“Here he lays far from home and kindred” – Assistant Surgeon Neil K. Gunn of Nova Scotia


From Eric Mink:

By the end of the Civil War, the United States Army employed nearly 11,000 doctors. That was a massive increase from a mere 98 surgeons and assistant surgeons on the army’s rolls when the war began. The high rates of casualties and sickness necessitated the assignment of a surgeon and an assistant surgeon to each regiment, as well as medical staff at higher levels and also those who worked in established hospitals. The commissioning of medical personnel to volunteer regiments often became the responsibility of the governor of the state from which the regiment was raised. Such was the case with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry when on March 18, 1863 Governor John A. Andrews appointed and commissioned 24-year old Neil K. Gunn to the position of Assistant Surgeon of that regiment. Gunn, who was not a citizen of the United States, had just seven days earlier finished his course work and graduated from Harvard Medical School.

Neill K Gunn Post

Neil K. Gunn

Neil K. Gunn was born in Scotland in 1839 to Catherine Gunn and her husband Reverend John Gunn. The following year the family sailed for Nova Scotia when John was recruited with four others to minister to the needs of the Scottish immigrants of Inverness County. The family settled in Broad Cove. At some point after 1860, Neil sailed for Massachusetts and enrolled in Harvard Medical School. Upon the completion of his studies and the receipt of commission and appointment Gunn joined the 1st Massachusetts Infantry in Stafford County, Virginia. He entered into his duties as the regimental assistant surgeon the final week of March 1863. Dr. Gunn arrived months after the disastrous December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, but just weeks before the Union Army of the Potomac took to the field again during the Chancellorsville Campaign. His introduction to war and military medicine must have been jarring.

Field Hospital Chancellorsville Post

A 3rd Corps field hospital at Chancellorsville, May 2, 1863. Drawn by Edwin Forbes, this sketch represents a scene similar to  one in which Dr. Gunn may have worked during the battle.

At Chancellorsville, Dr. Gunn’s position was on the field with the regiment.  More than likely, he was positioned near the front line and worked at the regimental field hospital. Warren H. Cudworth, chaplain with the 1st Massachusetts Infantry, remembered that Gunn “was the field surgeon for the regiment and almost constantly under fire with the rest of the men and officers.” Colonel Napoleon B. McLaughlen of the 1st Massachusetts reported a total of nine men killed and 44 wounded in the battle. Undoubtedly, Dr. Gunn treated many of those men. For the surgeons, the end of the battle did not mean the end of the treatment for many of the men required attention to wounds and injuries long after the fighting ceased. Chaplain Cudworth opined that because of Gunn’s exposure “to the fatigue, privation and inclement weather following that engagement, his constitution seems to have received a shock from which it never recovered.”

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Alonzo Gambel and Union Camp Servants – Summer 1862


From Eric Mink:

The summer 1862 occupation of Fredericksburg and Stafford County is a period in the region’s history that receives little attention when compared to the battles and events that followed a few months later. For many of the Union soldiers stationed along the Rappahannock River, the summer occupation proved to be their first real exposure to the South and the institution of slavery. It has been estimated that perhaps as many as 10,000 slaves passed through the military frontier around Fredericksburg to take refuge within Union lines. Termed “contraband,” most of the escaped slaves continued their journey to the District of Columbia and perhaps even points farther north. Others chose to stay with the Union army and secured work and employment in support of the thousands of soldiers that made up the Union’s Department of the Rappahannock. This interaction developed into a working relationship that most certainly left impressions upon the soldiers.

In this photo taken July 1862, Fredericksburg is visible across the Rappahannock River.

In this photo taken July 1862, Fredericksburg is visible across the Rappahannock River.

Union authorities set to work using the refugees in a variety of roles. Many found work at Stafford County’s Aquia Landing on the Potomac River, loading and unloading the supply ships that docked there. Still others received employment as drivers for artillery forges and transportation wagons. Compensation for this work varied and as one Union officer stated “the lowest price was one ration and 25 cents per day, and the highest one ration and 40 cents.” Perhaps the largest source of employment found within the army was that of a servant to the army’s officers and men.

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The War of 1812 in the Fredericksburg Area: Backstory and the First Local Campaign


from: Harrison

Imagine troop concentrations in southern Stafford County and on the heights just west of Fredericksburg…and military movements from one towards the other. Easy to do? Yes, but I have in mind such scenes from the eighteen-teens, not the eighteen-sixties. Let’s consider another American war with a single- or multiple centennial this year. This post, part 1 of a short series, recounts the first sequence of operations that occurred in Fredericksburg and Stafford during the War of 1812, specifically events in the summer of 1813.  (Limited space necessitates omitting the better-known operations that took place further afield that summer, along the Northern Neck.)

Besides surveying some of the local contours of the conflict during its bicentennial, my interest lies with an intriguing aspect of the history of the Fredericksburg area, an aspect that’s obscured by the drama and duration of the Civil War: the nature of military events here, whether limited or extensive, has shifted back and forth between those involving local or regional combatants, and those featuring overseas interests or forces.

Artist Tom W. Freeman, SM&S Naval Prints, recently created the only known rendering of a Fredericksburg landscape during the War of 1812 era. Published here for the first time through the courtesy of business- and civic leader Joe Wilson, who commissioned the painting for his family’s collection in 2006, “Fredericksburg Landing” shows the town’s Rappahannock wharves in 1816. The painting illustrates vividly the local river connections—Potomac as well as Rappahannock—that brought vulnerability as well as economic opportunity. Permission courtesy Joe Wilson, copy photo courtesy Tom W. Freeman; image not for re-use or reproduction.

Artist Tom W. Freeman, SM&S Naval Prints, recently created the only known rendering of a Fredericksburg landscape during the War of 1812 era. Published here for the first time through the courtesy of business- and civic leader Joe Wilson, who commissioned the painting for his family’s collection in 2006, “Fredericksburg Landing” shows the town’s Rappahannock wharves in 1816. Local river connections—Potomac as well as Rappahannock—brought vulnerability as well as economic opportunity. Permission courtesy Joe Wilson, copy photo courtesy Tom W. Freeman; image not for re-use or reproduction.

The local-regional category of military history includes everything from a battle near Potomac Creek between resident Potowomekes and Indian outsiders in the 1610’s to the launching of a raid into Maryland by the Stafford Troop of Horse in 1675 to the numerous clashes of the Civil War in 1861-1865.  Events in which overseas interests or forces played a key role include the Mannahoc-English skirmish at the Rappahannock falls in 1608—resulting from an effort by the Virginia Company of London to find gold, silver, and trade routes to the Pacific—to a brief but contested British amphibious landing on Stafford County’s Widewater Peninsula in 1775.  This varied, shifting nature of “war” and “the enemy” is even more pronounced when we also consider the fears (however unfounded those proved) of overseas invaders operating in the Fredericksburg area, particularly Spanish landing-parties in 1898 and Axis saboteurs and aircraft during World War Two.

In the era of the French Revolution and through the rise of Napoleon, Europe’s wars roiled the people of the central Rappahannock valley despite the vast distances intervening. An early Fredericksburg historian, who doubtless had neighbors and acquaintances possessing memories of the Napoleonic period, wrote that “bitter feeling” over foreign policy and other political issues increased locally through the 1790’s, “even boiling over at times.” In 1796, Fredericksburgers learned that one of their fellow townsmen, William M’Coy, was among the American sailors impressed by the British Navy. In the Caribbean, the French seized in 1795 the Fredericksburg-based sloop Martha, and in 1797 the Tappahannock-based sloop Prudent, also voyaging from Fredericksburg and also carrying barrels of flour.

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Conjectural sketch (inset) of Fredericksburg’s first Market House/Town Hall, constructed c. 1757 and fronting on Caroline Street. This building hosted public meetings about the coming and fighting of no less than three wars between 1774 and 1812. It was demolished in 1813 and replaced with the current Market House/Town Hall (situated on the opposite side of the same block). The alley in the modern photo passes through what was once the center of the c. 1757 building. Modern photo courtesy Greg Chapman; sketch courtesy Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center.

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A visit to Sherwood Forest, 2013


 

[A note before we get to our main topic: when you get a chance, jump over to Fredericksburg Remembered for a post about a new volume of Fredericksburg letters debuting to the public on Sunday, October 27. You’re invited. Good reading for a good cause.]

Today we had the chance to revisit Sherwood Forest, one of the great houses in the region–and certainly one of the greatest house sites anywhere, perched atop a hill overlooking the broad Rappahannock plains at what was  known as Fitzhugh’s Crossing (written about here and here).  As many of you know from our previous visits to Sherwood Forest, the site is slated for development. The house and immediate grounds are planned to be preserved (about 40 acres), while the surrounding 1,100 acres will be turned into housing. The developer, the Walton Group, plans to retain the historic core of the property and is doing stabilization work on the big house and kitchen now. They offered us the chance to take a look–the first chance we have had to go inside the big house and the adjacent kitchen, and so we share some photos. Our thanks to Kevin Crown of Walton for inviting us over.

Sherwood Forest Front 2013

The place was built about 1838 and retains a good deal of integrity, though years of abandonment have taken its toll. Still, the interior is impressive. Beyond the addition of a kitchen and bathroom, little has changed since Henry and Jane Fitzhugh built the house after their marriage in 1837.  Water and termites have been destroyers, but the house, while not livable, is certainly salvageable.

[A historical note:  Brad Forbush, who maintains an outstanding site on the 13th Massachusetts, has posted some wonderful material about Sherwood Forest.  Click here and scroll down for the story of John Fay and Sherwood Forest.]

The entrance foyer.

Sherwood Forest Foyer 2013

The SE room downstairs, with its pocket doors.

Sherwood Forest SE first floor 2013

Stabilization work is also going on in the kitchen. Continue reading

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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Union Freight Service to Guiney’s Station in 1862 …and Other Novelties along the Early War RF&P Railroad


from: Harrison

Northeast Virginia’s railroads showcased Civil War creativity that was both constructive and destructive, and originated with soldiers and civilians as well as with generals and other top officials. Prototype, customized, or infrequently seen structures, equipment, extensions, alternatives, and practices appeared along or were proposed for the region’s iron arteries. Those often offered previews, with technical or procedural novelty that had appeared along one line reappearing along another.  What follows is a sampler of the lesser-known, novel developments during the first year of wartime operations along the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P).

The RF&P’s railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856.   This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners.  Looking west.  Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

The RF&P’s Fredericksburg railyard and its approaches from the Rappahannock River bridge in 1856. This area, extending several blocks from river’s edge to the station buildings, was the scene of nerve-wracking but creative moments for Southern forces in 1861 and, a year later, for Northerners. Looking west. Detail from Edward Sachse chromolithograph, copy in collection of Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP.

At the time of Fort Sumter’s bombardment, the RF&P’s uppermost segment extended 14 miles north of Fredericksburg and the Rappahannock River.  The railroad then lacked a trackside telegraph-line, and its managers feared surprise by Federals coming ashore at Acquia Creek landing. That place marked the RF&P’s northern depot, at the mouth of the creek on the Potomac River.  Acquia boasted a hotel; an engine house; fishery buildings; and a long, shed-roofed railroad wharf where in peacetime passengers and freight had transferred between trains and steamboats.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s.  North at top.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

The Acquia Landing-Fredericksburg and Fredericksburg-Guiney’s Station segments of the RF&P Railroad, 1860’s. North at top. Courtesy Library of Congress.

On April 18, 1861, three days after President Abraham Lincoln called for armed suppression of the lower South’s rebellion, the RF&P’s Superintendent of Road instructed his representative in Fredericksburg to implement an early-warning system in the event of threatening moves by Union forces:

If any of the citizens exhibit any alarm [emphasis original] you can tell them that we will keep the Engine at [Acquia] Creek fired up all the time so that in case…any vessel come[s] in sight that looks suspicious or anything else[,] we will run the train direct to Freds’burg to give the alarm to the citizens….

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting; drying; and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862.  (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

Detail from an undated, rarely seen Alfred Waud sketch of Acquia Landing and environs, showing the cluster of huge buildings that probably housed the salting, drying, and storage operations of Walter Finnall’s Fishery. The Fishery complex was one of the most prominent but also the shortest-lived of the wartime Acquia landmarks, surviving the ship-to-shore fighting of May 31/June 1, 1861 but removed before or during the first Union occupation in the spring of 1862. (The wharf and hotel are just outside this view, to the right; the railroad extended from left to right and a short distance behind the Fishery buildings in this perspective.) Courtesy Library of Congress.

On May 14-15, 1861, either a train-borne alert or its horseback equivalent triggered the dispatch from Fredericksburg of a hastily organized, armed reconnaissance by railroad, as recalled by an officer in the Virginia State Forces: 

[T]he enemy sent down an old passenger steamboat, the Mt . Vernon, which had formerly been used to carry the mail between Aquia and Washington City, no doubt to see what we were about. [A] messenger was dispatched with the news. Ample time was allowed, during a ride of sixteen miles, for him to imagine all kinds of wonderful things; and by the time he reached head-quarters [at Fredericksburg] it was asserted that a fabulous number of vessels of war of the largest class were landing untold hosts of Yankees at the Creek; that they had already captured the works, and were advancing rapidly by way of the railroad on Fredericksburg. [The town] was thrown into alarm and excitement. Trains were ordered to be fired up. All the troops…turned out under arms, while staff officers dashed about in a manner truly wonderful to behold. General Ruggles’s forces had by this time been increased to five or six companies of infantry.
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Animals at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg: further Options for Understanding Battles?


from: Harrison

This is an edited version of a post first appearing in September 2010 on our sister blog, Fredericksburg Remembered. A revision and reposting here seemed timely on the eve of Chancellorsville’s sesquicentennial.

I’ve often wondered how developments in the animal-rights movement will affect historical interpretation, including that of Civil War events. I’m thinking today of places related to the Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg campaigns, and eyewitness portrayals of animals there.

A pair of dead horses and, evidently, birds of prey sharpen the visual impact of the Chancellorsville battlefield in a June 1863 sketch, at left; a flock of chickens, in engraving at right, soften it at virtually the same spot 21 years later. Sketch by Confederate engineer Benjamin Lewis Blackford courtesy Library of Virginia; photograph-derived engraving by Charles Wellington Reed from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

Dead horses and, evidently, birds of prey sharpen the battlefield landscape at Chancellorsville in a June 1863 sketch, at left; a flock of chickens, in engraving at right, softens it at virtually the same spot 21 years later. Sketch by Confederate engineer Benjamin Lewis Blackford courtesy Library of Virginia; photograph-derived engraving by Charles Wellington Reed from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.

Of course, the record of humans’ advocacy on behalf of animals is as ancient as the record of their affection for or, at the other extreme, mistreatment of animals. Yet I’m still struck by the prominence of recent, animal-centered legal developments, media programming, and product- and service marketing.

Lasting rights-revolutions for people have obviously wrought profound change in the way we talk about history. Will today’s ongoing, dramatic shifts in the status of animals exert comparable influence over our understanding of the past, of those moments when their ancestors shared the stage with ours and with equal visibility?

My preliminary thoughts include placing historical portrayals of animals along a spectrum. Anchoring one end are images of animals essentially as animated scenery for military events, with animals (in humans’ perception) granted only minimal influence or agency. My spectrum’s other end, however, is anchored by humans’ portrayals of animals’ agency or utility, sometimes to the extent of their intervening decisively in human affairs. I am also fascinated by the interplay, within this spectrum, of animals-as-individuals and animals-as-symbols.

Cattle and evidently at least two oxen accompanying the Federal army at Chancellorsville, amid the chaos just behind the gun line at Fairview. Detail from a sketch by Alfred Waud. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Let’s begin with portrayals of animals (again, in humans’ perception) as animated-scenery on battlefields. A Union veteran, describing events near Salem Church on May 4, 1863, wrote about a herd of cattle trapped between the opposing skirmish lines. Watching the animals, the man recalled, “it was very amusing to see them run and bellow, first to the right, then to the left, with tails straight out.”

Half of a two-part ox shoe found in area of Stafford County occupied by encamped Federals during the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville period, and by units from both armies at other times during the war.  Courtesy White Oak Museum.

Half of a two-part ox shoe found in area of Stafford County occupied by encamped Federals during the Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville period, and by units from both armies at other times during the war. Courtesy White Oak Museum.

Recalling a different moment and place in the Chancellorsville campaign zone, another Federal remembered that whip-poor-wills responded to “the strange changes that have come over their usually quiet haunts” by making the night “hideous” with their calls.

Whip-poor-will.

Whip-poor-will.

In his own recounting of Chancellorsville, Confederate veteran and writer John Esten Cooke described the whip-poor-wills in a more interactive role: performing, however unwittingly, a funeral dirge. Their “mournful” call, he noted, was “that sound which was the last to greet the ears of so many dying soldiers.”
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