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Setting the Stage

Virginia seceded from the Union in April 1861. As the northernmost state in the Confederacy, it became the central ground over which major campaigns of the Civil War were fought. From the Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) in 1861 to the surrender at Appomattox Court House in 1865, the armies of the North and the South moved to and fro across Virginia’s landscape. The same avenues of trade, transportation, and communication that had brought prosperity to the Fredericksburg area of Virginia now brought war. The Rappahannock River flowed past the town carrying people and goods between western and central Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay. The Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad and a network of wagon roads connected Fredericksburg with Washington, D.C., and Richmond, the capitals of the United States of America and the Confederate States of America respectively.

In the countryside surrounding Fredericksburg, four major battles raged: the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862), the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 27-May 6, 1863), the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864), and the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864). When the guns finally fell silent at the end of the war, nearly 100,000 casualties could be counted in the region. The military activity in and around Fredericksburg had a dramatic impact not only on the soldiers who fought there, but also on the citizens of the area and the land on which they lived. Chatham, an 18th-century plantation house and the family home of J. Horace Lacy, sits high on a bluff overlooking Fredericksburg. Its commanding location helped insure that this house would become an important part of Fredericksburg’s Civil War history.



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