Our story starts with Clifton Johnson, who you see photographed here. He was born on January 25, 1865 in Massachusetts, dropped out of school at aged 15, and started to work at a bookstore before ultimately going to New York City to attend art school. Fast-forward several decades to 1913. Clifton traveled along a path that took him through key moments in the Civil War, talking to ordinary people along the way and capturing their stories. In his book, Battleground Adventures, published in 1915, he describes the stories he captures as follows:
These battleground experiences cover what is probably the only important phase of the Civil War that has not been adequately treated. They view the struggle from the standpoint of the home. Here you see the terror and pathos, the hardships and tragedy, through the eyes of those who lived where some of the greatest conflicts of the war occurred. You see how property was destroyed and industry disrupted, and how much the people not directly concerned in the fighting suffered.Clifton Johnson (Johnson, 1915, p.v)
It is all very human, and my purpose has been to get a free and genuine expression of both recollection and feeling and to retain as far as possible the personality of each of the many speakers.Clifton Johnson (Johnson, 1915, p.vi)
Part of what makes these accounts so powerful was Johnson’s acute awareness of accuracy – he tried to record these personal accounts as accurately as he could, from what was said to how it was said.
In his collection of stories is a piece called The Colored Woman at Headquarters in the chapter entitled Cedar Creek. Historians at Belle Grove have known about this story for a long time, often referring to The Colored Woman at Headquarters as The Bound Woman. While her account was short but powerful, we knew that her father lived at Belle Grove during the Civil War and that she, too, was there during the Battle of Cedar Creek. However, not much else was known about her. She was an enigma.
Go to next section, Lucy Walker
Clifton Johnson, circa 1900. (1900). [Photograph]. Digital Amherst. https://digitalamherst.org/items/show/1771
Johnson, Clifton. (1915). Battleground Adventures, the Stories of Dwellers on the Scenes of Conflict in Some of the Most Notable Battles of the Civil War. Houghton Mifflin Company.