Library copies Civil War documents

Published 9:47 pm Monday, July 16, 2012

William Wooldridge holds the portrait of his great-great-grandfather Richard Jones Williams, which he brought to a recent event at North Suffolk Library to be scanned by staff from the Library of Virginia. Williams was from Brunswick County, where he returned to marry and raise a family after the Civil War.

When William Wooldridge was first given the late-1900s portrait of a Civil War veteran by his great-uncle, the splendidly bewhiskered figure was somewhat of an enigma who didn’t mean a whole lot.

It was 1960, and Wooldridge was “just a kid,” he said some 52 years later.

“I was a Civil War buff, and my uncle gave this portrait to me and said it was his grandfather who’d been in the Civil War,” added Wooldridge, of Bennett’s Creek. “He was not in uniform or carrying a gun. It was a portrait of him after the war.”

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Wooldridge is one of five folks who brought Civil War documents to North Suffolk Library Saturday to be scanned by a team from the Library of Virginia.

The state library is collecting electronic copies of such records from around the state, as part of Virginia Sesquicentennial of the Civil War Commission activities.

Wooldridge said he knew nothing about the man in the 14-by-16-inch portrait beyond his name, until he had located Richard Jones Williams’ service record.

Filling in dates and other details “made it seem a little more real,” Wooldridge said.

Williams had served in the Confederate forces for the war’s entire duration, it turned out.

He was captured in April 1865, and released when the war ended.

“Then he went home to Brunswick County, then got married and raised a family,” Wooldridge said of his great-great-grandfather.

His mother being a Williams descendent, Wooldridge marvels that if the veteran had died in the war, he would not exist.

“An awful lot of them didn’t (make it back),” Wooldridge said. “It was a brutal conflict, and an awful lot of people didn’t make it.”

Having an electronic copy of the portrait in the Library of Virginia archives is a kind of insurance policy in case the original is ever lost or destroyed, he said.

Chesapeake’s Jeff Rau has less of a personal connection to the artifacts he brought to the North Suffolk Library.

The four letters from Union soldiers were purchased over the years by Rau — at a Civil War show in Richmond — and his relatives.

Rau also brought in orders sent by a Union general for physicians and nurses.

“Petty insignificant” requests compared to some, Rau said; but the orders bear the general’s signature.

The letters were written early in the conflict, 1861-1862, and “don’t talk about anything significant as far as battles go.”

One correspondent was Andrew Noy of Company E, 173rd Regiment of the Pennsylvania Drafted Militia.

Noy’s unit was camped near Norfolk, and he writes of the area being hemmed in by the Atlantic Ocean, the Chesapeake Bay, the Elizabeth River and the Great Dismal Swamp canal.

He laments, “… there would be but a small chance to skedaddle, even if we would want to.”

“He was against being sent here,” Rau said. “He was drafted and he wanted to be back home.”