To go or not to go: Fredericksburg’s refugees and those who stayed behind

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

Escape to Spotsylvania and beyond: the geography of Fredericksburg’s refugees

From John Hennessy:

On December 12, 1862, the roads leading into Spotsylvania were crowded with civilians seeking escape from looming battle. There was no system to this exodus. People headed to friends’ homes, to churches, and to the homes of strangers, seeking shelter. There are many affecting descriptions of civilians finding their way across the early winter landscape of Spotsylvania (read one of the best in this post over at Fredericksburg Remembered), but our purpose today is to look at least at a few of the sites that help define the geography of the exodus so far as we know it.

By far the most famous of Fredericksburg’s refugees on December 11 and 12, 1862, was Jane Beale and her family. They lived on Lewis Street and endured most of December 11 in their basement, under fire. As the Union army battled its way across the river and into Fredericksburg’s streets, Beale, assisted by Rev. Beverley Tucker Lacy, fled in a wagon brought by Confederate soldiers.

The family’s path out of town is clear: over to Hanover Street, westward to what is today Kirkland Street, left on the Sunken Road, and then to a temporary camp established by refugees on the back side of Willis Hill–today’s National Cemetery. She wrote vividly about the place.

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