The Earthquake

From John Hennessy:

It certainly counts as one of the three or four strangest experiences of my life–the 45 seconds of confusion and even fear that accompanied the earthquake the other day. Many have rejoiced in being able to have checked something off their bucket list, and I confess I would be enthused about that too, except for the real damage the quake did. Indeed, the toll seems to be highest on historic buildings. In Culpeper, several buildings in the downtown were condemned. We had no such dramatics in Fredericksburg, but chimneys by the dozen tumbled, and not a few places had cracks and other bothersome problems.

You can find photos of the damage to the Fredericksburg Area Museum, in the old town hall, here.  And here too is video from of damage to the historic town hall and the building across the street, and the treatment undertaken on both.

Some bothersome source material: Is the Amos Benson-John Rice story true?

From John Hennessy:

John Rice, 2d New Hampshire, wounded through the lungs on Matthews Hill.The story is one of the cornerstones of Manassas lore and a powerful symbol of post-war reconciliation–the Manassas version of Fredericksburg’s Richard Kirkland:  John Rice of the 2d New Hampshire is hopelessly wounded near Matthew’s Hill and left for dead.  But local resident Amos Benson and his wife Margaret find him and intervene, caring for him along the roadside (without moving him) for more than week, watching him make a miraculous recovery. Once well enough, Rice is sent to Manassas and then to Richmond with other wounded Union prisoners. In 1886, this is how Rice described his experience to a reporter:

“[After being wounded], my comrades bore me off in the wake of our retreating forces toward Sudley Church, where our surgeons had established a hospital. In a short time, being closely pursued by the enemy and finding that I was apparently dead, they laid me under a fence and made their escape. Some two days after the battle I recovered consciousness but was unable to move…In this condition I was found by Amos Benson and his wife, who lived on the opposite side of Bull Run. They were returning to their home at evening, after spending the day at Sudley church….Benson, discovering life in me, brought an overworked surgeon from the church, who, however, turned away with the remark that he had no time to spend on so hopeless a case. Mrs. Benson meanwhile brought me food from her house, while her husband removed my clothing and scraped away the vermin that were praying upon me. They continued to feed and care for me till at the end of 10 days I was so far revived that the surgeons were persuaded to remove me from under he fence to more comfortable quarters in a freight car at Manassas Junction, whence in a few days I was carried to Richmond and consigned to Libby Prison.” [From the Springfield Republican, November 24, 1886]

(Harry Smelzer has a very nice post on the Benson-Rice story and the sites today.)

More than 25 years after the battle, Rice returned to the battlefield and looked up the Bensons, now living next to the abandoned cut of the Unfinished Railroad, across from Sudley Church.  They had a joyful reunion, and Rice asked if he could do anything to thank them for saving his life.  The Bensons asked for nothing, but did say that the church, much damaged during the war, still had an outstanding debt it was finding difficult to pay. Rice returned to his home in Springfield, Massachusetts and published the story in the Springfield Republican. Within days, he had collected enough money to retire the debt on the church and sent it along.  The story received national publicity.

It’s all good, and there is ample documentation to confirm the events of 1886, when Rice and Benson reunited.  But, in going through some newspaper material recently, I came across an article in the Lowell Daily Citizen from February 3, 1862. Continue reading

Bullets in a barn that wasn’t there….

From John Hennessy:

The discovery last week of bullets imbedded in a tree at Gettysburg reminded me of a transient mystery from my Manassas days.  Out in the area of Groveton woods–a couple hundreds yards east of where Porter staged for his August 30 attack–there stood a decrepit barn that once had been part of the farm of Montgomery Peters, a postwar resident on the battlefield. Like its owner, the barn was postwar too–we knew that–and so there was little urgency to halt its deterioration (the attitude would not be as dismissive today), which by the time I encountered it was decades old. Finally, the place just had to come down, and the park’s maintenance staff went at it.

Some of the timbers were ancient and huge, and when they cut into at least one of them, they found it contained several Civil War bullets.  But…the barn wasn’t there during the war?  A scramble to the source material confirmed that that was undeniably true. After some puzzling, we soon realized that the timbers had probably been cut from the adjacent woods, which had been the scene of heavy combat….

And that’s how bullets from the battle ended up in a barn that wasn’t there….

Bull Run Reconciliation? Not…

From John Hennessy [update: see the comment from Robert Moore for a couple of links to items that elaborate on this theme.]

In July 1891, Virginians took the 30th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas to memorialize Stonewall Jackson anew–by reinterring him beneath and dedicating a new statue in the cemetery in Lexington, Virginia. The event attracted tens of thousands, including a brigades-worth of veteran of Lee’s army. It was, and remains, one of the most vivid expressions of Lost Cause nostalgia.

The monument over Jackson's grave, dedicated July 21, 1891.

By 1891, such events were an accepted part of the American landscape, as the spirit of reconciliation was in full national bloom. By any measure, the reconciliation that America undertook is astonishing when compared to the common fate of rebels and rebellions in other parts of the world. Part of the ostensible deal: former Confederates could have their glory too. Indeed, Confederate glory would, over time, be amalgamated into American culture.

Across the nation, Americans joined the chorus that surrounded Stonewall Jackson’s reinterment, or at least witnessed it in silence. But, not everyone proclaimed the accepted theme of reconciliation. While we sometimes like to see our history in simple terms, there was in fact a strong undercurrent of unhappiness and bitterness that flowed both ways (North and South).

As evidence: this editorial from a Michigan newspaper, the Jackson Citizen Patriot, written in response to the ceremonies in Lexington on the 30th anniversary of Manassas. (Jackson, MI is claimed by some to be the birthplace of the Republican party, and  it was almost certainly the birthplace of the Ritz cracker, though that’s less relevant here.) In noting the ceremonies in Lexington, the Michigan editorialist foreshadowed his dark take by noting that the “remains of the heroic traitor” had been buried beneath the new statue. He conceded that Jackson was “scarcely second to Lee as their military hero” and that “no one need object to that,” except, he said, “that no public monument should ever be permitted in this nation in memory of a man who violated his oath of allegiance and sought to destroy the government he was educated and trained to defend.”

On that Bull Run anniversary in Lexington, the keynote was given by former Unionist turned Southern patriot Jubal Early. As the unhappy Michigan editor wrote, “Gen. Early closed his oration with the following words, which ought to be memorized by every union soldier for the purpose of denouncing them:

‘If I should ever apologize for any part or action taken by me in the war, may the lightning of a righteous heaven blast me from earth, and may I be considered as spawn of the earth by all honest men.'”

The thousands in attendance cheered Early’s words, to the utter annoyance of our editor in Michigan. Continue reading