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Battle of Fredericksburg map available in New York auction
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
Surely, Henrietta Magruder Turner never imagined that her “commonplace book” would be of national interest a century and a half after she penned some entries in it.
Yet it is, as a New York City firm’s auction today of Turner’s 88-page Civil War-era scrapbook may attest.
Chief among intriguing bits preserved by the young Virginia woman is a hand-drawn map of the Battle of Fredericksburg—apparently by a Confederate with deep knowledge of troop movements and local landmarks. Its creator is unknown.
Turner, who was a niece of Confederate Gen. John Bankhead Magruder, pasted the folded map into her 1852–75 book—bound in red calf leather—of favorite poetry, family lore and newspaper clippings. Shared among family and friends, such books were the social media of the day.
Magruder, one of the war’s most colorful commanders, is perhaps most famed for flummoxing Union Gen. George B. McClellan during his Peninsula Campaign in the spring of 1862.
Born in Port Royal, Magruder attended the University of Virginia, and loved composing songs and staging concerts and amateur dramatic productions. His theatrical bent came in handy during the Battle of Yorktown.
Magruder deceived McClellan about the size of his force by marching small numbers of troops past the same position multiple times and firing artillery rounds whenever Union troops were seen.
To Union observers, it appeared that Magruder had a much larger force defending the riverfront town. His subterfuge delayed McClellan’s Army of the Potomac for weeks and won praise from Magruder’s boss, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.
The general’s niece clearly followed his Civil War career, as indicated by accounts of his exploits that she put in her book.
As for its map, whoever drew it “was obviously well-informed,” said John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
“The map seems exceptionally detailed as it relates to troop movements but it’s unlikely there is much new here,” he said.
“Without knowing who created it, it’s really hard to assess its historical value. But clearly, it was someone who had a broad and generally good sense of the field.”
Among the map’s uncommon though not unknown details are slave cabins near Braehead, where Gen. Robert E. Lee had breakfast on the day of battle, and a “burnt” overseer’s house east of Fredericksburg, Hennessy noted.
The 7- by 13-inch map includes buildings and topographical features, and shows units of Gens. Longstreet, Jackson, Stuart, Pickett and Hood west of the city. But it identifies Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s army only as “Yankee skirmishers” and “Yankee infantry.”
Beyond the map, Magruder’s niece’s book is “an absorbing artifact of the Confederacy,” said Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana at Swann Auction Galleries in New York.
The volume includes a handwritten register of the Magruder family showing births and deaths back to Turner’s great-grandfather in 1733. Turner, who lived from 1845 to 1895, married James Thornton Lanham after the war.
Also tucked into her book is an 1864 letter signed by Confederate Secretary of War James Alexander Seddon, a native of Stafford County, that tells Henrietta Magruder she’s received an appointment to a clerkship in the Confederate adjutant general’s office in Richmond. “If you will call at my office on your arrival in the city, I will introduce you to those with whom you will be associated,” Seddon adds.
Julia Magruder, another niece of the general, wrote 16 novels and traveled traveled widely in Europe, as did Henrietta, as indicated by entries in the latter’s commonplace book.
Swann estimates the book will fetch $3,000 to $4,000 at auction today, in person or online, at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Peninsula Campaign: bit.ly/peninsulacamp
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029