “Memorial day” calls forth praise and panegyric, and the soldiers' graves studding the land all over give reality to the marvelous tale. A generation of eye-witnesses still lives, and many a heart now beating bears its record graven on it; its losses are losses yet to many a life among us. But peace and sympathy and kind feeling reign to-day. The rancor and vindictiveness of a quarter of a century ago are now unknown and forgotten. We erect statues to our beloved heroes, and the North joins its voice right heartily in our songs of praise. The South swells the funeral processions of their great men with feeling hearts, and so “the dead past buries its dead.”

In another part of her letter Mrs. Showell says:

When the division of the Union Army under General Hunter passed through the Valley of Virginia it left a record like the proverbial new broom. All the horrors of warfare were repeated, and heaps of ashes marked its progress. The “cloud of smoke and pillar of fire” which went before the Israelites, indicating the favor of God, followed behind Hunter's division, typifying the vengeance of man and the unbridled animosity of war. The reminiscences of the generation now passing are replete with hair-stirring horrors, romantic and thrilling incidents, wonders of heroism and endurance most strange. There was an exodus from home of the male population, embracing almost all of the “seven ages of man,” “robbing the cradle and the grave,” as it was pithily termed, to make up the ranks that stood between the invading foe and home and family.

There was the wail of lovely women who mourned their dead—for of the many who went forth few returned, even for a grave, and the quickly decimated ranks killed hope in mothers' and wives' and sisters' hearts. The Valley of Virginia has deep scars to remember. It was the battle-ground of the war. Every home was a hospital. It gave all the fruits of its fertile soil and the offspring of its far-famed stock for the support of two armies, and its most venerated inheritance to satisfy the vengeance and ruthless destruction of the one. Down the Valley came Hunter's army, and woe and loss and pitiful despair followed everywhere in his wake! In stern adherence to war principles he spared not even his own brothers and kindred's possessions. Up the Valley went his victorious army, with a torch [397] in one hand and a sword in the other. All that could not be used or carried off was remorselessly destroyed. At the far-famed old town of Lexington their work of destruction was irreparable. The college that owed its name and founding to George Washington was racked and desecrated, its valuable old libraries and scientific apparatus all destroyed. The Virginia Military Institute, the West Point of the South, its picturesque buildings, splendid libraries, pictures, curiosities, and scientific apparatus, all made a magnificent bonfire to celebrate the Northerners' triumph.

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