A famous site today: slaves crossing the Rappahannock


From John Hennessy

This post will mean a good deal more to you if you read our posts on this image, here and here–some of the most popular posts we have done.

This image, and a close companion, were taken on or about August 19, 1862, during Pope’s retreat from Culpeper County. The image shows slaves crossing the Rappahannock River at Tinpot Ford, just below the Orange and Alexandria Bridge, visible in the background. It is one of the most famous images of the Civil War, used constantly to illustrate slaves’ efforts to achieve freedom. It has become ubiquitous, even a bit of a cliche, largely because no other image comes close to matching its power.

In our look at the images last year, we were able to show where the image was taken, but did not have access to the site itself.  Our friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall, an indefatigable and unconquerable preservationist and maven of all things Civil War Culpeper (he is the only one of the Virginia crowd of preservationists to have his picture on the front of a national magazine, so far as I know), recently managed to visit the site and kindly share with us this image of the site today.  His explanation follows.

This is Tinpot Run Ford, and the old road from Culpeper approaches the river from the south (still there). The ford road comes out of the river on the north side and is still quite evident where it [crossses] the river into Fauquier. If you look carefully [at the original], you can discern Tinpot Run entering the river. 

This is a modern-day view (July 2012). The ground I am standing on is the sandbar situated in the river you can see above. The river curls around to the…south from there. As is shown in the original images, you can barely discern Tinpot Run to the right. 

My picture is taken a bit closer than O’Sullivan’s original image, and you can see the bridge (re-built) appears closer–which is a function of the zoom lens distorting the natural depth of field.. I will return to this scene on August 19 and take the picture on or about the same day it was taken 150 years ago.

Our great thanks to Bud Hall for passing this image along.
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The exodus begins: John Washington’s greatest journey


From John Hennessy:

[First, a prelude:  In light of the topic of this post, a couple of reminders about this weekend’s To Freedom event.  Join us on Saturday night at 6:30 for “Bearing the Stones,” a community procession down

Bearing of Stones, 6:30 Saturday.

Sophia Street from Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site) to the middle crossing site below city dock, where hundreds, perhaps thousands of slaves crossed in 1862. Then, at 7:30, we will present “10,000 Lights to Freedom,” an interpretive program of music, the words of those who were there, readings, and of course, the illumination of 10,000 lights on the Stafford shore.  For more information on the weekend, click here.

Also, on Sunday at 1:30, I will be tracing a tour along the Trail to Freedom, from the Rappahannock to Aquia Landing–including the site of John Washington’s crossing, described below. This program is being sponsored by Eastern National. There is a fee ($20, to help with the bus), and the tour will last three hours.  You can reserve a seat by calling 540 654-5543.

On Saturday on the hour from 11 till 3, we will be doing walking tours, “A Slave’s World and Beyond,” which includes many sites associated with John Washington.  Meet at Market Square.  These are free, presented by myself, Steward Henderson, and Donald Pfanz of the park staff.]

* * * * * * * *

Chances are, if you have spent much time here or on Fredericksburg Remembered, you have heard a bit about John Washington (see here). Washington was a slave who spent most of his life in bondage in Fredericksburg, and seven years after the war wrote a truly compelling memoir of his experience.  His is an important voice–one of two complete memoirs from a Fredericksburg slave, and by far the best.

Of all the moments narrated in Washington’s remembrance, by far the most vivid–for him and for us his readers–is his passage across the Rappahannock to freedom in April 1862. Washington crossed just hours after the arrival of the Union army at Falmouth; indeed, he may have been the first to do so, the first of more than 10,000 to follow. Because his is one of just two accounts from a slave’s hand that narrates this passage (see the other here), his assumes immense historical significance. He conveys to us what must have been the sentiments of thousands of others.

Washington began his day that Good Friday tending bar at the Shakespeare House hotel on Caroline Street, where today’s Soup and Taco stands (with the best tortilla soup in town).  With the arrival of the Union army (we wrote of Washington’s perception of that here), and while white residents rushed to flee or hide, Washington took to the streets.

The Farmer's Bank building--home of John Washington's owner.He stopped first at his owner’s residence in the Farmer’s Bank building on Princess Anne Street.  Washington is the classic example of a slave who humored those in authority, always taking care that they thought him willing and compliant. In his final act as a slave, he did so again. When he walked in the front door of the bank, his owner, Catherine Taliaffero, was busy packing to head to the country.   “Child,” she said to this 24-year-old man, “you better come and go out in the country With me So as to keep away from the yankees.” Washington replied, “Yes madam,” but asserted that he needed to return the keys to the hotel to the hotelier’s wife. “I will come right back directly,” he said, and then walked out the door never to return as a slave.

From the National Bank building Washington proceeded to the river, likely up to what we know today as the upper crossing site, at the base of Hawke Street.   Continue reading

Good Friday 1862


From John Hennessy:

One Hundred and Fifty years ago today, the Union army arrived opposite Fredericksburg for the first time.  It was Good Friday.

Of the many narratives of that day, two stand out for both their quality and their contrast.  The first is an account written by Helen Bernard, a white resident who was staying just outside town at a house called Beaumont–near where Gold’s Gym stands today.  (The following is from Rebecca Campbell Light’s excellent War at Our Doors. For a great history of Helen’s primary home at Gay Mont in Port Royal, click here.)

Helen Struan Bernard, from Rebecca Campbell Light’s War at Our Doors.

Beaumont, Spotsylvania County.  Good Friday, 1862. I write while the smoke of the burning bridges, depot, & boats, is resting like a heavy cloud all around the horizons towards Fredcksbg. The enemy are in possession of Falmouth, our force on this side too weak to resist them…. We are not at all frightened but stunned & bewildered waiting for the end. Will they shell Fbg., will our homes on the river be all destroyed? …. It is heartsickening to think of having our beautiful valley that we have so loved and admired all overrun & desolated by our bitter enemies, whose sole object is to subjugate & plunder the South…..

This is a powerful description of what the arrival of the Union army meant to most white residents in Fredericksburg.  It also reflects what has over the decades been our traditional understanding of the event hereabouts.

But here’s another description of precisely the same moment in time, written by another Fredericksburger, the slave John Washington.

John WashingtonApril 18th 1862. Was “Good-Friday,” the Day was a mild pleasant one with the Sun Shining brightly, and every thing unusally quiet…until every body Was Startled by Several reports of [Yankee] cannon…. In less time than it takes me to write these lines, every White man was out the house. [But] every Man Servant was out on the house top looking over the River at the yankees, for their glistening bayonats could eaziely be Seen.   I could not begin to express my new born hopes for I felt…like I Was certain of My freedom now.

Same event, powerfully described, but with a totally different meaning to each writer.

 We’ll have more about the onset of the Union occupation in the next couple days.  Don’t forget Years of Anguish:  Slavery and Emancipation this weekend, with David Blight and Thavolia Glymph.  The Fredericksburg Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street, from 1-5.

A Confederate Hospital in Fredericksburg, and the women mobilize–1861


From John Hennessy:

A tobacco factory would seem an unlikely place for a military hospital, but during the exceedingly polite Confederate presence in Fredericksburg during the first year of the war there were few other options. (The Union army used churches, stores, hotels, homes, and the courthouse–none of which were accessible to those bent on politeness in 1861). We don’t know the circumstances that led the Confederate army to take over the tobacco factory of Alexander Gibbs and his partner John F. Alexander (there is no record, for example, of the Confederates leasing the building or of their commandeering it), but by late June of 1861, as the landscape around Fredericksburg filled with spanking new Confederate troops (including some from Tennessee and Arkansas), Gibbs’s and Alexander’s tobacco factory on Prussia street held upwards of 150 sick Confederate soldiers.  Betty Herndon Maury recorded on June 26:

Betty Herndon Maury

The sick suffer a great deal for want of proper medical attendance and good nursing.  Many of the soldiers are laid on the floor when brought in, and are not touched, or their cases looked into, for twenty-four hours.  One or two died when no one was near them; they were found cold and stiff several hours afterwards.  The other night at ten o’clock, when one of the ladies left, there was not a soul in the house besides the sick men.  Every one in town has been interested in them.

The wretched conditions at the hospital soon spurred the community to action.  Two days after Maury’s gloomy assessment, the Fredericksburg News reported: Continue reading

Building research into media: Virtual Chatham


From John Hennessy:

While we generally enjoy the process of research and writing about the landscapes we manage, we ultimately do it to inform the public. We continue to search for ways to deliver important and interesting things to park visitors and those who engage the park online (be it here, on our website, or on the park’s Facebook page, which our staff is fast turning into a very interesting resource–check it out). As we have mentioned before, we are developing a number of digital projects. Our latest uses the accumulation of decades of knowledge about Chatham and its landscape, including Eric’s Mink’s work on Chatham’s slave cabins, first presented on Mysteries and Conundrums a few months ago (you can see his work  here and here).  It is a digital re-creation of Chatham over the decades, showing its evolution from classic Georgian mansion to the still-beautiful-but-altered vision of Chatham we have today (for a post on Chatham and its modern setting, click here).  This fly-around will soon go on permanent display at Chatham (and elsewhere), but we present here publicly for the first time.  The silky voice of the narrator you might recognize as Donald Pfanz’s.

Bear in mind that this vision of Chatham shows only what we can reasonably deduce from the evidence. It does not show everything–there were at times more than 25 outbuildings on the site. 

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

A Stafford County Photograph and Sketch Give Faces to Wartime Freedom


from: Harrison

How soon after the summer of 1862 did Northern photographers resume documenting the Fredericksburg area’s wartime scenes? Considering this general question led me down an unexpected path to a particular part of a particular month in 1863, and to a certain area of Stafford County. The story I found was one of different artistic media that had converged to record and popularize an iconic tableau of freedom but, ironically, left its date and location unidentified.

(In the current absence of known photographs of the Confederate occupation of the area in May 1861-March 1862, a series of views of the Union occupation during the summer of 1862 holds distinction as the earliest-known photographic window onto local wartime landscapes. To my knowledge, no such images verifiably dated to December 1862 have been found.)

An oft-published image of the still-smoking ruins of the Phillips House in Stafford, which caught fire on February 14, 1863, marked an early post-battle resumption of local photography that, thanks to the drama of the blaze and consequent recording by various writers, is dateable to within a day or two:

Yet it’s hard to imagine that the lapse in photo-documentation of outdoor scenes in the Fredericksburg area continued through an event as attention-grabbing as the December 1862 battle. After the summer of 1862, did the camera lenses really remain uncapped until mid-February 1863?

Previously, I devoted a series of posts to another candidate for the distinction of earliest post-battle photograph of a local landscape: a stereograph depicting a flag-of-truce exchange, amid no less than 160 spectators, on the Fredericksburg riverfront. Although I would be delighted if this image turned out to document the post-battle truce crossings there on December 17-18, 1862, my current suspicion is that the actual date will prove to be sometime in February or March 1863, as suggested in different records at the Library of Congress, and when truce crossings indeed also occurred.

In an article published in the journal Fredericksburg History and Biography, I considered a third photograph as the area’s earliest outdoor-view following the December battle. Let’s revisit that image in order to update research, and to take advantage of the opportunities for higher-resolution analysis of pictures afforded by this blog.

In its issue for January 31, 1863, Harper’s Weekly devoted an entire page to a woodcut-illustration (below left) of formerly enslaved people. The caption titled the woodcut “CONTRABANDS COMING INTO CAMP IN CONSEQUENCE OF THE PROCLAMATION.” Harper’s noted that the woodcut was based upon a sketch (below right) by special artist Alfred R. Waud, bearing his manuscript caption, “An arrival in Camp—under the Proclamation of Emancipation.” On a separate page in the same issue of Harper’s, Waud noted that the picture was intended to document the “beginning of the effect of the President’s Proclamation of Freedom”—the Emancipation Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln signed and issued on January 1, 1863:


Continue reading