A St. Patrick’s Day Pension

From John Hennessy:

Our friend Mike Snyder, master of all things Schuylill County and Pottstown, PA, sends along a note about a soldier who fraudulently claimed a disability pension as a result of an injury received  the great St. Patrick’s Day race. Thanks very much Mike. 

Hobart William M. 116th PAWilliam Mintzer Hobart of Pottstown, Pa.  rode in the St. Patrick’s Day steeple chase. At some point in the race he was thrown from his horse and hit his head on the ground. In 1879 Hobart applied for a pension claiming the injury happened in the line of duty when a cavalryman ran into him. In 1884, after an investigation disclosed that he was injured in the race, his pension was stopped. Hobart served in Co. C, 4th PA and then the 116 PA and eventually was the provost marshal for the 1st Div. 2nd Corps. After the war he spent the rest of his long life in Pottstown and married a 1st cousin of John Rutter Brooke. He was still living in June 1923 when the attached photo appeared in a issue of the Pottstown News. There were many 53rd PA veterans in Pottstown and I don’t think they liked Hobart as four of them testified that they saw the event and saw Hobart thrown from his horse.


St. Patrick’s Day 1863–“The wildest ride I ever took”

From John Hennessy:

It was perhaps the most raucous day in the history of the Army of the Potomac, chronicled by many, widely covered in the press. St. Patrick’s Day 1863 came three months after the disaster at Fredericksburg and in the midst of a winter of re-emergence from the army. If the fresh bread, clean water, and improved medical care rehabilitated the army’s collective body, St. Patrick’s Day gave life anew to its addled mind.

St. Patrick's Day races smaller The highlight of the day was the grand steeplechase, a wild, even deadly affair that drew more than 20,000 spectators from all parts of the army. We can’t say precisely where the great race took place, but it was likely somewhere north of what is today Exit 133 on I-95, the junction with Route 17. What follows is a description by a man, Samuel S. Partridge of the 13th New York, who decided to first witness and then join the race. Partridge was a great writer of letters, conveying vivid details and sharp observations. This is perhaps the best description there is of the steeplechase. Copies of Partridge’s letters are in the park files. Some of them (though I don’t believe this one) were published decades ago in Rochester Historical Society Publications XXII, 1944

To night I am going to tell you about the great steeple chase in the Irish Brigade on St. Patricks day.

It beat Donnybrook fair all to the mischief. A race course—elliptical—of a mile was laid out. Guidons and such things were stuck in the ground to point out the course to the riders. There were four hurdles and three ditches…There were more than 20,000 spectators, soldiers and officers. Everybody who could get a pass from camp was there, some even walking a dozen miles through the mud to get there. The track was slippery blue clay and about half hoof deep. Continue reading

The Quick and the Undead; or, A Secret Sharer Outbound

from: Harrison

On May 23, 1863, in the wake of defeat at Chancellorsville, Washington’s Daily National Republican conveyed some brief but vivid and mysterious tidings from the Army of the Potomac. The story, to the extent it was known, opened amidst the sprawling Federal camps and logistical facilities in Stafford County:

Day before yesterday morning the body of a soldier, exhumed for the purpose of being sent to Washington for embalment, was placed on board the John Brooks at Aquia Creek.

Union depot at Aquia Landing. Courtesy The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, http://www.mfa.org.

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The Canal-Boat Bridge (part 3): a Rare Sketch by an Iron Brigade Soldier, and the Editorial Bombardment that Transformed It

from: Harrison

In the late fall of 1862, as the opposing armies converged on Fredericksburg, editors in distant offices scrambled for background material on the town. The staff of Harper’s Weekly dug into a small, unused archive of eyewitness sketches made during the previous spring and summer, and from those created a montage that appeared in the issue of December 6, 1862, five days prior to the opening of the battle and the artillery bombardment of the town:

While researching an earlier blog post, I had learned of the spring/summer origins of the December 6 montage, and that most of its component woodcuts were based on (presumably lost) sketches by Henry Didiot, a soldier in the Sixth Wisconsin Infantry of the famed Iron Brigade. Not long after his sketching at Fredericksburg, Didiot fell at the Battle of Brawner’s Farm on August 28, 1862.

The woodcut montage of his sketches published posthumously on December 6 included a fairly nondescript picture, below, of “Wrecks of Steamers burned by the Rebels.” The view looks east across the Rappahannock River where it widens into Fredericksburg’s small harbor, and from the town wharves towards Ferry Farm and its namesake ferry landing in Stafford County. (The Ferry Farm buildings at center-right horizon postdated and occupied the general area of the site of George Washington’s boyhood home, which was itself in ruins by the 1830’s.)

Until last night, when I spotted the sketch, below, on the website of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was unaware that any of Didiot’s original drawings had survived. Equally important, the sketch offers a contrast that shows how Harper’s editors had subjected it to a fairly severe artistic bombardment when creating “Wrecks of Steamers”–the woodcut version. Although unattributed on the Museum’s website, the sketch’s original caption—“Canal Boat Bridge across the Rappahannock,” “Built by Co I 6th Reg. Wis. Vol./ in one day…Sketched by Henry [illegible]…”— and basic design clearly connect it to Didiot and, in turn, to the heavily modified woodcut.

In accordance with the Museum’s posted policy on fair-use of materials in educational, non-profit venues, I include the sketch here, at the same magnification made available by the Museum online:

Credit: WWW.MFA.ORG. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Maxim Karolik for the M. and M. Karolik Collection of American Watercolors and Drawings, 1800–1875. Accession number: 55.840.


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“Listening” to a Sketch of Civil War Stafford County

from: Harrison

As we near the end of the sesquicentennial’s second year, I’m intrigued all the more by means of imagining the sensory experiences of the Civil War’s participants. John Hennessy has recently blogged about possibilities for recovering a sense of the motion of 1860’s Virginia. I looked at another trace of that motion here, and at one way to recover some of the literal color of the war’s local landscapes here (end of post). Eric Mink recently shared a striking sense of its literal sound, specifically the postwar voice of a key Federal officer here.

Today, I’d like to consider the possibility of recovering and re-experiencing—at least partially—another of the myriad sounds heard in the Fredericksburg area. You may have seen the black-and-white version of this picture of Union camp life, by Northern artist Edwin Forbes:

(Source for online jpeg here.)

Note the soldier’s fiddle, or violin …made from a cigar box. This picture and a companion scene by Forbes have been described as the earliest-known illustrations of the use of cigar-box instruments in the United States. In the years after the Civil War, those offered inexpensive means of playing music and were especially important in the rise of jug bands and the blues. The first instrument owned by future blues legend Big Bill Broonzy was a cigar-box fiddle that he made at the age of 10.

I have yet to find documentation for Forbes assigning a specific date or location to the scene, above, as he first encountered it. The picture and its etched companion may have originated as sketches of a Federal camp in Culpeper County during the winter of 1863-1864, or in Stafford County the winter previous.

But there’s another relevant Forbes picture, a sketch now in the collections of the Library of Congress. In historical discussions of cigar-box instruments, this artwork is rarely associated with the two others I’ve just referenced:

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Independence Day 1862: Fredericksburg’s Stark Contrast and Some Fireworks

From John Hennessy:

Fredericksburg under Union occupation in May 1862, before the repair of the railroad bridge into town. Looking NW.

One hundred and fifty years ago tomorrow, the Fourth of July dawned in Fredericksburg–a beautiful, clear, breezy day. For eight decades the town had celebrated the nation’s independence; but in 1862, residents in the town passed the day quietly, without notice, their attention drawn more by the news of the massive fighting around Richmond and hopes for their own independence from the now-hated Union. It was a “week of intense anxiety,” wrote Jane Beale. Though buoyed by word of victory, she, like many others in Fredericksburg, feared that death’s tendrils would once again touch the town (Mrs. Beale had lost a son in the Battle of Williamsburg).

A Union officer rode through the streets that morning. He noted there was none of the customary protests from the citizenry. Rather, he said, “Young Virginia was in the dumps,” and he wished to have none of dreariness. “I hurried across the river,” he wrote, “lest I also should be infected with the painful gloom.”

Fredericksburg from the camps of Gibbon’s brigade, in what is today Pratt Park. Many of the events held on July 4 probably took place in this field.

Across that river in Stafford County, the Union army suffered anything but gloom, intent on celebrating the “86th birthday of this great and once happy Republic.” In John Gibbon’s brigade of western troops (later known as the Iron Brigade), men and officers started the day by swapping roles–the officers taking the ranks as privates, and select enlisted men acting as officers. The men rejoiced at the sight of colonels and “other big shoulder straps” policing the camp, “picking up old bones and trash.”

In Marsena Patrick’s brigade of New York soldiers, the day featured a concert, speeches given upon a platform adorned with cedar boughs–purposely reminiscent of Northern forests–and the reading of the Declaration of Independence. Virtually all the batteries with each brigade fired a salute that day–the climax coming at noon, when Monroe’s Rhode Island battery, near the Phillips House, fired a salute of 84 guns. All of this was clearly audible in Fredericksburg, and that of course was partly the point.

Company I of the 7th Wisconsin in what is today Pratt Park, with Fredericksburg beyond. Eric Mink will have much more to say about this and other images of the 7th Wisconsin taken that summer in a future post.

But the day’s most notable events came in the afternoon, when games and races broke out all over Stafford Heights. Gibbon’s brigade held a mule race, probably in what is today Pratt Park.

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Soldiers’ Huts to Luxury Homes – Bell-Air Today

From Eric Mink:

A previous post, found here, looked at Stafford County Unionist Abraham Primmer. With the compensation he received from the U.S. government after the war, Primmer successfully returned to farming and lived out his final years as a respected member of his Stafford County community.

“Bell-Air,” the house and property, remained a prominent landmark in the neighborhood that became known as Leeland after the war. The home and property remained in the hands of Primmer’s daughters until 1926. The house remained in good shape and was at its finest when a researcher from the Works Progress Administration visited the farm in 1937. By 1942, however, the county land assessment noted “building burned,” indicating that the house was gone.

Bell-Air – 1937

The farm, which became known locally as “Walnut Farm,” went through a number of owners in the last half of the 20th century. Most of them apparently purchased the property as an investment, as its location along the railroad made it an attractive piece of ground with much potential. The Virginia Railway Express stop at Leeland Station, just off the northern boundary of the property, made the land ripe for residential development.

Modern aerial view of the Bell-Air and Camp Pitcher sites

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