After speaking at the old Museum of the Confederacy on Friday afternoon, I spent this past weekend with family in Richmond. Clear skies and temperatures in the 70s gave way to cold rain Saturday and snow that evening (there was a coating on my truck Sunday morning). Despite the weather, I did take an opportunity to get out and do a little battlefield tramping, or driving. While I did not have time to follow Stuart’s Ride Around McClellan in its entirety, I focused on the area south of Haw’s Shop which witnessed the only major fighting during the expedition and the birth of a Southern myth.
On June 13, 1862, a day after Brig. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart left the outer defenses of Richmond on his famous ride, a squadron from Col. William Henry Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee’s 9th Virginia Cavalry clashed with elements from the 5th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Edward Leib. The commander of the 5th U.S., Capt. William Royall had dispatched Leib from the regiment’s camp at Old Church to picket the roads and watch for enemy activity in the direction of Hanover Court House.
Leib reached the outskirts of Hanover Court House that morning and observed Stuart’s column. He immediately sent a courier back to Royall for orders and withdrew to Haw’s Shop. Royall subsequently directed Leib to return to camp. The Federals had not gone far when some of Leib’s pickets warned of Confederates passing through Haw’s Shop. Leib immediately formed his men south of the road and dispatched a contingent under Lt. William McLean to the south bank of Totopotomoy Creek.
Lt. William Robins’s squadron from the 9th Virginia led Stuart’s advance. Initially stopped by Leib’s troopers, Capt. Samuel Swann’s squadron came to Robins’ aid and managed to push the 5th U.S. back across the stream.
Leib and McLean reformed their men on high ground near Linney’s Corner. Joined by Royall, they awaited the inevitable Confederate advance. Reaching the front, Stuart ordered Capt. William Latané’s squadron of 9th Virginia forward. The ensuing charge broke Royall’s line, leaving the Union captain wounded and Latané dead, struck in the chest by four bullets.
Latané, a native Virginian, was born on January 16, 1833. In the fall of 1851, he entered the University of Virginia to study medicine, however, he eventually transferred to Richmond Medical College and graduated in 1853. At the outbreak of the war, Latané was elected third lieutenant in the Essex Light Dragoons, which eventually became Company F of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. Earlier that spring, Latané was elected the company’s captain.
When the smoke and dust had settled around Linney’s Corner, Latané’s body was taken by his brother John to Westwood, the home of Dr. William Brockenbrough. With her husband serving in the Confederate army, Dr. Brockenbrough’s wife, Catherine directed John to the home of her niece, Summer Hill. There, Latané was interred and remains in the family cemetery. A Freeman Marker, along with a headstone stand at Latané’s final resting place. The cemetery, however, is inaccessible to the public and Summer Hill is a private residence. Please respect owners’ rights.
Latané’s death and burial soon became part of Confederate and Lost Cause lore. John R. Thompson penned a poem about the event which appeared in the July-August issue of Southern Literary Messenger. Late in 1864, Richmond artist William Washington had locals and members of Mrs. James West Pegram’s School for girls model for The Burial of Latané. After the war, The Southern Magazine distributed a copy of work to each yearly subscriber. “By pen and brush”, reflected William Campbell, a member of Latané’s old Company F, his former commander was “enshrined…in the hearts of the people of our Southland that it will endure as long as men are admired for devotion to duty and and for risking their lives upon the perilous edge of battle in defense of homes and country.”