The cemetery at Deansgrange, Co. Dublin is one of the largest in Ireland. Amongst the multitude of burials to be found, there is one headstone that relates to a family called the Saundersons. One of the individuals interred here is Llewellyn Traherne Bassett Saunderson, who died here on 30th March 1913 at the age of 71. The symbol below his name indicates he was a Freemason, but it is a small metal roundel set in front of the grave that indicates an even more colourful aspect of his life- he was a Confederate veteran.
Llewellyn Traherne Bassett Saunderson, or ‘Welly’ to his friends, was a member of the Anglo-Irish gentry. His family owned Castle Saunderson in Co. Cavan, the county from which this adventurous Irishman hailed. Determined to try his hand with the Confederacy, he arrived in the South late in the war, with the intention of serving on the staff of one of the Rebel Generals. As the Confederacy entered its dying days, the veteran of the British 11th Hussars gained a position on the staff of cavalry General Fitzhugh Lee, the nephew of Robert E. Lee. To keep track of his brief service he kept a diary between 17th March and 14th April 1865. (1)
With the Confederacy collapsing, Welly recorded on the 31st March that he had to rise at 3.30 a.m. in the morning and ‘after a rough breakfast we all went down to General Pickett’s headquarters where a Council of War took place. We remained here for 3 hours or so, smoking and telling stories in a downfall of rain the whole time.’ On 1st April he noted that there was ‘bad news from Pickett’ as ‘he has lost 5,000 men out of 8,000, and the remainder are cut off from us.’ When their position was attacked by Sheridan, he wrote that ‘we had no idea that the enemy were so close to us…when all of a sudden about 250 Yankees let drive at us, it was so sudden that nobody could help being startled. I looked round and the whole regiment had disappeared.’ (2)
The Irish adventurer was present at the Battle of Sayler’s Creek on 6th April. Welly’s view of the conflict in which he had participated for only a few days was no doubt very different from the vast majority who witnessed the Army of Northern Virginia’s death throes:
‘Shells screaming, passed us, some bursting a few feet off us, volley of bullets coming in every direction. Every now and then, I heard bullets go with a thud into some unfortunate soldier, who would give a scream and all was over. I had a very narrow escape by a Parrot shell passing within 2 inches of my head and bursting within a foot of me, by coming in contact with a tree, a piece of it killing a man about a hundred yards off. It certainly was very exciting. People may talk about hunting, but a good battle is a 100 times more exciting.’ (3)
As the war drew to a close Fitzhugh Lee acknowledged the assistance he had received from the Cavan native. Following the surrender, the cavalry commander wrote to his uncle Robert E. Lee on 22nd April, commending his staff officers, including ‘Captain Llewellyn Saunderson, who, having just arrived from his native country, Ireland, joined me previously to the fall of Petersburg, and remained with me to the last.’ (4)
Llewellyn Traherne Bassett Saunderson returned to Ireland following his brief time in the Confederacy, forming part of the establishment in his home county. His brief Rebel service was clearly a source of great pride to him, and he certainly found the thrills he hoped for in war-torn Virginia. He is today one of the very few Confederate Irishmen who returned after the war, to ultimately being buried in the land of his birth.
*Special thanks to Eamonn McLoughlin for bringing this grave to light and for permission to use his photographs of the grave.
(1) Foreman 2010:758 (2) Ibid:761 (3) Ibid:770 (4) Ibid:777
References & Further Reading
Foreman, Amanda 2010. A World On Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided