William Thomas (Bill)

William T (Bill) Littlepage

William Thomas (Bill) Littlepage was the eldest of Caroline’s children living at Woodbury when her husband Lewis died sometime in 1863.1 Thus Bill, 25, suddenly became the man-of-the-house. By mid-’64 Bill’s younger brother Liv had been in a Federal prisoner of war camp almost a year, since Gettysburg. Hardee was still in France on assignment for the Confederate Navy. While certainly a comfort to his mother, three sisters, and younger brother Zac, he had wished to be elsewhere.

Our only glimpse of Bill prior to Caroline’s journal is in the diary his sister Rose kept in 1853; he was about 15 and she 19. As in Caroline’s short 1849 journal, his name was spelled consistently as Bil. He suffered from his big sister’s assessments. He rode his horse too fast, too often; rode him to death. Fond of hunting and fishing and out-of-doors activities generally, he was an indifferent student at the “Academy.” Eventually his father withdrew him.2 He didn’t like going to church: “He is getting rather wayward. Ma has to compel him to attend Church or else he’d never go.” He was forgetful. He forgot to mail some of Rose’s letters. A few months later, after he left “all the keys” in the door at Woodbury while the family was still living at Mount Hope, she unloaded, “Bil is without a doubt the most thoughtless, careless child about some things I have ever seen in my life.” 3

Eleven years later when Caroline began volume seven of her journal Bill was juggling his home and farm responsibilities with being an active member of the county’s Home Guard. By then the Guard was very active indeed, the county having already suffered multiple incursions of federal troops who could move about at will. There had been major battles across the Pamunkey in New Kent in 1862. The infamous Kilpatrick / Dahlgren raid the previous winter had involved some members of the Home Guard from King William.4 But in the spring of ’64 the Yankees returned in quantity with another commander for another series of battles. They then moved south to lay siege to Petersburg, and after a long winter, eventually defeated Lee’s Army and ended the war. But as Caroline’s journal opens, protecting the community from stragglers and deserters from both armies, and hiding from Union raiders, was keeping Bill away from Woodbury many days and most nights. And the ever more inclusive Confederate conscription laws were threatening to take him, and soon-to-be-18 Zac, further away.

Bill had enlisted early, briefly joining Captain W. P. Carter’s King William Light Artillery in June, 1861. But he never mustered.5 In a May 1862 application letter to the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury C. G. Memminger for a clerk’s position we learn the likely reason Bill spent the war as a “Light Duty” member of the Home Guard.

“..I am prevented from entering the lists of the army by an accident in early life, (bursting of a gun), cutting off three fingers of my left hand.”

Bill also mentioned that he had been, “..in mercantile business for the past six years.” Even after enclosing a letter of recommendation from Alexander Dudley, President of the Richmond and York River Railroad, and citing as references notables Colonel H. B. Tomlin and Major B. B. Douglass of King William and Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor Robert Latane Montague, Bill stayed at Woodbury.6

It is from the conscription entries in the County Record Book we get a description of Bill as Caroline’s journal begins: 26; eyes, light; hair dark; complexion fair; height, 5’ 8.” 7 As the journal begins Bill is suffering chills, likely from the malaria that seems endemic at Woodbury. He will appear frequently in Caroline’s entries, usually coming or going.

  1. According to a diary kept much later by his wife, Bill was born 31 January, 1838. The image of Bill courtesy of Mrs. Jenny Littlepage Wilkinson.  (back)
  2. “Bil commenced school this morning to Uncle Edmund. He doesn’t fancy it much, but Pa said he knew he didn’t learn anything at the Academy.”  (back)
  3. Mss5:1 L7333:1, Virginia Historical Society. Many of us have been there Bil.  (back)
  4. The relationship between the 13 year-old William Littlepage who discovered the Dahlgren Papers and our William Littlepage is – at this point – unknown. Colonel Dahlgren met his end across the river, about 4 ¼ miles from Woodbury. The gunfire that night could have been heard at there.  (back)
  5. NARA M324. Compiled service records of Confederate soldiers from Virginia units, labeled with each soldier’s name, rank, and unit, with links to revealing documents about each soldier. Roll: 0274. Accessed at Fold3.com  (back)
  6. NARA M346. Known as the “Citizens File,” these original records pertain to goods furnished or services rendered to the Confederate government by private individuals or business firms. Roll: 0594. Accessed at Fold3.com. Bill’s composition and handwriting skills demonstrated in the letter suggests much improvement from 1853. Rose would have been proud, and maybe a bit shocked.  (back)
  7. 1864 King William County Record Book held at the King William County Museum.  (back)