Historical drawing donated to Folly

Published 8:47 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lee King, curator of Riddick’s Folly, shows off the donated charcoal drawing of Camp Dodge now hanging on the third floor of the house museum. The drawing was done by Union soldier Thomas Place.

Few folks in Suffolk have ever heard of Thomas Place, but his artwork now holds an even more prominent spot in Suffolk’s historical record.

A charcoal drawing done by Place during the Civil War recently was donated to Riddick’s Folly House Museum on North Main Street. It is the second work of Place’s to hang in the house.

“I think it’s really special to have two originals by Thomas Place,” said Lee King, curator of Riddick’s Folly.

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Place enlisted in the Union army on Sept. 20, 1862, in New York. He joined Troop H, First New York Mounted Rifles, and was immediately sent to Suffolk.

The unit set up house at Camp Dodge, which was on the Jericho Plantation owned by the Riddick family of Riddick’s Folly, according to King.

Thomas Lord, a local expert on the unit and currently a member of the 7th New York Volunteer Cavalry re-enactment unit, said the group was mostly involved with skirmishes in such places as Chuckatuck, Somerton and Ivor. The Confederate army was encamped in Franklin, and the First New York Mounted Rifles — the first Union troops to arrive in Suffolk — were determined to defend the water and roadway to Norfolk.

“This was the perfect chokepoint, plus a major seaport,” Lord said.

But when he wasn’t fighting, Place was a prolific artist. He created dozens of drawings in pen-and-ink as well as charcoal, as well as some oil paintings. He depicted every aspect of soldiers’ lives, from muster to leisure time.

The drawing recently donated depicts an overview of Camp Dodge during muster. The drawing even includes some blue color in the sky and a lake off to the side of the camp.

King believes Place gave the drawing to his commander, Capt. Lemuel Beebe Gregory, as a memento. It was donated by descendants of Gregory who wish to remain anonymous, King said.

“I think it’s really nice they’re willing to share their family pieces with us, not just as a loan but as a gift,” King said.

Gregory has been documented as attending meetings in Riddick’s Folly, which served as the headquarters for Union Gen. John J. Peck during much of the war.

The first Thomas Place work the museum obtained, an oil painting of Camp Dodge with a corresponding pen-and-ink fan depicting scenes from daily life during the war, has been there for about seven years. Both hang within sight of each other on the third floor — the most recent acquisition in the hallway and the former piece in a bedroom.

A placard beside the charcoal drawing explains why the family donated the work.

“The descendants of Captain Gregory feel that this artifact belongs in this house as a part of Suffolk’s history,” it reads. “It is given with the genuine spirit of peaceful reconciliation. It is their hope that Americans will never again be called upon to take up arms against their fellow countrymen.”