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.”
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