Chatham - U.S. Civil War - Stafford County VA
N 38° 18.518 W 077° 27.336
18S E 285296 N 4242912
Quick Description: A manor on the banks of the Rappahannock River in Virginia was converted into a field hospital after the Battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War.
Location: Virginia, United States
Date Posted: 4/24/2012 3:00:01 PM
Waymark Code: WMEA0K
, a large manor owned by James Lacy, sat on the banks of the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg, Virginia and served as Union headquarters as the Federals prepared to attack Fredericksburg during the Civil War. The Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862 was a bloody defeat for the Federals. Chatham was converted into a field hospital as hundreds of wounded soldiers streamed back across the Rappahannock.
Two famous visitors to Chatham during this time were Red Cross founder Clara Barton and author Walt Whitman. Clara Barton arrived in December bringing supplies with her and remained for two weeks helping to treat the wounded. In the diary she kept during her lifetime, she described the horrific scene in which the wounded occupied every room and covered every space including the shelves in a cupboard. Many of the wounded were laid outside on the cold wintry grounds until space could be found inside.
Walt Whitman came to Fredericksburg to look for his brother George, who had been listed as wounded during the battle. He came to Chatham during his search and was shocked by the horrors he saw. George Whitman had only suffered a minor wound, but Walt stayed to help the overworked surgeons. At the end of the year, Whitman went to Washington, D.C. and continued to volunteer at different hospitals for the next three years. Whitman later published The Wounded Dresser based on notes and letters he wrote during his years as a volunteer. An excerpt from the book reads:
"Began my visits (December 21, 1862) among the camp hospitals in the Army of the Potomac, under General Burnside. Spent a good part of the day in a large brick mansion on the banks of the Rappahannock, immediately opposite Fredericksburg. It is used as a hospital since the battle, and seems to have received only the worst cases. Outdoors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc.--about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woollen blanket." ¹
The "large brick mansion" refers to Chatham and the tree where the body extremeties were heaped probably refers to one of the catalpa trees which still exist.
Chatham now serves as National Park Service headquarters for the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park and is open daily from 9 AM to 4:30 PM. There is no admission. The grounds and five rooms in the main house are open to the public including the room that was used as an operating room and from where limbs were thrown out the window. It is currently used for viewing short films. Outside the window are the two catalpa trees which have been braced with steel rods.
¹ The Wounded Dresser, pg. 24-25