Thursday, May 05, 2016

Then & Now: Damaged houses in war-torn Fredericksburg

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On a "Then & Now" mission last week during my Civil War Power Tour, I stood near the parking lot of a small bank in Fredericksburg, Va., to shoot a present-day version of the May 1864 image of severely damaged houses on Hanover Street and George Street extended. Damage to the residences, long attributed to Union artillery, may have been caused by Confederate guns during the battle for the town in December 1862. In any case, the houses proved enticing subject matter for a photographer employed by Mathew Brady. (Check out the terrific overlay below of the 1864 image on a present-day view, courtesy of  John Cummings of the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.)

Excellent photos, as well as a map showing destruction caused by the Union bombardment on Dec. 11, 1862, may be found on the National Park Service's Mysteries & Conundrums blog. On my blog, Then & Now posts showing war-damaged houses on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg are here and here. And a 1908 history of  Fredericksburg includes this vivid account of the eight-hour Federal shelling:
At the hour appointed the signal was given, and the thunder of artillery, the lightning from bursting shells in the air, the crashing of solid shot through the houses, the roar of musketry on both sides of the river, the shrieks of frightened women and children, the bustle and confusion that followed may be imagined, but can never be described. From early morning until four o clock in the afternoon, with only half an hour's cessation between one and two o clock, this deluge of shot and shell was poured upon the streets and houses of the town. The few inhabitants who remained in the town fled to their cellars and sought to save their lives from the storm which was beating their homes to pieces. Many houses were burned with all or most of their contents, the result of hot shot, it was claimed, thrown from the enemy's guns on the Lacy farm just opposite the town.
Overlay of 1864 image on present-day view by John Cummings of the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.
While Brady's operators produced the image, fighting raged again, 10 miles to the southwest at Spotsylvania Courthouse. Obscured by trees in the "Now" image, St. George's Episcopal Church, hit by shellfire in 1862, is visible in the background of the 1864 image. Wounded from Spotsylvania Courthouse, the Wilderness and elsewhere were treated there while Brady's men went about their business.

As you can see in the "Now" image and in this Google Street View, the two houses on Hanover Street are long gone; a sports field occupies the area behind the long, metal fence. White houses on the extension of George Street long ago replaced their severely damaged cousins. For grins, here are close-ups of those houses on Google Street View. And below, watch a fascinating video of December 1862 bombardment damage at the Old Stone Warehouse in Fredericksburg.

For all the Then & Now images on my blog, go here.

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