31 August 2013

How A Slave Saved VMI's History From Marauding Yankees

One of the more interesting stories I came across while researching and writing Lexington, Virginia and the Civil War was that of slave Robert Price. Price is little more than a forgotten footnote in the history of the Civil War and Hunter's raid on Lexington, but he provided a valuable service to the Virginia Military Institute and the family of Superintendent Francis Smith. As I tell the story in the book . . .

Robert Price
Robert Price, known simply as “Old Bob”, served the Smith family for fifty years—from the 1840’s through the post-Civil War era. Smith had “attached to his household” the slave shortly after marrying Sarah Henderson and assuming his duties at the Institute.
Very few even knew Bob’s last name. Fewer today are aware of his contribution. William Couper provides some of the details to this incident in his book, 100 Years At V.M.I. Couper footnotes one of his sources as an article which appeared in The Cadet newspaper in January of 1925 and authored by Dr. Larkin W. Glazebrook who was a grandson of Smith. As Smith was often away for long periods of time during the war, Price “assumed charge of the household as a protector and each night he would spread his pallet in the hall, in front of the bedroom of his mistress”, even though Price was, himself, the “father of a large family.” Shortly before Union General Hunter’s army fell on Lexington in June of 1864, “an old family horse died who had served faithfully for many years.” The account in the The Cadet states that “With due ceremony and affection, ‘Old Bob’ buried him in the garden to the rear of the house.” As the news spread that Hunter was headed toward Lexington, “Bob” realized at this time that his responsibility was not only for the family of his master, but for all else in which he was interested. Quietly he set to work gathering valuable papers, institute records, family silver, and other valuables in order that they might be preserved. Rumors which arrived caused him to hesitate as to where to store them, when he thought of the solitary grave. Without hesitating he set to work digging up the remains of the old comrade and placed his collection at the bottom of the grave. He then returned the horse to its resting place.

Price then recalled that there was a “supply of brandy and wines” stored in the cellar for “hospital purposes.” Apparently concerned that the Yankees would discover the spirits, get drunk, and cause “a possible menace”, he emptied out the contents. Finally, Union “hunting parties” arrived and discovered the freshly disturbed dirt. Price was immediately summoned and a suspicious yankee soldier demanded, “What’s there?” Old Bob, reasoning to himself that it was no sin to lie to the devil answered, “Nothin’ butta ole daid hoss.” Unconvinced, the soldier ordered, “Dig it up.”
If you want to know what happens next, you'll need to buy the book.


Anonymous said...

While I appreciate your research, I have to say your format is utterly unreadable.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Can you elaborate?