Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 1861 (Wednesday): Affair at Pop Castle

Pop Castle, White Stone, Lancaster County, Va.

                                                                        URBANNA, VA., June 26, 1861
   MY DEAR SIR:  I have just received a note, by special messenger from C W. Montague, esq., requesting me to furnish to you an accurate account of all the doings of the enemy on the Rappahannock, on Monday evening last.  I have taken much pains to gather, from persons who have visited the scene of action and conversed with those who were engaged in it, the following particulars, which you may regard as reliable.
    About 4 p.m. on Monday, the 24th, a war steamer (the Star of New York), of one thousand tons burden (the Monticello), came to opposite the house of Mr. James W. Gresham, of Lancaster, situated immediately on the river, about twelve miles below Urbanna, on the Lancaster side.  She dispatched to the shore three barges, one a very large one, with a swivel in the bow, and two smaller ones, all filled with armed troops.  The large barge grounded on the flats.  The other two came ashore with a number of armed men, variously estimated at between thirty and sixty.  After reaching the shore some six or eight proceeded up to Mr. Gresham’s house.  One of the party accosted Mr. Gresham, and introduced another of the party.  The first named, it seems, was the pilot, who was a captain of a wood vessel, and acquainted with Gresham.  He inquired if he had any chickens of lambs for sale.  Mr. Gresham replied that “He had a plenty, but a d-----d one for that party.”  He then took the pilot aside and told him they had better be getting away, as there were troops in the neighborhood and that he did not wish his premises to be the scene of a battle, as his mother was very ill in the house.  While they were talking a small company of Lancaster troops, about thirty in number, were seen coming down the road in double-quick time.  The alarm was given, and the enemy fled precipitately to their boats, our men firing into them as they shoved off.  In their flight they left one of the barges, the men, in great confusion, crowded into the other, and others wading out to the large barge on the flats.  In their flight they left, besides the barge, two breech-loading rifles, a revolver, and several swords, with coats, hats, and shoes, thrown away in their hasty retreat.  It is confidently asserted that four of the enemy were killed in the boat.  Nobody hurt on our side.  As soon as our men fired on the enemy the ship opened her guns on Mr. Gresham’s house.  She fired fifty-three shot and shell, seventeen of which took effect, damaging the house to the amount of at least $1,000.  As in all of our engagements, the preservation of life was most remarkable.  One of the balls struck the bed on which Mrs. Gresham was lying ill.  She was then removed to an outhouse, and a bomb-shell came in and exploded in the room without injury to any one.
    I have given you, in a very hurried manner, these particulars, which I gather from most reliable sources of information.  You will unite with us in contemptuous indignation at the cowardly conduct of these dastardly scoundrels, who, refusing to meet half their number face to face, at a safe distance, in their ship, destroy the property of our citizens.
    I hope to be able to visit your camp soon and renew the acquaintance I had the pleasure of having with you last winter.
     Hastily and truly, yours,
                                                                                    JOS. CHRISTIAN
Col. Charles A. Crump, Gloucester Point, Va.

This is one of those occasions when we regret not having a corresponding report of the battle from the other side.  This account of the home guard’s repulse of a Union reconnaissance party has to stand on its merits.  The ship referenced here “The Monticello” is the same as the “Star of New York”, with the reference being to its former name.  The house around which the battle was fought survives and  is known as “Pop Castle” and was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. 

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