Chapter 2C


Chapter 1
Chapter 2A
Chapter 2B
Chapter 2C
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 4A
Chapter 4B
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 6
Chapter 7


Chapter Two (Part C)
Historical Background of Sudley Post Office

The Civil War

By July of 1861 the Thornberry's combined household activities of the wheelwright shop and domestic production of foodstuffs allowed them to occupy a comfortable position within the community.  Between 1847 and 1860, the Thornberry household grew fourfold and was able to purchase two slaves.  Their domestic abode had doubled in size and the assessed value of household goods had changed from no taxable property in the late 1840s to a total of $70 in household goods, and a combined personal property assessed at $1500.  Much of the economic growth of the household was no doubt due to Thornberry's craft shop at the base of the hill.   Thornberry's multiple roles within the community as a craftsperson and active member of Sudley Methodist Church also reflected his success in business dealings in the community.  By the end of July, however, the destruction of the First Battle of Manassas would completely reverse the Thornberrys' economic situation.

The Civil War association of Sudley Post Office centers around the First Battle of Manassas in July of 1861.  A massive federal force of more than 35,000 men led by Irvin McDowell advanced from Washington, D.C., toward Richmond to take the Confederate capital.  To defer this attack, the Confederate forces moved from Manassas Junction toward Bull Run along the Warrenton and Alexandria Turnpike.  The initial clash between Union and Confederate troops at Bull Run served only as a diversionary attack by McDowell.  In the meantime, he had sent a force of more than 15,000 men to the north to sweep around to the Confederate rear and head toward Manassas Junction (Johnson et al. 1982:72).  The Confederates soon realized the skirmishing at Stone Bridge was only a diversion and Confederate Col. Nathan Evans sent a force toward Matthews Hill.  The only fighting close to Sudley occurred to the south of the unfinished railroad and proceeded along Sudley Mill Road toward Henry Hill (NPS 1996; Joseph 1996:3.12).  On Henry Hill, the Confederates received reinforcements from Generals Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's, Joseph Johnson's, and P.G.T. Beauregard's brigades and forced the Union Army into retreat by late afternoon.

John Thornberry took part in the fighting of First Manassas.  He served in the Confederate forces of  the 49th Infantry of Virginia, Company A (WPA 1941:228), and was wounded during the battle. Ironically, while John lay wounded away from his bed and family, the Union Army occupied his home to shelter injured and dying Federal soldiers.

Both during and after the battle, Union surgeons used the structures in the Sudley area for hospitals and triage centers for the wounded.  Both Sudley Church and the Stone House served as field hospitals.  The surgeons decided that Sudley Church and neighboring structures sat out of the range of fire but close enough to the wounded to be suitable for hospitals.  By the early afternoon of July 21, injured and dying soldiers completely filled Sudley Church.  Surgeon D. L. Magruder ordered three neighboring structures to be "cleared out" and these, too, along with the yards, were filled with the injured (Barnes 1865: 5).  One of these structures was the Thornberry's residence.

John Thornberry's daughter, Laura, describes the use of the Thornberry home as a triage center.  In her 1936 account, she recalled that her uncle, William Wilkins, had her mother and the five children stay at his farm to the south along Groveton-Sudley Road during the battle.  The next day, Monday, the family returned to their home to find the following:

She (Martha) with us and the children left it on Saturday evening as we had lived in it for fifteen or twenty years, and there was (on Monday morning) not an article of anything left in it.  Ten men had bled to death in mother's bedroom the night before.  Carpets and all furniture were out and gone.  We never saw any of it again, or anything else.  The old farm well in the back yard was almost full of everything that would go in it.  Such as China ware, cooking utensils, flat irons, and everything you can imagine used in a family was thrown in it.  Of course everything was broken.  How we all cried over it; and no prospects of replacing any of it. [Fletcher 1936].

Along with the complete destruction of household possessions, Laura Fletcher also recalled that Thornberry's shop had over 2000 dollars worth of property destroyed and this likely included his tools and shop (Fletcher 1936).  The combined effect of this destruction of property would make it impossible for the Thornberrys to resume life as they had known it before July 21, 1861.

Archeological excavations in the area of the kitchen, located in the eastern yard of the Thornberry home, revealed potential evidence for use of the structure as a triage center.  Seven militaria located in and amongst the rubble fall from the kitchen potentially relate to the use of the home and outbuildings for treatment of wounded soldiers.  These artifacts include  a fired .69 caliber musket ball, an unfired .69 caliber musketball, an unfired .54 caliber roundball,  a carved minie ball, a fired .54 caliber three ring minie ball, and an unfired percussion cap (Figures 2.6).  Also recovered in the area of the kitchen was a piece of lead carved in the shape of a period tobacco pipe (Figure 2.7).  The presence of this carved lead piece along with the other carved minie ball might reflect the activities of  injured soldiers passing time before they were transferred out of the area via field ambulances.  Similar carved pieces have been located at other Civil War field hospitals in Virginia (Geier 1989:209).

A two-piece cuff button, embossed with a Michigan state seal, was also recovered in the kitchen rubble, and is significant for two reasons (Figure 2.8).  First, the most common military button recovered from Civil War triage centers and field hospitals are cuff buttons, as upper appendages were the most likely to receive injuries and need medical assistance.  As a result, cuff buttons would be the first to be cut or ripped off to gain access to the afflicted limb (Stephen Potter 1998, personal communication).  Second, during First Manassas, only one Michigan regiment, the 1st Michigan, took part in the main battle and sustained losses.  The 1st Michigan arrived on the battlefield in the early afternoon of July 21st, and engaged in heavy fighting on Henry Hill and in the woodline to the south (Henessey 1989:99; Official Record (OR) II:406).  As a result of this fighting, the 1st Michigan sustained heavy losses amounting to six killed, 37 wounded, and 70 missing (Henessey 1989:131).  As the Thornberry home was not used for treatment of wounded soldiers during Second Manassas, and remained behind Confederate lines throughout Second Manassas, the likelihood of this button being associated with the 1st Michigan regimen's activites during First Manassas is high.

The military-related assemblage from Sudley Post Office  mirrors other excavated assemblages from triage centers such as the Hatcher-Cheatham Site located in Chesterfield County, Virginia (Geier 1994).  During the Grant's siege on Richmond in March of 1864, the Cheatum farm became the scene of intense fighting, and the Cheatham home was used as an aide station.   Similar to the Sudley Post Office Site, archeological testing of this site revealed deposits in the area of the kitchen suggesting the use of the outbuilding, in addition to the main residence,  as an aide station.  The assemblage from Hatcher-Cheatham is very similar to the smaller Sudley Post Office assemblage with the presence of fired and unfired projectiles, buttons, carved bullets, and unfired percussion caps (Geier 1994:208).    The small sample size of Sudley Post Office assemblage is probably due to the majority of the material being cleared out by the Thornberrys after the battle, and thrown in the downslope trash deposits.  The items recovered in the kitchen might have slipped beneath the floor boards during triage activities.  The presence of a root cellar beneath the kitchen, found during archeological testing of the kitchen, would have necessitated access via a trap door or loose floorboards that could be easily removed.  This portal would increase the likelihood of items slipping between floorboards.

The interim between the First and Second Battles of Manassas allowed the Sudley area only to patch the damages of the July confrontation.  No documentation is available showing how the Thornberry family might have recouped their losses after the First Battle of Manassas.  John Thornberry's injuries from the battle further hampered the household=s recovery.  Laura Fletcher recalled that for eight weeks her father was ill with typhoid fever brought on by a wound incurred during battle.  During these eight weeks her father convalesced at her grandfather's home to avoid spreading the infection to his family (Fletcher 1936).

The presence of soldiers in the Sudley area between First and Second Manassas was felt very strongly by the Thornberry household.  John Thornberry's involvement in the First Battle of Manassas left him not only physically wounded but made his household venerable to depredations of Union soldiers.  In Laura Fletcher's account of First Manassas's impact on her family she recounts,

After my father got back, living in his own home, a terrible noise was heard one night about 2 o'clock.  Ten federal soldiers came to our house and burst the front door down.  A piece of it struck my mother in the face and disfigured her very badly as well as hurting her.  They arrested my father and oldest brother, who was 16 years old, for spies.  They were not spies and never had been.  They took them away to Washington, put them in the "old Capitol" prison, and it was three months before mother heard from them.

The next morning before taking them to Washington, the soldiers got a rope to hang my father, placing it around his neck.  This did not occur in our house but just outside of our yard.  My brother begged and cried like a baby not to hang his father, "He didn't do anything."  One of the men said "Search his pockets before you draw that rope."  There they found a diary of his whereabouts.  That saved him; he always kept one [Fletcher 1936].

During the fall of 1861 and winter of 1862, Confederate soldiers were in the Sudley area on picket duty.  In a letter from Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard to Brig. General Evans, Beauregard stipulates that a position be patrolled at Sudley Springs and Church (OR, 2:930).  By calling for the patrol, Beauregard was undoubtably trying to prevent the recurrence of the Union attack witnessed during the First Battle of Manassas.  Adding to this fear was the presence of Union soldiers in the area.  This fear was realized by the Thornberry family when Federal soldiers attacked their home sometime in September or October of 1861.  The presence of Confederate soldiers in the Sudley area in the interim between the battles must have kept the community in a constant state of wariness for the impending conflict (Neville et al. 1995:31).

The Second Battle of  Manassas proved to have a heavier impact on the Sudley-Groveton area than did First Manassas.  During the battle, Sudley Post Office was between Jackson's far left and the Union right.  Jackson situated a cavalry unit at Sudley Ford to avoid the disastrous Union surprise of the First Battle of Manassas (Henessey 1993:202).  Despite this concern, most of the battle took place to the southwest along the Unfinished Railroad during the late afternoon of August 29.  The next day, the fiercest fighting occurred in the early afternoon further west along the Unfinished Railroad north of Groveton.  By mid afternoon, Union General Fitz John Porter's position north of Groveton was broken and he and his men retreated eastward toward Dogan's Ridge.  Upon learning of Porter's defeat, Union General John Pope ordered his regiments to abandon the Union left and concentrate north of the turnpike.  This tactical blunder left the Union left open for attack and allowed Lee to gain a position to attack from the south.  By the late afternoon of the 30th the Confederates had pushed the Union Army to Henry Hill where they decisively broke the Union lines (Henessey 1993:422).  That evening Pope and his men rapidly retreated toward Centreville.

By midnight of the 30th, remaining Union troops had pushed to the east of Bull Run when a rain began to fall.  This rain continued for the next several days.  During this time, Jackson was maneuvering his troops to march towards Fairfax in an effort to cut off Pope's retreat back to Washington (Henessey 1993:437,443).  In what amounted to a reversal of the July 21, 1861 Union attempt to attack the rear of the Confederate lines, Jackson had his beleaguered ranks trudging across Catharpin Run at Sudley Mills, then heading over towards Gum Springs Road, and eastward on the Little River Turnpike.  It is likely therefore, that guards or pickets were posted in and around Sudley Post Office given its location overlooking Sudley Spring Ford. Possible evidence for this guard duty was found in the form of a pulled C.S.A. Gardner minie ball (Figure 2.9), located on the eastern slope of Sudley Post Office overlooking both Bull Run and the farm road leading to Sudley Springs Ford.  This pulled Gardner ball might have resulted from the power charge becoming damp during the several days of rain from August 31st to September 1st.  Alternatively, a posted guard might have pulled his charge prior to joining the line of march when the last of Longstreet's troops left the area on the morning of September 1st (Hennessey 1993:443).

During Second Manassas, Sudley Post Office remained on the outskirts of the battle, but Laura Fletcher recounted that her family vacated their home during the battle.  This time, however, the house was not used as a field hospital, and Laura Fletcher did not report any damage.  Archeological testing around the structure, however, revealed two cannister shot.  These shot might have resulted from a Confederate emplacement firing from the ridge of Sudley Church.  This emplacement was a Virginia battery in the charge of Lt. Colonel R.L. Walker.  In the late morning of August 29, 1862, this battery directed its firing over Sudley Post Office, to the east, in an effort to ward off Union skirmishers attempting to break though the Confederate left flank (Henessey 1993:218-220).  Other than this slight incursion, Sudley Post Office saw little action during Second Manassas.  Given the damages incurred during First Manassas, however, the Thornberrys probably did not own very many tangible household goods at that time (Fletcher 1936).

However devastating the First Battle of Manassas was, the Second Battle served to cripple the local economy and change the landscape of the Sudley-Groveton area forever.  Second Manassas involved three days of heavy fighting.  Troops encamped in the area took resources from local residents both during and after the battle.  While Union troops burnt the more prominent homes in the area, such as Portici, Rosefield, and Pittsylvania, the combination of battle projectiles tearing through homes and occupation by wounded troops left most farms scarred to the point of being nonfunctional.  In the aftermath of the battle, visitors to the area reported that fences were gone and few inhabitants were left in the area (Joseph 1996b:3.23).  In her landscape analysis of the Sudley area, Maureen Joseph inferred from census records that following the War some property owners left the area and rented their lands for others to cultivate (1996a:3.26).

Reconstruction and Growth

Following the War, the Sudley community witnessed a period of rapid change.  The two battles had devastated the Sudley area and the area took five to eight years to recover.  The effects of the devastation are most evident in the tax assessments of the Thornberry property.  In 1865 the county clerk recorded the property deed between Thornberry and Weir.  The deed records Weir selling Thornberry the land and buildings for $300 (PWCDB 26:200). However, as described above, the 1860 Federal Census lists John Thornberry as the property owner for his residence, so his ownership of the land in 1860 indicates that the $300 transaction between Thornberry and Weir occurred before 1860 and represents the pre-War value of the land and buildings.  In 1867, the county assessed this same land at $160, including both buildings and land (PWCLT 1867).  These property values remained the same until 1870 when the county assessed Thornberry as having $200 in buildings and $100 in land (PWCLT 1870).  Assuming the 1865 deed transaction represented the 1860 value of the land, it was almost a decade before Thornberry's structures returned to their pre-War value.

The 1870 census lists Thornberry as a blacksmith (USBC 1870). Thornberry's switch in craft occupation may have been the result of his shop being devastated during First Manassas.  If so, he might have been working at a blacksmith in a shop by Sudley Mills or over by the village of Groveton.  After the Civil War, John and Martha had a son, William, and the census lists Weston Fletcher, a "watchman in factory," as residing at the Thornberry residence (USBC 1870).  Presumably Fletcher worked at Sudley Mills for the Thomases who owned the mill complex in 1870.  Fletcher would later marry John and Martha's daughter Laura (Turner 1993:204).  The Thornberry's might have taken this boarder into their already crowded home for additional disposable income.

The twenty-plus year tenure of the Thornberry household at Sudley ended in 1871 when the Thornberrys sold the  property to Elizabeth and Carson Matthew.  By 1880, the Thornberry household moved to the village of Buckhall, located to the south of Manassas, where the 1880 Federal Census listed him and his son as blacksmiths (USBC 1880).  Martha Thornberry died in 1884 and John passed away less than four years later (Turner 1993:204).

Like Thornberry's property, Sudley Mill underwent changes following the War as well.  In 1865, Robert Weir sold the mill complex to William and Susan Sullivan and, later, the 45-acre tract that contained his house as well (PWCDB 26:280).  Less than three years later, the Sullivans sold the property to Charles Thomas of Pennsylvania.  In 1875, the mill again changed hands and was purchased by Charles Fetzer of Pennsylvania who operated the mill for the next thirty years (PWCDB 30:213). Fetzer rebuilt the mill as a three-story frame building with a stone foundation and installed a larger timber dam with a mill pond to feed the race.  Fetzer also made improvements to the mill that brought the complex up to date with current milling technology.   These new improvements included a steel-overshot wheel and that powered a new roller mill system.  This roller mill crushed grains more efficiently and was a major factor in the economic growth of the mills and the community (Conner 1975:iii).

The changes in the Sudley community coincided with the relocation of the post office from the Stone House to the Sudley Mill Complex in 1868 (Scheel 1996:87).  Charles Thomas, then owner of Sudley Mills, served as postmaster for three years.  During this period of change at Sudley, Carson and Elizabeth Matthews bought the lot containing the Sudley Post Office Site from John Thornberry for $300 (PWCDB 28:490).

In 1874, Elizabeth Matthew became the postmistress at Sudley Springs (Scheel 1996:88).  The Matthews had only occupied the structure at Sudley Springs for three years before modifying the structure to accommodate the post office.  The Matthews either enclosed or added the southernmost shed to house both the post office and a store (Ballard n.d.; Ziegenfuss 1994:4).  Carson's wife, Elizabeth, managed the post office business; her name is listed on all documents associated with the Sudley Springs Post Office (Figure 2.10).  Previous to Elizabeth Matthew=s role as postmistress, males had played the role of postmaster in the Sudley-Groveton community since the 1830s (Scheel 1996:45, 88).

The Matthews household also derived some of their household income from agricultural activities.  Carson Matthews owned 39 acres of land adjacent to his brother Martin Matthews.  The 1880 Federal Census assessed this property at only  $570, and listed agricultural products of  110 bushels of corn, 50 bushels of peaches, 75 pounds of butter, and 50 dozen eggs (Joseph 1996a:3.26).  Carson Matthew's agricultural yields were small in comparison to his neighbors and probably were not enough to sustain his household.  In this same year, Bridget Nancy, a cousin, resided with the Matthews (USBC1880).

In 1885, Carson Matthew died and passed the house and property to his wife (Prince William County Will Book [PWCWB] T:540).  In 1900, the U.S. Census lists Elizabeth as a 70 year old widow residing alone at Sudley (USBC 1900).  Elizabeth Matthew operated the post office until her death in 1904 of pneumonia (PWCWB V:477; Deborah Anderson 1998, personal communication).  At that time Henry Ayes resumed mail service at Stone House until 1908 (Ratcliffe 1973:106).  In 1908 Rural Free Delivery ended the era of local post offices and centralized mail services in Catharpin (Scheel 1996:87).

During the thirty years the structure served as a post office, the Matthews made few changes that improved the assessed value of the property.  Four years after the Matthews acquired the property the assessed value of the buildings remained at $200.  However, the assessed value of the land decreased by twenty dollars (PWCLT 1875).  Both the property and building values remained the same until the turn of the century (PWCLT 1900).

When Elizabeth Matthew passed away, her niece, Georgia Anderson, inherited the house along with "one bed with bedclothes, one chest of drawers, and one-half dozen chairs" (PWCWB V:481).  Georgia Anderson owned the property until 1935.  During this time, she does not appear in the local census lists and did not reside on the property.

Local residents recall that an African-American household, by the name of Davis, occupied the site during the 1910s and 1920s (Joe Senseney 1997, personal communication).  Joe Davis, the head of the household, apparently leased the property from Anderson during this time period.  He was a day-laborer and he and his household lived at Sudley into the 1920s (Jim Sensensey 1998, personal communication).

Joe Davis's nephew, Frank Lee Davis, recalled that Joe was married to Lucy (Frank Lee Davis 1998,  personal communication).  This information allowed the author to identify which of the three Joe Davises listed in the 1920 Census lived at Sudley Post Office.  The 1920 Census lists Joe Davis and his wife Lucy as having five children: Gilbert, Andrew, Ruby, Maureen, and Josie (USBC 1920).  Local community members recall that the Davis family was very poor and were in the lower socio-economic echelon of the community (Mary Ferguson Smith 1998, personal communication).  One piece of information regarding the Davis occupation at Sudley Post Office is related to Sudley Methodist Church being struck by lighting in 1918.  Joe Davis was the first on the scene of the fire the night of August 7.  He reportedly rescued a few pews from the church before flames consumed the structure (Johnson et al. 1982:178).  Excavations in downslope deposits east of Sudley Post Office recovered fragments of a scorched stained glass window.  These stained-glass window sherds are contained within deposits dating to the 1910s and might be a keepsake that Joe Davis took from the burnt remains of the structure.

Joe Davis and his household moved from Sudley Post Office sometime in the mid 1920s to a structure near Mount Calvary Baptist Church (Jim Senseney 1998, personal communication). Joe Davis's son, Gilbert Davis, recalled that Joe Davis's brother, Abraham, lived about a mile to the south along Sudley Road where the family resides to this day.  Mr. Davis also stated that Joe Davis's brother Tom, lived adjacent to the Baptist Church.  In the 1930s the family moved to Manassas where his father worked for Cherrydale Cinder Block Company until his death in 1962 (Gilbert Davis 1998, personal communication).

In 1935, C.G. Perry bought the property and made enough improvements to the structure to have it valued at $200 by 1938 (PWCLT 1938).   A photo of the house taken in the mid 1930s shows the house in ill repair with damage to the clapboarding and chimney (Figure 2.11).  The structure probably sat unoccupied for a period prior to Perry's purchase of the property.

The Perrys sold the lot to H.R. and Velma K. Woodward in 1938.  Based on tax assessment values, the Woodwards made considerable repairs to the structure in the late 1930s.  In 1938, the assessed value of the structure was $200 and by 1941 the value rose to $600 (PWCLT 1938, 1941).   A photo taken in the 1930s shows evidence for these repairs to the structure.  The photo shows new windows installed along with repairs made to the siding.  Joists within the present structure provide further architectural evidence for these repairs.  These joists are circular sawn beams of standardized size fastened with wire nails.  This form of lumber was widely available in the early part of the twentieth century.  Also, the trim and sash work in the structure is commercially milled lumber that would have only been available after the turn of the century. The Woodwards also performed substantial landscaping in and around the structure.  The Woodwards used the structure as a vacation home until they sold the property to the Park Service in 1966 (Ballard n.d.).

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