From the Fredericksburg Ledger, June 26, 1866, more than two years after the fighting at the Bloody Angle and a year after the end of the war. Oliver H.P. Anderson served in the 48th Misssissippi of Harris’s Brigade, which held the works near the Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864.
From John Hennessy. We did this post a few years ago, but it’s worth remembering this week, on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness.
On May 7, 1864, Alfred Waud recorded this simple, compelling set of sketches, entitled “Escaping from the fire in the woods–‘Wilderness.'” It shows four separate scenes, each of struggle. So far as I can tell, they were never incorporated into the images Waud did of the Battle of the Wilderness. Instead, they have been largely ignored. But look at them closely. They bespeak of the battle’s signature horror: fear associated with fire.
In the public mind, many battles are remembered for a signature moment or phenomenon. At First Manassas, it’s the civilians. At Gettysburg it’s Pickett’s Charge. At Petersburg, the Crater. At the Wilderness, it’s fire. Over the decades many of these rather simple associations have been challenged in some form. The civilians weren’t nearly as integral to Union defeat at Manassas as many believe. Historians have revised our view of Pickett’s Charge sufficiently that its traditional name has barely survived. And the Crater, we know, is a story that goes well beyond the bold efforts of Pennsylvania miners and drunken commanders. But what of the fires in the Wilderness?
Beyond the anecdotal, we know little with certainty. But, some digging into what we do have leaves little room to challenge or doubt the traditional view that fire and human suffering were closely intertwined in the Wilderness in May 1864. Fire is, in the public’s mind, the signature horror of the Wilderness, and by all accounts it should be.
The Army of the Potomac’s Medical Director, Thomas McParlin, said of the fighting and fires:
The hostile lines swayed back and forth over a strip of ground from 200 yards to a mile in width on which the severely wounded of both sides were scattered. This strip of woods was on fire in many places, and some wounded, unable to escape, were thus either suffocated or burned to death. The number who thus perished is unknown, but it is supposed to have been about 200.
If McParlin’s estimate is right, then nearly 10% of Union deaths at the Wilderness resulted from fire–a staggering number. Read More…
From John Hennessy:
We are all about to plunge into the Wilderness Spotsylvania 150th. You can find the schedule here. The obvious highlights: opening ceremony with Dr. Bud Robertson as keynote is Saturday morning at 10. The culminating event is Saturday evening, May 10, at 7.30 (it will be pretty cool, I think). And then May 12. More on that below.
Given that most of you who read this tend to take history seriously, we thought we’d offer up a few comments on the program–sort of an annotated schedule–focusing on those events that catch the spirit of Mysteries and Conundrums. We offer them in chronological order. Bear in mind, we think EVERYTHING we’re doing will be good…. But these are things that focus on places rarely seen or stories rarely told.
Saturday May 3, 1-3 p.m. Decisions and Consequences: Grant and the Landscape of War. This program will focus on the area between Wilderness Tavern, the Wilderness Crossroads, Grant’s HQ, and Ellwood, and will avail the new bridge over Wilderness Run. Beth Parnicza leads, and there is lots of new and good stuff on this tour, along with some sites you likely haven’t seen.
Monday May 5, 5-7: Life and Death at the Crossroads. A program focused on the May 5 fighting around the Brock Road/Plank Road intersection. The area south of the Orange Plank Road is a vivid and, to me, haunting landscape. Beth Parnicza and Greg Mertz lead this one. Another program I am leading on May 6 will cover this area again.
Tuesday May 6, 6-8 a.m. Sunrise in Tapp Field. Frank O’Reilly, Eric Mink, and Andrea DeKoter will bring the sun up in Tapp Field, doing a real-time program that confronts Lee’s near disaster that morning. Being on the battlefield at dawn in real time is something everyone should do.
Tuesday May 6, 9:30-Noon. Longstreet’s Flank Attack. Greg Mertz and Eric Mink lead the first tour of this ever done by park staff. For those of you who were at Chancellorsville, this is the equivalent of Frank’s trek following Jackson’s Flank Attach (a tour commonly referred to as the “death march” around here). It’s bushwhacking all the way, but a great walk.
Tuesday May 6, 6-8 PM. Gordon’s Flank Attack. Greg Mertz and Frank O’Reilly lead this one. Because of Route 20 and the lack of parking on the north side, we rarely get to do a public tour up in this area. This one comes in through Lake of the Woods. A rare chance to see an overlooked part of the field.
Thursday, May 8. We have two programs (one morning, one afternoon) going at Laurel Hill–to my mind the most overlooked place on any of our battlefields.
Thursday, May 8, 4-6 p.m. Building the Mule Shoe Salient. Eric Mink and Beth Parnicza present a classic M&C style program, exploring the Confederate works from the base of the salient to the East Angle. This one is entirely new.
Friday May 9, 7 -8 p.m. City of Hospitals. If you like mood, this is your thing. I will be doing a program on the Union wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania inside the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, used as a hospital in May 1864. Lots of images. A very M&C sort of thing.
Saturday, May 10, 4-6. Upton Gets His Star. Eric Mink and Beth Parnicza follow the footsteps of Upton’s attack. We don’t often do a program out here. A great walk. This program precedes the culminating event.
Monday May 12. All day. We will be on the field at the Bloody Angle and East Angle from 5 a.m. until 3 a.m. the next morning, mirroring the 22 hours of combat on May 12-13. A wide variety of programs, a combination of interpretation, reflection, and commemoration. This will be one of the unique days in our careers, without question.
Sunday May 11, 9 am-4 pm. Hidden Spotsylvania: A Hike. Beth Parnicza and Peter Maugle will hike do a day-long hike focused almost entirely on rarely visited bits of the battlefield. Don’t forget this is Mothers’ Day.
Sunday May 18: The Battle of Lee’s Last Line. Frank O’Reilly and Greg Mertz will follow the footsteps of what may have been the least successful attack the Army of the Potomac ever launched.
There is much more than this going on. We hope to see you. And if you do come, announce yourselves. We would love to meet you.
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.)
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.
From Beth Parnicza:
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.”
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.
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.
From John Hennessy:
Sometime 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.
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.
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.
We 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:
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
- 1862 Union occupation
- Bloody Plain at Fredericksburg
- Caroline County Sites
- Civilian accounts
- Culpeper and Fauquier sites
- Emancipation and Freedom
- Escape and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
- Favorite Places
- Images of destruction
- Jackson Shrine
- Lost buildings
- Orange County
- Orange County Sites
- Park Development
- People and personalities
- Post-war visits
- Primary sources
- River crossings and fords
- Riverside plantations
- Salem Church
- Second Fredericksburg
- Sesquicentennial sites and stories
- Slavery and Slave Places
- Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield
- Spotsylvania sites
- Stafford County sites
- Sunken Road and Marye's Heights
- Town and Civilian Sites
- Upper Pontoon Crossing