TwHP Lessons

Chatham Plantation:
Witness to the Civil War

[Cover photo] Chatham plantation as it appears today.
(Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park)


igh on a bluff in Stafford County, Virginia, overlooking the Rappahannock River and the town of Fredericksburg beyond, stands the 18th-century plantation house called Chatham. For years this house stood as the centerpiece of a prosperous estate supported by nearly 100 slaves. Between 1862 and 1864 it became, in turn, an army headquarters, a communications center, a hospital, a campsite, and a refuge from the cold for Union soldiers.

The setting of Chatham has changed little over the years, so it is easy to imagine what it was like during the Civil War. Standing on the terraced lawn, you can see where thousands of Union soldiers descended the nearby ravine and passed over the river on pontoon bridges. From the high ground above the ravine, artillery shells flew overhead to clear the soldiers’ way to the battle lines where many met death or were grievously wounded. Turning back toward the house, you can envision the scene after the battle--the dark figures of men and women holding lanterns to light the way for the ambulances and supply wagons, the moaning of the hundreds of Union wounded who were taken to that makeshift hospital, and the lawns that quickly had become trampled, raw, and muddy from feet, hooves, and wagon wheels. Off by the few trees left standing were scattered arms, legs, hands, and feet, the grisly results of the surgeons’ amputations.

Four major Civil War battles were fought in the countryside surrounding Chatham. Wartime figures, famous and ordinary, passed through the house, some who would move on to greatness, some cast adrift by the upheaval of military occupation, and some far from homes they would never see again. In the wake of passing armies, Chatham, like the war-torn town visible from its front door, emerged standing, but forever changed by the turmoil of civil war.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Fredericksburg, VA and surrounding region
 2. Chatham, above the river (inset), and
 and Fredericksburg region

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. The Impact of the Civil War on Chatham
 2. Chatham at the Center of Military Activities
 3. Chatham as a Hospital

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Advertisement for Chatham
 2. Chatham, c. 1862
 3. Chatham as it appears today

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Write a Letter Home
 2. Restoration of Chatham
 3. Living through a War

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Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park

This lesson is based on Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and Cemetary, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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