Friday, August 22, 2014

Confederate Veteran Profile - Thomas Aaron Nelson, Co.

The Virginia Flaggers are pleased to announce the release of the second in a series of profiles of Confederate Veterans who resided at the Old Soldiers' Home, on the grounds of Confederate Memorial Park in Richmond, VA.

For over 150 weeks, the Virginia Flaggers have forwarded the colors, twice a week, on the sidewalk outside of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) after museum officials forced the removal of Confederate Battle Flags from the portico of the Confederate Memorial Chapel.

One cannot truly appreciate the history and significance of the Chapel, nor the degree of desecration committed when museum leadership, driven by their own misguided prejudice and ignorance, removed the flags, without knowing the (personal) stories of the men who built the Chapel, worshiped in it every Sunday, and gathered each time the bell tolled, to pay their respects to and honor their comrades, as one by one, the Veterans passed over to eternity.

For many of our Flaggers, this fight is about more than just defending our Heritage against yet another unwarranted and unprovoked attack. For those whose veins course with the blood of the men who lived and died at the Old Soldiers' Home, it is personal...

Veteran Profile: Thomas Aaron Nelson, Co. H, 6th VA Cavalry

Born in December, 1835, Thomas Aaron Nelson grew up in Fauquier County, Virginia, a region known for its rural beauty and fine horses. The son of Mexican-American War veteran Thomas Henry Nelson and Mary Francis Bise, he was also a descendant of Thomas Nelson Jr., a planter and soldier from Yorktown who represented Virginia in the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence and served as governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Not much is known of Thomas' early years, although records tell us he had a fair complexion, dark hair and hazel eyes, and considered himself a farmer like his famous forefather. On September 29, 1857, Thomas married his cousin Fannie (their maternal grandmothers were sisters).

It's not surprising, given Fauquier County's reputation, that Thomas should "jine the cavalry" after his native Virginia seceded from the Union. War Department records attest to his enlistment as a private on March 12, 1862. Though his younger brother, Joseph Henry Nelson, was a daredevil who rode with Mosby's Rangers, Thomas' unit of choice was Co. H (the "Wise Dragoons"), 6th Virginia Cavalry. The summer of 1863 proved an especially trying one for young Thomas. July 3 found him near Fairfield, Pennsylvania, just a few miles from Gettysburg and the deadliest battle of the war. While the ill-fated Pickett's Charge was getting underway, small numbers of the 7th Virginia Cavalry under Brig. Gen. William "Grumble" Jones intercepted 400 of the 6th U.S. Cavalry. These relatively green U.S. regulars were out to seize a Confederate wagon train and block the likeliest enemy escape route through Fairfield Gap. When the 6th U.S. Cavalry repulsed their 7th Virginia counterparts, Jones sent in the 6th Virginia Cavalry, whose rousing charge overwhelmed the regulars, securing the Fairfield Gap pass and the Hagerstown Road. This small but important victory facilitated the Confederate army's retreat towards the Potomac River after the Battle of Gettysburg.

Unfortunately, according to a July 18 report, Thomas was wounded at Fairfield. Then, on July 21, he was captured at Chester Gap, Virginia, one of the armies' routes over the Blue Ridge and a frequent site of skirmishes. Listed on an August 1 Prisoner of War roll at Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison, he was transferred to Maryland's notorious Point Lookout prison on August 23, 1863. It was not until February 13, 1865, just months before the surrender, that he was exchanged. Records show that he was paroled at Winchester, Virginia, on April 22, 1865; a copy of his signed oath still exists.

After the war, while Thomas' brother Joseph returned to Fauquier County and served as mayor of Warrenton for several terms, Thomas moved his family to Missouri for reasons unknown. He and Fannie had 16 children, though not all lived to adulthood. When Fannie died in 1899, Thomas returned to Virginia and lived with his sisters, moving from one of their houses to the other until finally applying, in June 1913, to live at the Soldiers' Home of the R.E. Lee Camp No.1 Confederate Veterans in Richmond. The Camp Commandant admitted him on July 14. But being weak and "getting right feeble," the 77-year-old Thomas asked permission to report after the heat of summer. He also inquired whether there would be room for his trunk, and whether the camp would provide transportation—adding, "The [fare to Richmond] will be $3.55." Thomas' file includes a heartfelt letter from his sister, Mrs. Robert Moffett, notifying the Soldiers' Home of her brother's death on August 14, 1915, during a visit to see her. He is buried in the family graveyard near Warrenton, Virginia.

Almost 100 years after Thomas Aaron Nelson left this earth, his great-great niece, Elizabeth Wilson is determined that his sacrifice, courage and devotion to God and country will not be forgotten, as she forwards the Colors in his memory, and in protest of those who have desecrated the Confederate Memorial Chapel and the hallowed ground on which it rests, and dishonored our gallant Confederate Veterans.

God bless Thomas Aaron Nelson, and God bless those who stand and speak for those who no longer have a voice!

RETURN the flags!
RESTORE the honor!

Virginia Flaggers
P.O. Box 547
Sandston VA 23150

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