“Marion Harland’s” Civil War

Posted on December 27, 2014 by


Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune

Though not a Shenandoah Valley author, Mary Virginia Hawes Terhune (aka… “Marion Harland”) is still someone who caught my attention. Yes… Virginia-born, but… she comes with a particular twist when dealing with the Civil War. Here’s what the entry in Encyclopedia Virginia has to say about her and the war…

Harland’s novels were written over the course of more than sixty-five years, including the turbulent period before, during, and after the American Civil War (1861–1865). As a native Southerner who followed her husband to live in the North, Harland’s loyalties were sorely divided during the war, though she emphatically disapproved of secession. These inner conflicts were often expressed in her fiction. Her earlier novels portrayed Virginia as an idyllic place, and its inhabitants as paragons of virtue and conduct, coexisting peacefully in a near utopia. A later novel, Sunnybank (1866), describes the many privations and dangers of wartime Virginia, and begins to explore the conflicts in Southern society at that time.

Now, anyone who knows me should know pretty quickly that I’m not one who would rest until I found the Unionist/Confederate split in the Hawes family… and, I’m happy to say it didn’t take long.

Advertisement for S.P. Hawes' business, from a Richmond newspaper, 1855.

Advertisement for S.P. Hawes’ business, from a Richmond newspaper, 1855.

Sure, Mary had married a Northern man, but… one first needs to understand that Mary’s parent’s weren’t exclusively Virginian. While her mother was from a long line of Virginians (a qualified “FFV”, even), her father (Samuel P. Hawes) was Massachusetts-born, having come to Richmond in his younger years (and marrying in 1825). Hawes became quite the well-known businessman in Richmond (at Eighteenth and Cary streets).

As for Mary’s husband… he wasn’t really what one might consider an “outsider” among Virginians. Granted, he was a New Jersey boy, and had graduated from Rutgers, but… after being ordained in 1854, he came to Virginia to serve as the Presbyterian pastor at the Village Church at Charlotte Court House (now Smithville). From what I’ve found, Terhune’s ministry was quite well received. In fact, one of the closer associations formed during his five years was with William Wirt Henry, grandson of… Patrick Henry.

S.H. Hawes

S.H. Hawes

As I’ve already implied, when Mary and her husband left Virginia in 1859, the balance of Mary’s family remained, and, with the Civil War, two brothers (Samuel Horace Hawes and George Percy Hawes) served for the Confederacy. S.H. Hawes, by the way, was one of the “Immortal 600“. A third brother, Herbert Henry Hawes, was ordained in 1862 and served several Presbyterian churches in Virginia… including the Second Presbyterian Church in Staunton, Virginia.

So, yes… “Marion Harland’s” Civil War was a rather unique one, considering her situation as a Virginian living in New Jersey during the war… with family (in gray, no less) still back in Old Virginia.

In parting, I think it might be of interest to readers to throw in Mary Terhune’s (Harland’s) account (from Marion Harland’s Autobiography: The Story of a Long Life) of her last days in Virginia… after she came back to the Old Dominion for a visit, on the eve of war.



WE had planned to leave Richmond for home on Tuesday afternoon. At noon on Saturday, my husband asked me if I would not like to prolong my stay with my relatives, adding significantly:

“We do not know how long it may be before you can get South again. There is thunder in the air.”

I looked up from the letter I was writing to Newark:

“Thunder – alone – is harmless. I take no stock in gasconade that is only thunder. And if trouble is coming it is clear that our place is not here.”

The letter-writing went on not uncheerfully. Far down in my soul was the belief that a peaceful issue must be in store for the land beloved of the Lord. Were we not brethren? When brought, face to face, with the fact that brothers’ hands must be dipped in brothers’ blood, reaction was inevitable.

So foolish was I, and ignorant of the excesses to which sectional fury can carry individuals and nations.

I was in my room, getting ready for our last walk among scenes endeared to us by thousands of associations, my husband standing by, hat in hand, when a terrific report split the brooding air and rent the very heavens. Another and another followed. We stood transfixed, without motion or speech, until we counted, silently, seven.

It was the number of the seceding States! As if pandemonium had waited for the seventh boom to die sullenly away among the hills, the pause succeeding the echo was ended by an outburst of yells, cheers, and screams that beggars description. The streets in our quiet quarter were alive with men, women, and children. Fire-crackers, pistols and guns were discharged into the throbbing air.

“The fort has fallen!” broke in one breath from our lips. And simultaneously: “The Lord have mercy upon the country!”

We ran down-stairs and into the street.

My sister “Mea” was upon the front porch, and the steps were thronged by children and servants, wild with curiosity.

I have not mentioned that my sister had married, two years before, Mr. John Miller, a Scotchman by birth. He was much liked and respected by us all, and it spoke volumes for his breeding and the genuine good feeling prevailing among us, that although he was the only “original secessionist” in our household band, our cordial relations remained unbroken in spite of the many political arguments we had had with him.

His wife was holding aloft her baby boy, a pretty year-old, in her arms. A Secession cockade was pinned upon his breast; in his chubby hand he flourished a rebel flag, and he laughed down into her radiant face.

We feigned not to see them as we hurried past. But a gulf seemed to open at my feet. As in a baleful dream, I comprehended, in the sick whirl of conflicting sensations, what Rebellion, active and in arms, would mean in hundreds of homes on both sides of the border.

“Is the world going mad?” muttered my husband, between his teeth, and I knew that the same horror was present with him.

Secession flags blossomed in windows and from roofs; were waved from doors and porches by girls and women; were shaken in mad exultation by boys on the sidewalks; hung upon lamp-posts, and were stretched from side to side of the street. It was like the magical upspringing baneful fungi. Where had they all come from? And at what infernal behest had they leaped into being?

The living stream poured toward the Capitol Square, and it swept us with it. The grounds were filled with tumultuous crowd. Upon the southern terrace was the park of artillery that had fired the salute of seven guns. As we entered the upper gate a long procession of men issued from the western door of the Capitol, and descended the steps.

“The convention has adjourned for the day,” remarked Mr. Terhune. We were at the base of the Washington monument, and he drew me up on the lower step of the base to avoid the press.

The delegates streamed by us in groups; some striding in excited haste; talking gleefully, and gesticulating wildly. Others were grave and slow, silent, or deep in low-toned conversation; others yet – and these were marked men already – walked with bent heads, and faces set in wordless sadness. One of these, recognizing Mr. Terhune, approached us, and with a brief apology to me, drew him a few paces apart.

Three years before, I had seen the ceremonies by which this monument – Crawford’s finest work in marble – was uncovered and dedicated. On the next day, Mr. Everett had repeated his oration on Washington in the Richmond theatre. The silver-tongued orator had joined hands, then and there, with Tyler, Wise, and Yancey, in proclaiming the unity of the nation. General Scott had sat in the centre of the stage, like a hoary keystone in the semi-circle of honorable men and counsellors.

Was it all a farce, even then, this talk of brotherhood and patriotism? And of what avail were wisdom and diplomacy and the multitude of counsels, if this were to be the end?

I was saying it to myself in disgustful bewilderment, when the crowd cheered itself mad over a fresh demonstration of popular passion. The rebel flag had been run up from the peak of the Capitol roof!

My husband came back to me instantly. He was pale, and the lines of his mouth were tense.

“Let us get out of this!” he said. “I cannot breathe!”

On the way to Gamble’s Hill – a long-loved walk with us – I heard how Sumter had fallen. We were not hopeless, yet, as to the final outcome of the tragical complication that had turned the heads of the populace. The outrage offered the Flag of our common country must open the eyes of true men, and all who had one spark of patriotism left in their souls. We could have no longer any doubt as to the real animus of the Rebellion. One thing was certain: To-day’s work would decide the question for Virginia. She could not hang back now.

Thus reasoning, we took our last look of the lovely panorama of river, islets, and hills; of the city of the dead – beautiful in wooded heights and streams and peaceful valleys, on our right – while on the left was the city of the living, noble and fair, and, in the distance, now as silent as Hollywood.

My companion lifted his arm abruptly and pointed northward.

A long, low line of cloud hung on the horizon – dun, with brassy edges – sullen and dense, save where a rainbow, vivid with emerald, rose-color, and gold, spanned the murky vapor.

“Fair weather cometh out of the North,” uttered the resolute optimist. “With the Lord is terrible majesty. After all, He is omnipotent. We will hope on!”

We were measurably cheered on our way back to the heart of the city by the sight of the Flag of Virginia flying serenely from the staff where had flaunted the Stars and Bars, an hour ago. At supper, my father related with gusto how a deputation of Secessionists had waited on the Governor to offer congratulations upon the Confederate victory. How he had received them but sourly, being, as the deputation should have known, an “inveterate Unionist.” When felicitated upon the result of the siege, he returned that he “did not consider it a matter for any compliments.” At that instant he caught sight of the flag hoisted to the roof of the Capitol, demanded by whose order it was done, and straightway commanded it to be hauled down and the State flag, usually sported when the Legislature was in session, to be run up in its stead.

“Governor Letcher has a rough tongue when he chooses to use it,” commented my father. “He is honest, through and through.”

The talk of the evening could run in but one channel. Our nerves were keyed up to the highest tension, and the day’s events had gone deep into mind and heart. Two or three visitors dropped in, and both sides of the Great Controversy were brought forward, temperately, but with force born of conviction. If I go somewhat into the details of the conversation, it is because I would make clear the truth that each party in the struggle we feared might be imminent, believed honestly that justice and right were at the foundation of his faith. I wrote down the substance of the memorable discussion, as I recorded and published other incidents of the ever-to-be-remembered era, while the history of it was still in the making. I am, then, sure that I give the story correctly.

John Miller opened the ball by “hoping that the North was now convinced that the South was in earnest in maintaining her rights.”

I liked my Scotch brother-in-law, and we bandied jests safely and often. But it irked me that we should have a Secessionist in a loyal family, and I retorted flippantly, lest I should betray the underlying feeling:

“There has been no madness equal to Secession since the swine ran violently down a steep place into the sea. The choking in the waves will come later.”

“Let wise men stand from under!” he retorted, smiling good-humoredly. “As to the choking, that may not be such an easy job as you think.”

A visitor took up the word, and seriously:

“The dissatisfaction of the South is no new thing. It is as old as the Constitution itself. John Randolph said of it: ‘I saw what Washington did not see. Two other men in Virginia saw it – the poison under its wings.’ Grayson, another far-sighted statesman, prophesied just what has come to pass. He said of the consolidation policy taught in the Constitution: ‘It will, in operation, be found unequal, grievous, and oppressive.’ He foresaw that the manufacturer of the North would dominate the agriculturist of the South; that there would be burdensome taxation without adequate representation; in short, that there would be numberless encroachments of the North upon the prerogatives of the Southern slaveholder.”

“He said nothing of the manifest injustice in a republic, of the election of a candidate by the votes of a petty faction, dominant for the time, because the other party split and ran several men?”

This was said by a young man who had not spoken until then.

My father replied: “Suppose Breckenridge had been elected? Would that have been the triumph of a faction?”

“Circumstances alter cases,” said my brother Horace, dryly.

Everybody laughed, except the man who had quoted Grayson and Randolph.

“It is not easy for the Mother of Presidents to submit to the rule of those whom, as Job says, they would have scorned to put with their cattle,” he said, with temper.

I saw the blue fire in my husband’s eyes before he spoke; but his voice was even and full; every sentence was studiedly calm.

“For more than seventy years, the South has prospered under the Constitution, which, according to the renowned authorities cited just now, had poison under its wings. Hers have been the chief places in our national councils and the most lucrative offices in the gift of the government. It is her boast, if we are to believe what this one of your leading papers says” – unfolding and reading from the editorial page – “that ‘since the organization of the Union she has held the balance of power – as it is her right to do – her citizens being socially, morally, and intellectually superior to those of the North.'”

My father flipped his cigar ash into the fire.

“Now you are improvising?”

“Not a word! Our editor goes on to say further: ‘Our whilom servants have lately strangely forgotten their places. They now aspire to an equal share in the administration of the government. They have presumed to elect from their own ranks an illiterate, base-born, sectional tool, whom they rely upon to do their foul work of subverting our sovereignty. It is high time the real masters awoke from their fatal lethargy, and forced their insubordinate hinds to stand once more, cap in hand, at their behest.’ ”

The stump of my father’s cigar followed the ash.

“Come, come, my dear boy! it isn’t fair to take the ravings of one fool as the sentiment of the section in which that stuff is printed. I could quote talk, as intemperate and incendiary, from your Northern papers. You wouldn’t have us suppose that you and other sane voters indorse them?”

“I grant what you say, sir. And, as I long ago affirmed, the shortest and best way to put out the fire that threatens the integrity of the government, would be to muzzle every political ranter in the country, and suppress every newspaper for six months. The conflagration would die for want of fuel.”

My mother interposed here:

“Good people, don’t you think there is ‘somewhat too much of this’? I, for one, refuse to believe that anything but smoke will come of the alarm that is frightening weak brothers out of their wits. The good Ship of State will ‘sail on, strong and great,’ when our children’s children are in their graves.”

She changed the current of talk, but not of thought. After the rest had gone, there lingered a young fellow whose case was so striking an example of a host of others, who were forced into the forefront of the battle, that I take leave to relate it.

He still lives, an honored citizen of the State he loved as a son loves the mother who bore and nursed him. Therefore I shall not use his real name. Eric S., as I shall call him, was an intimate friend of my brother Herbert, and as much at home in our house as if he were, in very deed, one of the blood and name. He had visited us in Newark, and made warm friends there, during the past year. Mr. Terhune had had long and serious consultations with him since we came to Virginia, and, within a few days, as the war-cloud took form, had urged him to accompany us to New Jersey, or, at least, to promise to come to us should hostilities actually begin between the two sections. The lad (scarcely twenty-one) was an ardent Unionist, and, although a member of a crack volunteer company in Richmond, had declared to us that nothing would ever induce him to bear arms under the Rebel government. Mea and her spouse went up-stairs early, and the rest of us were in hearty sympathy with our guest. He had not taken an active share in the discussion, and his distrait manner and sober face prepared us, in part, for the disclosure that followed the departure of the others.

He had been credibly and confidentially informed that a mighty pressure would be brought to bear upon the convention, at their next sitting, to force the Ordinance of Secession. If it were carried, by fair means or foul, every man who could bear arms would be called into the field.

While he talked, the boy stood against the mantel – erect lithe, and handsome – the typical mother’s and sister’s darling, yet manly in every look and lineament. The thought tore through my imagination while I looked at him:

“And it is material like this that will go to feed the maw of War! – such flesh and blood as his that will be mangled by bullet and shell!”

I had never had the ghastly reality brought so near to me until that moment.

“Oh-h!” I shuddered. “You won’t stay to be shot at like a mad dog!”

The first bright smile that had lighted his face was on it. “It isn’t being shot at that I am thinking of.” The gleam faded suddenly. “I don’t think I am a coward. It doesn’t run in the blood. But” – flinging out his arm with a passionate gesture that said more than his words – “I think that would be paralyzed if I were to lift it against the dear old flag!”

Before he left it was agreed privately, between him and my husband, that he would try his fortune on the other side of Mason and Dixon’s line, should the axe fall that would sever Virginia from the Union her sons had been mainly instrumental in creating.

Sunday came and went. Such a strange, sad Sunday as it was! with the marked omission, in every pulpit of the prayer for the President of the United States and others in authority; with scanty congregations in the churches, and growing throngs of excited talkers at the street corners, and knots of dark-browed men in hotel lobbies, and the porches of private houses.

In the length and breadth of the town but one Union flag was visible. Nicholas Mills, a wealthy citizen of high character and fearless temper, defied public opinion and risked popular wrath, by keeping a superb flag flying at the head of a tall staff in his garden on Leigh Street. We went out of our way, in returning from afternoon service, to refresh eyes and spirits with the sight.

On Monday, the mutterings of rebellion waxed into a roar of angry revolt over the published proclamation of the President, calling for an army of seventy-five thousand men to quell the insurrection. The quota from Virginia was, I think, five thousand.

“A fatal blunder!” said my father, in stern disapproval.

My husband’s answer was prompt:

“To omit her name from the roll would be an accusation of disloyalty.”

The senior shook his head.

“It may have been a choice of evils. I hope he has chosen the less! But I doubt it! I doubt it!”

So might Eli have looked and spoken when his heart trembled for the ark of the Lord.

That afternoon, the flagstaff in the Mills garden was empty. The Stars and Stripes were banned as an unholy ensign.

Eric S. paid us a flying visit that evening. His parents urged his going. The father was especially anxious that he should not risk the probability of impressment, and, should he refuse to serve, of imprisonment. Already Union men were regarded with suspicion. The exodus of the disaffected could not be long delayed. He had influential family connections at the North who would see to it that he found occupation. When we parted that night, it was with a definite understanding that he would be our travelling companion.

Tuesday noon, he appeared, haggard and well-nigh desperate. Going, like the honorable gentleman he was, to the Colonel of his regiment early in the day, to tender his resignation and declare his intentions, he was stricken by the news that the State had seceded in secret session Monday night.

Whereupon the Colonel had offered the services of his regiment to the authorities of the Confederate States. They were accepted.

“You are now in the Confederate army,” added the superior officer, “and, from present indications, we will not be idle long.”

“But,” stammered the stunned subaltern, “I am going North this very afternoon with friends, and I shall not consent to serve.”

“If you attempt to leave, you will be reckoned as a deserter from the regular army, and dealt with accordingly.”

I do not attempt to estimate what proportion of men, who would have remained loyal to flag and government if they could, were coerced, or cajoled, into bearing arms under a government they abhorred. I tell the plain facts in the instance before me.

Eric S. fought in fifteen general engagements, and came out with his life when the cruel war was over. He told with deep satisfaction, in after-years, that he had never worn the Confederate uniform, but always that of his own regiment.

It is easy for us to prate, at this distance from those times of trial to brave men’s souls, of the high and sacred duty of living and, if need be, of dying for the right. From our standpoint, it is as clear as the noonday sun, that allegiance to the general government should outrank allegiance to the State in which one has chanced to be born and to live. We have had an awful object-lesson in the study of that creed since the day when the Virginian, who saw his native State invaded, believed that he had no alternative but to “strike for his altars and his fires.”

Upon the gallant fellows who, seeing this, and no further, risked their lives unto the death, fell the penalty of the demagogues’ sin.

We may surely lay the blame where it belongs.