25 May 2005

Providential History

I love history – for a number of reasons. First, I live in Virginia and have roots going back many generations, all the way to Jamestown. Virginia is the mother state of our liberties – both political and religious. Secondly, I was fortunate enough to attend public schools when accurate and interesting history was still taught. But most important, history is actually His-story; the story of God’s providential march through time.
As a young boy, I preferred to spend my spare time in the school library rather than on the playground. Oh sure, I loved the outdoors and sports like most young boys, but I often found myself in the library devouring the biographies of great Virginians like Patrick Henry, George Washington, Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Booker T. Washington.
After I became a Christian in 1979, history took on a fresh importance to me. I was struck by how many great Americans were believers or, at least acknowledged the wisdom of the Scriptures to some extent. My renewed love of history led me on a lifelong quest to read and learn all I could about my heritage, my country and, especially, the history of Virginia. In that quest, I discovered many fascinating things. The first thing I discovered, much to my chagrin, was the fact that my family patriarch came to Virginia after the War Between the States – as a carpetbagger! Oh, the shame of it all! Alas, there was good news regarding Benjamin Franklin Williams. He won a seat in the Virginia Senate in the late 1870’s and served honorably; helping to stave off what would have been a disastrous economic policy known as the “Readjuster Movement.” In doing so, he had to buck a very popular Governor – William Mahone who had served as a general for the Confederacy. The fight cost him his senate seat but he was fondly remembered by the citizens of Nottoway County in Virginia’s Southside.
Somewhat befuddled by the discovery of my yankee ancestry, I continued my family research and discovered that my father’s mother’s side of the family – the McGanns and Campbells – had several Confederate veterans. Redeemed! Then on my mother’s mother’s side, I found additional information about John Meredith Crutchfield. Grandpa Crutchfield left the family farm, walked to Gauley Bridge, VA (West VA today) and enlisted with the 60th Virginia Infantry, Company F at the beginning of the war. He was wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley, taken prisoner by the Federals and transported to the infamous POW Camp Morton in Indiana where prisoners received cruel treatment at the hands of the Yankees.
Transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in March of 1865 in a prisoner exchange, my grandfather died there on March 28. There, the story ended – or so the family thought. John Crutchfield’s widow died years later not knowing what had become of him. Had he deserted? Had he run off with another woman? Had he been killed in battle? No one knew until the 1950’s when my great aunt discovered the information about the Battle of Piedmont and Chimborazo. But the family still did not know what became of his body. Where was he buried or was he buried? Then I wrote a story for the Washington Times’ Civil War column detailing some of my grandfather’s story. (See: http://www.washingtontimes.com/civilwar/20050506-093923-4795r.htm - this story refers to a "James" Crutchfield. That was my mistake, John is the correct name. John had a son named James that was born in 1861.) The story was read by a gentleman in Richmond; a fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans member. This man was working on the restoration of Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. This cemetery, where many Confederate veterans are buried, had fallen into shameful neglect in recent years. Things had gotten so bad that there were actually bones protruding from several of the graves. I was contacted by this fellow letting me know that he knew for a fact that John Meredith Crutchfield was buried at Oakwood – family mystery solved! (See: http://home.earthlink.net/~oakwood_cemetery/) Almost exactly 140 years after the fact, John Meredith Crutchfield’s family now knows where he is buried. And, thank God, family members will soon be visiting Oakwood Cemetery to pay some long overdue respect with a ceremony and a new headstone. Grandpa Crutchfield has never before had someone from his family visit his grave, weep over his death, honor his sacrifice, or place flowers upon his final resting place. That is about to change. I love history. And I love the God of history who providentially shows us what we need to know to honor our fathers.


R.D. said...

I am a Crutchfield who happened upon your story while surfing. Great tale. Congrats on finding your loved one's resting place.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks cousin. Drop me an email some time and give me some background.
Best - RGW

Robert Moore said...


Noting this older comment about B.F. Williams... I'm a bit hazy on what I discovered regarding your Williams CW-era kin, but I think I recall that one may have been killed in the war (and, perhaps an officer), yes? Can you refresh my memory as to which brother of B.F. Williams that was? Also, did I actually rule-out Benjamin Franklin Williams' other brother, Henry Laurens Williams, as having served in Co. B, Twenty-ninth Pa. Infantry, a regiment? - Robert

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I can't recall Robert. I'll have to wade back through our emails - I still have them. I'll try to get back to you over the holiday. I am still very interested.