Posted by: The staff | September 7, 2012

Mrs. Henry hailed a Southern martyr? Apparently not

From John Hennessy:

It’s one of the standard tales of First Manassas:  that the widow Judith Carter Henry’s death during the fighting on her farm on July 21, 1861, helped outrage the South, embitter the war. The presumption has always been that in the post-battle hunt for atrocities both sides undertook (avidly), the death of Mrs. Henry at the hands of Ricketts’s guns that afternoon ranks near the top.

Union artilleryman Captain James Ricketts later admitted that he “thoroughly riddled” Mrs. Henry’s house. This is how it appeared soon after the battle.

I can find no evidence of that. Mrs. Henry’s name rarely appears in newspapers North or South in the weeks and months following the battle. Rather, her death seems simply to have been accepted as an inevitable outcome of battle (no one then could know how uncommon civilian deaths in battle would really be during the Civil War). So far as I can see, no one trotted out her sad fate as evidence of Yankee perfidy, even though the press worked feverishly to document supposed Union barbarities.

The status of Mrs. Henry as lamented public martyr seems to me to be another one of those misplaced presumptions that morph into myth.

The ruins of the Henry House, after being dismantled by the Confederates for souvenirs and building material the winter following the battle.

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Responses

  1. Yankee barbarities were horrific and plentifu,l irrespective of the Henry case.


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