How to Use
Reading 1: The Impact of the Civil War on Chatham
For nearly a century before the Civil War split the country apart, Chatham stood quietly on the high ground overlooking Fredericksburg, Virginia. Its lands had gradually been developed into a typical plantation with outbuildings, barns, large fields, livestock, and slaves. James Horace Lacy acquired the property in 1857, and throughout the Civil War the plantation house was known as the Lacy House.
Lacy was a prominent businessman, civic leader, and farmer. His family lived comfortably in their spacious house with its pastoral surroundings. From the green terraces in front of Chatham, the Lacy children could see the prosperous town of Fredericksburg. They watched as boats sailed along the Rappahannock River below their house or as horse-drawn wagons and carriages crossed the nearby bridge onto the busy streets beyond. A nearby wooded ravine led down to the river’s edge. Enslaved field laborers worked the nearby grain fields while household slaves carried out domestic duties in the many outbuildings and in the plantation house.
Lacy and his young family had no thought that conflict might disturb their comfortable and happy way of life. But when war erupted in 1861, the fortunes of the Lacy family and their house were changed forever. When J. Horace Lacy offered his services to the new Confederate army, Mrs. Lacy and their five children left Chatham and resided with various friends and relatives in other parts of Virginia, away from the anticipated battles. Household furnishings and slaves were transported to other landholdings outside Fredericksburg and further south. Lacy would be separated from his family for much of the war.
Vast armies occupied the countryside around Chatham for much of the next four years. A New York soldier recalled:
About opposite to the central part of Fredericksburg, and a few hundred feet from the river, was an old Brick mansion, known as the Lacy house, from its owner. Lacy was a rebel from choice, and ranked as a Major in the Confederate army. His house was very large with no attempt at exterior ornamentation; within, however, wealth and art had left abundant evidence of their profuse employment to make the dwelling a fit abode for most refined and aesthetic inhabitants. The grounds descended to the river in terraces, and the house and its surroundings could not well be surpassed for beauty, elegance and comfort.1
With the owners away, however, the house fell victim to vandalism and ill use. Mrs. Lacy reported, "Uncle Jack, our old gardener, who was left in charge of the place, said he frequently saw the soldiers ride up one flight of stone steps, through the wide hall and down the other flight in the rear of the house."2 Later in the war another soldier could still find a small reminder of domestic serenity as he rode past Chatham. He wrote, "The owner of the deserted house is in the rebel army; his garden is a disaster but what moved me most, a child’s rocking-horse stood by a door, unharmed in all the strife."3
When peace finally came in 1865, Lacy led his family back to their familiar home only to find it uninhabitable. Mrs. Lacy remembered her return as "heartrending." She went on to describe how serious the damage was: "All the paneling had been stripped from the walls, every door and window was gone, literally only the bare brick walls were left standing. The trees had been cut down, the yard and garden were a wilderness of weeds and briers and there were nineteen Federal graves on the lawn."4
Like many Southern plantation owners, Lacy lost his financial resources and his source of labor. It took years to refurbish the Chatham estate and regain productivity of the land. Continued financial difficulties convinced the Lacys to sell Chatham in 1872. They moved to another family plantation known as Ellwood, 16 miles west of Fredericksburg. There they continued to live and farm into the early 20th century.
Little is known about how most of Lacy’s former slaves fared. In 1863 one Chatham slave, Charles Henry Sprout, enlisted in the United States Colored Troops, African American regiments that fought with the Northern armies. When Sprout was discharged in 1866 in Texas, he returned to Fredericksburg to live. He died in 1926 and was buried in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Another Lacy slave, Charlie Weedon, served as a guide for Confederate troops during military operations in the Chancellorsville and Wilderness campaigns. It is uncertain if he survived the war.
Questions for Reading 1
1. What features made Chatham a typical southern plantation when J. Horace Lacy purchased it in 1857?
2. What happened to the plantation and the Lacy family when the Civil War began?
3. How was the house changed while the Lacys were gone?
4. How would you feel if your home and family were disrupted by war or a disaster? Do you think it would have been easier or harder for the Lacy family if their house had been destroyed?
5. What happened to the Lacy slaves? Why do you think we know so little about what happened to them after the war?
Reading 1 was compiled from Ralph Happel, Chatham: The Life of a House (Philadelphia: Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 1984); Ruth Coder Fitzgerald, A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford and Spotsylvania, Virginia (Fredericksburg: Unicorn Press, 1979); Wilson Greene, J. Horace Lacy: The Most Dangerous Rebel in the County (Richmond: Owens Publishing Company, 1988); and Ronald W. Johnson, "Chatham Preliminary Historic Resource Study," National Park Service, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, 1982.
1Theodore B. Gates, The Ulster Guard 20th N.Y. State Militia and the War of the Rebellion, Embracing History (New York, 1879), 222-223.