On the eve of the 150th Anniversary of this event, we repost this from a couple years back.
It was the greatest gathering of American military might ever displayed before the 1865 Grand Review in Washington, D.C. On April 8, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln reviewed about two-thirds of the Army of the Potomac–as many as 70,00o men–in the Union camps in Stafford County, across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg. This spectacle was seen by few spectators, and the tortuous logistics that left soldiers standing in wait for hours peeved more than a few. But, the display had a profound affect on the army, for armies rarely get to see themselves. This day they did, and the soldiers were impressed. A few days later an officer of the 12th Corps mused, “after such an opportunity of seeing our army as I have had this last week, I cannot help” but conclude “that the Army of the Potomac is a collection of as fine troops…as there are in te world. I believe he day will come when it will be a proud thing for anyone to say he belonged to it.”
The huge April 8 review in Stafford (one of five held during Lincoln’s visit to the army) received national coverage in the press, attracting scribblers and artists from dozens of newspapers and magazines. Hundreds of descriptions written by soldiers survive–the vast majority including either grumbling at the wait or descriptions of a “careworn” President (Lincoln may have thought he was reviewing the army, but the army emphatically was reviewing him). The Union 2nd Corps, 5th Corps, 3rd Corps, and 6th Corps were all reviewed that day–three of them together on the Sthreshley Farm (called “Grafton”) and the 6th Corps on the fields in front of Boscobel, the home of Henrietta Fitzhugh. What of these sites today? Where are they? What do they look like?
The location of these reviews is given to us by a map generated within the Army of the Potomac that specifically documenting the review sites and the routes taken by the various corps to reach those sites. You can see a copy of the map here. I have gone ahead and overlaid the key data onto a modern aerial from Google Earth (above). The roads and house sites are derived from our Virtual Fredericksburg project.
The farmhouse of James Sthreshley and his family stood at the south end of what is today Scott Drive in the midst of Grafton Village subdivision. So far as I know, no trace of the house remains. Sthreshley (whose name is more frequently misspelled and mispronounced than perhaps any in this region–it is pronounced Thrashley) was one of the more prosperous farmers in Stafford County. In 1860, he and his wife Helen owned land worth $12,000 and personal property of $30,000, including 25 slaves–sixteen of them under the age of 16. No image of his home is known to survive, but it was impressive enough to attract a procession of Union generals to use it as headquarters. Before and after the Battle of Fredericksburg, Samuel Sturgis of the Ninth Corps took up here, and he was joined by Clara Barton, who made Sthreshley her base of operations before and after her service in Fredericksburg.
On April 6, Lincoln reviewed the cavalry corps of the Army of the Potomac on the Sthreshley farm. Spectacular as that display was, it was dwarfed by the events of April 8. Today the open fields that Lincoln rode and that soldiers of the Second, Third, and Fifth Corps marched upon are a subdivision–indeed a dense, 1960s-era subdivision called Grafton Village. If you want to take a close look, go to Google Earth; the coordinates are 38 19-24 and 77 25-38. Here are a couple of shots of the review fields today.
The review of the Union Sixth Corps and the army’s reserve artillery brigade that day took place just a short distance to the east, on the fields in front of Boscobel. Boscobel was one of Stafford’s oldest homesteads, and with the arrival of the Union army that winter it became the headquarters for corps commander Daniel Sickles. It was here on April 7 that Sickles hosted a party for the president. During that party, Princess Salm-Salm (the American wife of a Prussion prince) led a procession of women offering Lincoln kisses–gestures that outraged the first lady.
Boscobel no longer stands. Around the house site, which features a modern ranch house and a nearby cemetery, is a large-lot subdivision of expansive homes (named Boscobel Farms).
The fields upon which the review was held have not been entirely obliterated–the lots are large enough to get a sense of the lay of the land.
Lincoln conducted three other reviews of troops during his stay in Stafford: the First Corps near Belle Plain–the precise location is not known. The Eleventh Corps near Brooke Station, and the Twelfth Corps between Stafford Court House and Aquia Creek. Again, the specific locations of these reviews are not known (at least not by me). If you are interested in the reviews and Lincoln’s various visits to Stafford County, we recommend you read Jane Conner’s very nice Lincoln in Stafford, which is privately published, but available for sale at Chatham.