While visiting in Virginia these past couple of weeks we had the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg and take the Civil War Battlefield tour. When ever we go back to visit my son and his wife we always like to visit one battlefield per trip. Fredericksburg is only 30 minutes south of where my son lives. The weather was perfect!!! The town of Fredericksburg is a lovely small cozy little town nestled in the beautiful Virginia country side. This piece of country side is to date the bloodiest ground in America. Within 5-10 miles 3 of the bloodiest battles were fought along the Rappahanock River, Battle of Fredericksburg Dec. 1862, Battle of Chancellorsville May 1863 and Battle of the Wilderness May 1864. Between the three battles 73,444 men were killed.
It's just mind boggling to think that many young men from both North and South were lost. After the battle the Union Army moved into the Chatham House and made it a hospital. The family had fled to another estate. The house was a hospital for the remainder of the war. We were able to go into what they called the operation room, which was harrowing, thinking of all the amputations.
The poet Walt Whitman visited Chatham House in Dec. 1862 in search of his brother who was listed on the wounded list. Fortunately he found his brother with only a minor face wound, but from this experience he wrote his book Wound Dresser:
Excerpts from Whitman's book The Wound Dresser
"Began my visits (December 21, 1862) among the camp hospitals in the Army of the Potomac, under General Burnside. Spent a good part of the day in a large brick mansion [Chatham] on the banks of the Rappahannock, immediately opposite Fredericksburg. It is used as a hospital since the battle, and seems to have received only the worst cases. Outdoors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house [probably the still standing Catalpa tree], I noticed a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc. -- about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woolen blanket. In the dooryard, toward the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel staves or broken board, stuck in the dirt.
The house is quite crowded, everything impromptu, no system, all bad enough, but I have no doubt the best that can be done; all the wounds pretty bad, some frightful, the men in their old clothes, unclean and bloody. Some of the wounded are rebel officers, prisoners. One, a Mississippian--a captain-- hit badly in the leg, I talked with him some time; he asked for papers, which I gave him. (I saw him three months afterward in Washington, with leg amputated, doing well.)
I went through the rooms, down stairs and up. Some of the men were dying. I had nothing to give at that night, but wrote a few letters to folks home, mothers, etc. Also talked to three or four who seemed most susceptible to it, and needing it."
Walt Whitman 1862
I came away from our visit with the keen sense that I was walking on hollowed ground.
It would be on the far left end of the lower building that the amputated limbs laid
in a pile that Walt Whitman would have seen.
Cannon facing the town from Chatham Hill. Can you imagine bombarding the city with that thing?
Hubby scouting the horizon
Fredericksburg Church Steeple viewed from Chatham Hill.
This Church and many others became army field hospitals during the war.
Looking back on the house from the lower grounds.
Gardens in the back.