The Beginnings of Chatham Manor
Before Virginia became a state, and even before the American Revolution, there was Chatham Manor. Built between 1768 and 1771 by William Fitzhugh, Chatham was named for the 1st Earl of Chatham, William Pitt. Pitt was a supporter of many opinions of the American colonists leading up to the American Revolutionary War, and was held in very high regard. The Georgian style home was built overlooking the Rappahannock River, across from the town of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The entire estate originally covered over 1,280 acres and boasted some of the best amenities of that time, including a race track where Mr. Fitzhugh would race his horses for money.
Fitzhugh and his wife, Ann Bolling Randolph Fitzhugh, enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle that included hosting lavish parties; some of those ended in duels, but those were not commonplace. Aside from the parties and duels, Chatham Manor had very famous guests. George Washington, yes THAT George Washington, was a frequent guest at Chatham. Washington and Fitzhugh had served together in the House of Burgesses, prior to the American Revolution. The Washington family home, Ferry Farm, was also just a short distance away.
After several ownership changes, James Horace Lacy and Betty Churchill Jones made Chatham their home for many years. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Lacy, a southern sympathizer, left to join the Confederate Army. Betty and the children remained at Chatham until Union troops arrived and forced them to flee. For over a year, Chatham Manor was used as a Union headquarters. During that time, Abraham Lincoln visited Chatham Manor to discuss battle plans with General Irvin McDowell.
Battle of Fredericksburg
The depth of information regarding the Civil War is far too great to be contained in this small article, so I won’t even attempt to cover it all. Suffice to say that there were two separate battles in nearby Fredericksburg and both battles caused tremendous losses for both sides. The wounded and dying soldiers were brought to Chatham, which also served as a make-shift hospital. More than 130 soldiers died and were buried at Chatham. Most of them were removed after the war and re-interred at the nearby Fredericksburg National Cemetery. There are three that remain on the grounds. They are in the oddest places, you have to really search to find them. When you visit Chatham, there is a short video that the Park Rangers show and the video explains where the remaining graves are.
Whitman at Chatham Manor
During the Civil War, Poet Walt Whitman visited Chatham Manor in search of his brother that was wounded fighting. Whitman wrote of the carnage that he witnessed there, while helping to care for the wounded and dying. He wrote about blood soaked blankets and amputated limbs at the base of a tree. Two of the trees from that era that still stand. Although they have metal braces, the Catalpa, or witness trees, are still alive and are very beautiful to look at.
After the Civil War
Chatham sustained extensive damage during the war. The winters were harsh, so the soldiers chopped down the surrounding trees for firewood. They even tore the panels from the walls when they ran out of trees. By the time the Lacy’s returned to Chatham, aside from the torn paneling, there were bloodstains everywhere, broken window panes, and the yard was being used as a graveyard. The Lacy’s were not able to maintain Chatham, so they sold it and moved to their other property, Ellwood. After several years, and several ownership changes, Chatham was left to the National Park Service in 1975 after the final private owner’s death.
Chatham Manor is easily one of my favorite places to visit in Fredericksburg. Chatham is currently being used as the Headquarters for the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. There is no charge to visit Chatham, which works out wonderfully for me because I have visited many many times. The gardens on the east side of Chatham, the “new entrance”, have different blooms each season. The gardens alone has an extensive history. I covered the gardens in a previous article, so if you’d like a little more history, be sure to take a look.
On the west side, the original entrance of Chatham, there are several different statues that adorn the large lawn. The statues were all added in the early 20th century. Among the statues there is a statue of Pan in a cupola. The statue was horribly damaged by vandals in 2002, but luckily was restored and returned to Chatham in 2013.
Due to the importance of Chatham during the Civil War, there are several items on the lawn that give visitors a good idea of the type of things that would have been present during the war. On the upper lawn, across from the Pan statue, there are several canons. The canons are placed where the Union soldiers would have had them placed during the Civil War as they fired upon Fredericksburg. On the lower level of the large lawn, there is a pontoon bridge replica. Pontoon bridges were built by Union soldiers during the Civil War in order to cross the Rappahannock and travel to Richmond.
The amount of history on this property is amazing. While doing the research for these posts, I continue to be amazed at how much of a treasure Chatham Manor is. Hopefully you enjoy reading about this wonderful piece of history and seeing some of the beautiful photos that I was able to capture. If you’d like to see more photos, be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook.
Throughout all of my visits to Chatham, I was able to record quite a bit of video footage. Photos really don’t do Chatham justice, so I have included the video that I put together so that you can get a better idea of how stunning it is. The video is best viewed with sound.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.
Until the next Adventure,