Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene's Effects Temporarily Closed Spotsylvania Unit For Clean Up. Site Reopened August 30.

The Spotsylvania Unit of the F&SNMP temporarily closed during clean up of storm damage from the heavy winds and rain brought in the wake of hurricane Irene on Saturday, August 27. Damage was fortunately limited, and consisted primarily of road obstructions from fallen limbs and debris.
A drive through the park late on Tuesday, along with a pedestrian survey along the Bloody Angle, showed no adverse effects from the thorough soaking the region received over the weekend. 
Cannon at Spotsylvania as rain sets in on Saturday, August 27, 2011, around 12:30 PM.
The park closed later that afternoon at 3:00 PM.
View looks north west from Anderson Drive, inside the Mule Shoe Salient.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Fitzhugh Mansion - Sherwood Forest - In and Out, June 2008

On Friday August 19, our friends at the National Park Service conducted a tour of the grounds of the Fitzhugh Mansion in Stafford County. Known as "Sherwood Forest", the estate is now awaiting its fate at the hands of the current owner, a large development firm with plans of building a mixed-use subdivision. Whether the mansion will find its way into the plans as a restored relic of our regional heritage or succumb to the bulldozers is something we will have to see. The site was recently included in Preserve Virginia's list of most endangered sites. The history of the estate, and an account of the NPS conducted tour, can be found by clicking this link and this link. The house had sat unoccupied for many years and was last used as apartments for local college students.

In June of 2008, I had the opportunity to visit the mansion during a building stabilization project. The former owners had contracted with Spear Builders to tackle the job.
The west front of the main house, looking northeast, early in the project.

The north end of the main house, looking southeast from
the kitchen building. The attached porch seen here was
later removed. It probably dated to the 1920s. A servant
entrance can be seen at the extreme left of the wall.

The rear or east face of the main house, looking southwest, before
removal of rampant vegetation along a garden pathway.

Some months later, the same approximate view as seen above.

The central entrance hall, looking northeast from the front doorway.

Continuing down the hall, this is the furthest entry to the south end room
on the main floor. This view is looking toward the east.

Turning to the right, this is the southwest view of the same room as above.

Crossing the main hall again, this view is of the north room which was once the
dining room of the mansion. This view looks to the northwest.

Upstairs, this is one of the bedrooms, looking north.

A view of the vast estate property, looking southeast. Land destined for development.

Another view of the acreage, looking east, toward an abandoned rail line along the distant woods.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

1887 Gathering Appears to Have Been at East Angle

In his August 16, 2011 blog posting at Mysteries and Conundrums, NPS historian Eric Mink presented a fascinating group of images taken during a visit to the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields by veterans of the 57th and 59th Massachusetts regiments. The May 1887 trip included a visit to the Mule Shoe Salient at Spotsylvania. The back of the original image has a hand written notation identifying it as:
 "May 1887 - Bloody Angle Spotsylvania May 12, 1864, and near the Bullet Splintered tree." 

My own inquisitiveness, and further prompting by mutual blog reader Todd Berkoff, brought me out to the field yesterday to examine the terrain and see how the current appearance of the landscape matched up with that of 1887. Following the north face of the salient from the Bloody Angle toward the east, I came to find that the image appears to have been taken much closer to the "East Angle", about 220 yards beyond the "Bloody Angle", and the fabled "22 inch" tree felled by small arms fire. In the modern view below, the bridge in the middle distance is the recently rebuilt bridge over the Confederate works, just before they begin to turn to form the east face of the salient. The direction is roughly 97 degrees south east. Click on both images to enlarge.  Notice the man at center in the dark coat and light colored hat looks to be holding a plate or canteen half, along with a discarded musket ramrod, probable relics found nearby.


The approximate, modern view above, was taken around 5:30 PM, on August 17, 2011.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post-war Image Reveals Pre-monument View at Bloody Angle

In his August 4, 2011 blog submission at Mysteries and Conundrums, F&SNMP chief historian John Hennessy included a "postwar view of the Landram Farm". The original source of this photograph is at this moment mislaid, but is very likely from a veteran or regimental memoir, and will surface soon or be recognized by one of our readers here.
The image itself is quite intriguing, illustrating the southern border of the Landram property as is runs along a roughly 230 yard straight stretch of the Mule Shoe Salient. The camera position is in the field directly in front of the obtuse "Bloody Angle" formed by an extension of the Union line as it hugged the outer wall of the Confederate parapet. The fence atop the earthwork served as a border between the Landram farm and that of the McCoull family. Imagining the likelihood that the property was similarly fenced when the armies arrived in May 1864, provides an explanation as to how the Confederates commenced building a line that did not follow the usual textbook prerequisite along a "military crest". At least in this section, a fence line bordering a heavy wood seemed more practicable.
An additional value of this image is that it allows a view of the ground before the placement of two Union monuments in 1902 and 1909. Check back at Mysteries and Conundrums soon for a new posting by historian Eric Mink which will examine another series of post-war images and visiting veterans.

Below, find a then and now comparison, looking roughly 69 degrees north east. Click on the images to enlarge.

Modern view taken August 11, 2011 at 5:40 PM

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Then & Gone - When the Will to Preserve Fails

The following images are of a home which stood at 1407 Caroline Street in Fredericksburg, but it was demolished by the current property owner this past June. By law, the owner was within his right to tear it down as there was a standing code violation issued to the previous owner, deeming it an unsafe structure, unfit for human habitation. Much interest and concern had existed toward this structure for over a decade, yet no serious efforts were mounted to protect or purchase it for restoration, a project that would have carried a sizable price tag.The first solid date that can be given to at least a good portion of this building is approximately 1790. Damage claims filed by Robert Hart after the Civil War indicate the building had been severely damaged during the Battle of Fredericksburg. Tax records show the structure had been brought to a value of $0, and by 1867 extensively rebuilt or repaired. There are no known images of this building that provide an indication of its wartime appearance. All the well known photographs  of the upper pontoon crossing, showing buildings along upper Sophia and Caroline Streets from the Stafford County shore, are unfortunately angled in such a way that this address is out of view. The same goes for sketches by period newspaper artists such as Alfred Waud.
This is the Caroline Street front of the house, as seen in a April 2010 photograph. Despite suggestions otherwise, the home had not been a total loss when damaged by Union artillery fire in December 1862. Information gathered from former residents of the house speak of visible shell damage within the superstructure and small arms projectiles lodged in exterior woodwork. Knowledgeable historical architects attest to many interior elements of the house appeared to be original to the supposed date of construction. Despite the need for obvious repairs and exacerbating damage by mysterious fires in its final days, witnesses who had gained access to tour the interior claim it was surprisingly sound and not altogether worthy of mandatory demolition.
The same approximate view as seen within days of its demolition, in June 2011.
Two mysterious fires damaged the house over the last winter of its existence,
some of which is seen in this view of the rear taken in April 2011.
The same approximate view below, after demolition.
Here is a letter (heavily edited) that was submitted to the City and various media outlets, by Marilynn Deane Mendell, who resigned as chair of the Architectural Review Board after the demolition of this house.
 Above is a detail from a stereo view image taken by Timothy O'Sullivan in March 1863. Please click on the image to enlarge. Note the approximate position of the south east property corner for 1407 Caroline Street as it rests on Sophia Street. The house itself is unfortunately obscured by the tree foliage on the right edge.
An aerial map of the area around 1407 Caroline Street, oriented in a similar fashion to the photograph above. Click to enlarge. Hawke Street is indicated by the bordering red lines as it comes up the slope from the pontoon boat landing. Note the south east property corner in relation to the location of the house.