Coaxing Snowden and Fall Hill Out of the Shadows

From:  Harrison

Military studies tend to neglect Civil War sites and events along that half of Marye’s Heights situated north of the Orange Plank Road (modern William St. or Rt. 3).  During the first battle of Fredericksburg, in December 1862, some Confederate artillerists there directed oblique and enfilade fire against Federals operating south of the Plank Road.  During the second battle, in May 1863, Confederate infantry and artillery along the same segment of Marye’s Heights blocked the northern flanking prong–Gibbon’s division–of an early morning advance ordered by Union General John Sedgwick.

For the main ridgeline hosting these and other events north of the plank road, “Marye’s Heights” is a common military designation.  The most accurate civilian description, however, divides the Civil War-era ridge into three principal segments, beginning on the plank road and extending to the north:  “Byram Hills,” the Smith estate; then “Snowden,” the Stansbury estate; and then “Fall Hill,” the Taylor estate, bounded on the east and north by the Rappahannock River.

What follows throws quick spotlights on the manor houses at Snowden and Fall Hill:

Snowden and Fall Hill on the Nathaniel Michler-compilation map of the Fredericksburg battlefields, 1867. North at top; town of Fredericksburg just off map at lower right. (Red-highlights for Confederate infantry- and artillery fortifications are original to this copy of the map.)

…using a fairly familiar Civil War stereograph–here’s a crop of one of its halves–attributed by the Library of Congress to Timothy O’Sullivan and, I’m guessing, taken sometime between the two battles:

In its background, as shown in the details below, I’ve identified Snowden and Fall Hill, probably for the first time in this particular stereograph.  While the two manor houses remain blurry given the magnification currently available, their visual juxtaposition with familiar buildings down in the town emphasizes the commanding nature of the heights at the two properties, and how that elevation aided the Confederates’ artillery enfilade in 1862 and artillery-infantry defense in 1863:

Continue reading

Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern: Jackson’s Amputation

From Mink:

The first part of this discussion can be found here.

Following his accidental wounding on the night of May 2, Jackson was transported to the Second Corps hospital at Wilderness Tavern. Dr. Hunter H. McGuire, the Medical Director for the Second Corps, oversaw Jackson’s treatment. McGuire first reached the general on the Orange Turnpike just inside the Confederate lines. He sent a courier to Dr. Black at Wilderness Tavern, informing him that Jackson would soon be arriving. According to McGuire, Black “had a large tent prepared with a bed in it (blankets over the bed) and a stove with fire.” Amidst the sprawling hospital complex, the exact site of this tent cannot be pinpointed, but its general location can be determined.

James Power Smith, Jackson’s aide-de-camp and a postwar resident of the Fredericksburg area, later wrote about arriving at the hospital that night:

“Through the night, back over the battle-field of the afternoon, we reached the Wilderness store, and in a field on the north the field-hospital of our corps under Dr. Harvey Black. Here we found a tent prepared…” – James Power Smith,”With Stonewall Jackson,” Southern Historical Society Papers, New Series No. V, Whole Number XLIII, p. 53

David Kyle, who acted as the guide for Jackson during his ill-fated reconnaissance, also described the location of Jackson’s tent:

“…drove on up the pike to the Wilderness Old Tavern, where Mr. W.M. Simms lived at the time. They drove out on the right of the pike in the field to a hospital tent, where they took General Jackson out of the ambulance and carried him into the tent, which was the last I ever saw of him.” – David Kyle, “Jackson’s Guide When Shot,” in Confederate Veteran, Vol. IV, No 9 (September 1896), p. 309

From these two accounts, it’s safe to say that Jackson’s tent, and the site of the amputation of his arm, was on the north side of the Orange Turnpike. Can the location be narrowed down anymore?

In 1936, NPS Historian Ralph Happel looked into the site of Jackson’s amputation. Happel interviewed local residents about their knowledge of the tavern and the Second Corps hospital. Happel made contact with Miss. Anna E. Dempsey, who was born around 1861 and whose brother owned the land north of Wilderness Tavern. Miss Dempsey informed Happel that:

“Jackson’s arm was amputated in the Second Corps field hospital, north of the road and some 175 yards east of the tavern site…This fact I got from Mr. James Power Smith, who often talked of the field location in my presence.” – Ralph Happel, “Report on the Locations of the Old Wilderness Tavern and the Spot Where Jackson’s Arm was Amputated During the Chancellorsville Campaign” (1935, revised 1936). Copy in the CRM Office, FRSP.

According to Miss Dempsey’s information, it would appear that Jackson’s tent was located in the fields north and a couple hundred yards east of Wilderness Tavern.

The red shaded area is the general area where Jackson’s tent was located.

Continue reading

Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern

From Mink:

Wilderness Tavern as depicted in an 1864 sketch by Edwin Forbes.

A series of posts last month looked at the burial and possible re-burial of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s arm (found here, here and here). This post is intended to discuss available information about the Confederate Second Corps hospital established at Wilderness Tavern during the Battle of Chancellorsville, including the location where Jackson’s arm was amputated.

In the wake of Jackson’s May 2, 1863 attack on the Union right at Chancellorsville, medical facilities were immediately secured for the wounded. Places such as Melzi Chancellor’s “Dowdall’s Tavern,” James Talley’s farm, and Wilderness Church became field hospitals for both Confederate and captured Union casualties. The location chosen for the Confederate Second Corps hospital, under charge of Dr. Harvey Black, was at Wilderness Tavern. Wilderness Tavern was a few miles to the rear (west) of the battlefield. It was situated a short distance east of the important road intersection formed by the Orange Turnpike and Germanna Plank Road, and was located across Wilderness Run from the J. Horace Lacy plantation “Ellwood.”

The tavern was a property owned in 1863 by William M. Simms. It consisted of a collection of structures, including a store, house, tavern and several outbuildings.

(Left) Wilderness Tavern in 1866, looking southwest along Orange Turnpike. (Right) Similar view today.

Continue reading

A Camp in the Wilderness: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp MP-4

From Mink:

As mentioned in previous posts, FRSP benefited greatly from the help provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Four individual CCC camps operated in the Fredericksburg area between 1933 and 1942. Three of these were located on FRSP lands – one each on the battlefields of Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

Camp MP-4 was built in Saunders Field, on the north side of State Route 20, of the Wilderness Battlefield. The initials “MP” stood for Military Park. Later the designation and number was changed to NP-24, denoting that the camp served a national park. Camp MP-4 was established October 14, 1933 and until its closing in 1941 five CCC companies rotated through the camp.

The camp’s layout covered nearly all of the northern half of Saunders Field, where on May 5, 1864 the Battle of the Wilderness began.

ca. 1938 aerial photo of CCC Camp MP-4 on Wilderness Battlefield.

The aerial photo shows the camp around 1938, when it was occupied by Company 2329. The red square to the lower left in the photo indicates the current location of the Wilderness Exhibit Shelter. The building in the upper left corner of the photo (marked by the red arrow) is the Camp MP-4 Utility Building, constructed in 1937. It still stands in the woods north of Saunders Field and serves the NPS as a storage building for maintenance equipment.

Built in 1937, the Camp MP-4 Utility Building still stands on the northern edge of Saunders Field.

The original cautionary sign about open flames still hangs on the Utility Building.

Continue reading

Coaxing Second Fredericksburg Out of the Shadows: The Howison Farm, “Braehead”

from: Harrison

The Howison farm, “Braehead,” was on the eve of the Civil War composed of some 600 acres and, on the south side of Hazel Run, at least three clusters of buildings:

— the namesake, brick house (above), built for the Howison family in 1859 and distinguished by tower-like wings.

— a smaller house, perhaps the dwelling of the estate’s overseer or dairyman and designated “Jones” on a Confederate map and in an after-action report.  A pair of outbuildings flanked the Jones House.  (The postwar incarnation of this homestead, whose site now lies within the Fredericksburg Industrial Park, appears to have been destroyed sometime after 1943.  The postwar occupants included a pair of Buckner sisters renowned for their marksmanship and feared by railroad survey-crews and hobos alike.  It is also my understanding that in the mid-1890’s members of the recently formed National Geographic Society picnicked near the house.)

— a large brick barn and at least one additional building–possibly another barn or a dwelling for some of Braehead’s enslaved workers. (The census enumerator counted 14 slaves at the estate in 1860.)  The barn complex probably housed most of the Braehead dairy operation, a major supplier of milk to antebellum Fredericksburg.  (This group of structures was evidently destroyed sometime between 1864 and 1867; their sites are likewise today in the industrial park.)

Continue reading

The railroad bridges over Potomac Creek–bean poles and trusses

By Hennessy:

Made famous by Lincoln’s decision to cross it on foot during his May 23, 1862, visit to Fredericksburg (click here for a post on that), the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac RR bridge over Potomac Creek was oft-sketched, photographed, and written about. Without question it was one of the more remarkable building achievements in the Fredericksburg region–many times over. At least three iterations of the bridge were built by Union engineers during the various Union occupations–once in May 1862, in November 1862, and in May 1864. Images of at least three of them survive.

This image shows the bridge as it appeared in the spring of 1863.

Lincoln's train crosses the bridge, April 5, 1863.

Just a couple weeks later, a photographer took this shot.  Note that the long supports under the trusses have been removed.

Taken in mid-April 1863, after Lincoln's visit.

Here is a view of the bridge in May 1864–after it had been reconstructed in just 40 hours. More than 6,000 Union wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania travelled over this bridge between May 22 and May 26, 1864.

The May 1864 iteration of the bridge. It carried wounded to Aquia Landing.

And then there is this view.  It’s credited to A.J. Russell, either 1862 or 1863–though we know that Russell didn’t begin taking photographs until the spring of 1863.  While it bears resemblance to the 1864 bridge, above, close inspection reveals that it is not the same bridge. Is it the 1862 bridge that Lincoln crossed?  Or perhaps someone out there who knows more about Civil War photography than I do can clue us in.

This image is credited to A.J. Russell, "1862 or 1863."

While I know of no image that is definitively of the “beanpole and cornstalks” bridge described by Lincoln, this image certainly captures the essence (if not the fabric) of what Lincoln likely saw in May 1862–a rather haphazardly built structure, constructed not by engineers but by gangs of detached soldiers. Its designer, Herman Haupt, complained that he could not convince men to go out onto the bridge to complete the bracing. No wonder….

When I sat down to write this, I’d intended to do a full-blown piece in our traditional style. But there’s little need to do that.  The folks over at the Historical Marker Database have already put together a very nice post on this site, including modern images, and I urge you to take a look at it here.  In the meantime, any of you who can offer some illumination on this, we’d be grateful.

Good old days at Salem Church

From Hennessy:


Looking east along Route 3 from the Salem Church ridge. The 15th New Jersey monument is visible in the distance. Salem Church itself is beyond the right edge of the image.


Two forces coincided to lead to the loss of the Salem Church Battlefield and the church’s virtual isolation today. First, an interchange on an interstate highway, built in the 1960s. The power of interchanges to transform the landscapes around them–especially in an aspiring urban area–is inexorable, demonstrated only over time.

Veterans at Salem Church, about 1900. On the gable end, one entrance was for men, the other for women. The entrance on the side led directly to the gallery. It was for slaves.

Second, in the 1960s and 1970s, no one, including the National Park Service, foresaw the transformative forces at work. Though the NPS could have acquired any land it deemed significant on the Salem Church battlefield prior to 1974, it did not have the funds to do so. Given that, and given the incredible economic forces that drive land development on roads leading to major interchanges, no additional land was preserved, and anything not preserved was slated for development. Today the NPS owns about two acres around Salem Church.

A windshield view from the early or mid-20th century, looking west at the Salem Church ridge.

The view westward toward Salem Church after the expansion of Route 3 to four lanes in the early 1960s.

The Salem Church battlefield today. The Confederate battle line extended above and below Salem Church. Union attacks passed from right to left.

The interior of Salem Church remains a powerful place.

The Bone Collectors: Creation of Wilderness Cemetery #1

From Donald Pfanz (for an earlier post on Wilderness Cemetery #2, click here):

[We are very happy to welcome Donald Pfanz to Mysteries and Conundrums. The following is the product of his extensive work on the creation of the National Cemetery, which we’ll soon be publishing as part of our publication series. ]

Skeletons in the Wilderness. Scenes like this stimulated the Federal government to take action, and so they dispatched a regiment to accord the dead proper burial.

In June 1865, in response to clamorous complaints about the dead left unburied on the battlefields around Fredericksburg, the Federal government dispatched the 1st U.S. Veteran Volunteers to undertake reburial of the bodies. The 1st Volunteers reached Fredericksburg late on the afternoon of June 10 and pitched its tents on the south side of the Rappahannock River.  Some wandered the streets of the shell-torn town; others walked across the plain leading to Marye’s Heights, where Union arms had suffered defeat on December 13, 1862.  Unlike the Union soldiers who had perished in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania Court House, most of those who had died at Fredericksburg had been buried immediately after the battle.  William Landon, who had fought at Fredericksburg as a member of the 14th Indiana Infantry, took the opportunity to search the town for the graves of comrades who had fallen there.  He found but one:  Corporal John E. Hutchins of Company B, the “Old Post Guards.”

Landon and his comrades resumed their march the next morning, heading west along one of two roads:  the Orange Turnpike or the Orange Plank Road.  By noon, the First Regiment reached Chancellorsville.  The charred remains of the Chancellor house and the scattered remnants of blankets, knapsacks, and other equipment bore silent witness to the fierce struggle that had been waged there.  Passing on, the regiment reached the Wilderness Battlefield late that afternoon.  The soldiers bivouacked on the northern end of the battlefield at an abandoned goldmine– possibly the Woodville Mine.  No sooner had they arrived than “a crowd of half-starved women and children” and a few men in Confederate uniform flooded into the camp, hoping to trade garden vegetables for food that the soldiers carried in their wagons.  “All the rations we could spare were freely given them,” wrote Landon, but the demand far exceeded the supply and many went away hungry.

Wilderness Cemetery #1, created June 1865, and in existence for just over one year. Brevet Major Moore enclosed Wilderness National Cemetery No. 1 with a simple board fence. Each of the headboards visible in the photograph appears to read: "Uknown U.S. Soldiers Killed May 1864"

Continue reading

One week’s haul: Clara Barton, escaping slaves, and the Union occupation

From Hennessy:

In 1989, Congress expanded the park’s mandate by stipulating that in addition to interpreting the military aspects of the four battles, we will also interpret the war’s impact on civilians.  Fulfilling this mandate has made my job especially interesting–allowing us to look at sites through different thematic lenses and in the process generating a huge body of new source material that at least until Noel Harrison came along, no one paid much mind to.

Though I have been in my job for a very long time, I am constantly amazed at the rate we learn new things–the rate at which new material tumbles into our hands. Some of that material brings new light to well-known stories or places; sometimes something entirely new turns up. The historical record grows, and so does our understanding of the resources we manage and interpret.  Along the way, the scope of our interpretive programs has broadened (without, by the way, diminishing what we do in the realm of military history); the incoming source material has added immensely to the richness and variety of our programs.

This week is a perfect example of the flow of new stuff. This picture came from the files of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.

Courtesy Historic Fredericksburg Foundation

It demonstrates vividly that I have been wrong in my presumed location of the Maria Wolfe house on Princess Anne Street–one of four buildings in Fredericksburg definitively associated with Clara Barton. I had presumed the house still stood next to the Baptist Church–that it was was and is the place now occupied by Micah Ministries. Instead, this image clearly shows that Wolfe’s house once stood where the church offices are, and is gone. Here’s one of those awkward cases where not only does something add to your knowledge, but it shows you were WRONG.  But, we will be right henceforth. Here is a better picture of the now-vanished house, provided to us by Dennis Sacrey of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.

The Maria Wolfe house on Princess Anne Street. Courtesy Dennis Sacrey and the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.

Poking around on, Eric Mink turned up the claim filed by grocer John B. Alexander of Fredericksburg for four slaves who were “abducted, harbored, and carried off” by the Union army in July and December of 1862. We know, of course, that these slaves (Frances, Betty, George, and Horace) were probably not “abducted,” but rather opted for freedom within Union lines themselves–part of one of the park’s most powerful emerging stories. I wish I had found this before my Slavery and Slave Places tour a few weeks ago.

An item like this helps us illustrate several things: the exodus of slaves that attended the arrival of the Union army, the obvious struggle and challenges the end of slavery posed for local slaveowners, and–most vividly–the idea that slavery was far more than just the relationship between owner, overseer, and slave. As Alexander’s claim shows, slavery was (even before the founding of the Confederacy) sustained by the power of government. Alexander’s claim (click here to see a transcript) seeks reimbursement from the Confederate government for the value of these people (a total of $3,500, as attested by local slave trader George Aler).

(Eric also turned up a document reflecting on the Confederate field hospital where Jackson was treated at Chancellorsville, but that’s worth a separate post of its own.)

click to enlarge

And finally, I received yesterday from Breck O’Donnell, a high school student who is plowing through issues of the Richmond Examiner for Fredericksburg material, a copy of what is likely the best single Fredericksburg-written account of the Union occupation of 1862. It was originally published in the Virginia Herald of Fredericksburg in September 1862.  No copies of that paper survive from the war period, and so this find is especially useful. It is full of both new details and editorial commentary, much of it wonderful. Among the review of perceived Union atrocities: “The living were prohibited from visiting the dying, and that too when the houses were almost in sight’ the dead were not allowed the privilege of Christian sepulture, inasmuch as at least one coffin was refused the privilege of passing out from town for the corpse awaiting it in the country.”

We’ll be publishing it in the upcoming CVBT journal, Fredericksburg History and Biography.  It’s a wonderful piece.