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:
I can't hold off any longer. Too many of our fellow bloggers have participated in TOCWOC's Top 10 Gettysburg Books poll for me to ignore. I have enjoyed all of their lists and am now aware of some new titles I need to add to my library. Although I live and work in the Fredericksburg area, Gettysburg remains my favorite tour stop and "pleasure" topic. The choices below are based strictly on books I've read. Mr. Schulte... here are my entries Sir.
1. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara I am fortunate enough to have a friendly relationship with Jeff Shaara and I am sure that he hears all the time how his father wrote one of the best books, let alone Civil War books, in the 20th-century. After all, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. This is the kind of book that takes a casual reader and turns him into a Civil War buff. The "voice" of Shaara's pen is riveting and the way he captured the ‘character' of the battle is remarkable. I give this winner the top spot for the mass influence it had on the public. How many Civil War buffs can trace their interests back to this title?
2. Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863 by Shelby Foote I must admit that I am a huge Shelby Foote fan. His writings have always bridged that gap (IMO) between solid research and pleasurable narrative. He wrote non-fiction like a novelist and made history read like a play. This book is entirely self-contained and would be a great introduction or overview to give someone with little knowledge of the event.
3. Gettysburg--The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz As a former historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, Mr. Pfanz authored what could be the single best study of the July-2 portion of the battle ever published. Although I am by no means a military historian or schooled in tactics, I could easily understand the engagement from that perspective due to the masterful descriptions of the land and the men who fought to possess it. Easily the closest thing I've ever come to a "staff ride." Pfanz's book on the first day is also supposed to be good, but I never read it.
4. Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart's Controversial Ride to Gettysburg & ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 by Eric J. Wittenberg, J. David Petruzzi, Michael F. Nugent I am combining both of these outstanding books into one entry. I have both personal and working relationships with the authors and do not want to appear too biased by giving them two slots. Honestly, "Plenty of Blame" was the best book I read in 2006 and the follow-up volume did not disappoint. These gentlemen have a talent for writing really enjoyable history that leaves all judgments up to the readers. The inclusion of GPS-data for driving tours is phenomenal. All history books should do that.
5. The Gettysburg Gospel: The Lincoln Speech That Nobody Knows (Simon & Schuster Lincoln Library) by Gabor Boritt I've never been much of a Lincoln scholar, but this book was a wonderfully fresh and original study of a familiar subject. I actually did not think that I would like this book when I first opened it. That said, Boritt's way of teaching me (the reader) about something I thought I had a full appreciation for was startling. I probably learned more new information about G'burg from this book than perhaps any other on this list. The author also does an excellent job of painting the scene after the battle and reminding readers of what the town went through.
6. The Maps of Gettysburg: An Atlas of the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 - July 13, 1863 by Bradley M. Gottfried As one who thinks and works in visual media, this book is a real treat. The detailed maps are wonderfully illustrated and superbly depict the battle's most significant areas and engagements. This is also a great reference source to refer to when walking the field in person. This book (IMO) is similar to the Electric Map in that it visually explains the battles movements and tactics in a way that people can easily understand.
7. THE COMPLETE GETTYSBURG GUIDE: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest by J. David Petruzzi w/ Maps by Steve Stanley I know this is a brand new release, but our friend JD and Mr. Stanley have combined to create a wonderfully designed and incredibly useful book. Frankly, I can't believe this has never been down before. The wealth of information on G'burg's monuments and sites is priceless. I can't wait to take this book to Adams County and walk through it myself. If you can't book a tour with an expert like J. David Petruzzi, this is the closest you can get.
8. Gettysburg: The Final Fury by Bruce Catton This book would be much higher on my list if it was not so slim. The narrative is classic Catton whose storytelling style is among the best. The maps and photos that compliment the text in this one are equally enjoyable. And although there are far better books in the Catton catalog, a Top-10 Civil War book list would not be complete (IMO) without his name being included. His illustrated book "The Battle of Gettysburg" that was published by American Heritage is also a childhood classic.
9. The Civil War: Gettysburg: The Confederate High Tide by Champ Clark and The Editors of Time-Life Books Say what you will about those cheesy silver-coated covers from the 1980's, the CW collection by Time-Life Books still has some of the best stories and images out there. I was fortunate enough to purchase the entire series and I could spend days flipping through a pile of these gems. Champ Clark did an excellent job presenting the fight and the three-dimensional map depictions really give you a sense of the terrain. I would not hesitate to include a TLB book on any list.
10. The Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama: A History and Guide by Sue Boardman and Kathryn Porch This wonderful coffee-table book is not only a fact and photo filled gem on the complete history and restoration of the prized painting; it is also the ONLY book on the subject. In addition to including all of the original promotional pieces, programs and ticket stubs, this book outlines the entire cyclorama movement that took place at the turn of the century. This is one of those books that you find yourself flipping through with a big smile on your face as you recall your own childhood visits to G'burg.
Referred to as the “Crossroads of the Civil War,” Spotsylvania County in central Virginia bore witness to some of the most intense fighting during the War Between the States. The nearby city of Fredericksburg and neighboring counties of Stafford, Orange and Caroline also hosted a myriad of historically significant events during America’s “Great Divide.”
Four major engagements took place in this region including the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Court House and The Wilderness. Today the hallowed grounds that make up the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park are the second largest of their kind in the country. In addition, the area remains home to many historic Civil War landmarks including Chatham Estate, Salem Church, the “Stonewall” Jackson Shrine and Ellwood Manor. Dozens of monuments and roadside markers dot the landscape and more than 200,000 tourists visit the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania region each year.
Similarly from 1861-1865 hundreds of thousands of troops on both sides of the conflict marched through, fought at, and camped in the woods and fields of Spotsylvania County and the surrounding area. The National Park Service christened the region as “The Bloodiest Landscape in North America” stating that over a four-year period, more than 85,000 men were wounded, and over 15,000 were killed. A number of exceptionally significant events also took place in the vicinity including the first clash between Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate commander Gen. Robert E. Lee, as well as the first recorded skirmish between southern forces and U.S. Colored Troops.
“Campfires at the Crossroads” focuses specifically on the Confederate encampments that spread across Spotsylvania County and the adjoining regions during the course of the Civil War. By using the witnesses’ own testimonies and words taken directly from published memoirs, diary entries and letters home, readers will be able to take a glimpse into the day-to-day experiences of camp life for southern armies on campaign in the Old Dominion. Topics include camp duties, cooking, slaves and body servants, crimes and punishment, disease and dysentery, love letters, winter quarters, religious services, death notifications and more. The inclusion of rare photographs and illustrations compliment this collection of author narrative and archive transcripts.
Stay tuned for updates on the release of this highly anticipated title.
Several anxious visitors have been grilling me ever since I hinted below about that reclusive documentary film project that I am involved with. I’ve kept it quiet for several months now, but as the local paper is now covering it, I guess I can finally spill the beans.
A few months back I was contacted by a film director from Savannah Georgia about contributing to a documentary project. The film dealt with the life and legacy of Sgt. Richard Kirkland and was to be shot in high-definition, on location at Fredericksburg VA and Camden SC.
The director's name was Clint Ross and he had contacted me as I had lectured on Kirkland at the University of Mary Washington as part of the FCW Roundtable’s “Great Lives That Touched The Civil War” series.
I was immediately attracted to the project as Clint is a fellow Christian and his vision of the movie was to not only examine the courageous act of humanitarianism that Kirkland bestowed upon the enemy, but additionally HOW and WHY the event has become a leading ‘brand’ of Civil War commemoration.
The image of this young Confederate soldier holding a canteen to the lips of a fallen foe has been memorialized in Felix DeWeldon’s sculpture on the Fredericksburg field and in the courtyard of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, PA. It has been captured on canvas by Mort Kunstler in his painting “The Angle of Marye’s Heights” and in countless souvenirs at battlefield gift stores. It has been written about in poems such as the one penned by Walter Clark in 1908 and in song by Canadian musicians Will White, Juanita Brandt & Dale Ulan. It has been celebrated for decades by the Camden United Daughters of the Confederacy and recently portrayed by a 9 year-old boy named Richard Warren from Salem VA.
In essence, the memory of Richard Kirkland is even larger than the selfless act he performed. This moment of mercy has become a major symbol. My own theory is that this rare act of kindness has remained through the years as a bright spot worthy of our praise. In a devastating conflict that has been far too romanticized Kirkland reminds us that we were all "brothers" in the American Civil War. He gives us a reason to celebrate. Perhaps that is the reason for my own attraction to his story.
After taking Clint and his lovely wife on a private tour of the Fredericksburg Battlefield, I humbly accepted an offer to appear in and co-produce the film by acting as a liaison between him and my network of connections here in Fredericksburg. In addition to shooting both interior and exterior scenes at Chatham Manor, the Sunken Road, and of course the Kirkland Monument the crew is also planning on filming in Camden at Kirkland’s home (ruins), at his grave site in a Quaker cemetery, and at a memorial fountain that commemorates him in town.
I will be offering an introductory spot on the theme of the film and “ghost-interviewing” Don Pfanz from the National Park Service and hopefully Eric Mink. They will provide an overview of the Battle of Fredericksburg and paint the scene for Kirkland’s actions. The addition of interviews with the living names I listed above along with SC historians, as well as the inclusion of period photos (ala Ken Burns) with an overlaying narrative (hopefully provided by a familiar star), this film will be both enlightening and informative. The crew arrives in town on July 27th and they will be shooting here until Aug. 1st.
The Free Lance-Star will be doing an article on the event and once the 30-minute film is completed (hopefully by November), it is slated to run at the Civil War Life Soldier’s Museum and later become a permanent installation at the new facility. In exchange for my services they are also generously producing a commercial for the National Civil War Life Foundation of which I am Vice-Chair. Needless to say I will be busy when these days arrive, but I will be sure to post plenty of photos and updates. Who knows maybe The Naked Historian will make an appearance on set?
Honestly, this opportunity is really cool and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I was extremely thrilled to be a part of it. I'm a lucky dog.