“If these signatures could talk…” Innis House Graffiti

From: Eric Mink

Innis House

The Innis House – 2019

The Innis House is the last building along Fredericksburg’s Sunken Road to have witnessed the fighting that occurred there in 1862 and 1863. Built ca.1859, the small wood frame building is today an exterior exhibit, occasionally open to the public during the summer months. Visitors who walk along Sunken Road and stop to look through the windows of the house can see the lasting damage caused by two battles. The lead and iron missiles that filled the air in December 1862 and May 1863 passed into and through the Innis House, leaving their marks on the walls and the doors. Some bullets still remain lodged in the building’s framing timbers. The Innis House is a witness to the war and its appearance is an evocative display that conveys the destruction that twice visited Sunken Road.

Innis Interior

Interior first floor partition of the Innis House, showing the damage caused by the war – 2019

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired the Innis House in 1969. The agency stabilized the building in 1973 and four years later began the process of restoring and rehabilitating the house. Post-Civil War additions and vegetation were removed and a new wood shingle roof was added. In 1985 began the longer and more involved effort of returning the interior of the building to its wartime appearance. It was in the course of this work that park staff uncovered lasting evidence of the war.

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Souvenir Battlefield Photos – 1887

Eric J. 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.


Foss Catalog

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Gettysburg battlefield photographer visits Spotsylvania County – 1887

From Eric Mink:

Students, historians, and collectors of Civil War battlefield photography are quite familiar with the name William H. Tipton. He was one of the most prolific postwar photographers in Gettysburg, Penn. and his landscape images are quite sought after, as they are wonderful documents in helping understand the sites of that battlefield. Little known, however, is the fact that he lugged his camera to historic sites outside of South Central Penn., including an 1887 visit to the battlefields around Fredericksburg.

On May 5, 1887, a train from Richmond arrived at the Fredericksburg station. Among its passengers were approximately one hundred Union veterans on an excursion to visit Virginia’s battlefields. Most of these men were veterans of the 57th and 59th Massachusetts regiments and they had, prior to their arrival in Fredericksburg, visited the battlefields around Petersburg and Richmond. Their trip brought them to the Fredericksburg area for the same purpose. They spent two days touring the local battlefields and revisiting sites that many of them had not seen since the war. The Fredericksburg Free Lance covered their visit, describing the places they went and even listing the members of the party. Included in that list was “W.H. Tipton, photographer from Gettysburg.” Fortunately for us 125 years later, Tipton wasn’t merely sightseeing, but was capturing on glass those sites that he saw.

Upon arrival in Fredericksburg, the group immediately headed to Spotsylvania Court House. The first site they chose to visit was the “Bloody Angle” at the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. (This photo complements one that John Hennessy posted a couple weeks ago and can be found here.)

Bloody Angle Tipton Blog Post

“Bloody Angle Spottsylvania May 5th 1887. Near the stump of tree shot down by bullets; the but of the tree, 15 inches in diameter is in the National Museum in Washington.” Typed label pasted on photo mount.

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Some new art–the fairgrounds and swale

From John Hennessy:

We have written about our use of new art in our exhibits here and here, and we have discussed at some length the nature of the fairgrounds and the bloody plain in front of the Sunken Road…and so I wanted to share with you the latest piece of art we have collaborated to create–an image of one of the earlier Union attacks in front of the Sunken Road, painted from an aerial viewpoint almost directly in front of Brompton. Directed by Frank O’Reilly and created by Mark Churms, this piece will be used in a wayside exhibit located just east of the Innis House. It will also be incorporated into our re-do of interior exhibits at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center, a project now in design.

At some point artist Mark Churms will be making this image available for sale as a print.  We’ll let you know when that happens.

Another view of Brompton–and a reminder

From Hennessy:

Saturday is our inaugural Sesquicentennial event, which in fact helps explain the slow pace of posts on here this week. Bill Freehling will be speaking on Virginia’s tortuous descent to war, illuminating his book Showdown in Virginia. George Rable will speak on Secession and the Confederate nation.  And I will treat secession as it played out in the Fredericksburg area. Bill and George are heavy hitters and great speakers. The speakers get going at 1 p.m.  The event is in the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street.  Registration is requested (famcc.org) but not required.  We have well over 250 registered.  Everything is free, except the books. They will be on sale throughout, and a book signing and reception will follow at the Fredericksburg Area Museum. The weather is supposed to be great, the Fredericksburg Area Museum has done a great job of organizing the event.  We hope to see you.

As we have mentioned here before, in the morning we will be doing a walk-around at Brompton, featuring Frank O’Reilly, Greg Mertz, Eric Mink, and me–each of us covering a different aspect of the place and its story.  That starts at 10:30 and runs till noon.  You can join in any time–we’ll be rotating people around the grounds from stop to stop.  We’re very grateful to the University of Mary Washington and President Rick Hurley for giving all of us the chance to spend some time on the grounds of Brompton, the home of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania’s delegate to the secession convention, John L. Marye.  The walk around too is free. Just come along.

In advance of that, I wanted to share a an image that has rarely been seen–a nice addition to our earlier post on Brompton. We present it here today courtesy of Jerry Brent, one of the premier collectors of things Fredericksburg, and, fortunately, incredibly generous in sharing his finds.  It is an immediate postwar image taken from the ravine that borders Brompton to the South. The camera is located almost directly across the Sunken Road from the Stephens house site, facing northwest. At the Second Battle of Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863, it was up the ravine in this view that men of the 6th Maine rushed after breaking through the paltry Confederate defenses in the formerly unassailable Sunken Road. The bullet holes that still mark the house and the outbuildings of Brompton are likely from the combat that attended this breakthrough.

Courtesy Jerry Brent

Now look at this wartime image taken from atop the hill. The farm office and barn are both clearly visible in the postwar view.   Continue reading

Brompton in the background: rare view of the Bloody Plain, Part 2

From Hennessy:

[A preface: Brompton, the subject of what follows, is the home of the president of the University of Mary Washington, and is not open to the public.  But, as you likely know, we are holding our first 150th event on November 20th at the Baptist Church, “Years of Anguish: The Coming Storm,” which will look at how the nation, state, and community tumbled toward secession, featuring George Rable and Bill Freehling. You can register here (the program is free). As prelude to that event, from 10:30 till noon that morning, we will be hosting a walk-around of the grounds at Brompton, the home of Fredericksburg’s delegate to the secession convention, John Marye. If you want to see for yourself some of what is in these images, we heartily invite you. Enter through the pedestrian entrance off Hanover Street. For the walk, there is no pre-registration required.]

In our last (click here), we explored the background of a couple of A.J. Russell images, getting a new look at the Bloody Plain in front of the Sunken Road. The second of those images, above, also offers an unparalelled look along the top of Marye’s Heights, specifically at Brompton and the outbuildings that surround it.

Brompton is a place of visual and historical prominence, and yet much of its story remains obscure. Its wartime owner, John L. Marye (rhymes with Marie), acquired newly built Brompton about 1823 and would, on the eve of Civil War, represent Fredericksburgers and Spotsylvanians at the 1861 secession convention in Richmond. He was a man of calm manner and centrist politics, disinclined toward confrontation–either individually or on behalf of the constituents he represented.  He was, by his own admission, a “slow coach” when it came to secession.  Yet beyond this and a few scattered details, we know little of Marye and his life before the war (though we know a great deal about his son, John Jr., who was lieutenant governor of Virginia in the 1870s and a prominent local attorney–the two men are routinely confused with each other). We don’t even have a picture of him. We do know this: his majestic home projected power and wealth, a stark contrast to his neighbors just yards away on the Sunken Road (a heterogeneous lot of families you can read about here).

He is, though, synonymous with the Battle of Fredericksburg, for it was John L. Marye Sr. who gave his name to Marye’s Heights, the commanding Confederate ground that dominated the plain below. This image offers by far the best sense of how dominant Brompton was, and it offers a terrific view of the landscape beyond the big house.

To the left of the big house, most apparent is a white building with narrow pillars supporting an overhanging roof–it is either a shed or, more likely, an office.  Here is the same building photographed a year later, in May 1864, medical officers lounging about while Brompton was being used as a Union hospital. Continue reading

Rare views of the Bloody Plain–Part I

From Hennessy:

How ironic is it that the most important battlefield landscape in Virginia that’s been virtually lost is also the one that’s the best documented photographically?  I suppose there’s some consolation in that.

These images are nearly 150 years old, but they’ve rarely been seen or published. At first glance they look to be fairly common images of Fredericksburg during the Civil War, offering little that hasn’t been noted before. But a closer look into the background in fact reveals an entirely new perspective on the fields beyond town–the Bloody Plain. These images, together with the Federal Hill panorama  surely make Fredericksburg’s Bloody Plain the best photographically documented battlefield landscape anywhere (at least in terms of wartime images). 

There are three images, two of which we share here today. Both by A.J. Russell; both 1863. The first shows a familiar foreground–John Marye’s Excelsior Mill, just below the ruined railroad bridge, and beyond it Alexander and Gibbs’s Tobacco Factory, where the slave John Washington worked in 1860.

Original at the Wes. Res. Hist. Soc.

The second image takes in ground a bit farther downstream and focuses on an industrial part of town that is today largely consumed with parking lots associated with the train station.

Original at the West. Res. Hist. Soc.

We will look at all these things eventually, but for today let’s look into the distant background of these images, for together they offer a view of the Bloody Plain and Marye’s Heights beyond Fredericksburg that is exceeded only by the famous Federal Hill panorama (which we have explored extensively here, here, and here). Continue reading