A Previously Unidentified, Panoramic Photograph of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, c. February or March 1863


from: Harrison

Note: click the photos and map below for magnifications.

Readers may recall a 2019 article on this blog that published, probably for the first time in an interpretive venue, Henri Lovie’s extraordinary, panoramic sketch of the Fredericksburg battlefield on December 13, 1862. I had no idea that soon I would also come across a photographic, partial counterpart made later during the Civil War:

Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Used here and below with permission.

The Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) owns and in digital format posted online this albumen silver print, [View of a City Across Fields]. I explore it below through cropping and annotation and perhaps for the first time in an interpretive venue, along with identifying the unnamed community as the town of Fredericksburg during the Civil War. UMBC’s kind assistance, encouragement, and permission for one-time publication make this article possible. Their link to the unique and revealing photograph, measuring 17” by 7 ¼”, and the means to view a high-resolution, png version are here.

UMBC’s sharing it is especially timely because 2022 brings the 160th anniversary of the first of the two Civil War battles fought across the landscape in the photograph. This year also brings the 160th anniversary of the largest surge in the numerous, wartime freedom-journeys of formerly enslaved people northward through Fredericksburg, including via the roads that the image depicts entering the town from the south and west. (See quotation halfway down the article here for a particularly evocative overview, published in Fredericksburg in the Rev. James Hunnicutt’s Unionist Christian Banner newspaper, of their passing through the town during the late spring and summer of 1862, when Union troops had first occupied it.)

Detail from Unknown photographer, [View of a City Across Fields], 1861-1865. Albumen silver print, 7.25 x 17 in. Civil War Collection, The Photography Collections, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), (P76-05-065). Annotation by Noel G. Harrison.

The UMBC photograph, made as I discuss below perhaps in February or March 1863, when the town was back under Confederate occupation, recorded the right half of the same, sweeping vista of Fredericksburg that Henri Lovie had drawn in December 1862. The Northern photographer chose an especially high viewpoint along Stafford Heights and, as Lovie had for the right half of the panoramic sketch, a northwest-looking perspective that avoided much of the visual obstruction of the town and its riverfront:

Detail from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Battle of Fredericksburg December 13, 1862 2:00-3:00 P.M., Map 4 of 5, Historical research by Frank A. O’Reilly, Illustrated by John Dove, Revised and produced by Steve Stanley (2001). Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Directional arrow at upper right. Annotation by Noel G. Harrison: 1-Lower “Franklin’s” Pontoon Crossing, 2-Middle Pontoon Crossing (hidden in UMBC photograph by slope of riverbank), 3-gasworks, 4-“Sligo,” 5-brickyard structures north of Unfinished Railroad, 6-RF&P Railroad bridge-abutments on Hazel Run, 7-Rowe house, 8-Sisson’s Store, 9-Jennings house, 10-Hall house, 11-“Brompton.”

The resulting photograph offers a fascinating, oblique view of the Fredericksburg battlefield along and in front of Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road/Stone Wall. My detail above, for instance, samples a small section of the image to highlight not only oft-drawn (including in Lovie’s panorama) or oft-photographed features such as the Hall; Innis; and Willis Hill homes but also the clearest of the wartime depictions that I’ve yet seen of rarely pictured structures such as the Fredericksburg Alms House, beside which Union artillery had fired on December 13, 1862; the Jennings House and a building probably at the brickyard north of the Unfinished Railroad–landmarks along the paths of Union infantry attacks that day; and, at the Hall and Stephens homesteads, dependency structures for which soldier descriptions have yet to be found but, as the photograph shows, were visually prominent features on the Confederates’ infantry line in the Sunken Road.

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William T. Sherman’s Army Group at Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and Fredericksburg, May 1865


from:  Harrison

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in 1865 within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Major Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, photographed at center in Washington in May 1865, within a week or two of touring battlefields in the Fredericksburg area.  He rode with the Twentieth Army Corps and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum, seated here at Sherman’s left, through Spotsylvania to Chancellorsville, and with the Fifteenth Corps and Maj. Gen. John Logan, seated at Sherman’s right, north from Fredericksburg.  Courtesy Library of Congress.

With the Civil War’s post-sesquicentennial era nearly at hand, and the centennial of the National Park Service coming next year, I’ve been considering public history practiced in the past at the sites of, or concerning, the Fredericksburg-area battles. Of course, we define “public history” variously. I adopt a broad understanding of it for the purposes of this article about an early episode of battlefield touring by U.S. military personnel: publicly funded, historical engagement with places that would eventually compose Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and undertaken outside of commercial, private, or civilian-academic endeavors. That puts into play a wide range of government motivations and interpreters, eyewitnesses or otherwise.

Governmental Public History for the Fredericksburg-Area Battles

Smithfield postcard (2)

In May 1913, nearly half a century after Sherman and soldiers of his army group had toured the Fredericksburg-area battlefields, two dozen officer-students of the U.S. Army War College did the same for a staff ride and lunched at Civil War-era Smithfield on the Fredericksburg battlefield. Among the War College instructors and other personnel accompanying them was then-Brig. Gen. Hunter S. Liggett, destined to command the First United States Army during the final phase of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in 1918; among their guests was Maj. Gen. Francis L. D. Baldwin (Ret.), a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor recipient who had passed through the Spotsylvania and Chancellorsville battlefields (also toured by the class in 1913) with Sherman’s army group in May 1865. In October 1928, President Calvin Coolidge delivered a speech, on the opposite side of the Smithfield house from that shown here, dedicating Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Copy of postcard of Smithfield (renamed “Mannsfield Hall” after the Civil War) courtesy of the park.

In between, for instance, the official reports of Civil War officers and current National Park Service tours and exhibits stretches a long chain of governmental historical endeavor, whether undertaken on or away from the sites of the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, embodied in documents or events ranging from courts martial evidence; medical and surgical case-histories; damage/requisition claims submitted by civilians before and after 1865; soldiers’ pension- and service affidavits; United States Army staff rides beginning locally around 1909; federal legislative action beginning in 1898 towards creation of the park in 1927; and NPS living history programs of the 1970s’ and 1980’s.

Besides Confederate and Federal, national authorities, state governments participated as well. During the war New York soldiers contributed artifacts found in the combat zones to a “collection of relics” maintained by their state’s Bureau of Military Statistics. In 1898, Virginia’s General Assembly passed a bill incorporating the Fredericksburg and Adjacent National Battlefields Memorial Park Association of Virginia. A decade later, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $6,000 for a monument to the 23rd New Jersey Infantry, dedicated on the grounds of Salem Church in 1907 to mark the regiment’s farthest advance there on May 3, 1863.

At almost any given moment, then, from the onset of the Civil War through the time that I write this, historical engagement with some aspect of one of the four battles (or with the collective legacy of all four) occurred, and occurs, as a function of government, including of the armed forces. Moreover, the recording or interpretation of civilians’ perspectives that I note above and below shows that much of this activity involved aspects of what we now call “social history.”

This month brings the sesquicentennial of some of the first instances of historical touring of the Fredericksburg-area battlefields during peacetime in Virginia (even if not yet during peacetime nationwide), by military personnel other than members of the units who had fought at those places.

The intermittent touring of mid-May 1865, ranging from the informal or self-guided to the planned and guided, was among the secondary activities of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and some units of a four-corps army group that he commanded and accompanied through the Fredericksburg area. (The army group numbered around 60,000 men at the time of the Grand Review in Washington, one week later.) Although a majority of the regiments in one of the four corps had fought at Chancellorsville with the Army of the Potomac, they were strangers to the sites of the local battles that had occurred after Chancellorsville. Most of the men in the other three corps were seeing the Virginia combat zones for the first time. My article below charts the routes of the four corps, then samples impressions of the four battlefields penned by soldiers of three of the corps: the Fifteenth, the Seventeenth, and the Twentieth.

March Routes of Sherman’s Army Group

(Full map, above, and citation are here.)

Simple geography, not sightseeing, dictated the course of his army group in mid-May 1865. It followed roads allowing for roughly parallel, simultaneous movement from Richmond to Alexandria, Washington, and the Grand Review. With the same goal, most of the Army of the Potomac had already passed through the Fredericksburg area, on May 8-11, 1865. (For backstory on Sherman’s movements from North Carolina after his accepting there on April 26 the surrender of the Army of Tennessee and Confederate forces still active in that state, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, I recommend starting with Craig Swain’s post here.)

Sherman’s troops came next.  On May 14 advance elements of his westernmost column, Maj. Gen. Jefferson C. Davis’s Fourteenth Army Corps, Army of Georgia, moved north to Raccoon Ford, where Davis established a headquarters on the south side of the Rapidan River.  His three divisions followed, the diary of the First Division noting passage on May 15 through the “vicinity of Wilderness battle-field.” On several sketch maps engineers plotted the corps’ route, more specifically, as extending to Raccoon Ford through New Verdiersville on the Orange Plank Road and west of the battlefields of Wilderness and Mine Run.  Most or all of the Fourteenth Corps crossed the ford on May 15-16.

To the east of the Fourteenth Corps came the northbound Twentieth Corps, also of the Army of Georgia and composing with the Fourteenth the “Left Wing” of Sherman’s Army Group under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum. Slocum, his Army of Georgia/Left Wing headquarters staff, and a division of the Twentieth had reached the southern fringe of the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield by May 14, 1865.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel (Sanford's Tavern) in center background and behind the brick store in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the Spotsylvania Battlefield and towards Todd’s Tavern.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, 1865, much of the Twentieth Army Corps moved from left to right through this scene at the county seat of Spotsylvania Court House, passing in front of the brick hotel (Sanford’s Tavern) in center background and behind the tall brick building in right middle-ground, then following the Brock Road through the rest of the Spotsylvania Battlefield.  Maj. Gens. William T. Sherman and Henry W. Slocum may have spent the preceding night in the brick hotel or on its grounds.  George L. Frankenstein would paint this watercolor in mid-June 1865 or sometime thereafter.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

On May 15, the Twentieth Corps marched north from the Po River and through Spotsylvania Court House and the Spotsylvania battlefield to the Chancellorsville battlefield. Some of the regiments continued on May 15 to cross the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge built for the corps at United States Ford, then encamped. Evidently, however, the majority of Twentieth Corps units remained south of the Rappahannock at or near Chancellorsville, crossing the river on May 16. Topographical Engineer Oliver L. F. Browne sketched (north at top in both annotated details below) the route of the Second Division of the Twentieth Corps:

(Full map above, Sheet 19, and full set of companion sheets are here.)

To the east of the Twentieth Corps moved Bvt. Maj. Gen. Mortimer D. Leggett with his northbound Seventeenth Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee, along the corridor of the Telegraph Road toward Massaponax Creek and Fredericksburg. Leggett established headquarters at Massaponax Church on May 15, with some elements of the Seventeenth Corps bivouacked on the Telegraph Road as far south as its crossing of the Po River. On May 16, Leggett’s troops headed into Fredericksburg. Engineer James B. Alexander plotted (north at top in the annotated detail below) the Fourth Division’s march past Howison’s Mill and pond, then along the Orange Turnpike/Hanover Street and George Street:

(Full map above, Sheet 33, and full set of companion sheets are here.)

…while traversing (red in my annotation below) the battlefield of December 1862 and May 1863:

Continuing through the town on May 16, 1865, the Seventeenth Corps passed over the Rappahannock River on a pontoon bridge erected at the foot of Hawke Street, where the Federals had erected spans in 1862 and 1863. By May 10, 1865, engineers had built a pontoon bridge at or very near this oft-used crossing site, “opposite the Lacy House,” for the Army of the Potomac’s northward passage. Presumably, they left the structure in place for the Army of the Tennessee. (Army of the Potomac engineers are known to have left one of their May 1865 pontoon bridges at another local, traditional spot, Franklin’s Crossing downstream from Fredericksburg, but I found no evidence of Sherman’s troops actually using the Franklin’s span.)

The easternmost corps, the Fifteenth of the Army of the Tennessee, paired with the Seventeenth as the “Right Wing” of Sherman’s army group, was the last to move over one of the Fredericksburg area battlefields.  Most of the Fifteenth approached Fredericksburg via the Richmond Stage Road on the evening of May 16, 1865, when two of its divisions bivouacked at or near the Stage Road crossing of Massaponax Creek.  All or nearly all of the Fifteenth Corps divisions passed through Fredericksburg and over the Rappahannock at or above the Hawke Street pontoon crossing the next day, May 17. (A sketch map plots a “May 17” headquarters- or camp symbol just south of the town and in the vicinity of the Stage Road crossing of Hazel Run, although it is unclear whether this references the night of May 16-17, the night of May 17-18, or sometime in-between.)

Sherman Tours and Reflects

When penning his memoirs years later, Sherman would recall his personal desire, after leaving Richmond in May 1865, to “see as much of the battle-fields of the Army of the Potomac as I could.” His planned historical tour ultimately included Fredericksburg and was taking shape by May 12, 1865, when he wrote Maj. Gen. John A. Logan from Hanover Court House to report himself “anxious to see the ground about Spotsylvania Court-House and Chancellorsville…may accompany the Left Wing that far.”

Whether Sherman arrived at Spotsylvania on May 14 or May 15 is unclear, but a staff officer confirmed that Sherman accompanied the troops “through S[potsylvania] Court House” on one of those days. Late on May 14, another staffer had datelined an order at “Headquarters Twentieth Corps, Mr. McKenney’s House, Va.”—likely the home of Addison and Sally Ann McKenney one mile from Spotsylvania Court House—while a third officer had datelined an order that day at Army of Georgia Headquarters at “Spotsylvania C.H. Virga,” referencing Joseph Sanford, owner of the hotel “of this place.” Conceivably then, Sherman and Slocum had spent the night of May 14-15 in the McKenney House or the hotel at the county seat, or on the grounds of one or the other.

Next, Sherman “visited with Genl. Slocum the battle ground of Chancellorsville.” Sherman left Slocum at Chancellorsville at noon on May 15 and rode to Fredericksburg. Most of Sherman’s battlefield touring around Fredericksburg probably occurred on May 16, when an officer-diarist of the Seventeenth Corps encountered him “out riding and to my party of 4…raised his hat–saluted & smiled most pleasantly.” Sherman spent two nights in Fredericksburg (the specific location of his lodgings unknown to me, alas), departing there with the Fifteenth Corps on May 17.

Besides the logistics and progress of his four marching corps, Sherman was likely preoccupied during much of the Fredericksburg-area sightseeing by a bitter feud with Edwin M. Stanton, United States Secretary of War, and Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, former General in Chief of the Armies and newly appointed commander of the Military Division of the James. Perhaps for this reason, Sherman’s available writings do not record his direct impressions of the battlefields he traversed. Doubtless, though, someone who encountered or accompanied him recorded a version of those impressions–a document not yet available to us.  The irony of Sherman touring Chancellorsville in the company of Slocum, a key eyewitness, and where a number of Sherman’s other, future subordinates had been engulfed in controversy and some of the war’s heaviest fighting, surely proved irresistible to at least one chronicler.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Detail of portrait of Sherman painted the year after his battlefields tour in the Fredericksburg area, an experience bracketed by his writings recognizing a real, current peace and fearing a reconfigured, future sectional conflict.  Image of George Peter Alexander Healy portrait from: Wikimedia Commons/National Gallery of Art.

Since lengthy historical treatments of the Sherman-Stanton-Halleck conflict and of Sherman’s late-war outlook and policies are readily available, a brief summary of the controversy suffices here. Sherman learned that the two men had implied that he was guilty of insubordination, bribery that allowed Jefferson Davis to remain at large, and treason in the generous terms Sherman had initially offered Gen. Joseph E. Johnston for the surrender of his command. Biographer Michael Fellman describes Sherman’s consequent, “towering rage,” which prompted a veiled threat of Halleck’s assassination, or other violence, if he appeared during the Western troops’ northward march through Richmond, and Sherman’s widely noticed and reported snub of Stanton’s proffered handshake at the Grand Review in Washington on May 24.

The upcoming historical tour that Sherman had outlined in the May 12, 1865 letter to Logan obviously reflected respect for the dedication and sacrifice of the Army of the Potomac in 1862-1864, an appropriate parallel to the courage and accomplishments of those Army of the Potomac soldiers who were transferred west and eventually served under him. Perhaps Slocum in May 1865 pointed-out to Sherman the sites at Chancellorsville of the death Maj. General Amiel Whipple and the mortal wounding Maj. Gen. Hiram Berry. Yet the sights and associations of the Fredericksburg area battlefields seemed to have left unchanged Sherman’s view, expressed in the second part of the May 12 letter, that the Army of the Potomac or Eastern troops generally, unlike his own army group, were susceptible to becoming the tools of Halleck and Stanton.

They would, Sherman wrote in the letter to Logan, “have the Army of the Potomac violate my truce” by attacking Johnston’s men, “discomfited, disheartened, and surrounded.” Sherman went on to indulge a fearful vision of his “West” letting the “East” and its troops thus fight it out with the former Confederates until the West’s “men of a different metal” step “in the ring.” He added, “Though my voice is still peace, I am not for such a peace as makes me subject to insult by former friends, now perfidious enemies.”

Sherman may well have forecast his own mood for much of the battlefields tour by forwarding these grim ponderings to Logan with the assumption, in Sherman’s words, that Logan would “chew the cud of ‘bitter fancy’ as you ride along.” Yet by Sherman’s second day in Fredericksburg, May 16, 1865, a staffer was noting, “I have never seen him in such good spirits.” Sherman reviewed at least one of the Seventeenth Corps regiments passing through town that day.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, another of George L. Frankenstein’s watercolors painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

The ruins of Chancellorsville, a George L. Frankenstein watercolor painted sometime during or after June 1865.  Courtesy Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Surely, however, the Fredericksburg area’s scars were effective in reinforcing or even elaborating on Sherman’s view of an economically devastated South. His route had taken him from dramatically holed buildings at Spotsylvania Court House past the ghostly shell of Chancellorsville, the chimney stack of Fairview, and another ruin at Tabernacle Church, and then into the wreckage of Fredericksburg. Alternating with these ravaged landmarks were splintered forests, fields torn by earthworks, and mangled or missing stretches of the wooden deck of the Orange Plank Road. On the one hand, Sherman believed in May 1865 that the South’s devastation would preclude it contributing to the revenues necessary for a radical, punitive military occupation, thus risking a confrontation between North and West if the latter was required to help pay the shortfall. On the other, Southern financial travails could foster lasting racial harmony and collaborative economic recovery, without such an occupation, through whites’ simple need to “sell or lease on easy terms part of their land to their former slaves.”

On the night of the day that he left Fredericksburg, May 17, 1865, Sherman wrote Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, by now in charge of the Army’s Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, to share his views on African American enfranchisement and Southern impoverishment. Although Sherman acknowledged to Howard the former’s ignorance of “the laws of Congress which originated your bureau, and repeat[ing] my entire confidence in your pure and exalted character,” Sherman also expanded on his vision of reconfigured sectional warfare.  “[I]f we attempt to force the negro on the South as a voter, ‘a loyal citizen,’ we begin a new revolution in which the [Old] Northwest may take a different side from what we did when we were fighting to vindicate our Constitution.”

Sherman’s implied interpretation of the Fredericksburg area battles was that the sites of those should now be places of history, of vindicating the Constitution and yielding a new but conservative birth of freedom, not figurative theatre stages awaiting further current events–a tragic Act Two. However, the passage in March 1867 of the first Military Reconstruction Act and its extension of the franchise to African American, male citizens of ten Southern states, and the ratification in March 1870 of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution and its extension of that right to them in Sherman’s native state of Ohio (for the first time), along with all other states, would not bring the Old Northwest to arms against the North, despite episodes of violent resistance in the South.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through the Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

In June 1866, a year after Sherman and the Twentieth Corps had passed through Spotsylvania, Benson Lossing made a sketch of a fortification-torn landscape there—a drawing soon converted to this woodcut.  Lossing identified the subject as “The Place Where Sedgwick Was Killed,” but the presence of a building in the background, seemingly in the area of the battle-destroyed Spindle House, suggests that some other area of the battlefield was his actual subject.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 306.

Sherman’s Troops Tour and Reflect

In May 1865, lower-ranking soldiers of Sherman’s northbound corps were also touring battlefields and reflecting. Bvt. Maj. Gen. Alpheus Williams, a veteran of Chancellorsville but a stranger to Spotsylvania Court House, reported that in his division on May 14, “Many officers and men embraced the opportunity to visit the famous battle-fields.” Word spread that the Mule Shoe was a key destination for the military tourists. The Colonel of the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry went for a look, then shared with his men descriptions of the earthworks, unburied remains of Federal soldiers, and the stump of an oak tree felled by bullets. A group from the Third Wisconsin Infantry likewise visited the Mule Shoe, where they found a scene that “would have been appalling to a person not accustomed to see the hardships that one is obliged to see in the army—clothing, knapsacks, cartridge boxes lay scattered around showing how desperate had been the struggle.”

On May 15, 1865, an officer in another Army of the Potomac/Army of Georgia unit that had transferred west in 1863 undertook a similar self-guided tour of Spotsylvania, stopping to chat near the Mule Shoe at “a small house…in which a woman remained all through the battle. She was in the cellar. The house was riddled with bullet holes.” He then rode to “an open field to the right of the Wilderness Road,” perhaps the Spindle Farm clearing. “Strewn all over this…the skeletons of the men who had fallen in the charge, a year ago the 10th of this month;” he noted a “Second Corps badge on their caps.”

Yet neither special detours nor access to officer’s mounts were essential. Much could be observed from the main march-routes, especially Brock Road. A Massachusetts soldier later recalled seeing “houses riddled with balls and shells…. In the forests around the town, not one tree in twenty standing.” A man in the 70th Indiana Infantry, a regiment new to central Virginia, wrote of the Spotsylvania battlefield:

Everywhere were visible the terrible signs of the struggle—trees mowed down by artillery, lowly mounds with nothing to testify whose was the last resting place, and sadder still, unburied remains. Bones lay by the road side: and in a yard, where a woman stood and discoursed about the struggle to inquirers….

Before departing, Sherman or a staffer arranged with Joseph Sanford to inter on the Spotsylvania battlefield the Union remains left unburied there. 

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

A Benson Lossing sketch of June 1866 was the basis for this woodcut of Union earthworks intersecting the Orange Plank Road/Orange Turnpike west of Fairview on the Chancellorsville battlefield.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 3: 32.

When the Twentieth Corps moved northward and into the Chancellorsville combat areas on May 15, 1865, a number of regiments received permission to halt, eat , and “look over the old battlefield.” A man who had fought on this ground two years earlier with the Eleventh Corps wrote that his Twentieth Corps comrades who were not there in 1863 could in 1865 learn “as they visited the field…how it all was”: on May 2, 1863, the Eleventh had “swung out, with flank and rear unprotected, where it was suddenly surprised.” The Seventieth Indiana spent the night of May 15-16, 1865 on or near the site of that surprise attack. At one of their campfires soldiers “gathered around the blaze” to hear another Chancellorsville veteran relate the story of the battle.

In a letter home, James C. Smith of the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry specified that its halt lasted an hour and a half. “Thousands embraced the opportunity,” he wrote: “the field directly in front of the Brick house [the Chancellorsville tavern ruins] was thronged with men seeking for relics.” Smith had missed the battle there because of a wound received at Antietam. He reenlisted in the regiment and served with it through the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman’s marches to Savannah and then through the Carolinas. Yet even with the remembered scenes of horrific events across a vast swath of the nation, a Union soldier’s remains, protruding from under “a few shovel[ful]s of earth” at most, that Smith encountered on May 15, 1865 at Chancellorsville made his “blood fairly run cold…. I stood and gazed in awe at the spectacle.”

Bvt. MG John W. Geary, who had led the 3-brigade/16-regiment division that included the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry on May 1-3, 1863, visited an area between the tavern ruins and a line of rifle-pits that the 28th had helped build 300 yards to the south. In what an accompanying New York Tribune correspondent termed a “notable case of recognition,” Geary on May 15, 1865 discovered the burial place of Maj. Lansford F. Chapman, who had died in sight of him while commanding the 28th Pennsylvania there two years before:

Chapman cdv

Bvt. MG John W. Geary’s personal album, now in the collections of the Library of Congress, includes this carte de visite of Maj. Lansford F. Chapman, who died leading the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry of Geary’s division on May 3, 1863 at Chancellorsville. On May 15, 1865, Geary identified and directed the disinterment of Chapman’s unmarked remains there for later reburial by family and friends in his native Carbon County, Pennsylvania.

(Image citation/source here.)

Knowing the spot…and finding a grave near, General Geary at once supposed it to be that of the lamented officer, and directed the disinterment. An eager crowd of friends of the deceased gathered… and as each shovelful of earth was laid aside, one and another identified some token. The teeth, hair, and size of the body all coincided with those of Major Chapman. In addition to these evidences there were several others equally strong. The coat was identified by the officer who ordered it from the maker…. [T]he bones were carefully taken up and placed in a cracker box, the only receptacle which the moment afforded, and now they follow the command to Alexandria, whence they will be transported to the North.

At least a few of the men whom Geary had led at Chancellorsville also repatriated Federal remains found on the battlefield. Members of the 147th Pennsylvania toured Chancellorsville on May 15, 1865, presumably covering much of the same ground explored by Geary and James C. Smith that day. On May 1-3, 1863, their regiment had fought beside and to the right (west) of Smith’s, along a line of rifle-pits situated 300 yards south of the Chancellorsville tavern and extending west from the Orange Plank Road. Michael S. Schroyer of the 147th would write in 1912 that the passage of half a century had dimmed neither his memories of the “awful battle raging” in 1863 nor of his visit to its site with the regiment’s other survivors in 1865, when their minds’ eyes had seen again “columns moving back and forth, men cheering and cursing…the stampede of the army, the woods afire…the wounded praying that we would help…. “ On May 15, 1865, soldiers in Schroyer’s company of the 147th identified some fallen comrades, “picked up parts of the skeletons and brought them home.”

street view

Chroniclers of the mid-May 1865 touring of Chancellorsville penned especially vivid accounts of finding soldiers’ remains near the line of rifle-pits built and occupied by the 28th and 147th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiments two years before, along what is today Slocum Drive, beginning at its intersection with Plank Road (foreground in this Google Street View) and extending west toward the bend of the drive in left background. The clearing visible on Plank Road/Rt. 610 in the right background surrounds the site of the Chancellorsville tavern, from which the two regiments had counterattacked in the direction of the rifle-pits on May 3, 1863 and near which the survivors in those regiments halted to begin a battlefield exploration on May 15, 1865.

Some men of the Seventieth Indiana ventured onto the Wilderness battlefield, even though it was bypassed by the main routes of Sherman’s army group. There they encountered more landscapes of combat and another civilian willing to discuss the struggle:

The commingled bones of horse and rider, all the possessions of the soldier, from the envelope with its fond address in a woman’s hand to the broken gun, lie scattered over the ground. Knapsacks placed together by companies before they made the charge, and for which the owners never returned, remain in decaying heaps…. An old, gray-headed man leaned upon his hoe handle trying to quiet his trembling head as he said, “Ah, sir. there are thousands of both sides lying unburied in the Wilderness.”

Members of at least two other Twentieth Corps regiments also reported visiting the Wilderness battlefield. 

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

John Adams Elder sketched his hometown of Fredericksburg sometime after the December 1862 battle, or shortly after war’s end.  This 1880’s woodcut adapted some of the Civil War-era Elder drawings as a panorama looking south along Sophia Street in the vicinity of the Upper Crossing of the Rappahannock, giving a sense of the landscape that would have surrounded Sherman and his men if they crossed on a pontoon bridge here on May 16-17, 1865.  From:  Moncure Daniel Conway, “Fredericksburg First and Last II,” Magazine of American History 17 (June 1887): 465-466.

To the east, the Fredericksburg battlefield made powerful historical impressions on some men of the Fifteenth Corps. A soldier in the 93rd Illinois Infantry, marching through the town with the Corps’ Third Division on May 17, 1865, wrote of spotting “but few houses in the place that had not been pierced by cannon shot.” Charles W. Willis, accompanying the Corps’ First Division described Fredericksburg in his diary as “the most shelled town I ever saw.”  Approaching the town from Massaponax Creek, Wills added, he had “passed over the whole line of Burnside’s battle ground.” The December 1862 battle “was no fight, only a Yankee slaughter,” Wills concluded.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

Fredericksburg’s stone wall and Sunken Road, just over one year after the tour of the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in May 1865.  Source: Lossing, Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America 2: 491.

The Fourth Minnesota Infantry of the Fifteenth Corps partook of a more formal tour that day. As would be the case in later years, battlefields in 1865 inspired differing interpretations. Colonel, John E. Tourtellotte, as tour leader, focused on the success of Sedgwick’s attack at Fredericksburg on May 3, 1863, not the slaughter of Burnside’s on December 13, 1862:

Grass is growing in the streets. …desolate; scarred; dead.  Earthworks on the heights in rear of the town, which Sedgwick took two years ago.  A halt was ordered in front of the stone wall and Colonel Tourtellotte explained to the men how our troops charged over the stone wall, over the crest and up the hill.

At least one group of Western veterans besides Sherman and his entourage toured both Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg. On May 16, 1865, Maj. Gen. Leggett and his staff left the Seventeenth Corps’ march along the Telegraph Road and proceeded to Spotsylvania Court House. There they engaged hotel keeper Joseph Sanford to ride along and “show us the position of our forces” the year before. (Sanford’s relations with northbound Federals in May 1865 were not entirely amicable. The previous week, he had lost from storage at his hotel an extraordinary relic of the 1864 fighting—a bullet-felled section of a 22-inch oak tree, possibly once attached to the stump viewed by the Colonel of the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry—to confiscation by Army of the Potomac officers.)

Those segments of the Mule Shoe where “Johnson and his Division were taken prisoners” drew most, if not all, of the time and attention of Leggett’s party.  A sightseer in it looked over what he suspected had been a rifle-pit: “hundreds of dead were thrown in promiscuously–and covered….”  He traced the buried feature “by clumps of earth.”  It extended “into a field now ploughed and planted in corn…just sprouted up.”

Leggett’s group then rode to catch-up with the Seventeenth Corps. The staffer who had examined the buried ditch at Spotsylvania found Fredericksburg “much affected by the war…. nearly every house is perforated.” He found “no business doing—besides that of the Army Sutler.”

Diverging Impressions

But a different Seventeenth Corps chronicler, reflecting upon this and nearby landscapes seen from the ranks of the 78th Ohio Infantry, found himself underwhelmed by the war’s visible impact:

We had heard much about the desolations of Virginia, but were surprised to see them so trifling compared with Atlanta, and the country through which the Western army had passed…. [T]he desolations from Petersburg to Washington will bear no comparison with the desolations from Chattanooga to Atlanta.

And in another category of the battles’ overall legacies, William T. Sherman and at least one of his regiments came away in 1865 with very different understandings. Whereas Sherman’s visit to the Fredericksburg area was bracketed by his thoughts of Southerners who had recognized military outcomes and made peace—and of how to protect them and it from men like Halleck and Stanton—soldiers of the 102nd Illinois Infantry concluded that many local citizens had never placed battlefield events into the realm of history, and intended to continue killing Federal troops. (Although outside my topic of military touring, I might also note that Northern journalist J. T. Trowbridge would visit the same battlefields four months later and derive a set of impressions of social and economic prospects, recorded in A Picture of the Desolated States; and the Work of Restoration. 1865-1868, that in some aspects also contrasted markedly with Sherman’s.)

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder, 102nd Illinois Infantry. Copy from: Ancestry.com.

After reaching Washington, D. C., Bvt. Bg. Gen. Benjamin Harrison, future President of the United States, reported that two soldiers of his Twentieth Corps brigade—Lieut. Jacob H. Snyder of the 102nd Illinois and Private W. O. Jones, Snyder’s orderly—had vanished after securing permission “to look over the battle-ground” of Chancellorsville on May 16, 1865. “It is feared they were killed by some guerrillas,” Harrison added.  When Snyder’s and Jones’ comrades published their regimental history later that year, they noted that another of the regiment’s officers had returned from Washington to search the Chancellorsville battlefield, without success. The Illinois veterans came to blame a group of about 20 local men whom others had encountered headed to Fredericksburg on the day of Snyder’s and Jones’ disappearance, supposedly to take the Oath of Allegiance. “When we reflect what villains a majority of the oath-loving citizens were,” the regimental history concluded, “we may well suspect that those men were none too good to waylay and murder a Union soldier.”

Nor did James Smith of the 28th Pennsylvania share Sherman’s focus, in the wake of traversing the old battlefields, on North-South reunion. Smith called instead for a reckoning and condemned former Confederates for broader misdeeds, at higher levels, than those alleged by the veterans of the 102nd Illinois, although Smith certainly shared their anger over the theft of even the identities of soldiers’ remains. Writing from Washington, D.C. a week later, he agreed with many of the tourists of mid-May 1865 (and many tourist and battlefield-preservation advocates afterward): the Spotsylvania Court House and Chancellorsville landscapes spoke “in silent language” of “battles fierce and bloody, of home made desolate by the rude hand of war.” He continued, “[G]raves where lie unknown heroes appeal to the stranger with a muter eloquence than poet ever wrote or orator ever spoke.” Such eloquence for Smith was in a call for “justice” that the federal government should “mete out” to “the ringleaders of this rebellion…. who have been the cause of so much innocent blood being shed.” His emotions stirred by the unknown Union soldier’s bones at Chancellorsville remained strong—“indignation…[over] the little regard that was paid to our noble dead by ‘friends’ in human form.”

Noel G. Harrison

Special thanks to Keith Bohannon, Stephen B. Cushman, Emmanuel Dabney, Eric J. Mink, Erik Nelson, and D.P. Newton for research assistance.

Note on illustrations: my dating of George L. Frankenstein’s work to at least a month after the passage of Sherman’s army group is based upon Frankenstein’s painting (not shown above) of Wilderness National Cemetery No. 2.  Federal troops established it in mid-June 1865 (Donald C. Pfanz, Where Valour Proudly Sleeps: A History of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 1866-1933, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 31, 36-37). My dating of the photograph of Sherman and his generals to May 1865 is based on the discussion here.

Sources in general order of use above—Smithfield and 1913 staff ride, 1928 speech: Eric J. Mink, “Calvin Coolidge Cruises Caroline Street and Dedicates a New Military Park, on Film,” Mysteries and Conundrums, March 4, 2014, at https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/calvin-coolidge-cruises-caroline-street-and-dedicates-a-new-military-park-on-film/ ; George S. Pappas, United States Army Unit Histories 1: 4; Robert H. Steinbach, “Baldwin, Francis Leonard Dwight (1842–1923),” Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, at https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/baldwin-francis-leonard-dwight ; “War College Staff Ride,” Army and Navy Register LIII (May 10, 1913): 577-578;  Staff Rides generally, Federal Legislative Action:: Carol Reardon, Soldiers and Scholars:  The U.S. Army and the Uses of Military History, 1865-1920, pp. 60-62, 204; Army and Navy Journal, XLVI (June 5, 1909): 1127; Joan M. Zenzen, At the Crossroads of Preservation and Development: A History of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Administrative History, pp. 29-38; State-Level Public History:  Documents of the Assembly of the State of New York 10 (1867), pp. 650-651; Donald C. Pfanz, “History Through Eyes of Stone: a Survey of Civil War Monuments in the Vicinity of Fredericksburg, Virginia,” 2006, unpublished MS., Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, pp. 145-148; Zenzen, p. 29; Strength of Sherman’s army group at Grand Review: Mark L. Bradley, The Civil War Ends 1865, p. 70; Dates for Army of the Potomac’s March: Robert Goldthwaite Carter, Four Brothers in Blue…, p. 505; Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Ser. I (hereinafter OR), 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 51, pt. 1:  260-261; March-Dates 14th Corps to Rapidan River, 20th Corps to Spotsylvania: OR 47, pt. 1: 108, 113, 117, 605; OR 47, pt. 3: 496-497, 501; Robt P. Dechert to Commissary, Twentieth Corps, May 14, 1865, Collection of Devon Archer Schreiner, Warrenton, Va., copy at Library of Virginia, Civil War 150 Legacy Project, Record No. 000032341; Route of the 1st and 2nd Divisions; 14th Army Corps from vicinity of Raleigh, North Carolina, to Alexandria, Virginia. April 30 to May 19. Sheet 13. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031431 ; Survey of the route taken by the 14th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Alexandria, Virginia. Major E. Hoffmann. Sheet 1. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031420 ; March-Dates 20th Corps through Spotsylvania to U.S. Ford: Detail sketches showing survey of route taken by 2nd Division, 20th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina to Alexandria, Virginia, April 30 to May 19 by O.L.J. Brown [Oliver L. F. Browne]. Sheet 19. National Archives, Record Group 77, at  https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031475 ; Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 275; OR 47, pt. 1: 125, 140, 605, 631, 635, 639, 647, 655, 658, 673, 677, 742; Michael S. Schroyer, “Lamented Comrade’s Writings Tell of Service Of Locally Recruited, Civil War Unit in147th Regiment,” Snyder County Historical Society Bulletin 2, no. 2 (1939), at http://www.fruithills.com/civilwardiary.htm ; March-Dates 17th Corps, Rappahannock Pontoon Bridges: Carter, p. 505; OR 46, pt. 1: 648; OR 47, pt. 1: 94; OR 47, pt. 3: 446, 501, 507-508; Route of the 17th Army Corps from Raleigh to Washington, May 1865. Jason B. Alexander, engineer. William Kossak, Captain. Sheet 33. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031371 ; March-Dates 15th Corps through Fredericksburg:  OR 47, pt. 3: 508-509, 515-518; Route of march of 15th Army Corps from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Washington, D.C., between latter part of March and May 19. Sheet 2. National Archives, Record Group 77, at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/171031460 ; William E. Strong to Oliver O. Howard, May 16, 1865, Oliver Otis Howard Papers, 1833-1912, George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College Library, Brunswick, Maine; Sherman’s Touring, Movements to and Through Fredericksburg:  Dechert to Commissary, May 14, 1865; Bradley T. Lepper and Mary E. Lepper Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Registration Form, Kenmore, Spotsylvania County, Virginia; OR 47, pt. 3:  477, 496, 499, 508, 515; William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, 1876, p. 375; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; Sherman’s Conflict with Halleck and Stanton:  Michael Fellman, Citizen Sherman:  A Life of William Tecumseh Sherman, pp. 248-254; May 12 Letter to Logan: OR 47, pt. 3: 477-478; Sherman’s Mood:  OR 47, pt. 3: 478; Strong to Howard, May 16, 1865; Sherman’s evaluation of the South’s economy, and May 17 Letter to Howard: “Fifteenth Amendment,” Ohio History Central, at https://ohiohistorycentral.org/w/Fifteenth_Amendment; “Fifteenth Amendment (Framing And Ratification).” Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. Gale. 2000. HighBeam Research. 20 May 2021 <http://www.highbeam.com&gt;; OR 47, pt. 3: 515-516; Soldiers Touring Spotsylvania via Detours:  Robert Cruikshank, Diary, May 15, 1865, Town of Salem New York; Wilbur F. Haughawout, Diary, May 14, 1865, University of South Carolina Libraries; OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Schroyer; touring Spotsylvania from Main Roads: Samuel Merrill, The Seventieth Indiana, p. 274; Adin B. Underwood, The Three Years’ Service of the Thirty-Third Mass. Infantry Regiment…, p. 296; Sherman arranges with Joseph Sanford to bury the Union dead at Spotsylvania: Donald Pfanz, “Skeleton Hunt”–Spotsylvania 1865,” Mysteries and Conundrums, April 11, 2011, at https://npsfrsp.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/skeleton-hunt-spotsylvania-1865/ ; Touring Chancellorsville: OR 47, pt. 1, p. 605; Edwin E. Marvin, The Fifth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, p. 383; Merrill, p. 275;  Underwood, p. 296; Chancellorsville-halt of the 28th Pennsylvania: “Federal (USV) Private James C. Smith,” Antietam on the Web, at https://antietam.aotw.org/officers.php?officer_id=8300 ; James C. Smith, 28th Pa. Inf., to Sarah Smith, May 25, 1865, Heritage Auctions, Auction #6243, athttps://historical.ha.com/itm/autographs/civil-war-archive-of-james-smith-28th-pennsylvania-volunteer-infantry-regiment/a/6243-47076.s?ic4=GalleryView-ShortDescription-071515 (quotations); reburial of Lansford Chapman in Pennsylvania: Samuel P. Bates, Martial Deeds of Pennsylvania, 1876, p. 422; discovery, disinterment of Lansford Chapman’s remains at Chancellorsville: New York Tribune, quoted in Bates, pp. 421 (first quotation), 421-422 second quotation); touring and battlefield disinterment by survivors of 147th Pennsylvania: Schroyer; touring the Wilderness: Merrill, pp. 275-276; touring Fredericksburg: Harvey M. Trimble, ed., History of the Ninety-Third Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, p. 198; Charles W. Wills, Charles Wright Wills, p. 382; Fourth Minnesota at the Stone Wall: Alonzo L. Brown, History of the Fourth Regiment, Minnesota Infantry Volunteers, p. 419; Leggett and Entourage Tour Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg: Lepper and Sweeten, trans., Cyrus Marion Roberts, Diary, vol. 3, May 16, 1865; William D. Matter, If it Takes All Summer: the Battle of Spotsylvania, p. 373; Ohioan Underwhelmed by Landscape Devastation: Thomas M. Stevenson, History of the 78th Regiment O.V.V.I., p. 338; disappearance of Snyder and Jones: OR 47, pt. 1, p. 793; Our Regiment: A History of the 102d Illinois Infantry Volunteers, pp. 170-171; James C. Smith’s indignation over unburied remains at Chancellorsville: Smith, May 25, 1865.
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