Luray’s witness tree

Posted on June 3, 2011 by

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Since we’re in mourning for the Jackson Prayer Oak (see here, and here… and yes, I’m a tree hugger of sorts… especially when it comes to witness trees), I figured it was a perfect time to talk about another witness tree, but further down the Valley, in Page County. While this tree didn’t witness any great battles, or experience a Jackson prayer meeting, it did bear witness to a good number of events during the Civil War.

A sapling in the 1750s, Luray's Chinquapin Oak bore witness to a good number of important events in Page County, as it stands not far from the county court house. Photo taken in March, 2011.

I could name all of the Civil War personalities, blue and gray, Confederate and Unionist, who likely passed within feet of the tree, but, really, it’s one event that stands out most, having taken place 150 years ago yesterday.

Page County Court House

In the weeks leading up to that June day, secession and the new Confederacy may not have been well-received by all in the county, but the reception was significant enough for men to begin forming in companies soon after the Virginia Convention had passed the ordinance. Beginning in the middle of May, one of the four companies, commanded initially by Captain William Townsend Young, made use of the county court house as a barracks. Between drills, the men likely enjoyed life immensely, as family members converged on the site daily, laden with an assortment of supplies and foods, “which were served on a long table spread in the Court House yard.”

After mustering-in on June 1, the company bedded down for the last time in and around the court house. Of the day that followed, Lt. (later captain) David “Davy” C. Grayson later wrote:

On that beautiful summer morning, when all nature was arrayed in her most beautiful garb… At the early dawn of day the reveille was sounded from the Court House by our drummer, Joseph Bell, as it had been suggested to this Captain that they had better march off early before the parents and relatives could get in from the country, and thus avoid the scenes of sad partings, but this was circumvented, as no sooner had the early morning dawned than the people began coming from all directions and soon the street was crowded with the fathers and mothers and sweethearts of the young soldiers with heavy hearts and tears streaming down their cheeks…

The company… marched to Chapman’s Dam, and there under the shade of the willow trees all knelt in prayer while Rev. Rippetoe [a Methodist minister, and as of June 2, captain of another Page County company of infantry, the Page Grays] offered a solemn invocation to the Lord of hosts after which all took carriages which wer provided by citizens to take them to Winchester. From there they took the cars to Bolivar Heights.

Sometime after assembling with many other companies at Harper’s Ferry, Capt. Young’s unit was designated as Co. K, 10th Virginia Infantry.

While I regret not making it to the Chinquapin yesterday, to see the sun come up on that 150th anniversary, I can still imagine what it may have looked like from near the old tree, as families embraced for the last time, and those starry-eyed men and boys passed out of sight. Still, no matter the day, whenever I visit the old tree, in the flood of local history that comes to mind when seeing it, it’s hard not to think of the Chinquapin in its first role in the war, as the only remaining, living witness, to the beginning of an end to the innocence. It would be just over a month before Young’s company, along with that of Rippetoe’s, would see action for the first time, at Manassas. Additionally, of the approximately 100 men who marched off from that spot between the court house and the old tree, only 42 would return to Page County; the rest, as Grayson later recalled, finding resting spots in scattered graves “from Richmond to Gettysburg.”

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