The Oaks: From Amelia County To Richmond

Let’s recap.

Sugar’s great-grandfather William Starr Basinger from Savannah was stationed near Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War.  While calling on the homes in the area to let the families know of the Confederate presence, he met the young woman that he would return to marry after the close of the war and his imprisonment.  She was Margaret Roane Garnett.

Basinger wrote the story of his life which was produced in six volumes, one for each of his children, and he writes the story as written to his children.  From Basinger’s “Personal Reminiscences”, which you can click here to read the typewritten pages as transcribed by his son from the original journals, or you can read below.

226

CHAPTER XIIX

Arriving at Richmond, I supposed I would

have no difficulty in finding where the battation

had been sent.  But no one could tell me, even at

the office of the Adjutant-General.  I was in a

great dilemma about it, when I fell in with Genl

J F Gilmer, chief Engineer of the Army, whom I had

long known, and told him my trouble.  He suggest-

ed that Genl Bragg knew all about it; and he took

me to Genl Bragg’s office and introduced me.  I

found that Genl Bragg did know all about it, and

was at the bottom of everything.  He was trying to

re-organize the Army, and had conceived the design

of consolidating my battalion with the 12th, under

myself as Colonel.  I wished to be heard on this

subject, and stated some very serious objections to

it – but was cut short by the very peremptory state-

ment that I would be expected to submit to whatever

the Govt might order in the matter.  I was by no

means convinced that the Govt could lawfully order

any such thing; but we were not then in a position

to stand upon exact legal rights, and I contented

myself with replying that if the consolidation should

be insisted on, I would, after having entered my pro-

test, take command of the proposed new regiment, if

required.  But nothing ever came of this proposed

consolidation.  The two battalions were separated,

as the war went on, and never came together any more.

But I learned from Genl Bragg that the

Guards had been sent to Mattoax, where the Richmond

and Danville Railroad crosses the Appomattox River;

and, being informed what duty was expected of us

there, I hurried out next day and rejoined them.

(***FOOTNOTE*** I think it was on May 28th that I

arrived at Mattoax).  I found them there, sure

enough, quartered in box cars on a switch.  The

R & D RR was a very important one – because over

it supplies were transported to the Army from the

227

Gulf States.  It crossed the Appomattox on an iron

bridge, and Flat Creek, a tributary of the Appomat-

tox, a couple of miles from Mattoax, on a wooden

bridge.  The destruction of either of the bridges

would interrupt the transportation of the supplies.

Raids of the enemy’s cavalry had gone very near

these bridges – so near as to threaten them; and

the duty assigned to the Guards was to protect these

bridges against such attacks.  And a fort was in

course of construction on a hill commanding the

bridge over the Appomattox, which was intrusted (sic) to

us as a means, not only of defence, but of offence,

and which was armed with artillery suitable for the

purpose.  Some works had been thrown up at the

Flat Creek bridge also; but no guns were ever mount—

ed there.  We were to defend that the best way we

could.

My first care was to acquaint myself with

all the roads leading to both bridges.  As my own

horse had not yet arrived, I had to be content with

borrowing a horse of a Mr. Boisseau, who lived

near by, and securing his services as a guide.  A num-

ber of days were spent in this reconnoitring (sic).  The

railroad station at Mattoax was on the right bank

of the river; and all the land on that side was part

of a plantation belonging, incommon, to Genl Sam

Jones, before-mentioned as being in command at Charles-

ton, and his sisters.  In riding about with Mr Bois-

seau, we had constantly to pass through the private

roads of this plantation; and he often endeavored to

persuade me to go with him to the house to call upon

the ladies there.  I, as constantly, refused – say-

ing that I had not been sent there to call on ladies,

but to defend those bridges.  But, finally, on his

representation that I was commander of the troops,

and that the troops were upon the property of those

ladies – that there was no man in the house – and

that I ought to give them some assurance that their

property would be respected, so far as my command

was concerned, I  consented to call with him.  I had

nothing else in view, and no other purpose than to

ensure the ladies that they would not be disturbed

by the troops under my command.  We were shown into

a parlor.  After waiting a little while, I heard

a quick step coming down the stairs, and to the par-

lor door, and then entered – your mother – in the prime

228

of her youth and beauty.  Soon after, she was fol-

lowed by Miss Emily Read, and then by her aunts Miss

Martha, Miss Eliza, and Miss Margaret Jones.

* * * * *

FOOTNOTE

        These ladies have all died since then, ex-

cept Miss Read.  She is the sister of Mrs Genl Sam

Jones.  There were several sisters, grand-daughter

of that George Read, of Delaware, who was one of the

signers of the Declaration of Independence.  All

these sisters but Miss Emily married officers of the

1st U S Artillery – the eldest to Col Pierce, the

commander of the regiment, who was an older brother

of Franklin Pierce, President of the U S.  I have

since met two others of the sisters – Mrs French

and Mrs Reeves.  A daughter of the latter, Miss Min-

nie Reeves, as well as Miss Read, have, since the

war, betaken themselves to authorship, and have pub-

lished some very pleasant works of fiction.

Genl Jones and Mr B N Jones also are now

dead.

* * * * *

        As I afterwards learned, these three sis-

ters (Martha, Eliza and Margaret Jones), with Mrs.

James N Garnett, and Genl Sam Jones and his brother,

Mr Benjamin M Jones, were the joint owners of the

place, which was named “The Oaks”, from the splendid

oak trees in the midst of which the house was placed.

And, really, as seen from the hill at Mattoax, or

any other distant point, it was a perfect picture of

a baronial residence.  The house was an old-fashion-

ed one.  It consisted of a main house and two wings

each covered by its own roof, rising, in the form

of a four-sided pyramid, to an apex.  It was sadly

in want of paint, and had taken on a sort of gray

hue, which harmonized beautifully with the dense fo-

liage of the huge oaks surrounds it.  All round

the house, and under the trees, was a smooth carpet

of grass.  And, seen from any point, the whole as-

pect of the place was most attractive and prepos-

sessing in the highest degree.  The house still

stands; and a passenger on the Richmond and Danville

229

Railroad, going either north or south, may still see

it as the train passes.

I have stated that, on arriving at Mattoax,

I found the battalion quartered in box cars switched

off on a side-track.  Close to the track was a

small station-house, used buy the Agent of the Road

and the telegraph operator.  This had a very small

upper room, which I took possession of for my own

quarters.  But this little station house was in a

deep cut, and my quarters were fearfully hot.  I

think I suffered from heat there more than in any

place I have ever been in, before or since.  More-

over, the cars occupied by the troops were ranted.

And I very soon got some tents, and had the men quar-

tered in them on the slope of the hill towards the

river.  My own tent, and the Adjutant’s, were pitch-

ed together higher up on the hill, immediately under

the fort, in a position from which I could see every-

thing that was going on.

The construction of the fort was conduct-

ed by an engineer officer, with negroes furnished by

the neighbors; and my men had nothing to do.  There-

fore, after the daily duties of the camp were over,

as there was no need to keep them confined to the

camp, leaves of absence were freely given, and they

went visiting about the neighborhood, to their great

delectation – for they were everywhere most kindly

received and entertained, as was the wont in Virgin-

ia in those days.

My own time was very largely taken up with

a study of the country in the vicinity of the post,

with a view to the defence of the two bridges against

a possible raid.  And, as my own horse, under the

care of old Joe, the fifer, arrived after a while, I

could do this at my own convenience.  When I had en-

tirely learned the topography of the country so far

as was necessary to the defence of the two bridges,

I set the men to work to keep up their drill both as

infantry and artillery – guns, six and twelve pound-

ers, having been sent for the armament f our little

fort.

* * * * *

230

FOOTNOTES

        This horse of mine, named Bessie, became

a great favorite with your mother.  She used to ride

her a great deal during our stay at Mattoax, when I

would get some other, either from the Quartermaster

or at The Oaks.  It will be seen later that my horse

was paroled at Appomattox.  She was faithfully tak-

en home by the man in charge of her, and put in a sta-

ble in Aunt Adeline’s yard.  Unfortunately, there

was a hole in the partition which separated her stall

from another.  She contrived to get one of her feet

through this hole, and in struggling to get it out,

was thrown down.  She was unable to get up again,

and, being very weak from a long journey and want of

food, struggled herself to death before morning.

* * * * *

        At first, after our arrival at Mattoax,

and the organization of the force for protection a-

gainst raiders, we were under the immediate command

of Brig Genl Martin.

* * * * *

FOOTNOTE

        Genl Martin’s first wife was one of the

Read sisters, mentioned in a previous note, and again

later, which I had forgotten when adding that note on

going over my narrative for the purpose of supplying

any omissions.

Click on this link to see photos of The Oaks and its interior.  You’ll see the stairs where William Starr Basinger heard Margaret Roane Garnett’s quick step.

Here’s a beautiful find.  Thank you, internet.  It’s an old map of Amelia County on the Library of Congress site.  The map was made by Major General J. F. Gilmer, also mentioned in the “Reminiscences”.  When you manipulate the image and look at the northeasterly point, you can find the location of The Oaks at “Miss Jones”, and further north from there, you can find the location of “Mr. Boiseau”.  Do you see “Matoax Station & Bridge”?

The house at The Oaks was moved to 307 Stockton Lane, Richmond, Virginia, by railcar.

We found the house.  We followed the map, but went past it, as has been our protocol on this trip.  It’s for sale, which was a lucky bonus for us, because we were able to find the real-estate listing and to view the interior of the home.

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Did you notice that I keep objects between myself and the house, as though I expect someone to burst forth from the house with blazing six-shooters?  Sugar is bold and walks right up to the house, but neither of us had the nerve to ring the doorbell.  I asked would he please call the realtor and explain who he is so we can get inside the house?  You know that the house would be in perfect order since it’s for sale.

There are some things that even I can’t imagine doing.

But don’t you love the love story?  It’s better than Gone With The Wind.

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5 Responses to “The Oaks: From Amelia County To Richmond”

  1. ruthrawls Says:

    Waiting for Leo to comment. Waiting, waiting….

    Like

  2. H Harrison Says:

    I enjoyed the story. FYI, The Oaks was originally built by my 3d great grandfather, Edmund Harrison who was married to Martha Jefferson’s niece, Martha W. Skipwith.

    Like

    • ruthrawls Says:

      Hello H Harrison! And welcome to the blog!
      I have not heard of your connection to The Oaks. Sugar (and I) will be very excited to hear more!

      Like

  3. The Gold Mine in the Closet: William Starr Basinger and Margaret Roane Garnett | Ruthrawls's Blog Says:

    […]  ‘Cause I’m single-handedly making them rock stars, 1800’s fashion.  You can read more about them here, and if you want, you can search the blog for Basinger or Garnett, and you’ll find boat-loads […]

    Like

  4. Bo Harrison Says:

    Great story! I’m another descendant of Edmund Harrison (begat William Henry Harrison of the “Wigwam” begat James Pinckney Harrison begat William Mortimer Harrison Sr begat William Mortimer Harrison Jr begat William Mortimer Harrison III = me) who built the house way back a when. Our crowd has been down in NC since my grandfather headed this way in 1934; very cool to turn up stuff like this on the interwebs…

    Liked by 1 person

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