Remembrance Walk, Stop 4: the Bloody Plain–fear and courage


From Hennessy:  [For earlier stops on the walk, see here, here, and here.]

We continue to present the words from the Fredericksburg Remembrance Walk on Sunday, December 10.  The walk included six stops, where visitors had the chance to place a flower and staff presented some thoughts on the site.  Frank O’Reilly delivered these words in front of the stone wall, on the Bloody Plain–on a part of the field not reached by Union troops on December 13, 1862.

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Fredericksburg as seen from Marye's Heights.1499

Marye’s Heights in the foreground, the Bloody Plain beyond. This image was taken from what is now the National Cemetery.

Here, on the edge of the Bloody Plain that witnessed the advance of more than 20,000 Union soldiers, we remember both fear and courage, deeply intermingled.

The soldiers of the Union army who entered what was then a vast open plain west of Fredericksburg had a good idea of what confronted them. And they disliked their chances.  But still they came.

A soldier wrote on December 12:

Tomorrow we anticipate a dreadful engagement; of the result we are not too hopeful, for we are aware of the almost impregnability of the enemy’s position, his great force and desperate condition.  We have confidence in Burnside, faith in the justice of our cause, and believe, with the slightest shadow of doubt, that victory will crown our arms.  With this hope we will rest.

Just before the advance, a Union soldier approached his company commander in town.

“I can’t go, Captain.”

 “Why not?  Are you sick?”

 “No.  But I can’t go.  I have a family at home, and I must support them.  If I go over there I will be killed.”

 And, wrote a witness, the strong man commenced to cry….

This was a landscape whose horror would lodge in the American consciousness.  500 yards of open field, broken only the remnant fences of the town’s fairgrounds and a single house, owned by wheelwright Allen Stratton.  This would be the defining landscape of Fredericksburg.

The thousands of soldiers who dared to enter the bloody plain struggled with the great dilemma that confronts every soldier—the competing forces of fear and duty. Narratives of the Civil War—be they modern studies or eyewitness accounts—invariably discuss courage at length and fear very little. Not at Fredericksburg.

union-troops-after-fredericksburg

Union troops after the Battle of Fredericksburg

Fear was omnipresent among Union soldiers on this field, and they freely admitted it.  Continue reading

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Remembrance Walk, Part 3–The original stone wall and its defenders


Confederates in the Sunken Road.1234From Hennessy:  Here is stop 3 on Saturday’s Remembrance Walk, at the original stone wall.  Greg Mertz delivered this text.  For parts 1 and 2 click here and here.

Here we remember….the Sunken Road, the stone wall, and the men who defended it.  Before you is the only surviving section of the original stone wall that bordered the Sunken Road.

No physical feature on any battlefield of the war had a greater impact on the magnitude of victory than this one. While more than 1,000 Southern men fell killed or wounded in this road (let’s not forget that that number by itself is horrific and unimaginable), more than seven times that many Union soldiers fell in the uncluttered fields in front of the stone wall.

Sunken Road--original wall--cropped

The original stone wall, with the Innis House in the background

For thousands of young men from Georgia and the Carolinas, this wall was salvation.  For some, like Richard Kirkland, the wall offered only temporary reprieve—he would die at Chickamauga in September 1863.  But for hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, this wall helped ensure a journey home at war’s end, rather than an unmarked or forgotten grave far from family and community.

Fredericksburg was a battle of panoramas—broad, sweeping vistas that, in the moment, stirred the spirits of any Confederate watching it.

“How beautifully they came on!” remembered one Confederate.  “Their bright bayonets glistening in the sunlight made the line look like a huge serpent of blue and steel.”

But those panoramas quickly narrowed to the faces of men struggling for life.

This wall gave the Confederates an advantage that translated into death and suffering for their enemies in front.  A Georgian remembered:

Killing ground cropped

The Killing Ground, by Mark Churms.  The Innis house and stone wall are at the bottom.

“We waited until they got within about 200 yards of us & rose to our feet & poured volley after volley into their ranks which told a most deadening effect.  They soon began to waver & at last broke from the rear, but the shouts of our brave soldiers had scarcely died away when we saw coming another column more powerful and seemingly more determined than the first (if possible) …..I have been in many engagements before but I never saw in my life such a slaughter.”  [William Montgomery, Phillips Legion of Georgia] Continue reading

Remembrance Walk, Part 2: Remembering those who defied war’s horrors to help


From Hennessy:  To see Part 1, click here.

This constituted our second stop on Sunday’s Remembrance walk.  This passage was read by Beth Parnicza at the Kirkland Memorial

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We should be repelled by war and warfare.  They are an exercise in pain, aiming to inflict enough harm and anguish to compel an opposing army to collapse or a society to give up.  In that, Fredericksburg is a case study.

The battle here in December 1862 very nearly brought the Union army to its knees. At the same time, what happened here made clear that civilians and their homes would not always be spared.  The fortitude and commitment of white Southerners to all that the Confederacy represented to them would be challenged again and again. Until Appomattox.

But despite all the suffering and struggle entailed by war, we are compelled to look.  We are attracted by it.  Why?

One powerful reason: the immense challenges and even inhumanity of war almost always inspires people to great and selfless acts of humanity.  We are awed by such acts, which often entail immense courage. We often wonder of ourselves:  could we, would we have done the same?

And so here we remember….Richard Kirkland and those like him who, amidst crushing inhumanity, endeavored to help those in peril or pain.

Kirkland2Richard Kirkland was only 19 at Fredericksburg, with only ten months to live. He and his fellow South Carolinians joined the fight in the Sunken Road late that winter afternoon.  Like his fellow Confederates, he endured the cold of the night after, and the sounds of the wounded left on the Bloody Plain.

The next day, he could endure the sounds no more. He went to his brigade commander, Joseph Kershaw, in the Stevens house.  “General, I can’t stand this,” Kirkland said. Kirkland request permission to cross the wall to help the wounded.

General Kershaw at first said no, warning Kirkland that he would be killed.  Kirkland insisted, and finally Kershaw conceded. He gave permission, and Richard Kirkland THANKED him–THANKED his commander for permitting him to risk his life to help others.

And so Kirkland crossed the wall, armed only with canteens.

Richard Kirkland succors the wounded.1693The distant Union troops—about 150 yards away—quickly saw Kirkland’s intent. No bullets whizzed his way.  For 90 minutes, Kirkland moved about the field among the Union wounded, giving water, placing knapsacks as pillows—caring for chilled men lying in bloody muck.  For 90 minutes, Kirkland did his work, then returned to the Sunken Road and its protective wall, unharmed.

Men on both sides performed acts of kindness, here and elsewhere.  Three weeks after the battle, a train bearing the body of Confederate Captain Edward P. Lawton arrived at Falmouth station, in the midst of the Union camps in Stafford.  Lawton had been wounded on the south end of the field December 13, captured, and had died in a hospital in Alexandria. Continue reading

Fredericksburg Remembrance Walk–The Children (A Different Approach to the Fredericksburg Anniversary)


From Hennessy:  This year, we decided to take a different approach to the Fredericksburg Battle Anniversary. For the last two decades we have held a rather static event, always in front of the Kirkland monument, always with re-enactors providing color and presence, an emcee, and a keynote speaker.

This year we experimented with something more dynamic, something that was not explicitly commemorative, but instead allowed visitors to make a gesture if they wished to, at the site of their choosing. This year, we walked the Sunken Road–the 28th Massachusetts and 47th Virginia leading the way–stopping at sites that help tell the story of the battle in different ways. We began with a stop that explored the experience of children. At the Kirkland monument, we spoke of those who defied the conventions of war and helped in notable ways. We stopped at the original stone wall and talked of those who defended Marye’s Heights, and at the Innis House, where we recalled the varied experiences of civilians.  We concluded stops on the Bloody Plain and in the National Cemetery, where we offered reflections the meaning and significance of the war, and why those who gave their lives ought to be remembered.

Along the way,  we invited visitors to leave a flower as a remembrance any of these sites they chose.  And we asked them to see the war through different lenses.

Of course the actual anniversary of the battle now upon us, and I thought over the coming days we would post each of the six stops we made, with the words presented and a few supplemental pictures.  We had a different member of the staff present at each stop.

Today we give you our first stop, at the Ebert Family house site–an overlooked place just north of the Kirkland monument. There we spoke of the children.

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We gather here to remember an event that at its core was horrific—a deadly cascade of humanity across what were the open fields beyond us.  Battles are hard things.

War and battle imposed suffering and struggle, all punctuated by loss.

So why do we come to a place like this?

In the midst of the worst that humanity can produce, we wonder at the human qualities that are called forth to confront such an ordeal.  These qualities we seek to understand and sometimes come to admire an emulate.

War’s tendrils touched every fiber of this community.

Here, at this spot, in front of the site of the Ebert House:  we remember the children

Here in 1862 lived Anna Ebert 7, Dorothy Ebert 5, and their little brother Albert Ebert 2—all of them the children of Henry and Sophia, Prussian immigrants who in 1858 moved into the small, picturesque house that stood at the turn in this road.

ebert and sunken road from brent

The Ebert House at left, with the Sunken Road and Innis House. beyond. From the collection of Jerry Brent, courtesy Lou Brent

This, now famous as the Sunken Road, was in 1862 the Telegraph Road. Here it curved into Fredericksburg, following what is today Kirkland Street. Coming from the south, this was the main access into Fredericksburg—the I-95 of its day, carrying goods and passenger coaches, bearing the footfalls of farmers, the famous (including, probably, Abraham Lincoln), and the enslaved, doing their owner’s business.  In fact if you look closely you can see that on the west side of the road the stone wall in front of Brompton is bowed a little bit–an indentation. That was put there to allow for a wider turning radius for large wagons making the turn into town.

Ebert house.1949

The Ebert House not long before it was torn down in the 1950s. The Ebert family owned the house into the 1940s. The Telegraph Road is in the foreground. It was likely in this road that the Ebert Children piled into a wagon on December 11, and then fled to escape coming battle.

Soon after moving in, Henry Ebert opened a small grocery in this house on the turn of this road. Intermittently for most of the next 80 years, travelers and children alike stopped here for a gingerbread cookie or piece of candy.

In the predawn morning of December 11, 1862, the boom of two cannons echoed over this landscape, signaling that the Union attempt to cross the river had begun.  Union General Burnside’s decision to cross at Fredericksburg, and Robert E. Lee’s decision to contest that crossing, fated Fredericksburg itself to be a battlefield.

The Ebert’s middle child, Dorothy, later remembered the scurrying that followed the booms of those cannons that morning, soon swelling into a roar. Henry hitched his team and pulled the family wagon around. Mother and children piled in, and with shells bursting over Fredericksburg, the Ebert family headed along the Sunken Road into Spotsylvania County, to safety.

All over town families suffered even more harrowing ordeals that day. Young Samuel Beale and his family huddled in the basement of their house on Lewis street, literally praying for relief. A 12-pound cannonball struck the house, dislodging a brick that in turn struck Samuel.  Continue reading

The Slave Auction Block at William and Charles


From John Hennessy.  [A note: we have written about the slave auction block extensively over the years, but have been asked to bring together the research in a single post, easily accessed.  To do that, we have drawn on four other posts, as well as some new research. If you want the full background–especially as it relates to the 1924 debate about the stone–you can find the first of the other posts here, and then click through.]

slave-auction-block-modernThe shaped block of stone sits at the corner of Charles and William Street in Fredericksburg, directly in front of the building that was once the Planter’s Hotel.  Over the years it has been backed into by trucks and hacked at by vandals. Mostly, until recently, it has been unnoticed. But to some people it is one of the most compelling urban artifacts in America–a site of conscience, one of those places that requires us to recall past failures, injustice, and, in this instance, the struggles of people to overcome and ultimately reverse them.  To others, the block rubs like a burr.  It is, for them, a painful symbol of white supremacy and oppression.

However you view it, the stone is in the news and the subject of important conversations. Here is what we know about the stone block at the corner of Charles and William.

By most accounts the block came to be as a common carriage step, intended to serve guests at the adjacent hotel. The hotel rose in 1843, the work of local entrepreneur Joseph Sanford. For its first eight years, under Sanford’s ownership, he advertised the place as the United States Hotel. When he sold it to James Chartter in 1851, it became known as Planter’s Hotel.

Bear in mind, I have not attempted an exhaustive search for ads related to slave sales or hires at the United States or Planter’s Hotel, but I have identified thirteen sales that took place on the corner. The earliest ad appeared in the November 20, 1846 edition of the Richmond Enquirer–for the sale of 40 enslaved people “near the United States Hotel” in Fredericksburg.

1846 11-20 Richmond Enquirer slave sale Jones slaves at US Hotel.

Richmond Enquirer, November 20, 1846

[A side note:  this sale was likely from the estate of William Jones, the owner of Ellwood and (for a time) Chatham, both today managed by the NPS.]

Over the next 16 years, sales or hiring of enslaved people took place regularly at the Planter’s Hotel, usually around the first of the year.  The biggest of all involved the sale 46 individuals on January 3, 1854.

1853 12-26 Fredericksburg News slave sale US Hotel Planters

Fredericksburg News, December 26, 1853

The Fredericksburg News of January 6, 1854 trumpeted the “success” of the sale:

Fredericksburg seems to be the best place to sell slaves in the State. On Tuesday, at Charter’s [Planter’s] Hotel, forty-three slaves were sold for $26,000.  One bricklayer brought $1,495.  One woman and child, 5 or 6 years old, brought $1,350.  Several were quite old servants.  It was a considered a tremendous sale.

I have posted most of the known ads for sales at Planter’s hotel at the bottom of this post.

None of the advertisements for sale or hire reference the block specifically, but several place the sales “in front of the hotel” while others (Richmond Whig December 24, 1847, Fredericksburg News, August 28, 1850 and December 21, 1851) place the sales specifically “before the front door” of the hotel.  Notably, I have been able to find no other advertisement (beyond estate sales) for the sale of enslaved people at any location in Fredericksburg other than Planter’s Hotel.  This corner was clearly THE place to sell slaves in Fredericksburg in the 1840s and 1850s (land and other items were also occasionally offered for sale at the site).

What were these sales like?  Brutish, inhuman affairs, as former slave Fannie Brown recalled in the 1930s. She did not specify the location of the sale she witnessed in Fredericksburg as a 10-year-old, but it seems likely it took place at the corner of Charles and William Street.  Her account is from an interview she did with government workers in the 1930s.  Click here for the full account:

“I recollec’ one day I… went up close among de white folks gathered roun’ de warehouse peepin’ in through de windows to see de slaves. Den after a big crowd come roun’, I heard a nigger trader say, “Bruen…let my niggers out….”  Jim, a big six-foot, tall slave, come out smilin’, and his shirt was took off, and den dey start exzaminin’ him. Dey jerked his mouth open an’ look at his teeth an’ den slapped him on his back, an’ den dey said, “Dis is a prime nigger. Look at dose teeth.” Somebody say one hundred dollars, another two hundred an’ so on ’till one thousand dollars was reached. Den Jim …. was handcuffed an’ put in de coffle  wid de other slaves dat had been sol’.  

The first mention I have seen of the block as a slave auction block is by a veteran visiting Fredericksburg in 1893. By 1913, the stone had assumed significance enough that the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities sought to place a tablet at the site, recording the stone’s historic use (as recorded in the minutes of the City Council for November 1913).

The slave block entered public discourse again in 1924 when the local Chamber of Commerce argued, rather incongruously, that on the one hand the stone should be removed because its presence “may serve somewhat to keep alive the sectional feeling which has long ago since disappeared,” and thus dampen tourism in Fredericksburg. Besides, on the other hand, the Chamber argued, the stone had never been used as an auction block for slaves anyway. Confederate veteran and local historian John T. Goolrick jumped in to second the Chamber’s opinion: the block was “standing lie”–just a carriage step that  should be “broken up and carried away.”

george-triplett-with-waternark

George Triplett

The suggestion prompted a small storm of response, led, ironically, by local auctioneer N. B. Kinsey, whose shop stood nearby. Kinsey produce a 1857 ad for the sale of slaves at the site.  More than that, he produced the testimonials of at least three prominent local men who confirmed the use of the block as a tool for the sale of slaves. And finally, Kinsey asserted that former slave George Triplett (died 1910) had been the last enslaved person sold on the slave block, purchased by Fredericksburg’s wartime mayor Montgomery Slaughter. Even John T. Goolrick’s son later confirmed the story told of Triplett.  A photograph of Triplett, preserved and provided to us by the late collector extraordinary Jerry Brent, includes a notation from James T. and Robert T. Knox, who owned the former Planter’s Hotel in the early 20th century.

“The Old Slave, George Washington Triplett, Born in Stafford County, Va., Dec. 27th. 1833. Copy of certificate. Robert T. Knox & Brother. GREY EAGLE MILLS. Fredericksburg, Va. Sept. 29th. 1903. This is to certify that Mr. J.E.Reid, on 29th of September 1903 took the picture of one of our worthy colored men, George W. Triplett by name, who was the last colored man sold on the slave rock.(1862). It is a well established fact and has never been controverted or denied, and that I was an eye witness to the taking of the picture. (signed) James T. Knox of R.T.Knox & Brother.”

Another former slave asserted his connection with the slave block. Albert Crutchfield, born in Spotsylvania in 1854, claimed that he and his family had been sold on the block. In the 1920s, Crutchfield posed next to the slave block for what would become an oft-produced postcard. The back of the card reads:

slave-auction-block-postcard crutchfield

In the days before the Civil War it was used for the sale and annual hire of slaves.  Albert Crutchfield, shown in the picture, was sold from the block about 1859, at which time he was a boy about fifteen years old.”

While some of the details are incorrect (Crutchfield was only 5 in 1859, and evidence suggests that the sale may not have taken place until after 1860), his story largely fits with what is known about his life. According to Crutchfield, he, his mother, and three siblings were purchased by local businessman Arthur Goodwin. Two of his brothers were sold south and would never be seen by the family again.*

I append here images of the ads we have (beyond those shown above) that reference slave sales or hires at the corner of William and Charles.  Remember, the hotel was known variously as the United States Hotel, Sanford’s Hotel, Chartters Hotel (after the second owner), and Planter’s Hotel.

1847 10-29 Richmond Enquirer Slave sale US Hotel

Richmond Enquirer, October 29, 1847

1847 12-24 Richmond Whig slave sale Sanford's US Hotel

Richmond Whig, December 24, 1847

1850 8-27 News Ford slave sale at Planters Hotel

Fredericksburg News, August 27, 1850

1851 11-19 News Fitzhugh slave sale US Hotel

Fredericksburg news, November 19, 1851

1851 12-21 News Fitzhugh and Little slave sale US Hotel

Fredericksburg News, December 21, 1851

1856 12-7 Fredericksburg News auction of other items Planters hotel

Fredericksburg News, December 7, 1856

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters Dec 30.JPG

Fredericksburg News, December 22, 1857

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters January 1

Fredericksburg News, February 1, 1862

1857 12-22 Fredericksburg News Slave sale at Planters on Dec 28

Fredericksburg News, December 22, 1857

1862-2-1 News planters slave sale.jpg

Fredericksburg News, February 1, 1862

Finally, we also have the transcription of an ad, produced by N.B. Kinsey in 1924, that appeared in an unidentified local newspaper on October 14, 1857.

The advertisement stated “seven young and valuable slaves” will be sold for the high dollar by Thos. B. Barton and John M. Herndon, commissioners.  Another sale of “three likely young negresses” by W.C. Downer, administrator.

(This ad does not appear in any of the surviving copies of Fredericksburg papers of the time–the NewsVirginia Herald, and Weekly Advertiser.  Likely it appeared in the well-circulated Christian Banner, edited by the ardent Unionist James Hunnicutt; no issues of the Banner are known to survive from 1857.)

If you know of other advertisements or have additional information, please do let us know.

* See Ruther Coder Fitzgerald, “Albert Crutchfield was a Well-Known Local Slave,” Free Lance Star, June 16, 2001.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Context matters: the contrasting narratives of John Washington and Noah Davis, Fredericksburg slaves (with a Patton connection)


In advance of tomorrow night’s History at Sunset–“Slavery and Slave Places in Fredericksburg–here are some musings on two slave narratives produced by Fredericksburgers.

Fredericksburg Remembered

From John Hennessy:

Both begin with the identical words:  “I was born a slave.” Both narrate a life within slavery and a lifelong quest for freedom.  Both were urban slaves, working in homes or small businesses or industry.  But in most other respects, the narratives of John Washington and Noah Davis could not be more different. The differences command of those who read them special care. They demonstrate vividly why context matters.

Only a couple hundred slave narratives have ever been published, and so Fredericksburg is fortunate to have two produced by men who spent a most of their lives as slaves in the town.  You are likely most familiar with John Washington’s narrative, published in 2007 by David Blight as A Slave no More (read more about Washington’s memoir here). Washington wrote in 1873, seven years after the war, and in his retrospective recounts his life in slavery…

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“The Little Regiment”: Stephen Crane’s Little-Known Story of the Battle of Fredericksburg, pt. 1


from:  Harrison

The secondary anniversaries of a battle —the anniversaries of its portrayals and interpretations as well as of its delayed impacts upon people—follow its principal anniversary. This summer finds us in the aftermath of not only the 154th anniversary of the December 1862 battle of Fredericksburg but also the 120th anniversary of the publication in 1896 of “The Little Regiment,” Stephen Crane’s short story inspired by that battle. The story garnered wide circulation initially but later fell under the broadening shadow of The Red Badge of Courage, his classic tale published in 1894-1895.

For the park’s History at Sunset series, my colleague Becky Oakes recently presented a program on Red Badge and the April-May 1863 battle of Chancellorsville, partial inspiration for Crane’s novel. My consideration of “The Little Regiment,” below, draws encouragement from Becky’s program and from an earlier History at Sunset presentation on Red Badge by John Hennessy and Andrea Dekoter (video here). We hope you can attend History at Sunset events, marvelous opportunities to engage with a variety of Civil War subjects in the actual settings of the events discussed. I write this post on a Fourth of July weekend at my home, itself located mile or two from the sites of the Army of the Potomac’s camps prior to the December 1862 battle.

McClure's woodcut 2

A woodcut from Stephen Crane’s fictionalized Fredericksburg, captioned with his text describing skirmishing prior to the main Union attack. “The Little Regiment,” McClure’s Magazine, June 1896: 13.

“The Little Regiment” first appeared in the United States in the June 1896 issue of McClure’s Magazine.  (Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction ran “The Little Regiment” at the same time in Great Britain.) Stephen Crane had visited Fredericksburg sometime between January 12 and January 26, 1896, after McClure’s co-editor John S. Phillips requested a series on Civil War battlefields. Crane’s ensuing work produced several short stories about the war. McClure’s illustrated “The Little Regiment” with three woodcuts captioned with or positioned near the corresponding passages in Crane’s text. Another overlooked aspect thus emerges when our perspective widens beyond The Red Badge of Courage: many early readers encountered Crane’s visions of the Civil War—of Fredericksburg, at least—in art as well as in words.

1896 railroad stations final

Stephen Crane walked or rode past these Fredericksburg buildings during his January 1896 visit, four years after veterans of the Second Corps’ 14th Connecticut Infantry sponsored this informal photo. Center background, behind railroad car: wartime freight station of broad-gauge railroad (RF&P) connecting Fredericksburg with Washington and points north, upon which Crane arrived and departed. Right foreground: postwar passenger/freight station of narrow-gauge railroad to Orange (PF&P in the 1890’s, “Unfinished Railroad” in 1862). Left foreground: possible railing of Prussia Street bridge at or near site of millrace/canal-ditch bridge crossed by attacking Second Corps regiments—possible counterpart to one of the “little bridges” referenced in Crane’s story. Henry S. Stevens, Souvenir of Excursion to Battlefields (Washington, D.C., 1893), p. 82. Modern site of railroad-stations area from similar viewpoint and angle at Kenmore Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard: Google StreetView. 

The Red Badge of Courage had appeared prior to Crane’s 1896 visit–in print as a newspaper serial in December 1894 and as a book in October 1895. Obviously hoping to capitalize on the success of Red Badge, McClure’s Magazine added “By the Author of The Red Badge of Courage” to Crane’s byline for “The Little Regiment” in June 1896. In November 1896, other publishers in America and Britain reprinted “The Little Regiment” in book-length compilations of six of his Civil War short stories, three penned for McClure’s and three for the Irving Bacheller syndicate.

portraits WikiCommons final

Left: Stephen Crane in 1896, the year he visited Fredericksburg and published “The Little Regiment.” Right: Adolphe Menjou, who hosted a telecast of Crane’s story in 1954. Both: Wikimedia Commons.

Artists in media besides woodcuts would illustrate Crane’s fictionalized Fredericksburg. Although “The Little Regiment” has yet to rate a movie-length treatment, as Red Badge of Courage did in 1951, it did inspire a television program.

The series Favorite Story broadcast The Little Regiment as a half-hour teleplay in October 1954. Host Adolphe Menjou provided the introduction. A Star is Born, A Farewell to Arms, and Paths of Glory were among his past or future acting credits. Ellis Marcus, a prolific, future contributor to episodes of everything from Mission Impossible to Knots Landing and Lassie (my first television-addiction) adapted the teleplay from Stephen Crane’s story. Leon Benson—The High Chapparrall and Bonanza—directed. The 1954 show featured actors Russ Conway—destined for fame via The Virginian, The Fugitive, and Bonanza among other shows; John Doucette—The Big Valley, Get Smart, Mannix, The Big Valley; and Duane Gray—Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Rawhide. The 1954 show was rebroadcast at least once, in September 1958.

Before offering further thoughts and spoilers, I encourage you to read the McClure’s June 1896 version of Crane’s “The Little Regiment,” beginning on page 2 of this public-domain pdf: The Little Regiment

(The entire, public-domain volume of McClure’s is here, including Crane’s June 1896 story. A public-domain version of “The Little Regiment” as collected in the November 1896 book is here.)

“The Little Regiment” in 1896 offered settings and general events nearly identical to those of the December 1862 battle, although Crane did not use the terms “Fredericksburg” or “Rappahannock,” or name the opposing commanders and armies. In 1967, Charles B. Ives noted abundant parallels to the historical battle, in one of the few scholarly articles devoted solely to “The Little Regiment”: Crane’s protagonists, brothers Dan and Billie Dempster, march and bivouac with their regiment on “the cold earth of December,” pause on the north side of a river listening to the bombardment of and preliminary fighting in a “little city”—called “town” and “village” elsewhere in the story—then cross to it over a pontoon bridge.

McClure's woodcut 1

A Union cannon among the “long row of guns” that bombard the town at the start of Crane’s story. (The shadowing and orientation suggest that the McClure’s artist adapted Alexander Gardner’s stereograph of a gun overlooking Belle Isle and Richmond.) “The Little Regiment”: 12.

In the town, Crane writes, “infantry and artillery were in a most precarious jumble in the streets.” Dan chats with a comrade “smoking his pipe of confiscated tobacco, seated comfortably upon a horse-hair trunk which he had dragged from the house.” Their conversation at one point references five of the six corps-numbers of the actual Army of the Potomac units engaged on the south side of the Rappahannock in December 1862. They go on to distinguish those from their own, unnamed corps—clearly the Second—which has also crossed to engage, as its real-life counterpart did in 1862. Nearby, another Federal “had chanced upon a hoop-skirt and arrayed in it was performing a dance amid the applause of his companions.” The men eventually move to “a dry old kitchen” despite its artillery damaged wall “strongly anxious to topple.”

The brothers then depart and return separately, as skirmishing occurs on the fringes of the town that night and the next day, prior to the main Union attack. (The story is unclear on whether Billie’s temporary absence represents his service on an actual picket-detail, or one imagined by his secretly worried brother.)

Crane’s account of Dan’s own, subsequent experience while detailed to the picket line includes illustration by the vivid woodcut I posted above. Even the limited but occasionally dramatic nature of skirmishing on December 12, 1862, the day before the main attack, thus finds a fictionalized counterpart in Crane’s narrative, in addition to the other historical parallels noted by Charles Ives. In 1886, William Kepler published a recollection of fighting on December 12 by men detailed from the Second Corps’ Fourth Ohio Infantry. Kepler described his and his comrades’ experiences along Hanover Street and around and west of the RF&P Railroad freight and passenger stations at Princess Anne and Prussia Streets:

[T]he details moved out on two different streets and were immediately fired upon on Hanover street, and Watson McCullough, of Company C, was wounded, causing a halt, and a sharp engagement until the squad on Princess Ann street…flanked the rebel pickets…advancing still further they noticed the depot and machine shops…under a shower of bullets coming from a new source, a railroad cut…the squad now crossed the bridge over a canal…moved to the right oblique to the house that was the furthest out of any…looking out the west window, they saw near at hand the pickets taking good aim, and firing on our men near Hanover street; the window was opened and a volley sent into the flank of a number of “graybacks” lying in a ditch, when there was a lively climbing and rushing to the rear by fifty or more Confederates, who did not stop until they were under the protection of their comrades, behind the stone wall….

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