One of the more historic structures in Falmouth is the Conway House, located along King Street. Built in 1807, this Federal-style home is most well-known for having been the childhood residence of author, clergyman, and abolitionist Moncure Daniel Conway. On the eve of the Civil War, Moncure lived in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he served as a Unitarian minister, although his father and mother still lived in the Falmouth house.
In his autobiography, Moncure relates a story, as told to him by his father, about the arrival of Union troops in the spring of 1862:
“When the Union Army under General McDowell entered Falmouth they found the village deserted by the whites. My father was in Fredericksburg, and my two brothers far away in the Confederate ranks. The house was left empty and locked up, the house servants remaining in their abode in the back yard. Yet as the Union soldiers were filing past a shot was fired from a window of the Conway House, or from a corner of the yard, and a soldier wounded. It was never known who fired the shot; our negroes assured me that the house was locked and watched. The Union soldiers, alarmed and enraged, battered down the doors, and, finding no one, began vengeance on the furniture.
The house was of brick, and the largest in Falmouth; it was made a hospital, and the seriously wounded soldier was its first inmate.” – Moncure Daniel Conway, Autobiography: Memories and Experiences of Moncure Daniel Conway, Vol. I (1904), p. 356
The house was once again occupied by the Union army during the period between November 1862 and June 1863. The Union Second Army Corps camped nearby and the pickets and sentries who kept an eye on the far side of the Rappahannock River commandeered many of the structures in Falmouth.
In 2003, a letter was found wedged between the Conway House attic floorboards. The correspondence proved to be written by Dennis Dugan and Daniel Shanahan, both members of Company F of the 20th Massachusetts. Apparently never mailed, the letter is dated April 1863.
Company F seems to have had a rough reputation, as evidenced by a May 27, 1863 letter written by Lieutenant Sumner Paine of Company I, 20th Massachusetts:
“The paymaster was here two days ago and paid us up to May 1st. It didn’t affect me as I don’t draw pay till May 2nd when I reported for duty. They are going to pay us every two months now. The result was yesterday when I was on guard I had my hands full. For liquor will pass the lines. The 2nd Lieutenant Kelliher who commands Company F has been placed in arrest for neglect of duty, today. His company is a disgrace to the regiment. There is no discipline and the men are dirty (i.e., in comparison with the other companies).
There are several jail birds in the company. I had to go in their quarters to arrest one man who was drunk, and I saw what a crowd I had to deal with, so an hour later when I had to take a fellow who is a prize fighter and a murderer, I just took my revolver and went in, and the moment they began to make a fuss, I told them I should shoot the first who resisted. The result was they became remarkably mild.” – Letter, dated May 27, 1863, Lieutenant Sumner Paine to “Mamie”
If graffiti is evidence of a lack of discipline, than Private Edwin Eames of Company F exemplifies Lieutenant Paine’s complaints. Private Eames made sure his name, and presence in the Conway House, would be remembered. Using what was probably a brass stencil purchased from a sutler, Private Eames stenciled his name in at least four locations inside the attic.
The graffiti reads:
“Edwin H. Eames/Bloody F/20. Mass. —-“
Not much is known about Private Eames, other than he enlisted in 1861 at the age of 17 and served in “Bloody F” of the 20th Massachusetts until he mustered out of service on July 16, 1865.
The Conway House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Virginia Landmarks Registry and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The local Moncure Conway Foundation is dedicated to celebrating the life of its namesake and interpreting his home. The house is private property and not open to the public.
Thanks to Norman Schools for the heads-up on this bit of history and for providing access to his home.
Eric J. Mink