Courthouse dig: ‘More remains to be discovered’
Within a couple of weeks, the antebellum building’s cellar uncovered in Fredericksburg’s Historic District will vanish. It must make way for the city’s new courthouse.
But much of this house’s Civil War-era contents will remain, to be analyzed at Cultural Resources Inc.’s laboratory in Glen Allen, Va. Eventually, they’ll come home to Fredericksburg, where the city will permanently preserve the collection.
Yet, before these small bits of history had even been bagged and boxed and taken off-site, they began to yield information that no one had dreamed of.
They hint at the chaotic scenes in town immediately before, during and after the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862.
The salvage dig yielded thousands of artifacts, including many items from U.S. troops who occupied the house built by local businessman Peter Goolrick, the town’s mayor before the Civil War. Metal parts from their uniforms include a “2″ and a “C’,” thought to represent their regiment and a company.
“We have a picture in our mind’s eye of the way things were, what the soldiers carried and what they did,” said Taft Kiser, CRI’s project manager. “But this is the reality. This is what they dropped, those guys from Company C.”
“This may be the only scientifically collected group of artifacts from the battle, at least as far as I know.”
Across the Rappahannock River, at the headquarters of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, data from the discovery prompted Chief Historian John Hennessy to change the park’s incredibly detailed digital map of 1860s Fredericksburg.
After visiting the archaeological dig and then checking some records online, he marked Goolrick’s house as “destroyed,” based on the archaeology funded by the city.
“It’s is a pretty neat discovery,” he said. “The archaeologists found something we didn’t realize was there.”
City Councilman Matt Kelly said of the excavation: ”A lot was learned from the dig, and more remains to be discovered.”
The archaeologists recovered thousands of artifacts from the courthouse property, which includes the sites of Goolrick house and George Gravatt’s livery stable.
Intriguingly, a close neighbor to Goolrick’s house was the post-battle division headquarters of Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, across Princess Anne Street, roughly opposite City Hall.
The day after the battle, Hooker wrote Col. Lewis Richmond, assistant adjutant general of the Army of the Potomac: