Archaeological Potential for UMW’s Chandler Hall Site:
by Michael Spencer
While the location of Chandler Hall sits some distance from the focal point of the first battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862) period maps and firsthand accounts of both the first and second (May 1863) battles of Fredericksburg note the presence of Confederate lunettes and rifle pits in close proximity. Perhaps the most useful map for determining the location of these positions was created by John E. Weyss on September 25, 1867. This effort was part of a larger project to document the battlefields of the Civil War while evidence was still visible. While the original maps are not drawn to scale, compass angles as well as distances are provided in the margins. However, using known landmarks, such as the sole surviving lunette on the UMW campus (southernmost lunette on the Weyss map) overlays can be created which give a relatively good indication of where the features once existed. Using these overlays it appears that no features ran through the immediate Chandler Hall site, but rather rifle-pits seem to have been placed towards the eastern portion of Ball Circle.
While these static features seem to indicate that the site would yield little in the way of archaeological information, accounts from the Second Battle of Fredericksburg, May 3, 1863, indicate otherwise. Compiled by Francis O’Reilly of the US War Department from 1880-1901, the 128 volume work entitled The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, provides firsthand accounts of action taking place in and around the Chandler Hall site. The majority of the accounts seem to come from Joseph Norcom, a Lieutenant in the Washington Artillery, a Louisiana unit. Lt. Norcom’s artillery unit was stationed in two unfinished lunettes, near present day Monroe and Willard Halls during the Union attack. It is in this location that his unit took heavy fire from Union Artillery, placed on the outskirts of Fredericksburg. However, it was not the bombardment but a breach in the Confederate defenses which caused his unit to begin withdrawing. Unfortunately the only place in which to cross the ravine (between Seacobeck Hall and Monroe Hall) with artillery was at the Chandler Hall site which was in the process of being overrun by advancing Union troops. It was here that the Confederate unit abandoned their two guns and evaded capture, one solider by the name of Keegan making his escape by riding two of the horses from the artillery team directly across the front of advancing Union troops.1
Direct evidence of archaeological potential for the Chandler Hall site comes from Edward Alvey who recounts that “Even as late as 1937 evidences of the grim struggle were being uncovered. When grading was under way for the group of dormitories known as the Tri-Unit [Ball, Custis and Madison Halls], cannon balls were found in the loads of dirt that were carted away, reminders of the heavy artillery bombardment that preceded the Federal attack on the very hill where the central buildings of the college now stand.”2
While construction of Chandler Hall no doubt destroyed much of the sites archaeological potential, the area to the northwest of the building appears to be close to the original grade as photographs from the early 1910s and 20s indicate. However, while the site has potential to yield archaeological information from the Civil War it is unlikely that any large features will be found.
1 Harrison, Noel. A Tour of Civil War Sites on the University of Mary Washington Central Grounds, pg 16-18.
2 Alvey, Edward. History of Mary Washington College, pg 19 (The uncovering of these materials was likely witnessed firsthand or conveyed to Alvey directly during construction of the Tri-Units. The bombardment to which he refers was likely a reference to the Second Battle of Fredericksburg in 1863.)
|Figure 1: Image from the 1926 Battlefield Yearbook showing the southern lunette on the UMW campus.
|Figure 2: The 1867 Weyss map overlaid on a 2011 aerial of the UMW campus. The parallel lines seen on the 1867 maps denote rifle pits whereas lunettes are noted as “horseshoe” shapes. Lt. Norcom’s artillery unit would have been positioned near Monroe Hall (red dot) and would have retreated towards Chandler Hall (dashed line). The Union advance is noted in blue
Chandler Hall Background
- Original Function: Training School (K-12)
- Current Function: Academic (Classroom) Building
- Original Architect(s): Charles M. Robinson Architects Inc., (J. Binford Walford Architect, Glave Newman Anderson)
- Period of Significance: 1928-1938, used as a training school
- UMW Historic Grade Level (1 highest – 4 lowest): Grade 2
- 1982 interior renovation replaced the original 1928 material and interior spaces created in 1938.
- Wood frame structure and narrow floor-to-floor not conducive to adaptive re-use as assembly spaces.
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