A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War

A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War
By John F. Cummings III

Brompton, the former Mayre Mansion, stands atop the western heights that overlook the old city of Fredericksburg. Along these heights, extending into a five-mile front, Confederate force dominated the scene, despite going against a Union force nearly twice its size on December 13, 1862. Roughly 17,000 casualties would come out of this battle. In the aftermath, facilities to treat the wounded of both sides was badly needed. Brompton became a hospital for the Confederates who would continue to hold this ground. In May 1863, Confederates once again held the heights temporarily, during the Chancellorsville Campaign. One year later, Union forces would occupy and utilize Fredericksburg as a vast hospital center during the first weeks of the Overland Campaign. The wounded were transported some fifteen miles from the Wilderness battlefield, west of town, and ten miles from Spotsylvania’s fighting ground to the southwest. The following images illustrate Brompton’s use as a Union hospital in May 1864.

The Mayre mansion survives today, although bearing visible scars of battle on its walls. It serves as the private residence of the president of the University of Mary Washington, which shares the heights as its campus. Not open to the general public, the house and grounds are occasionally made available for tours and academic study. The University of Mary Washington has one of the finest Historic Preservation departments in the United States, and many of its graduates have gone on to exceptional careers with the National Park Service, and other fine institutions.

A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War
Wounded Union soldiers recuperate under a giant oak near the house. This remarkable tree has survived over a century and a half since the taking of this image credited to Mathew Brady and Company. These soldiers were injured during the fighting around Spotsylvania in May 1864.

A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War
Photographer James Gardner’s view of the home’s front porch shows treated soldiers recovering from their wounds. Former Confederate rifle pits cut across the lawn in the foreground, a reminder of the battles fought on this ground December 1862, and May 1863. A large pediment was added to the façade of the home in postwar years, but a precise date is unknown.

A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War
In April 1866, a Union surgeon, Dr. Reed Brockway Bontecou, brought a photographic entourage with him a year after the war’s end, to tour and document the battlefields around Fredericksburg. Bontecou was the chief surgeon at Harewood Hospital near Washington, D.C. This view shows the many pockmarks left by bullets and artillery shell fragments in the December 1862 battle.

A Stately Mansion Turned Hospital During the Civil War
Another James Gardner photograph shows soldiers seeking shade as they recover on the north lawn of the Maryre property. Rooms on either end of the main entrance hall served as operating theaters where men with wounded limbs often faced amputation. Removed limbs were often put out an open window where they collected in a pile for later removal. The open window, at left of center, is in one of the rooms used for surgery. In recent years, it has been used as a music room for the University president’s family.

John Cummings is a visual historian and the author of three books on the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania region. He provides battlefield guide services, and research assistance to visitors. He has also written for several national and local magazines and newspapers, and provided historical research and commentary for four documentary films. He served on the former Spotsylvania Courthouse Tourism and Special Events Commission, and as chairperson for the former Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, (FoFAB).

Contact information is available on his blog at: http://spotsylvaniacw.blogspot.com/

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