Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I Visit Richmond To Learn About David And The Gunboat

To learn about David Lindsay Welborn, my ancestor whom the Confederacy drafted in the summer of 1864, I visited Richmond, Virginia. David, at age twenty, ended up on an ironclad gunship, the CSS Fredericksburg, a tough, junior addition to the James River Squadron.  The fleet patrolled the river that flowed partially around the Confederate capital, a mere one hundred seven miles from Washington.

"The Rebel Iron-Clad Fleet...In
The James River, 1865." Line engraving
from Harper's Weekly; CSS Fredericksburg
at right. Photo, U.S. Naval Historical Center.
Tredegar Ironworks in Richmond made the 1,000 pounds of iron plating for the Fredericksburg, which was assembled in the local navy yard and launched in June 1864. I wanted to visit Tredegar, and I also wanted to locate the spot in the James River where the shattered Fredericksburg today lies buried beneath six to fifteen feet of mud. The gunship’s own crew blew her up on April 3, 1865, during the evacuation of Richmond, to ensure Union troops didn’t seize or pillage her.

But first, let me tell you what I’ve learned about David while researching my book-in-progress, Dear Father, I Am Sorry To Tell You.

Model of the CSS Fredericksburg
at visitor center of Richmond Battlefield
National Park located in the former
Tredegar Iron Works along the James River.
In February 1864, the Confederacy, now desperate and worn down, adopted a third conscription law, expanding the draft age limits to include males from seventeen to fifty. The draft ensnared David, ninth child of Joseph Welborn’s ten children.  He enlisted as a private in 63rd North Carolina Militia, B Company, of Randolph County.

The family, reeling from the recent death of David’s older brother, Lyndon, as he defended Richmond, struggled to save the family farm. Grief and hardship forced them to wage their own battle to keep David out of the draft and on the farm. Two years earlier, David and his widowed father, a prominent Randolph County farmer, had paid a substitute to serve in the army in David's stead if he were called to serve.  The Confederacy had adopted a second draft law expanding the draft eligibility, a development noted by David's older brother, Lyndon, of the First North Carolina Troops, in a letter home in 1862. 
Petersburg, Va
May AD 31st 62

Dear Sister

. . . ask David what age that man was that he hired to take his place in the war
if he was between 18-35 he (David) will have to go yet in his place if called on but I hope he was not subject to that. . .

So write Soon to your effectionate Brother

My research into the Civil War and
my Confederate ancestors now takes me
from Warrenton, N.C., to Richmond.
By the summer of 1864, the Confederacy had cracked down on the practice of buying draft substitutes. David and Joseph regrouped. David petitioned The Confederate States of America Bureau of Conscription, 7th North Carolina Congressional District, which included Randolph County, for release from the draft.

April 11, 1864

State of North Carolina
To his Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States:

David L. Welbourn, of Randolph County, by petition, respectfully showeth unto your Excellency, that he is a private of Bedlick Co. Capt: Chilcutt, 63 Reg. N.C. Militia, has blue eyes, black hair, fair complexion, is 5 ft. (illegible) inches, was born in Randolph, is a farmer and was raised up to the business; that his father is 73 years old and infirm and cannot labor; that his father owns 346 acres of land and has the use of 104 acres during his life on Muddy Bank which are productive lands; that his father has two daughters and a small child, and a son aged 16 years, who has lost the use of his right arm which is stiff and with which he cannot labor at all; that he also has an old negro, aged 90 years, who is intirely helples; that the only person upon whom they are dependant is your petitioner; that it is said the aged father owns no other slaves and as consequence of his scarcity of laborers cannot employ any one to work his farm if your petitioner is carried off into its service. . .

I found a handwritten copy of David’s petition to Confederate President Jefferson Davis among family papers.  The justice of the peace who penned the three-page document probably pressed a ruler or some straight object onto the pale blue paper to produce row upon row of smudged inked words. 

James Deitz, the court officer who wielded the pen, apparently was a member of Randolph County’s draft board. Whether the reasons stated in the petition to the board were true (yes, with the Confederacy drafting all able men, laborers were scarce,  and the 90-year-old slave — probably Harry — wasn’t much help); partly true (yes, sixteen-year-old son Robert might have been able to work, stiff arm or not); or embellished to present a more compelling case, I can only guess. David's petition made a compelling case.   

     . . . that in consequence of the helplessness of said family your petitioner hired a substitute and placed him in his service and has been since engaged in working for the said family; that he has wheat sowed and has compacts to raise as much oats and corn as the land can cultivate; that he raises hay and he has a fine prospect for a large quantity of pork if he can be left at home to raise corn. . .

 Then David and Joseph made an offer they hoped the Confederacy couldn’t refuse.

. . . with which to fatten it that he will bind himself to furnish the government with 500 lbs  pork at such price as the Confederate appraisers shall fix; that he will employ his skill, means and labor diligently and exclusively in the production of grains, hay, fodder and pork and other produce, the surplus of which he is willing to sell to the government and the families of soldiers at such prices as the aforesaid officers shall fix; that if he is not left upon the said farms to raise grains and take care of the said helpless and crippled and infirm family that they will come to absolute want and suffering; that he had a brother who went into the service at the very commencement of the war and died lately in the service, was killed in an engagement with the enemy; that your petitioner is 20 years old and is a true and loyal citizen:  For these reasons and on the grounds of public necessity, equity and justice, your petitioner most respectfully prays your Excellency to exccept or detail the said David L. Welborn, your petitioner, to remain on the said farm and take care of and support the said dependent family and for such others and further  relief as to your Excellency shall seem meet and as in duty bound your petitioner will ever pray.   
April, 1864    James Dietz J.P.

                                                                                                D.L. Welborn (signature)

State of North Carolina,
Randolph County
Personally appeard before the subscriber an acting Justice of the Peace in and for said county, J. W. Steed, Allen Lamb, David Coltrane and B.F. Hoover, four respectable  citizens of said county who being duly sworn, depose and say that they are well acquainted with the aforesaid David L. Welborn; that the facts set out in his petition are true and correct.
Sworn and subscribed
Before me this 11th day April, 1864
J. H. Horvat   J.P.

David fought the draft in an above-board manner, although hundreds draft-dodgers and deserters from the Randolph County area, a hotbed of pro-Union violence, chose to hide in the hills and wait out the war. David, however, ended up serving a lost cause — as did three of his brothers — in conditions worse than a fugitive life in the hills.  Many considered assignment to a gunship patrolling the James River among the Confederacy's harshest. 

SOURCES: Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; National Underwater and Marine Agency, The Encyclopedia Virginia

Coming Soon: “they put me on the boat…and my….the lice…”