From the Editor

“The rats did not require any of Lee’s and Perin’s Worcester sauce to make them palatable or to give them zest.” Those words were written by Confederate Captain D. Augustus Dickert regarding the capture, preparation, and consumption of wharf rats by the starving POWs held at Fort Delaware during the Civil War. It turns out that Googling various combinations of the words Civil War, Fort Delaware, prisoners, and rats yields quite a number of useful results.
    The topic of eating rats arose a few months ago when Peter Otey Ward Jr. kindly agreed to allow Lynch’s Ferry to publish drawings that his ancestor, Confederate veteran and U.S. congressman Peter Johnston Otey, created during a three-month-long stint in Fort Delaware prison. Otey’s confinement began in early March 1865, at a time when, according to Dickert, rations were reduced to two ounces of meat and six ounces of bread per day. “Men who had no other means of procuring something to eat...stalked about listlessly, gaunt looking, with sunken cheeks and glaring eyes, which reminded one of a hungry ravenous beast.”
    Against this background, Otey produced a portfolio of sketches illustrating many aspects of prison life, which would later be recounted in the memoirs of his fellow inmates. Severe depression, compulsive gambling, raking lice, catching rats for breakfast, and other heartrending and humiliating scenes are documented. But alongside those images are depictions of sanity-saving pastimes, routine chores, and familiar objects like plates and chess pieces. There is humor in some of the drawings, a trait Otey was known for throughout his life.
    Otey was captured at Waynesboro, during General Jubal Early’s final battle. However, in this issue of Lynch’s Ferry we encounter General Early at his swaggering finest in Darrell Laurant’s “The Battle of Lynchburg: A Sesquicentennial Look Back.” Anyone who spends more than an hour in the Hill City ends up knowing a little something about Hunter’s Raid, General McCausland, Sandusky, the great “train ruse,” and Narcissa Owen’s comforting Confederate-troop estimate—to name just a few. Laurant’s contribution—what Central Virginia’s treasured longtime journalist does best—is to weave these people, places, and events together in a lively, coherent, readable way that makes this rendering of the battle a keeper.
    Whereas Laurant touches on skirmishes fought near Samuel Miller’s property during the Battle of Lynchburg, first-time contributor Barry Rudacille marches up to Miller’s house and kicks open the door to reveal a seldomtold but truly fascinating story of “One Man’s Outrage.” Rudacille has done his homework, going so far as to inspect the historic Miller House attic for evidence that a round from a musket aimed at Samuel Miller’s head was somehow deflected into the ceiling. He found no traces of such an event.
    In a similar vein, Nate Sullivan searched August 1907 editions of The News to see how the iconic, axe-wielding, prohibitionist Mrs. Carry Nation behaved on her whirlwind tour of Lynchburg’s “Hell traps.” Counter to her reputation, she comported herself peacefully through a series of walk-in demonstrations and impromptu speeches. The tenor of her visit supports an emerging view of Nation as “a sober-minded reformer committed to dealing with social problems—albeit through unconventional tactics.”
    The topic of Prohibition prompted a brief article from renown orchardist and author Tom Burford whose boyhood memories of life in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains include a few stories pertaining to the manufacture and distribution of alwaysin- demand beverages. Did bootleggers enjoy the protection of police escorts on the road to Richmond’s John Marshall Hotel while the legislature was in session? Probably not. But this tall tale from a bygone era was just too amusing to leave out.
    And therein lies the rub. Throughout this issue, as indicated in the main text and sometimes in footnotes or captions, readers will find that some of Lynchburg’s most cherished historical narratives are currently under review or have already been debunked. Did General Hunter really cut a hole in the roof of Sandusky? Did Samuel Miller really have a musket pointed in his face?
    Experts tell us that we embellish the truth and cling to fabrications as a means of coping with defeat, uncertainty, and change. But there also may be another, simpler reason why myths about Central Virginia’s past still persist. As Greg Starbuck, executive director of Historic Sandusky, explained: “It’s hard to kill a good story.”

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