A View of Fredericksburg’s William Street 155 Years Ago

WIlliam Street
By: John F Cummings III

In May 1864, Fredericksburg was to become, for a third time, the center of operations for an occupying army. The vast majority of the future city’s citizens had fled their homes and businesses as refugees just prior to the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. In the spring of 1864, most had not yet returned, and the region had already seen another battle rage over it in May 1863, as part of the Chancellorsville Campaign.

With the opening salvos of the Overland Campaign erupting in the Wilderness region of Orange and Spotsylvania Counties, 18 miles west of Fredericksburg, the need for a logistical hub brought thousands of Union army personnel again to its streets and buildings. Warehouses and churches once more became hospitals as close to 30,000 wounded soldiers were transported from the battlefields for treatment, and should they survive their wounds, eventual transportation to larger facilities in the north. Daily wagon trains carried supplies to the army over rutted dirt roads leading to the ravaged countryside.

This photograph, by James Gardner, shows the north side of the 300 block of Williams Street. At center we see a gathering of soldiers in front of the United States Sanitary Commission supply depot. The USSC was a civilian-run relief organization sanctioned by the federal government, established to aid the comfort and clean conditions of soldiers in camp and hospital. This depot in Fredericksburg occupied what is now
315 William Street. For many years William Street was also known as Commerce Street. Note the banner hanging across the face of the structure, obscuring the name of the commercial establishment it occupied,
“E.L. Heinichen, Agent for B. Heinichen”, one of several confectionary establishments in town.

Our second photo shows this same section of the street as it appears today. Some of the buildings retain their 19th century appearance, and others have been severely modified for adaptive reuse.

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 of the former Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, (FoFAB). Contact information is available on his blog at: http://spotsylvaniacw.blogspot.com/

William Street

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