Augustus Staige Modesitt
Augustus Staige Modesitt, my great-great-grandfather (his son, Staige Hite, later changed the spelling of our last name to Modisett).
In our November/December issue, I wrote in my column that no matter where we are here in the Blue Ridge, we are on battle ground, hallowed ground. We've become so disconnected in time from the Civil War that in our minds it becomes another historical era, nothing personal, nothing human.
I'm sitting on the sofa at home and a few feet away stands the "side-by-side" that stood in my father's room during his growing-up years on his family farm – it's a combination of bookshelves and desk, and inside are books from the farm, books from my mother's mother, history books, some music, Shakespeare, textbooks from my grandfather's years studying agriculture at VPI. Near the top is an oval-shaped mirror. One of my relatives, distant in time, whose husband was a Mosby's Ranger, must have checked her hair in the mirror many times.
That farm still exists, and the farmhouse where he and his two brothers and sister grew up. The oldest part of the house dates from before the Civil War. The barn, while old, with a wonderful big hayloft, is not the original – that was burned during the war.
My sister and I grew up Sundays on that farm, visiting after church. Mostly we'd stay around the house, peering into the garden, looking for the wild cats and occasionally their kittens, visiting the sheep in the barn. Occasionally we'd carefully pick our way across the board bridge over the creek. Up the hill is an old family cemetery. Across and up another hill, giant limestone boulders emerge from the ground, hinting at the caves and caverns underneath, and trees wrap their roots around the rock.
It seems I could feel the people who used to live there. Not necessarily their ghosts, but the noise they made, the paths their footsteps followed. What I remember about that house: the narrow stairs up from the kitchen to the bedrooms; the arrowheads Dad and his siblings would dig up on the farm and keep in their rooms; how the beautiful, slightly warped old glass in the kitchen windows seemed to frame the outside as if we were looking not only out of the house, but out of the present, back silent years, waiting to see an ancestor walk past – as if we were the ghosts in their world, instead of the opposite way around.
We would drink water from the spring house where my great-grandfather and great-grandmother's initials are carved in the floor – she was my namesake, Martha Ellen Kauffman. He was my nephew's namesake, Staige Hite Modisett. His father, Augustus Staige Modesitt (Staige Hite changed the spelling of our last name to Modisett), recorded his mother's memories of the war, when there was still but a generation of separation between the present and that violent past – so really, this is my great-great-great-grandmother's war. I'll continue to post these memories in blog entries, starting with this one:
"One evening news came that General Ashby with his calvary-men were coming thru Luray. The citizens hurriedly prepared supper for all they could, the men having only a few minutes in which to dismount and get something to eat. Grand-mother, her daughters and servant prepared in greatest haste, baking bread in the oven and on top the stove to feed as many as they could.
"The soldiers as they were going up and down the steps with their sabres on their hips, sabres striking each step as they walked, left an indelible picture in Mother's mind.
"Once as Yankees were passing thru Luray in hurried retreat, they stopped or rather ran thru the houses and gathered all the eatables they could lay their hands on, grabbing freshly baked bread from Grand-mother's kitchen table [–] they snatched the baby's diapers hanging on the line, to wrap it in, which amused the children immensely."