Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford
By Jane Hollenbeck Conner
(115 pages. soft cover, $13.95. Available at: Belmont, Borders, North Stafford Marketplace, Chatham, Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitors’ Center, Olde Virginia Gourmet and Gifts, White Oak Civil War Museum)
Throughout the course of the American Civil War, over 135,000 Federal troops occupied the rolling hills and pastoral fields of Stafford County. And while battles raged on in the neighboring City of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County, Stafford served as a major stationing and supplies center for the Union Army of the Potomac.
Due to its strategic position on the water and the tactical importance of its location, the Stafford region was often visited by important officers, politicians and civilians whose contributions to the War Between the States remain ingrained in the history of a nation divided.
Included were well-known figures such as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Ms. Clara Barton, whose humanitarian efforts on behalf of wounded U.S. soldiers would later evolve into the American Red Cross. There were also some not-so-familiar faces, such as Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, who accompanied her husband into the field and even camped with his company at Aquia Creek.
Some of the Federal army’s most eccentric and revered commanders, including General Daniel Sickles, (who would later lose a leg to amputation and donate it for display at the Army Medical Museum in Washington, DC), as well as General Oliver Howard (a devout Christian who lobbied for race relations in the post-war South before founding Howard University), frequented Stafford County during the war.
Even the celebrated American poet, Walt Whitman, spent time in Stafford County while fearlessly volunteering to aid the army’s sick and wounded who had been evacuated from the battlefield to one of the dozens of makeshift field hospitals that were established in churches, barns, and other commandeered buildings. He later became a nurse and penned an article titled “The Great Army of the Sick” for a New York Paper.
It is through the writings and recollections of these remarkable visitors that Stafford historian and author Jane Hollenbeck Conner has created her latest book Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford.
As a retired educator with 20 years of service (16 in Stafford), Conner is an active supporter of the preservation and presentation of local history. In addition to her experience in the classroom, she is also a member of the Government Island Committee and a longtime board member of the Stafford County Historical Society. Her husband, Al, is a well-known and respected Civil War historian and author.
Conner’s previous book titles include Birthstone of the White House and Capitol, which traced the quarrying of raw stone from Government Island’s rock cliffs, overlooking Aquia Creek, to its skillful finishing and construction in two of America’s most noteworthy buildings, as well as the immensely popular Lincoln in Stafford, which traced the experiences of the 16th U.S. president, as he made three crucial morale-building visits to the fledgling Union Army that was encamped in the region.
Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford outlines the colorful pre-and post-war lives of General Dan Sickles, Princess Agnes Salm-Salm, Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, Dr. Mary Walker and General Oliver Howard, while also showcasing the significant events which were witnessed by Stafford County throughout the course of the war.
Complemented by extensive photographs and firsthand quotes, each individual’s interpretations provide an interesting account of the conflict’s impact on both the area and its people. Collectively, their words show both pride in their chosen cause, but also a distinct feeling of sadness for the war’s toll on the country.
Perhaps the most eloquent of all the people profiled, Walt Whitman captured the macabre day-to-day existence in the Stafford army camps when he wrote, “As you step out in the morning from your tent to wash your face you see before you on a stretcher a shapeless extended object, and over it is thrown a dark grey blanket – it is the corpse of some wounded or sick soldier of the reg’t who died in the hospital tent during the night…”
Ms. Conner includes plenty of less disturbing memories, including a humorous story involving Princess Salm-Salm, who won a long-shot bet after she managed to steal three kisses from the visiting President Lincoln who had journeyed to Stafford to meet with his commanders. It was said that she, “kissed him three times - once right, once left and once on the mouth - amid considerable gaiety.”
In an email interview with me, Jane Conner explained the inspiration for the book. She stated, “After I completed my Lincoln in Stafford book, I discovered some wonderful information about Lincoln visiting General O.O. Howard’s tent when he was camped at Stafford Courthouse. I thought, ‘Why didn’t I find that in time for the Lincoln book? Maybe I should write another book about all the interesting people who visited Stafford and include that.’”
She added, “Also, since my husband Al and I volunteer at Chatham, we know that people are very curious about Clara Barton, Walt Whitman, and Dr. Mary Walker who visited there during the Civil War. I thought, ‘I could combine their histories and perhaps have a series of interesting tales.’”
Sinners, Saints, and Soldiers in Civil War Stafford is certainly a collection of interesting stories that will satisfy the passive reader, as well as the history enthusiast. There are plenty of little known human-interest stories, even with the list of familiar names in the contents.
The classic design and layout of the book is also worth mentioning and the impressive selection of photographs and illustrations pleasantly complement the text. Scholarly readers, who may be interested in expanding their own research, will appreciate the inclusion of notes and a well-organized index.
As with her previous books, Ms. Conner receives no profits from her publications. Instead she generously donates 100% of the book’s proceeds to a Stafford County Museum fund. Her latest installment will no doubt be received with the same enthusiasm and success as those in the past, as she has once again found a way to showcase the storied legacy of Stafford County.
Upcoming book signings with Jane Hollenbeck Conner:
- July 11 (2-4 p.m.) Borders, North Stafford Marketplace
- July 16 (7:30 p.m.) Talk and signing: Stafford County Historical Society, Board of Supervisors’ Chambers, Stafford Administration Building
- July 18 (1-3 p.m.) Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitors’ Center Bookstore
- July 19 (2-4 p.m.) White Oak Civil War Museum, 985 White Oak Road, Falmouth
- July 25 (12-1 p.m.) Olde Virginia Gourmet and Gifts, 261 Garrisonville Road