Tag Archives: William Ellis Jones

Cart Before The Horse, and Other Random Tales of Woe.

Thoughts from the other side of the wall….


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From the Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project…


The Delight of Research Never Ends!

From The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect project… never-ending research is bliss to me.


Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect – Book Promo Site

BookCover3DWell, I have been quiet for many months…  revising drafts, making changes, editing, editing, getting distracted, traveling, research, reading, more revisions…. and the book promo web site “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect“.

Hope you’ll follow the link, have a close look, and let me know what you think. Load up the comments either here or there. Share the link. Tell a friend. And please, if you see anything at all that needs to be corrected – LET ME KNOW. As important is general feedback. This is still in beta and it’s better to correct errors now before I start to really promote it.

I seriously hope you will leave me a comment – either good or bad. I REALLY want to know what you think.


Just Finished Drafting the Final Chapter of the Book!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

The only known photo of William Ellis Jones, II. If you know of another, please contact me!

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet. That’s because I have been very busy.

Tonight I finished the last sentence of the last chapter of “The Book”; the Biography and Civil war Diary of my g-g-g-grandfather, William Ellis Jones, II. The book is going to be called “The Spirits of Bad Men Made Perfect”, which is an homage to a line in William’s Civil War Diary, and (I think at least) a perfect metaphor for the mythology of the Lost Cause.

There is much more work to do. I have to complete the footnotes, finish two Appendices, write an Acknowledgements page, and go through the thing with a fine tooth comb for style, grammar, etc. – but it’s damn close.

Monday morning I begin searching in earnest for publishers.

I am so happy, and so proud of this accomplishment (I started working on this project in 2006), that I could just dance a jig and then spit!


Civil War Christmas, 1862

From the diary of William Ellis Jones, II, of Crenshaw’s Battery, Pegram’s Battalion, Hill’s “Light Division”, Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Thursday, December 25, 1862
Christmas Morn broke very threatening, but cleared off beautifully and warm. The boys started at seven o’clock to go on picket, after which the camp was dull and lonesome. During the morning we were called up and paid off until the 31st of October; $119.10, for clothes and wages. After dark the boys of ours and other batteries enjoyed themselves by having a battle with lighted port-fires, which presented a handsome pyrotechnic display.

Friday, December 26, 1862
Christmas has come and gone, and I sincerely hope I will never spend another in the army.

William, my great-great-great-grandfather, would endure two more Christmases in the Confederate Army. He was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864, but miraculously survived the War, despite seeing hot action in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, including Gaines Mill, in May/June of 1862, Second Battle of Mananas in August of 1862, the Battle of Sharpsburg, September, 1862, the Battle of the “Crater”, in Petersburg, July, 1864, Vicksburg, Second Battle of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and finally was present at the Fall of Richmond, in April, 1865.


The Immobilizing Power of Intimidation

John Hennessy Speaking at the National Sporting Library, Photographer Douglas Lees

John Hennessy Speaking at the National Sporting Library, Photographer Douglas Lees.

A few days ago I began reading John Hennessy’s “Return to Bull Run” (1993, Simon & Schuster), which is considered by people who know about such things to be THE definitive work on the topic of the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) which occurred in August of 1862. Mr. Hennessy is a historian with the National Park Service at the Manassas National Battlefield. He’s authored several books on various Civil War topics and he is a regular staff contributor to the Civil War blog “Mysteries and Conundrums” – which is where I learned of him and his book.

The book, so far, is simply wonderful. It’s well-written, entertaining, and approachable in the same way that Shelby Foote’s “Narrative” is well-written and approachable. It differs dramatically from Foote in the aspect that Mr. Hennessy is a historian first, and a gifted story-teller only as a matter of the readers’ good fortune. (Hennessy is a gifted storyteller. Foote was a less-than-disciplined historian, IMHO.)

Just to get this in perfect context, this book consists of the following; 472 pages of thoroughly researched and documented prose narrative plus multiple maps; 88 pages of footnotes; 3 pages of “Order of Battle” (which provides the arrangement and ranking personnel and brigade units on the field); 24 pages of bibliography; and 10 pages of Index notes.

This book is about a single battle, composed of three major engagements, which occurred over the course of just three days.  “Return to Bull Run” takes 607 pages to discuss and document the seminal events of just three days of a war that lasted four long, complicated years!

And I’m trying to place context to a War Diary that covers not only this battle (Manassas), but the whole nine months of William Ellis Jones’s service throughout the course of the 1862 Peninsular campaign, the Shenandoah Campaign, and Lee’s foray into Union territory when he takes his Army into Maryland? Before I was through the first chapter of “Return to Bull Run”, I was asking myself “What in the hell do I think I am doing?”

The people who tackle these subjects have spent their lives and the entirety of their careers studying the subject. I spent my life and career chasing the idea that the corporate world would eventually recognize and reward me for my creativity, hard work and unique contributions. Instead, I got a stern reminder that Capitalism is all about consumption. Once they consumed the best, most productive intellectual years of my life, they spit me out like the indigestible gristle on a well-gnawed chicken bone.

Indeed. What in the hell do I think I’m doing?

I’m taking a deep breath. I’m thinking.

I’m not a Civil War scholar – not a historian. I never will be. That decision was made for me when I was fifteen years old when my grandfather told me in no-uncertain terms that history majors and archeologists could not earn a living, could not live in homes of their own, were perpetually poor. I just cringe when I think of how he broke my heart with those words. I cringe to think about how wrong he was and how different my life might have been. It was the ONLY thing I think Papa was ever wrong about. He was so right about so many things – and so all-knowing – I just gave up my dreams and I did what he wanted me to do. I went into the dreamless, soul-crushing world of business.

And I was miserable. And today I am broke, and way under-employed. But despite all the wasted time, I am now doing what I wanted to do all my life. And I am happy, creatively and intellectually fulfilled. Finally.

But I digress. I’m still no historian.

Here’s the thing that I need to keep reminding myself. I don’t need to be a historian! God knows there are countless well-written, well-researched books about the Civil War. I don’t need to think that I am in any way competing with them. What I need to do is tell the truth – tell William’s side of the story. Tell the story he could not tell because of the social and political risk to his life, his family, his future. There’s probably not a historian around who can tell that story as truthfully as William’s own blood kin.

That’s my obligation to William. Tell his story. I don’t need to fight the whole damn Civil War all over again!

I just hope that the real historians out there will see it that way, and make room on their shelves for a little book about a great big man who lived in the conflicted middle ground between loyalty, morality, and the immobilizing power of intimidation. A man who went on to try to bring wisdom to future generations so that the Civil War would never have to be fought again. A man who still has a great deal to tell us, despite the passing of more than 150 years since he went completely silent on the subject of war, of slavery, of a social and civil fabric ripped wide open by fear and ignorance and arrogance. A man who still speaks to me every day and every night in my dreams. He wants his story told. Even if I’m hopelessly intimidated by him – and by all those insanely smart historians out there on the haunted battlefields where my great-great-great-great-grandfather huddled in the cold; shoeless and hungry, praying he survived another day – if only just to have a chance to have his story told.


Reading Between the Lines – Civil War Diary

COVER1862For months now I have been parsing through William Ellis Jones, II’s Civil War diary, plucking details, context, and hidden subtext from his scribbles. While the diary has been previously used by many Civil War scholars and is quoted in a countless list of books and articles about the 1862 Peninsular and Shenandoah marches and battles, no one to date had done a comprehensive study of the whole text.

Despite my lack of academic pedigree or publishing chops, I have the advantage over most of those scholars in that I’ve spent eight years studying William Ellis Jones, II’s family history. Having those details – knowing who, where, and what he came from – has given me a really precise lens through which to examine the intent and implications of the diary’s author.

That lens has allowed me to pluck meaning from seemingly benign statements. For instance; in August of 1862, William and his battery witness the advance of the whole of Jackson’s Army marching brigade after brigade into the Shenandoah Valley. He describes the endless lines of soldiers as “stretched out to the crack of doom.” This statement appears on its face to be a simple description of a very large, ominous looking advance of troops, until you dig deeper and discover why William chose to enclose the description in quotes.

“…stretched out to the crack of doom.” is a quote taken from the speech of a Mr. Stanton, published in the “Proceedings of the General Anti-slavery Convention” from the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, published in London in 1841. (Page 479.)

Mr. Stanton used the phrase in reference to the United States’ desire to extend and legalize institutionalized slavery not only within her own borders, but to use the nation’s growing international strength and influence to extend industrialized slavery into Mexico, Latin America, South America, and beyond. Today the idea that such an expansion of slavery was ever conceived seems preposterous to us, but a study of the antebellum, pro-slavery coalition operating inside and on the periphery of the United States Congress prior to the Civil War shows us that this kind of international expansion of slavery was exactly what the proto-Confederates intended. This was to become a central component of the United States foreign policy; if southerners could manage to wrest a majority in the House and Senate.

The idea that William read this speech, was familiar enough with it to quote from it, and had a firm conceptual grasp of the idea that the massive army he was watching (and serving in) represented a real physical manifestation of the policy that Mr. Stanton warned against in 1841, is simply amazing to me. He was just twenty-four years old, and had been born and reared in a city (Richmond, Virginia), whose very foundations were laid by the hands of slaves.

William in no way celebrated the idea of slavery in the use of this quote. Rather, I believe, he carefully selected it to record his true feelings about what was happening, while remaining just ambiguous enough for self-preservation (should his diary fall into the hands of one of his commanders.)

The diary is dotted with examples like this one; statements that show us the veiled concerns and conflicted loyalties of a less than enthusiastic confederate soldier.

When viewed from this perspective, it becomes clear why William chose to never write or publish any of his own words about the War, and why he chose to rear his sons with social and political leanings that were anything but in keeping with the spirit of glorification of the “Lost Cause”.

More to come.


Moving Around – Jones Locations in Post-War Richmond

One of the most interesting facets of doing genealogy work is identifying the physical places where my ancestors lived and worked. “Place” has always been a tangible entity for me. I am tied to place as much as I am to people and their stories. To me the places tell a story all their own, and form characters as relevant to our history as any other person or thing. I think of the places that were “home” to me as a child; my grandfather’s grocery store, my grandparents bungalow next door, the railroad tracks behind the house, the woods and cemeteries that surrounded my childhood home. These places are magical to me and have infused in me a sense of home and continuity that the wrecking ball and bulldozer can’t touch.

The places listed below are similar – an anchor to my past and the people who founded my generation. They represent the physical buildings and spaces occupied, footsteps still ringing in them, of those who came before me. It took me years in some cases to dig up this information, and I’ll spend years digging up more. This is just a sampling.

————-

Clemmitt & Jones in June, 1877
This is the printing shop where William Ellis Jones, II, (1838 – 1910), did his apprenticeship as a boy, worked at as a compositor until the outbreak of the Civil War, and then returned to in 1865 at the conclusion of the war.
It was located at at “Eleventh Street between Main and Cary”.

Source: Company letterhead/bill in my possession

Clemmitt & Jones - 1877

————-

In 1879, after William H. Clemmitt retires from the business, William Ellis Jones becomes sole proprietor of the printing company.

1899 “William Ellis Jones” listed the following in an imprint:
“Imprynted by William Ellis Jones, nexte ye signe of ‘The Mint’, in South Twelfth Street, Richmond, Virginia, July, 1899”

Source: Virginia Historical Society Rare Books Collection
Title: “Some notes on the first recorded visit of white men to the site of the present city of Richmond, Virginia : Saturday and Sunday, May 23 and 24, 1607 : a paper read at a meeting of the Association for Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, held at “Laburnum”, June 10, 1899 / by Robert Lee Traylor.”
Author: Traylor, Robert Lee (1864-1907)
Published: Richmond : Privately printed [W. E. Jones], 1899
Call No: F233.42 .T82 1899

————-

In 1903 the location of the printing company was at 1207 East Franklin Street. The image below is what the building looked like.

Engraving of William Ellis Jones's Printing Shop in Richmond

Source: “Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James : the Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests”
Author: G. W. Engelhardt
Published: Richmond, 1903

————-

Residential Addresses
I’ve got the general vicinity and neighborhood for several residential addresses for the Joneses of Richmond, but so far I have only nailed down one precise location.

In 1913, the “1911-12 Yearbook of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities”, lists among its subscribers, on page 104 “Jones, William Ellis, Mrs., 2507 Hanover Avenue, Richmond, Virginia”

I believe this is the first home that Thomas Norcliffe Jones built in Richmond, for his new wife Margaret White, and their growing family. He retained the property (as a rental), and it was passed on as such to his son William after his death. When William died in 1910 and the family’s income was cut off, I believe that Addie Gray Bowles (William’s widowed daughter-in-law) sold the Henrico property and the elegant brownstone on Church hill, and moved back to this very modest home in what is now Richmond’s Jefferson’s Ward.

You can Google Earth this address and from behind the foliage get an idea of the building. When the house was built in the 1830’s the streets were dirt and this location was considered to be on the remotest outskirts of the city.


Taking It to the Next Level – Crowd-funding my Book

However, I will settle for your money.

However, I will settle for your money.

Over the last year (more), I’ve studied my Civil War and related history books and performed countless hours of online research. All this has led me to some truly amazing places; discoveries about my family’s past that I could not have imagined in ten lifetimes of imaginings. It’s been great – to say the very least.

That said, there are just some things that can’t be found through Google. I need to “go to the source” in order to get at some details that professional historians haven’t yet ferreted out or seen fit to publish. I’ll provide a few examples of what I mean:

The original manuscript of William Ellis Jones’s Civil War Diary is in Ann Arbor Michigan. I need to sit down with the original, compare it against the transcription my grandfather copied into The Baby Book, and note any errors or corrections into my own transcription for my book. In addition, I’d like to photograph the document if the library will allow that.
– Cost of that trip is going to be around $1800.00

I need to spend at least a few days at The Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia, going through their archives and learning what I can about William Ellis Jones, his business, his associations, etc.
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00

I need to spend at least two days in Richmond researching property records and wills, to determine why William Ellis Jones, III was left essentially penniless, even though his grandfather was a successful man who owned a good deal of property. (I want to prove or disprove that his uncles stole his inheritance.)
– That trip is going to cost around $500.00

I need to take several weeks (broken up over the course of several months), visiting the Civil War Battlefields that are relevant to William Ellis Jones’s 1862 march. In addition, I need to see Gettysburg, which I believe is the last battle William fought in, before Spotsylvania. And of course, I need to visit Spotsylvania, where William was wounded in 1864, effectively ending his career as a Confederate soldier.
– These trips will cost around $300.00 each (some more, some less, totaling around $3000.00)

What I would LOVE to do (although I doubt I will get the opportunity) is go to Caernarvon, Wales and do some research on Thomas Norcliffe Jones, the father of William Ellis Jones, in order to add some flavor to the section of the book that deals with William’s upbringing, his father’s devoted Welsh Wesleyan roots, and the Welsh Jones clan dynasty of authors, poets, and book publishers.
– By my best estimate, that’s a $8000.00 trip abroad.

Last but not least, I need to join the North Carolina Writer’s Network so I can get the final draft of this thing in front of some critical readers, as well as possibly luck into an interested publisher at one of the workshops or conferences (not to mention benefit immensely from the company and insight gained from co-mingling with other writers.)
– Joining fee is $75.00
– Annual Conference is $350.00 – $500.00 (depending upon where it is.)
– Workshops $75.00
– Travel for all of the above events will set me back $400.00 – $500.00

That’s quite a Christmas list. Since I stopped believing in Santa a long time ago, and since $8.00 per hour, 12 hours a week, isn’t going to get me there either – I’m taking this thing to the streets.

I am going to put together a proposal for GoFundMe.com, and start soliciting money for this project – just the same way my ancestors solicited subscribers prior to publishing a book of poetry or sermons or political rantings about ironmongers in South Wales. If people can raise thousands of dollars for pee-wee football teams or cheer leading or bone marrow transplants or breast implants, I can raise at least a few bucks to get this book printed.

I’ll let my fair readers know once I get my prop up on GoFundMe.com.

I’m building a Facebook profile and Page for this project too. (Don’t start… I know…)

I look forward to your support.


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