For six of the Sorrel children, drama, heroics and love would dominate their lives.
The sprawling Oglethorpe Barracks, erected about 1811, stood opposite Shady Corner, intriguing young Gilbert Moxley Sorrel with its daily military drills, marches and music. Working as a bank clerk in Savannah, Moxley longed for a military career.
He had joined the Georgia Hussars, but when his military career was seemingly going nowhere, he quit his job and took off for Charleston, and through his father's influence, he ended up as an aide on Confederate General James Longstreet's staff. Impressing Longstreet with his intelligence and leadership skills, he built a stellar military career, becoming the youngest Brigadier General in the Confederate Army. Even today, Moxley's book, "At the Right Hand of Longstreet" is still being read for its keen first-hand comments about the Civil War and its officers.
Moxley's older brother, Francis, named for his father but always referred to as Frank, graduated from Princeton at 19 and went on to the University of Pennsylvania for his medical degree. For a while he set up practice in the basement of Shady Corner, but found the every-day doctoring routine rather tedious. He closed his office, joined the US Army and served as a surgeon, first fighting in the Indian wars and finally requesting duty in the gold country of California. He would become a member of the California Legislature, but would resign to come back East and join the Confederate Army as a surgeon.
And in a curious twist of fate, Frank would be instrumental in the convalescence of his brother, Moxley, when a bullet pierced his lung, severely wounding him at he Battle of Petersburg.
But it is the the Sorrel sisters, who must have sorely tried the sanity of their father with their outgoing personalities and impetuous ways.
Agnes Sorrel, though, would be the first in the family to feel the pain and heartbreak of the war. She became engaged to her sweetheart, Edward Willis, whose family also lived on Madison Square, just days before he left to fight for the Confederacy. In his first battle, Willis, only 23 years old, was severely wounded...so badly in fact that General Moxley Sorrel was sent for, only to have Willis die in his arms, telling him of his love for Agnes and his own family. After a period of three years, Agnes did marry a Savannah man and live happily with him and their children.
Aminta Sorrel,the oldest of the sisters, was sent at age 16 to be educated in Baltimore. During the summers, she vacationed with a family in NewPort, Rhode Island, and while there one day, peers out a window where she's staying and spies a fine figure of a horseman riding by. By coincidence, she is ultimately introduced to him, a West Point graduate, Lieutenant William Mackall of Virginia.
When she returns to Savannah, Aminta announces to her family that she is engaged to a lieutenant. Her father quickly objects to the engagement, until, that is, he meets Lieutenant Mackall, only to be very impressed with him and his Army career. So in 1844, Shady Corner is the setting for one of the highlights of the Savannah social season when Aminta marries her lieutenant.
Lucy Sorrel, a beauty with a concert-style singing voice, became engaged to a Savannah man...wealthy, handsome, dashing rogue, Daniel Stewart Elliot, only to break the engagement under pressure from her father. It seems Elliot's further reputation was tarnished by his participation in a duel that killed the son of a prominent Savannah physician. (Frank Sorrel would act was Elliot's second for the duel.) Years later Lucy and Daniel would meet again, rekindle their romance, marry and live happily until his untimely death (of natural causes). Lucy is left a widow with two children. She never remarries.
But it is Annie Sorrel, who has the dramatic love story that is a mix of "An Affair to Remember" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
By now, her father has sold Shady Corner and built townhouses next to it. He lives in one of the townhouses with Annie taking care of him. In 1869, at a party, Annie meets Adolph Blech, known as Paul. Bleh, from Danzig, Germany, is working at a Savannah firm on temporary assignment. Annie and Paul fall in love.
When Paul is transferred to Alexandria, Egypt, he sends a note to Annie asking her to marry him and leave for Egypt with him. Annie writes back to him, accepting his marriage proposal. But Francis does not want Annie to leave him. He refuses, along with her brothers, to mail her note. And since it is not proper for a woman of her social stature to mail a letter at the post office herself, she asks a young boy to post her note, giving him money as an incentive. The boy pockets the money and never mails Annie's acceptance note.
Paul leaves Savannah thinking Annie does not wish to marry him. When she does not hear from Paul, Annie can only think that he has thought better of his marriage proposal.
Fast forward to 1876. Annie has accompanied her widowed sister Lucy to Europe where Lucy is giving some concerts. Annie arrives in Paris, not knowing that Paul Blech is just leaving Paris by train. And in a Hollywood type plot twist, Paul overhears a male passenger mention that he has spent a most entertaining evening with Lucy Sorrel Elliot and her sister. Paul immediately leaves the train, returns to Paris, finds Annie, marries her there and they would live happily thereafter between
Egypt and Germany.
(One last little note: one of their daughters would become Social Secretary to Mrs. William Howard Taft at the White House.)
Read on, history romantics.