If these signatures could talk…”: Braehead Graffiti


From Eric Mink:

Braehead Post

Most visitors to the Fredericksburg Battlefield pass “Braehead” when driving the park auto tour. The antebellum home sits along Lee Drive, between Tour Stops 3 and 4. The majority of travelers along this stretch of the tour road probably don’t notice the house, as it is screened by trees and lacks any markers or interpretive signs. Braehead is, however, a significant battlefield landmark and is one that still bears scars from the intrusion of war in the 1860s.

John Howison built Braehead in 1859 as the home for his family, which included his wife Ann and seven children. The home is built of brick with a raised basement and a unique plan comprised of two two-story sections connected by a single-story central structure. Howison used salvaged brick from buildings already standing on his property to reduce construction costs, which totaled $15,000 when finished. During the Civil War, Braehead became a refuge for locals during various Union occupations of Fredericksburg. The house and property sat in the middle of the Confederate defenses for both the first and second battles of Fredericksburg. Rising south and west of Braehead is Howison Hill, upon which Confederate artillery shelled advancing Federal troops. During the May 1863 battle the Union lines swept across the Howison farm on their way to the crest of the heights behind the house. Other notable events that occurred at Braehead during the war included Robert E. Lee’s having breakfast at the house prior to the December 1862 battle, Confederate use of the building to conduct courts-martial, as well as the housing of wounded following fighting in the area.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee's Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee’s Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

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Goodbye Rappahannock: The Yankees Abandon Sherwood Forest (and the Wounded too)


From John Hennessy:

Tomorrow is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate capture of Union wounded at Sherwood Forest in southern Stafford County. The moment prompts a post on this compelling place. 

Sherwood 6In the last ten years, as the threats that would consume it intensify, Sherwood Forest has assumed a majestic aura wrapped in melancholy. Atop a rounded hill a mile from the Rappahannock (near what we know as Fitzhugh’s Crossing), the former home of Henry Fitzhugh and his wife Jane Downman Fitzhugh peers out between massive trees over a landscape that was for two centuries formed and managed by slaves. Today, the “big house” is boarded and mouldering. The adjacent kitchen quarters (an impressive building) is likewise sinking, while a nearby slave cabin (which we have written about here) is near collapse. The prospects for Sherwood Forest are not bright. A development company owns the house and surrounding acres. No plan is in place to preserve it. No one has stepped forward offering to do so. Thus the melancholy aspect of Sherwood Forest.

The kitchen quarters at Sherwood Forest

The kitchen quarters at Sherwood Forest

Though the house is commonly dated to 1810, it’s more likely the Fitzhughs built Sherwood Forest just after their marriage in 1837. In the years before the war, Henry Fitzhugh established himself as one of the best farmers in the region. He also developed a reputation for hard drinking and  hard dealing, especially as his slaves saw it (we have written about that here).  During the war, two sons entered the Confederate army and the elder Fitzhugh left for more southern environs, leaving the house to the care of his wife and daughter.

The entire Union bridgehead, from Fitzhugh's Crossing to Franklin's Crossing

The entire Union bridgehead, from Fitzhugh’s Crossing to Franklin’s Crossing

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A Little-Known…but Well-Known…Photograph of the Second Battle of Fredericksburg


from: Harrison

Note:  For an opportunity to vividly imagine Civil War events at the Fredericksburg Baptist Church, mentioned below—and at other local places of worship as well—I invite you to attend The Churches Remember, a multi-component, free event this Saturday commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  Note that dramatic readings will occur in the Baptist Church at 7:00 p.m., and that historian George Rable, who has written in-depth about wartime destruction in the Fredericksburg area—the general subject of my post here—with speak earlier in the day: 10:45 at St. George’s Church.

I’d like to take a moment at lunchtime to share the results of some research accomplished over the past two weekends.  Recently, I happened to linger over this familiar view of the ruins of “Mulberry Hill,” the Stafford County home of the Phillips family.  The building had also housed the headquarters of General Ambrose Burnside during the First Battle of Fredericksburg.  The photograph looks southwest from Mulberry Hill across the Chatham estate and across the town.  I could not recall seeing a precise date for this picture in the many books and articles that have carried it:

Courtesy National Archives.

The Phillips House was gutted by fire on February 14, 1863, while the Federals occupied Stafford Heights.  Thus ended the brief but proud reign of what was perhaps the most elaborate example of the Gothic Revival style in residential architecture in antebellum Fredericksburg and immediate environs.  A grim symmetry on the casualty list of local culture was achieved two months later when “Mannsfield,” the most elaborate local example of the Georgian style in residential building, was gutted by fire while in Confederate hands.  (“Idlewild,” just outside town on the opposite side of the river, was Mulberry Hill’s principal antebellum rival among large Gothic homes.)

Army of the Potomac Provost Marshal General Marsena Patrick had known the Phillips House as a picturesque feature on the backdrop of his rides, visits, and camps the previous spring and summer.  The house may be the structure with tall, crossed gables and gable-end windows that appears in the left background of this Edwin Forbes sketch of “Review of Gen. Ord’s division, opposite Fredericksburg, by Maj. Gen. McDow[e]ll and staff” on May 20, 1862:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(High-rez versions of the sketch are here.)

Marsena Patrick’s diary describes the February 14, 1863 blaze as “quite a sad affair” and repeats a story that some of Maj. Gen. George Stoneman’s staffers had been “trying to get a Sibley Stove to work in the Attic.”  A Northern photographer showed up, possibly on February 15 or 16, 1863, to record the still-smoking ruins, in a destined-to-be-famous stereograph.  Here’s the left-hand view:

Courtesy Library of Congress.

(Standing modestly among the wooden items rescued from the flames, and among the blue-clad gawkers, a telegraph pole attests to the military value of the commanding vista from Mulberry Hill.)


Given that the towering gables and second story of the brick shell visible in the smoking-ruins image had vanished by the time of the photograph I post at the top, I assumed that a considerable period had elapsed between the taking of the two images.  So when was the scene at top photographed?
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The forgotten crossing–Fitzhugh’s 1863


From John Hennessy (thanks to all of you who joined us on our walk at Franklin’s Crossing on Saturday. We had 78 in attendance–an astonishing turnout–all of them good sports amidst some muddy, buggy conditions):

Click to enlarge all images.

The Union 1st Corps on the south side of the Rappahannock, looking north. That's Little Falls Run entering the river on the far side, and Sherwood Forest is marked by the cluster of trees on the distant hill.

We have prattled on extensively about Franklin’s Crossing–otherwise known as the “Lower Crossing,”–but have paid no mind so far to the forgotten crossing farther downstream at Pollock’s Mill. We received a number of questions about it during our tour last weekend, and so take a look at this crossing of the Rappahannock before we move onto other topics.

This crossing, used by the Union First Corps during the Chancellorsville Campaign, was located near the mouth of Little Falls Run, almost directly below Henry Fitzhugh’s Sherwood Forest (click here for a post on Sherwood). At least two superlative sketches of the site exist. It was interchangeably called “Reynolds’s” or “Fitzhugh’s” crossing.

The crossing site was at the mouth of Little Falls Run, about 1.7 miles below Franklin’s Crossing, below Dr. Hugh Morson’s “Little Falls” farm.

Update: this map, supplied after going to press by Noel, clearly puts the pontoon bridges just below Little Falls Run. Library of Congress.

Here, on April 29, 1863, the 6th Wisconsin and 24th Michigan of the Iron Brigade led Reynolds’s First Corps across the river, just hours after Sedgwick’s men had crossed at Franklin’s Crossing. The Union army had learned something from its horrific bridge-building experience at the upper pontoon crossing in December 1862, and this time determined to send a force across in boats to secure a bridgehead before even attempting to build the bridges. Continue reading

Photographs of Second Fredericksburg: Interpreting Smoke Then and Now


from: Harrison

This blog has devoted several posts to the Second Battle of Fredericksburg component of the Chancellorsville Campaign, and to the photographic documentation of its landscapes, most recently and dramatically with a post exploring a newly identified image of Federal operations around Franklin’s Crossing on May 2, 1863.

Along with contemporaneous documents of Second Fredericksburg, I also find fascinating (if vexing) the postwar telling of its story—its historiography. Strangely, Second Fredericksburg has benefited from the impressive scholarship of historians such as John Bigelow, Douglas Southall Freeman, Stephen W. Sears, and Ernest B. Furgurson but only in books treating broader subjects, such as the Chancellorsville Campaign overall or the Army of Northern Virginia overall, and limited almost entirely to evaluating the non-photographic record.

Meantime, other scholars have pursued the battle’s rich photographic documentation in books, and with increasingly impressive results, beginning with the pioneering efforts of Francis Trevelyan Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War of 1911, work that found dramatic elaboration and expansion in the 1980’s with Time-Life Books’ first Civil War series, and the National Historical Society’s Image of War series, themselves stepping-stones to further elaboration and discovery in fine books of the 1990’s and 2000’s.

Yet much of the photo-centric work on Second Fredericksburg neglects the full chronology of the battle’s key events, as highlighted by Bigelow, Freeman, and Sears in particular: six major troop movements in the demonstration phase, April 30-afternoon May 2, 1863; seven more during the start of the combat phase, evening May 2-early morning May 3; six more during the late-morning combats of May 3; and ten more on May 4-5, when the fighting shifted back from Salem Church towards and partially onto Marye’s Heights. Also neglected is a sense of the full expanse of key landmarks: from Hamilton’s Crossing and the Telegraph Road-Courthouse Road junction, on the south, to Banks/Scott’s Ford on the north, and from the Downman House (“Idlewild”) on the west to Franklin’s and Reynolds’ pontoon crossings on the east.

Instead, the focus remains on the powerful photograph of the dead Mississippians at the base of Marye’s Heights:

…and, after being revealed in the Time-Life and National Historical Society series of the 1980’s, on a number of photographs that look west across Fredericksburg on May 3 and depict battle smoke rising from the bases of Marye’s Heights and Lee’s Hill. (For a state-of-the-discipline inventory of Second Fredericksburg images as of 2005, as well as for a superb survey of the methods and personalities behind the war’s images overall, I highly recommend Bob Zeller’s The Blue and Gray in Black and White: A History of Civil War Photography.) Zeller notes additional evidence of battle smoke along the heights and hill in photographs taken on May 3, 1863, including at left-center in this detail from an image made sometime prior to the Federals’ successful mid-morning attacks, launched around 10:30:

Fredericksburg, morning May 3, 1863. Looking generally west from Pine Grove farm, with possible artillery-smoke identified by historian Bob Zeller. Library of Congress.

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A mystery photograph no more: artillery battery below Fredericksburg May 2, 1863


From John Hennessy (with assistance from Eric Mink, who found the image in the first place, and Noel Harrison, who added the Waud sketch at the end).  Note: before reading this, you should take a look at our exploration of Franklin’s Crossing, which you can find here. It will help make this analysis a bit clearer.

This is perhaps the least-recognizable of all the wartime photographs attributed to Fredericksburg, and indeed its precise location has been a mystery.  Eric Mink came across it during a visit to Western Reserve Historical Society a few years back.  The label on the image says:

“Distant View of Battle of May 2d/63 – Below Fredericksburg. – Foreground – Falmouth side of river, and from about centre of picture winding along up to the trees are the Federal Batteries, but these too far off to be used against the foe. Over the hill in foreground, reaching from right hand down centre of picture, are the camps of Federal army, the white patches being smoke of camp fires. Another row of camps and camp fires are beyond the first, and in the distance, like mist, is the smoke ascending as the fight progresses.”

At first blush, the image appears too distant to be of much interest. But looking closer some interesting things emerge. Most obvious is the prominence of the ridge upon which the camera sits.  There are few sites in the Fredericksburg region hat match–a prominent ridge bordered by a wide plain extending to beyond the camera’s range. This indeed helps confirm a location on the Stafford side south of Fredericksburg.

Something else that stands out is the complex of four artillery lunettes clearly visible. Continue reading

Coaxing Second Fredericksburg Out of the Shadows: The Howison Farm, “Braehead”


from: Harrison

The Howison farm, “Braehead,” consisted on the eve of the Civil War of some 600 acres and, on the south side of Hazel Run, at least three clusters of buildings:

-the estate’s namesake house, a mansion built for the Howison family in 1859, together with outbuildings.  This large brick home distinguished itself with tower-like wings:

(Today, the mansion is preserved and protected in its rural setting thanks to the loving custodianship of postwar owners and a major, timely investment by the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust.)

-a smaller house, perhaps the dwelling of the estate’s overseer or dairyman and designated “Jones” on a Confederate map and in an after-action report.  A pair of outbuildings flanked the Jones House.  (The postwar incarnation of this homestead, whose site now lies within the Fredericksburg Industrial Park, appears to have been destroyed sometime after 1943.  The postwar occupants included a pair of Buckner sisters renowned for their marksmanship and feared by railroad survey-crews and hobos alike.  It is also my understanding that in the mid-1890’s members of the recently formed National Geographic Society picnicked near the house.)  

-a large brick barn and at least one additional building–possibly another barn or a dwelling for some of Braehead’s enslaved workers. (The census enumerator counted 14 slaves at the estate in 1860.)  The barn complex probably housed most of the Braehead dairy operation, a major supplier of milk to antebellum Fredericksburg.  (This group of structures was evidently destroyed sometime between 1864 and 1867; their sites are likewise today in the industrial park.)

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