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The Clopton Chronicles

A Project of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society

 

 

 

LEST WE FORGET

 

 

Regarding

 

Captain William Latane’

 

 

By Miles George Turpin,[1] mturpin@saatchila.com

 

 

An Unbearable Sadness

 

A little child strewed roses on the bier -

Pale roses, not more stainless than his soul,

Nor yet more fragrant than his life sincere,

That blossomed with good actions - brief but whole.

The aged matron and the faithful slave

Approached with lowly feet the hero's lowly grave.

           

 

“Let’s put the war behind us.”  That was the battle cry which echoed throughout the postwar United States.  Everyone had his own theory about how to do that. In Richmond, the Federal Military Authority dictated a reconstruction policy that was meant to rebuild the south in the image of the north.  In Washington, radical abolitionists wanted to punish and humble the south.  Before he was assassinated, President Lincoln had said he’d prefer to “Let ‘em up easy.”  General Lee tried hard in his own way to move forward, taking on the Presidency of Washington University.  He felt that through hard work, education and a forgiving spirit, the country might mend itself.  Carpetbaggers undoubtedly felt the south might be a better place if the old families were robbed of their wealth and replaced by a new northern aristocracy of men like themselves. 

One might think that soldiers who had fought each other so desperately might never be reconciled.  And certainly there were men who felt that way.  But most men from both sides honored the courage and patriotism of their former foes.  In the end, it was the women who perhaps had the hardest time moving forward. Southern women in particular had experienced as many hardships as their men. They had lost husbands, brothers, fathers, cousins, and friends forever.  There was a fierce determination on the part of many southern ladies to hold on to the memory of the lost cause.  This was not a selfish longing for the old days of plenty.  It was an unwillingness to let go of the memories of loved ones who were left behind at places like Gettysburg, Shiloh and Fredericksburg. The memories of their lost loved ones were inextricably tied together with the remembrance of the lost cause.

And so it was in our family.  Passed down to me some 120 years after the fact was a little box of keepsakes.  They belonged to my great, great grandmother, Susan Latané Clopton.[2] I feel they attest to her firm desire not to forget those that were gone. 

In the box were a tintype and a daguerrotype of my great, great grandmother’s half brother, A.W. Clopton. He served in the cavalry with J.E.B. Stuart and Fitz Lee.  He died of typhoid fever in 1864.  There was a diary as well. As I read through it, there were flowery poems that really bored me.  And there were obituaries that helped fill in the family tree.  There was even a  family tree for some relatives named Latané.

Right in the middle of the diary was a story, copied from the “Southern literary Messenger” about a man named Captain William Latané.  There was an old Confederate twenty dollar bill and a Bank of Richmond sixty cent note tucked in there with this story that Susan Latané Clopton had copied down. 

After a little research, I realized that this man, Captain William Latané, was a cousin of Susan’s mother, Anne Waring Latané.  I also realized, from looking at the story and the money, that Susan wanted to remember him, and the cause he fought for.

William Latané, Anne’s cousin, the handsome Captain Latané, was one of the early casualties of the War.  While his death caused the family much grief, his passing meant not a jot to the success or failure of the conflict, but the War was young and Southern publications played his demise for all it was worth.  And it worked.  So many other mothers and sisters and cousins had already lost loved ones.  And they needed to imagine that they died with dignity and heroism and without a lot of pain. The description of Captain Latané’s demise helped ease their emotional burdens. The fair Latané became the poster boy for The Cause. He died during an encounter with Northern troops while participating in Jeb Stuart’s legendary Ride Around McClellan. 

The following is the official account of Captain Latané’s death:

 

 

The next day, June 13, 1862 - Friday the thirteenth - the column took an easterly heading through Hanover Court House and then southeast on the road to Old Church, and there was no more talk of joining Stonewall Jackson.  They were greeted warmly by the citizens along the road, who had not seen Confederate uniforms since General Branch was routed out  of Hanover Court House in May.  The few Federal outposts they encountered were easily scattered or overrun and captured.  All were cavalry pickets; clearly the Yankees had not extended their lines this far north.  Totopotomoy Creek might have posed a barrier, but to Stuart's relief the bridge was intact and under defended.

A mile or so beyond the creek they encountered a Yankee picket post that refused to give way without a fight.   An eyewitness, W. T. Robins, Colonel, C.S.A., wrote:  "Captain William Latané of the 9th Virginia,  was directed to move forward and clear the road.  He moved up the hill at a trot, and when in sight of the enemy in the road gave the command to charge, and with a yell the men rushed forward.  At the top of the hill, simultaneously with Latané's order to charge, a company of Federal cavalry, deployed as skirmishers in the woods on the right of the road, were stampeded, and rushed back into the woods to make good their retreat to their friends.  The head of Latané's squadron, then just fairly up the hill, was in the line of their retreat and was separated from the rest of the squadron, cut off by the rush of the Federals, and borne along with them up the road toward the enemy."  There was a sharp clash of horsemen.

“As if in a tournament, the respective commanders faced off in individual combat, Captain Latane against Captain William (B.) Royall of the 5th United States.  Latane wounded his foe with a saber thrust, but Royall was better armed and killed the Virginian with two pistol shots."

Although reports confirm the Yankees bravely fought, the Federal lines eventually broke and then ran. "But Captain Latané lay mortally wounded, and as the men of his company saw him lying bloody before them, many a bearded face was wet with tears.”[3]

 

 

Killed in Hanover County, his body was taken to a nearby plantation and readers throughout the Confederacy swooned over the account of his burial.[4]

 

Lieutenant John Latané carried his brother's dead body to Mrs. Brockenborough's plantation an hour or two after his death.  On this sad and lonely errand he met a party of Yankees, who followed him to Mrs. Brockenborough’s, and stopping there told him that as soon as he placed his brother's body in friendly hands he must surrender himself a prisoner.  Mrs. Brockenborough sent for an Episcopal clergyman to perform the funeral ceremonies, but the enemy would not let him pass.

Then, with a few other ladies, a fair-haired little girl, whose apron was filled with white flowers, and a few faithful slaves, who stood reverently near, a pious Virginia matron read the solemn and beautiful burial service over the cold, still form of one of the noblest gentlemen and most intrepid officers of the Confederate army.  She watched the sods heaped on the coffin lid, then sinking on her knees in sight and hearing of the foe, she committed his soul's welfare and the stricken hearts he had left behind him to the mercy of the All Father."

 

 

The fate of the lamented Latané was further immortalized in verse by J. R. Thompson,[5] of Virginia.

 

 

The combat raged not long, but ours the day;

And though the hosts had compassed us around

Our little band rode proudly on its way,

Leaving one gallant comrade glory-crowned,

Unburied on the field he died to gain,

Single of all his men amid the hostile slain.

 

One moment on the battle's edge he stood,

Hope's halo like a helmet round his hair -

The next beheld him dabbled in his blood,

Prostrate in death, and yet in death how fair!

Even thus he passed through the red gate of strife,

From earthly crowns and palms to an immortal life.

 

A brother bore his body from the field,

And gave it unto strangers' hands that closed

The calm blue eyes, on earth forever sealed,

And tenderly the slender limbs composed:

Strangers, yet sisters, who with Mary's love,

Sat by the open tomb, and weeping looked above.

 

A little child strewed roses on the bier -

Pale roses, not more stainless than his soul,

Nor yet more fragrant than his life sincere,

That blossomed with good actions - brief but whole.

The aged matron and the faithful slave

Approached with lowly feet the hero's lowly grave.

 

No man of God might say the burial rite

Above the 'rebel,' - thus declared the foe

That blanched before him in the deadly fight,

But woman's voice in accents soft and low

Trembling with pity, touched with pathos, read

O'er his hallowed dust the ritual for the dead.

 

"Tis sown in weakness, it is raised in power,"

Softly the promise floated on the air,

And the sweet breathings of the sunset hour

Came back responsive to the mourner's prayer.

Gently they laid him underneath the sod,

And left him with his fame, his country, and his God.

 

Let us not weep for him whose deeds endure;

So young, so brave, so beautiful, he died

As he had wished to die; - the past is sure,

Whatever yet of sorrow may betide

Those who still linger on the stormy shore,

Change cannot harm him now, nor fortune touch him more.

 

And when Virginia, leaning on her spear,

Victrix et vincere, the conflict done,

Shall raise her mailed hand to wipe the tear

That starts as she recalls each martyred son,

No prouder memory her breast shall sway

Than thine, our early lost, lamented Latane.

 

 

                The historical painter, William D. Washington, committed the funeral scene of the young martyr to canvas and prints of his work hung in Southern parlors for many years.  As Death became a frequent visitor families gazed upon the work and found comfort as they imagined the bodies of their beautiful boys laid to rest in just such a lovely and graceful manner.[6]

 

 

 

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[1] Lest We Forget is an excerpt from The Clopton Chronicles, the Ancestors and Descendants of Sir Thomas Clopton, Knight & Dame Katherine Mylde, and is the property of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society which holds the copyright on this material.  Permission is granted to quote or reprint articles for noncommercial use provided credit is given to the CFGS and to the author.  Prior written permission must be obtained from the Society for commercial use.

Miles George Turpin is a Founding Member of the Clopton Family Genealogical Society & Clopton Family Archives.  He serves on the Society’s Editorial Advisory Board.  He is the g-g-g-grandson of Edward Andrew Jackson Clopton and his second wife, Anne Waring Latane.’

Thanks to Clopton descendants Suellen (Clopton) DeLoach Blanton, Martine Brooks Evans; and, William Edward Waters.

[3] Stephen W. Sears, To the Gates of Richmond, The Peninsula Campaign, Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1992, p. 169.  A brief mention of Latane's death is also found in Richard Wheeler’s, Sword Over Richmond, An Eyewitness History of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, Harper & Row, New York, 1986.

[4] Southern Literary Messenger, July 1862, quoted from a private letter.

[5] Southern Literary Messenger, July 1862.  Alfred Lord Tennyson called this poem the only verse of lasting value to come out of the Civil War.

[6] A copy of this print is in the Clopton Family Archives courtesy of Miles George Turpin.  See Emily J. Salmon, "The Burial of Latané:  Symbol of the Lost Cause," Virginia Cavalcade, 28 (Winter 1979).  Anne’s other cousin, Lieutenant John Latané was taken prisoner at the Brockenbrough’s plantation. Anne’s brother, Captain John Lafayette Latané, survived Pickett’s Charge, but was captured at Gettysburg and held prisoner at Johnson’s Island - one of the most infamous Yankee prisons.