Confederate ancestor analysis #3 – Joseph Richards

Posted on September 2, 2009 by


Joseph Richards was born in 1833 (the third of seven children) to Aquilla and “Millie” Keyser Richards. Aquilla was of Welsh descent (the family having entered Pennsylvania in the late 1600s/early 1700s), while Millie was of German and English ancestry.

In the 1850 census, after the death of his father, Aquilla (ca. 1804-ca. 1849), Joseph, along with his mother (age 60 at the time) and siblings had moved into the home of a free black (Jake Hughes… also age 60) near what is now Blainesville in Page County; Blainesville being a significant community of free blacks (with the families of Hughes, Bundy, Berry, Marshall, etc.). Perhaps Millie found romance with Jake… perhaps Jake was a former slave, or… perhaps he was just a kind friend who took her and her children in under difficult circumstances following the death of her husband.

By 1860, however, Joseph’s mother had remarried and was again living in a white community. It also seems significant to note that the entire family, excepting the mother, was listed as mulatto in the 1850 census. This is likely a matter of sloppy census taking (not unusual in the early 19th century… but sadly, the census taker was another direct ancestor of mine! Take care in understanding however, that the census taker, William M. Dorraugh, had no connections with the Richards family and my connection to the two different families did not take place until two generations later), but I have to say that the thought (even for a little while) of adding a new and unique line of African heritage to my European dominated ancestry thrilled me.

When Joseph Richards enlisted (along with one of his younger brothers, Howard) with the Dixie Artillery in Luray on June 21, 1861, he was 28 years old. What seems important to note is that he was one of the men to enlist early. Was it because of a heartfelt belief in the Confederate cause? Perhaps, but we have to look at the complete picture. His enlistment ran for one year, and when the company was disbanded (10/4/62) and consolidated with the Purcell Artillery… though some men went to other units, including Mosby’s Rangers… (he, therefore, exceeded his one-year enlistment by almost four months or he left at the expiration of his service even before the Dixie Artillery saw its first action in the Seven Days battles… his service record mentioning nothing beyond the date of enlistment), he appears to have headed home. Under the conscription acts that followed, he was still among the age-eligible for service in the Confederate army. There is no indication of injury or illness during his course of service, so then, why didn’t he extend his enlistment and continue service with the Purcell Artillery, or enlist in another unit… especially if the Confederate cause meant so much to him… as a Virginian and a Southerner? Had he become disheartened with the cause or the government? He had been married in 1855 to Elizabeth A. Knight, who remained at home in Page County with four children (and a fifth on the way… Elizabeth being six-months pregnant at the time of Joseph’s discharge in October 1862). So, did reluctance because of family drive his interests in remaining out of the army? Sure, it’s possible. How then, did he remain out of service? Did he take a job as a government worker at one of the local tannery facilities in Page and, therefore, get his exemption by taking on such a job? That’s also a possibility, but there is no record of all of the men who took such measures… many who did so purposefully to stay out of the army.

I’d also like to point out that an uncle (Joseph’s mother’s brother), John M. Keyser, was an outspoken Southern Unionist. At one point, John was taken and placed on a barrel with a noose around his neck. The objective was to terrorize and intimidate. They didn’t hang him, but noting his outspoken Unionism may or may not be a factor in relation to Joseph Richards. I just find it worthwhile mentioning.

Moving on about Joseph’s role in the war… The last bit of information that I have on Joseph is that he, and his brother, Howard, may have been conscripted (or enlisted… it’s hard to determine) as late as 1865. The reason that I say “may have” is because, in the records of the 35th Battalion Virginia Cavalry (Elijah White’s “Comanches”), there is a “Joseph Richard” (less the trailing “s” on the surname) listed as a member of Co. D (though there is no other record, date of enlistment or otherwise) and a “Howard Richards” listed as a member of Co. A (who was paroled at Winchester on 5/10/1865… but that’s all his service record reveals).

In years after the war, Howard applied for a pension as a Confederate veteran, but Joseph did not. Howard died sometime after 1900, but Joseph died in 1916… so Joseph was alive and eligible to apply for a pension, had he felt so inclined (and his financial status, which was quite simple, qualified him to do so). Joseph’s obituary mentions nothing of his Confederate service…

Joseph Richards, aged 83 years, 2 months, and 5 days, formerly a well known citizen of Page County, died about 11 a. m. on Monday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. ? Miller of Prince William with whom he had made his home for some time. Mr. Richards was paralyzed about four months ago since which time he has gradually grown weaker, finally terminating in his death. Mr. Richards is survived by the following children: Mrs. Charles Miller of Prince William county, Mrs. Jordan Nichols, Mrs. Jacob Buracker, Mrs. Simon Printz, Mr. W. H. Jenkins, Mrs. William Woodward and William S. Richards all of this county. The remains were brought to ? Tuesday and taken to the home of his daughter, Mrs. W. H. Jenkins. The funeral services will be held at Mt. Zion on Wednesday, at 11 a. m, conducted by Elders G. W. Painter, Joseph Foster, and Walter Strickler.

Now, there might be something else in his association with the named Elders who performed Joseph Richard’s funeral service. I know Walter Strickler’s father, Elder David W. Strickler, expressed his sentiments regarding slavery and the Confederacy in so uncertain terms. I also believe that Painter is descended from a Southern Unionist.

Interestingly, someone (likely in the middle 20th century… and some 30-60 years after Howard’s death) ordered a Confederate headstone for Howard Richards. It rather reminds me of a similar headstone order made for W.J.I. Cave, that I mentioned quite a while ago in another post.

I should probably add here that Joseph’s wife, Elizabeth, was a sister to several Confederate soldiers. John Knight (born ca. 1830) was also a member of Co. K, 97th Virginia militia, but enlisted with the Dixie Artillery (like the Richards brothers, he also enlisted on 6/21/1861). John was wounded at Rappahannock Station on 8/23/1862, it apparently being significant enough that he did not return in any capacity to the Confederate army. He applied for and received a Confederate veteran pension in 1902. Then there is Joel Knight, Co. H, 33rd Va. Inf. (Stonewall Brigade), who went AWOL several times; was eventually captured (after deserting on 3/8/62) by the Union army and died in POW camp at Pt. Lookout, Md. of Dropsy. (Grave #1746.). In 1913, at least three veterans of the company verified that Joel had deserted. One stated that he deserted while at Smithfield, while another claimed that Joel “deserted to the mountains.” Lastly, there was Ambrose Knight (Co. F & K, 97th), William Henry may also be the same as Henry Knight who was in Co. K, 97th. I’ve mentioned the questionable nature of service of men in Virginia’s militia, so I won’t bother to bring it up again.

So, I can’t say with any degree of certainty that Joseph Richards was “gung-ho” for the Confederacy. He may have felt something at the beginning, but, for whatever reason, any enthusiasm that may have existed appears to have waned in the first year of service, and vanished (in family memory and documentation) in years of the war. Still, I have to wonder about that time in which they lived in the household of the free black, Jake Hughes. I wonder how that experience, or maybe something Hughes said about fellow blacks in bondage, impacted their wartime thoughts (if it all had any influence at all) in the service of the Confederacy.

*This is part of a series in which I will be analyzing the service of my Confederate ancestors. For the analysis prior to this one, see Confederate ancestor analysis #2 – Henry K. Emerson.

Of all of my direct ancestors (lineal alone), I had four (4) great-great grandfathers who served in the Confederate army (Henry K. Emerson, Siram W. Offenbacker, James Harvey Mayes, and Charles Robert Hilliard). I also have three (3) … possibly four (4) third great grandfathers who served in gray… Garnett Nicholson, Absalom Franklin Nauman, Joseph Richards, and maybe… William Davison. All were from Virginia except Davison, who was from Kentucky. All of their stories worked together are important for the fact that they help illustrate the diversity of sentiment (and not Confederate alone) in the South.