Chewy Morsel #5 – 10-Year-Old “Danske” Slays With Her Poetic Pen by Jim Surkamp

by Jim Surkamp on April 19, 2016 in Jefferson County


The hewn timbers still smoking of her childhood home nearby, 54-year-old Henrietta Bedinger Lee, her 20-year-old daughter, “Netta” and the 54-year-old, freed family servant, Peggy Washington, sought refuge at Poplar Grove, where the widow of Henrietta’s brother, Caroline (or Carrie) lived with her children Minnie (Mary) Danske (Caroline), step-daughter Virginia (“Diddie”) and freedman 49-year-old Abram Dixon.


Precocious ten-year-old Danske – the one born with “ink in her blood to write,” was likely stunned by the sight of her neighbors and next-of-kin suddenly bereft of home and past, standing on their porch.


Caroline (whose nickname “Danske” or “little Dane” came from being born in Denmark when her fathered ambassador’d there), had already announced to herself and the world. In a hasty hand, she had written: “Poetic numbers swelling from my soul will have their vent for it is my destiny to write.“


Gen. David Hunter
Earlier that July 19th, 1864 as the work of burning homes was winding down, Federal Captain Franklin G. Martindale, the one given the order to burn Henrietta’s home by Federal General David Hunter, made a spectacular error in judgement by personally approaching Henrietta to say he was sorry for incinerating her blessed childhood home and to offer his pity.:


Henrietta wrote a relative:
Henrietta Bedinger Lee
Benjamin Franklin Bedinger
I was standing on the lawn gazing at the awful conflagration for all the outbuildings were burning at the same time. Then with the most self important and swaggering step Martindale approached me and dared to offer me his pity. “I scorn your pity,” I cried “You talk of pity, after such an act as this, it is mockery indeed, the qualities of mercy and pity are strangers to your heart.”

She continued:
But dear it would make this letter too long to tell you all the burning words that fell from my tongue, let it suffice to say I was warm enough to give it to him in round numbers I assure you. One lady said to one “What did you say to that man? He went away looking like a whipped dog.” Well he was a whipped dog.


But my home, my blessed lovely home! The fire ran from base to dome, and as the all devouring pitiless flames snapped each wire; the bell of that dear home tolled out its dirge.

What is it now? The blackened walls, the frightful skeleton of what was once so fair looms up against the sky and the wind as it sighs around the ruin whispers: “Man’s inhumanity to man, Makes countless thousands mourn” The trailing vines are scorched and dead! The flowers bloom there no more; and the bright silver streams, which so added to its beauty and grace glide in its desolation murmuring a perpetual requiem for that dead home.

The “ink ran” in Aunt Henrietta’s blood too.

Danske carefully listened to her heart and went to her pen:

When, on September 19th, 1862, Poplar Grove was the center of random artillery shelling from Federal batteries on Maryland’s Ferry Hill, all of Danske’s family hurried and became safely ensconced in their cellar.


But eight-year-old Danske stayed behind despite the family’s pleadings to join them in the room below. Finally she closed her reading matter, R. M. Ballantyne’s ‘Coral Island’ and remarked: ‘Now I can tell my descendants that I finished a book during a battle!’


Danske, now almost two years later and worn by war, pondered her next of kin in her own home, clawed by war with fresh wounds and no home. Danske wrote in a hasty hand:


To Hunter:


O cruel serpent. King of scorpions thou.
Curse on thy barb’rous act!
May never the Goddess of Pity send her smile
Upon thy blasted heart!
Behold on yonder verdant hill a house once stood.
It was the house of love, of peace and glee.
How soon that home was rendered desolate
By whom? Oh Hunter ’twas by thee!


After this and after Confederate General Jubal Early burned most of the structures of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania in a failed attempt to obtain ransomed compensation for the Lees and two other families, President Lincoln sidelined Gen. Hunter, forbade such home burnings, and ordered Gen. Phil Sheridan to burn in the “breadbasket” Shenandoah Valley, all means of creating and storing food and food itself whether it be grain or could walk four footed down the Valley Pike. But, Lincoln also wrote, no homes.


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Henry B. Lee (1849-1901)
1860 Census Jefferson County, Shepherdstown, P. 79.

Memories of Serena K. Dandridge, daughter of Danske Dandridge, granddaughter of Caroline Bedinger – Duke Manuscript Division, Perkins Collection, Dandridge Papers

The Letters of Henrietta Bedinger Lee – Shepherd University Library.

U. S. Federal Mortality Schedule Index, 1850-1889
Abram Dixon fell from a tree in Uvilla, West Virginia, January, 1880, aged 65 years.

Image Credits:

Danske Dandridge, Carrie Bedinger, Mary (Minnie) Bedinger – Duke University Perkins Collection – Dandridge Collection

Henrietta Lee, Nettie Lee, Harry Lee – Lucy Tonacci, Goldsborough Collection.

Likeness of Abram Dixon – David Hunter Strother Collection, West Virginia University Library.

Likeness of Peggy Washington – King, Edward. (1875). “The Great South; A Record of Journeys in Louisiana, Texas, the Indian Territory, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland:” Illustrated by Champney, James Wells. Hartford, Conn. American Publishing Co. Print.

David Hunter, Jubal Early –

Henriette Brown: Enfant écrivant (ca 1860)