Richard Eppes (May 2, 1824 – February 17, 1896) was a prominent planter in Prince George County, Virginia and a surgeon in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. Eppes is notable for his having kept extensive journals about his plantation and life; the journals for 1849 and 1851-1896 are held by the Virginia Historical Society and have been invaluable to historians of the antebellum South.
Early life and education
Marriage and family
After graduating from college and coming into his inheritance, he married a woman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They started a family.
At the time of the Civil War, Eppes owned nearly 130 slaves and 2,300 acres (9.3 km²) at City Point and Eppes Island directly across the james River. He had given up his medical practice to manage his three plantations, devoted to wheat and other grains, and associated slaves. Eppes favored preservation of the Union, provided that Southern rights in slave property could be protected. In the Election of 1860, he supported John C. Breckinridge, who led the Southern faction of the Democratic party. Breckinridge represented those who were states rights and pro-slavery men, but who were not radical secessionists.
When war broke out, Eppes enlisted in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry and helped equip the unit. About a year later, he paid for a substitute to complete his obligation. (Most planters were excluded from service, as the government believed they needed to keep agricultural production going and to manage the slaves.) Early in May 1862, his wife and children moved to Petersburg, which was located inland above the falls of the James River, for safety. Just days later, a Union raiding party landed at City Point.
When the troops departed, all but twelve of Eppes' slaves had escaped with them, choosing to join the Union forces to gain freedom. Among those who escaped was Richard Slaughter, who decades later told his story to a Works Progress Administration interviewer in 1936. Most slaves were taken to Hampton, where they worked for the Union forces, and many began to learn to read and write. When given the chance, Slaughter and other men enlisted in the United States Colored Troops.
Eppes worked as a civilian contract surgeon for the Confederate army in Petersburg for the duration of the war. In the middle of the siege, Eppes got his family out of Petersburg and sent them to his wife's family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to wait out the war. When Petersburg fell, Eppes decided to stay behind with the wounded as Robert E. Lee evacuated the Confederate forces from the city.
By May 1865, Eppes had taken the Amnesty Oath, but found that his wealth excluded him from benefits of the Amnesty Proclamation. He had to raise money to reclaim and essentially purchase the title to his land and settle up with the Federal government. He also had to pay for any of the structures which the Union army left behind on his land before he could alter them. By early 1866, after a favorable transaction with the government, he controlled his plantation again. By March 1866, his family had returned and they were living at City Point.
Eppes kept voluminous, detailed journals, which have been a source for historians on his planning and operation of his plantation, as well as the war and post-bellum years. The volumes for 1849 and 1851-1896 are in the collections of the Virginia Historical Society, in Richmond.
- Bowman, Shearer Davis. "Conditional Unionism and Slavery in Virginia, 1860-1861: The Case of Dr. Richard Eppes", Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 96 (January 1988): 31-54
- "Richard Eppes biography" Archived October 2, 2010, at the Wayback Machine., Petersburg National Battlefield Website, National Park Service
- "Autobiography of Richard Slaughter", pp. 46-49, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938, American Memory, Library of Congress, accessed 13 June 2012
- Bowman, Shearer Davis. "Conditional Unionism and Slavery in Virginia, 1860-1861: The Case of Dr. Richard Eppes", Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 96 (January 1988): 31-54.
- Bowman, Shearer Davis. Masters & Lords: Mid-19Th-Century U.S. Planters and Prussian Junkers, Oxford University Press, 1993 (Google eBook)
- Eston, Clement. The Waning of the Old South Civilization (1968; reprint ed., New York, 1969)
- "Richard Eppes biography", Petersburg National Battlefield Website, National Park Service
- "Autobiography of Richard Slaughter", pp. 46–49, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938, American Memory, Library of Congress