When one considers that Chatham continued to be a private residence until 1976, it is amazing that so much graffiti does survive. Each owner upgraded or rennovated the property’s structures, but it is the retention of so much original fabric that has allowed these signatures to survive.
On October 6, 1993, park staff was involved in removing lead paint from the exterior woodwork of Chatham. On the paneling surrounding the south entrance on the west facade of the main house, it was discovered that the paint had filled in carvings into the bottom panel.
Once the paint was removed, graffiti left by a New York soldier was revealed.
This past weekend, we and the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield opened a very different looking Ellwood for the summer season. Last year, the Friends completed a restoration of the first floor. This year, the NPS (with great assistance from the Friends) finished new exhibits for Ellwood. They debuted last weekend. If you have a chance, go see Ellwood. It’s worth the trip. It’s a 1790s middling plantation tucked off the road on the Wilderness Battlefield, where the modern world has intruded little. It’s most famous as the burial site for Stonewall Jackson’s arm–and for years that’s the only reason most people ventured to it–but now receives more attention for its own history, especially as home to the Lacy family and its use as a headquarters by Gouverneur Warren, Ambrose Burnside, and Samuel Crawford during the Battle of the Wilderness.
I wouldn’t be mentioning this if there were not a conundrum or two involved. As many of you know, after its initial stabilization by the NPS in the mid-1980s, Ellwood sat in unimproved condition for more than two decades. In 1998, the Friends opened the building to the public, and for years visitors saw the interior of the house in a state just this side of ruinous, and most appreciated being able to see a house whose guts were figuratively laid bare. Here are a couple images of Ellwood “before.”
From Hennessy (click images to enlarge):As mentioned in my post on the Federal Hill ice house, the 1864 panorama of the Bloody Plain in front of Marye’s Heights is one of the richest photographs of a battlefield ever made. I’m going to use a few posts in the coming weeks to explore the image–pointing out some things you may have missed, sharing other images that elaborate on or confirm what’s in the panorama, or showing how it helped inform our development of Virtual Fredericksburg. I’ll ask Eric and Noel and Frank (or anyone else) to jump in when they spot the chance to do so.
We have already talked about the ice house and the Goolrick buildings on Hanover Street. Let’s move a bit deeper into the picture–to the canal ditch, clearly visible at the midpoint of the image. Here is a closer look.
Of all the features on the Bloody Plain visible in this image, the canal ditch probably had a greater impact on the battle than any other. It ran (indeed still runs, though now under the pavement) along what is today Kenmore Avenue. At the time this picture was recorded, the canal ditch was less than a decade old. It was part of a system of non-navigable canals built in the late 1850s to provide water to various and potential industries in Fredericksburg. I have added the Virtual Fredericksburg base map to the links to the right. If you want to see the full route of the canal ditch (and other canals in Fredericksburg), take a look. You should be able to zoom in and around as you wish.
The construction of a dam above Falmouth in 1854 fundamentally changed the industrial landscape around Fredericksburg. Prior to 1854, industries in Falmouth held sway when it came to water power. But the new dam–later supplanted by the Embrey Dam (which was taken down in 2004)–and system of canals allowed water-powered industries to prosper in Fredericksburg. Among these was John Marye’s Excelsior Mill, which stood at the southern terminus of one leg of the canal ditch. In photos we have shared previously, you can clearly see water from the ditch pouring out of the flue at the mill.
Here is a postwar view of the canal ditch. My best estimate is that this image was likely taken between Hanover and William Streets, looking north at the crossing of the canal at William Street. To the left is the section of Marye’s Heights that is today consumed by the University of Mary Washington. To the right, going up the hill, is what appears to be the wall of the town cemetery on William Street.
During the Civil War, Chatham served as Union Army headquarters, communications center, a sanctuary for soldiers picketing the Rappahannock River, and as a hospital. Following the Battle of Fredericksburg, hundreds of wounded Union soldiers, and a few wounded Confederates, received treatment inside the main house. One source placed the number treated at Chatham between December 13 and December 15, 1862 at 371. Clara Barton, who assisted the surgeons at Chatham described the crowded conditions:
“They covered every foot of the floors and porticos and even lay on the stair landings! A man who could find opportunity to lie between the legs of a table thought himself lucky. He was not likely to be stepped on. In a common cupboard, with four shelves, five men lay, and were fed and attended. Three lived to be removed, and two died of their wounds. Every man had left his blood at Fredericksburg – every one was from the Lacy house.”
It is not surprising that some of those treated at Chatham found time to leave their mark on its walls. Sergeant Sylvester Ostrander of 16th Michigan Infantry was one such patient.
On March 14, 1994, park Maintenance Workers James Patterson and Bob McGibbony were stripping paint from the plaster walls within the Morning Room at Chatham. They uncovered a good bit of graffiti, but only one piece was legible and that was the signature of Sergeant Ostrander.