In the background: Amelia Street


From Hennessy:As we work on Virtual Fredericksburg (for more on that, click here), it’s becoming apparent that a surprising percentage of Fredericksburg’s wartime buildings appear in photographs. Sometimes we can find a lost building in a postwar image. Other times we have to dig deeply into one of the many panoramas to find them–something difficult to do before the dawn of high-resolution scans of these images. In the end, I’d estimate we have an image of some sort for probably 50% of the town’s wartime buildings.

Here is a dive into a panorama we introduced the other day in our post on Roebling’s wire bridge (see here). This view was taken on May 3, 1863, from the foreslope southwest of Chatham during the fighting just west of town, and is almost always viewed with an eye toward the battle smoke overlaying the town. But it also offers the best look at the Fredericksburg waterfront above the Chatham Bridge, and a view straight up Amelia Street.

Several prominent landmarks are visible in this magnified view.

Going deeper into the image (below), we find a number of things that simply are not portrayed in any other photograph of Fredericksburg during the war.

Starting at the right, the image includes the only known wartime view of the Reformed Baptist Church on Caroline Street (at least its backside). The structure is one of the two oldest houses of worship in Fredericksburg (both it and the Presbyterian Church were built in 1833). Like every other church in town, it was used as a hospital, though it is without question the most poorly documented of them all. Today the place houses Eileen’s bakery, a popular morning gathering spot.

Little house, with the Reformed Baptist Church in the foreground

The Reformed Baptist Church today. Photo by David Ellrod.

On the ridge just above the church is the longitudinal home of William A. Little–better known today as the Charles Dick House (Dick being a local Revolutionary hero of sorts), one of the oldest in Fredericksburg. Little was a lawyer, councilman, insurance agent, and lawyer in town; his brother Alexander edited the Fredericksburg News. William Little lived in this house with his brother, mother Arabella (who actually owned the house), wife Louisa, sister Arabella (yes, mother and daughter shared a name), and three young children. The Littles were among the best-connected families in town; indeed, Alexander’s opinions as editor of the News mattered as much or more than anyone’s.

The Little house on Princess Anne Street, home to two of the most influential men in town. Photo by David Ellrod.

Moving left, downstream, we have the only known wartime images of Smithsonia and the Montgomery Slaughter residence. Smithsonia was the Female Orphan Asylum–certainly one of the more impressive buildings of its kind anywhere.  (It’s for sale now, if you have an extra couple million dollars lying around). The Female Orphan Asylum has such an interesting history, we’ll save comment on it for a discrete post all its own.

Top down: Smithsonia, Slaughter House, and Jackson's shop (Wounded Knee Bookshop today)

Smithsonia today

The Slaughter House was severely damaged during the bombardment of December 11, and the mayor and his fiery wife Eliza were forced to relocate to a home on Hanover Street. Shortly after the war, the house was replaced by another. It was at this place during the truce on December 17 that Eliza Slaughter declared to a Union solder that all her pain and upset at the damage to her house was compensated for by the sight of “these”–a handful of Union corpses in the yard. Bitterness was omnipresent in Fredericksburg after the Union army’s December stay.

But perhaps the two most interesting buildings captured in this view are two owned by a single man, a free black named Walter Jackson: his carpenter shop on Amelia Street (which houses the Wounded Bookshop today) and his home along Sophia Street.

The Walter Jackson house--the home of Annie Gordon, John Washington's wife-to-be

Noel Harrison discusses both these buildings in his Fredericksburg Civil War Sites book, and I need not repeat his work here except to say that when Union troops entered the house on December 11, 1862, they found not only Jackson and his family, but nearly a dozen other occupants huddled in the basement. But, the Jackson house–which the evidence suggests is the smaller of the two houses in on the waterfront–is notable for something else. In 1860, it was also the home of a young free black seamstress named Annie Gordon. In early 1862, Annie Gordon married the slave and memoirist John Washington–a union that severely displeased Annie’s mother, who, according to Washington, refused to permit him to visit. Despite the adversity, the union would be a long and happy one, ending only with John Washington’s death in 1918.

Annie Gordon, a resident of one of the homes on Sophia Street, is at left; John Washington, her husband, at center in this early 20th century family portrait.

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