The Army of the Potomac in Stafford County, 1862-1863: A Driving Tour
By The Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable
No great battles were fought within Stafford County, but during the winter of 1862-1863, 120,000 men of the Army of the Potomac camped along its ridges and valleys. The federal army combed the countryside, stripping the inhabitants of nearly everything - livestock, fence rails, crops, and lumber. With little remaining to eat and firewood for heating scarce (some sources claim that only 20 trees pre-dating the war exist in the county today), most residents were forced to leave. When these homes were found abandoned, Union soldiers simply pulled down the house and used it for firewood.
When the army finally left in June, 1863 to pursue Lee into Pennsylvania, Stafford County was virtually deserted with only those homes which had been occupied by officers or used as hospitals still left standing. It would take until the 1950’s for the county to get back to what it had been before the Union army arrived.
This tour will take the visitor to some of the sites where the Army of the Potomac encamped during the winter 1862-1863. Except where noted, all of the property mentioned is private and visitors should not trespass. The roads you will be driving are heavily traveled, please use caution when pulling off or onto them.
“Our permanent camp…was one mile west of the antiquated, weather-beaten hamlet of Stafford Court House. We never tarried in a poorer country. The whole Army of the Potomac, more than 100,000 men, was crowded upon the barren, ragged strip of ridges and hollows lying between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. Every elevation on both sides of the railroad, from Aquia Creek to Falmouth, had a camp perched upon it. Our isolation from the outside world was…complete.” -Union soldier from Indiana, winter 1862-63
Begin the tour at Belmont, located off Rt. 17 on Washington Street in Falmouth. Take exit 133 off of I-95 and follow the signs to the site. A Stafford county information center is on the grounds.
Built in several stages throughout the years, research has shown the earliest part of the house dates back to 1761. During the Civil War this home was owned by Joseph Burwell Ficklin, a flour mill operator from Culpeper, who enlarged the house over the years to accommodate his wife and six children. In 1916, artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne purchased the property and enlarged the house and added the studio. The home is on the National Historic Register and open to the public.
Across Rt. 17, at 501 Melcher Drive, is (2) “Carlton” (1700s) which, according to family stories, served as Rutherford B. Hayes’ Headquarters in 1862. Hayes, who later became President of the United States, was at this time the Colonel of the 23rd Ohio. “Carlton” was also said to have been visited by Abraham Lincoln.
To the west of “Belmont”, at 219 Ingleside Drive, sits the site of (3)“Ingleside” (1750) (sometimes referred to as “Prospect Hill”). The grounds served as a Federal artillery emplacement and Union troops destroyed the rows of hedges around the house so they could wear sprigs of green in their caps for St. Patrick’s Day festivities. A post war structure sits on the site today.
Leave Belmont, turning right onto Washington Street and proceed to the intersection with Cambridge street in the heart of Falmouth. Turn right onto Cambridge Street and pull into the parking area on the right.
“The village of Falmouth is a wretched straggling old place, very dirty and now deserted almost entirely. There have been mills of considerable size here; indeed, the buildings are still standing though they look as if they had not done much work for years.” -Col. Charles S. Wainwright, I Corps artillery
Incorporated in 1727, Falmouth began as a prosperous business and shipping center. However, by the 1840s, the silting up of the Rappahannock River ended shipping activities and the town’s business boom began to falter. In 1860, the town had a population of about 500.
The Union army occupied Falmouth from April-August 1862 and from November 1862-June 1863. They would later return briefly in 1864 during Grant’s Wilderness & Spotsylvania operations. Most of the town was occupied by Union officers and the provost guard, among them was future Chief Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr. who resided at Mrs. Dunbar’s house which was located on present-day Carter Street. Only the Dunbar kitchen remains. Because of this occupation, many of the town’s buildings were spared destruction and still stand today.
Among the notable are:
• Temperance Tavern (1813-1815) 121 Washington Street,
• Cotton Warehouse (1780) 201 Cambridge Street,
• Magistrate’s Office (1790) on Cambridge Street,
• Basil Gordon House (1830s) on River road,
• Brooks House (1850) 125 Cambridge Street,
A brochure detailing some of these properties is available at the Stafford County information center at Belmont.
Continue on River Road which will pass under Rt. 1, turn left after passing under Rt. 1 onto Gordon Street. Proceed to Carter Street and turn right. Carter street will pass Union Church which was used as a hospital, and curve around to Butler road. Turn right onto Butler road (Rt. 212). On the high ground to your left just behind Falmouth Baptist Church, sits (5) Clearview (1740) which was used as headquarters by General Joseph Hooker in 1862. The grounds around the house was used as an artillery and lookout position by Union forces. Continue along Butler road, which passes through the area of the II Corps encampment, to its intersection with White Oak road (Rt. 218). Turn right onto White Oak road and proceed to Chatham lane. Turn right onto Chatham lane and drive to the parking area.
Owned and interpreted by the National Park Service, Chatham (1771) was known during the war as the James Lacy house and served as headquarters for various Union commanders such as; Irvin McDowell, Ambrose Burnside, and Edwin Sumner. The house also served as a major hospital site and the grounds as an artillery emplacement. Lincoln visited here and reviewed troops in the fields to the rear of the house. On the Rappahannock River below this position, Union engineers built pontoon bridges for the army to cross for the assault on Marye’s Heights. The park service has exhibits in the house and displays on the grounds which tell the story. Information on the Fredericksburg area battlefields is also available here.
Exiting Chatham’s parking area, you will be placed onto River road. Turn left onto River road and travel the short distance to Rt. 3. Turn left onto Rt. 3 and follow the signs to Ferry Farm.
(7) Ferry Farm
Best known as George Washington’s childhood home (he was here from age 7-16), the founding father’s boyhood house had been long gone by the time of the Civil War.
During the Union occupation, the farm was used as an artillery site and engineers built a pontoon bridge across the river here prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg. Recently purchased by the Kenmore Association, the farm is open to the public and a self-guided walking tour brochure is available.
Leaving Ferry Farm turn right onto Rt. 3. As you travel east, to your right, were the plantations used by the Union forces as hospitals, and to your left is Stafford Heights where the artillery was positioned for the bombardment of Fredericksburg in 1862. During the war, the ground between the heights and the river was clear of vegetation and Fredericksburg could be easily viewed. About 1.5 miles from Ferry Farm, on your right, is (8) “Rumford” the William Pollock estate. A post-war structure sits on the site today. The house itself served as the hospital for the Union 2nd Division, I Corps and 56 bodies were later removed from here to the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. Along the river below here, Union engineers built the lower pontoon bridges for General Franklin’s forces to use in December of 1862. Continue along Rt. 3, passing (9) “Little Falls” (a highway marker gives the history of this property), and turn left onto Rt. 601 (Forest Lane Rd.). To your left, along Little Falls Run, once stood (10) Little Falls or Pollock’s Mill a landmark during the war. General Sedgwick’s troops would cross on a pontoon bridge near the mouth of Pollocks Creek (now Little Falls Run) in 1863. Proceed along Forest Lane road to a pull-off on your left, just before the railroad tracks.
(11) Sherwood Forest
On the hill to your right is “Sherwood Forest” (1810), which is one of the largest tracts in Stafford County and was owned during the war by Henry Fitzhugh and his wife Jane Downman. Because of its location on a hill close to the river the house was utilized as a hospital and a lookout post.
To your front is a ridge which was used as the encampment of the 88th and 136th Pennsylvania. The house which sits on the southern end of the ridge is known as (12) “Eastwood” (1829), the home of Robert Gray at the time of Union occupation. “Eastwood” was also used as a hospital and many soldiers wrote their names on the walls. Two soldiers were buried near the house, but were later removed to the National Cemetery in Fredericksburg. “Eastwood” still stands, but is private and inaccessible.
Continue along Rt. 601 to Caisson road (Rt. 603). Ahead of you is the road which led to (13) “Hollywood”, the Purkins estate, which was another Union campground and hospital. The house no longer stands. Turn left and proceed to the intersection with White Oak road (Rt. 218). Cross 218 and pull into the White Oak Civil War Museum parking area on the left. The Museum contains information and numerous artifacts found in the Union Camps within the county. In front of the museum is a Civil War Trails marker for White Oak Church.
(14) White Oak Church
“…we are in the immediate vicinity of the venerable old church if such a name can with propriety be applied to an edifice not so good looking as my barn and wood shed.” -Daniel M. Holt, M.D., 121st New York
Established in 1789, the church was used as a hospital and the headquarters for the VI Corps was located nearby. Radiating out from around this church were thousands of tents making up the encampments of the VI Corps.
Across Route 218 from the church is the road which led directly to (15) Belle Plain Landing, a major Union supply base and hospital area. More than 1,000 tents were pitched at the landing to house the sick and wounded prior to shipment to Washington. Along the road to Belle Plain and around the landing itself was the encampment area for troops of the I Corps. In 1864, during Grant’s campaign, the landing was also used as a temporary POW camp for Confederates captured in the Wilderness and at Spotsylvania. The site today affords a view of the wharf area, which actually sat to the east off of present Whipsawasons Point.
Proceed from the parking area to Rt. 218 and turn right. In about 2 miles, on your right, is the road to (16) Mount Ringold Farm site (Rt. 606). It was on this farm, then known as the Curtis farm, that General Hooker set up Army Headquarters in 1863. .4 mile beyond Mt. Ringold farm, on your right, is the site of the (17) King Farm, where the 50th N. Y. Engineers set up camp and where the pontoon trains were parked prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg. .6 mile beyond the King farm site, also on your right, is (18) Little Whim where a monument in the front yard denotes “The spot where stood General Burnside’s Headquarters flag-staff December 11-13, 1862.” Confirmation of the truth in this statement has yet to be found, however Little Whim later became headquarters for General Marsena Patrick. Continue on White oak road about another .8 mile to Northside drive and turn right. In .1 mile on your right is the site of the Phillips House.
(19) Phillips House Site
The large white house on the property today is a postwar structure on the same site as the wartime home where General Ambrose Burnside is known to have set up army headquarters during and after the Battle of Fredericksburg. The original structure accidentally burned in February 1863 but a wartime dependency still stands and can be seen adjacent to the house.
Continue on Northside drive, which loops back to White Oak road. Turn right onto White Oak road and proceed to Deacon road (Rt. 607). To your left at this intersection is Cool Spring road which runs along the original Richmond, Fredericksburg, & Potomac Railroad bed. A short distance down Cool Spring road is the site of (20) Falmouth Station, a union supply depot serving the troops in this area. Nothing remains of the station today. Turn right onto Deacon road. On your right note the entrance leading into the Ridge Pointe Housing Development. It was within this development that reconnaissance balloons were launched to view the Confederate positions across the river. Continue on Deacon road to Leeland road (Rt. 626). At this intersection, to your right front is located the Grafton Village Housing Development, which occupies the site of the Deacon farm - “Grafton” - where President Lincoln witnessed a review of the army. Farther to the east, off of Rt. 608, is the site of (21) Boscobel, where General Daniel Sickles had his headquarters and where Lincoln also witnessed a review. Boscobel burned in 1915 and the farm is now covered by a housing development.
Turn left onto Leeland road. You are now traveling through the encampment area of III Corps. In 1 mile on the left you will notice a dirt lane which once led to the site of (22) Bell-Air (1847) which was utilized by no less than five union Generals as a headquarters ( most likely from III Corps). According to the WPA in their inventory of historic structures, a letter dated June 8, 1862 references that Abraham Lincoln reviewed the army here. This area is slated for a future housing development. Continue on Leeland road to Rice road (an unpaved road just before the bridge over the railroad) and turn right. Drive to the railroad tracks and pull over.
(23) Stoneman Station
To the north of the present day railroad tracks is the site known as Stoneman’s Station or switch which was on the old bed of the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad (RF&P). The station was a large federal supply depot serving the V and III Corps. To the southeast of this depot is where the V Corps headquarters were established (on a ridge about a quarter mile in front of you). The Corps occupied the area roughly north of the present railroad as far as Potomac Creek and as far west as present day Rt. 1. The First division was located north of Rt. 625, the Second division was located near present day Rt. 676, and Third division was near Rt. 627. Berdan’s Sharpshooters had their camp north of here off of Rt. 624 where the Hickory Ridge Housing Development now sits. The present day railroad tracks were moved here in 1902-1907 when the line was straightened and double-tracked. Leeland road follows the old rail bed once across the present overpass.
Retrace your route back to Leeland road and turn right. Once across the overpass you will be driving on the wartime RF&P Railroad bed . Stoneman’s station was opposite the turn for Rt. 624 on the south side of the road. You are now traveling through the encampment area of the V Corps. Between 647 and 626, on the north side of the road, the V Corps hospital was established. Where Rt. 626 and 625 meet, bear to the right onto 625, which is still Leeland road. First Division, V Corps was encamped north of this point. Continue to the end of the road where you will see the old railroad bridge abutment and the wayside exhibit on the left.
(24) Potomac Creek Railroad Bridge
In April, 1862, Union military railroad engineer Herman Haupt, with orders to repair the destroyed railroad from Aquia Landing to Falmouth, had the bridge crossing here at Potomac Creek, four hundred feet long and eighty feet high, up and operating within two weeks. Consisting of almost two million feet of Lumber, Lincoln marveled at the site of it, stating “…there is nothing in it but beanpoles and cornstalks.” In August 1862, the Union troops withdrew from the area and the bridge was destroyed. Upon the army’s return in November, Haupt again rebuilt the bridge across Potomac Creek and the rail-line was able to supply the army throughout the winter 1862-1863. Redoubts were built on the hills south of the bridge to protect it from Confederate raids.
Reverse direction and return to the junction with 626 (Potomac Run road). Turn right onto 626. You will ascend the ridge where First Division, V Corps encamped. Once across marshy Potomac Creek, you are traveling through the XI Corps encampment area. Continue on 626 to Rt. 628 ( Eskimo Hill road). Turn right onto Rt. 628. Proceed to Brooke road (Rt. 608) and turn left. Proceed to the intersection with Rt. 629 and pull in to the general store on your right.
(25) Brooke Station
This is Brooke Station, the area of the XI Corps Headquarters and a supply depot for the XI and XII Corps. “Mill Vale”, the Brooke house, was located 200 yards east of here on the south side of Rt. 608 and Brooke’s mill, utilized by union soldiers, was located a few hundred yards further east of the house. Both structures are long gone, the house not surviving past 1882. A fort was built ¼ mile south of here and about 100 yards west of Rt. 608 to protect the railroad. During the war, the railroad continued on to Aquia landing from Brooke along what is now Rt. 608. There, the rail-line ended and passengers were ferried up the Potomac to Washington. Following the war, the railroad was rerouted over Aquia Creek on a new bridge and continued up to Alexandria and Washington.
Continue on Rt. 608, which follows the roadbed of the wartime Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, to the county park at Aquia Landing.
(26) Aquia Landing
Aquia Landing was the terminus of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad (RF&P). From here, passengers took steamboats up the Potomac to Washington and Alexandria. An interpretive marker in the park explains the importance of the landing. Following Virginia’s secession, the Confederates built gun emplacements along the heights above the landing to protect the railroad and attempted to blockade shipping to Washington. Just outside the entrance to the park an interpretive trail leads to one of these emplacements. Union gunboats bombarded the landing for two days in May 1861 but with no success. When the Confederates retreated from the area in April 1862, they destroyed the entire wharf area, making it necessary for the Union forces to rebuild the wharves and lay a 2 mile railroad spur to off-load supplies and connect with the RF&P. The landing was abandoned and rebuilt several times by the Federals and was instrumental in supplying the Army of the Potomac during their occupation of the area.
Proceed back along 608 to the junction with Rt. 629 at Brooke. Turn right onto Rt. 629 (Andrew Chapel road). You are traveling through the encampment area of the XII Corps. Proceed to Courthouse road (Rt. 630). At this intersection, to your left, once sat (27) Andrew Chapel, which was heavily damaged during the war, was repaired afterward and used until finally abandoned in the 1950s. Today, only the cemetery remains. East of here along Rt. 630, on private property, are two forts built by Union forces to protect their depot at Aquia Landing. Neither are accessible to the public. Turn left onto Courthouse road and proceed to Rt. 1 where, in front of you, sits Stafford Courthouse.
(28) Stafford Courthouse
The present courthouse (built in 1922) sits on the site of the wartime courthouse, which served as the headquarters for the Union XII Corps.
This ends the driving tour. From the Courthouse you may head south on Rt. 1 and return to Falmouth, once again passing over the ridges that served as Union encampments or proceed straight on Rt. 630 to Interstate-95.
Other Civil War sites in Stafford County:
(29) Aquia Church - (intersection of Rt. 610 & Rt. 1 north of Stafford Court House) Brochures on the history of the church are on site. This is the oldest active church in the county. The present building was constructed in 1751 in the shape of a Greek Cross, destroyed by fire in 1754, and rebuilt in 1757. Both sides utilized the church as an outpost and hospital. Names and units may still be seen etched in the sandstone of the church. The oldest stone in the cemetery dates from 1700.
(30) Clifton Chapel - (Clifton Chapel Road off Rt. 611) Built in the mid-1800s and restored after the war, this chapel was the headquarters of Colonel George W. Richardson of the 47th Virginia in July, 1861. Charged with the defense of the coast between Chopawamsic and Aquia Creeks, Richardson set up “Camp Clifton” on this high ground, which afforded him a fine view of the mouth of Aquia Creek. The 47th remained here until March, 1862 when it was called back to Richmond to aid in its defense.
(31) Clifton and Richland - (North of Rt. 611 on the Potomac River) both properties served as campgrounds during the war. In 1861, Clifton was shelled by Union gunboats who mistakenly believed they were attacking Aquia Landing. After the war, Richland became the home of General Fitzhugh Lee until he became Governor. The properties are private and not viewable from public roads.
(32) Ebenezer Church - (Onville Road, north of Rt. 610) the church was built in 1856 from bricks made in the field adjacent to it. During the war, Union soldiers burned the floors, broke the windows, defaced the walls, and used the building as a stable.
(33) Kellogg’s Mill Site - (Abel Lake, north of Kellogg’s Mill Road - Rt. 651) Lyman Kellogg owned nearly 400 acres in this area and, after the war, with slaves no longer available, Kellogg hired the local men to work his mill which helped employ many of the county residents during the very lean postwar years. The milldam was destroyed by a hurricane in 1927 and the mill abandoned. Today, most of the site lies under Abel Lake.
(34) Mt. Olive Church - (Mt. Olive Road - Rt. 650, north of Kellogg’s Mill Road) the oldest African-American church congregation in the county, established in 1818. The present church is a post-war structure near the wartime old log church site.
(35) Hartwood Church - (Hartwood Church Road off Rt. 17 west of Falmouth) Built in 1858, the church is located in a strategic area on the Warrenton Pike and near the River crossings on the Rappahannock. The Church saw considerable activity during the war. It served as headquarters for Federal Cavalry General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick and was passed by Hooker’s army in its march to Chancellorsville.
During the winter 1862-63, the church witnessed several cavalry skirmishes. In November 1862, Wade Hampton’s Confederate cavalry surprised the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry here, resulting in the Pennsylvanians’ commander being cashiered from the army. In February 1863, the church was the scene of the largest battle on Stafford soil when Confederate General Fitzhugh Lee led 400 troopers from the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd Virginia Cavalry in a surprise raid on the Union outpost here. After capturing the garrison, Lee divided his troops and rode east along parallel roads toward the Union encampments.
(36) Hartwood (William Irvine House) - (At the crossing of Horsepen Run on Rt. 17) this farm was the camp and quarters for the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry. It saw action during Hampton and Lee’s raids. In the February action around Hartwood church and Irvine’s house, Lee’s men killed about 9 and took 125 prisoners. The Confederates had suffered only 14 casualties in the raid.
(37) Berea Church - (Berea Church Road off Rt. 17) the church standing here was built in 1852 and was severely damaged by Union cavalry who destroyed the interior. Along this ridge, Union infantry formed and turned back Lee’s troopers. Following the raid, Fitzhugh Lee sent former West Point classmate and now Federal cavalry commander, William Averell a note; “I wish you would put up your sword, leave my state, and go home. You ride a good horse, I ride a better. Yours can beat mine running. If you won’t go home, return my visit, and bring me a sack of coffee.”
In March 1863, Averell did return the visit, with a surprise attack on Lee’s men near Kelly’s Ford. Following the fight, Averell sent a sack of coffee with a note to Lee:
“Here’s your coffee. Here’s your visit. How do you like it?”
(38) Greenbank - the Banks’ Farm - (Greenbank Road, south of Berea) a crossing area for General Sedgwick’s Union VI Corps following the Battle of Salem Church. The farm is inaccessible to the public.
(39) Stansted (site) - (Rt. 17 & I-95) served as General William French’s headquarters and was also a major Quartermaster depot where the Union army’s cattle was kept. The old farm lane leading to the house is currently the road that runs between the McDonald’s and Truck Stop just west of I-95.
Brochure produced and funded by The Rappahannock Valley Civil War Roundtable
Research: Charles Siegel
Brochure designed and printed by Colonial Type and Graphics, Stafford, Virginia
For further information on Stafford County during the Civil War consult the book:
Stafford County in the Civil War by Homer D. Musselman, 1995, H.E. Howard Inc., Lynchburg, VA.