The specter of black troops opens a door for Maine relief workers–literally

From Hennessy:

Our apologies for quietude of late, but as you might guess, preparations for the Fredericksburg 150th haven’t left a lot of time for Mysteries and Conundrums.  We have lots in the pipeline, just no time to put the posts together. We will.

Backyard of U.S. Sanitary Commission depot.439.cropped 3 womenHere’s a quickie, something I came across this morning.

I have been collecting a huge amount of material on the use of Fredericksburg as an evacuation hospital in May 1864, and the related effort by Northern civilians to come to Fredericksburg to help. We have written about this before.  Among those who came were an energetic group of four from the Maine State Relief Agency, including a woman named Sarah Smith Sampson. As the wounded from the Wilderness and Spotsylvania poured into town from the west, hundreds of volunteers from relief agencies, the Sanitary Commission, and the Christian Commission, poured into town from the landing at Belle Plain. Mrs. Sampson and her cohort Ruth S. Mayhew faced a common problem in town for relief workers: finding lodging. The locals, as might be imagined, were disinclined to give up their homes to anything remotely Yankee.  As this passage from Sampson’s report makes clear, the Maine delegation used the looming specter of the arrival of wounded from the Union army’s new division of USCTs to convince them to open their house willingly now rather than unwillingly later.

Sarah Smith Sampson.  Used by permission from

Sarah Smith Sampson. Used by permission from

Mrs. Mayhew and myself tried to obtain lodging of the family who were in the other part of the house we occupied, but were peremptorily refused; but after a time they were glad to cook our rations that we drew from the commissary that they might have something for themselves to eat. The Provost Marshal afterwards gave us permission to take two of the largest houses in Fredericksburg for hospital purposes. At first the ladies of the premises seriously objected, (the men, at this time, were in the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, having been arrested and sent there, for driving the wounded of our army, who were making their escape through the city, back into the enemy’s lines,) but on being told that Burnside’s wounded were yet to come in, and their houses might then be taken without regard to their wishes for the colored troops of his command, they yielded: and both houses were filled with our patients, that we took from floors of other buildings, or from army wagons as they were coming in. The Provost Marshal also detailed four men to make bunks for these buildings; the ladies supplied us with bedding so far as they were able, and two surgeons of Maine were placed in charge of the patients, much to the gratification of all parties. 

[A copy of Sarah Sampson’s report is in the bound volumes at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP–the original is likely in the Maine State Archives (our copy does not indicate the original source].  Her description of her time in Fredericksburg in 1864 is powerful, and we’ll share it at a future date.]  Photo of Sampson used by permission from

3 thoughts on “The specter of black troops opens a door for Maine relief workers–literally

  1. Being somewhat a neophyte on this particular aspect of the Fredericksburg Campaign, I find this really fascinating reading…do you know which homes were selected or what part of town was used primarily for hospital purposes…Frank Trent/Locust Grove

  2. Frank. We have a pretty good idea of where the hospitals were, though there is a good deal of uncertainty on Caroline Street. At some point I will map what we know and put it up here, though that won’t be happening until at least after the new year. We learn things every day…. John

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