An appeal for assistance – the grave of Churchill Jones Crittenden

Posted on October 12, 2010 by


Among other things, this month also marks 146 years since the execution of two Maryland Confederate troopers in my home county.

A rare request from me, but I think a worthy effort…

Crittenden headstone. Photo by Jeffrey Burden.

One of the headstones needing attention in Shockoe Hill Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, is that of Churchill Jones Crittenden. Even though a replacement headstone can be ordered for this fellow, there is a payment that must be made to the cemetery to set any headstones… and frankly, I can appreciate that for the incredible history that lives within this cemetery. The amount required is $250. If there are any folks out there who might be interested in assisting in raising this modest amount, I would appreciate hearing from you. I’ll pass along information as to where contributions may be sent.

Churchill Jones Crittenden was born May 17, 1840, a son of Alexander Parker Crittenden, and a grandson of Judge Thomas Turpin Crittenden (1788-1832)… not to mention a nephew of Gen. Thomas Turpin Crittenden and grand-nephew of John Jordan Crittenden, of Crittenden Compromise fame. Churchill’s mother, Clara Churchill Jones (1820-1881), was born in Providence, Rhode Island, the daughter of Rev. Alexander and Ann Northy Churchill Jones.

In 1851, the Crittenden family moved from Texas to California. From 1858 to 1860, Churchill attended Hobart College in Madison, Indiana. When the Civil War began, Churchill contacted his father in San Francisco to ask for permission to enlist in the Confederate Army. By June 1862, he was serving as a volunteer aide-de-camp on the staff of Gen. John J. Archer. On August 4, 1862, he enlisted in Co. C, 1st Maryland Cavalry, CSA.

In October, 1864, he and Pvt. James J. Hartigan were engaged in foraging in Page County, Virginia when the two encountered a force of Union cavalry. The following account from W.W. Goldsborough’s The Maryland Line in the Confederate Army (p. 215) provides more details:

The battalion was lying then in Page County, and as the country between the two armies had not been foraged so closely of its supplies, because of its being a middle ground, those two young men, so detailed, sought the required rations between the two lines. Whilst getting their supplies at a farm-house a large scouting party of the enemy came suddenly upon them. They attempted to escape, and a running fight ensued, which resulted in the death of two or three of the enemy and the wounding of Crittenden severely, and the capture of both himself and Hartigan.

A postwar account (I think I saw this in a Crittenden family newsletter) states that Churchill emptied every load in his pistol and wounded “a Yankee lieutenant very severely” before being captured. Crittenden was also wounded in the fray.

The two were taken about two or three miles to Forge Hill, just on the outskirts of the town of Luray. Philip M. Kauffman (interesting fellow… I’ll need to tell the account of his capture sometime), a local… and a Confederate soldier who happened to be at home and captured in the days of Federal occupation, later recalled events following his captured (from his house), and the events leading-up to details about the Crittenden-Hartigan incident,

Kauffman in later years, at a local reunion of Confederate veterans, in the 1920s.

The officer in charge [probably Col. William H. Powell] ordered the prisoners lined up before his tent, and after questioning each man as to the branch of service he belonged, and the reason he was not with “the army,” etc., stated that he had heard that some of his men had been killed in the vicinity [very likely a reference to three Union troopers killed on the Hershberger farm, near Willow Grove Mill, north of Luray], and if it was true, he would have five of us shot for every one of his that were killed! [Powell had issued orders declaring that for every Union soldier shot by bushwhackers, he would hang or shoot two Confederate soldiers held by him as prisoners]. We were then put in a pen built of fence rails, and well guarded. About 9 o’clock p.m., two more were added to our number. One of them confided to us that he and his comrade had ‘fixed’ two of them before they were taken. We inferred from this that they were responsible for killing of the men referred to by the officer. The one that was talkative was a Marylander [John J. Hartigan]; the other was a Californian [Churchill Crittenden], and had nothing to say. They spent what proved to be their last night on earth with us in that rail pen. Just at sunrise the next morning a file of soldiers called for the two men who came in the night before. The last we saw of these unfortunate men was as they passed over the hill in the direction of Pass Run, the Marylander walking briskly all time, talking to the guard, the Californian lagging back. These men belonged to the famous ‘Maryland Line,’ but were treated as bushwhackers when caught in the act of shooting Yankees ‘on their own hook.’ They were shot and buried there, but their bodies were afterwards taken up and removed to some cemetery.

[my emphasis shown in red above, while interjected commentary shown in blue]

Goldsborough’s account adds that the two were denied “the poor privilege of writing to their friends, though Hartigan, particularly, who had a young wife, earnestly entreated with his last breath to be allowed to send her a message.”

Crittenden wrote this brief note to his uncle, George W. Jones, on October 4, 1864, informing him of his wounding and capture; possibly the last note he was permitted to send (University of Washington).

While not providing a name for his source of information, Goldsborough does explain…

These facts were carefully traced out, and verified by the statement of the citizen at whose house the two young men were first attacked, and near which they fought and were captured; by the statement of the citizen, some two miles to the rear, near whose house they were buried, not by the men who killed them, but by the pitying farmer, and by the evidence rendered by the opened graves of the poor men.

Interestingly, the description of events in a Crittenden family newsletter is a bit different… and I’d really like to know what the source (if there is one… I’m thinking “memory” vice sourced) of the information may have been… meaning the person who provided the exact account from that time:

Church Crittenden. The University Libraries, University of Washington, has this photo in their collection.

At noon Crittenden and Hartigan were set before a firing party of twenty-five and told to run for their lives. Hartigan ran and fell, pierced by many bullets. Crittenden stood with folded arms, facing his executioners. Again the order to fire was given, but not a trigger was pulled. The Union officer in command then addressed his men saying he would repeat the order once more; they were soldiers and must obey, and should any man fail to respect the command, he should suffer the penalty of death himself for disobedience.” During the episode, Crittenden seated himself on a rock, calmly looking at the squad and awaiting his end. Then he rose. ‘Ready! Aim! Fire!’ rang out the third command. A line of leveled rifles greeted him as he rose and faced them. Down dropped twenty-four silent rifles, their owners unwilling to harm the quiet man before them. One alone of the twenty-five pressed a trigger. A single flash, a little smoke, a sharp report, and Churchill Crittenden’s life blood flowed for the cause he loved.”

Goldsborough closed with the following…

Henceforward Colonel Powell’s name was familiar to the ears and memories of the men of the First Maryland Cavalry, and many were the vows there uttered over the dead bodies of their comrades to avenge their death – and they were avenged, though Powell escaped.

According to a Crittenden family historian, Union Lt. Col. Lawrence Kip (serving then as a captain on the staff of Gen. Phil Sheridan) heard of the “tragic death of his boyhood friend, visited the spot and caused notice to be telegraphed Churchill’s father. Relatives secured the body and sent it to Richmond, where it now lies in Shockoe Hill Cemetery.” Cemetery records list the plot owner as “John G. Williams for Frances Johnson.” Oddly, he’s buried perpendicular to the way the remains are normally interred there.

See this link, from the University Libraries, University of Washington, for letters relating to Churchill Crittenden.

Historical sketch by Robert H. Moore, II (aka “Cenantua”)