Escape to Spotsylvania and beyond: the geography of Fredericksburg’s refugees


From John Hennessy:

On December 12, 1862, the roads leading into Spotsylvania were crowded with civilians seeking escape from looming battle. There was no system to this exodus. People headed to friends’ homes, to churches, and to the homes of strangers, seeking shelter. There are many affecting descriptions of civilians finding their way across the early winter landscape of Spotsylvania (read one of the best in this post over at Fredericksburg Remembered), but our purpose today is to look at least at a few of the sites that help define the geography of the exodus so far as we know it.

By far the most famous of Fredericksburg’s refugees on December 11 and 12, 1862, was Jane Beale and her family. They lived on Lewis Street and endured most of December 11 in their basement, under fire. As the Union army battled its way across the river and into Fredericksburg’s streets, Beale, assisted by Rev. Beverley Tucker Lacy, fled in a wagon brought by Confederate soldiers.

The family’s path out of town is clear: over to Hanover Street, westward to what is today Kirkland Street, left on the Sunken Road, and then to a temporary camp established by refugees on the back side of Willis Hill–today’s National Cemetery. She wrote vividly about the place.

Continue reading

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Images of Destruction on the anniversary of the bombardment


From Hennessy:  [click on images to enlarge them]

On this the 148th Anniversary of the bombardment of Fredericksburg, I thought it might be timely to revisit a post we did back in April on battle damage in town.

Today, few visible examples of external battle damage survive in Fredericksburg.  I am aware of only a few buildings that show it, and then only subtly.  It’s a different story on the interior of buildings in town.  Probably dozens still bear scars, and many owners consciously preserve the evidence of battle.  The Baptist Church has spectacular damage in its steeple; the courthouse bears scars, as does the Rising Sun tavern–both in their roof structures.  One of our hopes is to do a photographic inventory of all the battle damage in town, and perhaps even some online videos that document some of it.  More on that another day.

The upper pontoon crossing, below Chatham--at the base of Hawke Street.

At the height of the Union bombardment on December 11, as many as 100 shells a minute exploded over town (so says E.P. Alexander).  It’s likely virtually every building in town suffered some damage.  A search of tax records indicates about 100 taxable buildings were either destroyed or so heavily damaged that they had to be pulled down–about 10% of the town.  Bear in mind that not all these buildings were destroyed by Union fire.  The Confederates fired into town too over the next four days; I would estimate that about one-quarter of the town’s damage came from Confederate guns, and on the outskirts of town, below Marye’s Heights, the vast majority of damage came from the Confederates, as Russ Smith pointed out in the discussion of the Sandy Bottom image the other day.

Accounts of the destruction are vivid, but in fact photographers who came to the town in 1863 and 1864 recorded few images intended to document it specifically.  Four images are known, including three images taken on lower Caroline Street–one of which I include here (this is of 136-138 Caroline, which still stands in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town).

Despite the photographers’ inattention to battle-damaged buildings, a close look at some of the many panoramic images begins to hint at the extent of the destruction in Fredericksburg.  Take, for example, this blow-up from the now-familiar panorama taken from just below the ruined railroad bridge.

There, just above the dangling terminus of the railroad bridge, is a lonely chimney, the remnant of what had been a rental property owned by John L. Marye (exactly who lived in the house we cannot determine).   Continue reading

The canal boat bridge at Fredericksburg: slaves, Lincoln, and details innumerable (part 1)


From John Hennessy and Paul Nasca (for Part 2 of this post, click here):

We are glad to be joined for this post by Paul Nasca, the field archeologist at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood home on the Rappahannock River–a site operated by the George Washington Foundation. For the past many years, Paul has led the excavations that have revealed the original site of the Washington home and myriad other features on the site. A constant presence in his work has been evidence of the use of Ferry Farm during the Civil War, which in turn has led him into an exploration of the people and events associated with the war and that site. He shares an aspect of that work here.  (If you get the chance, stop by Ferry Farm to see the very nice exhibit they have done on the farm in the Civil War.)  Much of what you are about to read is the product of his work and mind.  We are also grateful to Marc Storch, a fine historian of the Civil War, for allowing us to share the canal boat bridge image from his collection.

Photo courtesy Marc Storch.

This image is the only photograph of perhaps the most notable and famous bridge built at Fredericksburg by the Union army during the mid-1862 occupation. After the first Union troops arrived on April 18, General Irvin McDowell summoned a supply of canal boats from Washington D.C. to build a bridge. Occupied Fredericksburg would eventually have four bridges: the railroad bridge, a pontoon bridge at the base of Hawke Street for passing troops into and out of town, a rebuilt Chatham Bridge—apparently in part for the use of civilians—and the canal boat bridge, sturdy enough to carry heavy wagons, cavalry, and artillery across the river. These canal boats brought to Fredericksburg may have been the very canal boats McClellan had intended to use to build a similar bridge at Harper’s Ferry the previous month, but found that they would not fit through one of the lift locks on the C&O canal.  The canal boats arrived on April 24, and by early May the bridge was complete. On May 23 President Abraham Lincoln crossed this bridge during his visit to Fredericksburg. Surely escaping slaves passed in the opposite direction. And all the while passed the traffic–supplies, guns and soldiers–needed to sustain the occupation of Fredericksburg. There was hardly a busier place in the region.

The bridge shown in this image is the second iteration of the canal boat bridge.  Continue reading

The view from (and of) Chatham–a conundrum


From John Hennessy:

The view from the terraces at Chatham. Photo by Donald Pfanz.

It is perhaps the most famous, photographed view in the Fredericksburg region: from Chatham’s middle terrace, looking over the cannons, across the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg, with its skyline featuring the three dominant elements that have marked it since 1855–the Baptist Church, St. George’s Episcopal Church, and the Circuit Courthouse. But, while it’s pleasing and useful, it’s not the most important view related to Chatham.

The view from the slopes in front of Chatham, 1863--devoid of trees.

Think for a moment about the great antebellum plantations. Most of them have a signature element that bespeaks the owners’ wealth and power. Kenmore has its stunning plaster work inside. Mannsfield was an elaborate, elegant place built of a material (sandstone) almost unheard of it major construction in the Fredericksburg region. Shirley has its exquisite woodwork.

But what about Chatham? What’s its signature? Continue reading

Digging Mannsfield


From John Hennessy (click here for a short prior post on an artifact from Mannsfield). Information on Mannsfield’s location and current condition is at the end of this post. Please remember that the site of Mannsfield is on private property and not accessible to the public.

Spotsylvania has been particularly hard-hit by the loss of historic homes over the decades. In some areas, you can travel miles without coming upon an antebellum home–this on a landscape that was once liberally dotted with them. Some succumbed to war, more to neglect. And a few disappeared to the bulldozer’s blade. Of all those that have vanished, none in its day shined more brightly than Mannsfield.

The remains of Mannsfield, probably in the 1870s. The ruins of the big house are at center; the north wing at left, and the south wing on just on the right edge. These ruins stood until the 1920s.

It stood about two miles south of downtown Fredericksburg, on the banks of the Rappahannock River.  Mannsfield is today most famous as the site where Union general George Dashiel Bayard was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg–he was mortally wounded in he front yard and died just four days before what was to have been his wedding day. But, in fact, Mannsfield was probably the most impressive antebellum plantation in the Fredericksburg region, and one of the oldest, too. It was built in 1765-1766 for Mann Page III,* and it was close to being a literal copy of Richmond County’s Mount Airy, where Page’s mother grew up a Tayloe (the only major difference I can see is the design of the riverside entryway–otherwise the places seem to have been identical; Mount Airy still stands). Page was the Fredericksburg region’s first congressman, selected to the Continental Congress in 1777, at age 28. He died in 1803 and is buried in the nearby family cemetery–the only surviving feature of the Mannsfield complex.

Stuart Barnetts romantic vision of the west (front) facade of Mannsfield, showing the main house and wings.

The house was anything but understated, built of sandstone blocks with two advanced, detached wings linked to the main house by a circular covered walkway. In the main house was nearly 7,000 square feet of living space, plus an elaborate basement. By the time of the Civil War (when Arthur Bernard owned it), thirty outbuildings sprawled across Mannsfield’s 1,800 acres (one of the biggest plantations around), including a stable, corn house, machine house, three barns,  dairy, garden office, pump house, meat house, three poultry houses, ice house, a private owner’s stable, carriage house, overseer’s house, blacksmith shop, tobacco house, and six slave cabins (the site of some of these cabins, which in 1860 housed some of Bernard’s 77 slaves, is in the park off Lee Drive). Mannsfield’s prominence guaranteed it got attention in both peace and war. Washington reputedly visited here; so too did Union luminaries in 1862. For long stretches of 1862 and 1863, the house was in Confederate hands. Indeed, it was by the hands of Confederate pickets that the big house burned, accidentally, in early April 1863.

The standing ruins, looking at the west facade--looking southeast likely in the 1870s. The north wing is at left, the ruins of the big house faintly visible at center, and he remnants of the south wing at right.

The ruins of the main house and the decaying remnants of the wings stood for six decades, until the early 1920s when artist Gari Melchers of Belmont acquired the accessible stone from the then landowner, R.A. James. According to local news reports, Melchers used stone from Mannsfield to build his new studio on the grounds of Belmont. Some of it also ended up in local buildings, like this one on Virginia Ave–near upper Princess Anne Street.

A decade later, the National Park Service undertook a well-photographed investigation of Mannsfield. Continue reading

A stunning artifact from Mannsfield…now lost


John Hennessy (for a more extensive post on the 1930s investigations at Mannsfield, click here):

An artist's conception of Mannsfield in the 18th Century

Of all of the Fredericksburg region’s historic homes, likely none exceeded Mannsfield for beauty, complexity, and elegance. Built about 1770 at the behest of Mann Page, it was of cut sandstone, with by some accounts marble floors–a large home with forward-sitting flanking dependencies.  It stood about a mile downstream from Fredericksburg on the banks of the Rappahannock.  The site of Mannsfield was destroyed by gravel and sand mining after 1934, but before it disappeared the National Park Service conducted one of the most extensive archeological excavations in this region’s history. We’ll have a good deal more to say about that in a post I’m now putting together, but in the meantime I wanted to share this rather stunning image I found as I rooted through materials related to the Mannsfield dig.

This appears to be the gravestone  of one of Mann Page’s slave, simply and crudely carved but much of it clearly read:

Mary  the daughter of   William the gardener     and Eanness (?)

Departed this life…1784 (?)

I have seen few artifacts as powerful and evocative as this, clearly done by someone with no expertise in stonecarving but possessed of a determination to memorialize a death nonetheless.

The Mannsfield dig produced thousands of artifacts, some of them, like this, spectacular–all of them once in the hands of the National Park Service. But where are they now?  What  happened to this headstone?  Where exactly was it found? Does it survive–and can we get it back to Fredericksburg as one of the great slave artifacts ever uncovered in this community?

I’m not optimistic we can discover the fate or, better, location of the collection, but we’ll work on it and keep you informed of our quest to solve this little mystery (and if you’d like to help, let us know).

In the meantime, have any of you ever seen anything like this headstone?