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Civilians in the midst of battle

August 17, 2002 1:01 am





Part 24 of a series on the 1863 Battle of Chancellorsville

CIVILIANS GENERALLY do not fare well in the path of violent combat. Fredericksburg's citizenry had come face to face with barbarians in blue five months before Chancellorsville--but that willful destruction fortunately proved to be more an anomaly than a common occurrence during the war's early years. Federal invaders at Chancellorsville mistreated no one; in fact, some of them exerted considerable effort to protect civilians at risk.

The Wilderness thickets through which Jackson marched, then attacked, lived up to the regional name. Only a handful of subsistence farms scrabbled for existence in the Wilderness. Some of those had been unsettled by the war's dislocation of agriculture, transportation and commerce.

As they prepared to launch Jackson's secret flank attack, Confederate soldiers spread across the tiny farmstead known as the Luckett Farm. Once they struck, the victorious Southerners swarmed through the fields of the Talley Farm and the Hawkins Farm. Only those three habitations stood along the Orange Turnpike (modern State Route 3) on all of Jackson's battlefield west of Wilderness Church. Eastward from the church all the way to Chancellorsville, only Melzi Chancellor's house, "Dowdall's Tavern," stood near the turnpike.

John R. Luckett, a farmer and carpenter, had joined Fredericksburg's 30th Virginia Infantry in 1861 at age 27 and served faithfully through all four years of the war (although his unit was not present at Chancellorsville). John F. Powell and his family occupied Luckett's little house as tenants. The Powells owned four cows and five pigs in 1860, and virtually nothing else. The census enumerator estimated that everything on the property might be worth a total of $100.

By May 2, 1863, civilians had abandoned the Luckett vicinity. Federal stragglers fired a few rounds from the windows at arriving Confederates, then fled. They left behind a small storm of poultry feathers, scattered from ripped up feather beds.

Jackson's attack made the Talley and Hawkins farms into military landmarks, familiar to the thousands of soldiers on both sides who fought within sight of those places. James M. Talley, age 28 when the war began, owned 126 acres. The census taker judged the land's value at $11 per acre; a preservation group bought part of the Talley property for $7,652 per acre in September 1999. On the 60 "improved" acres of the farm, James and his wife, Lucy, (age 21) and a baby girl owned a half-dozen head of livestock. During the year ending in mid-1860, the farm had produced corn, oats, tobacco, potatoes, and butter.

Sometime in 1862, the Talleys leased the property to one John Hatch. Some Northern accounts call the building "the Hatch House." Southerners, more familiar with the people and place, called it "Talley." James Talley went into service with the 9th Virginia Cavalry in the spring of 1863, survived the war, and was buried in 1905 at Wilderness Church, across the turnpike from his famous farmhouse.

After the war, Talley became familiar to veterans as a battlefield guide, and participated in marking some of the key sites. He helped Connecticut officers look for their colonel's grave in the Talley garden, and as a souvenir gave the Yankee veterans a board from his barn with a shell hole through it. In 1894, James played host to a visiting party that included generals from both North and South, famous staff officers who had served with R.E. Lee, A.P. Hill, and Jeb Stuart, and assorted other veterans.

Gen. Charles Devens, a Harvard lawyer, made his headquarters in the Talley House, a country building of modest size but substantial design, with stone chimneys at either end of a wooden story-and-a-half structure. Many of Devens' troops disliked him, some of them very much indeed. He elicited more bitter calumny over his behavior before Jackson's onslaught than any other Federal officer. One subordinate described Devens' "offensive disinclination to receive" word from his officers. The general was, an Ohio colonel said, "worse than deaf!too drunk to appreciate what was told him."

As is customary, none of that mattered to his political proponents. A U.S. Army base in Massachusetts bears his name today, and a bronze Devens stands heroically in Boston, far from the deadly confusion that unmanned him as it ran rampant at Chancellorsville.

After the battle, Confederate surgeons took over Talley's place. They tore up the fences and the outbuildings to build crude beds for their patients, and to construct coffins for those who died. The dwelling house survived until about 1925, and another house built on its foundations burned about 1975. Huge old oak trees that marked the houses' yard still stand in the dry summer of 2002.

Gen. Carl Schurz made his headquarters at the Hawkins House, within sight of the Talley farm and just across the turnpike, north-northwest of Wilderness Church.

The Hawkins Farm remains in the hands of the Hawkins family today. The current farmhouse is a replacement for the Civil War structure, on the same site. Several Hawkins women lived there during the war (an aide to Schurz said there were eight of them present). So did the husband of a Hawkins girl, Thomas W. Downer. In 1860 the Hawkins property covered 600 acres and produced an impressive array and volume of agricultural products.

The Hawkins boys went to war in 1861. John Thomas Hawkins enlisted in the same regiment as John Luckett, and rose to the rank of sergeant. His abilities as a sawyer took him out of the field and onto detached duty building Confederate gunboats. John lived until three weeks before World War I ended, and is buried at Wilderness Church, within sight of his home.

Alexander Bennett Hawkins served for two years, then came home on disability. When he saw his former comrades racing across his pasture in full pursuit on May 2, 1863, the 19-year-old Alexander picked up a rifle and followed them, "yelling with the rest." As a soldier in Alexander's old brigade trotted past, he "saw several ladies who were wildly rejoicing." Two dozen women and children finally hid in a cellar until the flying lead abated.

Hulda Hawkins apparently had found something to like about Yankees, or at least one of them. When she saw the Confederate tidal wave approaching, Hulda waved her apron at enemy troops nearby and shouted, "Here they come!" Family lore declares that Hulda had befriended a Northern soldier, hid him in the house, and wrote to him after the war.

Gen. O.O. Howard established a command post at Dowdall's Tavern, on the south edge of the turnpike not far east of Wilderness Church. The Rev. Melzi S. Chancellor lived there with his wife and 10 children.

Someone arrested and took to Howard at Dowdall's a "white haired old citizen" of obstreperously Southern sentiments. When Jackson made the Yankees scurry away, the old fellow amused pursuing Confederates with the "wild jesticulations & hurrahs" he used on his quondam captors as they fled.

Within 90 minutes after Jackson erupted out of the thickets, the war had moved east beyond the farms and houses called Luckett, Talley, Hawkins, and Dowdall's. That stretch of the Orange Turnpike belonged to the Confederacy again. Its occupants emerged from their cellars to find that a military whirlwind had swept past.

Next week: Finding fault

ROBERT K. KRICK of Fredericksburg was chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park for 30 years. He is the author of 14 books; the most recent, "The Smoothbore Volley That Doomed the Confederacy," was published in February by Louisiana State University Press.

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