Becky Barnhardt, head of genealogy and family research services at Mathews Memorial Library, found the letter recently while she was doing personal research, and she shared the find with members of the Mathews County Historical Society during a meeting last Friday. The letter was written by William H. Clarke, an engineer for the Confederate Army during the Civil War, on Feb. 5, 1862, while he was in charge of building defense fortifications at Smart’s Mill on the Gloucester-Mathews county line.
The letter, which is difficult to read because it was written on both sides of the paper and the ink bled through, was included in the Galt papers at the library and is written to a Mr. Galt, whom Barnhardt identified as William R. Galt, a Norfolk school teacher.
In the letter (which is addressed “Fort Roy, Smart’s Mill, Matthews Co. Feb. 5th 1862” on the top of the first page), Clarke mentions having visited the Galts in Norfolk, during which he suffered from a bout of typhoid fever and was cared for by Mrs. Galt. Afterward, he was “first ordered to Gloucester Point, a place full of the memories of a renowned past…” He said that while in Gloucester Point, he saw “numerous relics of old, which have been excavated by running our new works through the old fortifications, thrown up by the British.”
Clarke, who was a Richmond native, was in Gloucester Point for only a month, during which time he said he grew “fat on the fine oysters of the Noble York, until I had reached the dimensions to justify my weighing 165 lbs.” He was then ordered by General Magruder “to take charge of a work in the Northern extremity of Matthews County,” where he had been for two months at the time of the letter, boarding at the home of “Mr. Smart’s, North End which is the Post Office for this part of the county.”
“I have succeeded up to this time in making a lengthy & imposing impression upon Mother earth,” Clarke wrote. “The County of Matthews as you will see from the map is a peninsula, & the only fortification that could be thrown up in this quarter, was to run a line across the narrow dividing line, thus cutting off Matthews from the aristocratic county of Gloucester.”