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On historic Spots. From the Richmond, Va., Dispatch, July 23, 1899.

A visit to the Battlefield around Fredericksburg—Days of War vividly recalled.

Marye's Heights—Salem Church, Chancellorsville—The Wilderness— recollections of Officers—The Monuments—Notes.

A correspondent of the Washington Post, who recently accompanied an inspecting party on a visit to the battlefields around Fredericksburg, writes as follows:

On the morning of December 13, 1862, the Union forces were encamped on the northern shore of the Rappahannock, where their batteries commanded the heights, and were also in possession of the town, which had been shelled. On the heights on the other side of the town were the Confederates, in a long line, which extended several miles from Hamilton's Crossing on the right to Beck's Island upon the left. Almost in the centre of the line was Marye's Heights, a hill about 200 feet high, with a fine mansion at the summit of its grassy slope, and with a stone wall and a sunken road at its foot. From the wall to the river there stretched a practically unbroken field, and when the mist was driven away by the rays of the rising sun, the Confederates saw a portion of the Union army, under Hancock and French, drawn up in line of battle.

As the party stood in the sunken road last Wednesday morning beginning its travels over memorable ground, it was remarked that the open field had disappeared, and that it was now the site of many pleasant homes. A considerable section of the wall against which the Union army charged, and behind which the Confederates were protected, has been taken away and now forms the walls of the residence of the keeper of the National Cemetery, on the very heights which the Union forces sought to gain. Eighteen thousand soldiers now sleep in this cemetery, all of whom lost their lives either upon or within rifleshot of the place where they lie buried. Some of the wall, however, is still [198] intact, the stone now green and gray with age, while the old Marye mansion, on the summit, is the residence of Captain Rowe. The columns of its spacious porch are still perforated with bullet-holes, its walls are chipped where shell and shrapnel struck, and the outbuildings are bored in numerous places with the small, round hole of the minie-ball.

The slaughter below the Heights.

As the party stood upon the hill top, the story of the awful slaughter at the foot of Marye's Heights was retold. In the road below was the monument which marked the spot where General Cobb was killed, with the house still standing over which came the shell that struck him. Longstreet's dtscription was recalled. ‘A fifth time the Federals formed and charged and were repulsed,’ he says. ‘A sixth time they charged and were driven back, when night came to end the dreadful carnage and the Federal withdrew, leaving the battle-field literally heaped with the bodies of their dead. Before the well-directed fire of Cobb's Brigade, the Federals had fallen like the steady dripping of rain from the eaves of a house. Our musketry alone killed and wounded at least 5,000, and these, with the slaughter by the artillery, left over 7,000 killed and wounded before the foot of Marye's Hill. The dead were piled sometimes three deep, and when morning broke the spectacle that we saw upon the battlefield was one of the most distressing I ever witnessed. The charges had been desperate and bloody, but utterly hopeless. I thought as I saw the Federals come again and again to their death, that they deserved success if courage and daring could entitle soldiers to victory.’

“It was a wonder to me,” said Congressman Jones, ‘that any man escaped alive. I was a boy of twelve then, and I went on the field with my father the morning after the battle. I remember seeing a peach orchard, every tree of which had been literally stripped of its branches by flying bullets. The field was covered with the dead, and the sight was so terrible that I have never forgotten it. I remember, too, a story of the battle which my father told me. He had met in a North Carolina regiment a man whom he had known years ago, and they were standing talking—one [199] on each side of a tree—when a cannon ball came along and cut the tree down between them.’

The battle of Salem Church.

Down the hill and out upon the road over which Sedgwick's Corps marched, the visitors passed, the horses' heads being turned toward Salem church. At some little distance from Fredericksburg, Captain Rowe pointed out a frame, two-story house. ‘My father,’ he said, ‘placed all his furniture in that house for safe-keeping, and there it remained until one day a shell came along, struck the house, and burst in the room in which the furniture was stored. After that,’ said the Captain laughingly, ‘it wasn't worth much, even for firewood.’

Cattle were grazing on the hills, the farmers were harvesting their wheat, and the sun was shining with golden splendor as the party rode along. The contrast with the days when regiments tramped wearily along, when the roads and fields were filled with dead horses, and when bursting shells made dreadful music, was very vivid. At Salem church, an old-fashioned brick building, the party stood beside the old earthworks and listened to the story of Sedgwick's fight, with the maps spread under the shade of a large tree, upon some tables which had evidently been constructed for a picnic party. The walls of the church plainly showed the marks of bullets and cannon balls. Within the edifice is a memorial altar built by the contributions of New Jersey and South Carolina men, and a Grand Army post in the former State, composed of survivors of the fight, has supported the Salem church Sunday-School for thirty years.

‘When Sheridan marched through to Washington in 1865,’ said Colonel Bird, ‘he saw many bodies still unburied, and reported that fact. I came down here to bury them.’ As he spoke he also pointed out many places where bodies had been exhumed in order that they might be taken to the cemetery at Fredericksburg.

On the Chancellor field.

The large pine tree under which Lee and Jackson held their last consultation—the one at which Jackson suggested the movement by which he flanked and routed Howard's Eleventh Corps— [200] is still standing at the junction of the Furnace and Plank roads, out in the country, on the way to Chancellorsville. The road down which Jackson rode toward his command winds in and out among the pines, and was examined with interest by the party. In the meantime, however, some earthworks had been passed. ‘There was where Lee waited for Hooker,’ said some one in the party.

The Chancellor house is not far from the pine tree already mentioned. It is not wholly the wartime house, which was burned a good many years ago, but the western end is nearly intact. The present porch is not the one upon which General Hooker was standing when he was struck by a piece of shell, but the broad steps of stone are the remnants of the old structure. In the olden days of stage-coach traveling the Chancellor tavern was a half-way house, and every morning and evening the stage coaches stopped there, no less than thirty-six relays of horses being kept in the spacious stables. In wartime there was a great deal of open field in front of the house, but of late years this has been covered with a growth of stubby pines, so that the appearance of the landscope is somewhat changed. It would take too long to rehearse the whole story of the Chancellorsville fight. It is sufficient to say that when the field becomes a part of the National Park and is dotted with monuments to mark the positions of the various forces it will be fully as interesting as Gettysburg. There still remain many of the earthworks thrown up by the armies, and the sites of graves are still visible in the woods. The party drove along a road which followed the trenches dug by men of the Twelfth Corps, over to Hazel Grove, which was a conspicuous point during the battle. It is not a settlement, as its name implies, but a solitary farm house on a hill, which was the position of a battery. The magnificent spring which was so useful to the army still remains, giving forth a splendid flow of delicious water.

The story of Keenans death.

It was very near this farm house that Keenan's Eighth Pennsylvania Cavalry was stationed. The story of the charge of this regiment and Keenan's death is known to every reader of the Chancellorsville campaign, and as generally related is intensely [201] dramatic. The version with which I was most familiar told how Major Keenan, who as commanding the regiment, was directed to charge the advancing column of Jackson's men as they came down the road. With a smile upon his face, he replied: ‘It is death, but I will do it,’ and then, at the head of his column, he plunged into the seething mass of Confederates, like a second Arnold Winkelried, and was slaughtered with his entire command. The short time which the charge occupied, however, was sufficient for the Union forces to get a battery into position and thus protect to some extent the rear of Howard's retreating column.

But Major Morris says that this story, although so thrilling, is not true. ‘Keenan was over there,’ he said, pointing a short distance away, ‘and was ordered to go out and stop stragglers of Howard's corps who were coming down the road. The route of the corps was not then known. He moved in columns of twos out that road yonder, which leads into the main 'pike. When he emerged from the woods he fond himself surrounded by Confederates. There were only two things to do, either to retreat or charge. He chose the latter, and rushed pell-mell into the enemy, thinking to cut his way in and then out again. He had no idea that he was attacking the whole of Jackson's army. No order was given him to charge. The story is all romance.’

Whether romance or not, there was something particularly stirring as we came to the road where the cavalry encountered the enemy, to think of that gallant and desperate effort which the Pennsylvania men made. Very few of them, if any, escaped. Major Keenan was killed and many of his officers. ‘The enemy were as thick as bees, and we appeared to be among thousands of them in a moment,’ was the description which one of the officers afterward wrote of his experience.

Where Stonewall Jackson fell.

The resinous odor of pines filled the air as the party stood by the simple shaft on the roadside that marks the spot where Stonewall Jackson fell on the night of May 2, 1863, shot by his own men as he was returning from a reconnoitering expedition. It is a granite column, with inscriptions on each of the four [202] sides. One of these repeats Jackson's last words—‘Let us pass over the river and rest under the shade of the trees’—and another gives Bee's famous sentence at Mannassas. ‘There stands Jackson like a stonewall.’ The third inscription is Lee's tribute to the dead commander, and the fourth is the name and date of death. Nearby in the woods is the monument erected to the memory of the dead members of the Collis Zouaves, a stone shaft with a copper tablet containing the names of the heroes.

A mile up the road is the house of a man named Tally, who was Jackson's guide during the flank movement upon Howard. Talley is a well-preserved man, of rotund build, with a white imperial beard. As he stood on the lawn of his home, while the party waited lunch, he pointed out the hill not far away, to the top of which he guided Jackson, so that the latter might look down upon the Union army. Talley was with Jackson at the last conference with Lee, and brought the army around by field and road until it had flanked Howard. In simple language he told the story of the day, ‘but,’ he said, ‘I was not with Jackson when he was shot. I had been sent by him with a message to General Stuart.’

‘Who was in your house at the time?’

‘It was occupied by General Devens as his headquarters. From the hill over there Jackson and I could see the Yankee officers out on this lawn. They did not seem to be aware that we were in this neighborhood.’

Private soldiers expected trouble.

“If the officers did not know it,” said a Federal officer, ‘there was not a private soldier in the ranks who did not expect the corps to be smashed. They had heard from many sources that the enemy was marching upon us, but the officers seemed to think that there was no danger. You know they thought that Jackson's army was in retreat. Instead of that it was marching upon us. We were just getting supper at the time, and were not prepared to resist an attack.’

“I remember,” said Talley, laughing, ‘Our men snatched up pieces of beef from, the frying-pan as they rushed by. The meat was so hot that they could hardly hold it.’ [203]

Curiously enough, on the lawn was also a man named Hawkins, who lived in the house across the road. Hawkins had carried some mail that morning over in the direction of the Rappahannock, and had been warned that the Union army was in the neighborhood. In trying to get back home he was captured and made a prisoner in his house, where there were about twenty-five women and children who had fled there for shelter. His home was General Carl Schurz's headquarters.

“One of Schurz's staff officers,” said Hawkins, as he placed a chew of tobacco in between his grizzled beard, ‘came in the house, and, throwing down his sword, said he would go out and see the fun. He had heard some firing, and thought it was a skirmish. He never thought to get his sword. I had been in the Confederate army, had been discharged, but as I stood in the door of my house, my old company came rushing right across my garden. This was too much for me, and, picking up a gun, I went off with them down the road, yelling with the rest of them. I heard all the officers as they talked during the day, and not one of them knew that they were going to be attacked.’

A night in the Wilderness.

A few miles beyond Talley's house the party entered the Wilderness. Never did name seem more misfitted. The valley of Wilderness Run is beautiful. The fields stretch away to the forests on every side and are as green as a well-watered, fertile soil can make them,. Instead of wilderness the country seems a paradise.

It was only when, a few miles farther on, after the Lacy house had been left in the distance and Palmer's field, which was once covered with dead bodies, had been passed, that the procession of carriages, turning into the woods, encountered a real wilderness. In the midst of an indescribable tangle of trees and undergrowth, the old trenches could still be seen, although how men fought under such circumstances was then and is still a wonder. In the clearing was the house of a man named Hall, an old farmer, with a typical long, white beard, who had his story to tell of escaping from Union Cavalry while he was trying to carry his family and his household goods into the forest [204] by hiding behind a rock. At night the Chewning house was reached, a building conspicuous on the military maps, for all around it were the Confederate works. In the morning the line of march was taken up along a private road which led into the Orange turnpike.

There are said to be about 20,000 acres in the Wilderness. In olden times it was practically a trackless forest, but now there are farms scattered through it, and it is only in occasional localities that primeval nature is seen. The demand for railroad ties have been the principal cause of the cutting down of the enormous trees that were once the pride of the Wilderness.

A simple monument to Lee.

Across the fields on each side of the turnpike Longstreet's men came, after an all-night march to relieve A. P. Hill. ‘There is Tapp's field,’ said Major Biscoe. ‘I was in Hill's Division, and we had fought through the 5th of May. I was lying down in that field on the morning of the 6th, when Longstreet's men came rushing over us on their way to meet the Union Army.’

“As I came along with Longstreet,” said Mr. Hume, ‘the woods were all on fire. It was an awful sight. Both the dead and wounded were being burned. The woods were full of bodies.’

“Yes,” said Captain Quinn, ‘we were charged with setting the woods on fire, but we did not do it. We tried hard to extinguish the flames, but it was impossible to do so.’

Every inch of the read was now full of historic interest. The point where Longstreet was wounded, where Jenkins was killed, and where General Wadsworth was fatally shot, were all pointed out. Then, a few minutes later, the party stood around a rough shaft of granite a hundred feet from the road. The stone stood upon some smaller rocks beneath a tree. It marks the spot where a soldier grasped the bridle of General Lee's horse. There had been some wavering on the part of the Confederates, and Lee rode forward, intending himself to lead a charge. He placed himself at the head of a Texas regiment. His evident purpose changed the spirit of the men. ‘If you will go back we will go forward,’ said they, and when Lee hesitated one of them seized his horse's bridle and turned the animal around. [205] Then they hastened to the front and Lee went back. The soldiers placed the improvised monument on the spot, and there it stands to this day, in all its solitude and simplicity, the mute reminder of a war-time episode.

Artillery works preserved.

It was one of the many curious coincidences of this battlefield region that the very road over which Jackson marched to flank Howard—known as the Brock road—was also the point which a year later Hancock told General Getty to hold at all hazards. It was then the line of communication for the Union army, when Grant was moving toward Spotsylvania. The point where the Orange turnpike crosses the Brock road was reached in a few minutes after passing the point where Wadsworth was killed. There was desperate fighting along here between Hancock and Longstreet. The Brock road is still lined with the defensive works built by the Union army, while the artillery works erected by Barlow, on Hancock's extreme left, were found in a wonderful state of preservation. They could even now be used at a moment's notice. They stand in a small field on the brow of a hill, with woods surrounding. ‘I remember,’ said Major Hine, as he pointed across the field, ‘that I was sent with two regiments to cut down about 500 acres of, oak over there, so as to give ample play to our guns.’

The trenches are in the deep woods and are covered with a carpet of pine needles. They are nearly all still waist-deep. The forest is very thick—very much as it must have been when the trenches were built, and when Hancock reported that his men could not see a hundred yards ahead.

Where Sedgwick was killed.

Still on and on. Slowly the carriages made their way along the Brock road, passing the narrow-gauge railroad, in the cuts of which Mahone formed his men, until Todd's Tavern was reached. It is no longer a tavern—not even the old house is standing. The present house is a plain, frame dwelling. Its occupants did not even live at the place during the war.

The party was now well out of the Wilderness, and was [206] entering the locality made famous by the battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse, the beginning of Grant's campaign against Richmond. Passing the Alsop house, which is still standing, and which was a hospital during the war, the carriages soon halted in front of the monument which marks the spot where General Sedgwick was killed. It is a more pretentious affair than the Stonewall Jackson shaft, but is not as impressive. It stands at the junction of a by-road with the pike, overlooking the wide field, at the other side of which were the Confederate works. Against the advice of his officers, General Sedgwick came out upon the open space at the junction of the roads, although the Confederate sharpshooters had found its range with deadly effect. The General laughed as the men dodged the bullets. ‘They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance,’ he said, as he encouraged his men to stand upright. A moment later, however, there came another whistle of a bullet, and General Sedgwick fell, with a wound in his head under the eye. He died instantly.

“I met his body on this by-road,” said Major Hine. ‘I had been at work down the road strengthening a bridge for artillery to pass over. General Grant came by. I had seen him before, but had never spoken to him. He told me that he hoped I would hurry my work, as there were some other places in the road he wanted repaired as quickly as possible. When I had finished I went up the road to report to General Sedgwick, but met some soldiers with his body, and they told me how he had been killed.’

The story of Bloody Angle.

From Sedwick's monument to Bloomy Angle was a short journey. As the carriages drove through the woods, the Confederate trenches were plainly discernable, but at Bloody Angle itself the works were not so well preserved. Standing on the brow of the hill, where the fiercest fighting occurred, Colonel Bird, who was on General Barlow's staff, pointed out where he had helped to form the army assigned to attack the Confederate works at the angle thereafter to be known by its sanguinary title.

“I was busy all night,” he said. ‘As we were very near to [207] the enemy, and as absolute quiet was necessary, we ordered the soldiers to throw away the caps of their guns, so as to provide against even the accidental explosion of a weapon. I can remember the pitiful look some of the men gave while obeying the order, for they knew that they would be helpless if attacked, and, at any rate, something desperate was being planned. We made every man hold his canteen, so that it should not rattle. In the morning we moved forward. The Confederates had placed an abattis of rails stuck in the ground on end as their first line of protection, and then had piled the ground with timber. It took several moments to clear these obstructions away, so that the enemy had some little notice of our coming. They were in pens of logs and could not get out to fight, so that we captured them after a brief conflict, and then we bagged a whole division, including General Johnson, whose headquarters had been established in the McCool house. We could not advance, however, because our line had become disorganized. For twenty hours the fighting continued, re-enforcements coming up on both sides.’

The Landrum house, near which Hancock's men were massed by Colonel Bird, still stands, and is occupied by the Landrum family. ‘We had 500 bodies in and around our house,’ said Mr. Landrum, as he told of his experiences during the fight.

Miles and miles of earthworks.

The hill back of Bloody Angle is literally plowed into earthworks. The trenches are so close together that a man can step from one to the other for a great distance. Like all the other works, they are covered with brown pine needles, while the woods in which they are situated look today as they did during the hours when they were the centre of hand-to-hand fighting. Many of the trenches were made to serve as graves, the raised earth being simply turned back over the dead which filled the excavated line.

On the hill near the Landrum house, where Hancock's artillery was stationed, the lunettes in which the guns were placed stand today just as they appeared in 1864. There are eight or ten of them in a row, looking brown and sombre with their carpet of pine needles, and the sun filters down upon them [208] through the pine branches. Although now silent and deserted, one can easily imagine the thunderous terror of the guns on that eventful day, when the Blue and the Gray were struggling together from early morning until long after nightfall for the possession of the strategic point. Looking from these fortifications over to Bloody Angle, the woods and fields seem again alive with men fighting like madmen, the atmosphere is again heavy with rain and smoke, and the cries of the soldiers and the shrieks of the wounded are again resounding upon the air.

It was at the Bloody Angle that the firing was so severe as to actually cut in two an oak tree twenty-two inches in diameter. From the top of the tree Mr. Landrum took twenty-nine pounds of bullets, while the stump is still preserved in Washington.

Writing to General Halleck on the 11th of May, before the heaviest day's fighting had occurred, General Grant estimated that he had then lost 20,000 men in six days fighting around Spotsylvania Courthouse. It is said that in thirty days he lost 32,500 men actually killed. The Confederate loss was also enormous. Even nowadays bodies are plowed up every time the ground is turned in the spring, while bullets are as numberous in the soil as stones. Mr. Landrum said to me that he had found so many corpses on his place that the keeper of the National Cemetery at Fredericksburg grew tired of coming after them. This, it is to be remembered, is thirty-five years after the battles occurred.

It was at his headquarters just in the rear of the Union lines that Grant wrote the historic line, saying that he proposed ‘to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.’ The site of his headquarters is, of course, included in the boundary of the proposed park.

The interest of the old soldiers all over the country in the present appearance of this locality is shown by the large number of letters which Mr. Landrum receives. He had one in his pocket the other day. It had been addressed rather indefinitely to ‘Landrum House, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va.,’ and asked for some particulars as to the condition of the Bloody Angle and its contiguous fighting ground at the present day. There is no doubt that when the proposed park is established, and its [209] battle-fields made easily accessible by good roads and electric lines, the number of veterans who will revisit these scenes will be almost beyond computation.

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