The specter of black troops opens a door for Maine relief workers–literally

From Hennessy:

Our apologies for quietude of late, but as you might guess, preparations for the Fredericksburg 150th haven’t left a lot of time for Mysteries and Conundrums.  We have lots in the pipeline, just no time to put the posts together. We will.

Backyard of U.S. Sanitary Commission depot.439.cropped 3 womenHere’s a quickie, something I came across this morning.

I have been collecting a huge amount of material on the use of Fredericksburg as an evacuation hospital in May 1864, and the related effort by Northern civilians to come to Fredericksburg to help. We have written about this before.  Among those who came were an energetic group of four from the Maine State Relief Agency, including a woman named Sarah Smith Sampson. As the wounded from the Wilderness and Spotsylvania poured into town from the west, hundreds of volunteers from relief agencies, the Sanitary Commission, and the Christian Commission, poured into town from the landing at Belle Plain. Mrs. Sampson and her cohort Ruth S. Mayhew faced a common problem in town for relief workers: finding lodging. The locals, as might be imagined, were disinclined to give up their homes to anything remotely Yankee.  As this passage from Sampson’s report makes clear, the Maine delegation used the looming specter of the arrival of wounded from the Union army’s new division of USCTs to convince them to open their house willingly now rather than unwillingly later.

Sarah Smith Sampson.  Used by permission from

Sarah Smith Sampson. Used by permission from

Mrs. Mayhew and myself tried to obtain lodging of the family who were in the other part of the house we occupied, but were peremptorily refused; but after a time they were glad to cook our rations that we drew from the commissary that they might have something for themselves to eat. The Provost Marshal afterwards gave us permission to take two of the largest houses in Fredericksburg for hospital purposes. At first the ladies of the premises seriously objected, (the men, at this time, were in the Old Capitol Prison, Washington, having been arrested and sent there, for driving the wounded of our army, who were making their escape through the city, back into the enemy’s lines,) but on being told that Burnside’s wounded were yet to come in, and their houses might then be taken without regard to their wishes for the colored troops of his command, they yielded: and both houses were filled with our patients, that we took from floors of other buildings, or from army wagons as they were coming in. The Provost Marshal also detailed four men to make bunks for these buildings; the ladies supplied us with bedding so far as they were able, and two surgeons of Maine were placed in charge of the patients, much to the gratification of all parties. 

[A copy of Sarah Sampson’s report is in the bound volumes at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP–the original is likely in the Maine State Archives (our copy does not indicate the original source].  Her description of her time in Fredericksburg in 1864 is powerful, and we’ll share it at a future date.]  Photo of Sampson used by permission from


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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A town atwitter, bridges abuilding: the Yankees move in, 1862

From John Hennessy (the links herein are generally to posts we have done about whatever topic is in hypertext.  Explore):

One hundred and fifty years ago, Fredericksburg was in the midst of a painful, annoying (at least to white residents) tumult, as the Union army took firm possession of the town.  The army spent the three weeks between the Battle of Arby’s and May 9 restoring the railroad line between Aquia Landing and Fredericksburg and preparing for McDowell’s advance south on Richmond.  The biggest task was the reconstruction of the massive Potomac Creek Bridge, which like everything else had been destroyed by the retreating Confederates.

The ruins of the bridge over Potomac Creek. The bridge would be reconstructed by May 15. Lincoln would christen it the “beanpole and cornstalks” bridge. For photos of the site today, click here.

Elsewhere, the army was busy building bridges into town, establishing camps on Stafford Heights (and farther back from the river), and cautiously feeling for hovering Confederates west and south of Fredericksburg. The first of the bridges to be completed was the canal boat bridge spanning Ferry Farm to the town docks in Fredericksburg.  On May 5, Union engineers completed a more traditional pontoon bridge from the Stafford shore to the base of Hawke Street–just above Chatham.  The army would reuse this site in December 1862, labeling it the Upper Crossing.

The pontoon bridge into Fredericksburg, May 1862.

By mid-May, as many as 400 soldiers had been assigned to help re-build the burned bridge of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad into Fredericksburg–75 feet high and 600 feet long. Continue reading

Setting the Stage for War: A Pictorial Proto-Website from 1856

From: Noel Harrison

A panoramic chromolithograph, View of Fredericksburg, VA, published in 1856 and sampled from time to time on this blog, offers a contemporary database of incredible scope and accuracy as we enter the sesquicentennial of the town’s first Union occupation and first battle.  As orientation for discussing a number of magnified details, here’s a medium-rez look at the picture:


What follows is the first in a projected, short series of posts that will review the chromolithograph’s own history; its testimony to the antebellum appearance, development, and self-image of Fredericksburg; and its documentation of the wartime landscape of 1862, six years into the future–little changed in some aspects from the picture of 1856 but altered markedly in others.

Edward Sachse & Co. of Baltimore published View of Fredericksburg, VA in 1856.  Sachse & Co., which had already produced panoramic views of Alexandria and Washington, D.C., as well as of Baltimore, began work on the Fredericksburg picture by dispatching an artist, or artists, to the town.  Judging from John W. Reps’ book, Views and Viewmakers of Urban American, Sachse artist James T. Palmatary was probably responsible for walking Fredericksburg and its outskirts and preparing at least some of the reference sketches in 1855 and/or 1856.  These were then compiled as a master drawing, which back in Baltimore was etched onto smoothed pieces of limestone for printing.

Preparation of the master drawing had involved a key rearrangement of data:  re-picturing the human’s-eye, ground-level drawings of Fredericksburg and its individual buildings from a single, high “bird’s-eye” angle, to show the complete town while maximizing information about individual structures. 

The final perspective for View of Fredericksburg, VA looked across and over the town from a point just across the Rappahannock River and hovering above Stafford Heights, about a half mile from the RF&P Railroad bridge over the river, and a quarter of a mile or so from the farmstead that occupied the site of George Washington’s boyhood home. 

Speaking of which, someone is plowing a field at the former Washington property (known after the Washington era as “Ferry Farm”), while travelers arrive at the adjacent landing of the namesake ferry:

Fast forward from 1856 to December 1862:  artist Alfred Waud positions himself beside the ferry landing to sketch Union bridge-builders under fire at the Middle Pontoon Crossing.  A week later, following the defeated Federals’ retreat across the river, some of them convert “an old cherry-tree” on or near Ferry Farm into “all sorts of crosses, pipes, rings, etc., that can be sent away by mail” as mementoes of George Washington. 

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Fredericksburg’s Museum of War Relics

From Eric Mink:

The war’s impact on the Fredericksburg area was felt in many ways, from the destruction wrought by four major battles, to the inconvenience and strain felt by nearly two years of occupation by the opposing armies. When the armies marched away, they left not only ruined farms and decimated livelihoods for local residents, but they also left an immense amount of war material behind. Relics and artifacts of war have always fascinated people and those associated with the Civil War are no different. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared, curiosity seekers and collectors scoured the battlefields and empty camp looking for objects left by the armies. Some individuals amassed great collections and it was not unusual after the war  to find small privately-run museums adjacent to the battlefields. Such was the case in 1880s Fredericksburg.

Located at the corner of Caroline and Hanover Streets, the Exchange Hotel was one of Fredericksburg largest and most successful hotels. In 1887, two men from Connecticut took over management of the Exchange. Leander Cotton hailed from East Hartford, Connecticut and as a veteran of the 21st Connecticut Infantry he knew the Fredericksburg area battlefields. William A. Hills was from Glastonbury, Connecticut and a mere 22 years-old when he entered into a partnership with Cotton at the Exchange.

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The unconventional (and mysterious) Martha Stevens–a woman on Fredericksburg’s fringes

From John Hennessy (For part 2 of this post, click here. For a prior post on the possibility of Martha Stevens appearing in a postwar image, click here):

The UDC monument to Martha Stephens, at her house site on Sunken Road.

Just down the Sunken Road from the magnificent memorial to Confederate soldier Richard Kirkland, the “Angel of Marye’s Heights,” is a far simpler monument, put in place in 1917 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to mark the home of one of Fredericksburg’s most honored and memorable women. “HERE LIVED MARTHA STEVENS     FRIEND OF THE CONFEDERATE SOLDIER     1861-1865.”

 In 1860, few in Fredericksburg would ever have predicted that Martha Stevens (or Stephens–the spellings seemed to have been interchangeable) would, 57 years hence, be the ONLY woman of the town to be honored with a monument to her acts during the Civil War. Indeed, to most Fredericksburgers, she would have been near the bottom of the list of prospective heroines, for Martha Stevens lived an unconventional life on the edges of Fredericksburg society.
Born, apparently, as Martha Farrow, by 1860 the 36-year-old was on her third surname, though there is no record that she ever stepped before minister or Justice of the Peace to be married.  Her son was named John Innis (or Ennis), and she occasionally went by that surname. In the several court cases in which she was involved, she is variously identified as Farrow, Innis, or Stevens (or Stephens). By 1860 she was living along the Sunken Road with cabinetmaker Edward N. Stevens, along with two young girls, Mary (10) and Agnes (5) named Stevens.
This meander through the morass of names is not intended to confuse, but to highlight that Martha lived a life far different than those other Fredericksburg women who have come to us as part of the town’s Civil War history–Betty Maury, Jane Beale, Lizzie Alsop, and others. But her ever-changing identity is only part of her distinctiveness. There is no record that Martha ever married Edward Stevens–rather, their marriage was common-law. They lived together for probably 29 years, until his death in 1883. He was a cabinet-maker, and perhaps not a good one, since he was, at least in the 1850s, in serious debt. Virginia law at the time required that the property of women entering into marriage automatically pass to the man–in this case any such property would have been used to satisfy Stevens’s debts. It is likely for this reason that Martha never married Edward. Indeed, in 1854, she entered into a trust with Peter Goolrick that secured her rights to her property entirely separate from Edward or any other man.  Indeed, in all known legal documents relating to Martha, she used either Innis or Farrow as her name, with Stevens given only as an alias.

Martha Stevens's house along the Sunken Road--a postwar image.

Martha Stephens, despite her discolored reputation, was if nothing else an effective wheeler-dealer.  Her worth was considerable: two house on the Sunken Road (including today’s Innis house), a couple of lots on George Street and, most importantly, a 92-acre farm she acquired in 1869–all in her own name.

 Her independent ways in the legal and real estate realms surely marked her as different, but so did her personality and other entrepreneurial ventures. Continue reading

A place-related post over at Fredericksburg Remembered

Over at Fredericksburg Remembered we’re doing a a number of posts on a series of images taken from the steeple of St. George’s Episcopal Church in 1888, which I’ve stitched together into a single (though imperfect) image.  Much of what we’re looking at doesn’t relate directly to Fredericksburg’s wartime landscape, but our most recent post does. You might want to check it out.  Click here.