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Hard Use for Houses of Worship

Hartwood Presbyterian Church

As America realized her independence, part of what followed was religious freedom and the chance to worship where one chose. Originally, Anglican worshippers attended a “Chapel of Ease” called Yellow Chapel for poplar wood’s color that was part of King George County’s Brunswick Parish. By 1825, the little church was in use by the Presbyterians who eventually built a brick church nearby, circa 1858. During the Civil War, Hartwood Presbyterian Church was a point of contention between the two sides.

In November, 1862, Union Captain George Johnson and his troops were surprised at the Presbyterian Church by Gen. Wade Hamilton's Confederate cavalry, who took many prisoners. Earlier, Captain Johnson’s men had burned the woodwork and the pews and, fancying himself something of an artist, Johnson started to draw on the walls of the church, ignoring the warnings of an upcoming attack. His artistic yen ultimately cost him for he was dismissed for “disgraceful and un-officer-like conduct.” After the War, the parishioners raised the money to not only restore it but also to add modern improvements.

Mount Olive Baptist Church, founded May 16, 1818, is believed to be the oldest African-American church in Stafford County. From five farmers and a preacher, it has grown to a congregation of approximately 350 people and is still expanding. During the Civil War, it was a log structure but has since been replaced by a brick building.

“The Mud March” through Hartwood and Other Civil War Happenings

There were numerous skirmishes and troop movements in this part of Stafford County during the Civil War, but one of the most memorable was surely “The Mud March.” In January of 1863, Union General Burnside ordered his three Grand Divisions to march up the north side of the Rappahannock to Banks Ford and U.S. Ford with the idea of crossing to attack Fredericksburg—again. The weather defeated him. On January 20, “a violent rain-storm set in, making the roads impassable for artillery and wagon trains.” An officer put in a request for “50 men, 25 feet high, to work in mud 18 feet deep.”

After enduring two more days of rain, General Burnside gave up and ordered his troops back to camp. It was one of the most humiliating and miserable experiences the Union Army faced. The drenching misery was captured in a battle sketch by Alfred R. Waud entitled, “Winter Campaigning.” Burnside lost his command on January 26 to General Joseph Hooker.

Fitzhugh LeeLess than a month later, on February 25, Confederate commander Fitzhugh Lee—Robert E. Lee’s nephew—used cavalry charges to inflict casualties and take approximately 150 Union soldiers prisoner from their picket line at Hartwood Church. As one Northern observer noted, “considering the [poor] conditions of the roads, [the Federals] made very good time to the rear.” Newly-appointed General Hooker was livid and became even more determined to reform the Union cavalry:

“We ought to be invincible, and by God, sir, we shall be!  You have got to stop these disgraceful cavalry ‘surprises.’  I’ll have no more of them.  I give you full power over your officers, to arrest, cashier, shoot—whatever you will—only you must stop these surprises.  And by God, sir, if you don’t do it, I give you fair notice, I will relieve the whole of you and take command of the cavalry myself.”

The Union Cavalry did do rather better at Kelly’s Ford in March. Although General Hooker lost at the Battle of Chancellorsville in late April and early May of ‘63, he is credited with greatly strengthening the Union cavalry. The lesson learned at Hartwood Church carried over to the rest of the war. 

It is certain the ordinary Union soldiers’ lives were dreary during those many months but they tried to entertain themselves, as a letter John Marshall Brown of Portland, Maine, to his sister Ellen (Nellie) from a camp in Hartwood (November 21, 1862) tells:

“…it rained all night & nearly all day to-day. It has cleared up at last, though, and tomorrow we move. If you could have peeped into our “dining room” last night after night supper you would have seen a queer sight all of us were sitting around the table telling ghost stories until late in the night. It was raining great guns & we had to do something to pass away the time & with the mud an inch deep on the floor of the tent you can imagine that we were thankful at being able to keep ‘jolly.’”

On a more somber note, the arrival and occupation of U.S. troops were welcomed by the vast majority of the area’s slaves who put down their work and made their way to freedom.

This an excerpt from a longer article, "Hartwood Days and Hartwood History."