Sunday, June 6, 2010

Battle Damage Part 2 - The still visible effects of shot and shell today

Notice: I am modifying this entry to reflect clarification of information gathered today, June 7, 2010. The home referred to here, was indeed owned and occupied by Robert C. Dabney until his death in 1875. It was not until Jan 16, 1880 that the property was purchased by John R. Alrich. My originial notation of Alrich owning prior to the Civil War came from a statement made in the obituary of his great-grandson, John R. Alrich who died October 1, 1987. The statement from the October 2, 1987 issue of The Free-Lance Star newspaper states: "A native of Spotsylvania, Mr. Alrich lived in a home near Spotsylvania built by his great-grandfather before the Civil War." Deeds on record at the County Circuit Court indicate this is apparently not true, unless of course we can find that he was in fact the "builder" as opposed to the "owner" as had been assumed within our initial posting. 

Standing today, in the middle of what would have been considered “no man’s land” in May 1864, the “Alrich House” survives as a silent testament to the fighting that coursed over the surrounding landscape. Roughly a third of a mile north east of Spotsylvania Courthouse, on Route 208, it sits opposite the Spotsylvania Confederate Cemetery. Commonly marked on Civil War era maps as the residence of Spotsylvania Circuit Court Clerk, Robert Clarence Dabney (1822-1875), the home was built according to estimates between 1846 and 1855. A further search of County documents should hopefully clarify this date. The Greek Revival brick structure was purchased in 1880, by John Roberts Alrich (1833-1907), a native of Delaware who had sided with the Confederacy in March 1862, serving initially in Company E of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, a unit which was comprised of numerous Fredericksburg area residents. John Roberts Alrich and his family have also been associated during the Civil War, with a house at the intersection of Old Plank and Catharpin Roads, near the Chancellorsville battlefield. Again, additional scrutiny will be required to hopefully get a clearer picture. Nonetheless, the former "Dabney" home remained the residence of the Alrich family up until December of 2009, with the passing of Alice R. “Bobby” Alrich (1949-2009). Alice was the daughter of John R. Alrich (1914-1987), the great-grandson of John Roberts Alrich, the Confederate veteran.

On Saturday, June 5, 2010, the contents of the estate of Alice Alrich were auctioned off. Being open to the public, it allowed a rare glimpse of the brick home and outbuildings. As suspected, the exterior wall facing the north east shows numerous pockmarks caused by Union case shot and canister rounds. Union batteries were at various times during the Spotsylvania Campaign as close as half a mile from the house, firing down the Courthouse Road corridor. Visible are three iron balls, in two sizes, secured in place with mortar. It may be possible that the iron projectiles were cemented in place to embellish the fact of war damages, but the home was not, at least in recent times, open to visitors. It had been a seemingly common practice in the mid twentieth century, to place projectiles found on a property in damaged areas of brick, as evidenced by the Stone House of Manassas battlefield fame. There is no doubt however, to the source of the surface damage on the brick wall. It is fortunate the home did not suffer more direct and severe damage as it stood nearly 400 yards in advance of the entrenched Confederate position near the Courthouse. An inspection of the attic may reveal damage to roof rafters and possibly embedded, whole shells, something that has turned up at other area structures.
The only remaining period outbuilding on the Alrich property is a brick smoke house that shows considerable repair which may have been the necessity of war damage as well.

The wall facing north east. Enlarge the picture by clicking it.  
 Red arrows point to the damaged areas and cemented iron balls.

Detail views of iron balls, cemented in place.
The long crack seen in the picture at right was
caused by freeze/thaw damage.
This wall supports the inside chimney.
Impact damage from Union artillery, high up on the wall.
Impact damage from Union artillery.
The brick smoke house behind the home.
The smoke house, as seen in the 1930s, for the
Historic American Building Survey.
A wooden kitchen and or laundry stands to the left.
Photograph from the Library of Congress.
A similar view today shows the smoke house still standing with
twentieth century additions added to the Alrich house.
The wooden outbuilding is long removed.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post on one of my all-time favorite battlefield houses! Thanks, John. The then-and-now component is always such a nice capstone for your discussions. Noel

John F. Cummings III said...

Very much appreciated Noel. Thanks for keeping me on your reading list.

Todd Berkoff said...

John -- What will happen to the house now? Is it for sale? Also, did you find any CW-era collectibles for sale as part of the estate auction?

-Todd Berkoff

John F. Cummings III said...

Todd -- From what we could see there were no Civil War era collectibles with the exception of some furniture. If they had a direct connection to the family was not made clear. They could have easily been purchased as antiques in more recent times. As for photographs or anything like that I get the feeling those have been maintained by the family.
At this time I have not heard of the immediate plans for the house. I hope to hear it will be preserved.
Thanks for stopping in.

Em Campbell said...

Hi John, I'm looking for information on the dairy barn that used to stand on the property. Do you know anything about the more recent history of the farm? Thanks!

John Cummings said...

Hello Em,
Sorry to say I have no information on the former dairy barn. You might have some luck with the Spotsylvania County Museum. There may be a file with documentation on the farm's structures. Terry Dougherty is the director of the museum, and he has a lot of experience with the buildings on the farm.