Clipboard icon. This link bypasses navigation taking you directly to the contents of this page.


How to Use
the Readings


Inquiry Question

Historical Context


Reading 1
Reading 3



Table of

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Chatham at the
Center of Military Activities

In the spring of 1862 the Union armies under command of Major General George B. McClellan began the Peninsula Campaign--an effort to take the Confederate capital of Richmond. Part of the Union forces were sent to Fredericksburg to guard the path to Washington. During that period Union General Irvin McDowell used Chatham as his headquarters. McDowell carefully protected the resources on the plantation. Valuable wheat crops were placed under armed guard and the house itself was not harmed. In early May President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton visited this Union headquarters to confer with McDowell on strategy and inspect the now occupied town. In late May the army left Fredericksburg and moved toward the Shenandoah Valley. Throughout that spring, summer, and into the fall, however, a parade of officers and men passed through Chatham’s halls. As time went on, respect for the house and property disappeared. On July 2, 1862, the Fredericksburg Christian Banner reported that "the grounds surrounding [Chatham], which had been tended with so much care, were now covered with the tents of staff officers and orderlies; the fences were gone, the shrubbery destroyed, and the whole plain, now covered with troops, was, aside from the bustle of marshaling hosts, a barren, uninviting waste."

In the weeks prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862), Chatham once again became a Union headquarters. In mid-November the Union army, divided into three grand divisions, arrived on Stafford Heights overlooking Fredericksburg. General Ambrose E. Burnside, the army’s commander, was headquartered at the Phillips House (see Map 2) while Edwin V. Sumner, commander of the Right Grand Division, used Chatham as his command post. On December 11, the Union army crossed the Rappahannock, encountering Confederate troops in the town of Fredericksburg before making its way toward Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s forces posted on the high ground west of the city. On that same morning, Burnside visited Sumner at Chatham and noted its unparalleled view of the town. From Chatham it was possible to see upstream and downstream along Stafford Heights, where hundreds of Union artillery pieces were posted. One officer remembered that December 11 visit to Chatham: "Pausing in our route, at General Sumner’s headquarters there was spread below the once beautiful town of Fredericksburg, now in flames [from the Union artillery], and from all appearances to soon become a mass of ruins...."1 Chatham’s location would thus make it a prime center from which Sumner could send and receive information from various positions during the ensuing battle. On December 13 Burnside ordered attacks on the Confederates at Marye’s Heights and below Fredericksburg at Prospect Hill. The attacks failed, and Union soldiers perished by the thousands. In fact, on that day General Lee won his most one-sided victory of the war.

The Federal soldiers who survived the fighting wearily recrossed the river to Stafford Heights, where they spent the winter in makeshift huts recuperating, training, and waiting to fight the enemy again. These soldiers needed large amounts of wood to build their log huts and corduroy roads (roads made by placing logs crosswise on footpaths, especially in low-lying areas, to provide traction for men’s boots and horse’s hooves) and to make fires with which to cook and keep warm. In their search for wood they cut down most of the trees in a huge area around Chatham. Also burned, according to one account, was anything in the house made of wood. Some Union troops--frontline guards or pickets--camped in the house where they were somewhat protected from the raw wind and cold. One man remembered:

...our reserve was stationed in a ravine near the Lacy house, without warm food, or even fire to make coffee--so indispensable to a soldier, entirely without shelter, and for the greater portion of the time with clothing wet through, and frozen stiff, unable during the whole time to lie down or sleep. The weather for the entire winter was terribly severe, raining and freezing most of the time....2

During the spring of 1863, Chatham was used again briefly as a command post. The Union army tried to break through the Confederate defenses at Chancellorsville to the west of Fredericksburg, but Stonewall Jackson drove them back in a surprise Confederate attack on May 2. Later on that day, Jackson was accidentally shot and mortally wounded by his own troops.

In the spring of 1864 cannon boomed and blood flowed again when the armies of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee clashed twice--at the Wilderness Battlefield, and again at the prolonged and bloody Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. With each battle, Fredericksburg’s sufferings increased; by the time the war ended, the town was a shambles and Chatham stood quiet and desolate as the armies moved north. Never again would it house Union generals, though it provided shelter as long as troops remained in the area.

Questions for Reading 2

1. Which Union generals used Chatham as headquarters?

2. Why was Chatham considered to be in a strategic location?

3. How did Chatham change between the time that Generals Irvin McDowell and Edwin V. Sumner occupied the house? Make a list of specific changes mentioned in the reading and then briefly explain why these changes occurred.

4. What happened to the town of Fredericksburg as a result of the cannon fire from Stafford Heights?

5. Can you think of somewhere in the world today where civilians’ houses such as Chatham serve the military as bases or hospitals?

Reading 2 is excerpted from Ronald W. Johnson, "Chatham Preliminary Historic Resource Study," National Park Service, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, 1982.

1Oliver Christian Bosbyshell, The 48th in the War. Being a Narrative of the Campaigns of the 48th Regiment Infantry, Pennsylvania Volunteers, During the War of the Rebellion (Philadelphia: Avil Printing Company, 1895), 95.
2Eugene A. Cory, "A Private’s Recollections of Fredericksburg" in
Personal Narratives of Events in the War of the Rebellion, Being Papers Read Before the Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors Historical Society, Third Series--No. 4 (Providence, 1884), 14-15.


Comments or Questions

National Park Service arrowhead with link to NPS website.