One week’s haul: Clara Barton, escaping slaves, and the Union occupation


From Hennessy:

In 1989, Congress expanded the park’s mandate by stipulating that in addition to interpreting the military aspects of the four battles, we will also interpret the war’s impact on civilians.  Fulfilling this mandate has made my job especially interesting–allowing us to look at sites through different thematic lenses and in the process generating a huge body of new source material that at least until Noel Harrison came along, no one paid much mind to.

Though I have been in my job for a very long time, I am constantly amazed at the rate we learn new things–the rate at which new material tumbles into our hands. Some of that material brings new light to well-known stories or places; sometimes something entirely new turns up. The historical record grows, and so does our understanding of the resources we manage and interpret.  Along the way, the scope of our interpretive programs has broadened (without, by the way, diminishing what we do in the realm of military history); the incoming source material has added immensely to the richness and variety of our programs.

This week is a perfect example of the flow of new stuff. This picture came from the files of the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation.

Courtesy Historic Fredericksburg Foundation

It demonstrates vividly that I have been wrong in my presumed location of the Maria Wolfe house on Princess Anne Street–one of four buildings in Fredericksburg definitively associated with Clara Barton. I had presumed the house still stood next to the Baptist Church–that it was was and is the place now occupied by Micah Ministries. Instead, this image clearly shows that Wolfe’s house once stood where the church offices are, and is gone. Here’s one of those awkward cases where not only does something add to your knowledge, but it shows you were WRONG.  But, we will be right henceforth. Here is a better picture of the now-vanished house, provided to us by Dennis Sacrey of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.

The Maria Wolfe house on Princess Anne Street. Courtesy Dennis Sacrey and the Fredericksburg Baptist Church.

Poking around on footnote.com, Eric Mink turned up the claim filed by grocer John B. Alexander of Fredericksburg for four slaves who were “abducted, harbored, and carried off” by the Union army in July and December of 1862. We know, of course, that these slaves (Frances, Betty, George, and Horace) were probably not “abducted,” but rather opted for freedom within Union lines themselves–part of one of the park’s most powerful emerging stories. I wish I had found this before my Slavery and Slave Places tour a few weeks ago.

An item like this helps us illustrate several things: the exodus of slaves that attended the arrival of the Union army, the obvious struggle and challenges the end of slavery posed for local slaveowners, and–most vividly–the idea that slavery was far more than just the relationship between owner, overseer, and slave. As Alexander’s claim shows, slavery was (even before the founding of the Confederacy) sustained by the power of government. Alexander’s claim (click here to see a transcript) seeks reimbursement from the Confederate government for the value of these people (a total of $3,500, as attested by local slave trader George Aler).

(Eric also turned up a document reflecting on the Confederate field hospital where Jackson was treated at Chancellorsville, but that’s worth a separate post of its own.)

click to enlarge

And finally, I received yesterday from Breck O’Donnell, a high school student who is plowing through issues of the Richmond Examiner for Fredericksburg material, a copy of what is likely the best single Fredericksburg-written account of the Union occupation of 1862. It was originally published in the Virginia Herald of Fredericksburg in September 1862.  No copies of that paper survive from the war period, and so this find is especially useful. It is full of both new details and editorial commentary, much of it wonderful. Among the review of perceived Union atrocities: “The living were prohibited from visiting the dying, and that too when the houses were almost in sight’ the dead were not allowed the privilege of Christian sepulture, inasmuch as at least one coffin was refused the privilege of passing out from town for the corpse awaiting it in the country.”

We’ll be publishing it in the upcoming CVBT journal, Fredericksburg History and Biography.  It’s a wonderful piece.

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A vivid image of an 1864 hospital–the Washington Woolen Mill


From Hennessy (as with all things industrial in Fredericksburg, credit must be given to Noel Harrison for blazing the trail):

Most of you are familiar with the famous 1864 images of wounded taken in the back yards of Fredericksburg on Charles Street (you can read about the images here). But there is probably no image that better conveys the scale and detail of one of Fredericksburg’s 1864 hospitals than this one, of the Washington Woolen Mill.  It is, perhaps, the most interesting overlooked Fredericksburg photograph of the war.

Wounded hanging from the windows

Taken in May 1864, at the height of Fredericksburg’s use as the main evacuation hospital for the Army of the Potomac, the image gives us by far the best visual evidence of the scene so often described by witnesses: wounded soldiers, civilian aid workers, and medical personnel taking over virtually every available building, spilling onto sidewalks and empty lots, transforming Fredericksburg into a “City of Hospitals.” More than 26,000 wounded soldiers passed through Fredericksburg between May 9 and May 27 (there were likely never more than 7,000 in town at any given time). The effort to care for them was a logistical and human achievement that has not been particularly well documented by historians (we are working on that).

A wounded soldier on the steps, apparently with a head wound.

The Washington Woolen Mill stood about a quarter-mile above town, between what is today Princess Anne and Caroline Streets, across  from the lower reaches of Old Mill Park. On the eve of the Civil War, the mill was brand new, a corporate undertaking (fairly rare for Fredericksburg, where most businesses were proprietorships) that had shown great promise before its looms were stilled by war in 1862. It was without question Fredericksburg’s largest employer of female workers, with 35. During the first Union occupation in the summer of 1862, the Union army turned it into a hospital; in fact, Clara Barton witnessed her first amputation there in August. In 1864, during Wilderness and Spotsylvania, the mill was designated the hospital for men of the Fifth Corps. On May 19 or 20, photographer Timothy O’Sullivan took this image–full of detail and humanity.

The image embodies many small vignettes that speak to Fredericksburg’s ordeal during the war. Wounded soldiers hang or peer out of the window openings, from which all the glass has been removed or destroyed, replaced in a few instances by blankets. A burned out building stands next to the mill, a residence or office likely associated with the mill, perhaps destroyed during the 1862 bombardment (though the mill itself doesn’t show much damage from bombardment). Soldiers stand before furniture cast into the road in front of the mill. Rows of shelter tents stand in the yard on either side of the mill.

In the foreground the canal that brought water to the mill is visible, crossed by a bridge. In the background is Stafford Heights, entirely devoid of trees (this view looks directly into the heart of what is today Pratt Park).

At the left end of the building you can see the structure that housed the wheel pit.

What of the site today?

Click to enlarge

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Mystery undone (and some mythbending too): Clara Barton’s Fredericksburg hospitals


From Hennessy:

There are few more common assertions on Fredericksburg’s historical landscape than this:  “Clara Barton was at the Presbyterian Church.”  A plaque outside the church says as much, and it has become conventional wisdom.

Problem is, beyond the legend, there’s no hard evidence to confirm she was there. Which leads to the inevitable: what Fredericksburg buildings really do have an association with Clara Barton?

The woolen mill just north of town, visited by Clara Barton in 1862, before her service during the Second Manassas campaign.. It was here that she saw her first-ever amputation.

Donald Pfanz of the park’s staff has done exhaustive work on Clara Barton’s various visits to Fredericksburg, and he has found that in fact, not all is always as it seems with Clara.  Barton was in Fredericksburg five times during the war (twice in May 1864), and as it turns out, much of what we know about her is derived from her own memories, assiduoulsy and repeatedly written down. One certainly wishes there were more corroboration for her various accounts–something I expect Don will explore in a book on Clara in Fredericksburg someday. But in fact, despite her constant presence here, we have turned up only a single soldier who mentions seeing her at the time (she of course appears in many memoirs–just like Martha Stephens and Richard Kirkland). Still, we know enough about her movements to identify with certainty four buildings in town that she visited (a fifth, the Woolen Mill, above, stood just north of town–we have looked closely at some photos of the Woolen Mill here).  Two of them still stand. Can you name the buildings in town with a solid association with Clara?  It’s one of the toughest Fredericksburg trivia questions.  Answers after the jump….

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The omnipresent woman


From Hennessy–something of an addendum to yesterday’s post on Abby Hopper Gibbons.

As referenced in John Cummings’s comment this morning, in fact Abby Hopper Gibbons appears in two other images taken in May 1864–likely the same day as the others we looked at yesterday.  Research by John Cummings, Noel Harrison, and Bob Szabo recently confirmed the these images are of a home called “Scotia,” located on Charles Street between George and William, owned by the Scott family in 1864, but more importantly used as headquarters for the United States Sanitary Commission (the house no longer stands).  As these images show, Gibbons found herself in front of a camera five times over two days.  Here is a closeup from the above, and there is Gibbons partially hidden by the pillar.

And then there is view of the back of the house:

And lo and behold, there she is again, this time with what appears to be her daughter and another woman who appears in the Charles Street views.

Not earth-shattering, but interesting stuff.  Thanks to John Cummings for bringing this to everyone’s attention.  We’ll do some additional posts on the City of Hospitals period in the near future.

Who’s the woman in the pictures?


From Hennessy (click here for another post on these photographs and Abby Hopper Gibbons):

Many of the photographs taken in Fredericksburg in May 1864 have become famous–some of them due to the legendary work of Bill Frassanito, others at the hands of Noel Harrison.  May 1864 was a remarkable, intensely interesting period for the town, as more than 26,000 wounded Union soldiers flooded the place over a 17-day period. The Union army scrambled to provide care, and the civilian population of the North mobilized too.  As many as 500 civilian relief workers came to Fredericksburg to help care for the wounded, and within them lies a hundred stories, and a singular story, not yet told.

In an earlier post we looked at the famous (and very valuable) view along William Street showing the front of the Sanitary Commission offices in Heinichen’s shop.  The photographer also did work behind Heinichen’s place, taking images of both the wounded and some of the relief workers. The most famous of these is the view of Union wounded clustered around the door of a building on Charles Street (above). This is invariably published because of its vivid portrayal of Union soldiers with a variety of wounds.  But look in the middle of the view.  There’s a woman sitting amidst the soldiers.  Apparently one of the relief workers.

Here’s another view, and there she is again, sitting in the center.  And here’s a final image.  Look closely at the cluster of women on the right of the image.  Magnified you can see her clearly once again, and again with the hatted woman again sitting beside her.

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