The obscure Carpenter farm, and a soldier’s grave


From John Hennessy:

It is an evocative though rarely used photograph: a man standing before an unkempt line of graves, the markers askew and unadorned. The image is known to have been taken on the farm of James and Elizabeth Carpenter (an elderly couple whose son Solon served in the Fredericksburg Artillery) on the Wilderness Battlefield, a now-forgotten area well behind the Union lines, about midway between NPS holdings at Wilderness and Chancellorsville.

Today the site of the Carpenter farm is home to the local chapter of the Isaac Walton League.  Nobody that I know of has been able to identify the specific location on the farm of this view (or another less interesting image apparently from the same series). These don’t appear to be fresh burials, for the ground seems covered with a season’s worth of leaves and nature’s refuse–something consistent with its 1866 date (our friend John Cummings will have much more to say about this series of postwar images in an upcoming book).

The scene shows at least twenty-one graves, all but one of them seemingly marked by a stake or pole rather than a headboard. The method of marking the graves suggests this work was done in the aftermath of battle, rather than by the Union burial corps that came through the area in 1865. (We discussed and illustrated their method of marking graves in our post on Wilderness Cemetery #2, which you can find here.) No place else do I know of stakes being used to mark field burials, and the lone visible headboard in this view is radically different from the mass-produced, carefully painted boards carried and planted by the 1865 burial crews. Continue reading

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News at Sherwood Forest and an important acquisition at the Wilderness


We’re not usually about current events, but when news comes along that touches on things we’ve posted about, we’ll note it here.

The Free Lance-Star of October 28 has news about Sherwood Forest in Stafford County. A while back we did a post on the crumbling slave cabin at Sherwood, which you might note is not within the protected historic area. You can read about it here.

Also, the Civil War Preservation Trust has contracted to buy perhaps the most important parcel within the NPS boundary at the Wilderness–the land that constitutes the eastern edge of Saunders Field. We have written about Saunders Field a couple of times, here and here.

Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern: Jackson’s Amputation


From Mink:

The first part of this discussion can be found here.

Following his accidental wounding on the night of May 2, Jackson was transported to the Second Corps hospital at Wilderness Tavern. Dr. Hunter H. McGuire, the Medical Director for the Second Corps, oversaw Jackson’s treatment. McGuire first reached the general on the Orange Turnpike just inside the Confederate lines. He sent a courier to Dr. Black at Wilderness Tavern, informing him that Jackson would soon be arriving. According to McGuire, Black “had a large tent prepared with a bed in it (blankets over the bed) and a stove with fire.” Amidst the sprawling hospital complex, the exact site of this tent cannot be pinpointed, but its general location can be determined.

James Power Smith, Jackson’s aide-de-camp and a postwar resident of the Fredericksburg area, later wrote about arriving at the hospital that night:

“Through the night, back over the battle-field of the afternoon, we reached the Wilderness store, and in a field on the north the field-hospital of our corps under Dr. Harvey Black. Here we found a tent prepared…” – James Power Smith,”With Stonewall Jackson,” Southern Historical Society Papers, New Series No. V, Whole Number XLIII, p. 53

David Kyle, who acted as the guide for Jackson during his ill-fated reconnaissance, also described the location of Jackson’s tent:

“…drove on up the pike to the Wilderness Old Tavern, where Mr. W.M. Simms lived at the time. They drove out on the right of the pike in the field to a hospital tent, where they took General Jackson out of the ambulance and carried him into the tent, which was the last I ever saw of him.” – David Kyle, “Jackson’s Guide When Shot,” in Confederate Veteran, Vol. IV, No 9 (September 1896), p. 309

From these two accounts, it’s safe to say that Jackson’s tent, and the site of the amputation of his arm, was on the north side of the Orange Turnpike. Can the location be narrowed down anymore?

In 1936, NPS Historian Ralph Happel looked into the site of Jackson’s amputation. Happel interviewed local residents about their knowledge of the tavern and the Second Corps hospital. Happel made contact with Miss. Anna E. Dempsey, who was born around 1861 and whose brother owned the land north of Wilderness Tavern. Miss Dempsey informed Happel that:

“Jackson’s arm was amputated in the Second Corps field hospital, north of the road and some 175 yards east of the tavern site…This fact I got from Mr. James Power Smith, who often talked of the field location in my presence.” – Ralph Happel, “Report on the Locations of the Old Wilderness Tavern and the Spot Where Jackson’s Arm was Amputated During the Chancellorsville Campaign” (1935, revised 1936). Copy in the CRM Office, FRSP.

According to Miss Dempsey’s information, it would appear that Jackson’s tent was located in the fields north and a couple hundred yards east of Wilderness Tavern.

The red shaded area is the general area where Jackson’s tent was located.

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Confederate Second Corps Hospital at Wilderness Tavern


From Mink:

Wilderness Tavern as depicted in an 1864 sketch by Edwin Forbes.

A series of posts last month looked at the burial and possible re-burial of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s arm (found here, here and here). This post is intended to discuss available information about the Confederate Second Corps hospital established at Wilderness Tavern during the Battle of Chancellorsville, including the location where Jackson’s arm was amputated.

In the wake of Jackson’s May 2, 1863 attack on the Union right at Chancellorsville, medical facilities were immediately secured for the wounded. Places such as Melzi Chancellor’s “Dowdall’s Tavern,” James Talley’s farm, and Wilderness Church became field hospitals for both Confederate and captured Union casualties. The location chosen for the Confederate Second Corps hospital, under charge of Dr. Harvey Black, was at Wilderness Tavern. Wilderness Tavern was a few miles to the rear (west) of the battlefield. It was situated a short distance east of the important road intersection formed by the Orange Turnpike and Germanna Plank Road, and was located across Wilderness Run from the J. Horace Lacy plantation “Ellwood.”

The tavern was a property owned in 1863 by William M. Simms. It consisted of a collection of structures, including a store, house, tavern and several outbuildings.

(Left) Wilderness Tavern in 1866, looking southwest along Orange Turnpike. (Right) Similar view today.

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A Camp in the Wilderness: Civilian Conservation Corps Camp MP-4


From Mink:

As mentioned in previous posts, FRSP benefited greatly from the help provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Four individual CCC camps operated in the Fredericksburg area between 1933 and 1942. Three of these were located on FRSP lands – one each on the battlefields of Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

Camp MP-4 was built in Saunders Field, on the north side of State Route 20, of the Wilderness Battlefield. The initials “MP” stood for Military Park. Later the designation and number was changed to NP-24, denoting that the camp served a national park. Camp MP-4 was established October 14, 1933 and until its closing in 1941 five CCC companies rotated through the camp.

The camp’s layout covered nearly all of the northern half of Saunders Field, where on May 5, 1864 the Battle of the Wilderness began.

ca. 1938 aerial photo of CCC Camp MP-4 on Wilderness Battlefield.

The aerial photo shows the camp around 1938, when it was occupied by Company 2329. The red square to the lower left in the photo indicates the current location of the Wilderness Exhibit Shelter. The building in the upper left corner of the photo (marked by the red arrow) is the Camp MP-4 Utility Building, constructed in 1937. It still stands in the woods north of Saunders Field and serves the NPS as a storage building for maintenance equipment.

Built in 1937, the Camp MP-4 Utility Building still stands on the northern edge of Saunders Field.

The original cautionary sign about open flames still hangs on the Utility Building.

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The Bone Collectors: Creation of Wilderness Cemetery #1


From Donald Pfanz (for an earlier post on Wilderness Cemetery #2, click here):

[We are very happy to welcome Donald Pfanz to Mysteries and Conundrums. The following is the product of his extensive work on the creation of the National Cemetery, which we’ll soon be publishing as part of our publication series. ]

Skeletons in the Wilderness. Scenes like this stimulated the Federal government to take action, and so they dispatched a regiment to accord the dead proper burial.

In June 1865, in response to clamorous complaints about the dead left unburied on the battlefields around Fredericksburg, the Federal government dispatched the 1st U.S. Veteran Volunteers to undertake reburial of the bodies. The 1st Volunteers reached Fredericksburg late on the afternoon of June 10 and pitched its tents on the south side of the Rappahannock River.  Some wandered the streets of the shell-torn town; others walked across the plain leading to Marye’s Heights, where Union arms had suffered defeat on December 13, 1862.  Unlike the Union soldiers who had perished in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania Court House, most of those who had died at Fredericksburg had been buried immediately after the battle.  William Landon, who had fought at Fredericksburg as a member of the 14th Indiana Infantry, took the opportunity to search the town for the graves of comrades who had fallen there.  He found but one:  Corporal John E. Hutchins of Company B, the “Old Post Guards.”

Landon and his comrades resumed their march the next morning, heading west along one of two roads:  the Orange Turnpike or the Orange Plank Road.  By noon, the First Regiment reached Chancellorsville.  The charred remains of the Chancellor house and the scattered remnants of blankets, knapsacks, and other equipment bore silent witness to the fierce struggle that had been waged there.  Passing on, the regiment reached the Wilderness Battlefield late that afternoon.  The soldiers bivouacked on the northern end of the battlefield at an abandoned goldmine– possibly the Woodville Mine.  No sooner had they arrived than “a crowd of half-starved women and children” and a few men in Confederate uniform flooded into the camp, hoping to trade garden vegetables for food that the soldiers carried in their wagons.  “All the rations we could spare were freely given them,” wrote Landon, but the demand far exceeded the supply and many went away hungry.

Wilderness Cemetery #1, created June 1865, and in existence for just over one year. Brevet Major Moore enclosed Wilderness National Cemetery No. 1 with a simple board fence. Each of the headboards visible in the photograph appears to read: "Uknown U.S. Soldiers Killed May 1864"

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Are those trenches real? – Part 3


From Mink:

Parts 1 and 2 (found here and here) looked at the reconstruction of earthworks, for interpretive purposes, at FRSP in the 1930s. The reconstructions were located at the Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House battlefields.

Such reconstructions ultimately require a good deal of maintenance. It does not take long for the elements to cause cave-ins, sloughing of dirt and the decomposition of the logs. At some point, either by decision or neglect, the reconstructed earthworks began to dissolve into the landscape. Only one stretch of reconstructed trench was targeted for renewed attention. This occurred in 1977 at the section of reconstructed trench directly behind the “Bloody Angle” on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield.

The paperwork associated with the proposed rehabilitation (or reconstruction of the reconstruction) states that by 1977, the “logs, and earthworks have deteriorated due to the forces of nature, resulting in a shallow embankment devoid of log works.” The plan called for re-establishing the interpretive works and providing a defined pedestrian trail from the Bloody Angle to the reconstructed trench. The work was accomplished the following year. There is no evidence that any of the other trenches received such attention.

In the 30 years that have passed since the most recent reconstruction, the trenches behind the Bloody Angle once again show the need for attention.

Reconstructed trench to the rear of the Bloody Angle - 2010

In the late 1990s, FRSP decided to add more reconstructed trenches to the landscape. These interpretive works were built at the terminus of Anderson Drive on the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. Unlike the 1930s reconstructions, no original trenches were excavated or harmed in the process.

The construction of Anderson Drive in the 1930s, as a park tour road, had already obliterated roughly 20 feet of Confederate trenches along what is known as Lee’s Last Line. That section of Anderson Drive that connected with Brock Road was removed in the 1980s, thereby reducing through traffic and turning the drive into a strictly interior tour road. This location for the reconstruction of trenches was chosen because of the disturbed nature of the ground and the ability to juxtapose the interpretive works with the adjacent remnants of the original trench line. In the ten years since its construction, it too is beginning to show the signs of deterioration.

Reconstructed trench along Lee's Last Line at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield - 2010

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