History Feature Articles
The opening months of the Civil War had a certain boldness and cachet to them. Young men in particular signed up in droves. Picnickers came down from D.C. to take a gander at the First Battle of Manassas, discovering all too quickly that war is no theatrical entertainment. However, four years later when the South was playing an end-game, the damage to not just its army but also to its civilians was clearly a factor in its surrender. In 1863, there had been bread riots in Richmond. In 1864, the Shenandoah Valley’s crops and businesses had been burned by Union General Sheridan who was advised by his commander Grant to ”Give the enemy no rest ... Do all the damage to railroads and crops you can.”
And so it was. The civilians and soldiers alike were hit with shortages, and the last year of the war was a particularly brutal time. In William C. Davis’ and James I. Robertson, Jr.’s Virginia at War: 1865, the editors include eight essays by modern scholars and a diary from a Virginia woman, the wife of a minister, who observed that last year from her refugee quarters in Richmond where she served as a nurse and a clerk.
Present-day Christmas conjures memories of snow, lighted trees, cinnamon, gifts, parties, and music. If we lived during the Civil War, what kinds of memories would we have? Would they be of family, food, warmth, and parties, or would they be of just trying to survive and stave off hunger? Would there be presents under the tree, or would we be happy just to be present with our loved ones. To learn a bit more about Christmas during the years 1861-1864, explore the items in the library and the Web sites listed below.
Lake Anna State Park is a favorite local destination for campers, boaters, and families who just want to spend a summer day at the lakeside beach. For most of us, the way to the lake runs down Lawyers Road. These days, there’s not much to take in with the view from this one-lane road, which passes through as quiet a stretch of Spotsylvania countryside as remains in the 21st century. But in centuries past, the western part of the county was the scene for tribal wars, slave labor, religious awakenings, whiskey barrel politics, gold mining, and Civil War armies on the march.
The time was sunset on Sept. 23, 1779. A full moon was rising. The place was the bloody deck of John Paul Jones’ ship the Bon Homme Richard. There a young Spotsylvanian named Laurence Brooke would show the stuff of which heroes are made. At age 21, he was the lone surgeon on the Bon Homme Richard as it engaged the 50-gun HMS Serapis in the North Sea off Scarborough, England. The burning Serapis surrendered after a 3 1/2-hour battle during which John Paul Jones proclaimed: “I have not yet begun to fight!”
"By the King's Patent Granted" was a common embossing on English medicines of the 18th century. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries patent medicines reigned supreme as cures for everything from "hooping" cough to kidney ailments.
The inhabitants of early Fredericksburg enjoyed a cool drink during the hot summer months, just as we do today -- hence the massive excavations referred to as ice houses. These brick-lined, wood-floored structures were generally 15 to 20 feet in depth and 12 to 15 feet in diameter.
Dairy products, meats, and other perishables had to be kept cool, and what better way to do it than to cut the ice from the Rappahannock or a local pond during January, store it in a circular, subterranean cavity, cover it with straw, and preserve it for the warm months ahead.
Long before Lassie became a famous film star there was another collie who was courted by movie directors. This remarkable "dog with a human brain" had his day in a Fredericksburg court room and escaped the death penalty.
In the year 1675 four interesting events were recorded in Stafford County. Three of these were considered omens of the fourth, and the fourth was considered of significance to the history of our area.
The first event was in the heavens. In the southwestern sky, for more than a week, each day appeared a large comet with a long tail resembling that of a horse on a windy day. The Indians and the whites alike wondered what might be the meaning of this heavenly sign.
This account has been compiled from the Free Lance newspaper of Fredericksburg, Virginia, October 16, 1894 through September 27, 1895, by Robert A. Hodge.
Robert Hodge reported in 1981 that this is from a report prepared by a students of Germanna Community College in circa 1979. Report is not verified and was unsigned. Indeed, there is a variation in the name Bumbrey - represented as Bumbray here, but there are stones with Bumbrey in the cemetery. The original list was accompanied by the following statements:
"The following list of names is a list of people buried in an all black cemetery in the City of Fredericksburg at the corner of Monument Avenue and Littlepage Street.