“If these signatures could talk…”: Falmouth Graffiti, Part 2

From Mink:

Another example of soldier graffiti in Falmouth can be found here

Union Church in Falmouth - ca1880s.

Churches seem to have been a favorite target for soldier graffiti during the Civil War. This was most likely due to the fact that as they did not contain residents, the buildings were unoccupied and thus easy targets for vandalism. Additionally, churches were often used as hospitals and barracks, where soldiers spent much idle time. In the Fredericksburg area, we have examples of soldier graffiti at Massaponax and Salem Churches in Spotsylvania County, as well as Aquia Church in Stafford County. Add to that list Union Church in Falmouth.

Built around 1820, Union Church served the Falmouth community for over 130 years. Union Church is actually the third house of worship constructed on the hill overlooking Falmouth. At the time of its construction, the Falmouth community did not contains members of any one single congregation to warrant a church devoted to either the Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian faiths. Union Church served all three congregations.

Upon arrival of Union troops in the spring of 1862, Union Church served the occupying forces as a hospital. Union forces also used it as a barracks, housing Union soldiers on picket duty along the Rappahannock River. One regiment to occupy the building was the 7th Michigan Infantry. This regiment had been the first to cross the river opposite the upper end of Fredericksburg on December 11, 1862.

7th Michigan Monument at the site of the upper pontoon crossing - Fredericksburg.

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The Many Stories of the Upper Pontoon Crossing (Part Four: Changing a Battlefield, in Art…and in the Dirt)

From: Harrison

I’d like to offer a (long-delayed) conclusion to my discussion of the Upper Pontoon Crossing by considering how a particular Civil War site becomes obscured or altered through changes in art and also on the land.  At the pontoon crossing such changes, while subtle or rarely noticed today, nonetheless represent early, or underlying, stages of ways through which our perceptions of a historic place could shift markedly or even come into conflict.

(This blog and its sister blog, Fredericksburg Remembered, have recently explored two dramatic and “matured” examples of other types of processes leading to altered or contested understandings of Civil War-era sites: the Fredericksburg “Slave-Auction Block,” with narratives coming to be woven around a particular artifact; and the treatment given Union wounded in front of the Sunken Road and Stone Wall in December 1862, with some narratives coming to overshadow others and inspire postwar sculpture and other artforms.)

My previous three posts on the Upper Pontoon Crossing included discussions of wartime topography.  A quick review:  in the wake of the Federal army’s cross-river assault and bridge-building there in December 1862, major landscape features on the Fredericksburg side of the Rappahannock included Sophia Street, the ruins of the Scott Tenement, the probable (crescent-shaped) outline of the Union bridge-stockade’s foundation, and the lane that extended Hawke Street down to the river’s edge.  I annotated those features on a photograph of the pontoon crossing, taken during a flag-of-truce exchange sometime after the December battle:

Let’s now consider a few of the changes occurring at the site following the battle, beginning with changes made through art.  My first post on the pontoon crossing included this pre-battle Harper’s Weekly woodcut depicting the Federal blockhouse and stockade, built in the late-spring or summer of 1862:

The pair of structures had disappeared by the time of the photograph taken after the December 1862 battle.  But were the two structures present at the battle’s onset, on December 11?  If so, the stockade and blockhouse, while small, would have been key elements of the local terrain, offering clear fields-of-fire and tempting fortifications to the Confederates who opposed the Federals’ crossing efforts–tempting, I’m guessing, no matter how illusory the structures’ protection ultimately proved in the face of concentrated artillery fire.  The stockade and blockhouse, if those survived the bombardment, would next have offered immediate protection to men of the Seventh Michigan Infantry, who ferried over the Rappahannock and then battled up from the water’s edge towards Sophia Street.

Written evidence for the presence of at  least one of the two structures during the battle may include the account of a Pennsylvanian who visited the same area in the wake of the December 11 combat and noted a dead soldier beside a “block-house.”  The Pennsylvanian, however, left unclear whether he referred to the military building on the riverbank or to a civilian building situated somewhere in the vicinity of the crossing and reinforced for defensive purposes by Confederates.
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“I was in the Secret Service of the Army of the Potomac…” – Isaac Silver of Spotsylvania County, Part 2

From Mink:

Part 1 can be read here.

Joseph Hooker had ordered the creation of the Bureau of Military Information under Colonel George H. Sharpe. Even after Hooker’s removal from command of the Army of the Potomac, Sharpe stayed on as the head of the bureau and Isaac Silver continued to work for it.

Not much is known about Silver’s activities during the period between the Battle of Chancellorsville and the spring of 1864. He must certainly have been working for Sharpe, as his neighbor Ebenezer McGee is known to have acted as a guide for the Army of the Potomac during the Mine Run campaign in November and the Ulric Dahlgren Raid in March. McGee is reported to have been killed during the latter operation.

Monument at the site of Ebeneezer McGee's Spotsylvania home.

The spring offensive brought the Union army once again into Silver’s backyard. In a postwar deposition, Silver claimed that he was “a guide for Gen. Sheridan at the time of the battle of Spottsylvania Court House in May 1864. He was at my house.”

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“I was in the Secret Service of the Army of the Potomac…” – Isaac Silver of Spotsylvania County, Part 1

From Mink:

Isaac Silver of Spotsylvania County.

During the Civil War, loyalties in the Fredericksburg area were not entirely behind the Confederacy. There was a small community of northern born farmers and merchants who not only supported the Union, but actively worked for the Union war effort. Most prominent among these loyal Yankees was Isaac Silver, a native of New Jersey who moved to Spotsylvania in the 1850s and owned a farm along Orange Plank Road in the Chancellorsville area.

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The Sesquicentennial hereabouts–Years of Anguish: The Coming Storm

From Hennessy:

Just a slight diversion to let you know of a new site we have put together to update folks on the 150th observances in the Fredericksburg-Stafford-Spotsylvania Region.  You can find the site here

We’ll not be too chatty about things over there–the purpose of the site is largely functional.  If you have questions, do let us know. 

The venue for Years of Anguish: The Coming Storm, November 20

The first event is set for November 20, with Drs. Bill Freehling and George Rable coming to join us in a discussion about secession and the election of 1860 as it played out on the national, state, and local level.  It’s the first of eight planned speaker’s forums in a series called Years of Anguish. The subtitle on this one:  The Coming Storm

The afternoon sessions will be preceded by a walk-around at Brompton, the home of Fredericksburg’s delegate to the 1861 secession conventions.  All these events are free, though we do ask that you pre-register for the afternoon speaker’s forum at the Baptist Church (a wonderful historic building, about which we have written a fair amount here).  We are excited to be able to combine the combination of powerful minds and powerful places to help convey a greater understanding of this story.  We hope to see all of you on November 20.

“If these signatures could talk…”: Falmouth Graffiti, Part 1

From Mink:

Falmouth, as viewed from east of the village – ca1880s.

The village of Falmouth, Virginia sits along the left bank of the Rappahannock River one to two miles upstream from Fredericksburg. Established in the early 18th century along a river ford, Falmouth enjoyed the benefits of being situated along a major avenue for regional traffic. 19th century roads, railroads and a canal, however, all bypassed Falmouth and linked Fredericksburg with other communities. By the Civil War, Fredericksburg eclipsed Falmouth as a regional commerce center.

When the Union army arrived in the spring of 1862, Falmouth consisted of a small collection of houses, warehouses, a church and other buildings. The river ford was important to the armies and Falmouth became a strategic location. Some of the soldiers, who spent their time here, left their names to be remembered 150 years later.

A handful of antebellum structures remains in Falmouth. Located at the intersection of King Street and Cambridge Street is a small non-descript brick warehouse. The warehouse is known locally as “Lightner’s Store,” named for its 20th century owners and use. Some sources place its construction in the 1830s by the wealthy entrepreneur Basil Gordon. During the Civil War it was the property of Duff Green.

On the front of the warehouse, next to one of the doors, is the faint remnant of graffiti left by a Union soldier.

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