Saturday, May 07, 2016

Interactive panorama: Wilderness Tavern hospital site

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Protected by a small shelter, a large pile of stones and bricks is nearly all that remains from the old Wilderness Tavern buildings, once a landmark along the Orange Turnpike near Chancellorsville, Va. During a recent afternoon visit, yellow buttercups dotted lush, green fields, and we were interrupted by the near-constant hum of traffic from nearby Route 3 -- the old Orange Turnpike and a well-traveled route by troops from both armies during the war.

Just imagine the sights, sounds and smells here 153 years ago.

Hospital tents for up to 3,000 wounded from the Confederate Second Corps filled these fields after the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought just four miles away in early May 1863. After he was accidentally shot by his own troops about 9 p.m. on May 2, the most famous Confederate patient of the war had his left arm amputated in a hospital tent nearby. (The exact site of Stonewall Jackson's operation is believed to be in what now is a strip of land in the middle of Route 3.)

A year later, thousands of Union troops marched through the same area during the Wilderness Campaign, and Federal field hospitals were set up near the Wilderness Tavern site. Union General Ambrose Burnside used the tavern as a headquarters. Edwin Forbes drew this sketch of the area on May 7, 1864, as Union troops and ambulances moved through. The cropped version of Forbes' sketch below shows the Wilderness Tavern buildings:

A cropped version of Edwin Forbes' drawing of Wilderness Tavern and surrounding  area.
 (Library of Congress collection)

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