“Tapp-ing” Into Lives in 19th Century Spotsylvania County


Local author, Pat Sullivan, penned and published the post that follows on Saturday, September 2014.  It is a far more intimate story of Phenie Tapp’s (my second great aunt) family than my post “Bi-racial Relationships of the 60’s–the 1860’s!”, penned May 14, 2014. My post tells about my second great-grandmother Catharine Elizabeth “Widow Tapp” Dempsey (descendent of Wicocomico Indian Nation’s Last Chief, King William Taptico), who married my second great-grandfather Lawrence T. “Larl” Boling (descendent of the Bolling aristocrats from ancient England) in 1868; and her life during the Civil War on the “Wilderness  Farm,”  when the “Battle of the Wilderness,” (Grant vs Lee) was fought killing more than 50,000 men.  This battle became known as “The Crossroads of the Civil War.”  In contrast, Pat Sullivan’s following post documents the harsh and intimate details of many of those same family’s lives in the mid-1800’s–up close and personal!
My photo

I tell the stories of some of Virginia’s richly documented historical families. Drawing on original photographs, letters and other source material, I seek to provide an intimate look at the lives of some remarkable people who lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. My book, “No Matter What Befalls Me: Virginia Families at War and Peace,” was published in 2015. 
The World According to Phenie Tapp  
Photo enhancement courtesy of Tom Myers

For students of the battle of the Wilderness, the words “the Widow Tapp farm” evoke images of the near capture of Robert E. Lee followed by his stirring effort to personally lead the newly arrived Texas Brigade against Hancock’s advancing troops. For all that has been written about that pivotal moment for the Army of Northern Virginia, much less is known about Mrs. Tapp and the personal stories of her extended family. As we shall see, were it not for the unlucky circumstance of having this battle fought near her cabin, no one would have ever heard of her. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]

Of course, she did not enter this world known as the Widow Tapp. She began her life in Orange County as Catherine Elizabeth Dempsey about 1803, a daughter of Daniel and Elizabeth Dempsey. In December 1833 she married Vincent Tapp of Culpeper County and by 1840 they had settled in Spotsylvania, where they raised their three daughters and two sons.
The Tapps were not wealthy people; far from it. They eked out a hardscrabble existence from land rented from Horace Lacy, owner of nearby “Ellwood.” They owned no slaves. Before he died in about 1857, Vincent Tapp’s name appeared on the list of Spotsylvania’s insolvents.

The Tapp house (National Park Service)

This watercolor of the Tapp cabin was painted by artist and Union army veteran George Leo Frankenstein in 1865. It is the only known image of the Tapp home. The cabin measured about 20’x30′ and housed as many as seven people at a time. The 1860 census tells us that this humble structure was home to Catherine Tapp, daughters Sarah Elizabeth, Margaret, Harriet and her husband Andrew Jackson Lewis, and son James. The other son, William Benjamin Tapp, was evidently living in Culpeper County at the time.

Shown on that census was one other person living in Catherine Tapp’s cramped cabin – a baby girl. We will return to this child shortly.

Western Spotsylvania, 1863

Across Orange Plank Road from the Tapp place was the farm of Thomas and Eliza Pulliam. In the map detail above, their property is indicated as “Mrs. Pulliam” in the lower left of the image just southeast of the uncompleted Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad. To the west of the Pulliams’ house was “Mount View,” the home of William V. Chewning, whose son Absalom supervised work at the Catherine Furnace for the Confederacy. To the southeast was the farm of Eliza’s brother Richard H. Pulliam. Unlike the Tapps, who were tenant farmers,  Thomas and Eliza Pulliam were freeholders and slave owners. Living with them were their two sons, Thomas Richard (known locally as “Tom Dick”) and John James. By 1860 Eliza Pulliam shared two things in common with her neighbor Catherine Tapp. First, they were both widows. Like Vincent Tapp, Thomas Pulliam (who may have been a cousin of Eliza) died during the 1850s.

The other thing that these two widows shared was the fact that they were both grandmothers of the baby girl born in the Tapp house in February 1860.
By 1859 Thomas Richard Pulliam was having an affair with Catherine Tapp’s oldest daughter, twenty five year old Sarah Elizabeth. The child born of this relationship, Eliza Frances, is known to history as Phenie Tapp.
Thomas R. Pulliam appears to have been at the least reluctant, and even unwilling, to acknowledge his paternity of Phenie or any obligation to marry Sarah Elizabeth. As one might expect, Sarah was herself unwilling to accept this unsatisfactory status quo and she sought relief in court. The result was that Thomas Richard Pulliam was compelled to sign this bastardy bond in June 1860, in which he finally acknowledged his paternity of Phenie and pledged to provide support until she reached age 14:

Bastardy bond of Thomas R. Pulliam (CRHC)

Know all men by these presents that we Thos. R. Pulliam & [blank] are held & firmly bound unto the overseer of the Poor for the county of Spotsylvania in the Just and full sum of one hundred fifty dollars to which payment well & truly to be made to the said overseer of the poor for said county, we bind ourselves our heirs Exors. & honor jointly & severally by these presents. Sealed hereto our seals [29th?] day of June 1860 and adjudge that Thos. R. Pulliam who was thereof accused & was the father of a Bastard child of Sarah E. Tapp an unmarried white woman of the said county, did order him the said Thos. R. Pulliam to enter into bond with good security conditioned for the maintenance of the said bastard child for the term of fourteen years. Now if the said Thos. R. Pulliam shall on each and every year on the first day of May on each & every such year for the term of fourteen years beginning this day to be paid to the overseer of the Poor of said county the sum of ten dollars per annum as aforesaid for the support & maintenance of the said bastard child; then this obligation to be void otherwise to remain in full force and virtue.
                                                                                          Thos R. Pulliam (Seal)
                                                                                          Thomas C. Pulliam (Seal)
                                                                                          R.W. Carter (Seal)
1868. April 6. Cr. the above bond by seventy dollars paid this day by T.R. Pulliam which has been paid over to S.E. Tapp.
                                         R.C. Dabney

This situation had scarcely simmered down when the sons of both Catherine Tapp and Eliza Pulliam took up arms for the Confederacy. Thomas and John Pulliam enlisted in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, the same regiment of my great grandfather. William Benjamin Tapp joined Stuart’s Light Horse Artillery, while his brother James signed up with the 7th Virginia Infantry in the fall of 1862. James fell ill almost immediately and remained on the sick list for the entire time he was a soldier until he died in the summer of 1863.

One would think that Tom Dick Pulliam would have his hands full fighting the Union army and avoiding responsibility for his daughter. One would be wrong. During the war he found the time and energy to bed the wife of Oscar Mastin, the former Sarah Faulconer. Oscar and Sarah had married in 1859 and had a daughter together, Laura Lee. In due course Sarah’s dalliance with Tom Pulliam became known to Oscar Mastin, who sued for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Sarah married Tom in June 1869; by then their oldest son was a year old. A second son, George, was born in 1872. Third was Judson Hammond Pulliam, born in February 1876. Sarah’s youngest son, William Jefferson Pulliam, was born three years after her husband’s death.
By May 1864 the peccadilloes of Tom Dick Pulliam did not loom large in the life of Catherine Tapp. The Union Army, twice the size of Lee’s still divided forces, came pouring into Orange and Spotsylvania on May 4. By May 6 General Lee had set up his headquarters at the Tapp farm, trying to buy time until Longstreet’s Corps could join him and stave off impending disaster. General Hancock’s troops appeared at the far end of the Tapp property, with little to stop them from advancing and capturing Lee save for the artillery of William T. Poague. Some of A.P. Hill’s men evacuated the Tapp family and shepherded them across the road to the house of Eliza Pulliam. In an interview she gave to National Park Service historian Ralph Happel in 1937, Phenie Tapp recalled how “the bullets struck the dirt around them, kicking up dust like the first drops of a coming storm.”
At last the Texas Brigade, the vanguard of Longstreets’s long anticipated arrival, came just in time to save the day. What followed next was one of the most dramatic moments of the Civil War.
Despite the ferocity of the gunfire and cannonading of that day, Catherine Tapp’s home and family survived. Her surviving son William came home safely after the war and returned to Culpeper, where he lived until his death in 1876. Thomas and John Pulliam also came home in one piece. John married Melissa Chewning and established his own farm. Tom and Sarah lived with Eliza.
Whether Tom Pulliam continued his profligate ways is not known, but I am willing to hazard a guess that he was not a reformed man. In any case, his life came to an abrupt and violent end on 14 January 1876. As reported in The Fredericksburg News:

Tom Dick Pulliam was lying asleep on a sofa in his house near “Faulkners” when Tom Sutherlin struck him in the head with a piece of spoke timber, which killed him instantly. Cause, an old grudge. Sutherlin escaped. The citizens offer a one hundred dollar reward for him.

 Two weeks later, on 1 February 1876, George Washington Estes Row mentioned Pulliam’s demise in a letter written to his fifteen year old cousin, Emma Farish: Tom Dick Pulliam was murdered by Tom Sutherland a week or two ago. They were on a drunk. Sutherland has not been caught – and if you see him catch him as the Governor has offered one hundred dollars reward. Give me half, won’t you?


These were the circumstances in which Phenie Tapp was born and spent her formative years. It is little wonder, then, that the remaining sixty eight years of her life assumed the character that they did.
 After her grandmother Catherine died in May 1879, Phenie continued to live with her maiden aunt Margaret at the Tapp place. In fact, Phenie would live there for all her long life.
In June 1881 Phenie gave birth to a daughter, Madosha. Father unknown.
On 19 January 1896 Phenie traveled to Washington, D.C. with John C. Stanford, with whom she exchanged wedding vows. Their marital bliss seems to have been of short duration. During a trip to Orange they encountered one of her old flames, Isaac Jones, and all hell broke loose. From the Fredericksburg Daily Star 26 March 1896. Written in the incomparable style of Charles Henry Robey:

A Row in Orange
Two Men Seriously Injured

 Isaac Jones, of Spotsylvania, and John C. Stanford, of Fauquier, had an altercation, resulting in a desperate fight, at the house of Mr. Oscar Almond, near Locust Grove, in Orange County, Sunday afternoon about 4:30 o’clock, in which Jones received a pistol ball in his left arm and Stanford’s head and face were badly hacked and cut with a grubbing hoe. 

Both men are married men. Jones’ family living near the Wilderness Store and Stanford’s at Elk Run in Fauquier. 

The row was on account of one Phenie Tapp, living near Parker’s, in Spotsylvania, a rustic nymph du pave, whose charms seem to have enthralled both of them. She and Jones, it seems, have been friends for the past four or five years, all others being ousted in his favor, until Stanford, an itinerant sewing machine repairer, put in an appearance last fall. 

He must have made a complete conquest of the woman, for she shortly abandoned Jones to follow her new lover. 

Jones’ rage at being left in the lurch is to have been terrible. He swore vengeance on both of them, and promised to carry it out, should they come in his way. 

Stanford and the woman went to Washington, where they claimed to have been married, and came to Orange Sunday to attend some business matters that S. had left unsettled. The woman stopped at Mr. Almond’s, while the man went to the home of Constable J. L Morris. 

While he was absent, Jones put in his appearance, and when Stanford returned to Almond’s they met and the row occurred. Jones says that after some words Stanford started to draw his pistol on him, and that he used the hoe in self defense. 

Stanford’s story is that as he approached the house of Almond, Jones came out, and picking up the hoe, cursed and assaulted him. The woman who got the men apart confirms what Stanford says. 

Constable Morris who left home on his way to Orange Courthouse at the same time Stanford started for Almond’s heard the pistol shots and screams of women. 

He started in the direction of the sound, and met Stanford in an exhausted condition, and smeared with blood. 

He told Constable what had occurred, and asked to be taken to some place where his wounds could be attended to. 

Mr. Morris did this and then went to the scene of the affray. 

He found Jones and the woman there. Jones gave him his version of the affair as related above, and said that the intended to follow and kill Stanford. The woman said that but for her he would have overtaken his victim before the Constable met him, and would have surely killed him. 

Mr. Morris said he considered Jones’s wound very slight, but he thought Stanford was in a bad way. The ball struck Jones’ left hand, just breaking the skin and entering the fleshy part of the arm near the elbow. The wounded man wanted the constable to cut the ball out, in order to save him a doctor’s bill. 

Jones returned home Sunday night to have his wounds attended to, and Stanford and his alleged wife came to Spotsylvania to the home of the woman’s mother Monday morning. 

Constable Morris reported the matter to the Orange authorities Monday and the proper steps were taken to have the parties brought to justice. 

The people in the vicinity are very indignant at the occurrence and there seems to be a strong sentiment in favor of dealing severely with the law breakers. 

The phrase “nymph du pave” was unfamiliar to me, so I looked it up. Of the various definitions offered, my favorite is “a woman of extinguished morality.” It should be noted here that at the time of this altercation, Isaac Jones was sixty years old.

It is also worth noting that during this entire episode John Coffey Stanford was still legally married to Isabella, his wife of thirty three years whom he abandoned in Fauquier County in the early 1890s. A month after Stanford’s showdown with Jones, John and Isabella mutually sued each other for divorce on the basis of desertion. A divorce decree was in due course granted to Isabella Stanford.
A year after that violent competition for the affection of Phenie Tapp, a child, Mary Catherine, joined the Tapp household. On the 1900 census she is designated as Phenie’s adopted daughter, leading some to speculate that  she was actually the daughter of Madosha. In any case, the identity of the father is unknown.
Phenie’s escapades next made the news in this brief piece in the 10 July 1902 edition of the Free Lance, in which she is misnamed as “Vena Taft”:

Although acquitted of the “offense” alledgedly committed with Andrew Jackson Banks, who was black, it is apparent that he enjoyed a relationship with Phenie beyond that of his employment as her “hired hand,” as he is noted in subsequent censuses. Phenie and Jack lived together for the next forty years.

By 1910 Madosha had evidently married a James Oaks, whose occupation is variously given as “woodchopper” or “tie getter,” which I presume meant someone who hauled railroad ties. After 1910 Madosha and James vanish from the written record, as far as I can see.
Mary Catherine Tapp married Frederick Thomas Hicks on 4 January 1917. They lived with Phenie for a time before moving to Richmond, where they raised six children. Mary Catherine died in 1935; Fred outlived her by nineteen years. They are buried in the Hicks cemetery in Spotsylvania:

Phenie Tapp was an undisguised foe of Prohibition and she and Jack Banks supplemented their income by distilling and selling moonshine. This brought unwelcome attention from Revenue agents from time to time, but I find no record that they did any serious jail time for their efforts.

During the 1930s historian Douglas Southall Freeman unsuccessfully attempted to buy the Tapp farm in order to preserve it, “but found Phenie eccentric, the title clouded and funds hard to raise.” [The Wilderness Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher. University of North Carolina Press, 1997, p. 194]
By the end of her life Phenie was living in the third house that had been built on the property, the original log cabin in which she had been born having long since decayed to ruin.
Eighty four year old Eliza Frances Tapp died on 31 May 1944 at the home of Calvin Macrae Jones, the son of her one time beau and a handy man with a grubbing hoe, Isaac Jones. From The Free Lance Star 2 June 1944:

Mrs. Phenie Tapp Dies at Wilderness

Mrs. Phenie Frances Tapp, 84, of the Parker neighborhood in Spotsylvania, died at the home of Calvin Jones at Wilderness.

Long a picturesque character Mrs. Tapp had an intimate knowledge of the famous battle of the Wilderness, fought over the section where she lived in 1864. She was four years old at the time of the great battle and was a granddaughter to the famous Widow Tapp, on whose farm General Lee had his headquarters and who is often referred to in accounts of the fighting.

Funeral services for Mrs. Tapp will be conducted be conducted at the grave at Oak Hill Cemetery at 3 o’clock Saturday. 

A stone for both Phenie and Madosha stands at Oak Hill:

The Free Lance Star 10 January 1950

Six years after Phenie’s death, the Tapp farm was offered for sale by her second cousin Elsie Davenport. At some point a portion of the property was acquired by Dr. Allan Mowry Giddings on behalf of the Civil War Round Table of Battle Creek, Michigan. This parcel he donated to the National Park Service in 1963. An additional fifty three acres was bought by the Park Service 1968-1972.

I wish to acknowledge the following persons whose help made possible today’s post: Diane Ballman of the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center; historian Eric Mink of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park; and my friends and fellow researchers Wil Bowler and Tom Myers. Many thanks to each of you. Any errors in this piece are mine alone.

150th Anniversary–Battle of the Wilderness


My second great grandfather, Lawrence T. “Larl” Boling married Sarah Tapp, daughter of the now famous Catharine Dempsey “Widow Tapp,” (making her my 3rd great grandmother) because she had the misfortune of living on the land that became known as the “Wilderness Battlefield,” in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the Civil War.

On Friday May 2, through Sunday, May 4, Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) in collaboration with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) and in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness will offer Programs and Events as included at the end of this post. Please come join them in this commemorative event.

The Wilderness is the name given to a dense forest, with thick undergrowth, located about ten miles west of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It runs roughly 15 miles along the south bank of the Rapidan River and stretches approximately 10 miles to the south. During the Civil War, this dense forest was the location of two major battles that occurred almost exactly a year apart. 

 

In the first battle, “Chancellorsville” (April 30 thru May 6, 1863), Confederate General Robert E. Lee faced Union General “Fighting” Joe Hooker. It was during the Chancellorsville battle that, after his Corps had flanked the Union army and almost destroyed it, Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men.

Widow Tapp’s field

Catharine DempseyMuch of the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on the lands that Catharine Dempsey Tapp rented from Major James Horace Lacy, who lived at Ellwood, two miles to the northeast. Her husband, Vincent Tapp died before 1860, leaving her to raise the family. Catharine was the daughter of Daniel and Betsey Dempsey of Orange County, Virginia.  Few families of modest means became so famous. “Widow Tapp, as she was known” (my third great grandmother), with other family members eked out an existence from the poor soil. The Tapps occupied a lopsided log cabin where seven people lived in a space perhaps 30 by 20 feet. A corncrib, log stable, and a few fruit trees surrounded the house. Four milk cows and seven pigs wandered the property.

Catharine Tapp’s net worth barely exceeded 100 dollars. She owned no land; she owned no slaves. A kitchen garden and small patches of corn, potatoes, and wheat likely provided much of the family’s food. The war that so devastated others in Spotsylvania County could do little to diminish the Tapps; they had little to lose.

“Eliza “Phenie” Tapp (my 2nd great aunt) was just four at the time of the battle, but in the 1930’s she described her childhood memories to National Park Service historian Ralph Happel. She remembered that as her family fled their home bullets struck the dirt around them, kicking up dust like the first raindrops of a coming storm.”

Phenie Tapp Interview

Photo of Phenie Tapp being interviewed by National Park Service historian. This is from a marker at the site of Widow Tapp’s farm in Spotsylvania County. (Site of the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1863.)

 

Phenie Ta[[

Phenie Tapp is the granddaughter of Catharine Dempsey Tapp better known as “Widow Tapp” from the farm where much of the Battle of The Wilderness was fought.

The 1864 Overland Campaign Begins with

the Battle of the Wilderness

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) in collaboration with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) and commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness will offer Programs and Events beginning on Friday, May 2 through Sunday, May 4.In early spring of 1864 while headquartered in Culpeper, Virginia, General U.S. Grant, USA devised a historic plan to end the American Civil War; it became known as the Overland Campaign. Though it would take the better part of a year and the massing of casualties in the hundreds of thousands to reach its goal, it would begin with the horrific two-day battle at the Wilderness on May 5 and 6 of 1864.

Battle of the WildernessWith casualties reaching nearly 30, 000 during the two days of fighting, it is our duty and responsibility to keep their stories alive. “It is not so much a need to relive the past as it is an obligation to honor our ancestors be they military or civilian, black or white, Confederate or Union. At the very least, we owe them that,” said Zann Nelson, President of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield. Beginning on Saturday, April 26 and running through August 17, Ellwood Manor will be open seven (7) days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. After August 17th, the Ellwood house hours of operation will resume the Sat., Sunday and holiday schedule through October. There is never a fee to enter Ellwood or participate in any of the events offered on the grounds, though donations are always welcomed. For more detail visit  www.fowb.org. Upcoming Schedule of events: May 2-3: 2-Day Wilderness Battlefield Bus Tour: Guide: Gordon Rhea … SOLD OUTMay 3 and 4: “Living History at Ellwood Manor” ongoing 10-5 May 4: “Tours of Historic Ellwood” will be extended until 7 PM

Special Commemorative Programs at Ellwood Manor will include: 
  • Military Hospitals during Battle: With nearly 3,000 Union soldiers killed and an 12,000 more wounded, the Battle of the Wilderness was one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War and one of the busiest for their doctors. Come listen to surgeons explain how the wounded were transported off the field to the hospitals. They will also go into detail about how the sick and wounded we’re cared for once they arrived at the various hospitals set up around the region. Presented by “Doc” Duvall and John Pelletier, well-known authorities on the subject of military medicine. 
  • Union Staff Officer: Bob Broadwater, seasoned historical presenter will interact with visitors about the role and duties of the staff officer to such commanders as Generals Grant, Meade, or Warren. 
  • The Heritage Tent: Sponsored by FoWB’s Heritage Program. Visitors will hear the stories and view photos of the men and women who were residents of the Wilderness area and the soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Wilderness. Descendants are encouraged to visit the tent to share their stories. Visitors are welcome to come with information to see if their ancestor may qualify for the Heritage Program. Staff will be on hand to answer questions and help visitors with their ancestry quest. 
  • Wet Plate Photographer: Sunday May 4 only: John Milleker, Jr., professional photographer and skilled “wet plate” artisan of Baltimore, MD, will show and explain the process of Civil War era photography used to chronicle the events of the four years of struggle. Mr. Milleker’s art work will be available for purchase in either the wet plate format or digital photographs of you and your family in a historic setting.
  • Sketch Artist: Local artist David Mitchell will explain the role of the Civil War era sketch artists such as Alfred Waud in reporting the stories of battle to the home front newspapers and magazines. David will be offering personal sketches of visitors for a small fee.

In addition, to these programs the National Park Service is sponsoring the following activities on the Ellwood Manor Grounds: Children’s Activity Tent (Saturday and Sunday)Military Living History Encampment (Friday, Sat. Sunday and Monday)Two hour Guided Walking Tour (1:30 PM on Sat. May 3)One hour presentation on the Impact of the War on Civilians (3:30 pm on Sat. May 3)Campfire Program: 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM on Sunday, May 4. Please see http://www.nps.gov/frsp/special.htm for further details. Ellwood Manor is a circa 1790 house within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  The cemetery has the grave of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s amputated arm from the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the house was a Federal headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness.  Friends of Wilderness Battlefield stewards the property in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS).  For directions and more information visit www.fowb.org.

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield
parkdayregistration@fowb.org | http://www.fowb.org
P.O. Box 576
Locust Grove, VA 22508