From John Hennessy:
Among the many queries we get, it is one of the most common: how many civilians remained in Fredericksburg during the war’s darkest months? It’s a complicated question, for we know that there was no single exodus that can be easily measured. Lizzie Alsop’s diary records many comings and goings by her family, as do both Betty Maury’s and Jane Beale’s. Some families, like the Lacys of Chatham, left when the Union army arrived in the spring of 1862. By far the largest exodus took place in November 1862, when the Union army arrived for the second time–this time destined to fight. But we also know that many of those (like Jane Beale) who left in November returned to their homes in early December, when the threat of battle seemed to lessen (thank the Union pontoon trains for that red herring). Many of those souls suffered violent correction on December 11 when the Union army did indeed stir.
Innumerable accounts of that day note the presence of civilians, and indeed several of them wrote vivid accounts of their experiences during bombardment. For our purposes, perhaps the best description comes from confectioner Edward Heinichen, who took a walk through town during an afternoon lull (Heinichen’s memoir was published in the 2007 edition of Fredericksburg History and Biography, which you can purchase here).
I soon left my friend’s house to take a walk through the town, meeting many people, few in the streets, but many more or less sheltered by their houses, eagerly watching the havoc from doors and windows, and I must say that few, women and men showed any fear but plenty of excitement. I saw one darkey crouching behind a thick plank fence where he imagined himself perfectly safe from shot and shell, cordially inviting me to join him there. Meeting Judge M. Herndon, he remarked in his most pleasant manner: [“]This looks as if we had had a most extraordinary hailstorm.[“]
We know that the crossing of the Union troops following the bombardment inspired more than a few civilians, including Heinichen and Beale, to leave, and that evening witnessed a fairly frantic exodus to points in Spotsylvania County. Still, some residents remained behind (as evidenced by the memoir of Mamie Wells, who left the only account of a resident who remained throughout the battle that followed). The town was certainly never “empty,” as some observers claimed. Continue reading