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At Ease: Was it a Farm before it was a Battlefield?

The War & The Civilians

It's important to ask the question: who owned the land in the 1860s? Usually, when we're out battlefielding or working on preservation opportunities, the first focus is on the military events connected to the land. But before it was a battlefield, the majority of this land was farms, woodlands, or home sites owned by individuals whose lives were disrupted or destroyed by the arriving armies. Today, we're excited to share some civilian stories from the Central Virginia battlefields and a new video.


Mr. Chewning & His Miraculous "Healing"

Absolom Chewning, a blacksmith at Catharine's Furnace, had quite the adventure during the Chancellorsville battle days, as recounted by an eyewitness in the August 17, 1932, printing of the The Free Lance Star: Ab was not allowed to enlist in the Confederate army, first because he was needed at the Furnace to help turn out iron; second, because he had such a bad case of rheumatism they had to carry him in some of his spells and hoist him to places in a sling so he could check up on jobs. One of Ab's chief helpers was Sprig Dempsey, who was a good-hearted big fellow and a great friend of Ab's. Well, Sprig told me himself Ab got cured of his rheumatism in a way that seemed to everybody at the time nothing short of a miracle. They were fitting a ventilator, or something, on the roof of a low building connected with the foundry. Jackson's men went marching by, but everybody was used to seeing troops moving, so they kept right on with their work. But hardly had Jackson's men gone and the wagons were passing at Welford's when here came a Georgia regiment [the 23rd Georgia Infantry], left by Jackson to guard the road up toward Hazel Grove, moving back to the foundry and moving fast. The woods were full of Yankees, they said, and they couldn't stand them off much longer. Well, that didn't phase anybody, because they were used to scares; and, anyhow, Ab and Sprig and the rest of the iron men had no doubt for a minute those Georgia boys could whip a woods full of Yankees anytime. So they just went on with their tinkering while the Georgians got into the foundry and spread out on both sides of it and fixed everything for a fight. A chance of them were on the bluff above the foundry, others were in those low-ground woods skirmishing like Indians. All of a sudden up on the bluff there broke out such a racket of shooting and yelling that Sprig and Ab got uneasy and then--Whooee! Georgians began to pour over the bluff like a waterfall and the sky behind them clouded up and rained Yankees down into the Furnace hollow. Sprig and the rest of the iron men took out for Scott's Run yonder, the other side of which Posey's brigade was fortifying. The Georgians outside the foundry drifted back towards the railroad, jumping from tree to tree and shooting at the Yankees surrounding the soldiers in the foundry. Sprig said he reached the bank of Scott's Run in what seemed three bounds and was just about to plunge across when he remembered poor Ab Chewning back there on the roof. He stopped short and was studying what he could do to help Ab get away when a man shot by him like a bat out of a barn and made a leap that carried him clear across Scott's Run, which was more than Sprig could do or had thought of doing. It was Ab. Ab had been completely cured of his rheumatism; and if you don't believe it you can go down to Scott's Run and look at the place, which is there just like in 1863.... To his dying day Sprig Dempsey said he had never seen anything like it in his life how those Yankees had cured Ab Chewning of that rheumatism, which even bee-stinging had failed to cure.

A sketch of how Catharine's Furnace might have appeared in the 1860s.


Trampled Garden, Threatening Words

As the Battle of the Wilderness raged in May 1864, the battle lines shifted across several farms and fields in forest clearings. Confused combat raged around the Higgerson Farm, and Permelia Higgerson angrily appeared at her cabin door to say what she thought about the situation. The Union troops barged past, trampling through her garden, and Permelia shouted taunts at the Yankees, declaring they would be back soon—chased by the Confederates. Not long after, her words turned prophetic as the boys in blue came running back through the yard and garden again with howling Rebels at their heels. Presumably, Permelia was delighted, though not about her ruined seedlings.

Higgerson Farm, NPS


At The Center of "The Mule Shoe"

One unlucky family found themselves at the center of the Confederate earthwork salient known as "The Mule Shoe" at Spotsylvania. The McCoull House and Spring became important landmarks in battle reports and history as attacks and counterattacks swept over the civilians' property. At the time of the battle, the two McCoull sisters hide inside the house and survived. Their brother was away at the time of the fighting but eventually returned safely to them. The destruction would take longer to repair. The one-and-a-half-story home had been badly damaged during the battle, but after fixing repairs, it was inhabited until 1921 when a fire permanently destroyed the structure, leaving only the ruins and outline.

A blossoming dogwood on the slope between the McCoull House Site and the Spring.


Jane Beale & The Battle of Fredericksburg

Fredericksburg resident Jane Beale was forced to refugee from town as the armies prepared for battle in December 1862. She kept a journal of her early Civil War experiences, and we've included excerpts in our newest video.


Central Virginia Battlefields Trust's mission is to preserve, protect, and educate about Civil War hallowed ground at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania.

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