A rare sight: Aquia exposed

From Hennessy (for a prior post on the evolution of Aquia Landing, click here):

At our program at Aquia on August 6, local resident Jim Hazzard approached me with some images he’d taken a couple years before. They were remarkable. They showed the pilings to the massive docks at Aquia Landing completely exposed. This rare opportunity was the product of an uncommonly low tide, low water, and a strong NW wind that blew the water off the point at Aquia Landing. Jim took about thirty photographs, and we share a number of them here.

The wharves and docks at Aquia Landing were not the haphazard jumble the remnant pilings would suggest. Rather, the images reflect the fact that the docks at Aquia were burned four times (thrice by the Confederates) and rebuilt four times–each time, apparently, on a slightly different footprint. Not only are these images are evocative–bringing to us tangible evidence of what otherwise has vanished–but they could (and perhaps will) offer archeologists an opportunity to unravel what appears to be a jumble.  As mentioned before, Stafford County has received a grant to perform archeology (including underwater archeology) at Aquia Landing in the next 18 months. It will be very interesting to see what the archeologists add to our store of knowledge about the place.

By the way, there’s no hint of a locomotive in these images…  (click here to see what I am talking about).

I include a slideshow of the images here, and beyond the jump a few of the better images in larger form, for those of you who would like to explore them yourself.  We are very grateful to Jim Hazzard for sharing these remarkable pictures.

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Images of destruction: ordeal of a Fredericksburg neighborhood

From Hennessy (this is a followup on our entry from a couple months back, Images of Destruction, which you can read here):

The images taken of damaged houses on lower Caroline Street in 1864 have become well-known because one of them, below, has been published repeatedly. Indeed, it is the prototypical portrayal of damage to private homes in Fredericksburg during the war.  (We’ll call this #1)

130 (left), 132, and 134 Caroline Street

It serves well as a signature image, but it also reveals some interesting details that prior to the age of digital scanning have been overlooked. Moreover, this image is just one of four taken on the same day in the same place, and collectively they reveal the ordeal of a Fredericksburg neighborhood–today one of the most fashionable streets anywhere in America.

Before we get to the details, here are two of the other three images taken that day (the fourth we will leave to John Cummings to talk about in his upcoming book on photography in the Fredericksburg area during and after the war).  This image shows three buildings, 130-138 Caroline–two duplexes and a single family home. You can see right away why it’s rarely reproduced; May foliage obscures much of the detail in the image. (for discussion purposes, this is #2)

This rarely published image shows all three houses, 130-138 Caroline.

And finally, an imaged focused solely on the single-family home in the view, 130 Caroline. (#3)

130 Caroline Street

The five residences captured in these images were all just nine years old in 1864 (all built in 1855), and in 1860 were home to 21 people, including three slaves.  Of them all, perhaps 136-138 Caroline (the duplex on the right in image #2) is the most interesting. On one side lived Noah Fairbank, for decades a captain of a steamer running between Fredericksburg and Baltimore. On the other apparently lived William Burke (the owner of the building, who in the 1860 census is listed in sequence here with the other residents on the street). Burke had been in the 1850s a photographer–the owner of a daguerreotype studio in town. But by 1860 he was superintendent of the poor house (which stood several hundred yards away, near the brickyards beyond Charles Street). According to the 1860 census, he lived with seven people categorized as “paupers,” including a free black woman named Elizabeth Marshall, who at 95 was likely the oldest person in Fredericksburg.

Each of these units was worth about $1,500. It’s worthwhile noting that a young male slave with a skill would have sold for about the same amount; on the eve of the Civil War a slave cost the same as a house in Fredericksburg.

Now to the images. What can we see…what can we conclude? And what do these places look like today?

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Slavery and Slave Places–Images

From Hennessy:

For those of you who attended last night’s final History at Sunset program, Slavery and Slave Places in Fredericksburg, many thanks for coming, and profuse apologies for the poor quality of the copies in the handout. As promised, I have created a pdf file of the handouts, and make it available here for download to anyone who wants it. Just right-click and download. It’s a large file, so it will take a few seconds.

A vivid image of an 1864 hospital–the Washington Woolen Mill

From Hennessy (as with all things industrial in Fredericksburg, credit must be given to Noel Harrison for blazing the trail):

Most of you are familiar with the famous 1864 images of wounded taken in the back yards of Fredericksburg on Charles Street (you can read about the images here). But there is probably no image that better conveys the scale and detail of one of Fredericksburg’s 1864 hospitals than this one, of the Washington Woolen Mill.  It is, perhaps, the most interesting overlooked Fredericksburg photograph of the war.

Wounded hanging from the windows

Taken in May 1864, at the height of Fredericksburg’s use as the main evacuation hospital for the Army of the Potomac, the image gives us by far the best visual evidence of the scene so often described by witnesses: wounded soldiers, civilian aid workers, and medical personnel taking over virtually every available building, spilling onto sidewalks and empty lots, transforming Fredericksburg into a “City of Hospitals.” More than 26,000 wounded soldiers passed through Fredericksburg between May 9 and May 27 (there were likely never more than 7,000 in town at any given time). The effort to care for them was a logistical and human achievement that has not been particularly well documented by historians (we are working on that).

A wounded soldier on the steps, apparently with a head wound.

The Washington Woolen Mill stood about a quarter-mile above town, between what is today Princess Anne and Caroline Streets, across  from the lower reaches of Old Mill Park. On the eve of the Civil War, the mill was brand new, a corporate undertaking (fairly rare for Fredericksburg, where most businesses were proprietorships) that had shown great promise before its looms were stilled by war in 1862. It was without question Fredericksburg’s largest employer of female workers, with 35. During the first Union occupation in the summer of 1862, the Union army turned it into a hospital; in fact, Clara Barton witnessed her first amputation there in August. In 1864, during Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the mill was designated the hospital for men of the Fifth Corps. On May 19 or 20, photographer Timothy O’Sullivan took this image–full of detail and humanity.

The image embodies many small vignettes that speak to Fredericksburg’s ordeal during the war. Wounded soldiers hang or peer out of the window openings, from which all the glass has been removed or destroyed, replaced in a few instances by blankets. A burned out building stands next to the mill, a residence or office likely associated with the mill, perhaps destroyed during the 1862 bombardment (though the mill itself doesn’t show much damage from bombardment). Soldiers stand before furniture cast into the road in front of the mill. Rows of shelter tents stand in the yard on either side of the mill.

In the foreground the canal that brought water to the mill is visible, crossed by a bridge. In the background is Stafford Heights, entirely devoid of trees (this view looks directly into the heart of what is today Pratt Park).

At the left end of the building you can see the structure that housed the wheel pit.

What of the site today?

Click to enlarge

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The evolution of Aquia Landing

From Hennessy: 

An enlargement of a panoramic photograph of Aquia Landing, spring 1863.

Standing on the windswept, barren point at Aquia Landing, it’s hard to imagine today that the place (in terms of its significance to non-Indian occupants of the region) was born of technology–the never-ending human quest for increased speed. At Aquia Landing, steamboats first met roads (1815), then a railroad (in 1842)–the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac.  The combination of the two cut travel time between Washington and Richmond, compared to the pre-steamboat era, by days. 

As with many historic places hereabouts, the most vivid lens we have on them is through the Civil War, when thousands wrote of our landscapes and photographers and artists flocked to portray suddenly famous places like Aquia to a national audience anxious to know more. Both sides recognized the significance of Aquia Landing from the war’s very first days; Virginia seized the place on April 19, 1861, just two days after the ordinance of secession passed. Federal gunboats on the river watched closely, and within weeks reported the construction of new batteries to protect Aquia Landing. On May 31 and June 1, 1861, those gunboats would attack Aquia (without effect, as the Fredericksburg News trumpeted: “Attack at Aquia Creek—597 shots at us and ‘Nobody Hurt,’ except a Horse, a Chicken, and a Frog”). When the Federal army churned southward in the spring of 1862 and again in the fall, both times they turned Aquia Landing into the main Union base of supply. From there, trains shuttled tons of supplies every day over the RF&P line to stations at Brooke, Stoneman’s Switch, and Falmouth Station. In early 1863, Aquia processed and sent forward a million pounds of fodder every day for the 60,000 animals with the army. 

Here are a few images that illustrate the evolution of Aquia Landing from 1861 to 1863. We have no images that I know of prior to 1861, and none that show the landing destroyed in the aftermath of any of the army’s various uses (the facilities there were burned by the Confederates in 1861, by the Confederates again in March 1862, by the Federals in September 1862, and by the Confederates after the Union evacuation in June 1863). Nor do we have any post-war images prior to its abandonment by the RF&P in 1872, in favor of a single line direct through Quantico to Alexandria and Washington. 

This is the earliest image of Aquia I have seen, showing the battery the Confederates built at the landing proper in 1861. Continue reading

Mystery: is there a locomotive in Aquia Creek?

From Hennessy:

A locomotive at work in Virginia in 1862

It is a persistent story–in fact, almost conventional wisdom: that when the Federal army abandoned Aquia Landing in early September 1862, they left behind a locomotive in the muck at the bottom of Aquia Creek. At our History at Sunset program last night (127 on hand–a huge turnout for such a remote site)–it was again a topic of conversation among visitors.

While I didn’t address the question last night, I did pay pretty close attention to the evidence surrounding it as I went through everything Aquia that I could find as I prepared for the program. What does the evidence say? Is there a locomotive waiting to be found at Aquia? Continue reading

A milestone for the park–10,000 at History at Sunset

From Hennessy:

Update Saturday morning:  We had 127 visitors turn out on the beach at Aquia Landing last night. It was a beautiful evening, and, with my back to the water, I was competing against a couple of bald eagles feeding in the Potomac behind me. One very interesting thing emerged: a local resident produced pictures, taken several years ago at an uncommonly low tide, that clearly shows hundreds of the pilings that supported the Union docks at Aquia. We will post the photos as soon as we get them. Fascinating stuff.

A bit off topic, but worth noting:  tonight at 7 at Aquia Landing we will have our 10,000th visitor to our History at Sunset programs over the years (a nifty prize package awaits the lucky 10,000th).  This is our ninth year (ten programs per year, with sixteen in one insane year–an idea we dropped in exhaustion), and tonight is our 95th program (more than 60 of them original). Aquia Landing is by far the most far-flung, remote place we have ever done, so it will be interesting how many make the long and winding journey (along the former route of the RF&P) to the landing.

While we enjoy doing the programs, we also learn a lot in their preparation. My work on Aquia has turned up or solved a few mysteries or conundrums, and they’ll be good for a few posts on here in the coming weeks (the place has an intensely interesting history). I almost always start my preparation for these programs by creating a map, and I share here the map I have done for this one. The green “P” with an arrow marks the location and perspective of key photographs.