Setting the Stage for War: A Pictorial Proto-Website from 1856

From: Noel Harrison

A panoramic chromolithograph, View of Fredericksburg, VA, published in 1856 and sampled from time to time on this blog, offers a contemporary database of incredible scope and accuracy as we enter the sesquicentennial of the town’s first Union occupation and first battle.  As orientation for discussing a number of magnified details, here’s a medium-rez look at the picture:


What follows is the first in a projected, short series of posts that will review the chromolithograph’s own history; its testimony to the antebellum appearance, development, and self-image of Fredericksburg; and its documentation of the wartime landscape of 1862, six years into the future–little changed in some aspects from the picture of 1856 but altered markedly in others.

Edward Sachse & Co. of Baltimore published View of Fredericksburg, VA in 1856.  Sachse & Co., which had already produced panoramic views of Alexandria and Washington, D.C., as well as of Baltimore, began work on the Fredericksburg picture by dispatching an artist, or artists, to the town.  Judging from John W. Reps’ book, Views and Viewmakers of Urban American, Sachse artist James T. Palmatary was probably responsible for walking Fredericksburg and its outskirts and preparing at least some of the reference sketches in 1855 and/or 1856.  These were then compiled as a master drawing, which back in Baltimore was etched onto smoothed pieces of limestone for printing.

Preparation of the master drawing had involved a key rearrangement of data:  re-picturing the human’s-eye, ground-level drawings of Fredericksburg and its individual buildings from a single, high “bird’s-eye” angle, to show the complete town while maximizing information about individual structures. 

The final perspective for View of Fredericksburg, VA looked across and over the town from a point just across the Rappahannock River and hovering above Stafford Heights, about a half mile from the RF&P Railroad bridge over the river, and a quarter of a mile or so from the farmstead that occupied the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. 

Speaking of which, someone is plowing a field at the former Washington property (known after the Washington era as “Ferry Farm”), while travelers arrive at the adjacent landing of the namesake ferry:

Fast forward from 1856 to December 1862:  artist Alfred Waud positions himself beside the ferry landing to sketch Union bridge-builders under fire at the Middle Pontoon Crossing.  A week later, following the defeated Federals’ retreat across the river, some of them convert “an old cherry-tree” on or near Ferry Farm into “all sorts of crosses, pipes, rings, etc., that can be sent away by mail” as mementoes of George Washington. 

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 3

From Eric Mink:

This is the final installment in the documentation of Aquia Church’s Civil War soldier graffiti. Previous posts on this subject can be found here.

In late November 1862, Union General Ambrose Burnside brought his Army of the Potomac to Stafford County. Intent on pushing south toward Richmond, delays and logistical problems plagued Burnside’s plans. His army remained idle as events developed that eventually resulted in the December Battle of Fredericksburg. It was during this waiting period that at least two soldiers from the 6th Army Corps visited Aquia Church and added their names to the building’s soft sandstone quoins.

The 21st New Jersey Infantry was a short term regiment. Its members enlisted for the brief period of nine months. Organized in September 1862, the regiment reached Stafford County on November 18 and went into camp along Aquia Creek. Some of the men in this regiment attended services at Aquia Church.

“On the 23d we went to divine worship about one mile from camp to an old Presbyterian church built of imported English brick in the year 1701, it was destroyed by fire in 1754 but rebuilt in 1758.” – Diary of Henry Taylor, Co. K, 21st New Jersey Infantry. Copy of typescript in FRSP Bound Volume #73

“H Smith 21 NJV”

It is likely that at this time “H. Smith” of the 21st New Jersey left his name on Aquia Church. It can not be said with any certainity who Smith was, as there are three potential candidates for this soldier on the regimental rolls. The first two, Private Henry Smith of Company A and Corporal Henry C. Smith of Company B, both served their full nine-month enlistment with the 21st New Jersey and mustered out of service on June 19, 1863. The third candidate was not so lucky.

Humphrey Smith was a 29-year old laborer from Monmouth, New Jersey. He enlisted on August 27, 1862 and a month later mustered into Company E of the 21st New Jersey Infantry. He survived the Battle of Fredericksburg only to succumb to “brain fever” near Belle Plain in Stafford County on March 22, 1863. Originally buried at Robert Lee’s farm, his remains were removed after the war and buried Grave #6132 in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Grave of Humphrey Smith in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, which erroneously identifies him as from New York.

Four days following the 21st New Jersey’s services at Aquia Church, some members of the 6th Maine Infantry paid a visit to the sanctuary. Corporal Benjamin Thaxter of that regiment noted in his diary entry for November 27 that he and his sergeant went “to see an old church that was built in 1757.” Private William A. Jellison also visited the church around this time and opted to leave his lasting mark on the building.

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A new piece of original art

From John Hennessy:

Here is a portion of our latest piece of original art, developed by Frank O’Reilly and executed by artist Mark Churms. This will be used in the new exhibit we are planning for the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, and also likely on a wayside exhibit atop Marye’s Heights. The image shows guns of the Washington Artillery firing over the Sunken Road, into the killing field beyond. That’s the Stephens House and Innis House at center and left, with the brick Stratton House beyond.  The piece will eventually be made available for sale by Mr. Churms. 

We like it and thought you might be interested to see a little slice of what’s going on hereabouts. 


Copyright Mark Churms. All rights reserved.


To go or not to go: Fredericksburg’s refugees and those who stayed behind

From John Hennessy:

Among the many queries we get, it is one of the most common: how many civilians remained in Fredericksburg during the war’s darkest months?  It’s a complicated question, for we know that there was no single exodus that can be easily measured. Lizzie Alsop’s diary records many comings and goings by her family, as do both Betty Maury’s and Jane Beale’s. Some families, like the Lacys of Chatham, left when the Union army arrived in the spring of 1862. By far the largest exodus took place in November 1862, when the Union army arrived for the second time–this time destined to fight.  But we also know that many of those (like Jane Beale) who left in November returned to their homes in early December, when the threat of battle seemed to lessen (thank the Union pontoon trains for that red herring). Many of those souls suffered violent correction on December 11 when the Union army did indeed stir.

Innumerable accounts of that day note the presence of civilians, and indeed several of them wrote vivid accounts of their experiences during bombardment. For our purposes, perhaps the best description comes from confectioner Edward Heinichen, who took a walk through town during an afternoon lull (Heinichen’s memoir was published in the 2007 edition of Fredericksburg History and Biography, which you can purchase here).

I soon left my friend’s house to take a walk through the town, meeting many people, few in the streets, but many more or less sheltered by their houses, eagerly watching the havoc from doors and windows, and I must say that few, women and men showed any fear but plenty of excitement. I saw one darkey crouching behind a thick plank fence where he imagined himself perfectly safe from shot and shell, cordially inviting me to join him there. Meeting Judge M. Herndon, he remarked in his most pleasant manner: [“]This looks as if we had had a most extraordinary hailstorm.[“]

We know that the crossing of the Union troops following the bombardment inspired more than a few civilians, including Heinichen and Beale, to leave, and that evening witnessed a fairly frantic exodus to points in Spotsylvania County.  Still, some residents remained behind (as evidenced by the memoir of Mamie Wells, who left the only account of a resident who remained throughout the battle that followed).  The town was certainly never “empty,” as some observers claimed. Continue reading