Murder in Fredericksburg: Suspects and Scapegoats (Part 2)


From Beth Parnicza:

This post is the second in a series on the murder of a Fredericksburg shopkeeper’s brother in May 1865, as the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Army Corps passed through Fredericksburg on their way home from war. Part one can be found here.

What happened to the Miller brothers after they left Charles’ shop? Officials in the Army of the Potomac called a court martial as soon as they identified the four soldiers who had entered the shop. Charles’ testimony on May 31, 1865, shed some light on the situation:

“The one who called for the cherries and one of the last three which came in and walked out there & crossed the street myself and my brother walked out and went down [the] street on the same side where I lived. While we were walking down the street the two which I saw cross the street recrossed the street. I heard nothing of them except that when we were near the middle of the graveyard on the street they came close to us, about 5 or 6 feet of us nearly as I can guess and one of them said ‘Tap’ so much as I could understand. At the same time as soon as they said that word there was two bricks thrown at myself and my brother, my brother was knocked down at once, and one brick struck me very slight on my elbow. I then jumped to the left hand side out into the road trying to escape. Two more bricks were thrown after me but did not strike me. I hallowed once ‘Guard’ to try to stop them from following me up.”

After this harrowing experience, Charles made it to the headquarters of Col. Sumner, and they attempted to find the men responsible but were unsuccessful.

Detailed map showing the Miller brothers proceeding down Commerce Street toward the river, with the Union soldiers first crossing to the corner opposite Miller's store, then proceeding down Commerce Street and attacking the brothers.

Detail of the movements of each group, according to Charles Miller, August Ebert, and Louis Kruger, with some corroboration by the Union soldiers on trial. Green lines and text indicate movements of the Miller brothers heading down Commerce Street toward downtown and the Rappahannock River, and blue lines show the movements of at least two of the soldiers. It should be noted that the exchange may have taken place some feet further down Commerce Street, as there were two cemeteries along their route. Base map: Virtual Fredericksburg

Charles returned to the shop to find his brother grievously wounded in the head, retrieved by Mr. Louis Kruger, Mr. August Ebert, and the young boy who had been sitting outside the shop. After his brother passed away between 1 and 2 in the morning, it became imperative to find the soldiers who had, intentionally or unintentionally, killed an innocent citizen.

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Murder in Fredericksburg: A Darkness on Commerce St.


From Beth Parnicza:

It was a dark night. By all accounts, the darkness that fell in Fredericksburg on May 25, 1865 was remarkable, obscuring the events and identities associated with a fateful occurrence. In the streets of “Liberty Town” just west of downtown Fredericksburg, one man said he could only see six steps in front of him.

As the church bells tolled 9:00 p.m., 25-year-old August Ebert sat in the darkness beside a “colored boy” on the pavement outside Charles Miller’s store at the corner of Commerce Street (modern William Street) and Liberty Street and watched four Union soldiers enter his sometime employer’s shop. First one pushed open the door and walked inside, then three more arrived soon afterward.

KMBT_C284e-20150305141820

The Commerce Street/William Street front of Charles Miller’s shop postwar. Situated on the acutely angled corner of Liberty Street and Commerce Street, Miller’s shop featured two entrance doors–one that opened to each street–here at its front left corner. The building still stands today at 600 William Street.

Inside the shop, a typical Thursday night scene played out. Charles Miller’s older brother George had walked in earlier, remarking that if the weather was good, he would plant Charles’ lot the next morning. Mr. Louis Kruger, a Baltimore resident who helped Charles mind the shop, walked into the store proper from a next door room just after the soldiers entered.

Charles attended the soldiers who quietly gathered in the store. The first man asked for a quart of cherries; the three who joined sat at the counter and ate with him. Another soldier called for a round of cigars, which Charles distributed. When they finished the cherries, a soldier asked for an orange apiece, and Mr. Kruger obliged.

The first soldier stated the price for the fare: 50 cents. Charles objected; the price for all the goods was 70 cents. The soldier disagreed. He was only prepared to pay for the cherries and oranges, which totaled to 50 cents, leaving the cigars to his friends’ responsibility. When Charles agreed, it seemed the matter was settled as the soldier reached to pay for the goods.

Drawing his hand back from his pocket, the soldier changed his mind, declaring, “Oh well, charge it to Uncle Sam!”

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The Case of the Officer’s Hut Exhibit


From: Beth Parnicza

A hidden piece of the park’s past lies tucked away behind a false wall and a Union Sixth Corps flag in the basement of the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. Peering over the false wall, a dusty wooden floor, painted wood pattern, and painted fireplace are all that remain of what was once a much-desired Confederate officer’s hut display. Its existence and composition have passed out of easy park staff memory, provoking a small mystery begging to be solved. Had the exhibit ever been in use? If so, what did it originally look like? When was it dismantled, and why?

modern view officer's hut

The remains of the Confederate officer’s hut as it appears today

Both of the park’s visitor centers feature exhibits that primarily date to the “Mission 66” period of park development, part of a National Park Service-wide initiative to improve the infrastructure and interpretation of park sites for the NPS’s 50th Anniversary. The initiative happily coincided with the Civil War centennial, producing an increased sense of urgency for Civil War sites to expand their interpretation. Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center’s exhibits date to 1962, and looking around the Visitor Center, it is hard to imagine that much has changed in the ensuing years.

The original layout of the 1962 exhibits featured a room of Fredericksburg-specific and general Civil War exhibits on the main floor, and two basement exhibit rooms included a room filled with rows of firearms as a “study collection” and a room highlighting life in camp and social history elements like the roles of women, religion, and relief organizations. This layout featured a fascinating combination of subjects: modern Visitor Center elements upstairs, a nod to past museum styles with rows of barely interpreted relics downstairs, and the inclusion of social history, which rose to prominence during this period.

camp life corner floor plan

The floor plan for the Confederate officer’s hut exhibit. This is the back corner of the exhibit room at the bottom of the stairs to the right.

The centerpiece of the “camp life” exhibits in the basement was a recreated Confederate officer’s hut corner. When proposed, it was emphasized by the park as a favorite element, noted in one plan that its inclusion was something “the park greatly desires.”  Continue reading

Confederates on the Railroad Bridge: 150 Years Later, an Identification


From Eric Mink:

This post is adapted from an article I authored for Volume 10 (2011) of Fredericksburg History & Biography, an annual publication of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.

It is nearly impossible to open a book about Civil War Fredericksburg without seeing the photo of Confederate soldiers posing on the ruined railroad trestle along the Rappahannock River. The photo represents one of only two instances in which a Northern artist photographed as his subjects non-captive Confederate soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia in the field. (The other instance involved Confederates marching through Frederick, Maryland.) That alone makes it an unusual image, yet the ability to identify the previously anonymous soldiers makes this photo even more remarkable.

Landscape

The Union photographer captured this scene from the north bank of the Rappahannock River. The Confederate soldiers stand on the south bank with the river flowing between the artist and his subjects. They are on the literal front line of the war. This is a location that should be hostile, yet the Confederates don’t appear to pose a threat. Their casual pose and the absence of visible weapons suggest an almost friendly demeanor. We know that the site of the ruined railroad bridge was a place where the opposing pickets and outposts gathered to fraternize, exchanging newspapers as well as insults. (For an earlier discussion of this location, see John Hennessy’s post here.) When the photographer appeared at the bridge, we can assume some communication must have taken place between the cameraman and the Confederates. The relaxed gathering at the far end of the bridge suggests cooperation between the man behind the camera and his subjects.

Many of us have studied this image in great detail. We know its location. We can see in the distance the buildings, Willis Hill cemetery and defenses upon Marye’s Heights. We even know the name of the photographer – Captain Andrew J. Russell of the United States Military Railroads. (At least one historian has suggested that the photographer may have been Egbert Fowx, Russell’s mentor). What we have not known, however, are the identities of the figures on the far side of the river. We can’t help but wonder who these men are that posed so calmly for a Yankee cameraman along a boundary between the warring armies? To date, no diary or letter has been found, by either a Union or a Confederate soldier, that recalls what must have been an event worth chronicling, or at the very least worth mentioning.

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A “new” image of Lee–and a mystery for you


From John Hennessy:

Lynchburg Museum System

Our friend Doug Harvey, the director of the Museum System in Lynchburg, passed along today a “new” image of Robert E. Lee from their collection, and we publish it here for the first time in the US (we think). As far as the folks down there (and at the VHS and the Lee Chapel) can tell, this CDV has only been seen publicly once–on a website from Peru without provenance (there must be a story in that, but it’s beyond our reach).

The image dates, apparently, to a postwar visit made by Lee to Lynchburg for an Episcopal Conference (Lee was in Fredericksburg for the same conference in 1869)–it has a Lynchburg backmark. But little else is known. We have some pretty knowledgeable readers out there, and so Doug asked me to put it out for comment and feedback, which we are happy to do.

Anyone have thoughts, ideas, or knowledge that might help?

Update, June 14:  See the comments section below for some thoughtful information. John Cummings’s comment seems to summarize well:

This photograph, in vignette form, is from an almost imperceptible variant of an otherwise well known and widely published image of Lee and appears to have been copied by the Lynchburg photographer, possibly to cash in on Lee’s attendance at the Episcopal Conference in 1869.

John offers this side-by-side comparison:

Though clearly taken at the same sitting, the angle is slightly different.

Another of our long-time readers shares this:

I have this image (in cabinet card format) with the photographer being “Howell, 867 Broadway.” We know that Lee did get his photograph taken by William Roe Howell in New York City, we know that Howell went out on his own in 1867 (before that he had a partner), and so this designation of “Howell, 867 Broadway” would suggest that this image dates from 1867 or later.
The question, of course, is whether the cdv with the Lynchburg backmark was the original, copied by Howell, or whether this image originated with Howell and was copied by the Lynchburg studio.

Two mystery images explored–and two mysteries unresolved


From John Hennessy:

We love nothing better than to resolve mysteries here, but sometimes, despite our best efforts, mysteries persist. Take these two photographs. Both are credited to army photographer Andrew Russell, said to be taken May 2 and May 3, 1863.

The first is labeled “Battery of 32-pounders Fredericksburg May 3, 1863.” We’ll call this image #1.

The other is labeled, “First Connecticut Battery near Fredericksburg, May 2, 1863,” which we will henceforth refer to as #2:

A few things right up front.  Most importantly, these images are not of the “First Connecticut Artillery” or “A Battery of 32-pounders.” The guns visible in both images are 12-pounder light field guns, Napoleons. The only two Connecticut artillery batteries in the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1863 were armed with 4.5-inch guns, not the field guns shown here. Clearly, the labels are wrong in that respect.

We do know that these photos were taken by Russell, who took a number of important images in the vicinity of Franklin’s Crossing (the Lower Crossing) during the Chancellorsville Campaign (see here for an exploration of another one), including some that were taken on May 2 and May 3. But, circumstances (bolstered by what I think are some valid assumptions) suggest that these at least one of these images was taken a couple of days earlier. The clues are in the details.

Of the two, Image #1 is the most enigmatic. It’s a terrific view, but there seems to be little in the image to suggest to us a location or a moment in time. It shows a battery of Napoleons fully deployed, with limbers and caissons properly aligned behind them.  Here’s a close-up of the gun nearest the camera.

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Martha Stevens redeemed: pariah to heroine–a matter of faith or history?


From John Hennessy (for part 1 of this post, click here):

The case of Martha Stephens presents many of the challenges that surround the story of Richard Kirkland, though perhaps in even starker form. Conventional wisdom holds that she, to use David Gregg McIntosh’s 1910 reminiscence of a visit to the battlefield (where he heard about Martha),

…remained at her house during the battle, and after it was over rendered great service to the troops of both sides, and when bandages were wanted at the Field Hospital she supplied every piece of cloth which she had, and finally tore her skirts into strips and gave them for that purpose.

The Stevens house in 1911, two years before it was destroyed by fire.

But beyond conventional wisdom what do we really know?

In fact, very little. As with Kirkland, there are no wartime accounts that reference Martha Stevens by name or make any suggestion that she was present as McIntosh describes.  Like Kirkland, her person does not emerge in connection with the battle until many years later. The first known reference to Martha Stevens by name (or even intimation) in connection with the battle appeared in the mid-1880s, when former Confederate staff officer (and Fredericksburg resident) W. Roy Mason wrote a short article that would eventually appear in Vol. 3 of Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. While it is clear that Mason did not witness what he described, he passed along what by then (at least in Fredericksburg) was the standard rendition of Martha Stevens’s deeds, gotten, he says, from her own lips.

I went out with a party of gentlemen friends who were visitors in Fredericksburg to inquire of her….This woman, the Molly Pitcher of the war, attended the wounded and the dying fearless of consequences, and refused to leave her house, although…the position was one of great danger. It is said that after using all the materials for bandages at her command, she tore from her person most of her garments, even on that bitter cold day, in her anxiety to administer to necessities greater than her own.

The Sunken Road in front of the Stevens House. Cobb monument at left.

Mason’s account helps highlight a major difference between the origins of the Kirkland and Stevens stories. Kirkland died at Chickamauga in 1863, and so the subsequent telling of his story was left to others who claimed  to have witnessed it. For Martha Stevens, the only accounts of her activities that day derive not from witnesses to the event, but from witnesses to her telling of the events or of those people who got the story from those who had spent time listening to her tell her story (got it?). Martha’s December 22, 1888 obituary is interesting:

“Mrs. Stephens was a genial spirit, and hundreds of ex-Confederate and ex-Union soldiers have called upon her since the war to hear her relate many of the incidents with which she was familiar as an eye-witness…” 

The paper helped enshrine the legend:

“She was a very kind hearted and generous soul, and will be greatly missed by many. She was particularly kind to the wounded soldiers here of both armies, whose ministrations to these will never be forgotten by those who survive, and companies of those who died will ever cherish her memory.”

The Stevens family cemetery today, next to the Stevens house site. Martha's is one of about eight graves in the cemetery. None are marked individually.

In 1911, local judge John T. Goolrick–the same man who 13 years later would question the authenticity of the slave auction block and lead an unsuccessful effort to have it removed from Fredericksburg’s streets–begot an effort to put a monument over Martha Stevens’s unmarked grave (he failed in this endeavor as well, and the grave remains unmarked to this day). Continue reading