By Fred D. Taylor
Tucked away in the piney region of southside Virginia is a plantation that escaped the approach of opposing armies during the War Between the States. This prestigious estate, known as the Brunswick Mineral Springs, was built in 1785 and lies just east of Lawrenceville, Va. Occupying some 1,250 acres of farmland, the property offered a private school and an expansive resort, boasting guns, musical instruments, books, baths, wine and restorative springs. During the war years, it also served as a well-known refuge for Southern soldiers.
The Brunswick Mineral Springs had been the home of the John “Ravenscroft” Jones clan for 10 years prior to the commencement of the war. The family patriarch, Ravenscroft Jones, was a planter and educator with an ancestry recognized throughout the community and abroad. Ravenscroft’s father, Thomas Jones, was a beloved local physician. His grandfather, affectionately known as John “Hellcat” Jones (a nickname said given to him during the American Revolution by noted British cavalry Col. Banastre Tarleton), had served in the Virginia legislature and as a captain during the War for Independence.
Considering the family’s military legacy, it came as no surprise to anyone that Ravenscroft Jones helped his eldest son, William Rice Jones, launch an army career. He lobbied his kinsman, Rep. William Osborne Goode of Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, for the admission of William to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Known as “Will” to family and friends, he had recently celebrated his 16th birthday. Congressman Goode confidently described the teenager to then-U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis as having “honor, integrity, capacity and moral worth”—all traits that would suit him well for his future endeavors. In February 1857, the young Jones received a conditional appointment as cadet.
Full of confidence and ambition, Jones put his affairs in order and departed for New York. He entered the hallowed halls of West Point in the summer of 1857, and began his officer training. Embracing the strict regimen and traditions of the Academy, Jones finished the first year ranked 25th out of 68 cadets in his class. Determined to rise above average, he stood 15th overall by 1860, in what also became the graduating class of June 1861—a Who’s Who of noteworthy soldiers destined to become Union officers, including Patrick Henry O’Rorke, Alonzo Cushing and George A. Custer.
Leaving the Academy for Honor and Principle
Like many of his Southern compatriots, such as future Confederate Generals Felix H. Robertson and Pierce M.B. Young, Jones did not graduate with the Class of ‘61. As he explained it, “I remained a Cadet at the Military Academy till the secession of my native State, when I resigned the position of Cadet and returned home, believing that, in the struggle about to ensue, my duty called me where, I felt, that both honor and principle were involved to the Cause of the South, my native State being one of them, and the residence of my relatives and friends.”
Jones immediately enlisted in the state service of Virginia and went to work in Richmond as a recruiting and training officer for the influx of new volunteers. In July, he accepted an appointment as Cadet and Engineer in the Confederate army. He also received orders to report to then-Brig. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill, who commanded the District of Pamlico in the Department of North Carolina. Jones served in this position until February 1862, when he was promoted to second lieutenant in the Corps of Artillery. Though only 21, his military proficiency and zeal in the defenses of coastal North Carolina caught the eye of his superiors. No less than three ranking colonels sought his addition to their commands, and staff officer and Col. Robert H. Chilton of Gen. Lee’s staff, described Jones as displaying “exemplary character.” His future commander Col. J. Thomas Goode of Virginia said of him that he was, “one of the best officers in the service, understanding…tactics perfectly.”
These strong recommendations impressed the decision-makers in Richmond. In May 1862, he received another promotion, this time to adjutant with the rank of first lieutenant, in the newly organized 4th Virginia Heavy Artillery. Jones accepted the assignment and returned to defend his native state. He joined his new command at Chaffin’s Farm along the James River, where the artillerymen received instruction in both infantry and artillery tactics.
The regiment soon saw action during the Seven Days’ Campaign in defense of the Confederate capital. It was here, during the summer of 1862, that Jones’ abilities captured the attention of fellow Virginian, West Pointer, and artilleryman, Maj. Gen. John Bankhead “Prince John” Magruder. When the general received orders to take command of the District of Texas in October, he determined to take competent staff officers with him. As a result, Jones became one of the chosen few plucked from the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Artillery Chief in the Lone Star State
Jones arrived in Texas in time to take part in Magruder’s celebrated recapture of Galveston, and was recognized in Magruder’s after-action report for his “valuable and distinguished services” during the battle. In the spring of 1863, Jones earned a promotion to captain, and as commander of his own heavy artillery company, later designated Company F of the 13th Texas Volunteers. His artillery battery served in the Texas coastal defenses at the mouth of the Brazos River. Jones continued with his company until assigned to staff duty as Assistant Chief of Artillery for Brig. Gen. James Edwin Slaughter. In December 1863, he assumed the role of Chief of Artillery for the Eastern Sub-District of Texas, having under his command a total of 69 heavy and light artillery guns.
Jones remained in this capacity until February of 1864, when his commander, Gen. Slaughter, became Chief of Staff to Gen. Magruder. With this reorganization, Jones advanced to Assistant Chief of Artillery for the entire District of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona—an impressive achievement and responsibility for a young man of 23 years.
In the fall of 1864, Gen. Magruder transferred to the Department of Arkansas. Jones stayed on staff with Gen. Slaughter, who took command of the 7th Texas Cavalry Brigade. Jones served in various roles with the Brigade, including Assistant Adjutant General and Inspector General, through the end of the war. On May 28, 1865, when the staff dissolved at Brownsville, Texas, Slaughter and Jones parted ways. Slaughter headed off to Mexico to avoid Union authorities, while Jones stayed in Texas until he gained his parole at Houston on July 5, 1865.
Rebirth and Return to Texas
Jones returned to Brunswick Mineral Springs no longer that boy of 16 who had left home for West Point. Although only 24, he had matured during the four long years of struggle. Attempting to start his life anew, Jones began to pick up the pieces of his life during the Reconstruction period. In September 1865, he applied to President Andrew Johnson for a special pardon, as his rights had not been previously restored due to his resignation from West Point.
At the same time, some 1,500 miles away, former Confederate soldier Charles Callaghan started an 80-acre sheep ranch in Texas brush country at Encinal, a village located southwest of San Antonio. Although initially successful, Callaghan suffered ill health in the early 1870s. Fearing his family would not be supported if he suddenly died, Callaghan considered who could assume the reins of the ranch’s management. Without hesitation, he sought out “Captain Jones,” whom he had known during the war, and respected for his organizational skills and leadership. Jones accepted the superintendent position for what became the noted Callaghan Ranch.
During his tenure at the ranch, which spanned several decades, Jones built upon the foundation of Callaghan’s original plans. At its peak, the Callaghan Ranch raised 100,000 sheep, 6,000 goats, and encompassed 125,000 acres of land, plus another 100,000 acres under lease. The ranch’s success also brought with it the wrath of jealous cattlemen seeking grazing rights, which resulted in a series of small-scale armed conflicts during the 1870s and 1880s known as the Sheep Wars. In one of the more serious incidents, two Callaghan sheepherders were killed. Organizing a posse in response, Jones led the successful effort to capture the offenders without further bloodshed.
As if that was not enough, Jones frequently commuted back home to Virginia to manage the Brunswick Mineral Springs farm. In 1881, he served a term on the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors.
Ultimately, Jones’ relentlessness life pursuits caught up with him. Surrounded by loved ones, he passed away on Sept. 12, 1894, just shy of his 53rd birthday. Though he never married, he left behind a large extended family that included his parents, siblings and numerous nieces and nephews that fondly remembered their “Uncle Will.”
The Jones family maintained ownership of Brunswick Mineral Springs until the mid-20th century, when the home and property were sold. Today, in its 234th year, Brunswick Mineral Springs operates as a Bed & Breakfast. It also remains the final resting place of Capt. William Rice Jones.
References: The family of Capt. William Rice Jones; Hunter, Johnny Reb & Billy Yank; Richmond Enquirer, 1854 and 1860; Records of the United States Military Academy, National Archives; Official Register of the Officers and Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY, 1858-1860; Kirshner, The Class of 1861, Custer, Ames, and Their Classmates After West Point; Case Files of Applications from Former Confederates for Presidential Pardons, National Archives; Compiled Service Records, National Archives; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion; Texas State Historical Association, The Handbook of Texas.
Fred D. Taylor is a proud son of the Old Dominion, an attorney, collector of military ephemera, and a life-long student of history. Fred can be reached for questions or comments about his article via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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