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Enroughty, Darby And General Mcclellan

July 2024
3min read

a communication

To the Editor of American Heritage:

A propos of nothing at all except that I just thought of it, I wonder if this little bit of Civil War-iana would interest you.

It started back in 1903 when I was a chemist in the laboratory of the Virginia-Carolina Chemical Company in Richmond, and on Saturdays played on the Boston Heights team of the Tri-City semi-pro league. In our first game the opposing team’s first baseman was Jim Darby. I remembered him vividly on account of his spiking me—unintentionally. I still have the cleat scars. Next day I looked at the box score in the paper and said to a teammate: “They’ve got this guy’s name wrong. Enroughty. It was Darby.”

“Yes. That’s the way the nut spells ‘Darby.’ ”


“That’s right.”

“I never heard of such damn foolishness.”

“Well, you’ve heard now.”

Being even that early a monomaniac on etymology, I began digging and here’s what I eventually unearthed. I really got several bites, some evidently no-goods, but this one, as I wrote Henry Mencken, the most likely one.

In the middle of the Eighteenth Century the ancient and honorable-but-dirt-poor Enroughty family of England found itself impaled on two equally distasteful horns of a dilemma. Some forty years before a perverted Enroughty female had committed the unpardonable crime of marrying a plebeian scrub—and, of all things, “in trade.” In other words, working for his living; repugnant to every true Enroughty. His name was Derby, pronounced, of course, Darby. The family gave him the same treatment as they did in similar case in The House Divided , snubbed him ferociously and erased the unrepentant Magdalene from the family roll.

And as in The House Divided the snubbed took ample and delicious revenge. When Darby died, a childless widower and worth a fortune, he left his money to the Enroughtys on condition that they change their name to Darby! And there they were. They just couldn’t miss that money—but to change the name; what a mess!

A meeting of the clans was called, and after long debate one member came up with a brilliant and life-and-face-and-name-saving device: “Let’s keep on spelling it Enroughty and pronounce it Darby.” Carried unanimously, and with wild cheers. So that was that.

What brings it into your field is that it is almost certainly the reason why Robert E. Lee didn’t capture the bulk of the army of George B. McClellan—that part of it which he hadn’t already killed or wounded—at the end of June in 1862. Want to hear about it? Well, here it is anyhow.

When McClellan started to retreat from the battle lines in front of Richmond to Harrison’s Landing on the James River, after losing the first of the famous Seven Days’ battles in late June, 1862, Lee was at once on his tail. McClellan of course was en route to the James River because that was the only place he could go, except to Richmond, to which he had suddenly developed an allergy. On his left was only one narrow road to Williamsburg, plus swampy land and woods, behind him was Stonewall Jackson, and to his right were Lee and Generals Magruder and Huger. Lee ordered James Longstreet and his division in pursuit down the Charles City road, on which he was to turn left on the Darbytown road until he got to the Darby house, close to Frayser’s farm. There he would have McClellan completely boxed in.

Longstreet had plenty of time if Jackson did his part, and if Magruder, Huger and Lee’s staff had done theirs; but none of them did and McClellan barely squeaked through, in what must have been the most bloody “rear guard action” of history up to then: the Battle of Frayser’s Farm.

Even then, Longstreet might have been in time, except for one thing. On the map he had, the Darby house was written Enroughty—and Longstreet had no idea (how should or could he?) that that mess of letters was pronounced Darby . In the end, Longstreet did not go far enough to cut McClellan off. Why is anybody’s guess; my guess is that he lost a little time trying to find out just where the Darby house was. Just fifteen minutes lost, perhaps—but the extra time was all McClellan needed.

In 1948 I went over the entire route twice, spending the night each time in a farmhouse diagonally across from Willis Church (burned down since). I told my host the above story.

“Fantastic, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Not to me,” he said. “Bill Darby still lives there and spells his name Enroughty. And Cousin Joe Enroughty lives not far away and spells his name Darby.”

This version may not be the right one, but the cold fact remains that there are still Enroughtys in Virginia who call themselves Darby.

John N. Ware, Shorter College, Rome, Georgia

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