Return to  genealogy


French Lady

Richard Thomas, leader of a band of Confederate irregulars, made a name for himself by dressing as a woman and calling himself "the French Lady." When he was arrested in July 1861, Virginia authorities chose as hostages for his safety Capt. Thomas Damron; lieutenants Wilson Damron, David V. Auxier, and Isaac Goble; and privates Samuel Pack, William S. Dils, and J. W. Howe. Two years after Thomas was captured, these seven men were released in exchange for him.

Clarifications: While Richard Thomas was captured on July 8, 1861, the above Union men were captured on December 4, 1862, atWireman's Shoals.

Colonel Zarvina (Colonel Richard Thomas, a.k.a Colonel Zarvona, a.k.a. "The French Lady") was a commissioned officer in Governor Letcher's state forces. He was from a wealthy and well-connected family in Maryland. Zarvona was able to enlist a number of Confederate men to help him carry out a brilliant scheme: the capture of Union shipping in the Chesapeake Bay through the clever ruse of disguises for himself and his men. He was successful in capturing at least three ships before he was himself captured. Apparently he was caught attempting to take over another ship when he was foiled. The ship's captain was alerted to the pirate party's presence and he steered a course for the nearest military base. Zarvona was found hiding in a cupboard wearing a dress. Perhaps the moniker was derisively applied to him by his captors.

In any event, he was captured, charged with piracy and treason, and thrown into a dungeon in Fort McHenry. Apparently, he was a very well-placed gentleman because Governor Letcher did much himself to try and get him released, and the Confederate government chose the seven men mentioned in the above letter as hostages (a terrible practice utilized by both sides) to insure the safety of the Colonel. He tried to escape at least once and also attempted communication with supporters outside of the prison, so his confinement was made more difficult for him. A number of witnesses to his crimes were also detained for at least a year-and-a-half while the military authorities allowed him to languish in prison. In the end, the witnesses were never needed as Zarvona was exchanged for the seven men above on May 15, 1863. All were required to sign paroles. Of the 39th veterans exchanged in this deal, Auxier and Goble chose to break their "paroles" and continue fighting; Dils, an Ohio man, was discharged. I do not know what happened to Colonel Zarvona after his release.

Source: The Official Record of the War of the Rebellion.

Return to  genealogy