In all my years of doing historical research, the Rutledge family has endured more hardship and tragedy than any household I have ever studied. James Madison Rutledge and his wife, Susanna Ziglar Rutledge grew up in Stokes County, North Carolina and were married there in February of 1838. The Rutledges were blessed with fourteen children, James (Henderson), Zilpha, Mary, Nancy, Susan, Sarah, Elias, William, Peter, John, Martha, George, Margaret, and Irvin, all being born between the years of 1840-1856.
In 1850, James Rutledge was listed as a carpenter in the US census and he and his family were living in the southern part of Patrick County. Rutledge also served the community as a Primitive Baptist Minister. By 1860, he had taken his family to Meadows of Dan to serve as the miller at the Langhorne Mill. Steptoe Langhorne Mill was located at the intersection of Helms Road and Langhorne Mill Road where you can still see the fine artistry of the rock walls and the early stages of the Dan River.
Henderson Rutledge was twenty-two years old when he enlisted with the 50th Virginia Infantry, Company K in 1862, and in that same year, the diphtheria epidemic struck his siblings at home. Seven-year-old Martha died on October 28th, two-year-old Irvin passed on November 1st, sixteen-year-old Sarah on November 4th, eighteen-year-old Susan on November the 9th, and eleven-year- old William on November the 13th. Five children lay dead in the house at the same time. Coffins could not be made quick enough for all of them, so some of the children were carefully wrapped in sheets and all were buried at Meadows of Dan Baptist Church cemetery.
This horrible, deadly infection was not done with the Rutledge children. Four-year-old Peter died on November the 29th, six-year-old John on the 2nd of December, and five-year-old George on the 30th of December. These three little boys (ages 4, 5, and 6) were buried with their siblings at the cemetery. The marker, shown above, marks the graves of the eight siblings, but the date should be 1862, instead of 1884, and the mother’s name should be Susanna.
Henderson was away with the 50th Virginia Infantry while this horrible tragedy happened, and you can tell by his correspondence that he was trying very hard to put on a brave face for his parents and remaining siblings. The following is a letter written by Henderson and shared by Joanne Lang Shirley, his 2x great niece.
“December 21, 1862- Camp near Richmond
Dear Mother and Father,
I started from the Narrows, harassed considerably with tooth and jaw ache or rather neuralgia, and I broke down the first day, but after that, I commenced improving and have arrived here, five miles southeast of Richmond, and fine health and spirits. I did enjoy my trip very well; I have seen the magnificent city of Richmond and the elegant Lynchburg and various places of minor importance but the site on which we are in camped is the most attractive and lovely of any I have seen since I left the Narrows. We have wood and water convenient, beef, flour, and sweet potatoes to eat. There is no probability of any fight here and they are saying there was a considerable fight at Fredericksburg last week, and we whipped the Yankees badly. We are expecting no fight here soon. You must write to me. Your affectionate son, James Henderson Rutledge.”
The next two weeks, we will learn what happens to Henderson, his parents, and his remaining siblings through Henderson’s letters, shared so generously by his 2x great niece, Joanne Lang Shirley.
Woody may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.