Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Fredericksburg courthouse dig tells Civil War story

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Cross-post (partial) from the News Desk:


Cultural Resources Inc. archaeologists at the courthouse site found artifacts in the cellar of a house destroyed in the Battle of Fredericksburg. At right, from top: a theater token, a brass number from a Union uniform, and porcelain shards. (ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE–STAR)

Courthouse dig reveals house destroyed in Battle of Fredericksburg




Call it “Building X.”

What remains of it lay, buried and long forgotten until now, beside today’s Fredericksburg City Hall where a new courthouse will soon rise.

Now, thanks to intense scrutiny by archaeologists and local researchers in recent weeks, you can add this once-substantial row house to the casualties of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The Civil War’s most lopsided Confederate victory, won 150 years ago this December, not only killed or wounded nearly 18,000 men, it erased the brick structure from the town’s landscape.

Owned by Fredericksburg businessman Peter Goolrick, the building on Lot 38 was assessed at $1,000 in 1860, local researcher Nancy Moore said. It vanishes from the tax records by 1865.

That, combined with before-and-after photo analysis by National Park Service historian John Hennessy, clearly shows that the war brought down the building, which burned.

“The two images in 1863 of that part of town, taken from two slightly different angles, both don’t have a building where you would expect one to be,” Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said in an interview. “In my view, that supports [the archaeologists’] interpretation that it was destroyed sometime in association with the battle.”

The building’s lingering presence was unknown until about four weeks ago, when evidence was uncovered in the archaeological dig the city funded before the $35 million courthouse is built. It had lain under Thom Savage’s law office, entombed beneath a concrete slab, for decades.

Now the building foundation and its contents will be the subject of laboratory analysis—and a forthcoming report to the city—by Cultural Resources Inc., the Glen Allen firm whose archaeologists swiftly excavated the courthouse site.

More here.

Barbara Willis, Virginiana Room librarian at Central Rappahannock Regional Library, holds shards of a European or American porcelain teacup, with cobalt-blue underglaze and polychrome overglaze, enameled flowers, found in the building’s remains. (ROBERT A. MARTIN/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)