Chatham Manor Was Both a Union Headquarters and Hospital in the Battle of Fredericksburg
Between 1768 and 1771, planter and politician William Fitzhugh built a Georgian style mansion on Stafford Heights above the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg, Virginia. Fitzhugh named the home Chatham Manor, after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. With its combination of location, prominent owners, and the times, Chatham Manor would be a part of American history from Colonial times through the Civil War.
Fitzhugh had served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, alongside George Washington. The two were friends, and the future president (who had spent a lot of time in the area while growing up and returned to Fredericksburg frequently) visited Chatham. Another future president and Virginian, Thomas Jefferson, was a guest of Fitzhugh at Chatham. Future presidents may have been the most famous guests at Chatham Manor, but many other guests were entertained there as well.
Fitzhugh had vast, and successful, agricultural operations on his plantation. That success would not have been possible without the slaves who did the labor, both in the fields and in skilled trades. There were as many as 100 slaves at Chatham, and in 1805, a slave rebellion was put down, resulting in the death of three slaves.
Fitzhugh had another house in Alexandria, Virginia, and began spending more and more time there beginning in the late 1790s. In 1806, he sold the plantation to Churchill Jones; William Fitzhugh died in 1809.
The Jones family owned the plantation through the end of the Civil War. In antebellum times, future Confederate general Robert E. Lee was a guest at the estate. When the Civil War began, Chatham was owned by James Horace Lacy, who had married into the Jones family. Lacy, a slaveholder who embraced the Confederate cause, joined the Rebel army. His family continued to live at Chatham, until April 1862. At that time General Irvin McDowell took over the house as his headquarters McDowell’s army repaired the railroads in the Fredericksburg area while General George McClellan was conducting the Peninsula Campaign further south. President Abraham Lincoln added his name to the list of famous visitors to Chatham when he journeyed south from Washington to confer with McDowell.
In November 1862, Major General Ambrose Burnside and the Army of the Potomac arrived across the Rappahannock from Fredericksburg in a campaign to capture the city and move on Richmond. Chatham, often referred to by the Union Army as the Lacy House, was in the center of Federal activity. Major General Edwin V. Sumner used Chatham as his headquarters, and Burnside held a meeting with his top generals at the house. Union engineers parked wagon trains of bridge building materials behind the estate. The Federal artillery line, used in the bombardment Fredericksburg, ran along either side of the house.
The December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg was a Union defeat with thousands of casualties. Chatham went from being a headquarters to being a hospital. Clara Barton was one of those who helped with the wounded at Chatham. Poet Walt Whitman also came to Chatham looking for his brother, a Union officer who had been wounded (and survived). Some 130 soldiers who died at the hospital were buried on the grounds at Chatham; all but three were later removed to other cemeteries. After being a field hospital, the home was used as a picket outpost by Union sentries.
After the war, the Lacy family returned to Chatham. The house was in horrible condition, as were the grounds around it. Between the cost of repairs and taxes owed on the property, the Lacy family (who owned a second home in the area) sold Chatham in 1872. The house was not fully restored to its previous grandeur until the 1920s. The last private owner of Chatham Manor was John Lee Pratt, a Fredericksburg native who had served as a vice president of General Motors and official in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pratt died in 1975 and in his will, donated Chatham Manor to the National Park Service.
Today, Chatham Manor is the headquarters of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Five rooms have exhibits related to the Battle of Fredericksburg and history of the home. The rest of the building and the two surviving outbuildings are used as National Park Service offices. It is located at 120 Chatham Lane in Fredericksburg.
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