The Blue Tide Descends 150 years ago

From John Hennessy:

One hundred and fifty years ago tomorrow, April 17, the first wave of Union troops began its move toward Fredericksburg.  From camps around Warrenton Junction (modern-day Calverton) and Catlett Station on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, the division commanded by General Rufus King started south.  His lead brigade, commanded by General Christopher Columbus Augur, consisted of four New York regiments and the 2d US Sharpshooters.  They followed what is today Elk Run Road (Route 806) to the crossroads at Bristersburg, and then south on Bristersburg Road (Route 616) into Stafford County.  While these roads would become familiar routes for the Union army as it moved into and out of the Fredericksburg region over the next two years, no Union troops had passed that way prior to April 1862.

By 1862 standards, the landscape these troops passed through was nondescript.  It would seem so today as well, except that the area is little changed since the war–the roads still narrow and winding, often closed in by roadside forests.  In April 1862, the route’s most notable characteristic was the people the soldiers encountered along the way:  slaves.  As one New Yorker noted, it was the first and only time during the war the soldiers saw slavery undisturbed.  And that status would remain intact for only moments after the arrival of the Union army.

Click to enlarge.

Other troops followed much the same route in the coming days and weeks.  One of them remembered,

The road was constantly thronged with contrabands who…were making their way on “double quick,” for the land of peace and freedom.  I saw the tears stream down the dark faces of those too old to leave, as those in the prime of life bid them a long adieu, and with hurried step started from the house of bondage.  The attachment that exists between the slave and the master, is like the attachment between oil and water…  The very institution itself hardens the heart and callouses all feelings of humanity. 

At midday on April 17th, the Union columns approached the junction of Bristersburg Road, Hartwood Road (Route 612) and Poplar Road (Route 616).  There it likely split, taking both roads south to the Warrenton Road, today’s Route 17.  Once on Route 17 (today four lanes rather than 2 and considerably straightened by our friends at VDOT), the column turned left toward Berea Church and Fredericksburg. Continue reading

Setting the Stage for War: A Pictorial Proto-Website from 1856

From: Noel Harrison

A panoramic chromolithograph, View of Fredericksburg, VA, published in 1856 and sampled from time to time on this blog, offers a contemporary database of incredible scope and accuracy as we enter the sesquicentennial of the town’s first Union occupation and first battle.  As orientation for discussing a number of magnified details, here’s a medium-rez look at the picture:


What follows is the first in a projected, short series of posts that will review the chromolithograph’s own history; its testimony to the antebellum appearance, development, and self-image of Fredericksburg; and its documentation of the wartime landscape of 1862, six years into the future–little changed in some aspects from the picture of 1856 but altered markedly in others.

Edward Sachse & Co. of Baltimore published View of Fredericksburg, VA in 1856.  Sachse & Co., which had already produced panoramic views of Alexandria and Washington, D.C., as well as of Baltimore, began work on the Fredericksburg picture by dispatching an artist, or artists, to the town.  Judging from John W. Reps’ book, Views and Viewmakers of Urban American, Sachse artist James T. Palmatary was probably responsible for walking Fredericksburg and its outskirts and preparing at least some of the reference sketches in 1855 and/or 1856.  These were then compiled as a master drawing, which back in Baltimore was etched onto smoothed pieces of limestone for printing.

Preparation of the master drawing had involved a key rearrangement of data:  re-picturing the human’s-eye, ground-level drawings of Fredericksburg and its individual buildings from a single, high “bird’s-eye” angle, to show the complete town while maximizing information about individual structures. 

The final perspective for View of Fredericksburg, VA looked across and over the town from a point just across the Rappahannock River and hovering above Stafford Heights, about a half mile from the RF&P Railroad bridge over the river, and a quarter of a mile or so from the farmstead that occupied the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. 

Speaking of which, someone is plowing a field at the former Washington property (known after the Washington era as “Ferry Farm”), while travelers arrive at the adjacent landing of the namesake ferry:

Fast forward from 1856 to December 1862:  artist Alfred Waud positions himself beside the ferry landing to sketch Union bridge-builders under fire at the Middle Pontoon Crossing.  A week later, following the defeated Federals’ retreat across the river, some of them convert “an old cherry-tree” on or near Ferry Farm into “all sorts of crosses, pipes, rings, etc., that can be sent away by mail” as mementoes of George Washington. 

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Peter Goolrick becomes a “diplomatic incident”

From John Hennessy (parts of the below are derived from a broader profile of Goolrick I did for the HFFI Journal of Fredericksburg History, which you can get from HFFI here. That article includes full documentation for what appears below.):

Few Fredericksburg civilians could boast a resume of influence to equal Peter Goolrick’s. The Irish-born merchant  had thrice been elected mayor, served on bank and corporate boards, and was the town’s most aggressive real estate speculator–owning in 1860 more than 30 properties worth $76,000. Indeed, if not for a spat with council in 1860, Goolrick and not Montgomery Slaughter would have been Fredericksburg’s wartime mayor. But the stubborn Goolrick resigned the mayoralty in a petty dispute over the appointment of police officers.

Still, Peter Goolrick  (whose son would found and build famed Goolrick’s Pharmacy, which still stands on Caroline Street) would inevitably find his way into the public spotlight during the war.  And he did it in a way that garnered the attention of the British Foreign office, the US  Secretary of State, and even President Abraham Lincoln.

In 1853, British consul for Virginia (and well-known novelist) G.P.R. James appointed Peter Goolrick vice-consul for the port of Fredericksburg and district of Tappahannock.  Much about this appointment is a mystery.   Why did the British government select the scion of an Irish nationalist to represent its interests? And why was a vice-consul necessary at all so close to the British embassy in Washington?  In any event, while the appointment was real, the British government never bothered to notify the U.S. Department of State. Whatever labors Goolrick undertook as vice-consul (they appear to have been slight), he did so without notice from virtually anyone—at least until the Yankees arrived in 1862.

Peter Goolrick's house at the corner of Caroline and Hanover. Today, Goolrick's spacious home encompasses both Irish Eyes (appropriately) and the Griffin bookshop.

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Slaves of Fall Hill: Abraham and Hester Tuckson

From Mink:

One of the gems recently uncovered in the pension files of the 23rd United States Colored Troops (USCT) pertains to a family that lived on a plantation known to many in the local area. In the years prior to the Civil War, Hester and Abraham Tuckson were slaves owned by Dr. John R. Taylor of “Fall Hill,” located in Spotsylvania County along the bend of the Rappahannock River northwest of Fredericksburg. Abraham was one of  many slaves from the Fredericksburg region who escaped to freedom during the war and enlisted in the Union Army. He was killed on July 30, 1864 at the Battle of the Crater outside Petersburg, Va. Hester remained at Fall Hill through the end of the war and began drawing a widow’s pension in 1873. Due to confusion over her first name, Hester’s claim was reexamined in 1902. At that time, depositions were provided by Hester, Dr. Taylor’s son, Robert Innes Taylor, Dr. Taylor’s brother-in-law, Frank Forbes, and Reverend George L. Dixon.  The following information, gleaned from these depositions, provides both insights and clues for further investigation into the lives of these two former Spotsylvania slaves.

According to Hester, she and Abraham Tuckson were married at Fall Hill in December 1857. More than likely the marriage occurred around Christmas. The union was a slave marriage, which lacked any legal standing or protection, but the couple managed to remain together and raise a family before Abraham’s departure during the war. Hester and Abraham had four children together: a daughter Emma born May 1856 and prior to their marriage, another daughter Nancy born September 1858, and a third child who died.  Their fourth child, Leonia was born in August 1862.

Early in the war, Abraham escaped from Fall Hill, leaving behind his wife and children. Exactly when he left the plantation is a little uncertain, as Hester’s claim does not correspond with that of either R. Innes Taylor or Frank Forbes. In her deposition, Hester states that Abraham ran away in 1862, while engaged in hauling commissary stores for the Confederate authorities. Documents in the files of Confederate Citizens and Business Firms, located at the National Archives, do show that during the period August 1861 through March 1862 Dr. Taylor hired out wagons and drivers to the Confederate Army encamped across the river in Stafford County. So, it is possible that Abraham made his way into Union lines at that time, although it would certainly have been difficult to pass through the Confederate held territory of northern Virginia. Dr. Taylor claimed compensation for losses of a mule and damage to wagons, but did not mention the loss of a driver. Innes Taylor and Frank Forbes, on the other hand, claim that Abraham made his escape when the Union army arrived opposite Fredericksburg in the spring of 1862. This seems much more likely as the time for Abrham’s departure.

Of the documents found in Hester’s pension file, the most intriguing is the deposition of Robert Innes Taylor, who was sixteen years old in 1862. What appears here is a direct transcription of Innes’s deposition:

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A wild ride on the canal boat bridge

From John Hennessy:

In our previous posts about the canal boat bridge built by the Union army in the spring of 1862 (click here), we mentioned that the bridge was swept away by high water on June 4. We are constantly turning up new material, and it so happens that a nice little description of the event came in last week, courtesy of Mark Silo of Loudonville, NY. It’s from the June 9, 1862 letter of Uberto Burnham (76th New York) to his parents (the letter is in the excellent collection of Burnham papers at the New York State Library). As you may recall, part of the 76th was detailed to both guard and live on the canal boat bridge. Apprising his parents of the regiment’s new quarters in town, Burnham wrote:

We did not leave the bridge of canal boats, but the bridge left us…. Tuesday night it commenced raining and by 3 o’clock the next day all the bridges across the river were carried away by the flood. Co. D. went down the river with their bridge, and some of the men did not get back until three days after. A few guns and knapsacks were last, but no men. We shall in a few days be all right again.

Little tidbits like this brighten the day of government work…. Our thanks to Mark Silo for sending this along.

The canal boat bridge (part 2): details innumerable

From John Hennessy and Paul Nasca, field archeologist at Ferry Farm (we suggest you read our initial post on the canal boat bridge first; you should also read Noel’s very detailed post on a sketch of this, the “middle crossing” site, here):

In our prior post on the 1862 image of the canal boat bridge we focused on the group of African-Americans in the foreground of the image. In this installment, we’ll take a look at the rest of the image–a trove of details innumerable.

Photo courtesy Marc Storch.

As we mentioned earlier, the canal boat bridge at Fredericksburg was one of four constructed by the Union army in the spring and summer 1862–construction made necessary by the Confederates’ destruction of the bridges when they (the Confederates) abandoned Fredericksburg on April 18, 1862. For more than a week after the burning, the Union army did not enter Fredericksburg en-masse–a fact that inspired some quiet taunting by the locals. On April 25, steamboats chugged up to the wharf with as many as 20 canal boats in tow,  and that day Union engineers started building the first bridge across the Rappahannock.  The bridgebuilders were protected by a pair of Union howitzers likely placed on Ferry Farm, overlooking the bridge. Betty Herndon Maury recorded that as the bridge went into place, soldiers bantered loudly with African-Americans who had come to the town dock to watch the work.

The bridge built on canal boats was completed on May 1. Of the four bridges (a pontoon bridge would be completed below Chatham on May 2, the railroad bridge about May 9, and a bridge on the old abutments of the Chatham bridge sometime thereafter), the canal boat bridge was intended to carry the heavy wheeled and horse-borne traffic.  That Mayday afternoon, May 1,  Union generals Rufus King and Marsena Patrick led a contingent of cavalry across the new bridge into town. Two days later, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon Chase crossed the bridge for the first visit of Union politicos to Fredericksburg. The four-month occupation of the town had begun.

So far as we know, the bridge would remain in place throughout the occupation, with the exception of a week or so in June when it was carried away by high water. Abraham Lincoln crossed the bridge on May 23 during his tour of Fredericksburg (which you can read about here).

This image of the bridge was taken, according to its label, in June 1862. We can likely narrow that time-frame to sometime after June 12 (or so), for the bridge as washed away on June 4 and took more than a week to re-gather and reconstruct. It’s virtually certain that this image is of the second iteration of the canal boat bridge.

In the image are many details that hint at the everyday work of occupation and the nature of the town in 1862. At both ends of the bridge are facilities to house the guards that regulated passage over the bridge. A the near end is a rude, triangular guard shack, a couple of soldiers peering from it toward the camera, with another, leggings in place, also aware of the photographer at work.

These men are likely from the 76th New York Infantry–from this unit several companies were detailed to guard the bridge and regulate traffic to and from town. These men were quartered on the boats themselves, which made for something of a wild ride on June 4 when the high water swept the boats as far as 20 miles downstream (steamboats hauled them back, and in the meantime a Union gunboat acted as a ferry between Stafford and Fredericksburg). Continue reading

The canal boat bridge at Fredericksburg: slaves, Lincoln, and details innumerable (part 1)

From John Hennessy and Paul Nasca (for Part 2 of this post, click here):

We are glad to be joined for this post by Paul Nasca, the field archeologist at Ferry Farm, George Washington’s Boyhood home on the Rappahannock River–a site operated by the George Washington Foundation. For the past many years, Paul has led the excavations that have revealed the original site of the Washington home and myriad other features on the site. A constant presence in his work has been evidence of the use of Ferry Farm during the Civil War, which in turn has led him into an exploration of the people and events associated with the war and that site. He shares an aspect of that work here.  (If you get the chance, stop by Ferry Farm to see the very nice exhibit they have done on the farm in the Civil War.)  Much of what you are about to read is the product of his work and mind.  We are also grateful to Marc Storch, a fine historian of the Civil War, for allowing us to share the canal boat bridge image from his collection.

Photo courtesy Marc Storch.

This image is the only photograph of perhaps the most notable and famous bridge built at Fredericksburg by the Union army during the mid-1862 occupation. After the first Union troops arrived on April 18, General Irvin McDowell summoned a supply of canal boats from Washington D.C. to build a bridge. Occupied Fredericksburg would eventually have four bridges: the railroad bridge, a pontoon bridge at the base of Hawke Street for passing troops into and out of town, a rebuilt Chatham Bridge—apparently in part for the use of civilians—and the canal boat bridge, sturdy enough to carry heavy wagons, cavalry, and artillery across the river. These canal boats brought to Fredericksburg may have been the very canal boats McClellan had intended to use to build a similar bridge at Harper’s Ferry the previous month, but found that they would not fit through one of the lift locks on the C&O canal.  The canal boats arrived on April 24, and by early May the bridge was complete. On May 23 President Abraham Lincoln crossed this bridge during his visit to Fredericksburg. Surely escaping slaves passed in the opposite direction. And all the while passed the traffic–supplies, guns and soldiers–needed to sustain the occupation of Fredericksburg. There was hardly a busier place in the region.

The bridge shown in this image is the second iteration of the canal boat bridge.  Continue reading