Alonzo Gambel and Union Camp Servants – Summer 1862


From Eric Mink:

The summer 1862 occupation of Fredericksburg and Stafford County is a period in the region’s history that receives little attention when compared to the battles and events that followed a few months later. For many of the Union soldiers stationed along the Rappahannock River, the summer occupation proved to be their first real exposure to the South and the institution of slavery. It has been estimated that perhaps as many as 10,000 slaves passed through the military frontier around Fredericksburg to take refuge within Union lines. Termed “contraband,” most of the escaped slaves continued their journey to the District of Columbia and perhaps even points farther north. Others chose to stay with the Union army and secured work and employment in support of the thousands of soldiers that made up the Union’s Department of the Rappahannock. This interaction developed into a working relationship that most certainly left impressions upon the soldiers.

In this photo taken July 1862, Fredericksburg is visible across the Rappahannock River.

In this photo taken July 1862, Fredericksburg is visible across the Rappahannock River.

Union authorities set to work using the refugees in a variety of roles. Many found work at Stafford County’s Aquia Landing on the Potomac River, loading and unloading the supply ships that docked there. Still others received employment as drivers for artillery forges and transportation wagons. Compensation for this work varied and as one Union officer stated “the lowest price was one ration and 25 cents per day, and the highest one ration and 40 cents.” Perhaps the largest source of employment found within the army was that of a servant to the army’s officers and men.

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Yankee Freight Service to Guiney’s Station in 1862 …and Other Novelties along the Early War RF&P Railroad


from: Harrison

Northeast Virginia’s railroads showcased Civil War creativity that was both constructive and destructive, and originated with soldiers and civilians as well as with generals and other top officials. Prototype, customized, or infrequently seen structures, equipment, extensions, alternatives, and practices appeared along or were proposed for the region’s iron arteries. Those often offered previews, with technical or procedural novelty that had appeared along one line reappearing along another.  What follows is a sampler of the lesser-known, novel developments during the first year of wartime operations along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P).

The RF&P’s railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856.   This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners.  Looking west.  Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

The RF&P’s Fredericksburg railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856. This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners. Looking west. Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

At the time of Fort Sumter’s bombardment, the RF&P’s uppermost segment extended 14 miles north of Fredericksburg and the Rappahannock River.  The railroad then lacked a trackside telegraph-line, and its managers feared surprise by Federals coming ashore at Acquia Creek landing. That place marked the RF&P’s northern depot, at the mouth of the creek on the Potomac River.  Acquia boasted a hotel; an engine house; fishery buildings; and a long, shed-roofed railroad wharf where in peacetime passengers and freight had transferred between trains and steamboats.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s.  North at top.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s. North at top. Courtesy Library of Congress.

On April 18, 1861, three days after President Abraham Lincoln called for armed suppression of the lower South’s rebellion, the RF&P’s Superintendent of Road instructed his representative in Fredericksburg to implement an early-warning system in the event of threatening moves by Union forces:

If any of the citizens exhibit any alarm [emphasis original] you can tell them that we will keep the Engine at [Acquia] Creek fired up all the time so that in case…any vessel come[s] in sight that looks suspicious or anything else[,] we will run the train direct to Freds’burg to give the alarm to the citizens….

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting; drying; and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862.  (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting, drying, and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862. (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

On May 14-15, 1861, either a train-borne alert or its horseback equivalent triggered the dispatch from Fredericksburg of a hastily organized, armed reconnaissance by railroad, as recalled by an officer in the Virginia State Forces: 

[T]he enemy sent down an old passenger steamboat, the Mt . Vernon, which had formerly been used to carry the mail between Aquia and Washington City, no doubt to see what we were about. [A] messenger was dispatched with the news. Ample time was allowed, during a ride of sixteen miles, for him to imagine all kinds of wonderful things; and by the time he reached head-quarters [at Fredericksburg] it was asserted that a fabulous number of vessels of war of the largest class were landing untold hosts of Yankees at the Creek; that they had already captured the works, and were advancing rapidly by way of the railroad on Fredericksburg. [The town] was thrown into alarm and excitement. Trains were ordered to be fired up. All the troops…turned out under arms, while staff officers dashed about in a manner truly wonderful to behold. General Ruggles’s forces had by this time been increased to five or six companies of infantry.
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The Canal-Boat Bridge (part 3): a Rare Sketch by an Iron Brigade Soldier, and the Editorial Bombardment that Transformed It


from: Harrison

In the late fall of 1862, as the opposing armies converged on Fredericksburg, editors in distant offices scrambled for background material on the town. The staff of Harper’s Weekly dug into a small, unused archive of eyewitness sketches made during the previous spring and summer, and from those created a montage that appeared in the issue of December 6, 1862, five days prior to the opening of the battle and the artillery bombardment of the town:

    
While researching an earlier blog post, I had learned of the spring/summer origins of the December 6 montage, and that most of its component woodcuts were based on (presumably lost) sketches by Henry Didiot, a soldier in the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry of the famed Iron Brigade. Not long after his sketching at Fredericksburg, Didiot fell at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm on August 28, 1862.

The woodcut montage of his sketches published posthumously on December 6 included a fairly nondescript picture, below, of “Wrecks of Steamers burned by the Rebels.” The view looks east across the Rappahannock River where it widens into Fredericksburg’s small harbor, and from the town wharves towards Ferry Farm and its namesake ferry landing in Stafford County. (The Ferry Farm buildings at center-right horizon postdated and occupied the general area of the site of George Washington’s boyhood home, which was itself in ruins by the 1830’s.)


Until last night, when I spotted the sketch, below, on the website of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was unaware that any of Didiot’s original drawings had survived. Equally important, the sketch offers a contrast that shows how Harper’s editors had subjected it to a fairly severe artistic bombardment when creating “Wrecks of Steamers”–the woodcut version. Although unattributed on the Museum’s website, the sketch’s original caption—“Canal Boat Bridge across the Rappahannock,” “Built by Co I 6th Reg. Wis. Vol./ in one day…Sketched by Henry [illegible]…”— and basic design clearly connect it to Didiot and, in turn, to the heavily modified woodcut.

In accordance with the Museum’s posted policy on fair-use of materials in educational, non-profit venues, I include the sketch here, at the same magnification made available by the Museum online:

Credit: WWW.MFA.ORG. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Watercolors and Drawings, 1800–1875. Accession number: 55.840.

 

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A famous site today: slaves crossing the Rappahannock


From John Hennessy

This post will mean a good deal more to you if you read our posts on this image, here and here–some of the most popular posts we have done.

This image, and a close companion, were taken on or about August 19, 1862, during Pope’s retreat from Culpeper County. The image shows slaves crossing the Rappahannock River at Tinpot Ford, just below the Orange and Alexandria Bridge, visible in the background. It is one of the most famous images of the Civil War, used constantly to illustrate slaves’ efforts to achieve freedom. It has become ubiquitous, even a bit of a cliche, largely because no other image comes close to matching its power.

In our look at the images last year, we were able to show where the image was taken, but did not have access to the site itself.  Our friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall, an indefatigable and unconquerable preservationist and maven of all things Civil War Culpeper (he is the only one of the Virginia crowd of preservationists to have his picture on the front of a national magazine, so far as I know), recently managed to visit the site and kindly share with us this image of the site today.  His explanation follows.

This is Tinpot Run Ford, and the old road from Culpeper approaches the river from the south (still there). The ford road comes out of the river on the north side and is still quite evident where it [crossses] the river into Fauquier. If you look carefully [at the original], you can discern Tinpot Run entering the river. 

This is a modern-day view (July 2012). The ground I am standing on is the sandbar situated in the river you can see above. The river curls around to the…south from there. As is shown in the original images, you can barely discern Tinpot Run to the right. 

My picture is taken a bit closer than O’Sullivan’s original image, and you can see the bridge (re-built) appears closer–which is a function of the zoom lens distorting the natural depth of field.. I will return to this scene on August 19 and take the picture on or about the same day it was taken 150 years ago.

Our great thanks to Bud Hall for passing this image along.

Independence Day 1862: Fredericksburg’s Stark Contrast and Some Fireworks


From John Hennessy:

Fredericksburg under Union occupation in May 1862, before the repair of the railroad bridge into town. Looking NW.

One hundred and fifty years ago tomorrow, the Fourth of July dawned in Fredericksburg–a beautiful, clear, breezy day. For eight decades the town had celebrated the nation’s independence; but in 1862, residents in the town passed the day quietly, without notice, their attention drawn more by the news of the massive fighting around Richmond and hopes for their own independence from the now-hated Union. It was a “week of intense anxiety,” wrote Jane Beale. Though buoyed by word of victory, she, like many others in Fredericksburg, feared that death’s tendrils would once again touch the town (Mrs. Beale had lost a son in the Battle of Williamsburg).

A Union officer rode through the streets that morning. He noted there was none of the customary protests from the citizenry. Rather, he said, “Young Virginia was in the dumps,” and he wished to have none of dreariness. “I hurried across the river,” he wrote, “lest I also should be infected with the painful gloom.”

Fredericksburg from the camps of Gibbon’s brigade, in what is today Pratt Park. Many of the events held on July 4 probably took place in this field.

Across that river in Stafford County, the Union army suffered anything but gloom, intent on celebrating the “86th birthday of this great and once happy Republic.” In John Gibbon’s brigade of western troops (later known as the Iron Brigade), men and officers started the day by swapping roles–the officers taking the ranks as privates, and select enlisted men acting as officers. The men rejoiced at the sight of colonels and “other big shoulder straps” policing the camp, “picking up old bones and trash.”

In Marsena Patrick’s brigade of New York soldiers, the day featured a concert, speeches given upon a platform adorned with cedar boughs–purposely reminiscent of Northern forests–and the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Virtually all the batteries with each brigade fired a salute that day–the climax coming at noon, when Monroe’s Rhode Island battery, near the Phillips House, fired a salute of 84 guns. All of this was clearly audible in Fredericksburg, and that of course was partly the point.

Company I of the 7th Wisconsin in what is today Pratt Park, with Fredericksburg beyond. Eric Mink will have much more to say about this and other images of the 7th Wisconsin taken that summer in a future post.

But the day’s most notable events came in the afternoon, when games and races broke out all over Stafford Heights. Gibbon’s brigade held a mule race, probably in what is today Pratt Park.

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Soldiers’ Huts to Luxury Homes – Bell-Air Today


From Eric Mink:

A previous post, found here, looked at Stafford County Unionist Abraham Primmer. With the compensation he received from the U.S. government after the war, Primmer successfully returned to farming and lived out his final years as a respected member of his Stafford County community.

“Bell-Air,” the house and property, remained a prominent landmark in the neighborhood that became known as Leeland after the war. The home and property remained in the hands of Primmer’s daughters until 1926. The house remained in good shape and was at its finest when a researcher from the Works Progress Administration visited the farm in 1937. By 1942, however, the county land assessment noted “building burned,” indicating that the house was gone.

Bell-Air – 1937

The farm, which became known locally as “Walnut Farm,” went through a number of owners in the last half of the 20th century. Most of them apparently purchased the property as an investment, as its location along the railroad made it an attractive piece of ground with much potential. The Virginia Railway Express stop at Leeland Station, just off the northern boundary of the property, made the land ripe for residential development.

Modern aerial view of the Bell-Air and Camp Pitcher sites

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Mr. Lincoln’s Fredericksburg–May 23, 1862


From John Hennessy:

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s visit to Fredericksburg, we refer you to a post we did nearly two years ago that documents pretty strongly that Lincoln visited the Sunken Road and Marye’s Heights in May 1862. You can find that post–one of our most popular ever–here.

Union General Rufus King (center) on the front steps at Chatham in the spring of 1862. That’s future Union general Judson Kilpatrick at right, already looking the daredevil. Lincoln marched up these steps and into the front door on May 23, 1862 to meet with King, McDowell, Gibbon, and others.

Lincoln’s May 23 visit came at a critical time for the Union army, as McDowell’s troops at Fredericksburg made final preparations for their advance south on Richmond, set for May 25. But while Lincoln was here, bad things were afoot in the Shenandoah that would completely disrupt the grand scheme, for on May 23, Jackson’s men struck at Banks’s forces at Strasburg and Front Royal. The climactic phase fo the Valley campaign had begun.

Lincoln’s visit to Chatham and Fredericksburg was akin to President Obama’s recent journey to Afghanistan–very few in the army or the press knew he was coming. Consequently, the visit received little notice in the press, and indeed is scantily recorded by men in the army either. Still, there are some worthwhile nuggets and impressions that have come down to us.

Union General John Gibbon left the best description of Lincoln’s morning visit to Chatham in a letter to his wife (Gibbon had written an artillery manual before the war that the government had refused to adopt, something the general pointed out to the president):

The dining room at Chatham, where Lincoln had dinner on May 23, 1862. A photo from the 1920s.

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