For me, diving into the Southern Claims Commission applications is about like a 5 year-old digging through a Cracker Jack box for the toy. You never know what you might get… sometimes something really cool, other times you end up a little disappointed.
O.K., O.K…. I’m on the level about the thrill, but regarding the random thing… that isn’t entirely true. I do spend some time looking to see if the items in the claim were taken at a particular time. In this case, I found a claim with unspecific dates, but a statement that the loss of items began upon the arrival of Burnside’s troops, “in the fall of 1862″. Seemed a good starting point, not to mention… the application was submitted on December 13, 1878… the sixteenth anniversary of the battle.
So, I started sifting through it, and, well…the claim was rather light in content relevant to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Items taken included 100 cords of fence rails, 80 acres of timber, and a horse, but all of those losses combined fell between November, 1862 – April, 1863. Incidentally, they didn’t get what they asked for, but they did get
$1,000 $571.43 for the loss. Otherwise, following the battle, the family saw the care of two wounded Union officers.
But, before I get too far… maybe a quick profile about the claimant family is in order…
The top name on this claim was that of Virginia “Jennie” Willoughby (born 1844), followed by younger siblings, Marion W. Montieth [Monteith]*, Fenton W. Montieth, and Lucy Montieth… all children of Thomas and Ann Montieth. The family was formerly of King George County, but about 4 years after the death of the father, and within months of the death of the grandfather (Samuel Owens Montieth, in early 1862), the family inherited and moved to a 114 acre farm in neighboring Stafford County, at White Oak.
A brother, Amos, described the farm:
My mother [July 1862?] and brother soon after died, leaving me and my younger sisters. Before we moved to the place we had a large amount of fencing done on it and it was all enclosed with a wood rail fence and had our cross fence passing through it.
Though he provided testimony in support of the claim, as we can see, Amos wasn’t among the names of the siblings on the application… and for good reason. In March 1862, “rather than remain in the militia,” Amos enlisted with the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Jennie added to in her testimony that he volunteered in order “to keep from going in the infantry he joined the cavalry.” His service record shows that he was present through 1864.
So, back to the time-frame of the battle, and those Union officers…
We took care of wounded officers at our house after the battle of Fredericksburg. A captain Stevens and Lieut. Wright both of the 5th Maine Regt. were a month at our house were wounded and we took care of them the best we could. We cooked for other officers also. We cooked and baked for privates too and did many favors.
In fact, at about the same time, Union troops filled the acreage of the farm as they prepared for winter. Jennie continued:
The troops belonged to the 6th Corps I believe there were several N.Y. Regiments close by our house. The 16th, 27th and 121st N.Y., the 5th Maine, two New Jersey Regiments [probably two of the six regiments from Col. A.T. A. Torbert’s Brigade] and others were camped in our woods in the winter of 1862-3 and used the rails and cut and used the timber from day to day until the whole was gone. Our house was standing in the midst of the timber and I could see it going from day to day. It was used for building huts and for fire wood mostly. I was the oldest of the family of the children who were at home.
Naturally, as part of her effort to secure reimbursement, Jennie elaborated:
I was living on the place and saw all the property taken, or rather I saw the troops using it from day to day until it was all gone but one tree which was spared at my request as I was afraid it would fall on the house.
I did complain of the taking of our fodder, and spring wagon, and our fowls and gees and hogs, and cow and such things which we had raised or rented…
I did not get any receipts I was too childish to think of such things. Lieut. Wright told me I ought to get receipts but I did not know as they would be of any use. I have never been paid for anything.
Despite watching the resources of the farm depleted, day-by-day, Jennie did end up in a relationship with an enlisted soldier, and on April 28, 1863, she married Pvt. Thomas Willoughby, of Co. G, 27th New York Volunteers.** Upon Willoughby’s expiration of service in the latter part of May, he received his discharge and returned to New York with his bride. Jennie mentioned in her testimony, “I went north with him and lived in Livonia Station, Livingston Co N.Y. about one year and at Livonia Center two years.” Before the couple left, however, arrangements were made for the rest of the siblings to move in with Mildred Clift, an older, married sister. There just short of a year, the claim offers no information about when they returned and what they found when they did.
In New York, the honeymoon lasted about six months before Thomas Willoughby decided to reenlist. This time, however, he opted for the cavalry, joining as a sergeant with Co. D of the 22nd New York. “I think he was captured by the Confederates in May 1864″, noted Jennie, “… and sent to Richmond and to Macon, Ga. To prison was finally exchanged at Annapolis I think and was sent home an invalid to New York where he remained with me until after the war.”
I wondered why Jennie spoke as if she couldn’t obtain an answer from her husband, but realized that by the time (1878) that Jennie and her siblings submitted the application, Thomas Willoughby was dead, and Jennie had returned to Stafford County.
In the effort to prove loyalty, at least two non-family members provided testimony on behalf of the Montieth children. Also to that end, Jennie added whatever else she could in the hopes that it might work in favor of the claim:
My sympathies were on the side where my husband was fighting or I should not have gone there.
I was in New York when New Orleans and Vicksburg fell, and was glad to hear it. I was glad when the Union forced were successful and when the Confederates surrendered. I was rejoiced.
The Willoughby/Montieth claim might fall short in telling us as much as we would like about army-civilian interaction before and during the Battle of Fredericksburg, but it does provide us with an alternative to what I believe is the long-standing story. In particular, I think about what we see in the movie Gods and Generals. Sure, the Montieth family experienced loss of property, but it doesn’t quite look like the interactions we see to be more dominant on the other side of the Rappahannock.
There always seems to be more to the story of Southerners in the Civil War.
* I spell the name “Montieth” only because this is the way in which it appears throughout the claim. I have, however, seen different sites that indicate that some family members spell the name “Monteith”.
** Thomas Willoughby enlisted May 21, 1861, as a private, with Co. G, 27th New York Infantry; discharged May 31, 1863; reenlisted December 9, 1863, as sergeant, Co. D 22nd New York Cavalry; discharged June 13, 1865. There is an index card in the pension file showing that he filed for a pension on both February 24, 1881 and (probably in an effort for a reevaluation) on February 20, 1907, but a statement by Jennie Willoughby in the Willoughby/Montieth Southern Loyalist Claim shows that he died in or before 1878. With that in mind, it may have been an application for a dependent child, but there’s still more confusion. At the bottom of the card, it’s showing a death date of November 10, 1914, at the National Military Home in Ohio, YET… an annotation also exists on the card for the widow’s application, on February 11, 1918. This is the first time I’ve encountered this sort of confusion when reading an index card. The only way to find out what all of this means is to pull the applications and review them.