The final journey of Captain Edward P. Lawton (part 2)

From John Hennessy (for part 1 of this post, click here):

Col. William W. Teall, who escorted Evelina Lawton across the Rappahannock

Evelina Lawton’s southbound journey from Alexandria with her husband’s corpse had a stunningly empty conclusion. After the train from Aquia Landing  pulled into Falmouth Station (where the Eagles Lodge now stands on Cool Spring Road), the train emptied, leaving her alone in the car with the coffin. Union colonel Teall, the fatherly looking son-in-law of General Sumner, arrived at the station expecting to find two other women bound for Confederate lines. Instead, he found Mrs. Lawton, alone, “attired in deep mourning.” He took her hand, which “she extended with such an air of sadness, even despair.” Teall called for the officer of the day, and soon Mrs. Lawton and the coffin were on the platform, with an honor guard over them. They shortly departed for the Phillips House, Sumner’s headquarters. “She seems so thankful and submissive,” Teall wrote that night. Captain Lawton’s coffin sat in an ambulance on the slope in front of Phillips house.

The Phillips House

It was too late to arrange for a crossing that day, so Teall made arrangements for the following morning–determined, he told his wife, to “place this sorrowing woman on her homeward journey with all the kindness and attention  I should hope you would received were you in her place.”

He summoned 20 men from the 10th New York Infantry, the National Zouaves, as an escort, and summoned an ambulance pulled by four white horses.

“After giving the order to proceed I took my seat beside her & this little procession moved slowly towards the river. Continue reading

An astounding contrast of rancor and humanity: the rage of Arabella Pettit and the final Journey of Captain Edward P. Lawton (Part 1)

Union troops enjoying the spoils of their looting on lower Caroline Street.

By John Hennessy:

The plight of Fredericksburg civilians in the fall of 1862 inspired Arabella Pettit of Fluvanna County, Virginia, to outrage toward the Yankee perpetrators. She wrote to her artilleryman husband,“Shoot them, dear husband, every chance you get.”  Foreseeing that she and her family might be next, Arabella urged her husband, “It is God’s will and wish for you to destroy them.  You are his instrument and it is your Christian duty.  Would that I may be allowed to take up arms, I would fight them, until I died.”

Perhaps more so than any battle in the East, Fredericksburg inspired a new wave of rancor among Southerners. The damage to the town by bombardment, the pointed destruction by looting Yankees, and the image of civilian refugees fleeing to the countryside combined to fire Southerners like Arabella Pettit with a deep mixture of fear and anger. It was this fury, rather than the fraternal sentiments so common in postwar recollections, that characterized the Civil War at its core. There is no other imaginable accompaniment to the slaughter of more than 200,000 men on America’s battlefield.

But, as we have often pointed out, the Civil War was a complicated mix of emotion, fact, imagination, policy, motivation, and acts innumerable. We are all tempted to shop the historical landscape for a story or passage that validates our notion of what the war was and what it was about. Such things help us to see things in simpler, often more comfortable terms. America has made a sport of this exercise over the decades, as we struggle to understand a political and human disaster whose intensity and nature seems to many to be entirely un-American in its nature.

But the war defies simplicities. It was, for example, simultaneously a war for independence, a war for the Union, a war for emancipation, a war to sustain slavery and white supremacy, and a war that would define the extent and reach of the federal government. It was also a war of intense cruelty and expressions of great humanity.  Contradictions and odd admixtures like these render the war both defiant of easy understanding and the object of intense interest. Thoughtful people struggle to reconcile and understand. The less thoughtful among us simply seize one and assert it over all others.

Just a few days after Arabaella Pettit penned her memorable, rancorous mandate to her husband, the same Union army that she and millions of other Southerners pilloried undertook an unprecedented (at least for Virginia) gesture that gave even the most bitter Southerners pause.

Captain Edward P. Lawton, mortally wounded at the Slaughter Pen on December 13, 1862.

In the fighting that raged on the south end of the battlefield on December 13, 1862, Captain Edward P. Lawton, a staff officer in the brigade once commanded by his brother Alexander, fell wounded in the fighting in what we know today as the Slaughter Pen Farm. Lawton fell at the farthest advance of his brigade, virtually among the Union batteries west of the Bowling Green Road. His brigade of Georgians soon were driven back, and the Brown-educated Lawton fell into Union hands. They apparently cared for him well, though his case was hopeless, with a wound somewhere near the spine, paralyzed on one side. He was taken across the river and, at some point in the next several days, transferred by rail and boat to a hospital in Alexandria. Unbeknownst to the Confederates, he died there on December 26, 1862. Continue reading

Souvenir Battlefield Photos – 1887

Eric J. Mink

As described in a prior post (found here), a large group of Massachusetts veterans traveled to the Fredericksburg area in May 1887. Their visit to the local battlefields wrapped up a weeklong trip to Virginia that started in Norfolk, took them to Petersburg and Richmond, before arriving in Fredericksburg.

Among the party were two photographers. William H. Tipton, the famed photographer of the battlefield at Gettysburg is highlighted in the prior post.  The second photographer chronicling the veterans’ excursion was Frederick H. Foss of Dover, New Hampshire. A veteran of the war, Foss joined the 56th Massachusetts Infantry in March 1864, accepting a $325 bounty. He suffered a gunshot wound, which resulted in the loss of an index finger, at Bethesda Church on May 31, 1864. After the war, Foss lived in Dover, New Hampshire and made his living as a photographer.  The list of attendees for the May 1887 visit to the Fredericksburg area does list Foss as being present.

Both Tipton and Foss marketed for sale the images they made on this trip. The two men used their lenses to record similar, but different, things, however. Tipton appears to have been more interested in landscape images of the battlefields that might appeal to a broad audience. Foss, on the other hand, took numerous photos of excursion members, thus chronicling the visit and marketing his photos as souvenirs of the trip.

Foss’s “List of Views” from that trip shows that he offered copies of 25 photos from the visit, including scenes from Petersburg, Richmond area battlefields, and the Fredericksburg area battlefields.


Foss Catalog

Continue reading

Grand finale at Sherwood Forest

From John Hennessy:

The kitchen qaurters are obscured by trees.

Last night we held our final History at Sunset of the 2011 season–a tour at Sherwood Forest in Stafford County.  We have written about Sherwood before, and the Free Lance-Star did a very nice lead-in piece earlier this week, which you can find here. The FLS article helps explain the immense turnout we had last night: 335 people, which is by a wide margin the biggest turnout we have ever had for a History at Sunset program in the ten years of the series. Because of a momentary collision between my leg and my chainsaw earlier this week (I will be fine–just needs healing), Donald Pfanz jumped in and and with Caity Stuart did the program.

Several months ago Sherwood Forest was named by Preservation Virginia as one of the state’s most endangered historic sites. We’ll share more about this profoundly significant and compelling place going forward.

Once again–and despite some real challenges with heat and storms–this year’s History at Sunset program was another resounding success, averaging more than 140 per program. This is exceptionally impressive because many of the programs were at Wilderness, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania, which traditionally attract smaller crowds, but not this year. The park staff meets on September 2 to start planning next year’s programs, so all ideas are welcome.

The area of Sherwood Forest today

Gettysburg battlefield photographer visits Spotsylvania County – 1887

From Eric Mink:

Students, historians, and collectors of Civil War battlefield photography are quite familiar with the name William H. Tipton. He was one of the most prolific postwar photographers in Gettysburg, Penn. and his landscape images are quite sought after, as they are wonderful documents in helping understand the sites of that battlefield. Little known, however, is the fact that he lugged his camera to historic sites outside of South Central Penn., including an 1887 visit to the battlefields around Fredericksburg.

On May 5, 1887, a train from Richmond arrived at the Fredericksburg station. Among its passengers were approximately one hundred Union veterans on an excursion to visit Virginia’s battlefields. Most of these men were veterans of the 57th and 59th Massachusetts regiments and they had, prior to their arrival in Fredericksburg, visited the battlefields around Petersburg and Richmond. Their trip brought them to the Fredericksburg area for the same purpose. They spent two days touring the local battlefields and revisiting sites that many of them had not seen since the war. The Fredericksburg Free Lance covered their visit, describing the places they went and even listing the members of the party. Included in that list was “W.H. Tipton, photographer from Gettysburg.” Fortunately for us 125 years later, Tipton wasn’t merely sightseeing, but was capturing on glass those sites that he saw.

Upon arrival in Fredericksburg, the group immediately headed to Spotsylvania Court House. The first site they chose to visit was the “Bloody Angle” at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. (This photo complements one that John Hennessy posted a couple weeks ago and can be found here.)

Bloody Angle Tipton Blog Post

“Bloody Angle Spottsylvania May 5th 1887. Near the stump of tree shot down by bullets; the but of the tree, 15 inches in diameter is in the National Museum in Washington.” Typed label pasted on photo mount.

Continue reading

Are there soldiers buried in the backyards of Fredericksburg?

From Eric Mink:

While landscaping her backyard last year, a resident on Caroline Street in downtown Fredericksburg turned up numerous large pieces of partially worked granite. All of them were irregularly shaped, with the exception of one piece that measured six inches square and had a finished face, on which a series of numbers had been chiseled. A call to the National Park Service resulted in a visit and determination that the granite block was the top of an unknown gravestone from a national cemetery. There are often two numbers carved into these stones. The top number identifies the grave, while the bottom number identifies the number of individuals buried in the grave. In this case, there was only one number – 2694. That meant that the stone was intended for grave 2694, which contained only one burial. A quick trip to the cemetery revealed that that particular grave is marked with an identical stone.


Identical stones. The one on the left currently marks the grave in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The one on the right was found in the yard of a house on Caroline Street – 2010

Continue reading

A cool find at Gettysburg–bullets in a Culp’s Hill tree

This just across the NPS wire–from a Gettysburg press release.

Bob Jones of Gettysburg with a bullet in a tree on Culp's Hill

Gettysburg, Pa. — With Civil War commemorations planned throughout the nation for the next four years, employees at Gettysburg National Military Park just got a reminder that the past is still with us.  Park maintenance employees were cutting through a fallen oak tree on Culp’s Hill when the chain saw hit bullets.“Culp’s Hill is one of the areas on the Gettysburg battlefield that saw intense fighting in July 1863,” said Bob Kirby, Superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.  “One hundred years ago it was commonplace to find bullets in Gettysburg trees but this is a rarity today.”The discovery was made on August 4, 2011, as maintenance employees cut a fallen oak tree that was resting on a boulder next to the Joshua Palmer marker on the east slope of Culp’s Hill summit.  Two sections of the tree trunk where the bullets were discovered have been moved to the park’s museum collections storage facility.  As a relic of the Battle of Gettysburg, the tree sections with bullets will be treated to remove insects and mold and then added to the museum collections at Gettysburg National Military Park.  

Due to the steep slope, most of the fallen tree was left in place and will remain there, according to National Park Service officials.

A number of witness trees on the Gettysburg battlefield have been well known and frequently pointed out for years during battlefield tours.  In addition, National Park Service employees often identify previously unknown Witness Trees during preparatory work for battlefield rehabilitation efforts, a program where the park re-opens historic meadows and farm fields to restore the historic integrity of the 1863 battlefield and to improve the visitors’ understanding of what happened during the fighting of the epic Civil War battle.