Join us on Saturday, April 5, for our speakers’ forum, Presidents, Generals, and Descendants, from 1-5 p.m. at new Salem Church (on Route 3 next to Old Salem Church). This is the opening event of the observance of the Battles of Wilderness and Spotsylvania and the Overland Campaign generally. For more on the 150th schedule, click here.

This is the fifth in our very popular series, Years of Anguish. Many of you might recall that it was the first of these programs that memorably produced Bill Freehling cursing and waving Henry Wise’s pistol in the pulpit of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.  (Click here for the video–the gun wielding is at 36:00.)

Freehling and the gun

We suspect our upcoming slate of speakers will come unarmed (though Brooks Simpson might bring a hockey stick), but no doubt Bill Cooper and Dr. Simpson will do or say some memorable things. Dr.  Cooper, from LSU, will speak on Davis and Lee. Dr. Simpson, from Arizona State University, will speak on Grant and Lincoln.

The concluding session of the day will feature Bertram Hayes-Davis, the great-great grandson of President Jefferson Davis, Bud Hall, the descendant of Mississippi soldiers, and Avery Lentz, a student from Gettysburg college who is descended from both Union and Confederate soldiers, including Isaac Avery of North Carolina. In this session we will explore how America’s close personal connection with the Civil War affects our perception of the Civil War, and how the legacy of the war affects descendants.

If you have questions for the speakers during either the descendants’s session or the concluding discussion forum, we will have cards available for you to submit them.

Eastern National will be selling books throughout the day, and at 5 we will have a book signing.

A note on getting to new Salem Church: there is no left turn from westbound Route 3 directly into new Salem Church.  Though the modern church stands next to Old Salem Church, do NOT follow the signs to Old Salem Church. Instead, traveling west on Route 3, you will need to pass the church on your left and go through the light at Salem Church Road.  Then do a U-turn at the next crossover and return back through the light on eastbound Route 3. The parking area for new Salem Church will be highly visible to your right.  

We hope to see you all on Saturday.

 

 


From Eric Mink:

This past week, the park was alerted to a very interesting piece of media documenting an event in Fredericksburg’s history. Bill Jenney of the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation (VDHP) contacted the park requesting information about President Calvin Coolidge’s visit to Fredericksburg in 1928. VDHP is involved in exhibit planning for the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth, Vermont and one of the displays might discuss the president’s keen interest in the American Civil War. During an exchange of e-mails, Bill provided us with a link to what may be the first film footage of Fredericksburg. The raw outtakes are from a newsreel made during Coolidge’s 1928 visit to dedicate the local military park.

It was appropriate for Coolidge receive an invitation to the park’s dedication, as he had signed the bill that created the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park on February 14, 1927. The National Battlefield Park Association, which was comprised of influential local citizens and had been instrumental in lobbying for the park, contacted the White House. The president accepted and agreed to deliver the keynote address at the celebration on October 19, 1928.

Coolidge and his entourage arrived in Fredericksburg on a special 2:35pm train. A large crowd greeted them at the station where the Fredericksburg Elks Band played “To the Colors” and the local National Guard unit fired off a 21-gun salute with their French 75-millimeter field guns. The president and first lady climbed into a convertible Lincoln touring car, driven by manager of the Fredericksburg Motor Company Emmett R. Colbert, and made their way up Main (Caroline) Street. Preceded by state motorcycle policemen and flanked by secret servicemen, the motorcade turned onto Amelia Street and then again onto Princess Anne Street, making its way south to the Fredericksburg Country Club. Click the image below to watch the silent raw footage of President Coolidge’s visit to Fredericksburg. The first eight seconds of the footage shows the president’s car traveling through the 900 block of Main Street. Huwill Stores (919 Main Street) and John F. Scott’s hardware store (today the site of River Run Antiques) are clearly visible in the background. The film then cuts to a twelve second clip of the president’s motorcade heading south on Princess Anne Street and through the intersection with National (Lafayette) Boulevard. James T. Horton’s filling station is visible on the corner.

Clicking on this image will take you to the raw film footage of President Coolidge's 1928 visit to Fredericksburg. The footage is part of the University of South Carolina's Moving Image Research Collections and was made available through its library website.

Clicking on this image will take you to the raw film footage of President Coolidge’s 1928 visit to Fredericksburg. The footage is part of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections and was made available through its library website.

Read More…


From Beth Parnicza:

Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center Today

The Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center stands today as the park’s best model of the wave of modernism that swept the National Park Service in preparation for its 50th anniversary in 1966.

It’s with a touch of nostalgia and a great desire to better understand previous park historians that park staff recently spent several days dismantling the last large-scale vestiges of a critical period in the park’s history: the “Mission 66” exhibits at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center and the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. If you have set foot in the park over the last 50 years, your experience has been primarily shaped by two dramatic efforts to mold the park: the War Department and Civilian Conservation Corps period and the Mission 66 initiative. As a new park in the 1930s, much of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP’s lasting infrastructure—roads, trails, and several buildings—dates back to War Department planning and the CCC’s extensive work. With the dissolution of the CCC and the end of World War II, however, increased visitation demands and a changing society soon rendered the park’s facilities outdated, and parks across the country looked to forge themselves anew for the post-World War II, modern age.

To adapt to this changing environment, park planners confronted questions that define the NPS even today: How should a park balance access to resources and grounds with the need to preserve that ground? How can a park best educate and inspire an increasingly consumerist society? For a Civil War park, how could historians best appeal to audiences during the tumultuous era of the Cold War and the Civil Rights movement? To address these conundrums, calls to fund a national movement to update park facilities for the National Park Service’s 50th anniversary in 1966 set in motion a massive overhaul aimed at modernizing parks from top to bottom, aptly called “Mission 66.”

Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center with Mission 66 sign

The Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center, shown here under construction, was Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania’s highest-profile Mission 66 project, but signs like this one could be seen in parks across the country, heralding the new age of the NPS.

Read More…


From Eric Mink:

An ongoing feature of this blog looks at surviving Civil War graffiti in the Fredericksburg area. More than simply evidence of wartime vandalism, these inscriptions are surviving elements that both represent and document the battlefields and landscapes of conflict. They also speak to us with stories of the men who defaced these places. So far, previous posts have examined carvings and writings found on buildings, but soldiers marked all types of surfaces, including trees.

In this May 1864 photograph of Brompton on Marye's Heights (left), tree carvings and graffiti are visible when magnified (right).

In this May 1864 photograph of Brompton on Marye’s Heights (left), tree carvings and graffiti are visible when magnified (right).

Known as arborglyphs, tree carvings are gaining attention among anthropologists, scholars and researchers. From graffiti left by Basque shepherds in Nevada and California, to carvings made by soldiers fighting in Europe during the two World Wars, “culturally-modified trees” are being documented and studied. When it comes to locating surviving examples of American Civil War arborglyphs, however, it is difficult, if not impossible. Tree carvings fade with time, as the trees continue to grow and heal their scars. With the passage of 150 years, it is doubtful that many, if any, Civil War arborglyphs survive on living trees. In the Fredericksburg area, however, we do have some impressive examples of Civil War tree graffiti that were discovered in 1935.
Read More…

Posted by: The staff | January 20, 2014

The disgrace of the 11th Corps becomes a tool for discipline


From John Hennessy:

11thCorpsBadgeSometime we do big things here, sometimes small.  This is a small item I came across tonight.  It appears in a letter from “T.A.A.” of the 139th Pennsylvania (Sixth Corps), published in the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle, May 26, 1863, written just two weeks after the Union defeat at Chancellorsville. It’s evidence of how powerful and pervasive the blame for defeat lay upon the 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, a corps that included many regiments composed of recent immigrants. The disdain for the 11th Corps found expression in the 6th Corps in the form of a novel punishment inflicted on ne’er-do-wells.  The letter was written from White Oak Church on May 22, 1863.

 I notice that a new mode of disgracing stragglers and shirkers has been adopted in this portion of the army.  It is by placing a large piece of board in the shape of a crescent, which, by the way, is the badge worn by the 11th corps, upon their backs, and forcing them to walk up and down in front of quarters of the General, or some other public place. This mode of punishment has become so popular that the men belonging to that [11th] corps are ashamed to wear their badges, and nearly all cases have taken them off their caps.” 

By the way, the Pittsburgh Evening Chronicle includes very nice runs of letters relating to both the 139th  and the 155th Pennsylvania.

Posted by: The staff | November 27, 2013

Exploring Culpeper and Orange–Somerville and Raccoon Fords


From John Hennessy:

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to be invited to explore some great sites along the Rapidan in both Culpeper and Orange Counties. Brett Johnson, who lives near Rapidan, and Walker Somerville, scion of the family that has owned land at Somerville Ford for three centuries, were the hosts. My thanks to them for a memorable day–they know the ground as only locals can, and many of the specifics included here were conveyed by them.

Union pickets at Somerville Ford on September 14, 1863.

Union pickets at Somerville Ford on September 14, 1863. Note the Confederate lunettes on the distant heights.  The two barns on the right of this image also appear in the sketch shared below.

The purpose of this post is simply to provide a visual record of what we saw, without too much elaboration. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.

Bear in mind that every site mentioned in this post is private property and generally not accessible to the public.

IMG_0370We started at Somerville Ford on the Rapidan River. Here, on August 20, 1862, the entirety of Jackson’s wing of Lee’s Army crossed to commence the Second Manassas campaign.  Samuel Buck of the 13th VA crossed here that day:

This washed-out cut is on the site of Somerville Ford on the Orange side, and may well be the remnant of the road to the ford used by Jackson's men.

This washed-out cut is on the site of Somerville Ford on the Orange side, and may well be the remnant of the road to the ford used by Jackson’s men.

The water was pretty deep but very pleasant to our warm bodies. As soon as we could get our trousers off we waded in, yelling like a lot of school boys. It is an interesting sight to see so many men crossing a river and most amusing to hear their witty remarks.  Men under such circumstances are only grown children.

The old road leading up from the ford on the Culpeper side. The left bank of the road cut is clearly visible.

The old road leading up from the ford on the Culpeper side. The left bank of the road cut is clearly visible.

On September 14, 1863, Union and Confederate artillery engaged in fairly robust counter-battery fire here.  Charles Furlow of the 4th Georgia (his diary is at Yale University) left a fair description. [More images beyond the jump.] Read More…

Posted by: The staff | November 13, 2013

A new and stunning image


From John Hennessy:

No, it’s not a period photograph, but rather an aerial view taken in 1933. It came to us today, thanks to one of our regional landscape architects, Eliot Foulds, who was poking around the National Archives and came across a collection titled “Airscapes.” This was a project of the Army Air Corps that produced low-level aerial views of important places.  This image offers a view of the Fredericksburg region–one that shows the landscape beyond town virtually unchanged since the Civil War.  The image includes the only comprehensive view of the south end of the battlefield we have ever seen. Beyond that, there are hundreds of details worth noting.  We’ll get to just a few of them today.1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 smaller

The picture was taken over the Rappahannock River looking a few degrees east of south. Fredericksburg is to the right, Chatham is at lower left. There are lots of details in the view of Chatham that we’ll talk about in another post. But look beyond, to the south. If you have ever wanted a vision of what the south end of the battlefield looked like in 1862, this is likely as close as you’ll get.  We have included a hi-res scan of the image at the end of this post, which you can download and explore yourself. In the meantime, here are the first things that came to our eyes. Click on other images to enlarge them.

1933 image below town labeled

Here is some detail on the lower crossing site.  As many of you who have been there with us in the last few years know, this is now a virtually impenetrable jungle. In this view, you can see clearly why the spot was so attractive to Union engineers–a wide, flat area with an easy ascent to the surrounding bluffs.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 cropped on lower crossing

Also in this image is the field much as Pelham saw it when he opened fire from the corner of what is today Route 2 (the historic Bowling Green Road) and Benchmark Road.  Pelham’s corner is at the left edge of the photo, the postwar buildings on Slaughter Pen farm at the right edge.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 pelham's field of fire

One part of this landscape had changed dramatically by 1933. Here’s an enlargement of the city dock–the middle crossing site. As you can see, it was a vastly different place then, covered with tanks and other infrastructure. The tanks in this view were swept away in the flood of 1942–clearing the way (literally) for a transformation of the area (and, surely, a dramatic rise in real estate values on lower Caroline Street, today perhaps the nicest streetscape in town).

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128 cropped on city dock

There is much more in this image, including Ferry Farm and numbers of buildings in town that are now gone and for which we have no other photographic record.  It’s a boon, whether you are interested in battlefield landscapes, the changing landscape at Chatham, or the evolution of a town whose downtown was, in 1933, the shopping mecca for the entire region. We’ll be offering more about it as we get a chance.

In the meantime, go ahead and explore the image yourself (a hi-res version is included below). If you spot something interesting, shout it out in the comments.  We have only had this image for a few hours, so we’re sure there is much there we’ve not yet noticed.

1933 Aerial FRSP RG 18AA BOX 128

For those of you who were with us, here is an approximation of the ground we covered during our 2011 tour of the lower crossing site.

For those of you who were with us, here is an approximation of the ground we covered during our 2011 tour of the lower crossing site.

Posted by: The staff | October 23, 2013

A visit to Sherwood Forest, 2013


 

[A note before we get to our main topic: when you get a chance, jump over to Fredericksburg Remembered for a post about a new volume of Fredericksburg letters debuting to the public on Sunday, October 27. You're invited. Good reading for a good cause.]

Today we had the chance to revisit Sherwood Forest, one of the great houses in the region–and certainly one of the greatest house sites anywhere, perched atop a hill overlooking the broad Rappahannock plains at what was  known as Fitzhugh’s Crossing (written about here and here).  As many of you know from our previous visits to Sherwood Forest, the site is slated for development. The house and immediate grounds are planned to be preserved (about 40 acres), while the surrounding 1,100 acres will be turned into housing. The developer, the Walton Group, plans to retain the historic core of the property and is doing stabilization work on the big house and kitchen now. They offered us the chance to take a look–the first chance we have had to go inside the big house and the adjacent kitchen, and so we share some photos. Our thanks to Kevin Crown of Walton for inviting us over.

Sherwood Forest Front 2013

The place was built about 1838 and retains a good deal of integrity, though years of abandonment have taken its toll. Still, the interior is impressive. Beyond the addition of a kitchen and bathroom, little has changed since Henry and Jane Fitzhugh built the house after their marriage in 1837.  Water and termites have been destroyers, but the house, while not livable, is certainly salvageable.

[A historical note:  Brad Forbush, who maintains an outstanding site on the 13th Massachusetts, has posted some wonderful material about Sherwood Forest.  Click here and scroll down for the story of John Fay and Sherwood Forest.]

The entrance foyer.

Sherwood Forest Foyer 2013

The SE room downstairs, with its pocket doors.

Sherwood Forest SE first floor 2013

Stabilization work is also going on in the kitchen. Read More…

Posted by: The staff | September 12, 2013

The Case of the Officer’s Hut Exhibit


From: Beth Parnicza

A hidden piece of the park’s past lies tucked away behind a false wall and a Union Sixth Corps flag in the basement of the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. Peering over the false wall, a dusty wooden floor, painted wood pattern, and painted fireplace are all that remain of what was once a much-desired Confederate officer’s hut display. Its existence and composition have passed out of easy park staff memory, provoking a small mystery begging to be solved. Had the exhibit ever been in use? If so, what did it originally look like? When was it dismantled, and why?

modern view officer's hut

The remains of the Confederate officer’s hut as it appears today

Both of the park’s visitor centers feature exhibits that primarily date to the “Mission 66” period of park development, part of a National Park Service-wide initiative to improve the infrastructure and interpretation of park sites for the NPS’s 50th Anniversary. The initiative happily coincided with the Civil War centennial, producing an increased sense of urgency for Civil War sites to expand their interpretation. Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center’s exhibits date to 1962, and looking around the Visitor Center, it is hard to imagine that much has changed in the ensuing years.

The original layout of the 1962 exhibits featured a room of Fredericksburg-specific and general Civil War exhibits on the main floor, and two basement exhibit rooms included a room filled with rows of firearms as a “study collection” and a room highlighting life in camp and social history elements like the roles of women, religion, and relief organizations. This layout featured a fascinating combination of subjects: modern Visitor Center elements upstairs, a nod to past museum styles with rows of barely interpreted relics downstairs, and the inclusion of social history, which rose to prominence during this period.

camp life corner floor plan

The floor plan for the Confederate officer’s hut exhibit. This is the back corner of the exhibit room at the bottom of the stairs to the right.

The centerpiece of the “camp life” exhibits in the basement was a recreated Confederate officer’s hut corner. When proposed, it was emphasized by the park as a favorite element, noted in one plan that its inclusion was something “the park greatly desires.”  Read More…


from: Harrison

In part 1 of this post, I offered a preliminary take on the Army of the Potomac’s Rappahannock River bridgehead established June 5, 1863 at Franklin’s Crossing, a short distance downstream from Fredericksburg. Although the intermittent fighting there on June 5 and the week following is typically interpreted as the opening combat of the Gettysburg campaign, my earlier post made a case for “Third Fredericksburg” as an alternate designation (one that I’ll continue to use here).

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s Battery), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southeast with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

The protracted occupation and safety of the Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in June 1863, relative to its previous Union occupations, encouraged detailed artistic and written description by Northerners. Alfred Waud made this panoramic sketch of a fortification protecting Battery D (Williston’s), 2nd U.S. Artillery inside the bridgehead sometime June 8-13. Waud’s sketch, likely appearing here for the first time with full identification, looks southeast with the river and bridges just outside the view to the left and left-rear. Courtesy Library of Congress.

That earlier blog post also offered an interpretation that was critical of Hooker. Since we’ve just closed-out the sesquicentennial summer for the bridgehead (abandoned after nine days, in the early morning hours of June 14, 1863), I’d like to balance my previous take with one that’s friendlier towards the Union commander. Once again, I’ll focus on what was known to Hooker (or imagined by him) and inspired the creation and holding of the bridgehead, as opposed what was known to his opponent. Equally important, comparing the planning for Hooker’s June operations at and near Fredericksburg—whether implemented or cancelled—with that for his Chancellorsville moves helps us better understand both.

Some quick review: on June 5 Hooker concluded that Lee was likely leaving the Fredericksburg lines intending to either interpose his troops between Hooker’s army and Washington or cross the upper Potomac. Hooker ordered his engineers, supported by infantry of John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps, to establish pontoon spans and a bridgehead at Franklin’s Crossing as a “demonstration,” albeit one with a fact-finding goal that initially made it more of a reconnaissance-in-force.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (location “B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

Franklin’s Crossing, June 1863, mapped by a member of the 15th N.J. Infantry (at “D” until June 9). Another Federal recorded that around 1,000 men from various regiments had spent the night of June 7-8 “digging rifle-pits, and breastworks for the artillery,” with dawn on June 8 revealing a new fortification “a mile long” (longest double line). This map errs in noting only one bridge, and places what is probably Battery D (“B” at lower right) slightly too close to the ruins of Mannsfield but is useful for depicting the variety of earthworks, including what appears to be an earlier, “First” rifle pit (“M”). Detail of copy of map in collection of Fredericksburg & Spot. NMP.

By late morning that same day, however, Hooker had expanded his plan for the Franklin’s operation into a major attack that would see the Federals, in Hooker’s words, “pitch into” the rear of Lee’s possibly strung-out, departing army at or near Fredericksburg. Planning for the attack was soon cancelled; Lincoln and Halleck quashed the scheme in responses received by Hooker around 4 p.m. Meanwhile, Hooker received news from the bridgehead that Confederates were assembling in the Prospect Hill-Deep Run line “from all quarters…and still arriving.” Around nightfall on June 5, he notified the President that he had come to doubt the likelihood of a Confederate departure from Fredericksburg and vicinity, and that he now intended to maintain the bridgehead for only “a few days.”

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Detail from Waud’s sketch, with the ruins of Mannsfield’s fire-gutted, central section partially visible through the trees at center, and the mansion’s relatively intact, smaller north-wing appearing clearly at right. The trees’ leaf-out shows that the “1862” date penciled on Waud’s drawing (possibly in a different hand from that part of the inscription identifying the battery as “Willistons”) is erroneous, since the only sojourn of Battery D in 1862 had occurred in December.

Yet the prospect of striking the rear of a departing or dramatically weakened enemy someplace near Fredericksburg continued to intrigue the Union commander. Less than a day later, on June 6, cross-river observations of an apparent Confederate evacuation of positions north of Deep Run and northwest of the bridgehead prompted Hooker to order Sedgwick to make a “reconnaissance.” Sedgwick was authorized to commit his “entire corps, if necessary.” As it turned out, he needed only until midmorning on the 6th, and the services of the single division already present in the bridgehead (Albion Howe’s), to determine that, “The enemy are strong in our front,” and that “I cannot move 200 yards without bringing on a general engagement…. It is not safe to mass the troops on this side.”

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from an similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees at right; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

The Franklin’s Crossing bridgehead in 2013, from a viewpoint not far from that used by Alfred Waud in June 1863, and from an similar angle. The estimated site of Mannsfield is hidden in this perspective by the modern house and trees in right-middleground; the site is around the bend of the street in far background, center, then up that same street two or three houses. Photo by Noel Harrison.

Hooker again proposed a major thrust near Fredericksburg on the evening of June 10, with the bridgehead now occupied by John Newton’s division of the Sixth Corps. The army commander telegraphed Lincoln with a more elaborate scheme for an attack: “throw a sufficient force over the river to compel the enemy to abandon his present position” around Fredericksburg and then undertake a “rapid advance on Richmond.” Hooker characterized his plan as “the most speedy and certain mode of giving the rebellion a mortal blow.”
Read More…

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 578 other followers