William T. Sherman at Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, May 1865

from:  Harrison

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in 1865 within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Major Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in May 1865, within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Maj. Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

With the Civil War’s post-sesquicentennial era nearly at hand, and the Centennial of the National Park Service coming next year, I’ve been considering the origins of public history at the sites of, or about, the Fredericksburg-area battles.  “Public history” of course is variously defined.  My understanding for the purposes of this blog post is a broad one:  publicly funded, historical engagement with places that would eventually compose Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and undertaken outside of commercial, private, or civilian-academic endeavors.  That leaves in play a wide range of both motivations and interpreters, eyewitnesses or otherwise.

In between, for instance, the official reports of Civil War officers and current National Park Service tours and exhibits stretches a long chain of governmental endeavor—whether undertaken on or away from the sites of the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House—embodied in documents or events ranging from courts martial evidence; medical and surgical case-histories; damage/requisition claims submitted by civilians before and after 1865;  soldiers’ pension- and service affidavits; United States Army staff rides beginning locally around 1911; federal legislative action beginning in 1898 towards creation of the park in 1927; and NPS living history programs of the 1970s’ and 1980’s.

Besides Confederate and Federal, national authorities, state governments participated as well.  During the war New York soldiers contributed artifacts found in the combat zones to a “collection of relics” maintained by their state’s Bureau of Military Statistics. In 1898, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill incorporating the Fredericksburg and Adjacent National Battlefields Memorial Park Association of Virginia.  A decade later, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $6,000 for a monument to the 23rd New Jersey Infantry, dedicated on the grounds of Salem Church in 1907 to mark the regiment’s farthest advance there on May 3, 1863.

In almost any given week, then, from the time during the Civil War when the guns fell silent, and through the time that I write this, historical engagement with some aspect of one of the four battles (or with the collective legacy of all four) was occurring as a function of government, including of the military services.  Moreover, the recording or interpretation of civilians’ perspectives that I note above and below shows that much of this activity, from the outset, involved aspects of what we now call “social history.”

The general march-routes of Sherman’s four corps through the Fredericksburg area.  Green arrow is my notation of Sherman’s personal route from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg on May 15.  Detail from:  Military Map Showing the Marches of the United States Forces Under Command of Maj. Gen'l W.T. Sherman…drawn by Capt. William Kossak and John B. Muller.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Detail from contemporary map, showing the general march-routes of Sherman’s four corps through the Fredericksburg area.  Green arrow is my notation of his personal route from Chancellorsville to Fredericksburg on May 15.

(Full map and citation are here.)

This month brings the sesquicentennial of some of the first instances of historical touring of the Fredericksburg-area battlefields during peacetime in Virginia (even if not yet during peacetime nationwide), by military personnel other than members of the units who had fought at those places.

The intermittent touring of mid-May 1865, ranging from the informal or self-guided to the planned and guided, was among the secondary activities of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and some units of a four-corps army group that he accompanied through the Fredericksburg area.  Although a majority of the regiments in one of the four corps had fought at Chancellorsville with the Army of the Potomac, they were strangers to the sites of the local battles that had come after Chancellorsville.  Most of the men in the other three corps were seeing the Virginia combat zones for the first time.  My blog post today samples impressions of the four battlefields penned by soldiers of three of the corps: the Fifteenth, the Seventeenth, and the Twentieth.
Continue reading

Looming Yankees: The Union Army Hovers Opposite Fredericksburg–Some Images and Incidents.

From John Hennessy:

After their rebuke at the Battle of Arby’s, the Union army recoiled long enough along the Warrenton Road for the Confederates in Falmouth to both prepare to leave and to burn the bridges in their wake. Soon after dawn, as the Union columns swept down the hill into Falmouth, the Confederates put their plan into action. The Falmouth Bridge went up in flames, as did the Chatham Bridge and the R,F&P bridge farther down. Fredericksburg had never seen such a day.  Some white residents scattered, fearful of the looming Yankees. Some slaves rejoiced at the Yankees’ coming. And a few people ventured out to watch, including diarist Betty Herndon Maury, who left a vivid description of the destruction that day.

I went down to the river, and shall never forget the scene there.  Above were our three bridges, all in a bright blaze from one end to the other, and every few minutes the beams and timbers would splash into the water with a great noise.  Below were two large steamboats, the Virginia and the St. Nicholas, and ten or twelve vessels, all wrapt in flames.  There were two or three rafts dodging in between the burning vessels, containing families coming over to this side with their negroes and horses.

Here are a couple of images that show some of the damage described by Mrs. Maury. The first shows the destroyed ships opposite city dock–drawn in May 1862.

The burned hulks of ships burned by the Confederates on April 1862. The distinctive barn in the background appears in sketches of Washington’s Ferry Farm, which in turn locates this scene as just a few yards downstream from Fredericksburg’s city dock.

This is the only known image that shows the destroyed Falmouth Bridge, burned by the Confederates on April 18. Lumber from the bridge was taken by Union engineer Washington Roebling, who in June built a wire suspension bridge on the abutments of the Chatham Bridge (we wrote about Roebling’s bridge here). Continue reading

A Little-Known…but Well-Known…Photograph of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg

from: Harrison

Note:  For an opportunity to vividly imagine Civil War events at the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, mentioned below—and at other local places of worship as well—I invite you to attend The Churches Remember, a multi-component, free event this Saturday commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Note that dramatic readings will occur in the Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m., and that historian George Rable, who has written in-depth about wartime destruction in the Fredericksburg area—the general subject of my post here—with speak earlier in the day: 10:45 at St. George’s Church.

I’d like to take a moment at lunchtime to share the results of some research accomplished over the past two weekends.  Recently, I happened to linger over this familiar view of the ruins of “Mulberry Hill,” the Stafford County home of the Phillips family.  The building had also housed the headquarters of General Ambrose Burnside during the First Battle of Fredericksburg.  The photograph looks southwest from Mulberry Hill across the Chatham estate and across the town.  I could not recall seeing a precise date for this picture in the many books and articles that have carried it:

Courtesy National Archives.

The Phillips House was gutted by fire on February 14, 1863, while the Federals occupied Stafford Heights.  Thus ended the brief but proud reign of what was perhaps the most elaborate example of the Gothic Revival style in residential architecture in antebellum Fredericksburg and immediate environs.  A grim symmetry on the casualty list of local culture was achieved two months later when “Mannsfield,” the most elaborate local example of the Georgian style in residential building, was gutted by fire while in Confederate hands.  (“Idlewild,” just outside town on the opposite side of the river, was Mulberry Hill’s principal antebellum rival among large Gothic homes.)

Army of the Potomac Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick had known the Phillips House as a picturesque feature on the backdrop of his rides, visits, and camps the previous spring and summer.  The house may be the structure with tall, crossed gables and gable-end windows that appears in the left background of this Edwin Forbes sketch of “Review of Gen. Ord’s division, opposite Fredericksburg, by Maj. Gen. McDow[e]ll and staff” on May 20, 1862:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(High-rez versions of the sketch are here.)

Marsena Patrick’s diary describes the February 14, 1863 blaze as “quite a sad affair” and repeats a story that some of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s staffers had been “trying to get a Sibley Stove to work in the Attic.”  A Northern photographer showed up, possibly on February 15 or 16, 1863, to record the still-smoking ruins, in a destined-to-be-famous stereograph.  Here’s the left-hand view:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Standing modestly among the wooden items rescued from the flames, and among the blue-clad gawkers, a telegraph pole attests to the military value of the commanding vista from Mulberry Hill.)

Given that the towering gables and second story of the brick shell visible in the smoking-ruins image had vanished by the time of the photograph I post at the top, I assumed that a considerable period had elapsed between the taking of the two images.  So when was the scene at top photographed?
Continue reading

Images of Destruction on the anniversary of the bombardment

From Hennessy:  [click on images to enlarge them]

On this the 148th Anniversary of the bombardment of Fredericksburg, I thought it might be timely to revisit a post we did back in April on battle damage in town.

Today, few visible examples of external battle damage survive in Fredericksburg.  I am aware of only a few buildings that show it, and then only subtly.  It’s a different story on the interior of buildings in town.  Probably dozens still bear scars, and many owners consciously preserve the evidence of battle.  The Baptist Church has spectacular damage in its steeple; the courthouse bears scars, as does the Rising Sun tavern–both in their roof structures.  One of our hopes is to do a photographic inventory of all the battle damage in town, and perhaps even some online videos that document some of it.  More on that another day.

The upper pontoon crossing, below Chatham--at the base of Hawke Street.

At the height of the Union bombardment on December 11, as many as 100 shells a minute exploded over town (so says E.P. Alexander).  It’s likely virtually every building in town suffered some damage.  A search of tax records indicates about 100 taxable buildings were either destroyed or so heavily damaged that they had to be pulled down–about 10% of the town.  Bear in mind that not all these buildings were destroyed by Union fire.  The Confederates fired into town too over the next four days; I would estimate that about one-quarter of the town’s damage came from Confederate guns, and on the outskirts of town, below Marye’s Heights, the vast majority of damage came from the Confederates, as Russ Smith pointed out in the discussion of the Sandy Bottom image the other day.

Accounts of the destruction are vivid, but in fact photographers who came to the town in 1863 and 1864 recorded few images intended to document it specifically.  Four images are known, including three images taken on lower Caroline Street–one of which I include here (this is of 136-138 Caroline, which still stands in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in town).

Despite the photographers’ inattention to battle-damaged buildings, a close look at some of the many panoramic images begins to hint at the extent of the destruction in Fredericksburg.  Take, for example, this blow-up from the now-familiar panorama taken from just below the ruined railroad bridge.

There, just above the dangling terminus of the railroad bridge, is a lonely chimney, the remnant of what had been a rental property owned by John L. Marye (exactly who lived in the house we cannot determine).   Continue reading

Images of destruction: ordeal of a Fredericksburg neighborhood

From Hennessy (this is a followup on our entry from a couple months back, Images of Destruction, which you can read here):

The images taken of damaged houses on lower Caroline Street in 1864 have become well-known because one of them, below, has been published repeatedly. Indeed, it is the prototypical portrayal of damage to private homes in Fredericksburg during the war.  (We’ll call this #1)

130 (left), 132, and 134 Caroline Street

It serves well as a signature image, but it also reveals some interesting details that prior to the age of digital scanning have been overlooked. Moreover, this image is just one of four taken on the same day in the same place, and collectively they reveal the ordeal of a Fredericksburg neighborhood–today one of the most fashionable streets anywhere in America.

Before we get to the details, here are two of the other three images taken that day (the fourth we will leave to John Cummings to talk about in his upcoming book on photography in the Fredericksburg area during and after the war).  This image shows three buildings, 130-138 Caroline–two duplexes and a single family home. You can see right away why it’s rarely reproduced; May foliage obscures much of the detail in the image. (for discussion purposes, this is #2)

This rarely published image shows all three houses, 130-138 Caroline.

And finally, an imaged focused solely on the single-family home in the view, 130 Caroline. (#3)

130 Caroline Street

The five residences captured in these images were all just nine years old in 1864 (all built in 1855), and in 1860 were home to 21 people, including three slaves.  Of them all, perhaps 136-138 Caroline (the duplex on the right in image #2) is the most interesting. On one side lived Noah Fairbank, for decades a captain of a steamer running between Fredericksburg and Baltimore. On the other apparently lived William Burke (the owner of the building, who in the 1860 census is listed in sequence here with the other residents on the street). Burke had been in the 1850s a photographer–the owner of a daguerreotype studio in town. But by 1860 he was superintendent of the poor house (which stood several hundred yards away, near the brickyards beyond Charles Street). According to the 1860 census, he lived with seven people categorized as “paupers,” including a free black woman named Elizabeth Marshall, who at 95 was likely the oldest person in Fredericksburg.

Each of these units was worth about $1,500. It’s worthwhile noting that a young male slave with a skill would have sold for about the same amount; on the eve of the Civil War a slave cost the same as a house in Fredericksburg.

Now to the images. What can we see…what can we conclude? And what do these places look like today?

Continue reading

The eerie ice house at Federal Hill

From Hennessy:

In 1862, Federal Hill, the wartime of home of 32-year-old merchant H.H. Wallace and his wife Elizabeth (and an ancestral home of Confederate General Thomas R.R. Cobb), stood on the very outskirts of town, overlooking what would become a bloody plain in the December 1862 battle. The view from the yard of Federal Hill is dramatically captured in one of the most famous battlefield panoramas ever taken.  It was done in two parts; Donald Pfanz of our staff has put them together, thus (click to enlarge):

Here is a map derived from Virtual Fredericksburg that conveys the landscape captured in the image.  I have marked the photographer’s location with a big red dot in front of Federal Hill, on the right of the map (click to enlarge the map).  Bear in mind that the map is oriented north and south–the camera angle is east and west.

The great panorama is a vivid testament to the power of information and knowledge when applied to a landscape or a photo.  While there are literally dozens of details to wonder about in this image, look closely at what appears to be a tumble-down building in the foreground–the roof of a building that seems simply collapsed.  Few people note this feature, except to be confused by it.

Continue reading

Battle Damage

As a follow up to our post of yesterday, Dennis Sacrey, the administrator of the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, sends along some images of remant battle damage in the roof and wall of the church.  I mentioned in a comment that Dennis is the outgoing president of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society; he also volunteers for the park and has been an immense supporter of telling the story of Fredericksburg in the war.  Many thanks Dennis.