A long-dead Confederate officer received a birthday bash Saturday.
J.E.B. Stuart was born Feb. 3, 1833, rose to the rank of captain as a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army before defecting to the Confederacy, where he achieved the rank of major general before dying on May 12, 1864, from a wound received in the previous day’s skirmish.
For the fourth year, Mill Creek General Store has provided a venue for J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust to serve birthday cake to the fans of the fallen general.
Major General Stuart would appear to have many fans within driving distance. Nodding toward a large birthday cake about to be cut by Coates Clark, director of the Birthplace Trust, Shirley Keene, the organization’s president, said, “We don’t never have any left.”
“Some of our people have travelled about two hours to get here.” she added. They were joined by a contingent from Grayson County, Virginia: United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The annual birthday celebrations had previously been held for four or five years at a store in Stuart, Virginia, according to Tom Bishop, director of media relations for the Stuart Preservation organization. However, that store closed.
“The Holmeses have been very good supporters.” Keene said of Ben and Helen Holmes, owners of Mill Creek General Store. “They just called out of the blue and insisted we come here.”
“Ben loves history,” said Helen Holmes. “He’s a real history buff, interested in local heritage. We had been up to Laurel Hill and seen re-enactments — never participated in them. He wanted to help however he could to maintain local heritage.”
Aside from providing a venue for Stuart’s birthday party each year, Mill Creek has a display of Stuart items that are available for purchase year round.
“Everything passes back to Laurel Hill,” said Holmes. “It’s a service we like to provide.”
Many of the party guests, particularly the female guests, were outfitted in re-creations of 1860s-era garb, many of them made by Keene. It’s an interest she has pursued since retiring 20 years ago. “I don’t do men’s,” she said. “They’re not pretty.”
The women in their 1860s-era clothes — Keene doesn’t say ‘Civil War,’ preferring to refer to the decade of the conflict, as she loves everything about it — were not wearing the enormous hoop skirts of the period. Keene said the quarters were too tight in the general store. “But come up to the re-enactments, and you’ll see them,” she said, referring to the Civil War re-enactments held on the first weekend of October each year at the Stuart birthplace.
Keene said for the last two years, the re-enactments have included a ladies’ tea and fashion show organized by Joan Williams, a volunteer for the organization.
“And you must stay for the Sunday church service,” she said. “We have a period chaplain, Allen Farley, and he’s true to the period. All fire and brimstone.”
Stuart’s birthday party featured live music, as any gathering would have done before the invention of recorded music. Lone Ivy String Band — consisting of Mike Pendleton, a Stuart Preservation Trust board member on the fiddle, Stan Spencer on guitar, and Larry Mabe on claw-hammer banjo — provided music for the event. All of the songs played were period-appropriate, according to Pendleton.
Bishop asked the band if they’d be playing “Angelina Baker,” which he said was one of J.E.B. Stuart’s favorite songs. The Stephen Foster song is about a female slave who has been sold off the plantation and is missed by her boyfriend in whose voice the song is sung; according to band members, it would be played later, after they did the necessary re-tuning of their instruments.
Bishop said that Stuart would often request “Angelina Baker” to be played at night by the campfire after a day of battle, adding that Mulatto Bob, a personal servant of Stuart, would play the bones at the campfire.
“They were actual animal bones,” said Bishop.