Youth measured up to Lincoln
By Linda Wheeler
By Linda Wheeler
Searching through the records of the Clinton Hatcher Camp 21 Sons of Confederate Veterans in Loudoun County, Va., last year, new commander Kenneth M. Fleming discovered not only that the roster needed updating but also that there was no information about the person after whom the camp was named.
By February, he was tracing the family and military history of Hatcher. By June, he felt as though he knew the young soldier who was killed Oct. 21, 1861, at the Battle of Ball's Bluff.
As a final tribute in October, 145 years after Hatcher's death, Fleming helped give the Confederate soldier the military funeral he never had, with a color guard, a 21-gun salute, four cannon blasts and a large crowd gathered at his grave at the Ketoctin Baptist Church cemetery, just outside Purcellville, Va.
Thomas Clinton Lovett Hatcher, the color sergeant for the 8th Virginia Infantry, was the only child of a Quaker family that farmed near Lincoln, Fleming told the nearly 200 guests gathered at the ceremony.
Hatcher was always getting in trouble as a kid, Fleming said, skipping school, hanging out with his friends. Maybe it was Hatcher's height, well over 6 feet, or his bright red hair, Fleming said.
Somehow, he did well enough in school to attend Columbian College, in what is now the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, D.C. It would later move to Washington's Foggy Bottom neighborhood and become George Washington University.
Hatcher was in school when Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated on March 4, 1861.
Fleming said a newspaper article in 1887 recounted how Hatcher was hanging out with a buddy who persuaded him to go to the White House, where the new president traditionally had an open house with plenty of food.
Standing in a long line outside the White House, Hatcher became uncomfortable about shaking hands with Lincoln, a man for whom he had no respect.
"There is no way I am going to shake hands with him," Hatcher told his friend as the line got closer. Hatcher stepped out of line and moved on ahead. Lincoln whispered to one of his Cabinet members, who went after Hatcher and brought him back.
Lincoln said to Hatcher, "I never miss an opportunity to meet a man who is as tall or taller than I am." The president insisted they stand back to back to see who was taller.
Lincoln was 6 feet 4 inches tall. Hatcher was 6-foot-7.
There is no indication that they ever did shake hands.
Sometime that week, Hatcher decided to leave Washington and go home.
Before leaving, he erected the first Confederate national flag on a college building, perhaps at Georgetown University, Fleming said. It stayed there for three days until someone was sent to take it down.
The rest of Hatcher's life story, as told at the ceremony, was taken from military records and a series of seven letters he sent to Mary A. Sibert of Mount Solon, Va., between May 18 and Oct. 8, 1861. Hatcher met Sibert while visiting friends after leaving Washington.
In his last letter to Sibert, he asks if she could possibly love him, because he had fallen in love with her. Two weeks later, at 21, he was dead.