The Slave Auction Block at William and Charles


From John Hennessy.  [A note: we have written about the slave auction block extensively over the years, but have been asked to bring together the research in a single post, easily accessed.  To do that, we have drawn on four other posts, as well as some new research. If you want the full background–especially as it relates to the 1924 debate about the stone–you can find the first of the other posts here, and then click through.]

slave-auction-block-modernThe shaped block of stone sits at the corner of Charles and William Street in Fredericksburg, directly in front of the building that was once the Planter’s Hotel.  Over the years it has been backed into by trucks and hacked at by vandals. Mostly, until recently, it has been unnoticed. But to some people it is one of the most compelling urban artifacts in America–a site of conscience, one of those places that requires us to recall past failures, injustice, and, in this instance, the struggles of people to overcome and ultimately reverse them.  To others, the block rubs like a burr.  It is, for them, a painful symbol of white supremacy and oppression.

However you view it, the stone is in the news and the subject of important conversations. Here is what we know about the stone block at the corner of Charles and William.

By most accounts the block came to be as a common carriage step, intended to serve guests at the adjacent hotel. The hotel rose in 1843, the work of local entrepreneur Joseph Sanford. For its first eight years, under Sanford’s ownership, he advertised the place as the United States Hotel. When he sold it to James Chartter in 1851, it became known as Planter’s Hotel.

Bear in mind, I have not attempted an exhaustive search for ads related to slave sales or hires at the United States or Planter’s Hotel, but I have identified thirteen sales that took place on the corner. The earliest ad appeared in the November 20, 1846 edition of the Richmond Enquirer–for the sale of 40 enslaved people “near the United States Hotel” in Fredericksburg.

1846 11-20 Richmond Enquirer slave sale Jones slaves at US Hotel.

Richmond Enquirer, November 20, 1846

[A side note:  this sale was likely from the estate of William Jones, the owner of Ellwood and (for a time) Chatham, both today managed by the NPS.]

Over the next 16 years, sales or hiring of enslaved people took place regularly at the Planter’s Hotel, usually around the first of the year.  The biggest of all involved the sale 46 individuals on January 3, 1854.

1853 12-26 Fredericksburg News slave sale US Hotel Planters

Fredericksburg News, December 26, 1853

The Fredericksburg News of January 6, 1854 trumpeted the “success” of the sale:

Fredericksburg seems to be the best place to sell slaves in the State. On Tuesday, at Charter’s [Planter’s] Hotel, forty-three slaves were sold for $26,000.  One bricklayer brought $1,495.  One woman and child, 5 or 6 years old, brought $1,350.  Several were quite old servants.  It was a considered a tremendous sale.

I have posted most of the known ads for sales at Planter’s hotel at the bottom of this post.

None of the advertisements for sale or hire reference the block specifically, but several place the sales “in front of the hotel” while others (Richmond Whig December 24, 1847, Fredericksburg News, August 28, 1850 and December 21, 1851) place the sales specifically “before the front door” of the hotel.  Notably, I have been able to find no other advertisement (beyond estate sales) for the sale of enslaved people at any location in Fredericksburg other than Planter’s Hotel.  This corner was clearly THE place to sell slaves in Fredericksburg in the 1840s and 1850s (land and other items were also occasionally offered for sale at the site).

What were these sales like?  Brutish, inhuman affairs, as former slave Fannie Brown recalled in the 1930s. She did not specify the location of the sale she witnessed in Fredericksburg as a 10-year-old, but it seems likely it took place at the corner of Charles and William Street.  Her account is from an interview she did with government workers in the 1930s.  Click here for the full account:

“I recollec’ one day I… went up close among de white folks gathered roun’ de warehouse peepin’ in through de windows to see de slaves. Den after a big crowd come roun’, I heard a nigger trader say, “Bruen…let my niggers out….”  Jim, a big six-foot, tall slave, come out smilin’, and his shirt was took off, and den dey start exzaminin’ him. Dey jerked his mouth open an’ look at his teeth an’ den slapped him on his back, an’ den dey said, “Dis is a prime nigger. Look at dose teeth.” Somebody say one hundred dollars, another two hundred an’ so on ’till one thousand dollars was reached. Den Jim …. was handcuffed an’ put in de coffle  wid de other slaves dat had been sol’.  

The first mention I have seen of the block as a slave auction block is by a veteran visiting Fredericksburg in 1893. By 1913, the stone had assumed significance enough that the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities sought to place a tablet at the site, recording the stone’s historic use (as recorded in the minutes of the City Council for November 1913).

The slave block entered public discourse again in 1924 when the local Chamber of Commerce argued, rather incongruously, that on the one hand the stone should be removed because its presence “may serve somewhat to keep alive the sectional feeling which has long ago since disappeared,” and thus dampen tourism in Fredericksburg. Besides, on the other hand, the Chamber argued, the stone had never been used as an auction block for slaves anyway. Confederate veteran and local historian John T. Goolrick jumped in to second the Chamber’s opinion: the block was “standing lie”–just a carriage step that  should be “broken up and carried away.”

george-triplett-with-waternark

George Triplett

The suggestion prompted a small storm of response, led, ironically, by local auctioneer N. B. Kinsey, whose shop stood nearby. Kinsey produce a 1857 ad for the sale of slaves at the site.  More than that, he produced the testimonials of at least three prominent local men who confirmed the use of the block as a tool for the sale of slaves. And finally, Kinsey asserted that former slave George Triplett (died 1910) had been the last enslaved person sold on the slave block, purchased by Fredericksburg’s wartime mayor Montgomery Slaughter. Even John T. Goolrick’s son later confirmed the story told of Triplett.  A photograph of Triplett, preserved and provided to us by the late collector extraordinary Jerry Brent, includes a notation from James T. and Robert T. Knox, who owned the former Planter’s Hotel in the early 20th century.

“The Old Slave, George Washington Triplett, Born in Stafford County, Va., Dec. 27th. 1833. Copy of certificate. Robert T. Knox & Brother. GREY EAGLE MILLS. Fredericksburg, Va. Sept. 29th. 1903. This is to certify that Mr. J.E.Reid, on 29th of September 1903 took the picture of one of our worthy colored men, George W. Triplett by name, who was the last colored man sold on the slave rock.(1862). It is a well established fact and has never been controverted or denied, and that I was an eye witness to the taking of the picture. (signed) James T. Knox of R.T.Knox & Brother.”

Another former slave asserted his connection with the slave block. Albert Crutchfield, born in Spotsylvania in 1854, claimed that he and his family had been sold on the block. In the 1920s, Crutchfield posed next to the slave block for what would become an oft-produced postcard. The back of the card reads:

slave-auction-block-postcard crutchfield

In the days before the Civil War it was used for the sale and annual hire of slaves.  Albert Crutchfield, shown in the picture, was sold from the block about 1859, at which time he was a boy about fifteen years old.”

While some of the details are incorrect (Crutchfield was only 5 in 1859, and evidence suggests that the sale may not have taken place until after 1860), his story largely fits with what is known about his life. According to Crutchfield, he, his mother, and three siblings were purchased by local businessman Arthur Goodwin. Two of his brothers were sold south and would never be seen by the family again.*

I append here images of the ads we have (beyond those shown above) that reference slave sales or hires at the corner of William and Charles.  Remember, the hotel was known variously as the United States Hotel, Sanford’s Hotel, Chartters Hotel (after the second owner), and Planter’s Hotel.

1847 10-29 Richmond Enquirer Slave sale US Hotel

Richmond Enquirer, October 29, 1847

1847 12-24 Richmond Whig slave sale Sanford's US Hotel

Richmond Whig, December 24, 1847

1850 8-27 News Ford slave sale at Planters Hotel

Fredericksburg News, August 27, 1850

1851 11-19 News Fitzhugh slave sale US Hotel

Fredericksburg news, November 19, 1851

1851 12-21 News Fitzhugh and Little slave sale US Hotel

Fredericksburg News, December 21, 1851

1856 12-7 Fredericksburg News auction of other items Planters hotel

Fredericksburg News, December 7, 1856

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters Dec 30.JPG

Fredericksburg News, December 22, 1857

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters January 1

Fredericksburg News, February 1, 1862

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters on Dec 28

Fredericksburg News, December 22, 1857

1862-2-1 News planters slave sale.jpg

Fredericksburg News, February 1, 1862

Finally, we also have the transcription of an ad, produced by N.B. Kinsey in 1924, that appeared in an unidentified local newspaper on October 14, 1857.

The advertisement stated “seven young and valuable slaves” will be sold for the high dollar by Thos. B. Barton and John M. Herndon, commissioners.  Another sale of “three likely young negresses” by W.C. Downer, administrator.

(This ad does not appear in any of the surviving copies of Fredericksburg papers of the time–the NewsVirginia Herald, and Weekly Advertiser.  Likely it appeared in the well-circulated Christian Banner, edited by the ardent Unionist James Hunnicutt; no issues of the Banner are known to survive from 1857.)

If you know of other advertisements or have additional information, please do let us know.

* See Ruther Coder Fitzgerald, “Albert Crutchfield was a Well-Known Local Slave,” Free Lance Star, June 16, 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Context matters: the contrasting narratives of John Washington and Noah Davis, Fredericksburg slaves (with a Patton connection)


In advance of tomorrow night’s History at Sunset–“Slavery and Slave Places in Fredericksburg–here are some musings on two slave narratives produced by Fredericksburgers.

Fredericksburg Remembered

From John Hennessy:

Both begin with the identical words:  “I was born a slave.” Both narrate a life within slavery and a lifelong quest for freedom.  Both were urban slaves, working in homes or small businesses or industry.  But in most other respects, the narratives of John Washington and Noah Davis could not be more different. The differences command of those who read them special care. They demonstrate vividly why context matters.

Only a couple hundred slave narratives have ever been published, and so Fredericksburg is fortunate to have two produced by men who spent a most of their lives as slaves in the town.  You are likely most familiar with John Washington’s narrative, published in 2007 by David Blight as A Slave no More (read more about Washington’s memoir here). Washington wrote in 1873, seven years after the war, and in his retrospective recounts his life in slavery…

View original post 858 more words

“The Little Regiment”: Stephen Crane’s Little-Known Story of the Battle of Fredericksburg, pt. 1


from:  Harrison

The secondary anniversaries of a battle —the anniversaries of its portrayals and interpretations as well as of its delayed impacts upon people—follow its principal anniversary. This summer finds us in the aftermath of not only the 154th anniversary of the December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg but also the 120th anniversary of the publication in 1896 of “The Little Regiment,” Stephen Crane’s short story inspired by that battle. The story garnered wide circulation initially but later fell under the broadening shadow of The Red Badge of Courage, his classic tale published in 1894-1895.

For the park’s History at Sunset series, my colleague Becky Oakes recently presented a program on Red Badge and the April-May 1863 battle of Chancellorsville, partial inspiration for Crane’s novel. My consideration of “The Little Regiment,” below, draws encouragement from Becky’s program and from an earlier History at Sunset presentation on Red Badge by John Hennessy and Andrea Dekoter (video here). We hope you can attend History at Sunset events, marvelous opportunities to engage with a variety of Civil War subjects in the actual settings of the events discussed. I write this post on a Fourth of July weekend at my home, itself located mile or two from the sites of the Army of the Potomac’s camps prior to the December 1862 battle.

McClure's woodcut 2

A woodcut from Stephen Crane’s fictionalized Fredericksburg, captioned with his text describing skirmishing prior to the main Union attack. “The Little Regiment,” McClure’s Magazine, June 1896: 13.

“The Little Regiment” first appeared in the United States in the June 1896 issue of McClure’s Magazine.  (Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction ran “The Little Regiment” at the same time in Great Britain.) Stephen Crane had visited Fredericksburg sometime between January 12 and January 26, 1896, after McClure’s co-editor John S. Phillips requested a series on Civil War battlefields. Crane’s ensuing work produced several short stories about the war. McClure’s illustrated “The Little Regiment” with three woodcuts captioned with or positioned near the corresponding passages in Crane’s text. Another overlooked aspect thus emerges when our perspective widens beyond The Red Badge of Courage: many early readers encountered Crane’s visions of the Civil War—of Fredericksburg, at least—in art as well as in words.

1896 railroad stations final

Stephen Crane walked or rode past these Fredericksburg buildings during his January 1896 visit, four years after veterans of the Second Corps’ 14th Connecticut Infantry sponsored this informal photo. Center background, behind railroad car: wartime freight station of broad-gauge railroad (RF&P) connecting Fredericksburg with Washington and points north, upon which Crane arrived and departed. Right foreground: postwar passenger/freight station of narrow-gauge railroad to Orange (PF&P in the 1890’s, “Unfinished Railroad” in 1862). Left foreground: possible railing of Prussia Street bridge at or near site of millrace/canal-ditch bridge crossed by attacking Second Corps regiments—possible counterpart to one of the “little bridges” referenced in Crane’s story. Henry S. Stevens, Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields (Washington, D.C., 1893), p. 82. Modern site of railroad-stations area from similar viewpoint and angle at Kenmore Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard: Google StreetView. 

The Red Badge of Courage had appeared prior to Crane’s 1896 visit–in print as a newspaper serial in December 1894 and as a book in October 1895. Obviously hoping to capitalize on the success of Red Badge, McClure’s Magazine added “By the Author of The Red Badge of Courage” to Crane’s byline for “The Little Regiment” in June 1896. In November 1896, other publishers in America and Britain reprinted “The Little Regiment” in book-length compilations of six of his Civil War short stories, three penned for McClure’s and three for the Irving Bacheller syndicate.

portraits WikiCommons final

Left: Stephen Crane in 1896, the year he visited Fredericksburg and published “The Little Regiment.” Right: Adolphe Menjou, who hosted a telecast of Crane’s story in 1954. Both: Wikimedia Commons.

Artists in media besides woodcuts would illustrate Crane’s fictionalized Fredericksburg. Although “The Little Regiment” has yet to rate a movie-length treatment, as Red Badge of Courage did in 1951, it did inspire a television program.

The series Favorite Story broadcast The Little Regiment as a half-hour teleplay in October 1954. Host Adolphe Menjou provided the introduction. A Star is Born, A Farewell to Arms, and Paths of Glory were among his past or future acting credits. Ellis Marcus, a prolific, future contributor to episodes of everything from Mission Impossible to Knots Landing and Lassie (my first television-addiction) adapted the teleplay from Stephen Crane’s story. Leon Benson—The High Chapparrall and Bonanza—directed. The 1954 show featured actors Russ Conway—destined for fame via The Virginian, The Fugitive, and Bonanza among other shows; John Doucette—The Big Valley, Get Smart, Mannix, The Big Valley; and Duane Gray—Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Rawhide. The 1954 show was rebroadcast at least once, in September 1958.

Before offering further thoughts and spoilers, I encourage you to read the McClure’s June 1896 version of Crane’s “The Little Regiment,” beginning on page 2 of this public-domain pdf: The Little Regiment

(The entire, public-domain volume of McClure’s is here, including Crane’s June 1896 story. A public-domain version of “The Little Regiment” as collected in the November 1896 book is here.)

“The Little Regiment” in 1896 offered settings and general events nearly identical to those of the December 1862 battle, although Crane did not use the terms “Fredericksburg” or “Rappahannock,” or name the opposing commanders and armies. In 1967, Charles B. Ives noted abundant parallels to the historical battle, in one of the few scholarly articles devoted solely to “The Little Regiment”: Crane’s protagonists, brothers Dan and Billie Dempster, march and bivouac with their regiment on “the cold earth of December,” pause on the north side of a river listening to the bombardment of and preliminary fighting in a “little city”—called “town” and “village” elsewhere in the story—then cross to it over a pontoon bridge.

McClure's woodcut 1

A Union cannon among the “long row of guns” that bombard the town at the start of Crane’s story. (The shadowing and orientation suggest that the McClure’s artist adapted Alexander Gardner’s stereograph of a gun overlooking Belle Isle and Richmond.) “The Little Regiment”: 12.

In the town, Crane writes, “infantry and artillery were in a most precarious jumble in the streets.” Dan chats with a comrade “smoking his pipe of confiscated tobacco, seated comfortably upon a horse-hair trunk which he had dragged from the house.” Their conversation at one point references five of the six corps-numbers of the actual Army of the Potomac units engaged on the south side of the Rappahannock in December 1862. They go on to distinguish those from their own, unnamed corps—clearly the Second—which has also crossed to engage, as its real-life counterpart did in 1862. Nearby, another Federal “had chanced upon a hoop-skirt and arrayed in it was performing a dance amid the applause of his companions.” The men eventually move to “a dry old kitchen” despite its artillery damaged wall “strongly anxious to topple.”

The brothers then depart and return separately, as skirmishing occurs on the fringes of the town that night and the next day, prior to the main Union attack. (The story is unclear on whether Billie’s temporary absence represents his service on an actual picket-detail, or one imagined by his secretly worried brother.)

Crane’s account of Dan’s own, subsequent experience while detailed to the picket line includes illustration by the vivid woodcut I posted above. Even the limited but occasionally dramatic nature of skirmishing on December 12, 1862, the day before the main attack, thus finds a fictionalized counterpart in Crane’s narrative, in addition to the other historical parallels noted by Charles Ives. In 1886, William Kepler published a recollection of fighting on December 12 by men detailed from the Second Corps’ Fourth Ohio Infantry. Kepler described his and his comrades’ experiences along Hanover Street and around and west of the RF&P Railroad freight and passenger stations at Princess Anne and Prussia Streets:

[T]he details moved out on two different streets and were immediately fired upon on Hanover street, and Watson McCullough, of Company C, was wounded, causing a halt, and a sharp engagement until the squad on Princess Ann street…flanked the rebel pickets…advancing still further they noticed the depot and machine shops…under a shower of bullets coming from a new source, a railroad cut…the squad now crossed the bridge over a canal…moved to the right oblique to the house that was the furthest out of any…looking out the west window, they saw near at hand the pickets taking good aim, and firing on our men near Hanover street; the window was opened and a volley sent into the flank of a number of “graybacks” lying in a ditch, when there was a lively climbing and rushing to the rear by fifty or more Confederates, who did not stop until they were under the protection of their comrades, behind the stone wall….

Continue reading

Edward Steere – Soldier of the Great War, National Park Service Historian, Author


From Eric Mink:

During the National Park Service Centennial last year, the park staff delved into a bit of research on our own history. We looked at how our predecessors laid the groundwork, both in infrastructure and in historical research, upon which we have benefited and continue to build. The park had the advantage of a strong cadre of historians who conducted some of the first solid research on the park’s battles and resources. Ralph Happel is a name known to most who have studied the Civil War activities around Fredericksburg, but there was also T. Sutton Jett, Branch Spalding, Hubert Gurney, just to name a few. For about six years in the late 1930s, the park benefited from having as its chief of historians Edward Steere, a man whose combined knowledge and skills as a journalist, a soldier, and a historian resulted in a report that became the first in-depth battle study of the 1864 Overland Campaigns first engagement. Steere’s The Wilderness Campaign remains a popular resource for students of the battle.

Young Turks - 1935

Edward Steere (far left) and other National Park Service historians on the Wilderness Battlefield in 1935. To Edward’s left are: T. Sutton Jett, Raleigh C. Taylor, Ralph Happel, and Branch Spalding.

Born in Los Angeles, California on April 21, 1889*, Edward Steere entered a military family. His father, Captain Henry Steere, participated in the Spanish-American War with the 1st Battalion California Heavy Artillery and then in the Philippine Insurrection with the 36th United States Volunteers. Captain Steere later pursued a career in education as both professor of military tactics and commandant of cadets at the Western Reserve University of Cleveland, Ohio, and even later in a similar role at the Shenandoah Valley Military Academy in Winchester, Virginia. Edward’s older sister Ruth married three times, each to an officer in the United States Army. Her first two husbands were medical officers, while her third husband, Colonel Reginald Heber Kelley, commanded the 116th United States Infantry during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918. Edward’s younger brother John entered the United States Army and rose to the rank of colonel. Perhaps it was the military tradition, a sense of adventure, or even personal convictions about the war in Europe that led young Edward to leave the United States and enlist in the Canadian Army on September 23, 1914, at the age of 25. Steere joined “B” Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery and over the following four years he served with his unit in France, presumably taking part in all of its battles. His service record notes little, other than three instances in which he ran afoul of his superiors. The first involved “altering the duration of his watch,” the second punishment came for “using insubordinate language to his superior officer,” and the final instance involved “galloping a horse on a hard road.” Dismissal at the expiration of his service came on May 31, 1919, at which time Steere returned to the United States to pursue an education for a civilian career.

Steere’s college pursuits prepared him well for his future vocation as a historian. He attended the University of Texas and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1924 and a master’s in history in 1929. After a stint writing for the Dallas Morning News and the Austin Statesman, Edward landed a job with the National Park Service, working out of the agency’s Washington, D.C. office. The War Department transferred its battlefields and military parks to the National Park Service in 1933, and around that time Steere joined the staff of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He arrived in Fredericksburg as an assistant historical technician, but within five years he rose to the position of “chief historian,” overseeing the park’s historical research and public programming. His largest contribution while stationed at Fredericksburg was his research on the Battle of the Wilderness. The result of that research has benefited historians for decades.

Steere - 1938c

Edward Steere – Fredericksburg Battlefield, 1938

Steere began his study of the Battle of the Wilderness shortly after arriving in Fredericksburg and finished both the research and writing of his manuscript in 1937. Steere’s “The Campaign of the Wilderness, May 2-7, 1864” was intended as an internal document to educate the park staff. Steere utilized the small park library, and with a few small exceptions, he relied entirely upon published sources, specifically the Official Records. Prior to his research, a truly analytical look at the Wilderness did not exist. Andrew Humphreys’ The Virginia Campaigns of ’64 and ’65: The Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James (1883) and Morris Schaff’s The Battle of the Wilderness (1910) both represented studies written by participants, but each lacked the distance and analysis of a historian. Steere’s familiarity with the ground and his painstaking analysis of the source material resulted in a 650-page typed manuscript. It is likely that his manuscript would have remained on the park’s library shelf and out of sight from anyone other than park staff had it not been for an inquiry from soldier and publisher Lieutenant General Edward Stackpole, Jr. two decades later.

Continue reading

The 1805 Slave Revolt at Chatham


From John Hennessy, (for more on the slave landscape at Chatham see Eric Mink’s posts on here and here):

The laundry at Chatham, once the domain of Chatham's slaves.

The laundry at Chatham, once the domain of Chatham’s slaves.

Chatham bubbled in the news the other day when Chance the Rapper won best new artist. One of Chance’s songs, “How Great,” briefly mentions the 1805 uprising of enslaved people at Chatham.  We have thus had a few questions.  So, I post here a piece I wrote a few years back that sheds light on the uprising.

Several years ago, the park’s former superintendent, Russ Smith, found this vivid letter and affidavit at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center (which has become truly an important repository over the last many years). It, more than anything else we have ever seen, explains the origins and nature of the slave revolt at Chatham on January 2, 1805.  By way of context, Chatham was still owned at the time by its builder, William Fitzhugh, but he had removed his residence to Alexandria, leaving supervision of Chatham’s slaves to a new overseer named Starke. Starke had managed to antagonize at least a part of the resident slaves at Chatham, and after the holidays some rose in a spontaneous act of defiance that resulted in death and confusion. One slave died in the battle that followed, and a white man was mortally injured.

The affidavit included here was sent by a local Falmouth Resident, William Richards, to Governor John Page, seeking clemency for one of the slaves implicated (and sentenced to hang) in the rebellion–a man named Robin. Robin was likely well-known to his owner Fitzhugh as a determined soul; in a 1797 letter Fitzhugh recorded that he “had him whip’d and continue to do whenever he comes” to Chatham (Robin was then likely being employed at Eagle’s Nest, another of Fitzhugh’s plantations in King George County.  The request for clemency ultimately worked. Robin was spared, though he was likely deported to the Caribbean.

The Chatham slave revolt is one of the few uprisings recorded in the Fredericksburg area, and the only one I know of that resulted in death to either the slaves or their white controllers.

The document is ripe for extensive analysis. But here it is, unimproved.   Continue reading

Hard scenes from the courthouse cupola


From John Hennessy:

[Note:  Edited by Greg Acken and published as part of the University of Tennessee’s excellent Voices of the Civil War series, Fortescue’s Service with the Signal Corps ought to become a standard source on the Army of the Potomac through Gettysburg (he was captured on July 5).   For a post that looks at 1864 images taken of the courhouse, click here.]

Rarely do primary sources give us a completely different view of an event, but Louis Fortescue’s account of his time in the cupola of the Circuit Courthouse in Fredericksburg is an exception.  In our last post, Fortescue narrated his ascension to the fourth level of the cupola.  Arriving there, he described how the signalmen who had preceded him had knocked out the covers and (probably) the blinds that filled four circular openings in the cupola.

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 11.48.11 AM.png

A screen grab from Micheal Spencer’s video of a recent visit to the cupola, showing one of the large circular openings used by Union signalmen.  For the whole video, click here.  

Through this opening, Fortescue had a panoramic view of the battlefield. His view matched the vantage point for this sketch by Alfred Waud, almost certainly done from the cupola on December 13.  Click the sketch to enlarge it.

Waud Fredericksburg sketch with labels.jpgFortescue wrote of watching the distant lines of battle virtually stuck in the bloody plain before the Sunken Road on the afternoon of December 14:

About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, two companies of infantry became tired of lying in the mud, and concluded to make a break for the town, regardless of the fact that retreat was more dangerous than to remain. At a signal they arose and started pell-mell for the city. Scarcely had they risen when a line of fire opened on them from along the stone wall. The running of this gauntlet of hundreds of mots would have been ludicrous but for the mortal suffering inflicted upon many of them. One after another could be seen pitching headlong from a shot, and until night closed down upon us we could see many of them writhing in agony with no possible chance to afford them relief. It was sad to witness their terrible plight….

Later, Fortescue watched a much more personal struggle to evacuate a wounded soldier from the bloody plain.

Just after this fusillade had died away my attention was called to two men on the left of the plain, who while lying down were endeavoring to place a wounded man on a stretcher near them. After much labor they succeeded in getting the helpless man comfortably placed, and summoning courage, they each rose, grasped a handle, and started for the rear, trustfully hoping that the nature of their errand would shield them from the deadly aim of the sharpshooters. But flushed with victory, and careless of the humanitarian boldness of the two men in an effort to succor a comrade, the shots from the wall rang out and soon brought down the leading carrier. The other dropped a moment afterward and we thought him mortally hurt but in a few minutes [we] observed him creeping slowly away until about fifty feet had been covered, when he started at full speed and reached the houses safely.

carrying-wounded-soldiers-to-the-rear-1311

Evacuating Union wounded to Fredericksburg.

In our next and last look at Fortescue’s memoir: chaos erupts in the courthouse cupola.

 

Inside the Courthouse cupola–a short video visit


From Hennessy:

As a followup to our last, Professor Michael Spencer of the University of Mary Washington sent along a video he recently took of the highest level of the cupola–the compartment where signalman Louis Fortescue spent his time on December 14 and December 15, 1862.  Click here to see or revisit that post, which describes his ascent of the cupola.

The video is short–just 29 seconds.  Our profound thanks to Michael Spencer for sharing this, which gives a vivid sense of the closeness (and height!) of the space.  You can see the round openings mentioned by Fortescue that the signalmen used to both observe the enemy and signal their observations back to the Phillips House.

 

fredericksburg-courthouse-cropped-on-cupola

The courthouse cupola, showing the circular openings used by signalmen in 1862.