Front Royal family plans Civil War burials this Saturday

By Josette Keelor

FRONT ROYAL — Wanda Fox Bryant still has the sugar bowl her mother carried with her when forced to abandon her family home in 1941. One of 465 families displaced for the construction of Shenandoah National Park, the Foxes of Warren County still honor their past in the Blue Ridge.

The first of her siblings not born at the tenant house where they lived in Carter Orchard south of Front Royal, Bryant, 61, said the crystal bowl belonged to her grandmother Lucy Fox.

“Mama gave it to me but said she carried the sugar bowl off the mountain in her hands,” she said. “You know, she didn’t box it up.”

“It meant so much to her I think because it was so pretty. … She carried it off the mountain in her hands when she left. And I’ve got that.”

This Saturday, she, her brother Archie Fox, 73, and sister Phyllis Fox Kerns, 79, will return to their family cemetery on Fox Hollow Trail where a ceremony led by the Sons of Confederate Veterans will include a military burial for three Fox ancestors who fought in the Civil War.

Their cousin by marriage, Pat Fox Brinklow, was the one who first alerted park rangers of the cemetery’s existence.

“I just wanted them to know something more about their ancestors and everything,” she said on a recent afternoon when the family gathered at her daughter’s home in Front Royal.

Brinklow knew the cemetery was there, but it wasn’t marked when she found it in May of 1971. She found it by the outline of daffodils and irises growing there around the torn down homestead on 450 acres Thomas Fox Sr. purchased in 1832.

The trail wasn’t there in 1971, so she took the rangers in through an old entrance road.

“And that’s what started this whole thing,” she said.

Eight family members are buried there, and since then the Foxes have maintained the land by cutting back overgrowth. Then last fall they began the most extensive work so far — repairing headstones they say likely were vandalized despite park staff’s assessment that the damage was caused by bears. According to Brinklow, the headstone of Lemuel Fox was knocked over, but the headstone of his daughter Gertrude Fox was broken and the pieces separated around the cemetery.

“To me, that’s not a bear,” Brinklow said, “that’s vandalism.”

The family wasn’t sure how to fix the headstones until family friend and Son of Confederate Veterans Jerry Kinney lent his aid.

“We owe a lot of thanks to the Sons of the Confederacy for this,” Brinklow said.

Leading the ceremony will be the John S. Mosby Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which camp Commander Dwayne A. Mauck said sometimes takes part in two or three such ceremonies a year.

“It’s going to be, I’m sure, a very stirring ceremony,” he said.

“We’re going to be presenting some members of the family with replicas for the Confederate flag that Mr. [Lemuel] Fox would have signed up under.” He said Lemuel Fox joined the military under what’s known as the First National Flag.

“it’s very rewarding work,” Mauck said. “I guess we’re kind of paying it forward.”

Before the start of the 20th century, veterans who fought for the Confederacy weren’t allowed U.S. military services, “because they were considered to be traitors.”

He said residents can petition the Department of Defense for a headstone to mark an unmarked grave otherwise identified as belonging to a U.S. veteran.

Brinklow’s daughter Cheryl Fox-Wyrick has taken over organizing the Fox family history and explained that Saturday’s ceremony also will honor Lemuel Fox’s brothers Charles and Sidnor “Sydney” Fox, who also fought for the Confederacy. Charles Fox died of typhoid during the war, she said. Lemuel Fox initially was listed AWOL before being discovered to be a prisoner of war. After returning home, he fathered eight sons and two daughters, including Gertrude Fox, who died from brain fever in 1904, two weeks before her wedding at the age of 21.

Until Virginia passed the Public Park Condemnation Act in 1928, allowing the commonwealth to purchase land in the Blue Ridge by right of eminent domain for purposes of building Shenandoah National Park, the descendants of Thomas Fox Jr. owned the family homestead that passed to Lemuel Fox, who bought out his three brothers’ shares; then to his son Thomas and then to James Fox Sr.

They were hard workers, Archie Fox remembered his father telling him.

They lived off the land, growing fields of wheat and rye, raising apple and peach trees, harvesting ginseng and tanning bark. They grew all their food, made all their clothes and even crafted mattresses and pillows from feathers.

After moving to Front Royal, Fox remembered how people would ask his father about life at the homestead or in the tenant house in nearby Carter Orchard.

“What was it like living during the Depression and those hard times?” Fox remembered them asking. “He said, ‘Lord, I didn’t even know there was a depression going on.'”

Saturday’s ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. at the cemetery about half a mile along on Fox Hollow Trail across from the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com