Virginia Tunstall Clay
Remembers Lewis and Sarah Whittle

Edited by Henry H. Mitchell

Virginia Tunstall Clay

Virginia Tunstall Clay (wife of Alabama Senator and Confederate diplomat Clement Claiborne Clay) recorded several interactions with her close friends Lewis and Sarah Whittle of Macon, Georgia. This photograph was taken during the 1860's.

The following of her reminiscences involving the Whittles are taken from her book A Belle of the Fifties: Memories of Mrs. Clay, of Alabama, covering Social and Political Life in Washington and the South, 1853-66, New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1905.

“On the whole, our condition was almost like that of the ancients who depended on passing travellers for gossip or news of the welfare or whereabouts of friends or kin. Thus my sister (by every tie of affection), writing from Richmond in the spring of '64, said: "Have no idea where you are, but send this letter by General Sparrow to Macon, care of Mrs. Whittle….” (Pp. 228-229.)

Virginia Tunstall Clay

Virginia Tunstall Clay (an earlier portrait).

“A few hurried conferences with General Cobb and others, and together we took our departure for Richmond. Everything which might become an impediment to the rough travel that lay before us was dispensed with, even my invaluable maid, Emily, being left behind at the home of Major Whittle.” (P. 242.)

Lewis Neale Whittle

Lewis Neale Whittle (Virginia Tunstall Clay's host in Macon, Georgia).

“Arrived at Macon, we found a single transfer wagon at the station. To this we were conducted, and our party of four, with our grips and valises, completely filled the vehicle. As we drove away from the station I felt much as must have felt the poor wretches in the French Revolution as they sat in the tumbrels that bore them to the guillotine.

“We drove at once to the residence of our friends, Colonel and Mrs. Whittle, whence Colonel Phillips proceeded to General Wilson's headquarters to deliver my husband's letter announcing his surrender. It was a beautiful afternoon. The trees were in full foliage and the air delicious with sweet odours of Southern blossoms. Dusk was approaching as, without previous announcement, we drove up to the Whittle home. The family were seated on the veranda. With them was our brother, J. Withers Clay. As they recognised us they rushed down the steps to meet us, full of eager questioning.

“‘What does it mean?’ they cried. ‘Why have you come here’ and every eye was full when my husband answered, ‘I have surrendered to the United States Government. Allow me to present my guard, Lieutenant Keck!’ Never shall I forget how dear Mrs. Whittle (who was slightly deaf), with eyes full of tears, reached out her hand to that representative of our triumphant antagonists, as if, by a forbearing kindness, she would bespeak his favour for my husband.” (Pp. 253-254.)

Sarah Powers Whittle

Sarah Powers (Mrs. Lewis Neale) Whittle, Virginia Tunstall Clay's hostess.

“Upon leaving Savannah I proceeded by boat to Augusta, reaching that city on the fifteenth of June, going thence to Macon, escorted to Atlanta by Colonel Woods. During the last half of my journey I was under the care of General B. M. Thomas, who saw me safely into the hands of our kind friends, the Whittles, who hospitable home became my asylum until I proceeded on my way to Huntsville….

“…I was alone, save for the little five-year-old son of my maid, Emily, who, being ill, I had left at the home of Mrs. Whittle….” (Pp. 278-279.)

Virginia Tunstall Clay

Virginia Tunstall Clay.

“While a guest at the home of Colonel Lewis [N.] Whittle, being unceasing in my efforts to secure all possible aid for and to arouse our friends in behalf of my husband, I made several trips of a day or so to other homes in the vicinity. During such an absence, the Whittle home was invaded by a party of soldiers, headed by one General Baker, who made what was meant to be a very thorough search of all my belongings, despite the protests of my gentle hostess. But for her quick presence of mind in sending for a locksmith, the locks of my trunks would have been broken open by the ungallant invaders. I returned to find my friends in deep trouble and anguish of mind on my behalf. They repeated the story of the search with much distress of manner. From the disorder in which I found my room when, shortly afterward, I entered it, these agents of the Government must have hoped to find there the whole assassination plot. Clothing of every description was strewn over the floor and bed and chairs; while on mantelpiece and tables were half-smoked cigar stumps and ashes left by the gentlemen who took part in that memorable paper hunt….” (Pp. 279-280.)


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Available directly from the publisher, and at museums throughout the United States.

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