“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.


William Albert Jellison was born August 25, 1844 in Bangor, Maine. In 1860, he lived with his family in Milford, Maine. On April 30, 1861, at the age of sixteen he enlisted at Old Town for three years. William mustered in the following month as a private in Company K, 2nd Maine Infantry. Although he participated in the First Battle of Bull Run, his service with this regiment was brief, as he was discharged in October. His discharge was “on account of an almost total deafness apparently due to general exhaustion at and after the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.” Although authorities deemed the deafness “incurable,” a year later he once again enlisted for three years of service. William mustered into Company H, 6th Maine Infantry in Augusta, Maine. The year 1863 proved an eventful one for William.

William survived the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, but did not fare so well the following spring. Having participated in the storming of Marye’s Heights during the second battle at Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863, William went missing the following day. Captured by the Confederates, he spent ten days in captivity in Richmond before being paroled. A stay at Camp Parole in Maryland interrupted a return to his regiment, which finally occurred in October. A mere two weeks after rejoining his comrades, William fell wounded with a shell fragment that sliced through his left thigh during the November 7, 1863 Battle of Rappahannock Station.

Photos of William A. Jellison and the wound he received at Rappahannock Station. Jellison submitted these photos with his pension claim in 1897.

Months of recovery followed in hospitals throughout the north. One of his stops included Armory Square Hospital in Washington, D.C. It was at Armory Square that young William made the acquaintance of Walt Whitman, the poet. Whitman frequented the hospitals around Washington and assisted the medical staffs, often keeping notes on those soldiers he interacted with. In one of Whitman’s notebooks appears the entry “William A. Jellison. Company ‘H’ 6th Me Reg home address West Enfield Maine”. Months later, William was still bouncing around hospitals when he wrote a letter to Whitman. That letter can be read here.

An 1864 photo of one of the wards at Armory Square Hospital. The hospital was located where the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum now stands.

The 6th Maine mustered out in August 1864. Those men, such as William, who still had terms of service to fulfill, transferred to the 1st Maine Veteran Infantry. Shortly thereafter, William received a final, transfer to the 23rd Company, 2nd Battalion of the Veteran Reserve Corps.

Immediately after the war, William moved to Michigan, initially settling in East Saginaw. He moved to Marquette, Mich. in 1873, married Philomene Bussineau four years later and in 1879 opened the National Hotel, which he operated for a number of years. In later years, William served as the deputy collector at the Marquette customs house. He died November 15, 1915 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Marquette, Mich.

In this series of posts looking at Aquia Church’s graffiti, the names of nine soldiers, north and south, have been identified. A look at the photos posted with these stories shows there is much more graffiti on the church’s quoins. The soft sandstone has worn over time, some the graffiti is illegible, and many more carvings were made by visitors and vandals long after the soldiers departed from Stafford County. Surely, however, there remain more names of men who wanted us to know they were there. I’d be curious if any of our readers have visited Aquia Church and deciphered any additional names.

Eric J. Mink

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

    • Tim – Yes. Some members of the 2nd Maine contested their terms of service when the majority of the regiment mustered out and they remained with the army. The men who who were left behind were transferred to the 20th Maine. This episode appeared as a scene in the movie “Gettysburg.”

      – Eric

  1. Thanks for doing this. My family has been attending Aquia Church for over 10 years and I have been meaning to do this myself (especially since I started reenacting). There is graffiti on the inside of the church as well. If you would like to check it, let me know and I will get you in.

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