Murder in Fredericksburg: Suspects and Scapegoats (Part 2)


From Beth Parnicza:

This post is the second in a series on the murder of a Fredericksburg shopkeeper’s brother in May 1865, as the Army of the Potomac’s Sixth Army Corps passed through Fredericksburg on their way home from war. Part one can be found here.

What happened to the Miller brothers after they left Charles’ shop? Officials in the Army of the Potomac called a court martial as soon as they identified the four soldiers who had entered the shop. Charles’ testimony on May 31, 1865, shed some light on the situation:

“The one who called for the cherries and one of the last three which came in and walked out there & crossed the street myself and my brother walked out and went down [the] street on the same side where I lived. While we were walking down the street the two which I saw cross the street recrossed the street. I heard nothing of them except that when we were near the middle of the graveyard on the street they came close to us, about 5 or 6 feet of us nearly as I can guess and one of them said ‘Tap’ so much as I could understand. At the same time as soon as they said that word there was two bricks thrown at myself and my brother, my brother was knocked down at once, and one brick struck me very slight on my elbow. I then jumped to the left hand side out into the road trying to escape. Two more bricks were thrown after me but did not strike me. I hallowed once ‘Guard’ to try to stop them from following me up.”

After this harrowing experience, Charles made it to the headquarters of Col. Sumner, and they attempted to find the men responsible but were unsuccessful.

Detailed map showing the Miller brothers proceeding down Commerce Street toward the river, with the Union soldiers first crossing to the corner opposite Miller's store, then proceeding down Commerce Street and attacking the brothers.

Detail of the movements of each group, according to Charles Miller, August Ebert, and Louis Kruger, with some corroboration by the Union soldiers on trial. Green lines and text indicate movements of the Miller brothers heading down Commerce Street toward downtown and the Rappahannock River, and blue lines show the movements of at least two of the soldiers. It should be noted that the exchange may have taken place some feet further down Commerce Street, as there were two cemeteries along their route. Base map: Virtual Fredericksburg

Charles returned to the shop to find his brother grievously wounded in the head, retrieved by Mr. Louis Kruger, Mr. August Ebert, and the young boy who had been sitting outside the shop. After his brother passed away between 1 and 2 in the morning, it became imperative to find the soldiers who had, intentionally or unintentionally, killed an innocent citizen.

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Murder in Fredericksburg: A Darkness on Commerce St.


From Beth Parnicza:

It was a dark night. By all accounts, the darkness that fell in Fredericksburg on May 25, 1865 was remarkable, obscuring the events and identities associated with a fateful occurrence. In the streets of “Liberty Town” just west of downtown Fredericksburg, one man said he could only see six steps in front of him.

As the church bells tolled 9:00 p.m., 25-year-old August Ebert sat in the darkness beside a “colored boy” on the pavement outside Charles Miller’s store at the corner of Commerce Street (modern William Street) and Liberty Street and watched four Union soldiers enter his sometime employer’s shop. First one pushed open the door and walked inside, then three more arrived soon afterward.

KMBT_C284e-20150305141820

The Commerce Street/William Street front of Charles Miller’s shop postwar. Situated on the acutely angled corner of Liberty Street and Commerce Street, Miller’s shop featured two entrance doors–one that opened to each street–here at its front left corner. The building still stands today at 600 William Street.

Inside the shop, a typical Thursday night scene played out. Charles Miller’s older brother George had walked in earlier, remarking that if the weather was good, he would plant Charles’ lot the next morning. Mr. Louis Kruger, a Baltimore resident who helped Charles mind the shop, walked into the store proper from a next door room just after the soldiers entered.

Charles attended the soldiers who quietly gathered in the store. The first man asked for a quart of cherries; the three who joined sat at the counter and ate with him. Another soldier called for a round of cigars, which Charles distributed. When they finished the cherries, a soldier asked for an orange apiece, and Mr. Kruger obliged.

The first soldier stated the price for the fare: 50 cents. Charles objected; the price for all the goods was 70 cents. The soldier disagreed. He was only prepared to pay for the cherries and oranges, which totaled to 50 cents, leaving the cigars to his friends’ responsibility. When Charles agreed, it seemed the matter was settled as the soldier reached to pay for the goods.

Drawing his hand back from his pocket, the soldier changed his mind, declaring, “Oh well, charge it to Uncle Sam!”

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“If these signatures could talk…” Fredericksburg Graffiti


From Eric Mink:

This blog has featured Fredericksburg’s Farmers’ Bank (aka National Bank of Fredericksburg) more than once in its posts (found here and here). Located at the intersection of Princess Anne and George Streets, the structure sat at what was essentially the center of the town. A prominent building, it saw tremendous activity during the war, as occupying Union troops commandeered use of the building as a headquarters and hospital both during and after the Civil War. It is also quite possible that Confederate forces also used the bank, although no sources have come to light pointing to its use by southern soldiers. It should come as no surprise that the marks of war survive on the building.

Farmers Bank East

Farmers’ Bank (1820)

Numerous bricks on both the Princess Anne and George Streets facades of Farmers’ Bank bear the scratching and carvings of vandals. Most of it appears to be of fairly modern origin, but some of the graffiti is without question from the 19th century. Only two are legible enough to be deciphered and attributed to soldiers who passed through Fredericksburg during the Civil War. Both are the work of Confederate privates from Virginia cavalry units.

One of the two names carved into a brick is located on the George Street side of the bank, beneath a window to the left of the entrance that historically accessed the residence portion of the building.

Ellis Graffiti

Confederate soldier’s graffiti is located on the George Street facade of Farmers’ Bank

The inscription consists of a name and partial unit affiliation carved into the stretcher of a single brick. It reads: LB ELLIS – CO A

Ellis Graffiti2.jpg

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Is this the most important Civil War-era building in the Fredericksburg region?


From Hennessy:  Update, February 10, 2015:  On November 21, 2014, PNC Bank ceased operations in the former Farmer’s Bank building, bringing its continuous use as a bank to a close after 194 years.  The building is now on the market.

From Hennessy: Update:  On July 31, 2014, PNC Bank announced that the former National Bank Building on Princess Anne Street was up for sale, bringing its continuous use as a bank since 1820 into question (certainly no building in town has been subject to the same commercial use for as long).  This post, done originally in 2011, seems pertinent anew, so we post it again.

I spent the day today with a National Geographic film crew and the great-great-grandaughter and g-g-great grandson of John Washington, retracing with them the Fredericksburg world of John Washington, a slave who came of age in the years before the Civil War, and who left behind an astonishingly good memoir. We spent a fair amount of time at the Farmer’s Bank Building at the corner of Princess Anne and George Streets. The experience–profound in many ways–got me wondering whether or not we were standing before the most important Civil War-era building in the Fredericksburg region. Some, like Chatham and Brompton, are surely more famous. But for association with important events, people, and themes of American history, is there anyplace hereabouts with greater association with famous people, events, and major themes of American history than this?

William Lewis Herndon, commander of the doomed steamer Central America, spent part of his childhood living in the Bank building. Herndon, VA, is named in his honor.

Built as a bank in 1820, it continues as a bank in 2010. But it’s always been more than a bank. The side entrance to the building leads to spacious and beautiful living quarters that were traditionally home of the bank’s cashier or head teller. The first to live here was Dabney Herndon, whose offspring were several and famous. Ann Hull Herndon married Matthew Fontaine Maury. Lt. William Lewis Herndon gained fame as an explorer of the Amazon, but died famously in 1857 when his steamship bearing both mail and gold went down in a storm off Hatteras. Herndon was hailed a hero for helping to save more than 150 souls. In appreciation, the people of New York purchased a home in New York City for his wife and daughter, Ellen Lewis Herndon. While in New York before the war, Ellen Herndon met young Chester Arthur, whom she would soon marry. Dr. Brodie S. Herndon, a prominent Fredericksburg physician and reportedly the first American doctor to perform a cesarean section, also spent part of his  youth in the Bank building. Later, the Ware family took over management of the Bank and its residential space. One of the family’s slaves was John Washington, who spent most of his first 24 years living in this building, tending to the needs and wants of his owner, Catherine Ware, later Taliaferro. Washington’s memories of slavery in Fredericksburg, and especially in this house, are a powerful testament to a life striving toward freedom. Standing outside the building today, we read Washington’s description of his separation from his mother and siblings, when they were hired out to a farm in Staunton. The room he describes is likely that directly over the side entrance–the third window from the left. Continue reading

If these signatures could talk…”: Braehead Graffiti


From Eric Mink:

Braehead Post

Most visitors to the Fredericksburg Battlefield pass “Braehead” when driving the park auto tour. The antebellum home sits along Lee Drive, between Tour Stops 3 and 4. The majority of travelers along this stretch of the tour road probably don’t notice the house, as it is screened by trees and lacks any markers or interpretive signs. Braehead is, however, a significant battlefield landmark and is one that still bears scars from the intrusion of war in the 1860s.

John Howison built Braehead in 1859 as the home for his family, which included his wife Ann and seven children. The home is built of brick with a raised basement and a unique plan comprised of two two-story sections connected by a single-story central structure. Howison used salvaged brick from buildings already standing on his property to reduce construction costs, which totaled $15,000 when finished. During the Civil War, Braehead became a refuge for locals during various Union occupations of Fredericksburg. The house and property sat in the middle of the Confederate defenses for both the first and second battles of Fredericksburg. Rising south and west of Braehead is Howison Hill, upon which Confederate artillery shelled advancing Federal troops. During the May 1863 battle the Union lines swept across the Howison farm on their way to the crest of the heights behind the house. Other notable events that occurred at Braehead during the war included Robert E. Lee’s having breakfast at the house prior to the December 1862 battle, Confederate use of the building to conduct courts-martial, as well as the housing of wounded following fighting in the area.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee's Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

Sketch made by Albert A. Carter of the 4th Vermont Infantry. The scene depicted is the successful Union attack against Lee’s Hill on May 3, 1863. Braehead can be seen to the left of the advancing battle lines.

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Fredericksburg to Gettysburg – The Dr. William J. Chewning Collection, Part 2


From Eric Mink:

In Part 1 of this look at the Chewning Collection, found here, Dr. William J. Chewning amassed over 100,000 Civil War artifacts and opened The National Battlefield Museum in Fredericksburg. This private museum operated under his direction from 1929 until his death in 1937. In his final years, Chewning tried to find a local buyer for the collection, but neither the National Park Service nor the City of Fredericksburg opted to purchase the artifacts. With his passing, Chewning’s widow and son inherited the collection. They, however, did find a buyer.

The April 30, 1938 edition of The Free Lance-Star carried an editorial entitled “Fredericksburg Loses.” The column announced the sale of the Chewning Collection to a buyer in Manassas, Virginia. The local paper lifted this editorial from The Suffolk News-Herald, but it might as well have been written by someone within the Fredericksburg community. In announcing the sale, the editor mourned Fredericksburg’s loss of the collection.

“The master collection belonged in Fredericksburg and there it should have remained. These relics will be of immense value historically and intrinsically no matter where they are but they will fit nowhere like in the place of their origin.

We have no hesitancy in saying that this collection should be acquired by the Federal government and made more accessible to the public. It is in many respects educational. Fredericksburg has lost a rare chance to capitalize it along with its sacred shrines. But that city’s loss is Manassas’ gain. The place that gets it has something.” “Fredericksburg Loses,” Suffolk News-Herald, reprinted in The Free Lance-Star, April 30, 1938

William J. Chewning, Jr. (left) and Julius Richards (right) admiring the Stonewall Jackson amputation table in its new home near Manassas.

William J. Chewning, Jr. (left) and Julius T. Richards (right) admiring the Stonewall Jackson amputation table in its new home near Manassas.

Just as Dr. Chewning had not wanted to see the collection leave Fredericksburg, neither did his family. With no local buyers, however, keeping the collection in the community proved impossible. Julius T. Richards of Manssas became the new owner of the massive collection. In announcing the transaction, The Fauquier Democrat described the disappointment the Chewnings felt in selling the artifacts out of Fredericksburg:

“In announcing the sale Mr. Chewning stated that both he and his mother, Mrs. Anne Page Chewning, regretted the necessity of depriving Fredericksburg of this rare collection. No prospective purchasers who would keep the museum in Fredericksburg could be located.

Mr. Chewning added that Fredericksburg had made no attempt to acquire the collection and, in fact, ‘had evidenced little real interest in it.’

 For these reasons, he said, he and Mrs. Chewning deemed it advisable to accept Mr. Richards’ ‘highly attractive proposition.

Mrs. Chewning said that while she regrets the removal of the collection from Fredericksburg, she is ‘happy to know’ that it will be permanently in Virginia.” – “National Battlefield Museum Relics Will be Removed to Manassas Site,” The Fauquier Democrat, April 30, 1938

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Fredericksburg’s National Battlefield Museum – The Dr. William J. Chewning Collection, Part 1


From Eric Mink:

In two previous posts, found here and here, I looked at two early exhibits of Fredericksburg relic collections – the Cotton and Hills collection (1887-1891) and the Jacobs-Agan collection (1891-1907). Elmer Agan put his collection in storage in 1907, after which no public displays of Civil War artifacts existed in the town. A 1912 newspaper editorial calling for the creation of a museum to display such items in Fredericksburg was met with silence. Although local interest remained, the museum idea went dormant and did not resurface until late 1927.

Reverend Richard V. Lancaster of the Presbyterian Church created the spark that brought the concept of a local museum once again to the attention of both city officials and the public. In an open letter to the Fredericksburg City Council, published in the The Free Lance-Star, Reverend Lancaster urged the city to:

“establish a Museum for permanent safe keeping of historic relics in which the community abounds. In almost every home there are souvenirs of war, now carefully regarded, but which in the future will become of increasing value.

 I am sure that if you will do this you will have achieved a thing of real permanent value to Fredericksburg and Virginia, for which coming generations will be grateful.” – “An Open Letter of Request,” The Free Lance-Star, December 8, 1927

Reverend Lancaster suggested the use of a room under City Hall. He noted that the city used the room for storage and that it could easily be adapted for exhibit space. His suggestion brought action. Before the end of the month, the Chamber of Commerce established a committee to look into the idea. This working group included representatives of local historical and fraternal organizations. Its chairman was Dr. Joseph N. Barney, a local physician. The group held a meeting on January 5, 1928, at which many ideas and plans were discussed. In the end, it proposed that a museum building be constructed at Hurkamp Park. The committee felt the city should fund the project and that the museum “would be this city’s donation to the National Battlefield Park.” The Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park had been created just a year earlier and had yet to acquire or build any visitor facilities. The idea sounded good to those involved, but in the end the city chose not to pursue the project. For some members of the committee, the idea of a museum in the city deserved another look to see what alternatives to municipal funding might exist.

Dr. William J. Chewning in the uniform of a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps - 1917-1918

Dr. William J. Chewning in the uniform of a 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Corps – 1917-1918

Dr. Barney, the museum committee chairman, enlisted the assistance of one of his colleagues, Dr. William J. Chewning. Like Dr. Barney, he was a respected physician in town. A native of Fredericksburg, Chewning came from an established local family. His father, Dr. George H. Chewning, practiced dentistry in the city. Young William attended local schools and graduated from the University College of Medicine in Richmond, Va. He returned to Fredericksburg and along with Dr. Barney became an early member of the Mary Washington Hospital staff. He joined the army in 1917 and received a commission as a 1st Lieutenant in the Medical Corps, serving stateside in Baltimore, Maryland and at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. By 1928, Chewning was married, in private practice and raising a family in a home on the 400 block of George Street in downtown Fredericksburg.

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