NOTABLE VISITORS AND EVENTS
In July, 1860, when the Breckenridge-Lane Presidential campaign was causing much interest throughout the country, our town was visited by Hon. Joseph H. Lane, the candidate for Vice-President. He must have been en route for Raleigh or some larger city south. By invitation he stopped over night in Warrenton, and was entertained at the Brownlow Hotel. A large reception was given him in the evening, in the ballroom of the hotel, quite a large and handsome room; the only decorations were the flags draped on the music stand. Benches were placed all around the room, and the Mayor of the town, Thomas A. Montgomery, introduced the guest of honor to each person. As was the custom then, he was carried around; the citizens were not brought up to him to be introduced.
The citizens of the town must always feel that its most distinguished visitor was General Robert E. Lee. It was in the spring of 1870, a few months before his death, when his health was quite feeble, and his daughter was traveling with him, hoping to restore him. His purpose was to visit the grave of his father, “Light Horse Harry,” near Savannah, Georgia, and to stop by Warrenton, and go to the grave of his daughter, Anne Carter, who was buried in the burial ground of Joseph Speed Jones, near Jones’ White Sulphur Springs, where she and her mother were spending a summer, during the war, and she died from fever. Nothing was known of his coming, for he was too modest a man to herald his approach. Miss Mollie White, now Mrs. Edmund Beckwith, had been on a visit to Petersburg, and was returning home. When she reached Warren Plains, and her brother was assisting her from the train, she said, “Brother Willie, General Lee is on the train, and going to get off here.” Captain White with his usual warm hospitality, went to the General and asked him and his daughter to ride into the town in his father’s carriage, and also to be their guests. The next day they sent them to the burial ground, some twelve miles in the country. That night Mrs. White invited some of the citizens to come to tea with the General and his daughter.
Among them were Mrs. Maria Somerville Alston and Miss Ellen Brownlow, who had served as part of a committee that were instrumental in erecting an appropriate stone, of Warren County granite, over the grave of Anne Carter Lee.
During the evening, the General expressed a wish to be able to do something for these ladies to show his warm appreciation of their beautiful thought for his wife and himself, in erecting the stone. Mrs. Alston said she would like to have an autograph picture of himself. Miss Brownlow asked for a lock of his hair; he laughingly said there was not much left, but she was welcome to clip a lock, which she did.
After Miss Brownlow was in her nineties, within the past five years, I was calling on her one afternoon, and she asked me to discharge a very sacred commission for her. She placed in my hand an old fashioned breastpin, with some white hair in it. She said, “this is one of the most sacred things I possess, it is the lock of hair General Lee gave me from his own head, in 1870. I wish you to take it to a jeweler, and get him to fix it in very securely, and you had better not tell him whose hair it is.” I felt the responsibility of the trust very much, and in a day or two called to get the pin so as to return it to her. When I had it safely in my hand, I told the clerk whose hair it was that he had handled. Instantly he was much interested, and he called every one in the store to come and see General Lee’s hair. It was only a lock of almost pure white hair, but it came from the head of our beloved and revered Robert E. Lee.
Perhaps the most conspicuous event was the Bragg Dinner, as it was called in referring to it, even in recent years. A while back, a colored woman, in my service, was trying to get at her true age, when she said: “I was hired to a family, living near where they had the Bragg Dinner, and I was twelve years old then; how old would that make me now?”
Seventy-five years have rolled around since that memorable day, and there are very few now left to recall it, but it must always be of interest to the people of Warrenton.
The Bragg Dinner was held at Buena Vista Spring, which, with the grove that was once adjacent to it, was for many years the best known and most widely talked of spot in Warren County. This celebration of an important military and historical event which intimately concerned a citizen of Warrenton took place on August 8, 1848. The event was the return of Captain (afterwards General) Braxton Bragg from Mexico, after its invasion and conquest by the army of the United States. The historical event which was emphasized and celebrated on that day was the battle of Buena Vista, which was fought near the city of Mexico, and the part taken by Captain Bragg in it.
At a critical period of the battle, when the Mexican Cavalry in overwhelming numbers were about to override the small force of the United States Infantry opposed to them, Captain Bragg by a skillful disposition of his battery of artillery, and through his own efficiency and courage, and that of his men, drove back the Mexicans and turned the tide of battle.
In connection with this incident I will mention that I have seen a letter from W. C. Drake of Warren County, in which he wrote: “That on the day of the celebration, he, with other boys, were present, and had seats on the edge of the speaker’s platform, and that he heard Captain Bragg in his speech say among other things, that he hated to disillusionize common tradition about an important event, but that the truth of history compelled him to alter the language of General Taylor on the battlefield of Buena Vista when he spoke to him. Captain Bragg said that General Taylor in addressing him did not use the words ascribed to him in history: ‘ A little more grape, Captain Bragg, a little more grape,’ but ‘Give ‘em hell, Captain Bragg, give ‘em hell’
On that 8th of August, thousands of people assembled in the town, from the adjoining counties, to do honor to the returned soldier. His father, an old man, his sister, Mrs. Culbreth, of Petersburg, and his brother, Thomas, afterwards Governor of North Carolina, with many distinguished citizens, occupied seats on the stand. Dr. R. C. Pritchard, a distinguished orator, a native of Virginia, but then, and for some time, a resident of Warren County, presented, in a most appropriate address, an elegant sword, the gift of the people of the town and the county, to her distinguished soldier and son.
The address of Captain Bragg in receiving the sword was in good taste and full of inspiration and interest to his hearers. The ladies had arranged a handsome bouquet for the guest, which was presented by Miss Lucy Williams (Mrs. William H. Polk). A sumptuous dinner was prepared for the thousands present, and the day went off without an incident to mar its pleasure. A great ball in the town on the night, following the festivities of the day, brought this most interesting, occasion to a close.
THE CONFEDERATE REUNION
Among the notable events that took place in Warrenton was the dinner given by the town and the county to the Confederate soldiers of Franklin, Warren, Halifax, and Granville counties, on the10th of August, 1883. It was a very big occasion, and created much interest. Perhaps it was the largest crowd ever assembled together in the town. Many came the day previous, and were entertained by the citizens. It was given at the old Hall place, it being then unoccupied, as Judge Edward Hall had died a few years before. There was an acre of tables, made in a temporary way, of planks with supports underneath. These were arranged in the yard back of the house, on the hill, underneath the spreading oaks, with the fine spring of water at the foot. There were baskets of the most delicious food brought by the country people, and a like supply furnished by the town, enough for all the large crowd, and much left over, which was sent to those who could not attend, both white and colored. For the guests of honor, a table was spread in the handsome old parlor, well furnished with linen, silver, flowers, etc. The guests of honor were Governor Jarvis and his official staff. General Matt W. Ransom was the orator of the day, introduced by W. A. Montgomery, Esq.
The platform was built just off the front porch of the residence. General Ransom’s speech was a very finished, and eloquent oration. He never looked handsomer, nor had a more sympathetic audience, and as his subject was one very close to his heart, the campaigns of the war and the heroism of the Confederate soldier, it could but give great pleasure, and inspire again the pride and patriotism of his hearers. So splendidly was the whole program carried out that the town and country were immensely proud of their own hospitality.
Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.