The Chatham Hospital

Historical photo of Chatham Manor during the Civil War
Chatham Manor, called the Lacy House during the Civil War, in 1863.

Library of Congress


The Lacy House

During the Civil War, Chatham was often referred to as the Lacy House. The wartime owners of the property were James Horace Lacy and Betty Jones Lacy. They lived here with their five children. At the time of the Civil War roughly fifty enslaved people maintained Chatham. In May of 1861, Horace Lacy joined the Confederate Army. That same year, Betty and her children left Chatham. She and her children moved around Virginia for the remainder of the war, trying to stay close to Horace.

Before leaving their home, the Lacys also moved some of the enslaved people at Chatham to a farm in Powhatan County, Virginia, fearing that they would come into contact with the United States Army if left in Fredericksburg. The remainder of the enslaved people were left behind; two of the Lacys neighbors stayed at Chatham to serve as overseers. The arrival of U.S. soldiers became a reality for enslaved people at Chatham during the spring of 1862 when the U.S. Army occupied Fredericksburg. According to Betty Lacy, who returned to Chatham briefly in May of 1862, roughly twenty enslaved people had run away to freedom since her family’s departure in 1861.

During the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862, Chatham functioned as both a military headquarters for U.S. General Edwin Sumner and as a hospital. Some of the first casualties of the battle were brought to Chatham on the morning of December 11. While used as a hospital, the house was crowded with officers, doctors and nurses, and patients alike. Wounded soldiers filled the empty rooms. Some were placed on the porches or the ground outside. Doors were used as stretchers to carry patients in and out. Over 130 of the soldiers treated at Chatham did not survive their wounds and were temporarily buried outside.

The homes of hundreds of American families were used as headquarters and hospitals during the war. When the Lacy family returned in 1865, Chatham was in a much different condition than they had left it. One of the biggest changes for the Lacys to come to terms with was the permanent abolition of slavery. All of the enslaved people at Chatham had been freed by the outcome of the Civil War. The Lacy family struggled to maintain such a large plantation on their own. In 1872, the Lacys put Chatham up for sale. During the late nineteenth century, both Horace and Betty Lacy were involved in early efforts to memorialize the Confederacy and its leadership.


“The Helpers”

Chatham was used as a U.S. hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg from December 11 through December 25, 1862. During that time, a host of surgeons, nurses, and hospital officials worked to provide care for hundreds of wounded soldiers. Chatham was a hospital for soldiers in the Second Division of the Second Corps. There were at least fifteen additional U.S. hospitals in operation during the battle. Doctors and medical officials were aided by volunteer nurses who arrived in Fredericksburg before the battle to help.

The surgeon in charge at Chatham was Doctor J. Franklin Dyer. He was helped by three operating surgeons, Doctors Hayward, Morton, and Rizer. There were also nine assistant surgeons present. Hospital staff set up operating tables at one end of the house. Many of the patients who were brought to Chatham underwent amputations due to the severe wounds that they had suffered in battle. Other hospital officials at Chatham included Doctor Prentice, who served as the recorder for the hospital, and a man named Mr. Barrow, who worked as the head hospital steward. Barrow ensured that the day-to-day needs of patients were met.

Even though she was not commissioned as an army surgeon due to rules and social norms that prohibited women from serving in the army, Doctor Mary Walker was also at Chatham treating soldiers. Some of the nurses and civilian aides who worked at Chatham during the battle include Clara Barton, Harriet Beacon, and Isabella Fogg.

The caretakers who worked at Chatham during and after the Battle of Fredericksburg made personal sacrifices to help others. Television host and minister Fred Rogers once shared a piece of advice given to him by his mother: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” The “helpers” that came to Chatham saved countless lives and are a critical part of the story of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

People at the Chatham Hospital

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    Further Readings & Resources

    Beagan, Christopher M., and H. Eliot Foulds. Cultural Landscape Report for Chatham, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, Stafford County, Virginia. Boston, MA: Olmstead Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service, 2019.

    Chesson, Michael B. The Journal of a Civil War Surgeon. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.

    Letterman, Jonathan. Medical Recollections of the Army of the Potomac. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1866.

    Malles, Ed., ed. Bridge Building in Wartime: Colonel Wesley Brainerd’s Memoir of the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers. Knoxville, TN: University of Knoxville Press, 1997.

    Schultz, Jane E, ed., and Harriet Bacon Eaton. This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    United States Sanitary Commission. Documents of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. Vol. 1. New York: U.S. Sanitary Commission, 1866.

    Whitman, Walt. Memoranda During the War. Bedford, MA: Applewood Book, 1875.

    Last updated: February 12, 2023

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