The quest of a “distressed mother” to find her son, killed at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle


From the Fredericksburg Ledger, June 26, 1866, more than two years after the fighting at the Bloody Angle and a year after the end of the war.  Oliver H.P. Anderson served in the 48th Mississippi of Harris’s Brigade, which held the works near the Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864.

1866 6-26 Fredericksburg Ledger Mother looking for Son killed Bloody Angle

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A little perspective: the value of a view from above


From Hennessy:

This is a repost from a couple years back, germane to today’s 150th anniversary of the fighting at Fairview.

Over at Fredericksburg Remembered, I have also posted more reflective things, including my remarks at the opening ceremony for the Chancellorsville 150th: A Remembering People.  

I have also posted “Icons, the merely famous, and us”–my thoughts on Jackson on the anniversary of his wounding. 

Working on these fields, we are of course pretty familiar with them. But closeness doesn’t always make for clarity. No resource on our fields is more obscured by closeness than earthworks. At ground level it’s impossible to see them as anything but vertical features–now slowly fading mounds of earth. But with the advent of readily available high-resolution aerial photography from Google Earth or Virtual Earth, you can see these earthworks in a whole new way: as they relate to each other horizontally.

A case in point:  Fairview, on the Chancellorsville Battlefield. With all apologies to Jackson aficionados, I have always felt that if visitors can make one stop at Chancellorsville to get a general grasp of the battle, Fairview should be it. It was the fulcrum upon which the battle of Chancellorsville turned. That becomes apparent looking at an aerial view of the site (these views are from Google Earth).

I have labeled on the image the six artillery lunettes built by the Union army on May 2, 1863, when its attention was focused eastward and southward. But the aerial view shows the tangible impact of Jackson’s flank attack on the battle, as it crashed down on the army from the west (to the left). The new line of works built overnight May 2-3 is oriented westward, not south, to better defend against what changed front required by Jackson’s assault. Note too that the artillery here on May 2 was paltry compared to the extensive line constructed prior to the fighting on the morning of May 3–as many as 34 tightly packed Union guns fought along this line that morning. Fairview became the focal point of massive, life-eating attacks–some of the heaviest sustained combat of the war (no hyperbole there). For five hours, a man fell every second in the woods and fields around Fairview, more than 18,000 in all.

This change in the works and the relative scale of the lines can be seen clearly in this aerial view, but is much harder to grasp on the ground.

One other little observation. Continue reading

Understanding Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle: an Old Collaboration and a New Blog


from: Harrison

The team of writer and activist Mary Johnston and artist N. C. Wyeth offers a fascinating case study of non-veterans collaborating to interpret Civil War battles.

Public domain images of Mary Johnston (Library of Congress) and N. C. Wyeth (Wikimedia Commons).

Recently, I read portions of Johnston’s Wyeth-illustrated novel Cease Firing (Houghton Mifflin, 1912). It occurred to me that this picture in the book, accompanying her account of the May 12, 1864, fighting at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle, may now be the least known of its nationally circulated and publicized depictions:


(This black-and-white, online version of the artwork is in the public domain; Wyeth’s original painting resides in a private collection but is viewable in low-rez color here. That, by the way, is from a thumbnailed catalog that inventories many of Wyeth’s other historical works, including some of his sketched studies of Civil War soldiers. Wyeth’s Wiki entry is here.)

And Wyeth’s grim vision of the Bloody Angle only hinted at the horrors of Johnston’s, which began with self-narrating stabs by a Confederate’s blade:

The breastwork here was log and earth. Now other bayonets appeared over it, and behind the bayonets blue caps. “I have heard many a fuss,” said the first bayonet thrust, “but never a fuss like this!” “Blood, blood!” said the second. “I am the bloody Past! Just as strong and young as ever I was! More blood!”

The trenches grew slippery with blood. It mixed with the rain and ran in red streamlets. The bayonet point felt first the folds of cloth, then it touched and broke the skin, then it parted the tissues, then it grated against bone, or, passing on, rending muscle and gristle…. Where weapons had been wrested away men clutched with bare hands one anothers’ throats. And all this went on, not among a dozen or even fifty infuriated beings, but among thousands.

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Indians at Brompton


From Eric Mink:

No single site in the Fredericksburg area received more attention from Civil War photographers than “Brompton,” the John L. Marye plantation. Between May 19 and 20, 1864, no fewer than three photographers took nearly a dozen photographs at Brompton. What attracted the photographers were the scenes in the yard, where Union casualties lay waiting for medical attention. Brompton served at that time as a military hospital caring for the wounded and sick of the Union’s 9th Army Corps.

Personally, of all the photographs from this Brompton series, the image that has always intrigued me is one that depicts a small group of wounded soldiers lying beneath a small tree. A member of photographer Matthew Brady’s firm took the photo and it bears the original caption of “Wounded Indians.”

“Wounded Indians”

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The Mysterious, Second Combat-Action for USCT’s in Spotsylvania County


From: Harrison

Although the engagement at the John Alrich farm, on May 15, 1864, was the first combat action involving United States Colored Troops (USCT’s) in Spotsylvania County, it was not the only such combat in the county. A second engagement, now almost unknown aside from a brief mention in Noah Andre Trudeau’s Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, featured them again, four days later. What follows describes historical detective work undertaken in 2012 to discover the location of their May 19th skirmish. 

On May 17, 1864, the six USCT regiments (and a detachment from the 29th Connecticut Infantry) composing the two infantry brigades of Brig. Gen. Edward S. Ferrero’s division moved east from bivouacs in the vicinity of the Alrich and Isaac Silver farms, both on the Orange Plank Road, to the area of Salem Church.

Salem Church, principal landmark for the main camp of the USCT regiments on May 17-22, 1864, the period of their second combat in Spotsylvania County. National Park Service photo.

In serialized reminiscences published in 1899, Freeman S. Bowley, a young lieutenant in the 30th USCT, wrote of visiting another USCT regiment near Salem Church on the evening of either May 17 or 18, 1864:

Grouped under the great pine trees, the scene lighted up by fires of pine knots, the men, all wearing their accouterments, gathered.  Every black face was sober and reverent.  The leader “lined off” the words of the hymn, and all sang…. Then came prayers and exhortations.

The cannon were roaring at Spottsylvania, and the dropping sound of musketry was heard all the time. One powerful black soldier prayed, “Oh, Lord Jesus, you knows we’s ready an’ willin’ to die for de flag; dat’s what we’se hyah foh; but, O, Lord, if we falls, comfort de lubbed ones at home.”

An encounter with the enemy was indeed in the immediate offing for the USCT’s.

Continue reading

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

Souvenir Battlefield Photos – 1887


From Eric Mink:

As described in a prior post (found here), a large group of Massachusetts veterans traveled to the Fredericksburg area in May 1887. Their visit to the local battlefields wrapped up a weeklong trip to Virginia that started in Norfolk, took them to Petersburg and Richmond, before arriving in Fredericksburg.

Among the party were two photographers. William H. Tipton, the famed photographer of the battlefield at Gettysburg is highlighted in the prior post.  The second photographer chronicling the veterans’ excursion was Frederick H. Foss of Dover, New Hampshire. A veteran of the war, Foss joined the 56th Massachusetts Infantry in March 1864, accepting a $325 bounty. He suffered a gunshot wound, which resulted in the loss of an index finger, at Bethesda Church on May 31, 1864. After the war, Foss lived in Dover, New Hampshire and made his living as a photographer.  The list of attendees for the May 1887 visit to the Fredericksburg area does list Foss as being present.

Both Tipton and Foss marketed for sale the images they made on this trip. The two men used their lenses to record similar, but different, things, however. Tipton appears to have been more interested in landscape images of the battlefields that might appeal to a broad audience. Foss, on the other hand, took numerous photos of excursion members, thus chronicling the visit and marketing his photos as souvenirs of the trip.

Foss’s “List of Views” from that trip shows that he offered copies of 25 photos from the visit, including scenes from Petersburg, Richmond area battlefields, and the Fredericksburg area battlefields.

Continue reading