Exploring Culpeper and Orange–Somerville and Raccoon Fords

From John Hennessy:

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to be invited to explore some great sites along the Rapidan in both Culpeper and Orange Counties. Brett Johnson, who lives near Rapidan, and Walker Somerville, scion of the family that has owned land at Somerville Ford for three centuries, were the hosts. My thanks to them for a memorable day–they know the ground as only locals can, and many of the specifics included here were conveyed by them.

Union pickets at Somerville Ford on September 14, 1863.

Union pickets at Somerville Ford on September 14, 1863. Note the Confederate lunettes on the distant heights.  The two barns on the right of this image also appear in the sketch shared below.

The purpose of this post is simply to provide a visual record of what we saw, without too much elaboration. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll find someone who does.

Bear in mind that every site mentioned in this post is private property and generally not accessible to the public.

IMG_0370We started at Somerville Ford on the Rapidan River. Here, on August 20, 1862, the entirety of Jackson’s wing of Lee’s Army crossed to commence the Second Manassas campaign.  Samuel Buck of the 13th VA crossed here that day:

This washed-out cut is on the site of Somerville Ford on the Orange side, and may well be the remnant of the road to the ford used by Jackson's men.

This washed-out cut is on the site of Somerville Ford on the Orange side, and may well be the remnant of the road to the ford used by Jackson’s men.

The water was pretty deep but very pleasant to our warm bodies. As soon as we could get our trousers off we waded in, yelling like a lot of school boys. It is an interesting sight to see so many men crossing a river and most amusing to hear their witty remarks.  Men under such circumstances are only grown children.

The old road leading up from the ford on the Culpeper side. The left bank of the road cut is clearly visible.

The old road leading up from the ford on the Culpeper side. The left bank of the road cut is clearly visible.

On September 14, 1863, Union and Confederate artillery engaged in fairly robust counter-battery fire here.  Charles Furlow of the 4th Georgia (his diary is at Yale University) left a fair description. [More images beyond the jump.] Continue reading

A VERY close look at Davis and R.E. Lee–“It makes one feel better to look at him,” and the hair in his ears

From John Hennessy:

In answering a research request today, I came across this remarkable description of President Davis and Robert E. Lee, down to the hair growing out of Lee’s ears. The occasion was a service at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church in Orange on November 22, 1863–just a few days before the Union army crossed the Rapidan to commence the Mine Run Campaign. The soldier was a commissary officer in the 47th North Carolina (the original is privately owned; a typescript resides in the park’s collection).  The letter reflects a type of writing that has, in the age of photography and video, largely disappeared from our world: the art of physical and personal description.  It largely speaks for itself.

St. Thomas Church today, courtesy of their website.

This morning I went with a friend up to Orange to attend church, the Episcopal. The motive that induced me particularly was the hope of seeing no less a personage than Pres. Davis, having learned that he came up on the train from Richmond yesterday. We were at the church early to secure seats, entered by the left door and sat near the middle of the house and near the left hand wall, the church fronting west. The services were commenced, by a young clergyman, evidently the rector, but Gen. Pendleton was seated near, in his black robe. You may remember that I gave you an account of a fast day sermon he preached in the same house last summer. He is in command of all the artillery n Gen. Lee’s army….

Pres. Davis and Gen. Lee entered while the young clergyman was reading a prayer and the congregation had bowed their heads. On looking up, I discovered very near me the well known form and face of Gen. Lee, and on his left, the thin, bony face that reminds one so forcibly of a postage stamp as to excite a smile. He was dressed in a plain dark citizen’s dress, with a worn brown overcoat thrown loosely over his shoulders, of which he divested himself on rising to take part in the service. His hair is slightly grey and his hair cut short. His face tapers to a point at the chin. If he were a plain common man he would be called “Lantern-pawed.” His cheeks are prominent. A very thin beard hangs under his chin….He is evidently careworn and pale from the burden of responsibility and the mental anxiety consequent on his office. Continue reading

Slave to Soldier…and Back to Slave

From Mink:

Previous posts highlighted a couple of the Fredericksburg area’s soldiers who served in the 23rd United States Colored States Troops (USCT). Their military and pension files provide us with information about these former slaves that we may never have discovered otherwise. In their own words, and those of others who knew them, we learn a little about their lives as slaves, their route to freedom, and their fight to maintain freedom.

Andrew Weaver, a slave of J. Horace Lacy in Stafford County, escaped in the summer of 1862, enlisted in the 23rd USCT in 1864 and served through the war. Abraham Tuckson, a slave of Dr. John Taylor in Spotsylvania County, also escaped slavery in the summer of 1862, enlisted in the same regiment, but fell killed at the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. A third former local slave, Peter Churchwell, suffered a different fate at that same battle. A slave of Reuben Lindsay Gordon of Orange County, Peter escaped to freedom, enlisted in the 23rd USCT, but was captured at the Crater. In his pension file, he relates how his former owner found him in Confederate hands, claimed him and sold him back into slavery.

“I am about 74 years of age; my post-office address is 1808, 24 St. N.W. this city. Shoemaker. I was born + raised in Albermarle Co. Va. near Gordonsville. My father was William + my mother was Dicey Churchwell – dead. I was a slave of Reuben Gordon. I was married when a slave to Maria Grey, she died before the war. No children living by this marriage. I also married Julia Weaver, a year or so after the war, in this city, got a license, + I was married by Rev. Sandy Alexander Pastor Little Baptist Church Geotown D.C. She died about ten years ago in this city. No children by her. I have never married since – I have no children now living by any wife. I got acquainted with Julia Weaver at Fredericksburg Va. before the war. She was at that time the wife of Tom Weaver, + she had a son Andrew Weaver whom I knew when a boy, and he enlisted in same company + regiment and at the same time and place. During the war, Julia Weavers husband died, and she came to Wash D.C. and after my return from the army, I again met and married her. I came to Washington D.C. in August 1862 and I was a coachman for Mrs. Barber, in Geotown D.C. + I worked for her about 2 years. She was the widow of Jno. Barber – dead. I then enlisted in July 1864, at Capt. Sheets Office in Co. H 23d Reg. USCT. I gave the officer at that time the name Peter Churchwell which is my right name and I always answered roll call by that name + was so called by my comrades and I was discharged from the service by that name. They then saw how high I was – I am now 5 ft. 3 in. high (OK AWR) I was next examined by the Doctors. I got a uniform + was sent to Camp Casey Va. + was there about 30 days. My Capt. Fessenden, Burrell Mitchell Robert Green and Andrew Weaver are the only comrades that I can now remember. After we left Camp Casey Va we took boat for City Point Va, then up James River + marched towards Petersburg Va. + was at Bermuda Hundred when we had a fight + we next  had the fight at Petersburg Va. July 64 and in the charge on Continue reading