“If these signatures could talk…” Innis House Graffiti

From: Eric Mink

Innis House

The Innis House – 2019

The Innis House is the last building along Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road to have witnessed the fighting that occurred there in 1862 and 1863. Built ca.1859, the small wood frame building is today an exterior exhibit, occasionally open to the public during the summer months. Visitors who walk along Sunken Road and stop to look through the windows of the house can see the lasting damage caused by two battles. The lead and iron missiles that filled the air in December 1862 and May 1863 passed into and through the Innis House, leaving their marks on the walls and the doors. Some bullets still remain lodged in the building’s framing timbers. The Innis House is a witness to the war and its appearance is an evocative display that conveys the destruction that twice visited Sunken Road.

Innis Interior

Interior first floor partition of the Innis House, showing the damage caused by the war – 2019

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired the Innis House in 1969. The agency stabilized the building in 1973 and four years later began the process of restoring and rehabilitating the house. Post-Civil War additions and vegetation were removed and a new wood shingle roof was added. In 1985 began the longer and more involved effort of returning the interior of the building to its wartime appearance. It was in the course of this work that park staff uncovered lasting evidence of the war.

Innis Rehab

Interior first floor partition prior to restoration. The layers of wallpaper hid the damage beneath – 1985

Layers of wallpaper that covered the interior wood partition walls were removed. Decades of wall coverings had hidden the bullet holes and artillery damage. It is plainly visible, unmistakable and requires little interpretation. On the second floor, however, other reminders of the war existed but they were not so obvious. The faint penciled graffiti left by some of those who either occupied the Innis House or were stationed in the immediate area reveals itself only when one looks closely.

Bird Graffiti

Graffiti on the second floor partition depicting a framed bird – 2019

Like the first floor partition, that on the second floor had also been covered. In this case, layers of simple newspaper served as a wall covering. Much of the underlying penciled scratch is illegible and nearly impossible to make out. The removal of the newspaper may have even disturbed some of the penciled work, while still more has merely faded with time. One piece of graffiti that is quite visible is a bird drawn inside a penciled frame. Was this the work of a soldier, or maybe one of the buildings residents? No signature or discernible attribute accompanies the drawing, but about 12 inches away on the wall is a piece of graffiti left by an individual who wanted to be identified. It is a common form of soldier graffiti – a name and regimental affiliation.

Bugles Graffiti

Graffiti on the second floor partition “Wm. Bugless/41 Va Regt” – 2019

This piece of graffiti, while faint and easy to overlook, reads “Wm Bugless/41 Va Regt.” A quick look at the regimental roster finds a single match for an individual who served with the 41st Virginia Infantry. That soldier has a Compiled Service Record (CRS) in (2nd) Company G of the 41st Virginia – William H. Bugles (aka Bugless). His CSR is rather slim, the cards noting that he enlisted June 20, 1861 in Petersburg, Va. The enlistment was for twelve months with Captain James D. Maney’s “Ragland Guards” Company of Virginia Volunteers. This company was attached to the 41st Virginia until May 1862 when it became (2nd) Company G, 41st Virginia Infantry. Private Bugless reenlisted in the spring of 1862, was promoted to 2nd Corporal and was detailed away from the regiment as an enrolling officer from August through September 1862. He returned to the regiment and appears on the company muster rolls for the period October 1862 through February 1863, at which point he is listed as 5th Sergeant. There is no further record of him after the March and April 1863 muster roll, at which time he was also listed as present.

The 41st Virginia Infantry, while a part of the Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, did not serve near Sunken Road during either the December 1862 or May 1863 battles of Fredericksburg. In the intervening winter months, the regiment and its parent brigade spent most of its time along the Rappahannock River above Fredericksburg, either in camp or manning the picket line. On June 3, 1863, a month following the second battle at Fredericksburg and the larger Chancellorsville Campaign, the 41st Virginia moved its camp to the town of Fredericksburg. Lee’s army had begun its migration west to Culpeper Courthouse in the opening moves of what became the Gettysburg Campaign. Union General Joseph Hooker ordered a crossing of the Rappahannock River below Fredericksburg to gain intelligence as to Lee’s moves and intentions. This occurred on June 5 and for a few days Confederate General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps was detained in an effort to contain Hooker. The 41st Virginia was a part of Hill’s command and its presence in Fredericksburg contributed to the effort at containing the Union threat. Sergeant William Bugless’s company commander, 2nd Lieutenant Charles E. DeNoon, wrote home to his parents on June 12, 1863, providing specifics about the position his men held:

“Our brigade occupies Marye’s Hill and Fredericksburg.  The 41st is in line of battle at the base of the hill on the stone fence. We have been in line since last Friday, waiting for the Yankee[s] to approach.” – Richard T. Couture, ed. Charlie’s Letters: The Correspondence of Chares E. DeNoon (privately printed, 1982), p. 166

DeNoon, the 41st Virginia, and presumably William H. Bugless, occupied a position in Sunken Road, along the stone wall that bordered the road to the east, and near the Innis House for ten days, from June 5 until June 14.  This would have been ample time for Bugless to climb the stairs to the second story of the Innis House and write his name on the partition wall.

Sunken Road Post

Sunken Road, stone wall and the Innis House – 1866

A name written on a wall 156 years ago begs for research into the individual. By leaving his name, William Bugless wanted people to know he had been there. So other than the small amount of information contained in his slim CSR, who was William H. Bugless? He has a relatively unusual surname, which often helps when searching for someone in today’s convenient and accessible digital databases of census records and family genealogies. Bugless, however, has proven hard to nail down. No one with that name or a similar spelling appears to be a good candidate in either the 1850 or 1860 census for Virginia. Broadening the search found a William H. “Bugles” in the 1850 census for Pennsylvania. A 7-year old boy, thus born about 1843, is listed as a native of Pennsylvania. He lived with his parents, Charles and Catharine, in the Lebanon borough of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. His father made a living as a blacksmith. Jumping forward to the census for 1860 finds the father Charles living in a Lebanon hotel and continuing to work as a blacksmith, but no other family members are present. Charles’s location and occupation remains the same in the 1870 census. The 1860 census for Delaware lists a William “Bugles,” age 16, living with a Charles Bugles and family in Christiana Hundred, New Castle, Delaware. There are enough discrepancies between this listing and the 1850 census enumeration, such as names of other household members and their ages that this may not be the same William “Bugles.”

After the Civil War, William reappears in the 1868 Lebanon Directory, listed as a blacksmith and living at 523 Lehman Street. The census two years later shows him as the head of a household in Lebanon borough, continuing to work as a blacksmith. The other residents of the house include his wife Polly A. and three children under the age of five. It appears that William’s wife’s given name was Mary Ann (nee Bleistein), but she may have also gone by Polly. In the 1880 Census, 38-year old William “Bugle” appears in the census for Upper Rapho, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  He is listed as a blacksmith and the head of a household that includes his wife Mary Ann, two sons, four daughters, and his father. All are listed as having been born in Pennsylvania.

The clue that might link this Pennsylvanian to the Confederacy and the graffiti on the second floor of the Innis House is a card filed with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Military Affairs. It is a Record of Burial Place of Veteran card that identifies William Bugless as buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lebanon, Penn. He is listed as a veteran of the Civil War, having served in the “Army of Va.” with the rank of captain. No evidence has been found to indicate that anyone by that name achieved the rank of captain during the Civil War, but postwar “promotions” were not unusual. There was a Union “Army of Virginia,” but it was short-lived and only in existence from June through September 1862. That level of detail, listing a rather small and somewhat obscure army, seems unusually specific for this document. Could the intention have been to identify his service was with an army from Virginia?


Record of Burial Place of Veteran card for William Bugless

The Record of Burial card places the interment of William Bugless in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lebanon, Penn. A search of newspapers for William H. Bugless’s obituary results in announcements that appeared in both the July 20 and 21, 1897 issues of Lebanon’s The Daily News. No mention of military service was given. His wife Mary Ann’s obituary, from May 15, 1916, only mentions William’s occupation as having been a blacksmith. William and Mary Ann are both buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lebanon. They are also both listed on Find a Grave. The photo that accompanies William’s entry is quite interesting. The photo shows his grave decorated with a Confederate flag and a Confederate Veteran grave marker.

Bugless Headstone Post

Grave of William Bugless in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Lebanon, Penn.

St. Mary’s Cemetery is associated with the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Lebanon, Penn. Emails and a follow up phone call to the church resulted in the discovery that its records for the grave and William Bugless indicate that he may in fact be the same William Bugless that served in (2nd) Company G of the 41st Virginia Infantry. Correspondence with the Lebanon County Historical Society netted similar information. This strongly suggests that William Bugless from Lebanon, Penn. is the same individual that signed his name on the second floor of the Innis House. If this is the same individual, what was his motive for leaving Lebanon, Penn., going south, joining the 41st Virginia Infantry and fighting for the Confederacy? We may never know, but by writing his name on the wall of Innis House he made sure that 156 years later his presence in Sunken Road would be remembered.

Eric J. Mink

Much thanks to Father Robert Gillelan and Deacon Richard Wentzel of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in Lebanon, Penn., and Jennifer Newton of the Lebanon County Historical Society, for answering my questions and providing me with information on William Bugless of Lebanon, Penn. Also, thanks to my good friend and colleague Emmanuel Dabney, at Petersburg National Battlefield, for research assistance.

Sources consulted:  Compiled Service Record of William Bugles, 41st Virginia Infantry, Fold3; Ancestry.com; The Daily News [Lebanon, Penn.], July 20 and 21, 1897, and May 15, 1916; Richard T. Couture, ed. Charlie’s Letters: The Correspondence of Chares E. DeNoon (privately printed, 1982); A Correct and Complete Directory of the Borough of Lebanon 1868-1869, p. 138; FindaGrave.com; Email and telephone communication with Father Robert Gillelan and Deacon Richard Wentzel, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Lebanon, Penn.; Email communication with Jennifer Newton, Office Coordinator at the Lebanon County Historical Society, Lebanon, Penn.

5 thoughts on ““If these signatures could talk…” Innis House Graffiti

  1. Thank you for the well documented email. I really appreciate the amount of research someone put in on this interesting topic. Trent


    Frank Trent 140 Eagle Court Locust Grove, VA. 22508

    Cell: 540-220-7170


  2. I agree, one thing I love about this blog is how thorough the research and documentation is. It really brings the Civil War to life in terms of the humans who fought in it. I love reading these posts!

  3. It’s a fascinating story. It’s also interesting that the graffiti of the bird in the frame on the wall of the house somewhat resembles the carving on the top of Bugless’s tombstone. Probably it’s just coincidence, but it is somewhat unusual carving, shallow and amateurish (contrasting with the name and dates), for an 1897 tombstone.

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