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

A Little Mystery Solved–the Jackson Rock, and a Little Commercial Crassness

From John Hennessy:

Note:  Donald Pfanz’s new book is out: The Letters of Richard Ewell.

Note 2:  see the bottom of this post for a nifty little update.

Photo by Donald Pfanz

The last few weeks have been busy ones, leaving little time for mysteries or conundrums in the wash of preps for the Fredericksburg 150th.  But it’s also been uncommonly productive of new things coming in or being learned, including several new images we’ll share soon.

One of the enduring little mysteries that has lingered for decades revolves around what’s known as the “Jackson Rock” at Chancellorsville. Is it the oldest “monument” in the park? When was it placed? Don Pfanz’s extensive and invaluable work on the park’s monuments, never published, could not answer those questions. (Here is his entry on the Jackson Rock, written before the date of the rock could be confirmed.)

Last month I came across a short article in the September 29, 1879 issue of the Daily Inter Ocean (Chicago) that at least answered one of those questions. The piece, with a dateline of “Fredericksburg, Va. Sept. 23” noted:

Yesterday a large boulder of white quartz rock, from near the Wilderness, was placed to mark the spot where Stonewall Jackson received his death wound. A simple inscription will be put on the stone. The Rev B.F. Lacy, of Missouri, Jackson’s chaplain, originated the project.

Date solved: September 22, 1879. The promised inscription never materialized. Instead, an association of Confederate veterans formed to erect a more elaborate, suitable memorial to Jackson’s wounding. It’s easy to speculate that the ex-Confederates were spurred in their commemorative initiative by the impending placement (by Yankees) of a monument marking the death of Union  general John Sedgwick at Spotsylvania.

In the face of that, Jackson surely needed something more dignified than an unhewn,  blank rock. And so in June 1888, more than 5,000 spectators gathered to dedicate a new memorial, and the Jackson Rock became a footnote, its memorial-esque origins rarely understood and its presence often overlooked. So it remains, though the stone sits just a few dozen yards south of the Chancellorsville Visitor Center.

In the nearly nine years of the rock’s heyday as the sole marker at (or near) the site of Jackson’s wounding, the stone apparently gained some fame. Continue reading

A new piece of original art

From John Hennessy:

Here is a portion of our latest piece of original art, developed by Frank O’Reilly and executed by artist Mark Churms. This will be used in the new exhibit we are planning for the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, and also likely on a wayside exhibit atop Marye’s Heights. The image shows guns of the Washington Artillery firing over the Sunken Road, into the killing field beyond. That’s the Stephens House and Innis House at center and left, with the brick Stratton House beyond.  The piece will eventually be made available for sale by Mr. Churms. 

We like it and thought you might be interested to see a little slice of what’s going on hereabouts. 


Copyright Mark Churms. All rights reserved.


Spotsylvania Burning

From John Hennessy:

Fire in the woods behind the new McGowan Brigade monument at Spotsylvania

You would be amazed how much time, energy, and money we–the NPS, an agency devoted to critters and plants (and other things)–commit to battling nature. Nearly half our park budget goes to beating back nature–cutting grass, managing earthworks, keeping healthy forests. We use a lot of methods to do this (most of them run-of-the-mill), but in the last few years have experimented with fire at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.

Most of our efforts there are focused on the fields, using fire to help re-establish native grasses that are ecologically healthier and need less maintenance than the stuff we grow in our backyards (well, your back yard, not mine, where nothing seems to grow).  We are still assessing the results of several years of burning the fields at Spotsylvania, but a close comparison suggests that fire is helping–encouraging stronger grasses and less woody growth.

The view from the Confederate works looking through the thinned out timber between the Angle and the McCoull house, visible in the distance. Notice the heavy damage to the trees by bullets. As with all things Spotsylvania, John Cummings worked to identify the specific location of this photo

One of our ongoing conundrums is the management of historic landscapes that fall in between sustainable conditions. Continue reading

Some new art–the fairgrounds and swale

From John Hennessy:

We have written about our use of new art in our exhibits here and here, and we have discussed at some length the nature of the fairgrounds and the bloody plain in front of the Sunken Road…and so I wanted to share with you the latest piece of art we have collaborated to create–an image of one of the earlier Union attacks in front of the Sunken Road, painted from an aerial viewpoint almost directly in front of Brompton. Directed by Frank O’Reilly and created by Mark Churms, this piece will be used in a wayside exhibit located just east of the Innis House. It will also be incorporated into our re-do of interior exhibits at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center, a project now in design.

At some point artist Mark Churms will be making this image available for sale as a print.  We’ll let you know when that happens.

Bringing the Stories of Fredericksburg Area Residents to Life: 2011 Summer Programs

From Mink:

In previous posts on the development of living history programs at the park (found here, here, and here), I was remiss in not acknowledging a

Katie Logothetis as Mary Caldwell

couple programs were are offering as part of this summer’s schedule. These first-person programs are delivered by members of the park staff, donning 19th century attire, and highlight the stories of Fredericksburg area’s wartime residents.

Katie Logothetis, a veteran member of the park’s summer staff, is spending her weekends in a 19th century dress and providing dramatic presentations along Sunken Road on the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Katie’s persona for her programs is Mary Caldwell, a young woman who lived in Fredericksburg and maintained a diary, thus recording her observations and personal thoughts. Mary’s diary recently came to light and is currently being edited with an eye toward possible publication. The setting for visitors encountering “Mary” is 1866 and she is walking along Sunken Road on her way home. As she engages the public, she reminds them that before Fredericksburg became a battlefield it was a home for its residents, a home nearly destroyed by war. Katie conveys the experiences of those left to the mercy of the opposing armies during the summer 1862 occupation, the bombardment and battle of December 1862, and the resultant destruction. These experiences draw primarily from Mary Caldwell’s writings, but are supplemented by surviving accounts penned by several other Fredericksburg female residents – Lizzie Alsop, Betty Maury, Jane Beale, Fanny Bernard, Mamie Wells, and Fanny White. These personal stories have been combined to create a story that presents the broad aspect of Fredericksburg female refugees, as presented through Katie’s character of Mary Caldwell.

Katie, as Mary Caldwell, can be found on weekends this summer along Sunken Road.

“Driven” From Home: A Refugee From Fredericksburg Remembers” – 15-minute presentation; Saturdays and Sundays only at 11:15, 12:15, 2:15, and 3:15

Katie Logothetis, as Mary Caldwell, speaking with visitors along Sunken Road

Continue reading

Providing a More Personalized Portrayal of the Great Conflicts – Living History Moves Out of the Camp

From Mink:

Previous posts in this series can be found here and here.

Perhaps it was due to the park staff feeling that the Chancellorsville Living History Camp had run its course, or perhaps it was the budgetary concern about funding 4-5 summer positions focused on one location and one program, but 1977 was the camp’s final season. The park did not cancel living history altogether, it simply spread the program around to the other battlefields and sites.

The responsibility of living history was turned over to Park Technician Chris Calkins, newly arrived from Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. Calkins envisioned four separate programs, at four separate locations, each utilizing one “soldier.” Each would provide scheduled first-person interpretation talks three times a day and informal talks the for the remainder of the daily shift. The programs were designed, according to Calkins, to “bring to the visitor a more personalized portrayal of the great conflicts at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania.”

Terry Winschel as a member of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry on the front lawn of Chatham - 1978

 Beginning the summer of 1978, the living history stations were located at Prospect Hill on the Fredericksburg Battlefield, the former camp at Chancellorsville, the newly acquired and opened Chatham, and the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. With the exception of Spotsylvania, little site preparation was needed for the programs. At Spotsylvania, the park rehabilitated the 1930s reconstructed earthworks behind the Bloody Angle to provide a setting for the living history station at that site (see previous post about these earthworks here).

John Heiser as a Confederate soldier at Prospect Hill - 1978

The park advertised the three times a day that each soldier would deliver a structured 15-minute first-person program. The rest of the day, the soldiers engaged visitors that happened to stop at their locations. The concept of first-person interpretation involved the soldiers talking to the visitors as if it were 1862, 1863 or 1864. The soldier’s knowledge only extended to the time period they represented. This caused a little concern among the park staff, who tried to prep visitors for their encounters with the living historians. “We try to warn them about it,” said Park Historian Will Greene, “but the day is bound to comewhen some guy comes in with his car steaming, nine kids yelling and asks where he can get his car fixed and Terry [Winschel] will turn around and say ‘what’s a car?’ I’m afraid that man isn’t going to be too pleased about how his tax dollars are being spent.”

Over the next few years, the investment in the living history program was reduced, so that by 1983 only the Chatham and Chancellorsville stations were staffed with summer employees in Civil War attire. The park continued to use staff in living history roles to supplement the other park summer programs through the early 1990s, by which point the programs had been reduced even more, to one lone Confederate soldier stationed at Chancellorsville on weekends, when staffing levels permitted.

Continue reading