“To destroy this kind of theology”: Federals in the Fox House

Fox House Front Porch May 2020
The front porch of the Fox house today. The brick building in the background was a school house Rev. Fox operated.

On May 24, 1864, after Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps had crossed the North Anna River and then avoided a Confederate trap, Hancock’s men threw up lines of works to protect themselves. One of the lines near the front “took under its protection the house of a divine who must be a person of ‘culture and means,'” wrote John Haley of the 17th Maine.

The “divine” Haley referred to was Rev. Thomas Fox, owner of the two-story brick house “Ellington.” I’ve written about the Fox House before (see this post and this video tour).

By the time Haley arrived on the property, Fox had left his home deserted. “He and his family had found that his duty lay in another direction, and at the first gunshot had left precipitately,” Haley noted.

Inspecting the property gave Haley and his compatriots a decidedly negative view of Fox:

This man of God has not been slow in securing a share of the world’s goods. He probably has more business capacity than faith. His effects were all there in the house, and we could pick out such as suited our needs. I fell in love with a choice bit of china plate, and a union was effected in a few seconds without benefit of clergy. It is keeping with our mission to destroy this kind of theology as quickly as possible. A theology that sanctions slavery savors too strongly of Satan to be tolerated. The religion of Jesus Christ has nothing in common with the auction block or the lash. Two-hundred years of slavery have not elevated the nigger or his master. The only advancement has been in the way of unnatural selection; the line of demarcation between white and black is not as positive as true virtue demands, but it dimmed by a kind of neutral tint that cannot but be regarded with suspicion.

from John Haley, The Rebel Yell & The Yankee Hurrah: The Civil War Journal of a Maine Volunteer, (Camden, ME: Down East Books, 1985), 163.

11 Responses to “To destroy this kind of theology”: Federals in the Fox House

  1. Amazing how eloquent soldiers can be in justifying theft. I’m sure he was concerned about the well being of the Reverend’s slaves as he scooted off with the pocketed silver?!

      1. Rob, pillage, burn and wage war against the civilian population. The north introduced the concept of total war on their fellow Americans, ancestors of some of the most prominent founding fathers.

  2. ANV rounding up free black civilians in PA during the Gettysburg campaign, and the burning of Chambersburg. Even Lee admitted that it is good that war is terrible less we grow too fond of it.

    1. Using a few incidents that happened in PA doesn’t even come close to what the north did to the Southern States.

  3. Agreed – what hypocrites! An angel on one shoulder and Satan on the other. Why not listen to both and have it all.

  4. Actually, robbing, pillaging, burning and waging war on the civilian population was ably demonstrated by a Virginian…General George Washington. I am sure that, given time, I could find an earlier example. Washington unleashed General John Sullivan and two brigades of Continental Army troops on the Iroquois Confederacy. Men, women and children were killed and displaced. Villages and crops ( those not used to sustain the troops) were burned to the ground. Documented rapes occurred as well. War unleashes all of Hell’s hounds and always has. The Civil War was no exception.

      1. The Iroquois were the Nazis/Soviets/PolPot/ of the north woods.

      2. The Iroquois was a pretty poor example to use. They were brutal, committed massacre s of men, woman and children. Sullivan then exacted revenge. The treatment of native Americans were this countrys #1 sin, it was genocide. But I degrees, we are talking about the war for Southern Independence, the CSA Government was democratically elected but Fuhrer Lincoln chose to squash a democratic movement. I know, some will bring up slavery but had there been no war, 800,000 Americans would have loved and slavery would have died of natural causes as it did in the rest of the civilized world.

  5. War almost always generates more violence on the civilian population than on the opposing military. But either way men in war very often lose their ethical way. Perhaps the time has come to teach positive lessons in peacemaking.

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