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.

1970s Spotsy Trench

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.

1990s Spotsy Trench

Reconstructed trench along Lee’s Last Line at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield – 2010

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Are those trenches real? – Part 2


From Mink:

In Part 1 of this post (found here), NPS Historian T. Sutton Jett proposed the reconstruction of earthworks in a 1935 concept plan he wrote for FRSP. He identified the following areas where he believed interpretive reconsturctions should be built on three of the four battlefields:

“Fredericksburg Battlefield – The restoration of one of the gun pits on Walker’s Artillery position near Hamilton’s Crossing, and of another gun pit on Lee’s Hill.

Chancellorsville Battlefield – The restoration of a one-hundred-foot stretch of the line occupied by the XII and III Federal Corps on the morning of May 3. The program also calls for the restoration of a gun position at Fairview.

Wilderness Battlefield – The restoration of an infantry work on Ewell’s line near the Contact Station on the Orange Turnpike, and of a hastily constructed log barricade on the Hancock line near the Plank-Brock Road intersection.” – T. Sutton Jett, “The 1935 Trench Restoration,” copy in FRSP CRM office

Jett included Spotsylvania Court House in his memo, but noted that the reconstructions there had already been built.

The idea was endorsed by FRSP management, as some of the proposed reconstructions appear on the park’s 1940 Master Plan maps. These maps provide us with specific locations for the trench reconstructions.

At the Wilderness Battlefield, a portion of reconstructed earthworks was planned, and built, directly behind the  Contact Station (see discussion of these structures here) on the north side of State Route 20, and across from its intersection with Hill-Ewell Drive.

Wilderness Trench Plana

“Information Station and Trench Restoration” from the 1940 Master Plan map of the Wilderness Battlefield. The red arrow points to the location of the reconstruted earthworks.

Wilderness Trench 1940a

Comparison of the 1866 photo (left) and a 1940 photo (right). Note the effort to replicate the historic image.

In addition to the trench, the park also reconstructed a gun pit to the rear of the infantry earthworks. Whether this was an existing gun pit, or merely an interpretive construction, is unknown. Its location on the downward slope to the rear of the infantry trench suggests it was likely not the location of a wartime lunette.

Wilderness 1936a

1936 photo of the reconstructed Wilderness earthworks and gun pit. The infantry trenches are on the western edge of Saunders Field.

A visit to the location shows that the battlefield, and time, has reclaimed the trenches and gun pit. Unless one knows what he or she is looking at, it would be nearly impossible to find much noticeable difference between the reconstructed trecnhes and the remains of adjacent wartime earthworks. Likewise, the gun pit could easily be mistaken for a tree throw.

Wilderness Trench 2010b

The Wilderness Battlefield reconstructed earthworks and gun pit, as they appear today. The two red arrows indicate the length of what was once the reconstructed trench. Note the difference in height between its parapet and that of the adjacent wartime works. The dip in the trench, to the right, is where a small wooden footbridge once crossed the earthworks. The shallow depression in the foreground is all that remains of the gun pit.

There is no evidence that the park  followed through on Jett’s suggestion to reconstruct a section of trench near the Brock Road-Orange Plank Road intersection. Such a reconstruction does not appear on the 1940 Master Plan map of the Wilderness Battlefield, nor have any photographs been found to suggest its existence.

At Chancellorsville, Jett’s suggestion to reconstruct one of the lunettes at Fairview was implemented almost immediately. A photo from 1936 shows park and/or CCC staff digging out the inside of a Union gun pit.

Fairview Gun Pit 1936a

1936 photo of the gun pit reconstruction at Fairview. Berry-Paxton Drive, a park tour road, is visible running in front of the lunette.

Like the Wilderness trench and gun pit, the reconstructed Fairview lunette has been reclaimed by the battlefield.  No visible evidence of the reconstruction exists today.

Fairview Gun Pit 2010a

The reconstructed Fairview gun pit, as it appears today. In the right foreground, can be seen the trace of Berry-Paxton Drive, which originally ran through the Fairview fields and connected with State Route 3. This section of the road was removed in the 1970s.

Details from the 1940 Master Plan map for the Chancellorsville Battlefield show the Fairview reconstruction, as well as a proposed “restoration” of Union trenches west of Fairview. These are undoubtedly the trenches Jett suggested for reconstruction, but like the Brock Road-Orange Plank Road trenches in the Wilderness, there is no evidence that they were developed.

Chancellorsville Trench Plana

Details from the 1940 Master Plan map of the Chancellorsville Battlefield. The sketch for the proposed reconstruction of “Slocum’s Works” was actually targeted for a stretch of earthworks south of State Route 3, not north of the road as suggested here.

Finally, Jett called for reconstructions of gun pits at Prospect Hill and Lee’s Hill on the Fredericksburg Battlefield. The 1940 Master Plan map for the Fredericksburg Battlefield does include a detail for the proposed work at Prospect Hill.

Fredericksburg Gun Pit Plana

“Gun-Pit Restoration (Proposed)” from the 1940 Master Plan map for the Fredericksburg Battlefield.

Note, however, that a large “X” was drawn through the detail. Perhaps this means that park management chose not to puruse this reconstruction. That may be the case, as there is no evidence that the lunettes at Prospect Hill or Lee’s Hill were ever reconstructed.

It is obvious that some of Jett’s 1935 proposal was implemented, but that not all of his interpretive reconstructions were developed. At what time the decision was made to abandon the trenches remains elusive. Only one of Jett’s trenches remains as an interpretive display, but that is only because the NPS has reconstructed the reconstruction.

Part three of this discussion can be found here.

Eric J. Mink

Are those trenches real?


From Mink:

Are those trenches real?

It’s a common question heard by those who work at Civil War battlefields containing well-preserved trenches and earthworks. “Are those trenches real?” In other words, are those actually the trenches built by the soldiers? On the Fredericksburg area battlefields, the answer is: “Well, yes and no.”

Spotsy Trenches Modern

Trenches at Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield

For many folks visiting the battlefields, the trenches appear awfully deep to have survived in that condition for almost 150 years. This has lead to the belief that surely they must have been rebuilt by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s or by the National Park Service (NPS) at some other time. Overall, no, there was no wide-spread rebuilding of the earthworks. There was, however, a reconstruction program, for interpretive purposes, of select small sections of trenches on some of the battlefields.

There has long been a debate within preservation circles over the ethics of historical reconstructions. Can accurate reconstructions be built? Is there a risk to the historic resources through reconstructions? Can reconstructions best interpret vanished resources?

In 1933, Major General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the Army’s involvement in the CCC, penned a memo to CCC Director Robert Fechner, in which he offered his views on the management of trenches on historic battlefields:

“It must be borne in mind that the development of these parks has for its purpose the restoration of the battle fields and preserving historic locations, monuments and sites of battle. Consequently, such work as is done must be performed with this in view, in order that the trench system and other historic points may not be destroyed but retained in their present condition or restored to the condition they were in at the time of the battle.”   – John C. Paige, The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History (1985)

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Wilderness Origins Part II: clear-cutting (or not)


From Hennessy:  In our last, Noel Harrison looked at the likely role of tobacco cultivation in the creation of the “poison fields” that over time became the Wilderness. In this post we’ll look the nature and extent of the Wilderness in 1860 as it related to subsequent uses–especially the clear cutting required to support two furnaces in the region operating about a century apart.  Part of what follows will be based on Dr. Sean Adams’s new (and not quite finished) study of Catharine Furnace, which we expect to roll out to the public later this year.

Look not at the cemetery, but at the woods beyond, south of the Orange Plank Road at the Wilderness. Clearly, this forest had been cut in the previous 25 years. This image dates to 1866.

The area known as the Wilderness encompassed about 70 square miles in 1860. It included the future Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefield units of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  One soldier wrote of the Wilderness:

“It is exceedingly broken up, and save a few fallow fields…is covered with a dense undergrowth of hazel and brier, traversed by numerous ravines and narrow roads….From many of the larger trees rank vines hang down, cable-like, nearly touching the ground, suggestive of a halter.”

This sketch of Chancellorsville by Edwin Forbes shows a mature forest astride the road.

We have a tendency to view the entire region as a largely homogeneous being, but it was in fact many things. Small farms were sprinkled throughout the region, but most importantly for our purposes it clearly was not the singular type of woods so often implied. Digging deeper into the descriptions of the fighting there,  it’s common to find references to woods where sight-distance exceeded 50 or 60 yards (it rarely reaches those distances today). At the same time, dozens also described the scrubby, tangled nightmare that most of us associate with the Wilderness. I have always been struck by these varied descriptions–each an indicator of the age of the woods–which begs the question: just how extensive had timbering operations in the Wilderness been?

When we engaged Dr. Sean Adams to complete the Historic Resource Study for Catharine Furnace (which will be, in fact, a really good book), we asked him to look at this issue: in terms of timber, how consumptive were furnaces? Does the activity of furnaces account for the vast amounts of cutting presumed to have been done in the Wilderness? Are the assumptions of wholesale clear cutting accurate? Continue reading

The Origins of the Wilderness: Part I–The Soil


From Harrison, with an intro by Hennessy:  

Intro by Hennessy:  There are sometimes matters of conventional wisdom that upon reflection really don’t make that much sense. To me, one of these relates to the origin of “the Wilderness,” the 70-square-mile area of Spotsylvania and Orange Counties that has loomed darkly over our region much as the deep forest loomed over Dorothy and her cohorts in the Wizard of Oz. The conventional wisdom is that the Wilderness was the product of two things: inherently poor soil and the rampant clear-cutting to supply local iron furnaces with characoal.

There is, in fact, nothing inherently remarkable about the soil in the Wilderness. Left alone, it supports a forest like much of the rest of Virginia Piedmont. Modern visitors are often confused by the typical appearance of the forest there–presuming it to be inherently different. It is not. Rather, it was made distinctive by the acts of people.

What follows is a much-needed critical look at a critical question. Wherefrom the Wilderness? 


The point of departure for questioning the convention is the recent completion of what the NPS calls a “Historic Resource Study” of Catharine Furnace, by Dr. Sean Adams at the University of Florida (Catharine Furnace is a mid-1800s furnace located on the Chancellorsville battlefield). Sean was spurred on by some preliminary work done by our own Noel G. Harrison, the incomparable chronicler of the pre-Civil War landscape in our region. The work of those two forms the basis for what follows, in two parts.  First, a consideration of the soil and tobacco production.

Noel G. Harrison has written (in a file memo he produced for Sean Adams’s use in 2008):

A Progress to the Mines, the 1732 travelogue by William Byrd II, describes the landscape of the future battlefields of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness as composed in large part, if not entirely, of scrubby “poison fields” of saplings, a full century before the appearance of the timber-consumers–Catharine Furnace, the gold mines, and the plank road–that are now often identified as the origins of a landscape described in exactly the same terms during and after the 1860’s.      

Byrd recounted traveling northwest along what is now known as Brock Road between the approximate location of its intersection with modern Rt. 208 Bypass and its intersection with modern Rt. 3, in 1732.  He noted

I rode eight miles together over a stony road, and had on either side continual poisoned fields, with nothing but saplings growing on them. Then I came into the main county road, that leads from Fredericksburg to Germanna [emphasis added].

A day or two later, Byrd traveled with Colonel Alexander Spotswood from Germanna to the Tubal mines and furnace, situtated on the future Chancellorsville battlefield and along what in May 1863 became the eastern curve of the Union army’s horseshoe-shaped defensive line covering U.S. Ford.  (The end of iron production and/or mining at the Tubal site and the beginning of the same activities, in the mid-1830’s, at nearby Catharine Furnace and its mines were separated by about half a century.)  Traveling towards Tubal in 1732, Byrd and Spotswood were headed east, and Byrd again described a scraggly landscape:

 We drove over a fine road to the mines, which lie thirteen measured miles from the Germanna…. The colonel has a great deal of land in his mine tract [at least 15,000 acres] exceedingly barren, and the growth of trees upon it is hardly big enough for coaling [emphasis added].

This raises an important question:  Was the extensive sapling-landscape due to a cause other than, or operating in tandem with, charcoal-making for iron production? 


While paging through Paula S. Felder’s study, Forgotten Companions: The First Settlers of Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburgh Town (1982), an astonishing set of agricultural statistics caught my eye.  This data, when we consider its geographic overlap upon the future Civil War battlefields, suggest that tobacco cultivation might bear much of the responsibility for the “poison” landscape.  Continue reading

Another Nugget from the Wilderness Battlefield’s Historical Lode


from:  Harrison

Even familiar sites continue to yield historical riches, if the public is fortunate enough to have those places preserved for long-term study and contemplation.  New research has just given us a far clearer picture of the antebellum- and early-war purpose of Saunders’ Field, which during the battle of the Wilderness became one of the Fredericksburg area’s most bloodsoaked clearings.  Historians believed heretofore that Saunders’ Field, also known as “Palmer’s Field,” shown below in 1866 straddling what was then the Orange Turnpike (today’s Virginia Route 20/James Madison Highway), had been devoid of buildings before and during the Civil War.

In the 1930’s, enrolees of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) erected a barracks complex in part of the field.  Reoccupied for various periods by thick vegetation before and after the CCC era, the clearing has now been restored to its approximate Civil War configuration, and is home to the Wilderness Battlefield Exhibit Shelter in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. 

While researching the field in the 1980’s, I was unable to place any buildings there on the eve of the Civil War, despite periodic searches through vague tax records, deeds, and census information. 

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