The Civil War at Lee's Hill

On Wednesday, March 19th, 2008 I had the honor and privilege of speaking to the Lee's Hill '55 Club. The overall theme of my presentation was significant events that transpired either inside, or in the vicinity of the Lee's Hill Community. This neighborhood sits within a 15 mile radius of 40+ historic roadside markers and witnessed a variety of important events from the Civil War. Through the use of diary transcripts and satellite maps, I was able to recall the experiences of the soldiers and citizens occupying the area during the war years. The transcripts of my lecture are below:


Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. It is certainly an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to speak to you tonight. I would like to thank Bill and Nancy Mickelson for the invitation to be here. I would also like to thank the board members here at the '55 Club for helping to coordinate the event. I certainly hope that my program is worth their time and your attention.

First off, I would like to conduct a very 'unscientific' poll. I do have a point though, so if you would please humor me. With a show of hands: How many native Southerners do we have here tonight? And how many transplanted Northerners? [NOTE: Audience was predominantly Northerners.] I'm a Yankee too so don't be afraid. I'm always glad to see a mixed audience. And I am so very thankful that I live here in the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania area. I cannot think of a better place for a budding Civil War historian like me to call home. It's funny because the people that live here nowadays are really divided into 2 groups:

You have the 'lifers' or 'natives' who were born and raised here. These people fully comprehend the sacredness of our soil. Many of these people are 3rd, 4th, or even 5th generation locals who protect, present, and preserve the legacy of their ancestors so that their sacrifices are never forgotten. These people are to be commended. On the other hand, you have my people, the ' transplants,' who are somewhat aware that Fredericksburg is a tourist town, but really have no knowledge or interest in what attracts tourists here. These are the people who can tell you that there is a short-cut that runs through the battlefield, but have absolutely no idea what happened there. These are the people that drive past countless roadside markers and monuments on their way to work every day without ever stopping to read just one. This to me is a real shame. And it has a lot to do with my goals as a historian.

I'm sure we can all agree that our town and the surrounding counties have gone through some major changes in recent years. Urban sprawl is a cancer and I've spoken out against it many times in the press. As a result, I'm not invited to the same Christmas parties that I once was, but it's an important concern to me. We all understand the need for growth, but at what cost? This community that we all live in is special. And my goal tonight is that you will leave here with a little more appreciation for your own piece of Fredericksburg, Lee's Hill. I love you 'lifers' and have learned just as much (if not more) from you than any other source of information. I also love the stories and antidotes that you share...

I have a friend, a lifelong southern gentleman from my church whom I shared a Bible study with for years. He's retired now, but made his living managing real estate in Old Town Fredericksburg. He once told me about a piece of property that he invested in with a group of guys years ago, an old Georgian style three-story that they were refurbishing. This structure had a very large attic-area that stretched from one side of the house to the other and when they began to clean out that room in preparation for painting it they discovered that the interior walls were covered in Civil War-era graffiti.

Now this is not uncommon here, there are many buildings and churches in our area that have 19th-century graffiti and many have made efforts to preserve that. Massaponnax Baptist Church, just down the road, has done an excellent job protecting theirs and the Old Winchester Court House is another place that has really done a great service by not covering up these primitive scrawls. In fact both places have encased them in glass and you can read most of what was written. It's probably the only time you will ever seen dirty words preserved in a church and a courthouse. My personal favorite of these is a very funny curse on Jefferson Davis.

My friend explained to me that after experts from the National Park Service examined the marks, it was determined that these doodles and bits of writing obviously came from soldiers, who were most likely lookouts and sharpshooters that were stationed up in the top story of this house. They tried to tell which side wrote what by 'guesstimating' who was in occupation of the town at the time. Some of the scribbles were dated. You see, beyond the battles that transpired here, the city of Fredericksburg changed hands many times over the course of the war. Many people tend to forget that the citizens here lived in both a free and "occupied" state. Of course when the Confederates held the town, their troops would be looking out across the Rappahannock River towards the north in anticipation of spotting the Yankee invaders. When the Federal troops were in command of the city, they would be watching south for any signs of rebel troops who would be attacking in an attempt to reclaim the town.

By working with local historians, my friend and his crew were able to dissect some of the content that was written, but for the most part they were unable to understand most of it. When I asked him why he smiled and said, "Let me put it this way...Our boys had better penmanship, but it didn't matter much as only those damn Yankees could spell." Now, that's a funny story, but it reinforces the idea that our town's experience in the Civil War was not just a Southern one, or a Northern one, it was an American one. A shared experience that echoes the diversity in this very room. That's why I took my little poll at the beginning.

I always try to do something original and tailored to whatever group or audience I'm speaking to. When Bill asked me to come speak here tonight, I decided to write a presentation on local places of interest from the War Between the States that are located in or nearby the Lee's Hill Community. There are over 40 VA Roadside Markers in the general vicinity of this wonderful subdivision and it did not get its name Lee's Hill by accident. Some of these stories may be familiar to some, but I'm fairly certain most will not. I am calling this talk "Backyard History" and it is my goal to introduce you to some of the neglected or forgotten sites and the events that they witnessed right here in and around your neighborhood.

Before I go any further, I do want to quickly thank Mark Jones who turned me on to a great satellite-mapping program that is available on the Internet called Flash Earth. This very cool program enables me to give you a birds-eye view of the points of interest and put things visually in perspective. I also want to thank John Hennessy from the National Park Service, who gave me some wonderful leads and copies of some rarely seen documentation on several of the topics that I will be covering tonight. He's been my 'go to guy' on many projects. Without Mark and John's assistance, this presentation would simply not have been possible.

So without further ado, I present 'Backyard History.'