Continued Civil War Saga: Frank Stringfellow, alive but penniless
When the war ended Frank Stringfellow was 25 years old, penniless, and there was a $10,000 price on his head. His family home “The Retreat” had mysteriously burned when Union forces occupied the area. Lincoln had been assassinated, and the blood of revenge was running hot. Where could he begin to rebuild his life and rise from the ashes?
Contrary to the account in R. Shepard Brown’s “Stringfellow of the Fourth” which I used in “Marching Through Culpeper,” Stringfellow did not immediately flee to Canada. Letters donated the Virginia Historical Society after the publication of Brown’s book in 1960 indicate that he returned home and tried to eek out a living on the family farm. His letters to his beloved Emma Green of Alexandria paint a picture of the scout’s frustration. He had no gainful employment and was not in a financial position to support a wife and family. Emma’s family remained prominent and it is understandable that her father would not grant permission for her to marry until Stringfellow could earn a living.
In September of 1865 Frank wrote Emma that he was on his way to Richmond to recover a bond and invest in 100 sheep. He said, “I know of no employment yet. I shall work on however, as if everything was as plain as day…a letter will come to you for me from Fitz Lee. Keep it until I come. I am very anxious to have something to do in Virginia. I catch at straws, I dread leaving you again. I sometimes feel that I had rather be a doorkeeper in the land of my birth, than to dwell in hostile tents. I’ve left no stone unturned to get work. If I fail I shall know it was designed by Providence that I should seek another home.”
His farming attempt was hard work. A few weeks later he wrote, “I wish you could see my hands now. I can boast of seven blisters on one hand and lots of corns. Tomorrow morning I expect to begin my crop. There is but little money in farming at present, but green backs are not the only desirable thing in life, I wish good habits.”
Obviously tilling the earth was not as exciting as the life of a scout. At times he longed for his soldier life and wrote, “Ah! There is nothing like soldiering in this life. We support the cause which we believe is right, defend the weak, and have as much or more praise than we are entitled to.”
The other huge obstacle the former scout faced was the abhorrent matter of taking the oath of allegiance to his former enemies in order to marry or file legal documents. He wrote to Emma, “I have been trying to take the oath. I shall say no more, it makes me sick to think of it. Miss Cave of Orange was married several weeks ago. They were married without taking the oath. The minister and the clerk were arrested. Nothing was done to any of the party. I do hope and believe that we may be spared the mortification of taking that hateful oath. If necessary, we can take a trip to Canada. You are the last pretty girl that I have seen and of course I am still in love with you.”
However in January, with a bleak financial future he was wistfully trying to convince Emma to meet him at the altar, “Well, to save my life, I can’t get my pocket and my heart to agree upon the same wedding day. I leave it up to you. Write the months of ’66 on paper, put them in a hat and draw one, bind ourselves to act by the decision. Marry rich or poor—prepared or unprepared.”