From John Hennessy:
The news of death at Fredericksburg sped across the land, challenging the will of the sorrowful who received it. The long lists of dead and wounded usually appeared on page two or three of four-page local news sheets. Editors took care to arrange the names so they might be easily found—by regiment and company, the killed first, the wounded second, usually listed alphabetically, without comment. Nearby were often short pieces on
notable members of the community who had fallen, or stories that told of those—former classmates and present sons, friends, fathers, brothers, and husbands—who died dramatic
ally or pathetically. The Portland Advertiser of January 3, 1863, published the last letter of George Parsons to his father in Gardiner, Maine, written as George lay dying in a field just south of Fredericksburg. “Much love tall,” Parsons wrote. “Farewell.” The editor noted for his readers that the handwriting indicated George’s fingers trembled as he wrote. The paper he etched upon was “slightly tinged with blood.”
In 83-words of type on page 2 of the December 22 issue, New Jersey’s Camden Democrat
announced the death of Sgt. Major John Fowler of the 15th regiment, “struck in the leg by a rifle ball, and bled to death in less than five minutes.” The
editor remembered Sgt. Fowler as a “large, powerful man, brave and generous to a fault.” His death “leaves a widow and nine children to mourn his loss.”
A few columns to the left of the lists, or perhaps on page 1 (but never on page 4), appeared the commentary and letters describing and interpreting the battle itself. By the end of 1862, the news of battle and the long, sorrowful lists that accompanied it had become not routine, but at least rhythmic, consumed by the public with an increasing equilibrium—with a growing recognition that the news from any individual battlefield would not mark the end of national nightmare (though many still hoped it might).
 Letter of George Parsons, December 12 or 13, 1862, in the Portland Advertiser, January 3, 1863. He was in the 16th Maine.
 Camden Democrat, December 20, 1862.
From John Hennessy
I came across these two accounts recently, calculated to make relic hunters weep and remind us all just how difficult things were in this part of the world by 1864.
From the Richmond Daily Dispatch, July 25, 1864
“We noticed at the Central Depot on Saturday six cars loaded with arms, knapsacks, cartridge boxes, sabres, &c., together with a large lot of pig lead, the spoils of the battle-fields of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania. The balls are collected on the battle-field by the people living in the vicinity, brought to an established depot, and melted into pigs. In this way they are forwarded to the laboratory here. As lead is at this time in demand, it will be very acceptable. In this lot there is not less than 16,000 pounds; and about 8000 or 9000 stand of arms, which, with slight repairs, will be very serviceable. Lieut. Louis Zimmer, Assistant to Chief of Ordnance, has charge of that department. In return for lead and arms, he issues to the people corn meal and flour. There are many poor families in this neighborhood who have been despoiled by the Yankees of all they had, and this is of great assistance to them, as provisions are more important to them than money.”
From Nannie Brown Doherty, “Recollections of the Civil War—King George County,” Northern Neck of Virginia Historical Magazine, December 1978, pp.3178-3190
“Many of our under-clothes were made from the duck tents which were gotten from the Yankee camps when they moved. They always left a great deal behind, and the people found supplies of every kind….The best ladies of the land formed parties to invade the deserted camps and supply their very impoverished homes. Sometimes old horses were left behind and became very useful as farm horses.”
Few things speak to the intensity and horror of the Overland Campaign than this candid admission from a man of the 2d US Sharpshooters, written on May 9, during in a lull in the campaign.
Monday, May 9 Perfectly still. Don’t know what it can mean. I’m afraid the army has moved, and I can’t tell which way. Still in the rear, and wish I was at home. I would give a hundred dollars for a discharge. Almost made up my mind to wound myself; & then concluded that I would not.*
The temptation to wound oneself was not an uncommon sentiment during the Overland Campaign, and more than a few men did.
William McParlin, surgeon general of the army, estimated that more than 100 men wounded themselves on May 8, 1864 alone.
Assistant Surgeon John Billings recorded that a “very large number of wounds of the palm of the hand and fingers have been observed” and that often the skin around the wound was “blackened with powder,” suggesting a wound self-inflicted.
Billings also wrote of the surgeons’ revenge for what they perceived to be self-inflicted wounds:
“Amputation of the injured fingers, in such cases, has been usually performed without the use of anesthetic.”**
*Merton Coulter, ed., “From Spotsylvania Courthouse to Andersonville: A Diary of Darius Starr,” Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. XLI, June 1957, No. 2, p. 179.
**Billings quote from Medical and Surgical History, Part 1, Vol. 1, p. 202.
From John Hennessy: We repost this (originally from 2010) in advance of our walk through the National Cemetery tonight, for History at Sunset. It is a vivid example of the conundrums we often face.
On September 30, 1865, a private of the 11th Connecticut Infantry died in Fredericksburg. The man and his regiment were in town as part of the post-war occupation force. He died not from violence, but apparently from illness. His body was, it seems, buried in the yard of the Mary Washington House on Charles Street. Some sort of marker must have been put over the grave, for when Union soldiers arrived a year or more later to collect the remains of Union dead from the town and battlefield, they recorded finding the body of Charles Fox, Company H, 11th Connecticut.
The body, like more than 15,000 others, was removed to the new National Cemetery on Willis Hill. At first a temporary wooden maker was put over the grave. We do not know how that marker was inscribed, but at least by the time a permanent marker was put in place (if not when the wooden marker was put in), someone realized that the man buried there was not named Fox. Perhaps it was an error in transcription somewhere along the line; perhaps it was an error by a careless engraver. In any event, the permanent stone over the grave records not the name Charles Fox, but rather this: Continue reading
Note: for magnifications, click photos or maps, then scroll down to right corner of dark-screen version, then click on “View full size” link.
Part 1 of this post introduced the story of my long, trial-and-error research on one of the Civil War’s most poignant series of photographs—images of the creation of a temporary cemetery in Union-occupied Fredericksburg in May 1864.
A quick review: workmen interred at this burial ground some of the 26,000 Overland Campaign casualties who had been dispatched that month to Fredericksburg for medical treatment. (Have a listen here to John Hennessy’s presentation on the City of Hospitals that resulted.) William A. Frassanito’s Grant and Lee: the Virginia Campaigns 1864-1865 (1983) would publish seven different images made by at least two different photographers at the temporary cemetery on May 19 or May 20, 1864. Here are four of the seven, from the collections of the Library of Congress and the National Archives:
Frassanito’s inspirational book offered a challenge: find the temporary cemetery’s still-unlocated site on the modern landscape in or around Fredericksburg. My effort to do that came to rely upon one of the seven photographs, now in the collection of the National Archives, and offering an especially clear view of a large home in the background (detail below). If I could locate the house, I could locate the site of the cemetery, as he had suggested. Note the pair of slender chimneys with steep shoulders tapering just above the second-story windows, and the one-story dependency, or wing, connected to the main building:
My inquiry eventually focused on a home (inset above) situated between Princess Anne and Charles Streets, in the northern part of old town, and property of Douglas K. Gordon during the Civil War. The Gordon House sports slender, twin chimneys at each end and tapering just above the second-story windows. And judging from antebellum insurance policies, a wing or dependency—vanished by the time of my initial research in the late 1980’s—had once adjoined the south end.
If the Gordon House and a southerly extending dependency indeed appeared in the background of the photographs of 1864, then the site of the temporary cemetery, I reasoned, had to be somewhere near or along the edge of Charles Street, parallel to it, not far to the southwest of the house. Such an alignment would place the tripods of the photographers of 1864 at places near—or directly in front of—one of the town’s earliest tourist attractions: the last home of Mary Washington, mother of George.
Here’s a map of the houses and other landmarks mentioned in this blog post and its predecessor (a second map appears further below, narrowing the focus as the geographic discussion narrows):
Our second installment about the images taken from the steeple of St. George’s.
From John Hennessy (read the first post on the St. George’s steeple shots here; download the entire panorama, stitched together, here [patience, it’s a large file]. Pardon the imperfections in the Photoshop work–there are gaps in the images that I stitched together to create this panorama):
Last week we introduced the series of panoramic photographs taken from the steeple of St. George’s in 1888–as well as my attempt to stitch the images together into a single image. After looking into the heart of the town last time, let’s turn our attention westward, between George and William Street, for what I think is the most interesting part of the series, for here are two of Fredericksburg’s most important lost buildings.
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