“Joe Crane – One Man and His Family” – Tom Steptoe
by Jim Surkamp on June 27, 2011 in Jefferson County
Joseph Minor Crane
Company B, 12th Virginia Cavalry
Grandfather of Actor, Randolph Scott
By Tom Steptoe
I was a beneficiary of many family stories from Margaret Crane Steptoe and Sara Sadler Crane (who, hereinafter, will be identified by her nickname, “Tay”). I regret that I did not do more to record their recollections while they were living. This is especially true in the case of Tay, who was a brilliant, and immensely entertaining, oral historian. My goal is to record as much of what they told me as I can remember, while I can still remember it. I hope that this information might be of interest to present and future Sadler/Lionberger/Crane descendants.
Background of Joseph Minor Crane
Joe Crane was born in Charlestown, Virginia circa 1842. He was the son of John William Crane and Margaret Sadler. He was the grandson of Joseph Minor Crane and Catherine Price (“Kitty”) Strother. He was the great-grandson of James Crane and Lucy Minor. James Crane had come from Spotsylvania County into what would become the Charles Town area circa 1765 as a land agent for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. James went on to become one of the original trustees of the newly-formed Charlestown, Virginia (1786). Later (1802), James was one of the first two delegates elected from the newly formed Jefferson County to the Virginia General Assembly. James was the son of John Scanland Crane, who served as Colonel of the Colonial Militia, Justice of the Peace, and Sheriff of Spotsylvania County. James’ mother was Elizabeth Ferguson. John Scanland Crane was born in 1700 in Spotsylvania County, and was the son of another John Crane. That is as far as I have been able to go back on the Cranes. I will leave it to others who might be interested to ascertain when and from whence the Cranes came to Virginia. However, it has been suggested to me that they may have had roots on the Isle of Man, UK.
Like many Jefferson Countians, Joe had deep roots in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was a descendant of Robert Beheathland (of Cornwall), who was the only original settler at Jamestowne (1607) known to have left descendants in The New World. A recent article by Brantley Carter Bolling Knowles in the October 2009 Issue of the Jamestowne Society Newsletter goes even further by asserting that Robert Beheathland was the only member of the original expedition to now have living descendants anywhere, to-wit:
Robert Beheathland is one of the “Gentlemen” listed as being on the three
ships that landed in what is now Virginia on that momentous day in May
of 1607. There are no exact listings of who was on each of the three ships,
but it is known that he was one of them. Recent research by John Frederick
Dorman has determined that Beheathland is the only person on the three
ships who has direct descendants living today.
Many of the original settlers were from near London. Research has revealed
the reason why Robert Beheathland, who hailed from the remote Parish of
St. Endelyon, Cornwall, was among this group. It is believed that Beheathland was a young cousin of Edward Maria Wingfield, one of the planners of the expedition to Virginia. The early settlers needed sheet copper to trade with the Indians. The Beheathland family was privileged and owned copper and
Robert Beheathland lived through the visits with Capt. John Smith for the
first Christmas at Kecoughtan, the Starving Time, and the Indian massacres.
He is listed as an “Ancient Planter” in the 1624/1625 muster roll, which
lists the survivors after the Indian attacks. His surname is unfamiliar today,
as Beheathland was survived by daughters.
Joe Crane shared this “bloodline” with quite a few members of Company B, including the Baylors and Aisquiths, through their common descent from Benjamin Strother.
The Strother Connection
It has been noted that Joe Crane’s grandmother was Catherine Price Strother Crane. The Strother connection to Jefferson County begins with Benjamin Strother. The following appears in Jamestown to Charles Town: Descendants of Robert Beheathland and Allied Families, an excellent book by Mary H. Tayloe (who was a Rutherford from Charles Town):
“Benjamin Strother, 1750-1807, son of Anthony Strother I, and his wife, Behethland Storke, m. 1778 Catherine Price, 1753-1805, daughter of William and Jane (Brown) Price of Westmoreland County. Benjamin was a midshipman in the Virginia Revolutionary Navy and later served in the Land Forces. Some of the Continental money with which he was paid for his services descended to his grandson, the late Gen. David Hunter Strother “Porte Crayon.” After the conclusion of the war, Benjamin immigrated with his family to the Valley of the Shenandoah and settled on a 600-acre farm he called “Park Forest,” three miles from Charles Town, then Berkeley County, now the County Seat of Charles Town, Jefferson County, West Virginia. (In the County Clerk’s Office in Martinsburg, WV, there is a deed dated September 2, 1788 from Bushrod Washington to Benjamin Strother for a tract of 302 acres and another deed dated 1796 from Henry Lee and wife to Benjamin Strother for 305 acres).”
Benjamin and Catherine had five children who had descendents, to-wit: Catherine Price Strother who married Joseph Minor Crane; Elizabeth Strother who married Benjamin Pendleton; Margaret Strother who married Cato Moore, II; Mary S. Strother who married Richard Duffield; and John Strother who married Elizabeth P. Hunter.
“Park Forest” has long since ceased to exist, but the house appears to have been off the Leetown Road, northwest of Ranson. Its location can be seen on the old Howell Brown maps. At the time that Howell Brown produced his maps, “Park Forest” appears to have been owned by the Thomson family.
Essentially, Benjamin Strother’s girls married into Jefferson County families that would go on to be loyal Confederates; his son John, though, moved to Martinsburg, married a Hunter, and eventually settled in Berkeley Springs where he operated a hotel. His son, David Hunter Strother, the renowned artist “Porte Crayon”, would try to stay neutral during the Civil War, but would end up as a Union General under the tutelage of his Berkeley County cousin (on his mother’s side)—-the infamous, pyromaniacal General David Hunter.
The Sadler Connection
Joe’s mother was Margaret Sadler. Her parents were Leonard Llewellyn Sadler and Sara Boley Sadler. Unfortunately, I know nothing of Leonard’s forebears, nor even the place of his birth. According to Tay, Sara Boley had roots in Terrebonne Parrish, Louisiana, which, if true, would suggest an Acadian connection. I believe that Leonard was born in 1799 and died circa 1860. What I do know is that Leonard was a successful furniture maker. He acquired what is known as the “Sadler Block” in Charles Town which fronted on West Washington Street (next to the former jail and current post office building) and extended back to West Congress Street (next to the former Board of Education building and current facility of American Public University). Over the years, a large building was constructed facing West Washington Street (which now houses Collins’ Barber Shop, Jumpin’ Java, and several other businesses and offices on the second floor) with a dependency (which recently housed a wine shop), and a small house facing West Congress Street (which Tay always called the “Link House” because a beloved teacher, a Miss Link, rented it as her residence for many years—the house is now owned by the American Public University and stands opposite their main facility in what used to be a hospital and, then, Knott Nursing Home), and a carriage shed extending back from West Congress Street (which was torn down in the 1960s to make room for the law offices of Avey & Steptoe— one of the partners, Thomas W. Steptoe, Sr., was married to a Sadler descendant).
Margaret Sadler (Crane) was the only girl of her generation; she had three brothers, John, George and Leonard, Jr. (who, in his youth, acquired the dubious nickname of “Loonie”). She was also the only Sadler to have children as the brothers remained bachelors. The boys continued to run and expand the business. Probably the most significant items of “furniture” that the Sadler Brothers fashioned were two coffins (in those days furniture makers were the precursors to the undertaking business which would develop more as a specialty later): a coffin for the body of John Brown and a coffin for the body of Confederate hero, Turner Ashby. As will be discussed later, there is, however, a question as to whether or not John Brown was actually buried in the Sadler coffin. With the onset of the Civil War, John and Leonard (“Loonie”) joined the Stonewall Brigade while George remained at home to keep the business afloat. John and “Loonie” survived the War and returned to the business. The last surviving brother was Leonard, Jr. At the time his closest living relative was Joe Crane, his nephew. However, perhaps because Joe had made some ill-advised business decisions, Leonard skipped over him to Joe’s son, my grandfather, Charles Leonard Crane—leaving everything to him.
After Leonard, Jr.’s death, the furniture and undertaking business were sold to the Strider family. Those businesses have survived into the present as the Strider Colonial Funeral Home and Ramey’s Furniture Store. But the family retained ownership of the Sadler Block. In the 1960s, Sadler descendants sold the old carriage shed to Avey & Steptoe, for the construction of a law office. Finally, in 19****, Sadler descendants Sara Sadler Crane and Margaret Crane Steptoe sold the remaining real estate to the Widmyer family of “Federal Hill.”
The Minor Connection
As previously noted, Lucy Minor was Joe’s great-grandmother. Like her future husband, James Crane, Lucy hailed from Spotsylvania County, Virginia. She was the daughter of a Thomas Minor by his wife, Alice Thomas. Thomas Minor owned about 2000 acres in Spotsylvania County including his primary estate, “Locust Grove.” James’ father, John Scanlon Crane, was a contemporary of Charles Washington in Spotsylvania County, where they both served as Justices. Because these families were acquainted, we have a possible clue as to why James Crane brought his young bride out to the “Bullskin Plantations,” leaving a commodious lifestyle in Spotsylvania behind to come to an area a generation or so removed from the frontier—he may have followed Charles Washington, who owned, along with other Washington family members, considerable real estate around present day Charles Town.
Uncle Joe—another Joseph Minor Crane
Tay always referred to this Joseph Minor Crane as “Uncle Joe” and I will do the same to avoid confusion between the “Joes.” Uncle Joe resided on the family home place, which has been referred to as “Locust Grove”—presumably being named after the Minor homeplace in Spotsylvania County. “Locust Grove” was a farm located at the end of present day “Crane’s Lane” which extends westerly from North Mildred Street (now State Route 115) in Ranson, crosses the N&W railroad tracks and goes back about a mile to the farm. It appears that this farm was originally a part of the greater “Park Forest” tract and probably represented Catherine Price Strother Crane’s inheritance from her father, Benjamin Strother. Uncle Joe was the last democratically elected Sheriff of Jefferson County, Virginia (1860). But he is best known in the family for what might be dubbed “The Battle of Locust Grove.” During the Civil War, two Yankee cavalrymen appeared at “Locust Grove” and started to take Uncle Joe’s horses. Although he was quite elderly at the time, Uncle Joe wasn’t going to suffer this theft without a fight. One Yankee slashed Uncle Joe with a saber and Uncle Joe shot and killed him. The surviving Yankee fled threatening to return with a squadron of cavalry to wreak vengeance. According to Tay, Uncle Joe then fortified himself in his barn with four muskets and his three daughters. Sure enough the Yankees returned in force. While the daughters reloaded the muskets, Uncle Joe kept the Yanks at bay and wounded the commanding lieutenant. Eventually Uncle Joe ran out of ammunition and the Yankees were able to seize him. This is when things really got interesting. The Yankees put him on one of his own horses and set out with him for their headquarters at Harpers Ferry. However, when they got east of Charles Town on the Harpers Ferry Pike (now US Route 340), they encountered General David Hunter Strother. According to Tay, Strother told the startled lieutenant: “That man is my cousin. If anything happens to him, I will personally shoot you!” An account of this incident appears in Strother’s A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War:
Several miles from town I saw a countryman riding down the
road guarded by a file of cavalry. I recognized my friend and
cousin, Joe Crane. He was riding a workhorse without a saddle.
His clothes were spotted with blood and his hand bloody and maimed.
His face was livid but firm. He said a trooper had come to his
house and was taking his horses before his eyes. He remonstrated
and resisted. The man sabred him and Joe shot him dead. I grasped
his hand, promised my best service, and advised him to immediately
report with his guard to headquarters. He rode on and left me sad
and appalled. Joe was my father’s favorite nephew and his best friend. He must be saved….
Had it not been for the intervention of David Hunter Strother, Uncle Joe would, in all likelihood, have been summarily executed. As it turned out, he got a fair trial before a military tribunal in Baltimore and was acquitted. According to Tay, the following dialogue took place between the presiding officer and Uncle Joe at the end of the proceedings:
Presiding Officer: Col. Crane, I have only one bone to pick
Uncle Joe: What is that, sir?
Presiding Officer: That you didn’t kill that damned lieutenant!
Another Uncle — Smith Slaughter Crane
Smith Crane had been involved with the company of Jefferson County men formed to go to California during the “Gold Rush.” The only story that I recall Tay recounting about Smith had to do with a youthful wager, a legend and St. George’s Chapel. Early on, St. George’s chapel had outgrown itself and it was abandoned in favor of the construction of a larger Episcopal Church in Charles Town—Zion Episcopal Church is the modern day incarnation of that project. Even in Smith Crane’s youth, St. George’s was a decaying edifice. According to Tay, the legend runs like this: A certain young lady was in love with two men—she could not decide between them. Eventually the young men fought a duel in which both died. Not long thereafter, the young woman died “of a broken heart.” All three were buried at St. George’s. At midnight on each anniversary of the duel, it was said that the young woman’s spirit would rise and flit back and forth between the graves of her two loves—still unable to choose between them.
And so, several of Smith Crane’s friends dared him to retrieve a specially marked Book of Common Prayer from a spot in the chapel ruins at midnight on the anniversary of the duel. He accepted the challenge. The specially marked book was placed in the chapel not long before midnight and Smith’s friends waited in Charles Town for his agreed return with the book not long after midnight. Smith rode out to St. George’s Chapel, collected the book and, then, suddenly, his horse bolted and raced back to Charles Town. Smith did not see a ghost, but apparently his horse did.
In his old age, Smith lived with Joe at “Glen Lavinia” in Rappahannock County, as his name appears on a census record of that household. It is also interesting to note Smith’s middle name—Slaughter. Since the Cranes generally used family names as middle names, that fact strongly suggests that the Cranes were kin to the Slaughters. I don’t know where the connection ties in, but I suspect that it comes through the Minor family.
Having discussed Joe’s background and relations, I will now come forward from 1859, with Joe, his brother, the Lionbergers, and his Sadler relatives.
The John Brown Execution
After John Brown was condemned to hang, the Sadlers were called upon to “handle the arrangements.” Brown was conveyed to the gallows in the Sadler’s wagon (which is now on exhibit in the Jefferson County Museum in the basement of the Old Charles Town Library), driven by George Sadler. In route, it appears that Sadler and Brown had a cordial conversation; however, I have seen so many different versions of it, that I am loath to pick one version over another, except that all versions appear to agree that the conversation ended with the following remark from Brown: “This is a beautiful country. I never had the opportunity to see it before.” After the execution, it was Sadler’s duty to convey the deceased, who had been secured in the coffin, to Mrs. Brown and a special train. According to Tay’s recitation of a Sadler family tradition, when Sadler arrived with the body, the door to a boxcar of the waiting train flung open, and several men jumped out, grabbed the coffin, flung it violently into the boxcar, jumped back in and slammed the door shut. Immediately thereafter, Sadler heard the sound of chisels and hammers. I do not know if this really happened, but it is plausible that an effort might have been made to ascertain if John Brown could be revived. And if it did happen, it is probable that the workmen did enough damage to the coffin that Brown’s body would necessarily have been transferred to another coffin for burial.
On May 28, 1861, Joe Crane enlisted in Company G of the 2nd Virginia Infantry at Camp Johnston at Harper’s Ferry. He remained in the infantry until his Baylor cousins formed a cavalry company, “The Baylor Light Horse”, later known as Company B, 12th Virginia Cavalry. Joe, and many others in the Stonewall Brigade from Charles Town, joined up. Joe brought along his younger brother, Charlie Crane, who was 15 or 16, and one of his uncles, Leonard L. Sadler, Jr. Another uncle, John Sadler, remained with the Stonewall Brigade.
Company B, 12th Virginia
George Baylor, in Bull Run to Bull Run, described Company B as follows: “Its members were principally the sons of farmers of Jefferson County, Virginia, mere school-boys, who had not attained their majority or completed their education…in its ranks were youths who today stand in the front of various occupations of civil life. There was ex-Postmaster-General William L. Wilson; Charles Broadway Rouss, the merchant prince and philanthropist, of New York; Charles Henderson, vice-president and general manager of the Reading Railroad; Hon. W. D. English, of California; Thomas D. Ransom, a prominent lawyer of the Staunton Bar; William L. Thomson, a leading member of the Atlanta Bar; H. D. Beall, of the Baltimore Sun; Julian Hutchinson, a capitalist and member of the City Council of Atlanta; Timberlakes, eight in number, all gallant soldiers; Washingtons, Mannings, Terrills, Cranes, Aisquiths, Gallahers, Alexanders, Craighill, Frazier, Mason, Sadler, Strider, McClure, Howell, Hunter, Lackland, Seldon, Yates, and many others whose names, in Virginia, suggest pride, prowess and parentage.”
Baylor, in Bull Run, continues: “No arms or equipments were furnished the company by the Confederate Government, the men owned their horses, and Uncle Sam very kindly and very soon provided us the very best pistols, sabers, saddles and bridles he had in stock. Everything but ourselves was branded U.S.” And again, “Early in the conflict we recognized the fact that the Federal officer was our equal, and that our chief strength and superiority lay in our rank and file. If our opponents were fought at long range, the officers had the opportunity to bring to their aid discipline and authority over the actions and conduct of their men; when in close contact, they lost control, and their men, lacking individuality, became as sheep without a shepherd; while with us, every private was a general and needed no guidance or direction from his officer. In the camp and in the field the Confederate soldier was ruled by affection and example, and was treated as an equal. Especially was this the case in our company, where we bore the relation of brother, cousin, school-mate, neighbor and friend.”
One of Company B’s first missions was during the Battle of Kernstown (indeed, this incident occurred before “The Baylor Light Horse” was designated as Company B, 12th Virginia, and was just an independent company under the overall, but loose, command of Turner Ashby). Baylor relates the story in Bull Run: “In the beginning of this fight, a call was made for twenty men from our company to report to General Jackson. At this time a Federal battery a short distance off was pouring a vigorous fire into our ranks. When the call was made, it was accompanied with the report that Jackson wanted the men to charge that battery, and volunteers from the company were slow in responding. At this juncture, Charlie Crane, a youth then about sixteen, rode forward, saying, ‘Come on boys, we have but one time to die,’ took his place in the detachment, and, others following his example, the number was soon complete. Great was our relief, however, when on reporting to General Jackson, we were directed by him to take position on his extreme left and report any attempt of the enemy to outflank him.”
After the 1st Valley Campaign, General Jackson crossed the Blue Ridge to assist General Johnston and General Lee in the defense of Richmond, leaving only Company B to keep tabs on the enemy in the Shenandoah Valley. This assignment brought a detachment of Company B, under George Baylor, to Luray where Baylor had the initial misfortune of meeting one of our ancestors, John Lionberger. Lionberger, a former member of the Virginia General Assembly, was both elderly and outspoken. Baylor takes up the story in Bull Run: “Hospitable entertainment was afforded me that evening at the home of the Jordans, while Henry Beall and some others of the company had comfortable quarters at the Lionbergers. Mr. Lionberger was then quite an old gentleman, and having expressed in the presence of Beall a desire to see the officer commanding the company, Beall kindly offered to go over to the Jordans and introduce him. He came, he saw, and was sorely disappointed. At that time I was a mere stripling boy, just twenty years of age, weighing one hundred pounds, and not very attractive or warlike in appearance. Mr. Lionberger returned home much disgusted, and so expressed himself to Beall, saying, ‘What can you expect to accomplish with that stripling for a leader?’ Beall, like a true friend, reported his remark to me, and my blood boiled in my veins, but I said nothing—only thought. The next morning, with 25 men, I started on the road to Front Royal, inwardly resolved to do or die. No one knew how desperate the old gentleman’s disparaging remarks had made me…..About one-half mile south of the place (Front Royal), however, we came suddenly upon the enemy’s cavalry picket reserve, and finding the town occupied by a large infantry force. Our men were soon scattered, pursuing fleeing Yankees in every direction. Noticing a company forming in front of the hotel, with about 40 men in line, I called Henry Beall and Charlie Crane to my assistance, dashed in among them, and drawing my pistol on the officer in command, demanded a surrender. He turned to his men and commanded them to ground arms—an order quickly obeyed…Our handful of men were soon overwhelmed with prisoners, and I was satisfied that we must beat a hasty retreat…Our situation was critical indeed, and, gathering up as many of the prisoners as could hastily be gotten together, our retreat was begun. We left Front Royal with about 300 prisoners, most of them infantrymen, and among them a major and two captains….our little band returned to Luray, camping near that place for the night…On our return to Luray, the company met with an ovation and were feasted right royally. All doubts as to our fighting qualities were now removed, and Company B was on the ladder of fame. Mr. Lionberger very frankly congratulated me, and was ever after a warm friend and admirer, and one of his fair daughters composed and set to music a little song dedicated to the “Baylor Light Horse.” Only one verse can now be recalled:
At a town among the mountains,
Where amid the sparkling fountains
Camped a host of Yankees in their boasted might,
Baylor boldly charged among them;
From their sleep he did arouse them,
And, like Murat, rode bravely thro’ the fight.
“Come, come, come boys, come,
Come all ye who’d live in story,
He will lead you to glory
O’er fields cold and gory,
He’ll lead you, boys, where honor’s to be won.”
I have not been able to determine which of John Lionberger’s daughters composed and played the song, but Lavinia Lionberger, one of his “fair daughters,” would, in 1865, become the wife of Joe Crane and, ultimately, the grandmother of Randolph Scott.
Who were the Lionbergers?
Before continuing with the adventures of Company B, this is as good a place as any to record the limited information I have on this family. According to Tay, the Lionbergers were German-speaking natives of Mulhouse in French-controlled Alsace. They were Protestants, then called Huguenots, who, due to the Counter Reformation, found it expedient to remove to the more tolerant environs of Bern in Switzerland. From that place they came to Virginia, probably as part of the migration sponsored by Joist Hite. They obtained a patent for 1000 acres from Lord Fairfax which appears to have covered bottom land and the flanks of Hawksbill Mountain, which places their holdings in the vicinity of present day Stanley, south of Luray. Eventually they moved to Luray and constructed one of those large, utilitarian houses like those one finds in Shepherdstown, on the main street of Luray. As of this writing the house still stands. I have seen some reference on the Internet from other Lionberger descendants who claim to have located the site of the original homeplace near Stanley, but I have not as yet located the same. According to Tay, the Lionbergers were extremely artistic and creative people.
During the winter of 1863, Company B was in camp near New Market. Apparently the men pined for their native Jefferson County and sought permission to “scout” the Lower Valley. George Baylor, in Bull Run, takes up the story: “Permission was asked of General Jones for the company to make a scout in the lower Valley, but the request was refused on grounds we esteemed unreasonable and insufficient. Plans were laid by some of the men, including Lieutenant Rouss and myself, to outgeneral the General. The camp-itch, a disease peculiar to soldiers living on hard-tack and mess-pork, was then prevalent in our brigade. Taking into our confidence our regimental surgeon, Dr. Burton, one morning about a dozen of us appeared before the surgeon’s tent and made application to be sent to the hospital at Harrisonburg to be treated for this disease, and certificates were accordingly granted us. Reporting to the surgeon in charge of the hospital, Dr. Waddell, a Virginia gentleman of the old type, our certificates were presented and we were booked as patients at that institution. Without critical examination into our cases, some anointing ointment and a little bottle of Fowler’s Solution of Arsenic was furnished each of us and permission granted to make our stay with friends and acquaintances in the vicinity of the hospital, with directions to report occasionally at the surgeon’s office. Having now arranged our program satisfactorily, the following morning we started down the Valley, determined to try our hands on the Yankees in that section, well assured that a successful venture would make the amende honorable and sufficient excuse with our officers for our little deviation from the line of military rectitude. Our little band of about a baker’s dozen was composed of Lieutenant Rouss, John Chew, Billy Manning, Charlie Henderson, Charlie Crane, John Yates, John Coleman, George Crayton, Billy Gibson, Up Manning, Joe Crane, Duck English and myself. We crossed the mountain to Luray and passed through Front Royal, stopping at regular intervals with friends along the route. February 12th found us at Summit Point, where information was received of a small scouting party of the Twelfth Pennsylvania Cavalry, numbering 21 men, passing that place a short time before our arrival, going in the direction of Middleway or Smithfield…This information greatly pleased us, and off we started in pursuit of the Yankee scouting party. Passing “Happy Retreat,” the home of one of our sweethearts, we were urged not to pursue, as the enemy was too strong for us, but we had travelled 60 miles in hunt of a fracas, and nothing could dissuade us. In fact, we were spoiling for a fight. As Middleway is approached from the direction of Summit Point, there is a straight stretch of road, probably a mile in extent, just before entering the town. Here the enemy was in full view, slowly sauntering along, totally oblivious of the fact that any foe was in the vicinity. Nearing the hill just south of the town, our gait was accelerated, our pistols made ready, and we struck its rear, with the head of the column just over the hill. So intent were they in conversation and so unmindful of our presence, that the rear file was shot down and we were pressing into the column before they were aware of danger. No resistance was made, but pell-mell down through the town they ran, with our little band, yelling like hyenas, in close pursuit, suffering mostly from their mud-pelting, and closing the race at the toll-gate just north of the town…With the prisoners and horses we returned to Summit Point, and thence down to Locke’s Shop, where a stop was made to let Lieutenant Rouss have his horse shod. Fatal stop. The smith had nearly completed the job when a body of Yankee cavalry was seen approaching from the direction of Charlestown. The prisoners with horses and a small guard were hurried down Locke’s lane, and with a handful of men a dash was made on the advance of the enemy’s column, to hold it in check a few moments, to give prisoners, captured horses, and guard a little start. The movement was more successful than we anticipated, as the head of the column was broken and thrown into confusion. In this charge, John Chew and Charlie Crane displayed conspicuous gallantry.”
In June 1863, Company B found itself in the thick of the largest cavalry battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Brandy Station, as it was the first Confederate unit on the field to contest the Yankee seizure of Fleetwood Hill, a strategic location.
Baylor takes up the story in Bull Run: “At this critical juncture, our regiment and White’s Battalion were ordered to repair in haste to Fleetwood Hill, about a mile in our rear, to meet a column of Federal cavalry under General Gregg which had passed to our right and rear and was in possession of Brandy Station. The Twelfth regiment moved off in a gallop, Company B in the advance, with instructions to charge the enemy as soon as he appeared in sight. The regiment, in the great haste with which it repaired to the point designated, became much scattered and lengthened out, with Company B considerably in advance. When the summit of Fleetwood Hill was gained, we discovered the enemy’s cavalry, which proved to be the First Maryland, coming up the southern slope of the hill, in platoons, with its flag and guidons fluttering in the breeze, closely followed by the First Pennsylvania and the First New Jersey to our left, all under the command of Colonel (Sir Percy) Wyndham, who, in 1862, our brigade had captured near Cross Keys. These Federal regiments presented a beautiful, but awe-inspiring, sight to our little troop; but Lieutenant Rouss, in obedience to orders, gave the command to charge, and down the slope we darted, striking the head of the column and throwing it into rout and confusion. But our success was of short duration, for the First Pennsylvania, now charging, by force of numbers pressed our company back to the top of the hill, when the residue of the Twelfth regiment coming up, the fight for the possession of the hill became general…..While the Twelfth Cavalry was wrestling with the enemy for the possession of Fleetwood Hill, Colonel White, with his battalion, arrived, and, making a gallant charge, drove the enemy back and seized their guns, just planted to the south of the hill; but after holding them for a few minutes was driven back. General Stuart in person now joined us in the fight, and the contest was renewed with increased vigor under General Stuart’s personal leadership, without much regimental or company organization, but more as a body-guard. Several times the enemy reached our guns, which had taken position on the hill and had become our rallying point; but after a desperate struggle had been driven back in confusion and with great loss. We were now fighting Gregg’s entire division of cavalry and Russell’s brigade of infantry. At this juncture, the Sixth, Seventh and Eleventh Virginia Cavalry of our brigade came up, and, charging the enemy, captured their guns and drove them back and away from Brandy Station, causing Gregg to retreat in rout and confusion, and so the day’s fight was virtually ended.”
Company B Impresses General Stuart and General Lee
On October 12, 1863, Company B was involved in action at Warrenton Springs. According to Baylor, in Bull Run, “Pressing on to the river at Warrenton Springs, we found the enemy had posted his artillery on an eminence beyond the stream and placed their dismounted men in rifle-pits near the banks of the river to contest our advance…At this juncture, General Stuart ordered me to charge with Company B across the river and drive the enemy from their rifle-pits…Generals Robert E. Lee, Ewell, Stuart and others were in full view, watching the movement. It was the occasion of our lives. The order was given, and down the road the company dashed amid a shower of bullets, and reached the bridge over the river, to find the flooring torn up. Here we were forced to halt, face about and strike for a ford below. This movement was effected without faltering, and soon the river was crossed and the rifle-pits, with a large number of prisoners, in our possession….As we passed up out of the river and our horses leaped over the rifle-pits, our infantry on the opposite banks greeted us with loud cheers. This was the first and only occasion during the war, that I know of or heard of, where the infantry showed such appreciation of the cavalry…General Stuart, in his report of this engagement, says: ‘This little band of the Twelfth Virginia Cavalry was worthy of special praise, as it was made under circumstances of great embarrassment. Charging first up to the pier of the bridge, it was discovered that it had been taken up, thus exposing them to a dangerous fire from the enemy on the opposite side. Nothing daunted in purpose, however, they turned about and took the road to the ford below, which they plunged into in the face of the enemy’s fire without halt or hesitation’….on the 20th we moved back and took up quarters near Culpeper, establishing pickets on the south bank of the Rappahannock. On the morning after our return, Company B was agreeably surprised by an order from General Lee, received through General Stuart, granting the company a furlough of ten days, with permission to return to our homes in Jefferson, as a reward for gallant conduct at Warrenton Springs. A shout went up as we moved off for home, friends and relatives; and, notwithstanding the fact that those homes were within the Federal lines, no blockade was sufficient to keep us out, and the time was happily spent.”
Joe and his brother, Charlie Crane, were with a group of Company B on detached duty in Luray when word of Appomattox came. It was over. The Crane brothers had survived the War without serious wounds. This was particularly remarkable in the case of Charlie Crane, who had earned the reputation of being one of the most reckless combatants in a unit that enjoyed that reputation generally.
The Crane brothers started down the Valley to surrender at Winchester and then continue further down the Valley to home (or what was left of it) in Charlestown. But only Joe would make it home.
On an apparently warm spring day, the Cranes and their companions stopped by the Shenandoah River where Charlie Crane entertained the group with trick diving. When he did not resurface, his companions initially assumed that he was up to his usual pranks. They discovered, too late, that Charlie had struck his head on a submerged rock and drowned. His accidental death, which devastated Joe, was an irony of ironies considering what he had recently survived.
Charlestown, Virginia had become Charles Town, West Virginia
An entire paper could be devoted to the circumstances surrounding West Virginia’s expropriation of Jefferson County. But that is not my focus here, although some discussion of it is necessary to explain what Joe Crane did and why.
When the trans-Allegheny counties of Virginia were considering secession from Virginia, their representatives canvassed as far east as the Shenandoah Valley to ascertain if there existed any interest there in joining the new state of West Virginia. There was none, especially in Jefferson County, which, according to Tay, had sent a higher percentage of its fighting age male population to the Confederate military than any other county in Virginia, except Henrico. And all things being equal, the founders of West Virginia probably would have left Jefferson County alone, as they did Clarke County and Frederick County (Winchester). But all things were not equal because the B&O Railroad’s main line to the West crossed the Potomac at Harpers Ferry from Maryland into Jefferson County, Virginia, and continued through Jefferson County towards Martinsburg. The founders of West Virginia wanted that railroad in “their” state; the B&O, still smarting from Stonewall Jackson’s seizure of their locomotives, wanted their lines in a “friendly” state; and so it was decided that West Virginia must have Jefferson County. In this chicanery the founders of West Virginia found powerful allies in the Lincoln Administration, which had a cozy relationship with the B&O, and, by extension, the United States Army that by 1863 controlled most of Jefferson County, at least by day. But they needed to appear to have the support of the residents of Jefferson County which they knew would never be forthcoming. So they conducted an unpublicized “plebiscite” with polls open only at Harper’s Ferry and Shepherdstown where they were guarded by federal troops. Any voters who did show up were required to give an oath of allegiance to the United States in order to vote. Most residents of Jefferson County did not know of the plebiscite until after the fact. When they did become aware of it, they did not take it seriously as they still clung to the belief that the South would win its independence. By the time Joe Crane returned home, efforts were being made to seek reunification with Virginia. When the Virginia General Assembly was made aware of the fraud, Virginia sued in the United States Supreme Court for recovery of Jefferson County, and other counties where similar tactics had been employed. But there was to be no justice for ex-Confederates in the Supreme Court which turned a blind eye to one of the most fraudulent plebiscites ever conducted on American soil. When the residents of Jefferson County tried to vote for a Virginia congressman, the Governor of West Virginia sent in federal troops to restrain them. Charlestown, Virginia, which was closer to Richmond than Winchester, would be Charles Town, West Virginia forever.
“I’ll be damned if I’m going to live in West Virginia”
According to Tay, that is what Joe Crane said when Virginia’s effort to recover Jefferson County failed. Jefferson Countians were heartbroken over what one resident termed “the deep damnation of our taking off from our dearly loved mother.” Joe Crane left. He returned to Luray, his wartime home, where he married Lavinia Lionberger; and then, in time, took Lavinia east across the Blue Ridge to Rappahannock County where he, and some other expatriate Jefferson County families, settled. He built an extravagant house on property just east of Sperryville which he named “Glen Lavinia.” With the assistance of a distant cousin, James William Fletcher, Esq., of “Thornton Hill” near Sperryville, I have been able to locate “Glen Lavinia” as being about 2 miles east of Sperryville on US Route 522, off a road called Slaughter Lane, in a relatively flat area still known locally as “Crane’s Bottom.” When I visited this area I noticed two Victorian structures about 100 yards apart that looked like they might have been once connected as one structure—my speculation is that these two structures are, indeed, what is left of “Glen Lavinia.” Joe had exercised poor judgment in constructing such a mansion given the nature of farming in the Reconstruction South. Eventually he lost “Glen Lavinia” and moved to Roanoke where he wrote for the local newspaper while Lavinia ran a boarding house. In the fullness of time, though, Joe would return with his family to Charles Town.
The Next Generation
Joe and Lavinia Crane had six children, five girls and one son. The son was named Charles Leonard Crane in honor of Joe’s deceased brother. The girls were Mary Blanche Crane, Margaret Sadler Crane, Lucy Lionberger Crane, Georgia Newton Crane, and Elizabeth Isabel Crane. Charles L. Crane was born while the family lived in Rappahannock County. During his youth, Charles developed a friendship with a Henry Turner, an artist who lived nearby off Yancey Road. Turner was a widower who had also lost his only child, his daughter Lottie. He insisted that Charles Crane, whom he may have regarded as a surrogate son, have two of his most valued paintings: one of his daughter, Lottie, and the other, styled ‘The Convalescent’, which was a self-portrait, painted while he was studying art in Dusseldorf, Germany. Both paintings remain in the hands of Crane descendants.
In 1891, one of Charles’ sisters, Lucy Lionberger Crane, married George C. Scott. They would become the parents of George Randolph Scott, who would later drop his first name.
In 1899, with the passing of Leonard L. Sadler, Jr., the last of the Sadler brothers, Charles Crane inherited the Sadler estate which consisted of stocks and bonds, a furniture and undertaking business, and the business real estate known as the Sadler Block. So, at the age of 20, Charles Crane, who had grown up in post-Reconstruction Virginia in difficult circumstances, found himself to be “a man of property.” Because the inherited assets were in Charles Town and had to be managed, Joe swallowed his pride and returned with his family to his hometown.
Colonel Preston Chew was one of the most respected men in Charles Town at the time. He had led Stuart’s famous “Flying Artillery” unit and was credited, among other things, with having saved Charlottesville from George Armstrong Custer’s legions. After the war, Col. Chew became a stockbroker, but the boldness that distinguished him as a soldier did not serve him or his clients well in business. According to Tay, he convinced young Charles Crane to liquidate $20,000 (in 1900 dollars) in US Steel stock to invest the proceeds in a mid-western railroad venture that proceeded to go belly up. But, nonetheless, the Crane family continued to carry on in Charles Town in relative prosperity. In 1904, Joe died and was buried at Zion Episcopal Church.
Charles purchased the house at 201 West Washington Street (located across Washington Street from the library and across Samuel Street from the Old Moose Club, which is now owned or leased by the American Public University). This house is known now as the “Tate-Fairfax-Muse House” in honor of its original inhabitants, but during the first half of the twentieth century it was known as the Crane House, as the Cranes owned it longer than any other family. In 1909, Charles Crane married Annie Megquier Lionberger, of Booneville, Missouri. They had three children: Sara Sadler Crane (Tay), Margaret Leonard Crane (Steptoe) and Charles L. Crane, II. The Crane House appears to have been somewhat of a social center in Charles Town, reflecting Charles’ social personality, with the constant comings and goings of cousins and friends such as the Daniels, Browns, Alexanders, Wysongs, Nelsons (including the future Mrs. Edward McDonald), and Browses (including the future Mrs. J. Blackwell Davis).
Because Charles was, at the time, the most prosperous of his generation, he frequently entertained the families of his sisters, including that of Lucy Lionberger Crane Scott, then living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Because of the expense involved in travel, when family came to visit, they generally stayed for months. According to Tay, Charles Crane often complained that “from the first crocuses of spring until the last leaf of fall, I run a boarding house.” But his complaints were in jest, as it appears that he enjoyed his family, and generally liked people, and he was especially fond of the Lucy’s son, George Randolph Scott, who went by the nickname “Randy.”
Randy Scott and his family came to Charles Town almost every summer in the first two decades of the 20th Century. His uncle, Charles Crane, taught him how to ride, which would serve him well in later years, and another relative, “Unc” Perry, to whom he was related through the Strother connection, taught him how to swim. During his visitations, Randy also developed a friendship with John Peale Bishop, through whom he may have met F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Charles Crane either owned or leased a farm known as “The Tyler Farm” which was located down the Keyes Ferry Road near the Shenandoah. It was there that he and a group of friends, including Philip Nelson, grandfather of Philip Nelson McDonald of “Rock and Tile,” constructed the first 9-hole golf course in Jefferson County.That property has probably now been completely swallowed up by one of the limestone quarries operating in the Millville area. Their summer playground was a stretch of the Shenandoah River known locally as the “Big Eddy” where “Unc” Perry owned a property called “Camp Easy.” Later on, in 1929, Charles Crane and his friend Francis Daniel would acquire 100 acres on the western flank of the Blue Ridge directly above the Big Eddy, where Francis constructed a cabin and Charles maintained a cook-out spot, behind an overlook constructed by the highway department (which is now closed). A good portion of this land was eventually sold under threat of eminent domain to the Department of the Interior as a buffer for the Appalachian Trail, but a portion of the residue of that land remains to this time in the hands of descendants of Charles Crane, Thomas W. Steptoe, Jr., and Capt. James Ormond Crane.
Baylor, George. (1900).”Bull Run to Bull Run: Four years in the army of northern Virginia.” Richmond, VA: B. F. Johnson Publishing. Print.
Baylor, George. (1900). “Bull Run to Bull Run: Four years in the army of northern Virginia.” Google Books. 19 July 2008. Web. 24 Dec. 2010.
Strother, David H., (1961). “A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother.” ed. Cecil D. Eby, Jr. Chapel Hill, NC: Univ. of North Carolina Press. Print.
Strother, David H., (1961). “A Virginia Yankee in the Civil War: The Diaries of David Hunter Strother.” ed. Cecil D. Eby, Jr.
Baylor, George. (1900).”Bull Run to Bull Run: Four years in the army of northern Virginia.” Richmond, VA: B. F. Johnson Publishing. Print.
Baylor, George. (1900). “Bull Run to Bull Run: Four years in the army of northern Virginia.” Google Books. 19 July 2008. Web. 24 Dec. 2010.
Strother, David H., “Personal Recollections of the Civil War.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, New York, NY: Harper and Bros. Volume 33, Issue: 193, June, 1866. P. 4. Print.
Strother, David H. (June, 1866). “Personal Recollections of the Civil War.” Harper’s Magazine. 7 May 2008. Web. 20 Oct. 2010.