Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Armstrongs and The Civil War

Buried in the large number of family photos from several generations of Armstrongs, Nugents, Lewises, and Cooks are a couple of photos from the Civil War. These photos remind us of the bloody conflict that took place here on American soil, in the fertile valleys, on the streets of frontier towns, on farmland, in the yards of folks, once neighbors and kinfolks, now on opposite sides of battle. Because my first goal is to organize and communicate what information we have here in our own family records, I have not researched how the Civil War affected the Armstrongs. At the time, Edward McCarty Armstrong and his family were living in what was to become West Virginia, a strong Unionist part of Virginia. Most of the slave-owning plantations were in eastern Virginia, and there was a long history of political differences between these two parts of the state. However, just a little online research reveals that Edward McCarty Armstrong was a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention, and as a delegate, he voted against secession. However, when the secessionists won later, he supported the Confederacy and eventually moved his family from New Creek (later to be named Keyser, West Virginia) to Salem. Edward McCarty Armstrong's home was later sold to the "Davis brothers of Piedmont" and thereafter the home was known as the Davis Mansion.  The Armstrong Mansion, home of William Armstrong, Edward's father, was located on the site where Keyser High School now stands. The two photos we have of Union soldiers camped in Keyser are near those Armstrong homes. Click on each image for a better view.

This first photo is of the Union Army encamped in the area then known as New Creek and now known as Keyser, West Virginia.  On the back of the photograph is stamped in ink: COYD YOST, Photographer, KEYSER, WEST VA. And in handwriting (Mimi's or Katharine's): Occupation by Union Soldiers, Civil War, Birthplace of Papa. And in my sister-in-law's handwriting: taken from the home of Louisa White and Edward M. Armstrong. Those latest notations would have been made at the direction of my mother-in-law, daughter of Katharine Nugent Armstrong Robb, in 1987.

Just this week, I found among the family papers a letter written to Mary Ophelia Nugent Armstrong (Mimi), from J. C. Sanders, Superintendent of Keyser Public School. The letter is dated February 27, 1929. At the beginning of the letter, Superintendent Sanders describes the picture of the home below. Then he describes what very well might be the original of the photo above:
Today a high school pupil brought to me another picture of Keyser taken in 1865. This is the picture I mentioned in my other letter. This shows all the land now occupied by the city of Keyser to be occupied by tents of soldiers and the old army fort on the hill now occupied by the Potomac State College. In the back-ground of this picture is shown in a very prominent way the old Davis mansion and almost hidden by a tree may be seen to the left the slave quarters. A photographer here tells me that he is under the impression that he has a negative of this picture and if so a copy from it would cost but a dollar or two. He is looking it up. This picture is an heir-loom and cannot be secured. It bears the inscription: "Photographed in 1865 by G. W. Parsons, 22' Penn. Reg. & Mulligan's Battery. I will be glad to have these copied for you if you desire.

In the same letter dated February 27, 1929, Superintendent Sanders writes:
Since writing you the other day Mrs. W. E. Woolfe (sic), the niece of Col. T. B. Davis, has sent me a photograph of the old Armstrong or Davis Mansion house taken in 1863. On the back of the picture is the name of her father Mr. Buxton with the note that it was taken during the late war 1863. It is a 5 X 8 picture that shows beside the house the barricks (sic) of the soldiers in the west end of the town. It was evidently taken while the house was occupied by the Union soldiers because in the yard at the side of the house is shown in the picture two officers (sic) tents. While I have not looked up the records, I am told that Col. Armstrong was a southern sympathizer and this property was taken from him and used by the Union Army and was occupied by an Ohio regiment known and (sic) the Ohio bucktails, named such because they wore squirrel tails on their soldier caps. When the house was torn down several years ago I saw the names of many soldiers from all parts of the West written and carved in the old cupola. Mrs. Wolfe will not part with this picture but will loan it for copies and I have consulted a photographer and he will charge $2.75 to make a negative and about $1 apiece for pictures taken from it. If you would like a picture copied I will be glad to have him do this for you.
From the Nugent-Cook side of the family, we have Civil War discharge papers, among others,  for Edwin Oscar Cook, Sr., but I have not found any such papers (yet) for the Armstrong side of the family.

Finally, although the following picture is not directly related to the Civil War, I include it here because it seems to belong to this post that describes homes of ancestors. On the back of this old photo are inscriptions in two hands, and here I can probably finally decide that the large print handwriting on many of these photographs is that of Mary Ophelia Nugent Armstrong rather than that of her sister, Katharine Armstrong Robb. First, there is this faded note written with pencil, in cursive: Given to Mary Nugent Armstrong, Mother's Home in Romney, W. Va., N. T. A. My guess is that "N. T. A." is Nettie Tapscott Armstrong. Then, in Mimi's large, round, print: Grandfather White's home, Romney, W. Va.--Our grandmother, Louisa White, Papa's mother's home. (Papa's and Baker's name) Baker White Armstrong. And one small addition, in what might be my husband's print: Louisa White is Baker White Armstrong, Sr's Mother.

1 comment:

  1. Love the pictures. Colonel Davis employed my great grandfather and his family and they lived in the mansion with Colonel Davis. My grandmother and both of her sisters were born in this house (1900, 1907, 1911). Thanks for the memories.....I never knew what the house looked like.