Sir Robert Ricketts is a scholarly Englishman whose life is devoted to gardening at his home in the Cotswolds, working for the Anglican church and reliving the tattered dreams of the Confederate States of America.
The 62-year-old retired lawyer, soldier-straight in his gray suit, this week addressed a gathering of Civil War devotees in the Crowninshield building of Kenmore, a historic manison in Fredericksburg.
W. Vernon Edenfield, director of Kenmore, introduced the English visitor with a half-serious quip: "If the South decides to secede again, he's ready to serve."
Ricketts' devotion to the Confederacy may be found in his genes; his great-great-uncle was William Montague Browne, a member of Jefferson Davis' cabinet and a Conferdate general best remembered for his defense of Savannah.
"Southerners dominated Washington society when Brown first came there," Ricketts told his Fredericksburg audience. "Browne entered into the center ring of that society, becoming at home with that group of southern gentlemen."
Browne is the subject of a biography by E. Merton Coulter, a professor at the University of Georgia, and Ricketts has been able to piece together from family papers even more information about the historic character.
"He was born in County Mayo, Ireland," he said, "the fifth son in the family. He realized he had his living to get, and Ireland in the 1840s was a poor place to do it."
Consequently, Ricketts said, Browne went to the United States, became a newspaperman in New York, and later moved to Washington, where he became a friend and confidante of President James Buchanan.
"He was partial to good wines and fine cigars," Ricketts said, "and his greatest friend in Washington was President Buchanan. Browne became his political adviser and trouble-shooter."
In 1859 and 1860, Browne came to dedicate himself to the cause of the South, while editing a newspaper called the Washington Constitution.
"He attended and reported on Democratic conventions in Charleston and Baltimore in 1860," Ricketts said, "and became an advocate for secession."
His devotion to Jefferson Davis led to Browne's appointment as assistant secretary of state in the Confederate president's cabinet and his commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate Armies.
After Appomattox, Ricketts said, his great-great-uncle settled in Athens, Ga., eventually becoming the first professor of history and political science at the University of Georgia.
At a reception after his lecture, Ricketts detailed his fascination with the Confederate South, as interest that has led his southern friends to call Ricketts' English home 'the Confederate consulate.'
"It started when I was a boy," Ricketts said. "I was keen on history to begin with, and I heard a great many stories from my family about this William Montague Browne.
"It was from my mother's family that I heard about him, and I became fascinated with this Irishman who was a friend of Jefferson Davis."
When Ricketts and his wife first visited the United States in 1970 they went to Mobile, Ala., to donate some family heirlooms to the naval museum there.
"That concerned another relation of mine," Ricketts said. "He was my great-great-grandfather, Vice Admiral Sir Robert Tristram Ricketts, who accepted the surrender of Fort Bowyer in Mobile in the War of 1812."
While visiting Mobile, the Rickettses were given a copy of Coulter's biography of Browne.
"The book didn't give Browne's origin and I was determined to find it," Ricketts said.
He found it among papers left by a great aunt.
Although Ricketts' appearance in Fredericksburg marked his fourth visit to the United States, it was his first opportunity to see Virginia, cradle of the Confederacy.
"Since it was his first visit," his host, Edenfield, said, "it was fortunate that he saw a full-dress parade at (the Virginia Military Institute). The band played 'Carry Me Back to Old Virginny' and 'Shenandoah'. It was just right."
As for the Confederacy, Ricketts said he continues to be "deeply touched by the gallantry to the cause. It was trying to make a nation for itself. You have to admire that."