A Biographical Sketch of Washington Irving Rucker

Washington Irving Rucker's birthdate of 1834 is literally set in stone (his headstone), but is subject to question.  He was born in Amherst County, Virginia, the fifth of seven children of Edwin Sorrell and Lucy Hylton Rucker.  He came between his older brother, Hylton G., born 3/29/37, and Lucy, born in 1850.  His obituary states a birthdate of 2/22/37, inconsistent with Hylton's and the facts of reproductive physiology.  More likely is the date of 2/22/39, with which census data, his marriage certificate, and military service records agree.

In 1850, Washington was an 11-year-old at home with his parents, older brothers Valentine (19), Ambrose (15) and Hylton (13), and his sister, Lucy (1).  Frances Kelly (14) was also present.  Elizabeth, born 6/8/33, had died as an infant.  Lucy Hylton died 10/28/52, leaving her last child, Wilber.  Edwin Sorrell remarried to Emily J. Clark of Prince Edward County, 5/9/54.  Two more children were born, Cora G. and Mary Margaret, before Emily died in 1860.  Washington also lost his brother, Hylton, to typhoid fever that same year.  The 1860 census counted 21 year-old Washington with brothers Valentine and Ambrose, caring for younger siblings  "William F" (Wilber), Lucy, Cora and May Margaret, and Ambrose's son, Edwin Samuel.

On 5/23/61, the day that the electorate approved Virginia's Ordinance of Secession, Washington and Valentine went to war.  Washington enlisted as a private, for one year, in "The Amherst Mounted Rangers".  Each man supplied his own horse, and Washington's received the standard valuation of $175.  The Rangers joined other cavalry as the 30th Regiment, Virginia Volunteers, and fought at First Manassas in July, attached to Longstreet's 4th brigade at  Blackburn's Ford.  Fighting continued into the Winter, and the next Spring, the unit was reorganized as Co. E., 2nd Virginia Regiment.  Washington campaigned through the Summer in the Shenandoah Valley, but apparently tired of war soon after the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic.  On 6/20/62 the Regiment left Harrisonburg after a period of rest and drilling, and Washington convinced William Armstrong to enlist as his substitute.  Perhaps he was homesick and missed Valentine, who had left the unit in April when not reelected lieutenant by the men.  Washington waited a while longer for his substitute to muster in, at least until July 24, when he was repaid at Orange Courthouse for furnishing his own rations.

Washington may have had another reason to leave the service.  He likely met Margaret Miller, daughter of James R.  of Rappahanock, during operations in that county.  They married 10/6/62.  It is not known whether they went to Amherst or stayed near her parents home.  A son, James E., born 1863,  was raised by his maternal grandparents in Rappahanock County, after the death of Margaret.

A bill to enroll all those formerly exempt from conscription through provision of a substitute was signed into law 1/5/64.  On 1/25/64, Washington dutifully reenlisted in Fauquier as a private of Company C., Mosby's Partisan Rangers (43rd Battalion, Virginia Cavalry).  This suggests that he had been living with Margaret in the neighboring county of Rappahanock, or that she moved there after his reenlistment, so that he might benefit from the comfort of his home between forays, a privilege afforded to Mosby's men.  On 3/10/64 Washington was part of a six man force which repulsed a Union picket counterattack near Kabletown.  In May, while charging a wagon train at Strasburg, he was "shot through" by a ball entering the small of his back near the spine, exiting 2 inches from the center of his abdomen.  To survive such a "center shot" given the state of 19th-century Medicine was remarkable, and must be largely attributed to good fortune and a strong constitution.  Such a wound would surely have earned him a discharge, but he later claimed to have served to the end of the war in 1865.

Washington healed quickly, for on 11/9/64 he remarried.   A 25 year-old widower, he wed 19-year-old Elizabeth (Bettie) E. Shelton, daughter of Benjamin S. and Elizabeth R. Shelton.  Back in Amherst, the young couple started what would become a large family, Bettie bearing 10 children, eight of whom would survive to adulthood.  In 1870, there were Florence (4) and Maude (1), joined in 1880 by Edwin (9), Herbert (7) and Lucy Mable  (2).  An unnamed daughter was born 2/3/77 and did not survive.  In 1900 children  Rosa (19), Pearl (15), Ethel (12) and Maude  Rucker Blanks ("28", perhaps having shaved some years in a refusal to turn 30) were at home.    Times must have been difficult for the family, since Washington had been receiving a pension of $15 yearly for his Confederate service.  This continued until 1907 when his situation improved and the pension was stopped.

In 1910 Washington, age 71, was forming in  Bedford County with Bettie .  By 1916, his finances were again tight, and he qualified for a $50 yearly pension based on his age, wound in  service, and lack of income.  He and Bettie moved back to Amherst by 1920, and while visiting his daughter in Bedford 6/6/22, Washington passed away at the age of 83.  He was survived by Eddie, sons Edwin and Herbert, and daughters Maude Blanks, Mrs. Aubrey Keyes and Mrs. John Roberts.  He is buried in row 13 of Shiloh U.  M.  Church Cemetery in Bedford County, with daughter Ethel R.  Rucker (5/21/90 to 11/4/10), wife of Samuel Berger, on his right.  Bettie, living with Maude, qualified for a $76 Confederate widow's pension, and claimed that Washington, "the latter part of his life, suffered awful with his wound."

Compiled by Christopher D. Rucker, M.D., August 22, 1998


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