Sunday, January 28, 2007

Another Vignette

This is the house that Betty Herndon Maury lived in at Fredericksburg when writing her diary during the Civil War.

Monday night May 5th [1862]
Well the Yankees have been here to search for arms. Three came and sent up word that they wanted to see Mrs. Maury. I went down. The head one said “We have been informed that arms are concealed here and want to get them.” I said “There are several swords here. Come and take them. They have been put in the parlour to prevent the house from being searched.” I gave them to him five old swords -- and then asked him if he intended to go upstairs. He said “No -- your word is sufficient that these are all.”

Friday, January 26, 2007

Two Old Catalpa Trees

Two old catalpa trees stand on the river front at Chatham, headquarters for the Union Army during the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. A sign between the two announces that they were there during the Civil War. Today they are gnarled and twisted, their trunks looking their age but sporting vigorous green leaves on the branches.

An article in the August 1886 issue of The Century Magazine entitled "Lee at Fredericksburg" was written by J. Horace Lacy, owner of Chatham. He recounts being with General Robert E. Lee, looking across the Rappahannock River at Chatham. Lee recounted how he had "courted and won my dear wife under the shade of those trees" at Chatham. "There is nothing in vegetable nature so grand as a tree. . . . Major, they have our trees; they shall never have the land!"

A similar theme is sounded at the beginning of Thomas Nelson Page's novel Gordon Keith: "It no more occurred to him that any one could withstand his father than that the great oak-trees in front of the house, which it took his outstretched arms six times to girdle, could fall. Yet it came to pass that within a few years an invading army marched through the plantation, camped on the lawn, and cut down the trees; and Gordon Keith, whilst yet a boy, came to see Elphinstone in the hands of strangers, and his father and himself thrown out on the world."

I have posted some photos from my visit to Chatham at:

Vignette of Fredericksburg Occupied

From Betty Herndon Maury's diary, entry dated May 22, 1862:

Nannie Belle was playing on the pavement yesterday evening when a soldier accosted her and asked if she would not go down the street with him and let him buy her some candy. She replied "No I thank you. Yankee candy would choke me." He seemed much amused.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The House on Caroline Street is a dream of mine. This particular Caroline Street is in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a street populated with beautiful homes, some pre- and some post-Civil War. There is, for example, the house that James Monroe lived in before he was president, while he had a law practice in Fredericksburg. There is the house that Betty Herndon Maury lived in when she began her diary chronicling Civil War events in Fredericksburg. The Central Rappahannock Regional Library is on Caroline Street, formerly an elementary school, as testified to by the very low door handles on the front entrance - a wonderful library with its Virginiana room at the bottom of a spiral staircase.

It is highly unlikely that I will ever have a real house on Caroline Street, so I am creating this mythical one to satisfy that longing. I have yet to decide whether my house has a cannonball embedded in its walls or a ghost; how many rooms it has, how many stories. I think it is one of the smaller Caroline Street homes, for I will live there alone and don't need much space. The most important room will be the library, which I will fill with books both physical and digital. A table - since I am dreaming I will make the table for the computer some beautiful antique. The house has, of course, updated electrical and heating/cooling systems.

Ah, a beautiful dream. A home in which I will read and read and read, immersing myself in 19th century literature. A collection of books about Fredericksburg, especially during the Civil War era, will occupy a place of prominence in my library. I will come to know the inhabitants of Fredericksburg in 1860 almost as friends. I will share their anguish as they watch their city become a focal point for the armies of both sides, share their grief at the destruction and looting of the city in December 1862; then their energy put into the rebuilding of the city after the war.

I will write here of my explorations of the city as it exists now. Fortunately I do live close enough to frequent the town and explore its many historical treasures. And who knows? Maybe some day my dream of living on Caroline Street will come true!