Pardon Me

Sep. 29th 2012

As I started working on this post, it was just to be the last of the history I had of the Turner Family before we moved on to the 1900s. Little did I know that it would end up being so much more for us.

During my initial research, I had found a number of documents at the Library of Virginia on Belle Grove and the families that called it home. One of those documents was a copy of a Presidential Pardon from President Andrew Johnson to Carolinus Turner for his connection to the rebellious uprising of the South. I would later find out that the original copy is stored in the archives of the King George Library. Currently the King George Library is undergoing some remodeling so I have not been able to visit and view any of their archives.

Copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon
Library of Virginia
Their copy was dark so my copy is not as clear

One thing that has eluded me has been what connection Carolinus Turner and his family had with the Confederate Forces and what happened to Belle Grove and his family during the Civil War. I have known that most of the area of King George County and Port Royal were primarily Confederate. When I was at the King George Historic Museum, I had come across a document from the Confederate Memorial Association of King George County Virginia with a list of members that included Carolinus Turner. But with this evidence, a couple of things left me truly puzzled.

Confederate Memorial Association
Carolinus Turner’s name is listed
King George History Museum

First, Carolinus would have been in his early fifties when the Civil War started. He also had a very young family. All of his children, including his only son were under 15 years old. At this age, would he have been able to serve as a soldier? Also, during the restoration of Belle Grove from 1997 to 2003, no evidence was found that would indicate that the house had ever been shot at during the war. This was really hard to believe considering that all the plantation homes along the Rappahannock River had either been damaged or destroyed by shots fired from Union gunboats. Why wasn’t Belle Grove scarred by this war?

Here is a little bit of background information on these Presidential pardons that occurred during and after the Civil War. I discovered a wonderful essay by Dr. William Long that best explains the pardons. With his permission, I will be sharing some of that essay with you. You can find the whole essay on his website at

During and after the Civil War, Federal officials recognized the need for new laws to deal with the rebellious acts by most of the Southern population. There were two acts passed by Congress in 1861 and 1862 that fixed penalties for the lesser crimes of “conspiracy” and “rebellion”. The second act also provided for future pardons and amnesty to those who participated in the rebellion.

Abraham Lincoln

The first amnesty proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on December 8, 1863. It extended pardons to persons taking an oath to support the Constitution and the Union and to abide by all Federal laws and proclamations in reference to slavery made during the war.

“During the Civil War many statutes were passed which allowed punishment and confiscation of land of people who fought against the Federal government on the side of the Confederacy. The most important law to this effect was the Second Confiscation Act of July 17, 1862. It assessed penalties for treason (not less than five years in prison or $10,000 fine, with the maximum penalty being death) and for insurrection against the US (not exceeding $10,000 fine or 10 years in jail), as well as the liberation of his slaves and the confiscation of his property. But, significantly, the Congress also approved Sec. 13 of the bill, which provided as follows:

“That the President is hereby authorized, at any time hereafter, by proclamation, to extend to persons who may have participated in the existing rebellion in any State or part thereof, pardon and amnesty, with such exceptions and at such time and on such conditions as he may deem expedient for the public welfare.”

This, then, provides the legal framework and basis for Presidential pardon in the Civil War Era.”

“Just as Abraham Lincoln waited until a propitious time (the Union victory at Antietam in Sept. 1862) to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, so he waited until he felt the tide was largely turned in the war to issue his first amnesty/pardon proclamation. In addition, this amnesty proclamation was coupled with a plan for reconstruction. Thus, amnesty and reconstruction would always go hand in hand in Lincoln’s mind. The first proclamation was made on December 8, 1863. In order to get people to resume their allegiance to the United States, Lincoln proclaimed:

“I Abraham proclaim, declare, and make known to all persons who have, directly or by implication, participated in the existing rebellion, except as hereinafter excepted, that a full pardon is hereby granted to them and each of them with restoration of all rights of property, except as to slaves and in property cases where rights of third parties shall have intervened, and upon the condition that every such person shall take and subscribe an oath and thence-forward keep and maintain such oath inviolate…” (Quoted in Dorris, Pardon and Amnesty under Lincoln and Johnson, 34).

Before getting to the actual words of the oath, a few points should be made. Note that the person who is seeking pardon will not have slaves (an example of property) restored to them. Other legislative acts said that no compensation for loss of slaves would accrue to former slaveholders. The meaning of “rights of third parties” in property issues simply means that where title has passed legitimately to other parties–bona fide purchasers– the person applying for pardon didn’t receive back that land.

Then there is the oath. It is quite wordy, but let’s hear it:

“I ______________ do solemnly swear, in the presence of Almighty God, that I will henceforth faithfully support, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States and Union of the States thereunder; and that I will in like manner abide by and faithfully support all acts of Congress passed during the existing rebellion with reference to slaves, so long and so far not repealed, modified, or held void by Congress or by decision of the Supreme Court…(another similar phrase followed regarding “proclamations of the President”)…So help me God!”

From an Essay by Dr. William Long

Robert E. Lee

One interesting note on Confederate Presidential Pardons is the Pardon for Robert E. Lee. Lee applied for a Presidential Pardon under President Andrew Johnson, however it was never approved. The reason was that the Oath of Allegiance was said to be missing from his application. After Lee’s death, his oath of allegiance was found, misfiled (possibly by someone who didn’t want to see him pardoned). Lee was indicted for treason in June, 1865, but it was never acted on. Lee’s citizenship was restored by Congressional resolution and a pardon was granted posthumously effective 13 June 1975 by Gerald R. Ford.

Andrew Johnson

As I said before, I had come across a copy of Carolinus Turner’s Presidential Pardon. When I started working on this post, I pulled up information on Civil War Presidential Pardons. When I did, came across a new resource for military records. There I found something I never thought I would see; Carolinus Turner’s handwritten application for Amnesty for his part in the rebellious uprising! I couldn’t believe it! This letter gave me insight into his part in the war and possibly Belle Grove’s part in the war!

Carolinus Turner’s Handwritten Application Letter
page 2

Here is what the letter says:

Port Conway, King George Co. VA

July 20, 1865

His Excellency Andrew Johnson

President of the United States


I have the honor to make application for pardon and protection of property under your Amnesty Proclamation of May 29th 1865.

Neither I nor any member of my family have taken part in the rebellion or sympathized with its abettors. I represent property the taxable value of which may be estimated at more than twenty thousand (20,000) dollars. I am fifty two (52) years of age and with my wife and children (four (4) girls and one (1) boy under twelve (12) years of age have remained throughout the entire war quietly at my  home which for a great part of the time has been within the lines of the United States Army.

During this period I made the acquaintance of many officers of the United States Services some of whom I beg leave to refer your Excellency (via?) Gen G Burnside, U.S. Army Gen Abercrombie and Acting Master G.C. Shulze U.S. Navy who has been in command of this Station for the last year and a half. I would also beg to refer you to Captain William Jameson U.S. Navy an uncle of my wife.

Hoping that this may meet with your favorable consideration.

I am Sir

With Great Respect

Your Obedient Servant

Carolinus Turner

In this record, there is also a handwritten Oath of Allegiance by Carolinus Turner and a copy of the witness by the Provost Marshall’s Office in Tappahannock, Virginia. One last sheet of paper shows that Carolinus Turner was recommended for pardon.

From this I am guessing that Carolinus was in fact too old to serve in the military and that he and his young family did remain at Belle Grove throughout the war. This also shows that the Union Forces were in fact in Port Conway through most of the war. This would lead me to believe that Belle Grove may have served as a headquarters, which was one of our theories!

It also tells us that General Burnside and General Abercrombie visited the plantation where Carolinus and his family lived. Wow to know that well known Generals of the Civil War walked here! But here is a funny twist. While Generals of the Union Army were spending their time at Belle Grove, Confederate Generals such as General J.E.B. Stewart were being hosted by the granddaughters of the man who built Belle Grove for his daughter, at his home, Rose Hill Plantation (also known as Gaymont during the Civil War). Rose Hill Plantation sits high on a hill across the Rappahannock River, with a clear view of Belle Grove. We think that he placed his plantation on the hill so he could look after his daughter and her plantation (Belle Grove).

General Ambrose Burnside

General John Abercrombie

The discovery of Mr. Turner’s letter may help us find out whose the name is etched in the window is under Carrie Turner’s name! If Belle Grove was used as a headquarters for the Union Army, maybe W. Vanderburgh was a young Union soldier that she met while he was there! I think we might need to get History Detectives involved on this one!

Etching in the Window
Carrie Turner
W Van der burgh
May 18 1869

Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 36 Comments »