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Essex County History
1861-1865
The Burial of Latane


By June of 1862, Union General George McClellan had driven his enormous army to the outskirts of Richmond. He was confident the Confederate capitol would fall and the war would soon be over. Spirits in Richmond and the Confederate army were low. On June 12th, General Robert E. Lee sent Virginia's own General "JEB" Stuart on a scouting mission with 1200 of his cavalry. This mission would develop into Stuart's famous "Ride Around McClellan" which enthralled the Confederacy and perplexed McClellan.

The Essex Light Dragoons of the 9th Virginia Cavalry led the column in the area of Hanover Courthouse. The mission encountered resistance from a federal cavalry unit so the dragoons attacked with their Captain William Latane M.D. leading the charge. The federals were driven off, but Captain Latane was killed. His death would be the only one among Stuart's dragoons during this famous maneuver.

John Latane stayed behind to care for his brother's body as the column continued. John sought assistance from the nearby Westwood plantation. He left his dear brother's burial to the ladies' care only after their assurance "to bury him as kindly as if he were a brother". No minister could be found, so the ladies, children and slaves of Westwood and Summer Hill Plantations buried him at Summer Hill as Stuart was riding triumphantly into Richmond. A modest headstone marks his grave. Latane's quiet and simple burial would not soon be forgotten though.

Soon afterwards, John R. Thompson wrote a poem commemorating and romanticizing Latane's death and burial. The poem in turn inspired an oil painting in 1864 by William D. Washington. In the late 1800s, both the poem and the painting became major icons of the "Lost Cause". Many families honoring the courage of Virginia and the South proudly displayed the Burial of Latane on their mantel throughout the 20th century and even today.

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Sources:

1. Settlers, Southerners and Americans: The History of Essex County, Va.. 1985, by James B. Slaughter (available at the Essex County Museum and Historical Society)

2. Essex County Historical Society Bulletin, vol. 53. The Propaganda of Martrydom: The Latanes and Confederate Nationalism. by Ryan Danker. September 2009
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