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The conclusion. The family remained at Carysbrook for 17 years, until 1879.
Another matter with which Father charged himself during the war was assisting many poor families in the neighborhood whose fathers, sons, and brothers were in the army. The women and boys would come regularly to Carysbrook to get food and other help. They would always be fed first, and then get their bags filled at the mill or storerooms and go off, to come again in due time. We would generally ask them questions about the men, what command they were in and how they were getting on, etc. One day a poor woman on being asked hung her head in silence and looked most miserable. It turned out that her husband had deserted, and she poor soul was in double trouble. However she was not allowed to suffer for her husband’s fault.
Father made several trips to the army when it was near Orange Courthouse. He would go in a two-horse wagon carrying a great quantity of provisions and clothes for our boy and friends. He took me along twice, and grand times we had. I will never forget seeing the grand review of the 2nd corps of the army of Northern Virginia, which took place near Orange C.H. It was a grand and impressive sight, as division after division with its brigades, regiments and companies swept over the field, while Lee and the chief officers stood apart over looking it all.
Another thing which filled me with very different emotions was the sight of ten stakes in a row in a field near Gordonsville marking the graves of ten deserters who had recently been shot on the spot. This is said to have been the largest execution made during the war. We were well into the merits of the war by that time. We visited sister Georgia at Brampton, where Stuart long had his headquarters, and which was surrounded by the army on all sides. Stuart’s tent used to stand under a fine young tulip poplar just to the right of the house as you approach it. He called it his tree and seemed singularly attached to it. He once said to Dr. Grinnan, “I am never as much at home anywhere as when in my tent, and many a hard ride I have taken to get back to it. I shall be killed in this war, and you must remember this is my tree – Stuart’s tree.”
It is now a superb tree, several times bigger than it was then, and you may be sure it is sacredly protected. By the way, Stuart’s chestnut sorrel horse Sky Lark passed into the hands of one of the Galt boys and ended his days in comfort and honour at the Point of Fork, the name of the Galt Plantation in the fork between the James and Rivanna.
At Brampton we met General Carnot (?) Posey of Mississippi, Father’s first cousin by the half-blood. General Posey’s mother was Grand Pa Bryan’s half-sister. A splendid-looking officer , he was wounded not long afterwards at Bristol Station and died at the University of Virginia. He now lies in the university cemetery.
But the war was to be brought nearer home to us still, first in Joe’s person. A note came in from our neighbor Mr. James Galt while we were at the breakfast table one Monday morning in about these words: “Dear Mr. Bryan, ______ has just returned from the army and brings word that your son Joe is severely if not mortally wounded, shot in two places.”
We ate no more breakfast! The aforesaid two-horse wagon was soon ready and Father in it with a manservant, bed, blanket, bandages, lint, etc. and on the road to find Joe dead or alive. I think it was about Wednesday that Joe stopped by the schoolhouse in Palmyra where I was going to school and sent in for me. How I boo-hooed when I saw his pale face and empty sleeve! But he gathered me to him with his one sound arm, and assured me he was not much hurt. I never in all my life enjoyed anything more than I did binding those wounds (which indeed were not severe and one of them even amusing) and hearing his accounts of the exploits of Mosby’s men. But he must tell of them himself.
It was not so very long after this, in March ‘65,th at Sheridan and his 10,000 cavalry came along, and from that time to the fateful close we had no end of Yankees. The plantation and houses were ransacked time and again, but we managed to lose but a small amount of stock and to save many things. For instance a squad of Yankees came in one day while we were at dinner, and when all the silver plate in use at the time was lying open on the table or sideboard or in the drawers, etc. In the confused efforts to hide things, candlesticks, spoons, castors, etc. were gathered up, we did not know where. For a while we thought they had made a clean sweep, but all was found hidden afterwards in the kitchen.
Old Davy Tazewell the miller prayed most earnestly to those who went to burn the mill and so effectively that it was spared. Father was always perfectly cool with the pillaging parties and we generally came off with comparatively small loss and no special insult. One night, however, a band of Jesse scouts (i.e., Yankee scouts dressed in confederate uniform) came in to behave outrageously. One walked up to Father and presented a cocked pistol to his breast and demanded his watch, saying that one whose name I will forebear to mention “says you have a watch and a fine one, so hand it out!”
It was dark and we were standing out on the front porch. Father struck up the revolver with his arm and refused to give up his watch. Then two or three more gathered round him and with cocked pistols and threats laid hold of him as if to search his person. The old gentleman had his back to the door – he was on the front porch, and was holding them off as best he could – so just then I threw the candle I was holding, which was the only light, over the porch side, and in a moment he slipped through the door behind him into the house, leaving the Yankees struggling together in the dark.
He turned the watch over to Sister De, and it was saved that night. Then I hid it, and it is ticking in my pocket now. Sometimes the Yankees were about as civil as they could have been under the circumstances, merely taking what they wanted and not destroying anything unnecessarily. There was one very nice looking officer with whom Father was expostulating one day – telling him among other things that he himself had been in the navy for years and knew many of the old officers. “Ah,” said the officer. “It is a pity you left the service. You would have been a rear admiral by now,” and went on helping himself to whatever pleased him.
In the bitter times after the war, when so many old confederates were without support and in distress, Father astonished me one day by telling me to pack up the beautifully illustrated Ornithology of Wilson and Bonaparte carefully in a box. This book, in twelve folio volumes, had come from Roanoke and had Mr. Randolph’s book plate and arms in each volume. It was a great shock, but I got a strong cypress box which seemed to me fit to hold them, and sorrowfully packed and nailed up the handsome and charming books. They were sent off to New York. For a long time I did not have the heart to ask why he had sold those books, but after several years I asked him.
It had been done to raise money to relieve an old shipmate, one who when they were boys had sailed with him on the frigate of Captain Hull of Constitution fame, and who was also the only person I ever saw who called him by his Christian name, Randolph, as one boy would another. He afterwards paid us long visits and was loved by us all. But the fact that the books had been sold in his behalf would never have been known had I not asked long after it was done. They brought $90, a great relief to the poor fortune-wrecked captain who received it, but not half their value.
John Randolph Bryan died at the University of Virginia September 13, 1887. At that time, Corbin Braxton Bryan wrote the these notes on his father’s life. He concludes:
Now as I look back I always see the river, for it is the guardian of the little Pine Island. This little island landlocks a cove in front of the house. It was selected by Father for his burying ground, and there he now lies with our mother and the three children, Virginia, Tom, and Jack.
JR Bryan was buried at Eagle Point. His grave at what is now called Bryan's Island Cemetary reads:
Here lies John Randolph BRYAN