Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Positively devilish: Book looted from Fredericksburg in 1862

"Taken from deserted house of a wealthy citizen ..." reads a soldier's inscription inside the
 book once owned by William Warren, a prominent resident of Fredericksburg, Va.
.  (New England Civil War Museum | Rockville, Conn.)
A tattered copy of  Dialogues of Devils, looted from Fredericksburg, Va., in December 1862.
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The lives of thousands of soldiers weren't the only ones dramatically, and often tragically, altered at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Citizens of the town had their lives turned upside down by war-time events as well, of course, especially during the battle fought there from Dec. 11-15, 1862.

William Warren of
 Fredericksburg, Va. 
In a way, the small, tattered book above, its brown covers separated from the spine, represents the downfall of one of those citizens, William Warren, a wealthy 38-year-old merchant who lived with his family at the corner of Amelia and Caroline streets. Only blocks from the Rappahannock River, his house was destroyed during the Federals’ bombardment of the town on Dec. 11, and the book from Warren’s collection ended up in the hands of a private in Company D of the 44th New York, "Ellsworth’s Avengers," who kept it for the remainder of the war.

We can only speculate how the 1838 copy of  Dialogues Of Devils, a book on the “many vices that abound in the civil and religious world,” was obtained by 37-year-old Cyrus Snow Crain, the 44th New York soldier who, in March 1863, became the regiment’s chaplain. On a blank page near the front, Crain wrote, "Taken from the deserted house of a wealthy citizen of Fredericksburg, Va. where books & furniture were scattered about in profusion. Preserved as a memento of the occupancy of that city by our troops Dec. 13th, 14th, 15th 1862.” Warren’s name is written in the book in three places, identifying one of Fredericksburg’s prominent war-time citizens as its owner.

Did Crain steal the book from Warren's house, or was it given to him by another soldier after the Yankees looted the town on Dec. 12, 1862? Or did he obtain it by other means? The 44th New York suffered 42 casualties, including seven killed or mortally wounded, during the disastrous Union attack on Marye’s Heights on Dec. 13. Perhaps Crain obtained the book when his regiment, which served as part of the rear-guard for the Union army as it retreated across the Rappahannock on Dec. 16, occupied Fredericksburg a day earlier. A 44th New York regimental historian blamed the pillaging of the town on “camp followers, who had the time opportunity for such lawlessness.”

         William Warren's 1862 house is gone. A gym occupies part of the property today. 
                                                            (Google Street View)

Warren's property in Fredericksburg was near his tan yard
 along the Rappahannock River. (Download an
 excellent 1860 map of  Fredericksburg from 
National Park Service blog.)
For the well-educated Warren, who was involved in the cotton, iron and grocery businesses, the war brought financial ruin. His estate, according to the 1860 census, was worth $12,000, an impressive sum at the time. A short distance from his house, he owned a tan yard along the Rappahannock, and he operated mills to benefit the Confederacy. But during the Battle of Fredericksburg, “his beautiful home and business interests were completely wrecked,” according to a post-war account published in the Richmond Dispatch.

At an unknown date, Warren moved with his wife, Mary, to Richmond, “where he soon won recognition as a business man of fine abilities and sterling worth.” In 1870, he went to work for a bank as a bookkeeper and discount teller, among other roles, positions that spanned decades. But it was a big step down from his previous station in life.

“Mr. Warren was a typical southern gentleman of the old school,” the Dispatch noted upon his death in 1900. “He was sincerely admired and greatly respected by the community at large -- a man whom everybody trusted implicitly, and who, while occupying a subordinate position, still leaves his mark and a place that will not easily be filled.”

After his wife’s death in 1874, Warren moved in with a daughter and son-in-law in Richmond. There, on Nov. 22, 1900, he was struck by a dray at Tenth and Broad streets while on his way home from work. Three days later, he died from effects of his injuries at his daughter’s house. The 74-year-old Virginian was buried in his hometown of Fredericksburg.

William Warren's name appears twice at top of  title page.
“Our brother was a man of aesthetic nature and refined tastes, with a decided literary bent, which he occasionally indulged in excursions into the field of poetry, with no mean success,” an obituary noted about Warren. “Tennyson was his favorite among the great masters of song, and the tender farewell that trembled on the inspired Laureate’s lips are ‘he crossed the bar’ found echo in our brother’s heart and was often repeated by him in view of his departure.”

For Cyrus Crain, the man who snatched a piece of a Southerner’s past, the Civil War dragged on. Although it’s unclear if he was a patient there, he spent part of the winter of 1863 at the V Corps post hospital at Windmill Point, the largest hospital in the Fredericksburg area. On a blank page in the back of Warren’s Dialogues of Devils, Crain even wrote scathing reviews of the hospital, where 4,000 sick soldiers were treated:
“These scribblings were offered to while away time while in the hospital at Windmill Point, Va., a bleak promontory on the Virginia side of the Potomac, a few miles below Acquia Creek. The sick and wounded were hastily taken here before the necessary preparations were completed & as consequence many died & others suffered much."
And on another page:
"Would … the people north know how the government treated its sick soldiers at Windmill Point there would be a storm."
(See post here on the Windmill Point hospital from John Hennessy, chief historian and chief of interpretation at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.)

44th New York Private Cyrus Crain, who obtained Warren's book, wrote scathingly
 inside it about a Fredericksburg area hospital for soldiers.
As regimental chaplain, Crain ministered to soldiers at Gettysburg, where the 44th New York defended Little Round Top and suffered 26 killed among 111 casualties. He was discharged from the Union army on March 17, 1864. Shortly after he left the army, he married his second wife, Mary, with whom he raised three children. (His first wife, Merab, died in 1862.) Crain preached in small towns throughout New York, and died in 1895 at 71.  

In battered condition, Dialogues of Devils survives in Rockville, Conn., at the New England Civil War Museum, a former Grand Army of the Republic hall.

How it got there is unknown.

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44th New York Private Cyrus Crain, who later became the regiment's chaplain, wrote musings
in the book about Windmill Point hospital for soldiers: "The sick and wounded were hastily
 taken here before the necessary preparations..."


-- Ancestry.com
 -- Genealogical and Family History of Western New York: A Record of Western New York, Volume 3, edited by William Richard Cutter, New York, Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912.
-- Nash, Eugene Arus, A History of the Forty-fourth Regiment, New York Volunteer Infantry, Chicago, R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1911 .
-- Richmond Dispatch, Nov. 27, 1900.
-- Richmond Times, Nov. 27, 1900.
-- William Warren obituary from 1900 newspaper clipping, probably from Virginia, accessed on ancestry.com on Dec. 19, 2016.

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