William T. Sherman at Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, May 1865


from:  Harrison

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in 1865 within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Major Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in May 1865, within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Maj. Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

With the Civil War’s post-sesquicentennial era nearly at hand, and the Centennial of the National Park Service coming next year, I’ve been considering the origins of public history at the sites of, or about, the Fredericksburg-area battles.  “Public history” of course is variously defined.  My understanding for the purposes of this blog post is a broad one:  publicly funded, historical engagement with places that would eventually compose Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and undertaken outside of commercial, private, or civilian-academic endeavors.  That leaves in play a wide range of both motivations and interpreters, eyewitnesses or otherwise.

In between, for instance, the official reports of Civil War officers and current National Park Service tours and exhibits stretches a long chain of governmental endeavor—whether undertaken on or away from the sites of the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House—embodied in documents or events ranging from courts martial evidence; medical and surgical case-histories; damage/requisition claims submitted by civilians before and after 1865;  soldiers’ pension- and service affidavits; United States Army staff rides beginning locally around 1911; federal legislative action beginning in 1898 towards creation of the park in 1927; and NPS living history programs of the 1970s’ and 1980’s.

Besides Confederate and Federal, national authorities, state governments participated as well.  During the war New York soldiers contributed artifacts found in the combat zones to a “collection of relics” maintained by their state’s Bureau of Military Statistics. In 1898, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill incorporating the Fredericksburg and Adjacent National Battlefields Memorial Park Association of Virginia.  A decade later, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $6,000 for a monument to the 23rd New Jersey Infantry, dedicated on the grounds of Salem Church in 1907 to mark the regiment’s farthest advance there on May 3, 1863.

In almost any given week, then, from the time during the Civil War when the guns fell silent, and through the time that I write this, historical engagement with some aspect of one of the four battles (or with the collective legacy of all four) was occurring as a function of government, including of the military services.  Moreover, the recording or interpretation of civilians’ perspectives that I note above and below shows that much of this activity, from the outset, involved aspects of what we now call “social history.”

The general march-routes of Sherman’s four corps through the Fredericksburg area.  Green arrow is my notation of Sherman’s personal route from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg on May 15.  Detail from:  Military Map Showing the Marches of the United States Forces Under Command of Maj. Gen'l W.T. Sherman…drawn by Capt. William Kossak and John B. Muller.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Detail from contemporary map, showing the general march-routes of Sherman’s four corps through the Fredericksburg area.  Green arrow is my notation of his personal route from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg on May 15.

(Full map and citation are here.)

This month brings the sesquicentennial of some of the first instances of historical touring of the Fredericksburg-area battlefields during peacetime in Virginia (even if not yet during peacetime nationwide), by military personnel other than members of the units who had fought at those places.

The intermittent touring of mid-May 1865, ranging from the informal or self-guided to the planned and guided, was among the secondary activities of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and some units of a four-corps army group that he accompanied through the Fredericksburg area.  Although a majority of the regiments in one of the four corps had fought at Chancellorsville with the Army of the Potomac, they were strangers to the sites of the local battles that had come after Chancellorsville.  Most of the men in the other three corps were seeing the Virginia combat zones for the first time.  My blog post today samples impressions of the four battlefields penned by soldiers of three of the corps: the Fifteenth, the Seventeenth, and the Twentieth.

Simple geography, not sightseeing, had dictated the general march-routes for Sherman’s army group.  Those followed the most direct roads allowing for roughly parallel, simultaneous movement from Richmond to Alexandria, Washington, and the Grand Review.  (For backstory on Sherman’s movements from North Carolina, I recommend starting with Craig Swain’s post here.)  With the same goal, most of the Army of the Potomac had already passed through the Fredericksburg area, on May 8-11, 1865.

Then came Sherman’s army group.  On May 15, 1865, elements of the westernmost column, Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’ Fourteenth Army Corps, Army of Georgia, had arrived at bivouacs in the area of the fortification lines and battlefield of Mine Run.  A diary notes that at least the Fourth Division of that Corps had moved far enough east to pass the “vicinity of Wilderness battle-field.”  The Fourteenth crossed the Rapidan River at Raccoon Ford on May 15-16.  To the east of the Fourteenth Corps came the Twentieth Corps, also of the Army of Georgia and composing with the Fourteenth the “Left Wing” of Sherman’s Army Group under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum.  Slocum, his Army of Georgia/Left Wing headquarters staff, and a division of the Twentieth had reached the Spotsylvania battlefield by May 14.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel in center background and behind the brick store in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the Spotsylvania Battlefield and towards Todd’s Tavern.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel in center background and behind the tall brick building in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the rest of the Spotsylvania Battlefield.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in mid-June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, the Twentieth Corps marched through Spotsylvania Court House and the Spotsylvania battlefield to the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Some of the regiments continued north to cross the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge built at United States Ford, then encamped.  Evidently, however, the majority of Twentieth Corps units remained at or near Chancellorsville on May 15, crossing the Rappahannock on May 16.  Judging from the map above, the Twentieth had mainly bypassed the Wilderness battlefield, leaving the Brock Road at Todd’s Tavern and entering the Chancellorsville battlefield via Catharpin Road and the Orange Plank Road.  However, members of at least three regiments of the Twentieth would report crossing or visiting parts of the Wilderness battlefield.

To the east of the Twentieth Corps moved Bvt. Maj. Gen. Mortimer D. Leggett at the head of the Seventeenth Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee, along the corridor of the Telegraph Road towards Massaponax Creek and Fredericksburg.  Leggett established headquarters at Massaponax Church on the Telegraph Road on May 15, 1865, with some elements of his corps bivouacked on the road as far south as its crossing of the Po River.  On May 16, Leggett’s divisions continued to and through Fredericksburg, where they crossed the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge.  (By May 10, 1865, engineers had built a pontoon bridge at or very near the wartime Upper Crossing site, “opposite the Lacy House,” for the Army of the Potomac’s northward passage; that span may have been left in place for the Army of the Tennessee.  Army of the Potomac engineers are known to have left one of their May 1865 pontoon bridges at another local, traditional spot, Franklin’s Crossing downstream from Fredericksburg, but I found little evidence of Sherman’s troops actually using the Franklin’s span.)

The easternmost corps, the Fifteenth of the Army of the Tennessee, paired with the Seventeenth as the “Right Wing” of Sherman’s army group, was the last to move over one of the Fredericksburg area battlefields.  Most of the Fifteenth approached Fredericksburg via the Richmond Stage Road and parallel thoroughfares on evening of May 16, when two of its divisions bivouacked at or near the Stage Road crossing of Massaponax Creek.  All or nearly all of the Fifteenth Corps divisions passed through Fredericksburg and across the Rappahannock the next day, May 17.

The Civil War-era McKenney House, situated about equidistant from the Po River, one mile to the south, and Spotsylvania Court House, one mile to the north—another candidate for the lodging-place of Slocum and Sherman on the night of May 14-15, 1865.  Today best known as “Kenmore Woods,” this home or its grounds was probably headquarters for the Twentieth Army Corps late on May 14.  From: Wikimedia Commons, “Kenmore Woods.”

The Civil War-era McKenney House, situated about equidistant from the Po River, one mile to the south, and Spotsylvania Court House, one mile to the north—another candidate for the lodging-place of Slocum and Sherman on the night of May 14-15, 1865.  Today best known as “Kenmore Woods,” this home or its grounds was probably headquarters for the Twentieth Army Corps late on May 14.  From: Wikimedia Commons, “Kenmore Woods.”

When writing his memoirs Sherman would recall his personal desire, after leaving Richmond, to “see as much of the battle-fields of the Army of the Potomac as I could.”  His planned historical tour was taking shape by May 12, 1865, when he had written Maj. Gen. John A. Logan from Hanover Court House to report himself “anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville…may accompany the Left Wing that far.”

Whether Sherman arrived at Spotsylvania on May 14 or May 15 is unclear, but a staff officer confirmed that Sherman accompanied the troops “through S[potsylvania] Court House” on one of those days.  Late on May 14, another staffer had datelined an order at “Headquarters Twentieth Corps, Mr. McKenney’s House, Va.”—likely the home of Addison and Sally Ann McKenney one mile from Spotsylvania Court House—while a third officer had datelined an order that day at Army of Georgia Headquarters at “Spotsylvania C.H. Virga,” referencing Joseph Sanford, owner of the hotel “of this place.”  Conceivably then, Sherman and Slocum had spent the night of May 14-15 in the McKenney House or the hotel at the county seat, or on the grounds of one or the other.

Next, Sherman “visited with Genl. Slocum the battle ground of Chancellorsville.” Sherman left Slocum at Chancellorsville at noon on May 15 and rode to Fredericksburg. Most of Sherman’s battlefield touring around the town probably occurred on May 16, when an officer-diarist of the Seventeenth Corps encountered him “out riding and to my party of 4…raised his hat–saluted & smiled most pleasantly.”  Sherman spent two nights in Fredericksburg (the specific location of his lodgings unknown to me, alas), departing there with the Fifteenth Corps on May 17.

Besides the logistics and progress of his four marching corps, Sherman was likely preoccupied during much of the Fredericksburg-area sightseeing by a bitter feud with Edwin M. Stanton, United States Secretary of War, and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, former General in Chief of the Armies and newly appointed commander of the Military Division of the James.  Perhaps for this reason, Sherman’s available writings do not record his direct impressions of the battlefields he traversed.  Doubtless, though, someone who encountered or accompanied him recorded a version of those impressions–a document not yet available to us.  The irony of Sherman touring Chancellorsville in the company of Slocum, a key eyewitness, and where a number of Sherman’s other, future subordinates had been engulfed in controversy and some of the war’s heaviest fighting, surely proved irresistible to at least one chronicler.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Since lengthy historical treatments of the Sherman-Stanton-Halleck conflict and of Sherman’s late-war outlook and policies are readily available, a brief summary of the controversy suffices here.  Sherman learned that the two men had implied that he was guilty of insubordination, bribery that allowed Jefferson Davis to remain at large, and treason in the generous terms Sherman had initially offered Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for surrender of the Confederacy’s remaining forces.  Biographer Michael Fellman describes Sherman’s consequent, “towering rage,” which prompted a veiled threat of Halleck’s assassination, or other violence, if he appeared during the Western troops’ northward march through Richmond, and Sherman’s widely noticed and reported snub of Stanton’s proffered handshake at the Grand Review in Washington on May 24.

The upcoming historical tour that Sherman had outlined in the May 12, 1865 letter to Logan obviously reflected respect for the dedication and sacrifice of the Army of the Potomac in 1862-1864, an appropriate parallel to the courage and accomplishments of those Army of the Potomac soldiers who were transferred west and eventually served under him.  Presumably, too, Slocum on May 14-15, 1865 pointed-out to Sherman places where Army of the Potomac commanders had died or sustained mortal wounds in springtimes previous—men like Sedgwick, Rice, Berry and Whipple—and numerous remains,  unburied as well as buried, of soldiers of lesser rank.  Yet the sights of the Fredericksburg area battlefields seemed to have left unchanged Sherman’s view, expressed in the second part of the May 12 letter, that the Army of the Potomac or Eastern troops generally, unlike his own army group, were susceptible to becoming the tool of Halleck and Stanton.

They would, Sherman wrote in the letter to Logan, “have the Army of the Potomac violate my truce” by attacking Johnston’s men, “discomfited, disheartened, and surrounded.”  Sherman went on to indulge a fearful vision of his “West” letting the “East” and its troops thus fight it out with the former Confederates until the West’s “men of a different metal” step “in the ring.”  He added, “Though my voice is still peace, I am not for such a peace as makes me subject to insult by former friends, now perfidious enemies.”

Sherman may well have forecast his own mood for much of the battlefields tour by forwarding these grim ponderings to Logan with the assumption, in Sherman’s words, that Logan would “chew the cud of ‘bitter fancy’ as you ride along.”  Yet by Sherman’s second day in Fredericksburg, May 16, 1865, a staffer was noting that “I have never seen him in such good spirits.”  Sherman reviewed at least one of the Seventeenth Corps regiments passing through town that day.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, another of George L. Frankenstein’s watercolors painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, a George L. Frankenstein watercolor painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Surely, however, the Fredericksburg area’s scars were effective in reinforcing or even elaborating on Sherman’s view of an economically devastated South.  His route had taken him from dramatically holed buildings at Spotsylvania Court House past the ghostly shell of Chancellorsville, the chimney stack of Fairview, and another ruin at Tabernacle Church, and then into the wreckage of Fredericksburg.  Alternating with these ravaged landmarks were splintered forests, fields torn by earthworks, and mangled or missing stretches of the wooden deck of the Orange Plank Road.  On the one hand, Sherman believed in May 1865 that the South’s devastation would preclude it contributing to the revenues necessary for a radical, punitive military occupation, thus risking a confrontation between North and West if the latter was required to help pay the shortfall.  On the other, Southern financial travails could foster lasting racial harmony and collaborative economic recovery, without such an occupation, through whites’ simple need to “sell or lease on easy terms part of their land to their former slaves.”

On the night of the day that he left Fredericksburg, May 17, 1865, Sherman wrote Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard to share this view of the promises and pitfalls of Southern impoverishment.  And while acknowledging to Howard, by now in charge of the Army’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Sherman’s ignorance of “the laws of Congress which originated your bureau, and repeat[ing] my entire confidence in your pure and exalted character,” Sherman also expanded on his vision of reconfigured sectional warfare.  “[I]f we attempt to force the negro on the South as a voter, ‘a loyal citizen,’ we begin a new revolution in which the Northwest may take a different side from what we did when we were fighting to vindicate our Constitution.”

Sherman’s implied interpretation of the Fredericksburg area battles was that their sites should now be places of history, of vindicating the Constitution and yielding a new but conservative birth of freedom, not figurative theatre stages awaiting further current events–a tragic Act Two.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through the Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

The soldiers of Sherman’s northbound corps, meanwhile, were also touring battlefields.  Bvt. Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams, a veteran of Chancellorsville but a stranger to Spotsylvania Court House, reported that in his division on May 14, “Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields.”  Word spread that the Mule Shoe was a key destination for the military tourists.  The Colonel of the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry went for a look, then shared with his men descriptions of the earthworks, unburied remains of Federal soldiers, and the stump of an oak tree felled by bullets.  A group from the Third Wisconsin Infantry likewise visited the Mule Shoe, where they found a scene that “would have been appalling to a person not accustomed to see the hardships that one is obliged to see in the army—clothing, knapsacks, cartridge boxes lay scattered around showing how desperate had been the struggle.”

On May 15, 1865, an officer in another Army of the Potomac/Army of Georgia unit that had transferred west in 1863 undertook a similar self-guided tour of Spotsylvania, stopping to chat near the Mule Shoe at “a small house…in which a woman remained all through the battle.  She was in the cellar.  The house was riddled with bullet holes.”  He then rode to “an open field to the right of the Wilderness Road,” perhaps the Spindle Farm clearing.  “Strewn all over this…the skeletons of the men who had fallen in the charge, a year ago the 10th of this month;” he noted a “Second Corps badge on their caps.”

Yet neither special detours nor access to officer’s mounts were essential.  Much could be observed from the main march-routes, especially Brock Road.  A Massachusetts soldier later recalled seeing “houses riddled with balls and shells…. In the forests around the town, not one tree in twenty standing.”  A man in the 70th Indiana Infantry, a regiment new to central Virginia, wrote of the Spotsylvania battlefield:

Everywhere were visible the terrible signs of the struggle—trees mowed down by artillery, lowly mounds with nothing to testify whose was the last resting place, and sadder still, unburied remains. Bones lay by the road side: and in a yard, where a woman stood and discoursed about the struggle to inquirers….

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

As the Twentieth Corps moved northward, entering the Chancellorsville combat areas on May 15, 1865, a number of regiments were granted a several hours’ halt to eat and to “look over the old battlefield.”  A man who had fought on this ground two years earlier with the Eleventh Corps wrote that in 1865 his comrades who were not Eleventh Corps veterans “as they visited the field, now saw how it all was”:  on May 2, 1863, the Eleventh had been “swung out, with flank and rear unprotected, where it was suddenly surprised.”  The Seventieth Indiana spent the night of May 15-16, 1865 on or near the site of that surprise attack; at one of their campfires soldiers “gathered around the blaze” to hear another Chancellorsville veteran relate the story of the battle.

Men from the Seventieth Indiana also ventured onto the Wilderness battlefield, encountering more landscapes of combat and another example of a civilian willing to discourse about the struggle:

The commingled bones of horse and rider, all the possessions of the soldier, from the envelope with its fond address in a woman’s hand to the broken gun, lie scattered over the ground.  Knapsacks placed together by companies before they made the charge, and for which the owners never returned, remain in decaying heaps…. An old, gray-headed man leaned upon his hoe handle trying to quiet his trembling head as he said, “Ah, sir. there are thousands of both sides lying unburied in the Wilderness.”

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

To the east, the Fredericksburg battlefield was making powerful historical impressions on the troops of the Fifteenth Corps.  A soldier in the 93rd Illinois Infantry, marching through the town with the Corps’ Third Division on May 17, 1865, wrote of spotting “but few houses in the place that had not been pierced by cannon shot.”  Charles W. Willis, accompanying the Corps’ First Division described Fredericksburg in his diary as “the most shelled town I ever saw.”  Approaching the town from Massaponax Creek, Wills added, he had “passed over the whole line of Burnside’s battle ground.”  The December 1862 battle “was no fight, only a Yankee slaughter,” Wills concluded.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

The Fourth Minnesota Infantry of the Fifteenth Corps partook of a more formal tour that day.  As would be the case in later years, battlefields in 1865 inspired differing interpretations.  Colonel, John E. Tourtellotte, as tour leader, focused on the success of Sedgwick’s attack at Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863, not the slaughter of Burnside’s on December 13, 1862:

Grass is growing in the streets. …desolate; scarred; dead.  Earthworks on the heights in rear of the town, which Sedgwick took two years ago.  A halt was ordered in front of the stone wall and Colonel Tourtellotte explained to the men how our troops charged over the stone wall, over the crest and up the hill.

At least one group of Western veterans besides Sherman and his entourage toured both Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg.  On May 16, 1865, Maj. Gen. Leggett and his staff left the Seventeenth Corps’ march along the Telegraph Road and proceeded to Spotsylvania Court House. There they engaged hotel keeper Joseph Sanford to ride along and “show us the position of our forces” the year before.  Not surprisingly, those segments of the Mule Shoe where “Johnson and his Division were taken prisoners” absorbed most, if not all, of the sightseers’ time and attention.  A member of Leggett’s party looked over what he suspected had been a rifle-pit:  “hundreds of dead were thrown in promiscuously–and covered….”  He traced the buried feature “by clumps of earth.”  It extended “into a field now ploughed and planted in corn…just sprouted up.”

Leggett’s party then rode to catch-up with the Seventeenth Corps.  The officer who had examined the buried ditch at Spotsylvania described Fredericksburg as “much affected by the war…. nearly every house is perforated.”  He found “no business doing—besides that of the Army Sutler.”

But a different Seventeenth Corps chronicler, reflecting upon this and nearby landscapes seen from the ranks of the 78th Ohio Infantry, found himself underwhelmed by the war’s visible impact:

We had heard much about the desolations of Virginia, but were surprised to see them so trifling compared with Atlanta, and the country through which the Western army had passed…. [T]he desolations from Petersburg to Washington will bear no comparison with the desolations from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

And in another category of the battles’ overall legacies, William T. Sherman and at least one of his regiments came away in 1865 with very different understandings.  Whereas Sherman’s visit to the Fredericksburg area was bracketed by his thoughts of Southerners who had recognized military outcomes and made peace—and of how to protect them and it from men like Halleck and Stanton—soldiers of the 102nd Illinois Infantry concluded that many local citizens had never placed battlefield events into the realm of history, and intended to continue killing Federal troops.  (Although outside my topic of military touring, I might also note that Northern journalist J. T. Trowbridge would visit the same battlefields four months later and derive a set of impressions of social and economic prospects, recorded in A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration. 1865-1868, that in some aspects also contrasted markedly with Sherman’s.)

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

After reaching Washington, D. C., Bvt. Bg. Gen. Benjamin Harrison, future President of the United States, reported that two soldiers of his Twentieth Corps brigade—Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder of the 102nd Illinois and Private W. O. Jones, Snyder’s orderly—had vanished after securing permission “to look over the battle-ground” of Chancellorsville on May 16, 1865.  “It is feared they were killed by some guerrillas,” Harrison added.  When Snyder’s and Jones’ comrades published their regimental history later that year, they noted that another of the regiment’s officers had returned from Washington to search the Chancellorsville battlefield, without success.  The Illinois veterans came to blame a group of about 20 local men whom others had encountered headed to Fredericksburg on the day of Snyder’s and Jones’ disappearance, supposedly to take the Oath of Allegiance.  “When we reflect what villains a majority of the oath-loving citizens were,” the regimental history concluded, “we may well suspect that those men were none too good to waylay and murder a Union soldier.”

Noel G. Harrison

Special thanks to Keith Bohannon, Stephen B. Cushman, Emmanuel Dabney, Eric J. Mink, Erik Nelson, and D.P. Newton for research assistance.

Note on photographs:  my dating of George L. Frankenstein’s work to at least a month after the passage of Sherman’s army group is based upon Frankenstein’s painting (not shown above) of Wilderness National Cemetery No. 2.  Federal troops established it in mid-June 1865 (Donald C. Pfanz, Where Valour Proudly Sleeps:  A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 31, 36-37).  My dating of the photograph of Sherman and his generals to May 1865 is based on the discussion here.

Sources in general order of use above—Staff Rides, Federal Legislative Action: Carol Reardon, Soldiers and Scholars:  The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920, pp. 60-62, 204; Joan M. Zenzen, At the Crossroads of Preservation and Development: A History of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Administrative History, pp. 29-38; State-Level Public History:  Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York 10 (1867), pp. 650-651; Donald C. Pfanz, “History Through Eyes of Stone: a Survey of Civil War Monuments in the Vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2006, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 145-148; Zenzen, p. 29; Dates for Army of the Potomac’s March: Robert Goldthwaite Carter, Four Brothers in Blue…, p. 505; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Ser. I (hereinafter OR), 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 51, pt. 1:  260-261; March-Dates 14th, 20th Corps to Rapidan, Spotsylvania: OR 47, pt. 1: 108, 113, 117, 605; OR 47, pt. 3: 496-497, 501; Robt P. Dechert to Commissary, Twentieth Corps, May 14, 1865, Collection of Devon Archer Schreiner, Warrenton, Va., copy at Library of Virginia, Civil War 150 Legacy Project, Record No. 000032341; March-Dates 20th Corps through Spotsylvania to U.S. Ford: Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 275; OR 47, pt. 1: 125, 140, 605, 631, 635, 639, 647, 655, 658, 673, 677, 742; Michael S. Schroyer, Diary, May 13-14, 1865, Beginning the Homeward March, The App Brothers in the Civil War Chapter 71: May 18-24, 1865, Homeward March, Larry A. App and Stories Retold, 2013; March-Dates 17th Corps, Rappahannock Pontoon Bridges: Carter, p. 505; OR 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 47, pt. 1: 94; OR 47, pt. 3: 446, 501, 507-508; March-Dates 15th Corps through Fredericksburg:  OR 47, pt. 3: 508-509, 515-518; William E. Strong to Oliver O. Howard, May 16, 1865, Oliver Otis Howard Papers, 1833-1912, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine; Sherman’s Touring, Movements to and Through Fredericksburg:  Dechert to Commissary, May 14, 1865; Bradley T. Lepper and Mary E. Lepper Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form, Kenmore, Spotsylvania County, Virginia; OR 47, pt. 3:  477, 496, 499, 508, 515; William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, 1876, p. 375; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; Sherman’s Conflict with Halleck and Stanton:  Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman:  A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman, pp. 248-254; May 12 Letter to Logan: OR 47, pt. 3: 477-478; Sherman’s Mood:  OR 47, pt. 3: 478; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; May 17 Letter to Howard:  OR 47, pt. 3: 515-516; Soldiers Touring Spotsylvania via Detours:  Robert Cruikshank, Diary, May 15, 1865, Town of Salem New York; Wilbur F. Haughawout, Diary, May 14, 1865, University of South Carolina Libraries; OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Schroyer, Diary, May 13-14, 1865; Touring Spotsylvania from Main Roads: Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 274; Adin B. Underwood, The Three Years’ Service of the Thirty-Third Mass. Infantry Regiment…, p. 296; Touring Chancellorsville: OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Edwin E. Marvin, The Fifth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, p. 383; Merrill, p. 275;  Underwood, p. 296; Touring the Wilderness:  Merrill, pp. 275-276; Touring Fredericksburg:  Harvey M. Trimble, ed., History of the Ninety-Third Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, p. 198; Charles W. Wills, Charles Wright Wills, p. 382; Fourth Minnesota at the Stone Wall:  Alonzo L. Brown, History of the Fourth Regiment, Minnesota Infantry Volunteers, p. 419; Leggett and Entourage Tour Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg: Lepper and Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; Ohioan Underwhelmed by Landscape Devastation: Thomas M. Stevenson, History of the 78th Regiment O.V.V.I., p. 338; Disappearance of Snyder and Jones:  OR 47, pt. 1, p. 793; Our Regiment: A History of the 102d Illinois Infantry Volunteers, pp. 170-171.

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8 thoughts on “William T. Sherman at Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, May 1865

    • Thank you, Pat. I’m glad you found new material here, amid your Spotsylvania/Orange research. I went long on this (even by my wordy standards), since even the basic chronology of the story has not been presented before, at least online. Noel

  1. Extremely informative and interesting background, Noel.

    Having read over your introductory paragraph a few times, it occurred to me that you herein offered the classic distinction underpinning the reality many battlefields which drew manifest public interest later morphed into publicly funded battlefield parks; whereas, in contrast, those battlefields more remotely situated from urban areas (ergo, less public interest) mostly fell outside the amenities of official funding and protection. Thus, the requirement inevitably emerged for private individuals and battlefield preservation groups to step in (or not) and save these precious resources.

    Take Culpeper County, VA, for example: The battles of Cedar Mountain; Freeman’s Ford; Kelly’s Ford: Brandy Station and Morton’s Ford all took place in this war-ravaged county ensconced smack between the Rappahannock and Radian Rivers. But yet there has historically existed a total absence of “public history equating to public funding” in Culpeper, and if it was not for the Civil War Trust, most of these pristine battlefields would have been lost to “progress” (as some call it).

    So, while we are all sincerely gratified that an awareness by the public has helped save many battlefields–including Fredericksburg-area battlefields–it is also easily posited that those battlefields located in “remote” regions were short-changed when it came to government protection, and interpretation. What is the axiom that real estate folks are fond of asserting? Location, location, location.. Works for battlefields, too..

    And by the way, elements of the 14th Corps–as you well know–camped in Stevensbug on May 15–the last military activity to take place in Culpeper County.

    • Thank you, Bud. Yours is a great point about uneven government attention/action, or its complete absence. Thinking on your comment made me wonder if the contrast with the Culpeper battlefields isn’t all the more curious, since they were convenient to a major railroad corridor…although one that diverged from the coastal routes. Location, location, as you say. Noel

  2. Noel,
    This is absolutely fascinating stuff. Two things jump out at me. The first is that Colonel Tourtellotte’s tour highlighted the Federal success of 1863 rather than the disaster of 1862, which reflects a victor’s view of the war in its immediate aftermath. Interesting that by the time a national park is established, political expediency reflects Southern sensibilities and the emphasis is all 1862. The second item is the gang of local boys who apparently murder a couple of sightseeing Union soldiers. The battlefields were still dangerous places.

    • Thank you, Erik. Yes: a large set of stories from which the tourists in uniform could choose the one(s) they find most congenial. Even at the length of my post, I just scratched the surface and provided an introduction to the Western armies’ hike-through in May 1865. There are bound to be some great newspaper accounts out there for this, or even commentary by Benjamin Harrison on the local battlefields. Noel

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