For the ninth year in a row, reenactors and historians will gather in the historic village of Falmouth for Yankees in Falmouth, which takes place Sept. 10-11, 2016.
This weekend-long living history event has become known over the years for its dramatic nighttime cannon firing (This year’s takes place at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 10.) and for the chance to see reenactors portray Abraham Lincoln and other notable figures from this period.
The stories that can be told about this time period in Falmouth, situated across the river from Downtown Fredericksburg in Stafford County, provide far more than one weekend’s worth of exploring. Here are a few things you might not have known about this little village that was once one of Virginia’s most important ports.
Abraham Lincoln made a famous visit here. Lincoln came to Chatham Manor on May 23, 1862. After seeing an Army review at this storied house that is now part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, he crossed the Rappahannock to visit Army encampments in Fredericksburg. John Hennessy, chief historian at the National Park, wrote this fascinating piece about Lincoln’s likely route through Fredericksburg, which includes a stop at what was then Farmer’s Bank. This building, located at the corner of George and Princess Anne streets in Downtown Fredericksburg, can now be enjoyed as the newest location of Foode, a restaurant whose chef has made headlines winning state culinary contests and appearing on Bravo!’s Top Chef. Hennessy writes that Lincoln likely rode on horseback up to Marye’s Heights and along Sunken Road, sites that would be hugely significant to the Confederate victory in the Battle of Fredericksburg just months later. Hennessy points out that Fredericksburg is the only Civil War battlefield Lincoln visited before it became a battlefield.
A new piece of history will be on display this year. Shelton's Cottage, a circa-1770 home that has been restored to represent a typical working-class home of that era, will be open to the public during this year's Yankees in Falmouth event. The Shelton family's history goes back 13 generations in Stafford County. The cottage was slated for demolition in 1971, and the Shelton family donated it to the Stafford Historical Society. Ownership eventually transferred to Stafford County, which undertook its renovation. The cottage has been furnished with antiques and vintage furnishings, some connected with Falmouth and Stafford County. During Yankees in Falmouth, members of the Shelton family will be available to talk about their history in Stafford County. There will also be an art exhibit and lectures on the more than 10,000 African American refugees who sought freedom by crossing the Rappahannock in front of the cottage during the spring of 1862.
For many, freedom started here. Yankees in Falmouth takes place at the Moncure Conway house, located at 305 King St. This house was built in 1807 and has been listed as a historic site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Moncure Conway came from a prominent Virginia family, and differed with his father and brothers on the subject of slavery. He rose to prominence as an abolitionist and minister, and helped 30 of his father’s slaves who had escaped to Washington, D.C., make the dangerous journey across Maryland to freedom in Ohio. Falmouth was also the landing place for at least 10,000 slaves who sought freedom during the Union’s occupation of Falmouth, often risking their lives to cross the Rappahannock River in search of freedom. Explore this journey in more depth by taking the Trail to Freedom tour.
The story of the Union Army in Stafford County doesn’t end here. After suffering huge numbers of casualties in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, the Union Army encamped for the winter of 1863 at a location slightly north and east of Falmouth. You can explore this location, which saw the largest encampment of Union soldiers anywhere during the Civil War, at Stafford’s Civil War Park. Driving to this park takes you through the scenic and secluded areas of Stafford leading out to the Potomac River and Aquia Landing. At the park, you can see well-defined earthen artillery fortifications and many winter hut holes.
Falmouth also offers treasures with ties to post-Civil War years. When you come for Yankees in Falmouth, remember that there is a lot more to explore in this unique little river village. Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont is a beautiful place to explore both indoors and out. It was the home of American painter Gari Melchers and his wife, Corinne, during the early 20th century. The home is preserved as this fascinating artistic couple lived in it. Another grand estate to explore here is Chatham Manor, whose history spans the Revolutionary, Civil War and modern eras. The gardens are a joy to explore, and here you will find one of the region’s best views of Downtown Fredericksburg. Settle into the neighborhood with a meal at Amy’s Café, whose outdoor patio allows you to ponder what life was like when the Port of Falmouth was bustling with activity.