“If these signatures could talk…” Fredericksburg Graffiti


From Eric Mink:

This blog has featured Fredericksburg’s Farmers’ Bank (aka National Bank of Fredericksburg) more than once in its posts (found here and here). Located at the intersection of Princess Anne and George Streets, the structure sits at what was essentially the center of the town. A prominent building, it saw tremendous activity during the war, as occupying Union troops commandeered use of the building as a headquarters and hospital both during and after the Civil War. It is also quite possible that Confederate forces also used the bank, although no sources have come to light pointing to its use by southern soldiers. It should come as no surprise that the marks of war survive on the building.

Farmers Bank East

Farmers’ Bank (1820)

Numerous bricks on both the Princess Anne and George Streets facades of Farmers’ Bank bear the scratching and carvings of vandals. Most of it appears to be of fairly modern origin, but some of the graffiti is without question from the 19th century. Only two are legible enough to be deciphered and attributed to soldiers who passed through Fredericksburg during the Civil War. Both are the work of Confederate privates from Virginia cavalry units.

One of the two names carved into a brick is located on the George Street side of the bank, beneath a window to the left of the entrance that historically accessed the residence portion of the building.

Ellis Graffiti

Confederate soldier’s graffiti is located on the George Street facade of Farmers’ Bank

The inscription consists of a name and partial unit affiliation carved into the stretcher of a single brick. It reads: LB ELLIS – CO A

Ellis Graffiti2.jpg

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Banks’ Ford Arborglyphs


From Eric Mink:

An ongoing feature of this blog looks at surviving Civil War graffiti in the Fredericksburg area. More than simply evidence of wartime vandalism, these inscriptions are surviving elements that both represent and document the battlefields and landscapes of conflict. They also speak to us with stories of the men who defaced these places. So far, previous posts have examined carvings and writings found on buildings, but soldiers marked all types of surfaces, including trees.

In this May 1864 photograph of Brompton on Marye's Heights (left), tree carvings and graffiti are visible when magnified (right).

In this May 1864 photograph of Brompton on Marye’s Heights (left), tree carvings and graffiti are visible when magnified (right).

Known as arborglyphs, tree carvings are gaining attention among anthropologists, scholars and researchers. From graffiti left by Basque shepherds in Nevada and California, to carvings made by soldiers fighting in Europe during the two World Wars, “culturally-modified trees” are being documented and studied. When it comes to locating surviving examples of American Civil War arborglyphs, however, it is difficult, if not impossible. Tree carvings fade with time, as the trees continue to grow and heal their scars. With the passage of 150 years, it is doubtful that many, if any, Civil War arborglyphs survive on living trees. In the Fredericksburg area, however, we do have some impressive examples of Civil War tree graffiti that were discovered in 1935.
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If these signatures could talk…”: Braehead Graffiti


From Eric Mink:

Braehead Post

Most visitors to the Fredericksburg Battlefield pass “Braehead” when driving the park auto tour. The antebellum home sits along Lee Drive, between Tour Stops 3 and 4. The majority of travelers along this stretch of the tour road probably don’t notice the house, as it is screened by trees and lacks any markers or interpretive signs. Braehead is, however, a significant battlefield landmark and is one that still bears scars from the intrusion of war in the 1860s.

John Howison built Braehead in 1859 as the home for his family, which included his wife Ann and seven children. The home is built of brick with a raised basement and a unique plan comprised of two two-story sections connected by a single-story central structure. Howison used salvaged brick from buildings already standing on his property to reduce construction costs, which totaled $15,000 when finished. During the Civil War, Braehead became a refuge for locals during various Union occupations of Fredericksburg. The house and property sat in the middle of the Confederate defenses for both the first and second battles of Fredericksburg. Rising south and west of Braehead is Howison Hill, upon which Confederate artillery shelled advancing Federal troops. During the May 1863 battle the Union lines swept across the Howison farm on their way to the crest of the heights behind the house. Other notable events that occurred at Braehead during the war included Robert E. Lee’s having breakfast at the house prior to the December 1862 battle, Confederate use of the building to conduct courts-martial, as well as the housing of wounded following fighting in the area.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee's Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee’s Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 3


From Eric Mink:

This is the final installment in the documentation of Aquia Church’s Civil War soldier graffiti. Previous posts on this subject can be found here.

In late November 1862, Union General Ambrose Burnside brought his Army of the Potomac to Stafford County. Intent on pushing south toward Richmond, delays and logistical problems plagued Burnside’s plans. His army remained idle as events developed that eventually resulted in the December Battle of Fredericksburg. It was during this waiting period that at least two soldiers from the 6th Army Corps visited Aquia Church and added their names to the building’s soft sandstone quoins.

The 21st New Jersey Infantry was a short term regiment. Its members enlisted for the brief period of nine months. Organized in September 1862, the regiment reached Stafford County on November 18 and went into camp along Aquia Creek. Some of the men in this regiment attended services at Aquia Church.

“On the 23d we went to divine worship about one mile from camp to an old Presbyterian church built of imported English brick in the year 1701, it was destroyed by fire in 1754 but rebuilt in 1758.” – Diary of Henry Taylor, Co. K, 21st New Jersey Infantry. Copy of typescript in FRSP Bound Volume #73

“H Smith 21 NJV”

It is likely that at this time “H. Smith” of the 21st New Jersey left his name on Aquia Church. It can not be said with any certainity who Smith was, as there are three potential candidates for this soldier on the regimental rolls. The first two, Private Henry Smith of Company A and Corporal Henry C. Smith of Company B, both served their full nine-month enlistment with the 21st New Jersey and mustered out of service on June 19, 1863. The third candidate was not so lucky.

Humphrey Smith was a 29-year old laborer from Monmouth, New Jersey. He enlisted on August 27, 1862 and a month later mustered into Company E of the 21st New Jersey Infantry. He survived the Battle of Fredericksburg only to succumb to “brain fever” near Belle Plain in Stafford County on March 22, 1863. Originally buried at Robert Lee’s farm, his remains were removed after the war and buried Grave #6132 in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.

Grave of Humphrey Smith in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, which erroneously identifies him as from New York.

Four days following the 21st New Jersey’s services at Aquia Church, some members of the 6th Maine Infantry paid a visit to the sanctuary. Corporal Benjamin Thaxter of that regiment noted in his diary entry for November 27 that he and his sergeant went “to see an old church that was built in 1757.” Private William A. Jellison also visited the church around this time and opted to leave his lasting mark on the building.

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 2


From Eric Mink:

For previous posts documenting soldier graffiti in the Fredericksburg area, including Aquia Church in Stafford County, click here.

The Union Army of the Potomac arrived in Stafford County in November 1862 and stayed through the following June. In excess of 120,000 Union soldiers occupied Stafford and their presence devastated farms, woodlots and forced many families to flee their homes. The camps of this massive army spread across the woods and fields of the eastern portion of the county, taking advantage of the transportation lines of the Potomac River and the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.

To protect itself, the army set up exterior lines of defense that guarded approaches from the north, south and west. The duty to patrol and picket this outer perimeter fell, most often, to the cavalry. Aquia Church’s location, north of Stafford Court House, placed it close to those picket lines and made it a logical campsite for Union horsemen. In early February 1863, Colonel Thomas C. Devin’s Second Brigade, First Division of the Cavalry Corps took advantage of Aquia Church, as one Pennsylvania trooper called it “a beautiful place, located on high ground in a fine oak grove.”

Aquia Church – Stafford, Va.

Reverend Henry Wheeler, Chaplain of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, seized the opportunity to use the church for its intended purposes.

“I found a guard placed there by General [Thomas L.] Kane, to protect the church. I went to General Kane and obtained an interview with him. I asked him to give me permission to use the church for religious purposes. He said, ‘I sent a guard there without being asked to do so by the vestry, and of course I can take it away at my pleasure. I am glad, Mr. Wheeler, that I have an opportunity of showing, at least once, that I consider the two churches, Protestant Episcopal and Methodist Episcopal as one.’

I expressed my thanks to the general for his kindness and retired. The guard was sent back to their regiment, and men of the Seventeenth were detailed to clean the church and put it in condition for religious service.” – Reverend Henry Wheeler, “The Chaplain and His Work,” in Henry P. Moyer, History of the Seventeenth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry (Lebanon, Penn.: Sowers Printing Company, 1911) pp. 263-268

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 1a


From Eric Mink:

After the previous post (here) focusing on Confederate graffiti at Aquia Church, a closer look revealed yet another carving. The work of this vandal can also be attributed to a member of the 5th Texas Infantry.

“GJR Co A 5Tex-------“

George Julian Robinson was a rather unique soldier in the 5th Texas. Robinson was in fact a native of Delaware. Born in 1838, young George lived in Georgetown, Delaware with his parents and siblings. According to one source, Robinson spent the 1850s working as an engineer on the Delaware Railroad. The 1860 Census, however, lists his occupation at that time as “Student of Dentistry.” (Photos identified as Robinson can be found here)

Why Robinson chose to support the Confederacy is a bit of mystery. Delaware historian Dr. John A. Munroe, in an undated sketch of Robinson, claims that George and a relative were determined to join the Confederates. They slipped through the front lines and traveled to Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the fall of 1861, eventually making their way to Yorktown. Picked up as northern spies, the two men were sent to Richmond. Through the assistance of friends, they obtained their release.

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“If these signatures could talk…”: Aquia Church Graffiti, Part 1


From Eric Mink:

The following is the first in a series of three posts documenting Civil War graffiti at Aquia Church in Stafford County, Va. For a listing of all posts dealing with soldier graffiti in the Fredericksburg area, click here.

Stafford County, Virginia’s role in the Civil War is most frequently identified with the Union Army of the Potomac’s encampment during the winter of 1862-1863. The county had, however, felt the stress and strain of an earlier “occupation” when elements of the Confederate Army of the Potomac spent the winter of 1861-1862 encamped within its boundaries. Soldiers from both armies left their mark in Stafford and perhaps no place in the county shows the personal reminder of the Civil War better than at Aquia Church.

Aquia Church – Stafford, Va.

Aquia Episcopal Church sits along US Route 1 (formerly Telegraph Road) three miles north of Stafford Court House. Construction on the church began in 1751. Nearly complete four years later, it burned and was rebuilt utilizing the existing walls in 1757.  The church is constructed of brick with locally quarried Aquia Creek sandstone used for its quoins, keystones and door frames. (Aquia Creek Sandstone was also used in the construction of Gunston Hall, the US Capitol and the White House.)

Stafford County found itself on the front lines during the first year of the Civil War. Following the July 1861 Battle of Manassas, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of the Potomac developed a defensive line that spread across Prince William County, Virginia, protecting the approaches from Washington, D.C. The Confederates also erected batteries and defenses along the Potomac River in an effort to hamper Union naval and shipping movements. This line was defended throughout the first winter of the war and as the Potomac River forms the eastern boundary of Stafford County many Confederates established camps throughout the region.

Telegraph Road was a primary route between Fredericksburg and the Confederate winter quarters in northern Stafford and Prince William Counties. Fredericksburg served as an important supply point and also housed Confederate hospitals during that first winter. As a prominent landmark along Telegraph Road, Aquia Church saw its fair share of visitors.

In early November 1861, the Fourth and Fifth Texas infantry regiments arrived at Brooke’s Station in Stafford County. They continued northward to Dumfries, where they joined the 1st Texas and Eighteenth Georgia regiments, thus creating what would become known as the Texas Brigade. The Texans spent the next few months camped at Dumfries, guarding the Potomac and other nearby points. They also found time to visit Aquia Church.

The quoins on Aquia Church are covered with graffiti. Much of it is illegible, much of it is from the 20th century, but there do remain visible names, initials and Civil War military designations carved into the soft sandstone. Three pieces of soldier graffiti can be attributed to members of the 5th Texas.

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