Throughout time, soldiers taking the field have always left their mark behind. Visible evidence of their presence on battlefields includes fortifications, artifacts and battle debris, and even graves. Less visible reminders can take the form of graffiti. These writings are often more personal, with soldiers leaving sketches, commentary on the times and events, and most often their names and military unit affiliation. In the Fredericksburg area, the most well known examples of graffiti left by Civil War soldiers can be found at Massaponax Church in Spotsylvania County and Aquia Church in Stafford County, where interior and exterior walls are covered with a wide variety of penned drawings and statements. Perhaps these were left out of boredom and inactivity, or perhaps the soldiers’ uncertainty of their fate resulted in a desire to leave behind a mark to be remembered by.
In the years following the end of the Civil War, a great deal of soldier graffiti on houses and other structures was covered over. From time to time, work done on local buildings reveals the writings and etchings. Such is the case at Chatham, where every few years another example of a soldier’s presence here is uncovered.
As early as 1929, workers were finding graffiti at Chatham. A newspaper article from that year reported on quite a few prominent names that were found scrawled on exposed plaster.
“Among the signatures standing out most distinctly were the following: General Burnside; Brigadier General Judson Kilpatrick, Commanding 3rd Division Cavalry Corps; Lieut. James B. Seywell, 1st New York Mounted Rifles; T.W. Moffett, 3rd Indiana Cavalry; Brig. General Buford, September 2, 1863; Capt. Nelson, Co. B, 1st Reg. New Jersey Corps; John F. Bradshaw, April 1, 1865; F.D. Gorman. There are scores of other names scrawled on the walls which are more or less distinct. The hand of time has obliterated a larger number of the signatures, which were found only in the hall and which was evidently unpapered in the sixties. They extend from a wooden chairboard up as high as the tallest soldier could reach from the floor. If these signatures could talk, no doubt thrilling and secret tales of the War Between the States would be uncovered.”