Friday, October 19, 2007

the Federal troops extended protestations

1864. Left to right: Wesley Merritt, David McM.Gregg, Sheridan, Henry E. Davies (standing), James H.

Can the burning of the Charlottesville Factory be taken as evidence of systematic Union destruction during the war? At least one other woolen mill in the region suffered a similar fate. An eminent authority has claimed that "Northern raiders destroyed every manufacturing establishment in southern territory that they were able to reach," and notes that many cotton and woolen mills fell victims to Union invaders. Yet, strangely, the Marchant family has never viewed the mill's burning with resentment. To Marchant's wife the Federal troops extended protestations that the fire resulted from an accident. Not only did she accept their apologies but for several years after the war, she and her husband maintained occasional friendly communication with the officer in charge of the operation! As a result, there seems to be no grounds for viewing the destruction of the mill as part of a planned program of economic warfare.
--Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

a mass of flames

photo from the Emory collection

Practically over the roof of the factory extended an iron bridge on the Virginia Central line to Richmond. In order to warp the rails and burn the ties, coals still red-hot from recent use were carried by the soldiers from the mill furnace to the bridge. When a few pieces fell upon a greasy floor the factory quickly became a mass of flames. In this undramatic and unintentional fashion the mill became a casualty of the war. Henry Marchant did not witness the disaster. As the Union force entered Charlottesville, he had hobbled off to the hills on the southeast, driving his livestock ahead to save them from hungry enemy soldiers. From Carter's Mountain he watched smoke rising above the town and in the vicinity of "Pireus" without knowing what was burning. Not until after Sheridan continued south on March 6 did Marchant return home to discover the grave financial and sentimental loss he had suffered. His family and home were untouched, but his chief means of livelihood was gone.--Harry Poindexter

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

thorough and systematic destruction

Portrait of Maj. Gen. (as of Apr. 15, 1865) George A. Custer, Officer of the Federal Army. American Memory collections, Library of Congress.

Late in the afternoon of March 3 the first Union troops, under command of General George A, Custer, arrived in town. Wet weather, creating transportation difficulties, forced Sheridan to order a two-day halt while several large bodies of soldiers completed a thorough and systematic destruction of the [two] railroads. The depot was burned, miles of track made impassable, and several vital railroad bridges destroyed. In accomplishing the last objective Federal forces also demolished the Marchant mill.
--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 15, 2007

The news froze our blood

Marchant's spiritual resources were soon tested. Less than a year after he bought out his father, the end of the war brought defeat to the South and disaster to the Charlottesville Factory. By the last days of 1864 the spectre of final conquest was settling in on the Confederacy. Union forces ranged widely over the heart of a crippled South, and rumors of impending ruin swept through the town of Charlottesville during the early days of 1865. But they fell on incredulous ears until the beginning of March when it was learned that Federal troops under General Philip Sheridan, having defeated General Early, were advancing from Waynesboro, only a day's ride to the west. "The news froze our blood..." recalled an inhabitant. "We had heard of Sheridan-of his ruthless plundering--burning of dwelling houses and all the fiendish acts which characterized his raids in the Valley of Virginia. We dreaded his approach." These fears, as it turned out, were justified. "My orders," General Sheridan later wrote, "were to destroy the Virginia Central Railroad, the James River Canal, capture Lynchburg if practicable, and then join Major General Sherman in North Carolina, or return to Winchester." In overall strategy, this meant tightening the trap on Lee at Richmond; to the people of Charlottesville it meant destruction of property, humiliation, and final defeat. --Harry Poindexter

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

his left leg was shattered

Riverview Cemetery, H.C. Marchant purchased this family plot in December, 1894

It will be recalled that Henry Clay Marchant was among the original investors who formed the short-lived Charlottesville Manufacturing Company. Born on April 1, 1838, in Charlottesville where he grew up, he had been educated in local private schools. Marchant at seventeen left his father's factory and dry goods store, moved to Petersburg, and became clerk for a grocer. He remained there in the mercantile business until the outbreak of the war. In April, 1861, he enlisted in Company A, 12th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry, serving until June 25, 1862, when on the first day of the Seven Days Battle near Richmond his left leg was shattered by a minie ball. Disabled, Marchant used crutches for over a year after Appomattox. In 1863, he married Elizabeth R. Whitehead of Petersburg and began searching for a business opportunity. It was at that point that he purchased the enterprise with the destiny of which his own for half a century would be intimately intertwined.--Harry Poindexter

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Monday, October 8, 2007

exigencies of war

Marchant family home, known as "Piraeus." Photo taken circa 1908, courtesy of the Marchant Family collection.
The house was built around 1840 and remains remarkably unchanged to this day. For many years, this was the largest house in Charlottesville.
In the photo, one can see the pair of lovely brick gutters that come from the house and traverse nearly the entire length of the front yard.
There is strong evidence that a tunnel runs under the gravel path shown between the gutters. The tunnel begins in the basement, under the front steps, and exits somewhere on the other side of the railroad tracks.
Inexplicably, in 1980, Albemarle County zoned this, and the other historic homes on the hilltop, Light Industrial. Since then, these properties have been under threat of demolition to make way for industrial development.
We'd welcome hearing from anyone interested in Piraeus, or who would like to join us in saving it from demolition. Victoria Dunham - Woolen Mills Road

Meanwhile, in the decade of the fifties, as Marchant strived to bolster the financial condition of the company, the nation had moved steadily to the brink of war, When the blow fell in 1861, the small corporation was swept along by the exigencies of the conflict. The Confederate government hastily commandeered or seized control over the multitude of small textile factories throughout the South and put them to work producing military cloths. The Charlottesville Manufacturing Company played its part in this phase of the Confederate war effort. By 1862, fifteen persons labored at spinning and weaving cotton and wool fibers into goods for soldiers' and laborers' wear. If an adequate wool supply had been available the mill might have experienced a boom similar to that in the northern wool factories. At least one other small wool factory sprang up nearby to meet the war-induced demand for cloth, making three such mills within a radius of some thirty miles. The Marchant factory alone had orders enough to give work to three times the number of people actually employed, but difficulties in transporting cotton and wool from the abundant supplies in Texas and the Lower South precluded undue expansion of the enterprise. The shortage of wool grew especially serious as the war progressed, and throughout the South private homes were frequently stripped of all available fabrics to meet the needs of the army. --Harry Poindexter

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