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

From Eric Mink:

For previous posts documenting soldier graffiti in the Fredericksburg area, including Aquia Church in Stafford County, click here.

The Union Army of the Potomac arrived in Stafford County in November 1862 and stayed through the following June. In excess of 120,000 Union soldiers occupied Stafford and their presence devastated farms, woodlots and forced many families to flee their homes. The camps of this massive army spread across the woods and fields of the eastern portion of the county, taking advantage of the transportation lines of the Potomac River and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.

To protect itself, the army set up exterior lines of defense that guarded approaches from the north, south and west. The duty to patrol and picket this outer perimeter fell, most often, to the cavalry. Aquia Church’s location, north of Stafford Court House, placed it close to those picket lines and made it a logical campsite for Union horsemen. In early February 1863, Colonel Thomas C. Devin’s Second Brigade, First Division of the Cavalry Corps took advantage of Aquia Church, as one Pennsylvania trooper called it “a beautiful place, located on high ground in a fine oak grove.”

Aquia Church – Stafford, Va.

Reverend Henry Wheeler, Chaplain of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, seized the opportunity to use the church for its intended purposes.

“I found a guard placed there by General [Thomas L.] Kane, to protect the church. I went to General Kane and obtained an interview with him. I asked him to give me permission to use the church for religious purposes. He said, ‘I sent a guard there without being asked to do so by the vestry, and of course I can take it away at my pleasure. I am glad, Mr. Wheeler, that I have an opportunity of showing, at least once, that I consider the two churches, Protestant Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal as one.’

I expressed my thanks to the general for his kindness and retired. The guard was sent back to their regiment, and men of the Seventeenth were detailed to clean the church and put it in condition for religious service.” – Reverend Henry Wheeler, “The Chaplain and His Work,” in Henry P. Moyer, History of the Seventeenth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry (Lebanon, Penn.: Sowers Printing Company, 1911) pp. 263-268

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A Confederate Hospital in Fredericksburg, and the women mobilize–1861

From John Hennessy:

A tobacco factory would seem an unlikely place for a military hospital, but during the exceedingly polite Confederate presence in Fredericksburg during the first year of the war there were few other options. (The Union army used churches, stores, hotels, homes, and the courthouse–none of which were accessible to those bent on politeness in 1861). We don’t know the circumstances that led the Confederate army to take over the tobacco factory of Alexander Gibbs and his partner John F. Alexander (there is no record, for example, of the Confederates leasing the building or of their commandeering it), but by late June of 1861, as the landscape around Fredericksburg filled with spanking new Confederate troops (including some from Tennessee and Arkansas), Gibbs’s and Alexander’s tobacco factory on Prussia street held upwards of 150 sick Confederate soldiers.  Betty Herndon Maury recorded on June 26:

Betty Herndon Maury

The sick suffer a great deal for want of proper medical attendance and good nursing.  Many of the soldiers are laid on the floor when brought in, and are not touched, or their cases looked into, for twenty-four hours.  One or two died when no one was near them; they were found cold and stiff several hours afterwards.  The other night at ten o’clock, when one of the ladies left, there was not a soul in the house besides the sick men.  Every one in town has been interested in them.

The wretched conditions at the hospital soon spurred the community to action.  Two days after Maury’s gloomy assessment, the Fredericksburg News reported: Continue reading

“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 1a

From Eric Mink:

After the previous post (here) focusing on Confederate graffiti at Aquia Church, a closer look revealed yet another carving. The work of this vandal can also be attributed to a member of the 5th Texas Infantry.

“GJR Co A 5Tex-------“

George Julian Robinson was a rather unique soldier in the 5th Texas. Robinson was in fact a native of Delaware. Born in 1838, young George lived in Georgetown, Delaware with his parents and siblings. According to one source, Robinson spent the 1850s working as an engineer on the Delaware Railroad. The 1860 Census, however, lists his occupation at that time as “Student of Dentistry.” (Photos identified as Robinson can be found here)

Why Robinson chose to support the Confederacy is a bit of mystery. Delaware historian Dr. John A. Munroe, in an undated sketch of Robinson, claims that George and a relative were determined to join the Confederates. They slipped through the front lines and traveled to Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the fall of 1861, eventually making their way to Yorktown. Picked up as northern spies, the two men were sent to Richmond. Through the assistance of friends, they obtained their release.

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

From Eric Mink:

The following is the first in a series of three posts documenting Civil War graffiti at Aquia Church in Stafford County, Va. For a listing of all posts dealing with soldier graffiti in the Fredericksburg area, click here.

Stafford County, Virginia’s role in the Civil War is most frequently identified with the Union Army of the Potomac’s encampment during the winter of 1862-1863. The county had, however, felt the stress and strain of an earlier “occupation” when elements of the Confederate Army of the Potomac spent the winter of 1861-1862 encamped within its boundaries. Soldiers from both armies left their mark in Stafford and perhaps no place in the county shows the personal reminder of the Civil War better than at Aquia Church.

Aquia Church – Stafford, Va.

Aquia Episcopal Church sits along US Route 1 (formerly Telegraph Road) three miles north of Stafford Court House. Construction on the church began in 1751. Nearly complete four years later, it burned and was rebuilt utilizing the existing walls in 1757.  The church is constructed of brick with locally quarried Aquia Creek sandstone used for its quoins, keystones and door frames. (Aquia Creek Sandstone was also used in the construction of Gunston Hall, the US Capitol and the White House.)

Stafford County found itself on the front lines during the first year of the Civil War. Following the July 1861 Battle of Manassas, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Potomac developed a defensive line that spread across Prince William County, Virginia, protecting the approaches from Washington, D.C. The Confederates also erected batteries and defenses along the Potomac River in an effort to hamper Union naval and shipping movements. This line was defended throughout the first winter of the war and as the Potomac River forms the eastern boundary of Stafford County many Confederates established camps throughout the region.

Telegraph Road was a primary route between Fredericksburg and the Confederate winter quarters in northern Stafford and Prince William Counties. Fredericksburg served as an important supply point and also housed Confederate hospitals during that first winter. As a prominent landmark along Telegraph Road, Aquia Church saw its fair share of visitors.

In early November 1861, the Fourth and Fifth Texas infantry regiments arrived at Brooke’s Station in Stafford County. They continued northward to Dumfries, where they joined the 1st Texas and Eighteenth Georgia regiments, thus creating what would become known as the Texas Brigade. The Texans spent the next few months camped at Dumfries, guarding the Potomac and other nearby points. They also found time to visit Aquia Church.

The quoins on Aquia Church are covered with graffiti. Much of it is illegible, much of it is from the 20th century, but there do remain visible names, initials and Civil War military designations carved into the soft sandstone. Three pieces of soldier graffiti can be attributed to members of the 5th Texas.

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A VERY close look at Davis and R.E. Lee–“It makes one feel better to look at him,” and the hair in his ears

From John Hennessy:

In answering a research request today, I came across this remarkable description of President Davis and Robert E. Lee, down to the hair growing out of Lee’s ears. The occasion was a service at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in Orange on November 22, 1863–just a few days before the Union army crossed the Rapidan to commence the Mine Run Campaign. The soldier was a commissary officer in the 47th North Carolina (the original is privately owned; a typescript resides in the park’s collection).  The letter reflects a type of writing that has, in the age of photography and video, largely disappeared from our world: the art of physical and personal description.  It largely speaks for itself.

St. Thomas Church today, courtesy of their website.

This morning I went with a friend up to Orange to attend church, the Episcopal. The motive that induced me particularly was the hope of seeing no less a personage than Pres. Davis, having learned that he came up on the train from Richmond yesterday. We were at the church early to secure seats, entered by the left door and sat near the middle of the house and near the left hand wall, the church fronting west. The services were commenced, by a young clergyman, evidently the rector, but Gen. Pendleton was seated near, in his black robe. You may remember that I gave you an account of a fast day sermon he preached in the same house last summer. He is in command of all the artillery n Gen. Lee’s army….

Pres. Davis and Gen. Lee entered while the young clergyman was reading a prayer and the congregation had bowed their heads. On looking up, I discovered very near me the well known form and face of Gen. Lee, and on his left, the thin, bony face that reminds one so forcibly of a postage stamp as to excite a smile. He was dressed in a plain dark citizen’s dress, with a worn brown overcoat thrown loosely over his shoulders, of which he divested himself on rising to take part in the service. His hair is slightly grey and his hair cut short. His face tapers to a point at the chin. If he were a plain common man he would be called “Lantern-pawed.” His cheeks are prominent. A very thin beard hangs under his chin….He is evidently careworn and pale from the burden of responsibility and the mental anxiety consequent on his office. Continue reading