Take a look at that photo above. See that man bending over on the far left side, appearing to inspect a map over the shoulder of another man? That’s Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, holding a council of war with his commanders on May 21, 1864, after the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.
The council took place at Massaponax Baptist Church, and those pews they seem to have arranged haphazardly around the churchyard? Well, you can still see them inside the original church building, which was completed in 1859.
When we think of places that connect us with Civil War history, battlefields are often top of mind, but the Fredericksburg area is home to many churches that bore witness to the battles of more than 150 years ago. Many of them served as field hospitals, headquarters and places of refuge.
The scene above at Massaponax Church was captured by photographer Timothy O’Sullivan, and is one of the earliest examples of documentary-style photography of the war. The wet plates photographers used during this era took a long time to expose to capture an image, and the equipment was heavy and cumbersome—a far cry from today’s pocket-portable phone cameras. So even though this photograph looks candid and natural, O’Sullivan had to pose it, and these men had to sit for an extended period of time to create the image. Look closely and you can make out the blurs and shadows created by their small movements.
Massaponax Church is one of several Spotsylvania churches that bore witness to war. Zion Methodist Church, built in 1859, served as a field hospital, lookout and headquarters for Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. Gen. Robert E. Lee met with Hill here, and Gen. Stonewall Jackson was carried past the church on his way to Guinea Station. Christ Episcopal Church, completed in 1841, served as a field hospital during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, and still bears scars from artillery fire during the battle.
These churches are all within a short drive of each other, in and around the Spotsylvania Court House Historic District. On March 14, 2015, they will be the subject of the final event in the Fredericksburg area’s Civil War Sesquicentennial observance.
Spotsylvania Churches Remember is the third and final installment in a popular annual program that has provided a chance to explore some of the churches in this area that played a role in or bore witness to the war. Previous events focused on churches in Fredericksburg and Stafford County.
This program is free to the public, and is a partnership among Spotsylvania County, the National Park Service and the historic churches of Spotsylvania. From 9:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. March 14, Christ Episcopal, Zion Methodist, Massaponax Baptist and Sylvannah Baptist churches will be open to the public. The Spotsylvania Museum will also unveil new exhibits at Historic Berea Church, which is across the street from Spotsylvania Court House. A living history exhibit portraying a Civil War hospital will be part of the exhibit at Berea.
Each participating church will tell its own story as part of the broader story of a community caught amid war. The programs will take place within historic sanctuaries, using music, theater, images, dance and lecture. These churches are all within easy driving distance of each other and all have ample parking. The schedule for the individual church programs is as follows:
10 a.m. – Christ Episcopal Church, “A People’s Story” (refreshments served) – The rich and personal story of the church will be told in its antebellum sanctuary. (8951 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania, 22553)
11:15 a.m. – Zion Methodist Church, “Witness to Battle” (lunch available) – This church played an integral role in the battle that surrounded it in 1864. (8700 Courthouse Rd., Spotsylvania, 22553)
1 p.m. – Massaponax Baptist Church, “History Alive” - Living historian Fred Anderson will “preach” from the pulpit, conveying the experience of the community and congregation during the war. (5101 Massaponax Church Road, Spotsylvania, 22407)
2:30 p.m. – Sylvannah Baptist Church, “End and Beginnings” – An exploration of the end of the war and the emergence of a revitalized community in Spotsylvania in the postwar period. (8400 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania, 22551)