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February 10, 2014 / Joanne Yeck

The Last Camp of General Lee

Gen. Rb E Lee

In 1906, attorney and politician Camm Patteson wrote a warm and lengthy tribute to General Robert E. Lee.  Printed in The Times-Dispatch, it began at an old white oak, just east of Buckingham Courthouse:

Less than two miles from Buckingham Courthouse, there stands a white oak tree, even now not more than a foot in diameter, under which General Robert E. Lee camped the night after his famous battle at Appomattox.  The second night he stopped at the house of his brother, Mr. Charles Carter Lee. When he left the tree near Buckingham Courthouse, he left it never to camp again.  It stands about one hundred yards from the house of the late William Shepherd, a good old Virginian, who then owned the land. Mr. Shepherd, with true hospitality, invited General Lee to spend the night at his house. The General thanked him but stated that he believed he would camp with the boys; his staff accompanied him. The weather was comparatively warm and pleasant.  As he composed himself to rest upon this, his last camping ground, who can fathom his thoughts? . . .

Patteson’s reverie covered most of four columns and, in the end, he came back to the oak.

The tree in Buckingham to which I have adverted, was called to my attention by my friend and old comrade, Judge George J. Hundley, as gallant a Confederate soldier as ever drew a blade in defense of constitutional liberty.

We went into the army at the same time; we are about the same age, and belong to the same profession.  He knows the tree well which I have described, and it was mainly at his request that I have written this paper.  Old Confederates like us must be allowed the “garrulity” of age.  All that we can do, like that old veteran described in that famous work, “Old Mortality” written by Sir Walter Scott, is to re-write the inscriptions upon the tombstones of the past, and try to keep green and fresh the memory of the cause we loved so well.


Buckingham County, Va., April 13, 1906


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  1. Kenneth Shepherd / Nov 23 2021 9:53 am

    How Did We Get to be Shepherds, Anyway,

    Instead of Zambezi, Jones, X, or whatever. Had everything to do with George Shepherd, who popped out the ground at or near Buckingham Virginia on or about 1829. No parent appears in the records or myth, but sure someone loved and cared for him. He married at 21 and lived a life of caring. Too Black to be free and too White to be a slave. White enough to live freely upon land but too Black to hold the legal title. It appears that George physically held about 60 acres in 1850.  It was situated next to Martha and William (Billy) Shepherd’s land holdings, called Rose House, on old Stage Coach Road near the old County Court House, which Court House burned down during the Civil War. William died shortly after the war ended and left a Will providing for his 8 or so wonderful children. George Shepherd was invisible in the Will. In around 1868 Martha, the widow, formally deeded to George the 60 or so acres that he sat on. Nice lady.
            In case anyone is suspicious and indeed everybody probably is, George was not William’s son. It is unknown what was assumed back then. DNA doesn’t usually lie. If any cousin finds better information, then correct me. Otherwise, we are not a match. Sybil Shepherd is one of William and Martha’s descendants.  She can relax. Strangely, my daughter Lori Sybil Shepherd ended up with that middle name. Such a small world and so few names to choose from when you are trying to do rhymes. So, really how did we get to be Shepherds? William Kerns, a careful and diligent researcher, is certain that George’s grave, marked by a princely stone, is smack dab in the White cemetery across Old Stage Coach Road from what remains of the Inn that William and Martha operated. The 60 acres that George received was larger than the allocation granted to any one of William and Martha’s White children. I have a copy of the Will.
            My, Black, Shepherd cousin, Darlene Farmer, could not find George in William’s tax records from 1830 through 1865. She tried like hell with her fingers crossed for years. Her fingers are probably stuck crossed, but it ain’t gonna to happen. Darlene can find anything. Darlene went back and pulled all of William Shepherd’s required tax filings from 1820 to 1865. The filings required listing of family, slaves and other members of the household staff. She could not determine from the records where George was from 1829 through 1850, when he turned 21. But from 1850 he was clearly on that plot of land, married to Mary, and had 6 sons during the 1850s. Darlene was not able to sniff out George’s scent in the public filings. Invisible being. Same thing for Mary Shepherd, George Shepherd. Right there but not seen. Maybe it was a good time to lay low.
    There are millions doing it now with Trump on the prow.
    George was not their slave. Not a documented offspring. Obscured in the shadows of White honor. George danced in the sunlight, was visible to the emotions, but invisible in the law.

             Darlene is our Shepherd researcher. Single handedly. She so dearly sought to resolve the mystery of George’s origin. Those who know are not talking and taking it to their graves. George, too, left no writing about himself. She was dead certain that William Shepherd was her ill-legitimate two great grand-pop. Wilmer Kerns concurred. I did no research but on my shallow authority, kept saying that George was probably related to the wife Martha Booker Shepherd. At least Martha seems to have thought so. No DNA back then. Everybody had skin in the game, lying and denying their asses off. Martha and William married in 1830 and George, one year of age, was probably a blood relative and part of her wedding dowry. Who knows, he may even have been Martha’s hatched in the attic son, officially attributed to some other lucky girl. That’s one way, if not the way, situations were handled back in the day, in the Dixie Division of God’s Holy and Righteous Realm. Human interaction is a probability space and all things possible are absolutely certain to happen in a mathematical frequency. Just ask Sherlock Holmes. “Pardon me, Sir Sherlock, but would that not explain why George is not mentioned in the Will; and why Martha, after William’s death, deeded to George more land than to any single one of her White children, and also, why George was buried in the White cemetery. Just my theory, woven from the diligent research of others, not to be taken as truth. You all know how I love fantasy. But still, a Black guy getting buried in a White cemetery in Central Virginia, in 1890 was as hard as admission to the University of Virginia. Ask those who knows about that kind of thing.
    In the presence of cousins I briefly saw a photo of George Senior, which photo immediately disappeared forever. Cousins are magicians. The undertaker may not have known that George was a Brother. May have passed upon him as one of the fabled part-Indian White gentleman of Virginia.
    I did a 23 and Me. Gosh. Surprise. Surprise. I have so many distant White cousins. About two-thirds of them are a few percent African but not a single one has a drop of Native American DNA. What’s up with that, Pocahontas? Guess she kept a headache, as an original American Me2 war captive.  Every Black cousin whose details I could look at was a percent or two Native American. And a chunk European, just to fully disclose. People are guardians of narrative. My father’s people would pound their chest about Native American ancestry and whisper about White. I can fluently admit to European, no sweat. But part-White gives a me lockjaw. Careful how you frame it.

    In 1890 something, George junior, the eldest son and heir, deeded 3 acres of “that” land to the Daughters of the Confederacy or to the State of Virginia.  The ladies and or the State created a memorial to Robert E. Lee, yes, the rebel General Robert E. Lee. Darlene revealed it to me. She had me to sit down first. Then take several deep breaths. Then said it real fast like it was a casual after thought and not the primary news. I was focused to listen for something else while it soaked in. When I “heard it”, my convulsive reaction was what? Why? Treason? But over time I took a walk through reality. George probably need the money, as a practical matter. Even the formerly rich White folks were in the welfare line. The emancipation proclamation stripped them of their “asset”. I rationalized, did they fully disclose their intent to George Junior? Perhaps he was influenced by some good gesture. Reciprocity? The good White cousins, or whatever they were, had just recently buried his dad, George Senior, in the White folks cemetery. There are several confederate war dead buried over there. Shit’s confusing. And too, it was during Jim Crow, not an ideal time to piss White Folks off with an untimely “no” to their sacred memorial to the loss ass cause. There was apparently a close, complex relationship the Black and White Shepherds, that we may never understand, mostly due to time, choice or denial.
    Historically, it appears that the famed general and his entourage of defeated troops pitch his camp on my Black George Shepherd’s land. The memorial is intended to mark General Lee’s last encampment. This happened a day of two after Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House.  Buckingham to Appomattox is walking distance. They probably called it a march. Never heard this through family lore, they would not admit to anything “Buckingham”. At the mention that word, all went silent.  
    Typical of 1865, the White folks, did not ask George for permission. George was invisible. Floating in the air, his feet not planted upon the ground of White decision making. That George Senior was ensconced upon the land gave him no dominion and control that White society was prepared to honor. The Internet says that the general obtained permission from Martha Shepherd to camp out. But, the Lee Wayside Memorial to that event is still there.
    After the war George obtained from Martha, a land title and deed that was honored
    George Shepherd Junior personally knew the story. He was about 13 years old in April 1865 when the event took place, was present and saw the whole thing. Hope he was not pressured to water the horses. Who knows.  As a thirteen year old he may have been impressed, felt honored. Or, perhaps, was watching from behind a tree laughing like hell. Charles Lewis Shepherd, my great-grandfather, about 10 or 12 years old or so, was there too with other brothers.  Mary and George Shepherd Senior and their sons, George Junior, Frank, Charles, ,Thomas, James, Doctor and Hale had the historical privilege to see General Robert E. Lee and his entourage mourn the end of the Confederacy. Witnessed the shock on their face, in their gesture, their tone and gait. That trophy was worth an acres or two. The dedication is a memorial to the Black Shepherd’s own, Rashomon experience. That of pure Joy. In jubilation, We became Shepherds. Christen by the tears and sorrow of Robert E. Lee’s entourage. General Lee was perhaps glad it was over and he American again

    KenShepherd September 6, 2018

    • Joanne Yeck / Nov 23 2021 1:04 pm


      Many thanks for your thought-provoking comment. Here’s hoping Darlene and/or other Shepherd researchers find more about George Senior and his family.


  2. DVF / Feb 11 2014 8:13 am

    Hi….I believe that George Shepherd, Sr. or George Shepherd, Jr. donated that piece of land for a park in honor of Lee/Encampment. At the moment, I can’t remember which person donated the land. I find this to be interesting for many reasons, but one in particular, is the fact that this land was donated via People of Color….donating land ref the Confederacy….I have a feeling that this family witnessed Lee’s last stand…..

    • Joanne Yeck / Feb 11 2014 8:55 am

      Thanks for your thoughts. We look forward to more details about the establishment of Lee Wayside. Joanne

  3. Gene / Feb 10 2014 7:16 pm

    Any information as to exact location or if this tree still exists?

    • Gene / Feb 10 2014 7:17 pm

      Nevermind – did not see the earlier post……

      • Joanne Yeck / Feb 10 2014 7:19 pm

        Gene, I’m working on the question. Watch for a follow up post. Joanne

  4. Dave George / Feb 10 2014 1:12 pm

    Hi Joanne, Does anyone have the exact location of the tree? Is it at the Robert E Lee Wayside? If so, we need a picture of what that space looks like today, for those of us that don’t live in the county now. Thanks, cuz Marion

    Sent from my iPad


    • Joanne Yeck / Feb 10 2014 2:33 pm

      Marion, I will inquire about the oak. Coz. Joanne


  1. Buckingham County: Lee’s Last Camp | slate river ramblings . . . .
  2. Lee Wayside and Shepherd’s Tavern | slate river ramblings . . . .

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