Visual evidence of learning–the Fairgrounds by O’Reilly

From John Hennessy:

Last May, we did a two-part series on the Fredericksburg Fairgrounds (often called Mercer Square), which consumed much of what we now know as the Bloody Plain.  Take a look at those posts here and here. Included in the second is a conjectural sketch done by Frank O’Reilly that included his best estimate, then, of the Fairgrounds.  Here is the image as published back in May (click to enlarge).

You will recall that this image was created as a reference for an original piece of art that is still in development. Since then, we have learned more about the Fairgrounds, most notably in the form of a sketch done by a visitor during the Confederate encampment there in 1861, published in the Library of Virginia’s magazine, Broadside. Here is that image (the original is at the Huntington Library). 

The Fairgrounds in April 1861, by a member of the 21st Virginia. The view looks south, from above the Stratton House.

This by far is the best image we have of the Fairgrounds, and it has further refined our understanding of the Fairgrounds complex as it existed in 1861. Frank, a skilled sketch artist, has gone ahead and embodied all that we now know in a new sketch, which we share here.

Looking southeast from above Brompton. Click to enlarge.

Such is the progression of our learning and understanding, in this instance fortuitously embodied in art for all to see.


7 thoughts on “Visual evidence of learning–the Fairgrounds by O’Reilly

  1. Hi John. Great post, as usual. Question. Do you assess that this what the Fairgrounds looked like in the Spring of 1861? I ask because one would assume that the pretty wooden fence would not survive long given the various military encampments in the area in 1861-62. And by December 1862, one would assume the Fairgrounds area would have been well trodden. Also, I always assumed the Stratton House Orchard was larger and extended closer to the Stonewall versus what the sketch depicts.

    • Todd: Yes, this is emphatically the spring of 1861. When the Confederates abandoned Fredericksburg in early 1862, they burned much of what might have been useful at the Fairgrounds. By the time of the battle in December, all that remained were some of the fences–some of which receive prominent mention in Union accounts. As for the size of the Stratton Orchard, I think the maps are fairly consistent about it, and they do indeed seem to suggest it was a bit bigger than represented here. We’ll work on that.

  2. These sketches are great and very helpful. I’ve been re-constructing (or attempting to re-construct) the area from the crest of Marye’s Heights, over the Innis and Stephens Houses, and eastward just past the Stratton House (ending at the Swale). It has been very difficult finding various shots of both Stephens and Stratton House from the 1860’s as you know. I was wondering if anyone knows where one might find more detailed information regarding these various structures. So far, this blog has been the most comprehensive website for the Battle of Fredericksburg that I’ve found. Thank you for the references and very detailed information.

  3. This is very interesting. I have been researching the Fifth NH at Fredericksburg, particularly the death of Capt. James B. Perry in the rear of the Stratton house. There is a good account of his death in the Fifth regimental, and I am aware of one other account from another Fifth officer. Both mention the fence at the rear of the Stratton house? I would like to find any accounts from the Confederate side if possible.

  4. Frank. Totally appreciate your work on the fair ground. Could I and Martha McCartney get your permission to use your drawing in a publiation that we are doing for the Archaeological Society of Virginia that reviews the work that we did for the FSNMP between 2000 and 2004. Clarence Geier

  5. Dr. Geier, Thank you for your question. Frank does not access nor regularly contribute to this blog. I recommend that you reach him via the park’s email-messaging link . That way, too, you can provide your best, current reply address/contact-info, which he may not have, in a secure fashion, and receive the most timely response, since I understand that he is currently on leave or on travel.
    Noel H.

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