Trip To Norfolk And Richmond
Headquarters, Middle Department,
8th Army Corps.
Office Provost Marshal,
Baltimore, July 5, 1865.
Special Order No. 93.
III. Lieut. H. B. Smith, Assistant Provost Marshal, 8th Army
Corps, will proceed to Norfolk, Va., with prisoners Manuel
Desota and Morris Moran. On arrival he will deliver the
prisoners to the Provost Marshal
at Norfolk, taking receipt
for same. This duty performed, Lt. Smith will proceed to
Richmond, Va., for the purpose of obtaining information in the
case of Ralph Abercrombie, after which he will return to these
headquarters without delay.
Quartermasters will furnish necessary transportation.
By command of Major General Wallace.
Lt. Col. & Provost Marshal.
The above starts a train of reminiscences. Ralph Abercrombie, it was
alleged, had been used as a spy upon our men confined in Libby Prison.
He was confined with them, as though he were a prisoner also, but it was
his business to worm out the confidences naturally confided to fellow
prisoners, and to report them to the Confederate authorities.
One of the purposes of my visit was to interview a lady residing in
Richmond who was a staunch friend of the Federal government, and who had
encouraged and aided our soldiers in confinement in Libby prison and on
Belle Island. Her name was Miss Elizabeth L. Van Lew. She resided in a
fine mansion on an eminence overlooking Richmond from the east.
I was greatly entertained by her stories of her experiences; she had
come close to the danger line of confiscation of her property and her
personal incarceration. She had at one time concealed in the cupola of
her house, our soldiers, who had escaped from Libby prison, while
Confederate officers were being entertained in her parlors.
I desired to learn if she recollected anything regarding Abercrombie's
actions. As a recognition of Miss Van Lew's loyalty, President Grant
made her postmistress of Richmond in 1869, which post she filled for
A few years after the war I gave a friend a letter of introduction to
her, which she honored. I was much pleased to be remembered by such a
person. How such a kind hearted woman must have grieved, with a view
constantly present from her home, of our suffering soldiers on desolate
Abercrombie was formerly a lieutenant in the 13th U. S. Infantry. He
resigned in 1862 and went into the Confederacy through the blockade from
Nassau. He was charged with having been the principal witness against
Captain Dayton, who was executed at Castle Thunder, Richmond, on the
charge of being a spy. He was arrested on the 18th of April, 1865.