Tag Archives: Discoveries Among the Dead

Discoveries Among the Dead #2: A Mystery Carved in Stone

Lomax BasicThough he played an important part in the drama at Tom’s Brook, Lunsford Lomax remains one of those general officers of the Civil War who inspires complete indifference. He left no paper trail to speak of, so we know nothing of the inner man. Despite his high rank, he failed to inspire associates to record significant recollections about him. Though his quiet, methodical service was valuable before the Civil war to the U. S cavalry and during the war to the Confederate States, Lomax never achieved prominence or fame. He seems to have shunned renown and achieved a sort of excellence in the art of rising to moderate distinction while keeping quietly to the shadows of obscurity. After the war, a Confederate soldier snidely observed, “who ever heard of Lomax doing anything, good or bad?” Indeed. The crowning proof of Lomax’s success at self-effacement came immediately after his death when his family erected a stone to mark his grave. Even those closest to him–his wife, sister, daughters and kin–proved unable to supply the man’s correct name.

In another post, I wrote of my visit to the community cemetery in Warrenton, Virginia, to find the grave of William H. F. Payne. Though I easily discovered where to find the obscure general Payne, I had no inkling that the even more obscure Lomax rested nearby in the same graveyard, another testament, I guess, to the success of Lomax’s efforts to remain unobtrusive. I was unprepared for what I would find.

Like all researchers in every field, I strive for accuracy and distrust my memory. Research is all about checking and rechecking, and memory is the least reliable tool available to someone who works with piles and piles of facts. Nevertheless, as the tool most readily available, memory is the tool researchers use most often. One of the worst feelings a detective can endure is the sick sensation in the stomach that comes with the realization that there has been a major system error in the memory banks. I had a very, very bad few moments that day in the cemetery as I looked upon Lomax’s gravestone and contemplated the prospect of a major memory collapse.

Lunsford Lindsay Lomax, an army brat born in Newport Rhode Island and raised in Norfolk, had family roots in Virginia. Both his first and middle names appeared prominently in his family tree—they were family names that, as is the custom in Virginia, are given to children to honor cousins and uncles and aunts and great grandsires, etc. When he enrolled at West Point, the young man’s name was recorded on official documents as Lunsford Lindsay Lomax. When he was graduated from West Point with the class of 1856, his name was recorded as Lunsford Lindsay Lomax. Through all his service in the Confederate army, and on all the paperwork pertaining to that service, including his commission as major general, his name was recorded as Lunsford Lindsay Lomax.

Lomax Gravestone 1280 x 573So, how to explain the image to the left?  I wore a puzzled look as I read those first two names, and read them again. And again. I don’t think the sun actually clouded over and left me shrouded in darkness, but it seemed that way as I felt that detestable sick pang in my stomach. I thought about all the times I had used “Lunsford Lindsay Lomax” in print—all apparently in error.

Here is the problem. Three names, each beginning with and “L” and each consisting of two syllables. In each word, the first syllable receives the stress. Each of the three names is unusual, so there is an element of the strange and exotic to the name. Those three mischievous siblings—Unusual, Strange and Exotic—play pranks in my memory banks and leave doors open for their cousin—Confusion. How could I have erred so badly? How could I have been so sloppy as to transpose “Lunsford” and “Lindsay?”

All was not as black as I supposed. As soon as I returned home, I started checking my sources, and the sick pangs receded. I had not misread the sequence of the first and middle names. Francis Heitman, George Cullum, Ezra Warner, Jack Welsh, R. K. Krick and all of my other sources presented “Lunsford Lindsay” not “Lindsay Lunsford.” Even Wikipedia got it right! So how to explain that Lunsford Lindsay Lomax’s gravestone reads “Lindsay Lunsford Lomax?”

I have found no explanation. Later in life, Lomax worked in the U.S. War Department’s monumental project to organize and publish the Official Records of the Civil War. He served as a Commissioner of Gettysburg National Battlefield Park until his death. He and his wife, Elizabeth Winter Payne Lomax, resided on S Street in Washington in 1913, and occasionally visited family in Warrenton. The general died in a Washington hospital nine days after falling and breaking a hip on a rain-slick sidewalk in Warrenton. The preponderance of extended family in Warrenton, particularly on his wife’s side, likely explains why that small town became his final resting place. Less easy to explain is his own kin’s blundering mutilation of the man’s name.

Sources: Via Chronicling America: The Washington Herald. (Washington, D.C.), 22 May 1913, p. 4, col. 3.; The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]), 28 May 1913. p. 7, col. 1; The Washington Times. (Washington [D.C.]), 14 May 1913. p. 8, col. 3.

Discoveries Among the Dead #1: Payne the Patriot

If I am writing about a deceased historical figure, I go visit. Cemeteries appeal to me because they don’t change much from generation to generation, so in many cases I see in the 21st century what visitors looked upon in the same spot in the 19th century. With imagination, I can feel a little more connected to the people I am writing about if I try to look at the place through their eyes. More important, grave markers often reveal something of the person beneath the stone or of the family that marked the grave for posterity. Since I am hungry for every scrap of understanding I can find, I think going to the grave can help. Consider my visit to the community burying ground in Warrenton, Virginia.

I went in search of the grave of Gen. William H.F. Payne, who commanded a brigade of Confederate cavalry at Tom’s Brook. I did not know much about Payne before my visit, so 20 minutes in that cemetery proved fruitful. The first thing I noticed was there were Paynes buried all over the place. I knew that the family had been prominent in northern Virginia, but seeing all those headstones gave me new insight into the power and influence of the prolific Paynes.

W.H.F. Payne grave
The marker on the grave of W.H.F Payne stands more than six feet high.

General Payne’s grave lies in the Confederate section, and the specific location told me a few things as well. He had the wealth and social stature to acquire a prime burial plot on the top of a hill near the heart of the cemetery, immediately behind the towering, brilliant white monument to the Confederate dead. There is symbolism in that he is as close to that big monument as it is possible to get, and the monument almost literally stands on his grave. The location suggested to me that Payne was a True and Devoted Confederate, and two bronze tablets on his impressive rough-hewn grave marker confirmed that he was a patriot above all else.

The tablet on the front provides Payne’s resume, and a similar tablet on the back proclaims what Payne valued. The words read as though they come from a eulogy or an obituary. I quoted these words in Decision at Tom’s Brook to help explain what motivated the man. The more I investigated Payne, the more important he became to my telling of the story. He, like General Rosser, was a warrior who thirsted for battle. Together with artilleryman James Breathed, they represented the type of man who kept the Confederacy alive in those final months of the war. Never give up; never give in; never apologize.

The tablet on the rear of Payne’s marker. The large white Confederate Soldiers’ monument is visible in the left background.

Most of the historians I know count cemetery visits among their research trips. Gravestones can, as in the case of W.H.F. Payne, serve as valuable interpretation tools. So I urge all writers to “go visit” the dead. In future posts in this “Discoveries Among the Dead” series, I’ll write about L.L. Lomax’s grave, which is also in the Warrenton cemetery, and the Rosser family plot in Charlottesville.