Virginia Real magazine
The real  Virginia, old and new
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The Crookhorn Road

by Clarke Crutchfield

The Crookhorn Road doesn’t go anywhere now, just up and down a blacktop tying together a few score houses that anchor corn and barley fields near Montross on the Northern Neck. But 80 years ago, before the no-name hurricane took out the bridge over Panacoe Swamp, the Crookhorn could really take you somewhere: Warsaw. No, really, Warsaw. If you're really desperate to get out of someplace, Warsaw, a town slightly bigger than Montross, 11 miles away as the vulture flies, could stand in as the gateway to a wider world, at least if Crookhorn is the place you want to get out of.  Because Warsaw could get you to Tappahannock, and Tappahannock could get you to Richmond and from there, by car or train or plane or even riverboat, you could go anywhere. Among the several hundred people who have lived on the Crookhorn over the past two or three hundred years, there have been at least a few who wanted out very badly. No one seems to have wanted in very badly, not even the Yankees, although they did come one day in 1862.

      Mary Jane Bispham stood on the porch of her white-frame house and watched them come up the Crookhorn. It was a raiding party bend on destroying crops that, as far as the Yankees were concerned, fed the Confederacy. These Yankees had received orders, or perhaps had decided out of spite, to burn every other house on the road. This was not a spit-and-polish outfit but probably the dregs of soldiers Washington felt it could spare away from the really hard fighting around Richmond and Fredericksburg, and they were drunk and disorderly and laden with things stolen from the houses they’d burned. When they came up to her house, Mrs. Bispham saw a mounted officer who looked, she later said, a little more soldierly than the men he was leading – not a gentleman, certainly, but someone with enough standing so she could look him in the eye.

    “Please don’t let these people burn down my house,” she said.

    Something in her own bearing must have carried over to him, because he drew himself up on his horse, as if in courtly acknowledgment, though she probably knew there was no breeding in him. All the same,  he lifted his rifle to signal his men to move on. So they burned the next house. In fact, it was where the Browns still live. No doubt the Browns have their own story, no doubt more bitter, of this experience with the Yankees. But this is the account of the Bispham descendants:  Mary Jane Bispham stood firm, and the Yankees moved on.

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