Joy and sorrow: the state of the war in Fredericksburg, 1863–a letter from Jennie Goolrick

From John Hennessy:

Here is a little item that constitutes one of the more useful and descriptive letters written from Fredericksburg by a civilian. It is a letter from Virginia (Jennie) Goolrick, the daughter of Peter Goolrick–an Irish-born entrepreneur who was in many respects the most active entrepreneur in Fredericksburg. The Goolricks lived at the corner of Hanover and Caroline Streets–the buildings that today house Irish Eyes and the Griffin bookshop.

By the time Jennie wrote this letter, Fredericksburg had been occupied twice by the Union army, subject to bombardment and looting, and quarters for occupying Confederate troops.  September 1863 was a period of calm and reflection. Jennie’s letter, though short, is the best testament of conditions and morale in the town in the second half of 1863.

September 4, 1863

Mr. Winn.  . . .

My life since the beginning of the war has been very much chequered – one day a heart overflowing with joy, the next full of sorrow. One day feeling quite secure in my old home, then perhaps the next all hurry, bustle & confusion in preparing for refugee life – so much so that I never feel settled anywhere for any length of time .

. . . We have many friends to see and as our acquaintance in the army is by no means limited owing to the presence of so many soldiers in & near the old burg since the very commencement of the war. Two regiments on picket only on the river just at Fredericksburg – as both have bands of music we are well supplied with that article – in the afternoon it is quite fashionable to visit headquarters where a crowd can be seen & sweet music enjoyed . . .

The town suffered a great deal from the bombardment, but more from the sacking & occupation as barracks. I am happy to say we fared better than most – only one bomb that passed through the roof of the back porch & although the house was robbed of many valuables we saved most of the furniture by moving. We find it impossible to keep servants this close to the border, so during the war we get along with as few as possible – some of the most useful having already bade the Confederacy adieu. I cannot possibly attempt a description of the Yankee occupation – the newspaper correspondents can’t do the subject justice and of course I ought not to think about it . . . .

Your sincere friend, Jennie G.

The original of this letter is in the Bidgood Family Papers, Virginia Historical Society.

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