On a cold, clear Saturday morning in November, I had the wonderful privilege to visit Chatham Manor, a lesser known component of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park which includes Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania battlefields. The volunteer and ranger staff members were wonderful and I gratefully acknowledge their assistance in researching Oliver Case and the 8th Connecticut’s stay at the manor in August 1862. The buildings on the grounds of the manor serve as the park headquarters with five of the rooms in the main house open to public and containing some excellent exhibits. I highly recommend a visit.
Chatham Manor was originally constructed by one of Virginia’s most prominent citizens William Fitzhugh between the years 1768 and 1771. It is a beautiful Georgian-style house situated to overlook the Rappahannock River and the town of Fredericksburg. Fitzhugh owned thousands of acres in the area and Chatham Manor included over 1,200 acres with various structures on the grounds near the main house including barns, stables and a dairy operation.
Fitzhugh owned about 90 to 100 slaves who worked the plantation’s fields and other operations such as carpentry and blacksmith shops. In January of 1805, Chatham Manor was the site of a slave rebellion caused by a disagreement between some of the slaves and an overseer. After the slaves attacked the overseer, an armed posse was brought in to end the rebellion with one of those involved being executed and several others deported to a slave colony.
I discovered several interesting aspects of the Fitzhugh family and manor during my visit. First, Chatham had many famous visitors during the early years and also during the civil war (more on that later). William Fitzhugh had a close relationship with George Washington and his family because the Washington family farm was just down the river from Chatham. Washington and Fitzhugh also served together in the Virginia House of Burgesses before the American Revolution. It is documented in Washington’s surviving diaries of his numerous visits to the manor and one of the rooms the NPS now has open to the public served as his bedroom during those visits.
George Washington’s portrait hangs above the fireplace in the Chatham Manor room he used during his visits
Here’s where things get good for us CW folks… William Fitzhugh’s daughter, Mary Lee Fitzhugh, married George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Mary Anna Randolph Custis, their only surviving child, married the future Confederate General Robert Edward Lee. The Fitzhugh name would continue with the Lee’s second son, William Henry Fitzhugh (“Rooney”) Lee who served as an officer in the Confederate Army eventually obtaining the rank of Major General.
There were many other famous visitors to the Chatham Manor including Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and William Henry Harrison as he traveled to his inauguration in Washington in March of 1841. The one visitor that concerns us most would not arrive on the grounds of Chatham until August 1862. More on him and the Civil War history of Chatham Manor in a later post.
The main visitor entrance to Chatham Manor, 2012