Historic Fredericksburg Virginia
The historic district of Fredericksburg, Virginia is known for the National Park Service Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. Below are a few of the hundreds of historical markers and locations surrounding historic Fredericksburg Virginia.
The University of Mary Washington has published the best overview of historic Fredericksburg Virginia I’ve read to date. The extended research related to this marker outlines Early Exploration of John Smith and John Lederer, the First Settlement reviewing the establishment of Ferry Farm, George Washington’s childhood home; Chatham, the Georgian mansion of planter William Fitzhugh; Kenmore Plantation, the home of Fielding Lewis and Betty Washington; and Fall Hill (c. 1736), the home of the Thornton family. Fredericksburg During the Revolution featured America’s first small arms manufactory which played an important role in the defeat of the British. The Civil War overview discusses the Battle of Fredericksburg and the damage inflicted on both people and property during and after the battle.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia used Telegraph Hill as his command post. Here he planned with First Corps Commander Lieutenant General James Longstreet and Second Corps Commander Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Telegraph Hill gave General Lee a complete view of the attacks on Longstreet’s defensive line (left flank) from Marye’s Heights to Telegraph Hill, and Jackson’s Line (right flank) from Telegraph Hill to the Richmond Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. This is presently the area surrounding Benchmark Road and Lee Drive. It was known as Prospect Hill during the Battle of Fredericksburg and it was used by General ‘Stonewall’ Jackson as a command post as it stood 65 feet above his defensive line. During the fighting at the Slaughter Pen, Lee surveyed the grounds with binoculars and witnessed the carnage unfolding during the battle. He was heard telling General Longstreet, “It is well that war is so terrible, or we should grow too fond of it”.
Meanwhile, the brigades of Union Major General Edwin V. Sumner’s Right Grand Division, attacked Marye’s Heights with Confederate infantrymen using the stone wall along Sunken Road as cover as they targeted attacking Union infantry. The defense of Confederate line at Sunken Road was supported by Longstreet’s artillery firing from the heights above the current day National Park Service Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor’s Center. Union commander Major General Ambrose E. Burnside planned to renew attacks of Lee’s entrenched troops after failures on both right and left flanks of the Confederate line. The staff officers of General Burnside convinced him his plan would completely fail again which led to the withdrawal of the Army of the Potomac on the night of December 15-16. The battle cost the Union 12,600 casualties while the Army of Northern Virginia lost 5,300.
This is the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center at 1013 Lafayette Boulevard Fredericksburg, Virginia 22401. It was at Marye’s Heights were on December 13, 1862, Confederate infantry of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia used the stone wall along the Sunken Road as protection while firing upon attacking Union troops of the Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside. The Fredericksburg Battlefield is part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park which also includes the Chancellorsville Battlefield, Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield, and Wilderness Battlefield. The historic buildings and grounds of Chatham Manor, Salem Church, Elwood Manor, and Stonewall Jackson Shrine are also part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The Idlewild Mansion (c. 1859) built by William Yates Downman, a distant cousin of George Washington, served as headquarters for Confederate General Robert E. Lee during May 4–5, 1863 during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Located just west of Fredericksburg, the mansion and its 400 acres often witnessed skirmishes and troop occupation by the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, and the Union Army of the Potomac. Today, the Village of Idlewild occupies the Idlewild estate. The 400 acre development has 585 single family homes, and 200 town homes built by Ryan Homes & Ryland Homes. The community features 207 acres of wooded space, playgrounds, tennis courts, club house, fitness center, community pool, walking trails, and a community shuttle to the Fredericksburg Virginia Railway Express station. This master planned community is 1 mile from I-95 exit 130, and 3 miles from the shopping and restaurants of Downtown Fredericksburg, Central Park and Spotsylvania Town Centre.
‘The Sentry Box’ is located at the intersection of Caroline Street and Dixon Street in Fredericksburg overlooking the Rappahannock River. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources historical marker at 133 Caroline Street reads:
“The Sentry Box (ca. 1786) is an elegant specimen of late Georgian style architecture. Brig. Gen. George Weedon of the Continental Army, later mayor of Fredericksburg, built the house and named it to reflect his military career. Upon the death of Gen. Hugh Mercer at the Battle of Princeton during the Revolutionary War, Weedon enlarged the house to accommodate the Mercer family, and Mercer’s children later inherited the property. In December 1862, the Union army built its middle pontoon crossing over the Rappahannock River just below the Sentry Box. Intense fighting occurred here, and the house was heavily damaged.”
This photograph of Confederate trenches on the Fredericksburg Battlefield were part of the defense of Richmond during the First Battle of Fredericksburg. It was taken on Lee Drive which extends from the center of the Confederate defensive line (Lee’s Hill) to the right flank of defensive trenches of Lieutenant General “Stonewall” Jackson anchored by the Light Horse Artillery of Major General J. E. B. Stuart and the forward cannon positions of the Gallant Major John Pelham of Alabama. This defensive line was 7-miles long when the Union Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock under the rifle fire of Confederate sharpshooters and invaded the streets of Fredericksburg.
Four divisions of Stonewall Jackson’s Second Corps were in defensive positions to the southeast of Fredericksburg. Union Major General Ambrose Burnside decided to attack both flanks rather than strike with the full force at the center. The main thrust against the Light Division of Confederate Major General A. P. Hill would be made by the Grand Division of Major General William B. Franklin’s Grand Division (First and Sixth Corps). After penetrating Jackson’s Line, Union Major General George Meade began to flank the Confederate lines. Jackson ordered his reserves (Jubal Early) to counterattack, while Meade sent word to Brigadier General David Birney for reinforcements. But General Birney refused to coordinate efforts with Meade which left him unsupported and facing overwhelming forces. Meade retreated and the battle ended at nightfall.
The following information is the results of research by the University of Mary Washington related to the Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory.
“Virginia’s third revolutionary convention met in Richmond on July 17, 1775. One of the ordinances proposed by the convention was that “a manufactory of arms be erected at or near Fredericksburg” Less than a month later, the ordinance was passed and the convention named Fielding Lewis and Charles Dick commissioners of the enterprise. The convention issued 2,000 pounds to Lewis to start work on the gunnery.
Fielding Lewis gave much of his personal fortune to the success of the gun manufactory and other patriotic commitments. He even began to sell personal property to pay for the factory’s operations. By the end of 1780 Lewis was owed 16,000 pounds. Bankrupt and ill with consumption, Lewis resigned as commissioner of the manufactory in 1780.
Charles Dick was left to run the operation alone. In early 1781, the gun manufactory workers walked off their jobs over a pay dispute. Charles Dick reported that the townspeople of Fredericksburg spiritedly attended to work at the Gunnery and assisted to produce more than 20,000 cartridges and bullets in the place of a missing work force.” Fortunately for Charles Dick and the townspeople of Fredericksburg, the war ended some months later when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Fielding Lewis died in December of 1781, soon after learning his patriotic work had not been in vain. The factory continued to operate after the war, repairing muskets badly damaged during battle. In January 1783, Charles Dick died and the gun manufactory was soon shut down. A few months later, the gunnery land was designated to the Fredericksburg Academy. The school was short-lived and by 1801 the land was sold again to Richard Johnston. In later years, parcels of land were sold at various times.”
The Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory was on 6-acres of land now known as ‘Gunnery Springs’ on the bank of the Rappahannock River in the city of Fredericksburg. During the Spanish-American War the same land became a training base for the 4th U. S. Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The training facility was known as Camp Cobb, named after Confederate general Thomas R. R. Cobb who was killed at Marye’s Heights while commanding the defenses behind the stone wall at Brompton (Marye House). Camp Cobb actively trained the “Immunes” from June 4, 1898 to August 18, 1898. The land of the Fredericksburg Gun Manufactory and Camp Cobb at Gunnery Springs is registered as a Virginia and National Landmark.
Chatham Manor (c. 1771) is on Stafford Heights overlooking the Rappahannock River and the city of Fredericksburg. It was known as the Lacy House during the Civil War. Past visitors to this 1,280 plantation includes Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln. William Henry Harrison also visited Chatham while traveling from his home in Charles City County, Virginia to Washington for his inauguration on March 4, 1841 as the 9th President of the United States. William Henry Harrison was the last president born as a British subject. He was the grandfather of 23rd U. S. President Benjamin Harrison. Chatham is a registered national landmark that played a significant role in the Battle of Fredericksburg. During the Peninsula Campaign, Union Major General Irvin McDowell used Chatham Manor as a headquarters while commanding the Department of the Rappahannock which was tasked with repairing several area bridges and the RF&P Railroad Rappahannock River bridge. In November 1862, Union Major General Ambrose Burnside again made Chatham a military headquarters as he moved his Army of the Potomac to Stafford County while waiting 3 weeks for the transport of pontoon bridges to construct over the Rappahannock River and attack General Lee. This delay allowed the arrival of General “Stonewall” Jackson from the Shenandoah Valley and doubling the size of enemy forces in Fredericksburg.
Union engineers began constructing bridges below Chatham at 3:00 a.m. on December 11, 1862. By 5:00 a.m. Confederate sharpshooters, using homes and buildings on the opposite side of the Potomac River, opened fire killing dozens of engineers assembling pontoons to cross the Rappahannock River. Supporting the construction of 2 bridges below Chatham were 100 cannons on the bluffs of Stafford Heights, including 4.5 inch siege rifles like the one shown above. Union artillerymen then opened fire on the homes of Fredericksburg using more than 6,000 shells during 8 hours of continuous cannon fire. After 12 hours of bridge construction 30,000 Union troops used the makeshift bridges at Chatham to invade the town of Fredericksburg (population 5,000) and forcibly order the remaining residents into detention or evacuation. After the withdrawal of Union troops from Fredericksburg, Chatham became a major Union field hospital treating thousands of wounded soldiers. Clara Barton, Founder of the American Red Cross, assisted surgeons at Chatham Manor. American poet Walt Whitman also attended to the wounded and dying at Chatham Manor. A summary of his experience after the Battle of Fredericksburg took the form of a 65 line poem titled, ‘The Wound Dresser’. The Lacy House also plays a part in Army Signal Corps history. The first tactical use of magnetic telegraphs on a battlefield in the United States took place at Chatham Manor.
Chatham was used as a Union military headquarters for the third time during the Chancellorsville Campaign. Brigadier General John Gibbon, commanding the Second Division of II Corps, prepared and coordinated an attack of Marye’s Heights on May 3, 1863 which would become known as the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. This was a designed diversion while the VI Corps commanded by Major John Sedgwick attacked the Confederate division of Major General Jubal Early driving them west of Fredericksburg to Salem Church in Spotsylvania County. Early’s division organized a defensive position and repulsed several attacks fighting a delaying action later known as the Battle of Salem Church. The center of this defense was Salem Church and the fighting of the Alabama Brigade commanded by Brigadier General Cadmus Marcellus Wilcox. This was a strategic victory as Union Army of the Potomac Commander “Fighting” Joseph Hooker was forced to retreat from Chancellorsville realizing he would not be reinforced to strike at Confederate General Lee after General Sedgwick withdrew his troops across the Rappahannock River instead of pushing west past Salem Church. John Sedgwick suffered 3,523 casualties (1,000 at Fredericksburg, 1,523 at Salem Church). Jubal Early suffered 2,349 casualties (475 at Fredericksburg, 674 at Salem Church, and 1,200 during an attack at Banks Ford).
In 1865, upon the end of the Civil War and his return to the plantation home, James Horace Lacy found the house uninhabitable, without windows or doors and only bare brick walls standing. When the Union Army of the Potomac left Fredericksburg, the walls of Chatham Manor (Lacy House) were full of graffiti, the paneling had been torn off the walls and used for firewood, and blood stained the flooring throughout the house. The grounds of the Chatham estate were also desecrated by Union soldiers (just like every other village, town, and city they occupied). The lawn became a graveyard for more than 133 soldiers, and troops had cleared surrounding timber during the winter leaving all of Stafford County absent of trees. James Horace Lacy had joined the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia on the outset of war.The war financially ruined him forcing the move of his family to Ellwood (c. 1790), a countryside plantation house 16 miles west of Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania and Orange Counties. Ellwood is part of the Wilderness Battlefield and was also used as a Union headquarters (Major General Gouverneur, Fifth Corps Commander) and hospital during the 1864 Wilderness Campaign. James Horace Lacy could not repair the extensive damage to Chatham, and he sold the riverside estate in 1872.
Fredericksburg Area Picture Albums
- Chancellorsville Battlefield Civil War historical markers, Jackson Trail East and West, Historic Salem Church.
- Downtown Fredericksburg Civil War historical markers, historic homes and buildings, City of Fredericksburg historic municipal buildings, Confederate cemetery, Mary Washington’s grave site, and statue of Revolutionary War Hero Hugh Mercer.
- Fall Hill in Fredericksburg Fredericksburg Battlefield, Lee’s Hill Exhibit Shelter, Lee Drive, Confederate Artillery, National Park Service interpretive markers, the Meade Pyramid, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson’s defensive line, Mary Washington Hospital and Medical Campus, and the Rappahannock River.
- Orange County Civil War historical markers, Germanna historic site, Orange County courthouse Confederate Memorial, Orange Train Station, Mine Run Campaign, Montpelier historical markers, Barboursville, Gilmore Farm Trail, Montpelier Train Depot, Gordonsville, Orange County vineyards, and the grave sites of 4th U. S. President (1809-1817) James Madison and First Lady Dolly Madison.
- Spotsylvania County Civil War historical markers, housing subdivisions, municipal buildings, Spotsylvania Towne Centre, Patriot Park, public schools, Lake Anna State Park, Mott’s Run Reservoir, Historic Salem Church.
- Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield National Park Service interpretive markers, exhibit shelter, Union tribute monuments, the Bloody Angle, the Muleshoe Salient, Federal and Confederate trenches, Harris Farm (Bloomsbury).
- Stafford Civil War Park Union 11th Corps historical markers, 11th Corps camp remains, Potomac Church Road, Sandstone Quarry, 11th Corps Road, The Daniel Bridge, and the Union Batteries at Accokeek Creek.
- Stafford County Civil War historical markers, Aquia Church, Government Island, White Oak Civil War Museum, and Stafford County homes, recreation, and schools.
- Wilderness Battlefield Civil War historical markers and memorials, Wilderness Exhibit Shelter, Ellwood Manor (James Horace Lacy House), historical trail markers, and the burial place of the left arm of Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson.