“Wounded Union soldiers in a Fredericksburg yard, May 1864. All but one of these men have been wounded in the leg. Most of the wounded soldiers brought to Frederickburg survived…… But some did not. Hundreds of men died in the hospitals here during May and June 1864. Private Kronenberger’s headboard may be among the long row of graves visible behind this burial party. “…I am lying in this place with a wound in my right leg, below the knee. I am in good spirits and the Drs. say my wound isn’t dangerous, so I hope you won’t worry about me… We haven’t a pleasant hospital, but good as we can expect under the circumstances.” – Pvt. Fred Kronenberger (2d N. J.) to his parents, May 17, 1864 – five days before his death in a Fredericksburg hospital. After the December 13, 1862 battle, Fredericksburg suffered yet another form of horror: thousands of wounded Union soldiers crowded the city. For several days Clara Barton, the future founder of the American Red Cross, tended to patients in the shell-torn Presbyterian Church across the street from you. In May 1864, ambulances again clogged the city’s streets. Virtually every public building became a hospital, filled with wounded soldiers from the battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. By today’s standards, conditions were gruesome; mortality rates were high.”
Initially founded in 1808, the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg Virginia began under the leadership of Reverend Samuel B. Wilson, but wasn’t housed until a church was built on the corner of Charles St. and Amelia St. in 1810.(1) In 20 years the congregation easily outgrew this new building, and built the building you see today in 1833, only two blocks from the original church. During the Civil War, this building was used as a hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg the summer of 1864. Today, much of the congregation of the church is involved with social justice projects: establishing a food pantry, the Thurman Brisbon shelter, and a visitor program with other ministries for members visiting loved ones.
The initial building that housed the Presbyterian church of Fredericksburg – on the corner of Charles St. and Amelia St. – no longer stands, but had various phases of usage. After the opening of the new building in 1833, the old sanctuary was used as Female Orphan Asylum up until World War II.(2) At this point, the property was sold and was no longer a holding of the church. Today the area is mostly residential and there are no remnants of the old building.
When the civil war made its way through Fredericksburg, it claimed anything it could for the war effort. A Sunday school teacher at this Presbyterian Church recalled that “Federal forces occupied the building for a hospital. They tore all of the pews out…the church was completely gutted…[they] used most of the pews to mark the graves of the soldiers.”(3) To make way for the many wounded soldiers injured on the battlefield many of the churches in Fredericksburg were transformed into hospitals, such as the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches. It was here, both in Fredericksburg and inside the Presbyterian church, that Clara Barton received national notice for her work in hospitals and care of casualties. At this time and place, she also made a close connection to Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butlers, who made her the superintendent of nurses.(7)
After its usage as a hospital during the Civil War, the sanctuary was in desperate need of repairs. In 1866 the rectangular brick church building of Jeffersonian Roman Revival design was restored with a triangular, gable-end pediment surmounting a wide entablature which surrounds the entire building. The architectural order of the building is in Doric, the most simple columns compared to the Ionic and Corinthian orders.
Along with community outreach and help, the Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Most recently the church underwent an addition of approximately 5,000 SQ Ft, that adds a new kitchen, church office and a renovation of an existing Education building.(4) They also added significant HVAC systems, which are key to preserving the church’s historic sanctuary.
(1) “About Us,” The Presbyterian Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia. http://fredericksburgpc.org/about-us
(3) Jim Schmidt, “Medical Department #34 – Historic Churches (and Hospitals) of Fredericksburg,” Civil War Medicine (And Writing): A Blog on Civil War-Era Medicine and my Own Historical Research and Writing, posted on 30 April 2009,m accessed 19 March 2018. https://civilwarmed.blogspot.com/2009/04/medical-department-24-historic-churches.html
(4) “Building History: Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg,” Daniel & Company, Inc. Contractors, (2014). http://www.danielco.net/portfolio/details/presbyterian_church_of_fredericksburg
(5) Anton Michael, “Civil War Cannonballs Stuck in Walls, 150 years Later — Fredericksburg, VA,” So I think I’m a photographer now, posted 23 December, 2012, accessed 19 March 2018. http://so-i-think-im-a-photographer-now.blogspot.com/2012/12/civil-war-cannonballs-stuck-in-walls.html
(7) Patricia L. Faust, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1991).
(8) “Building History: Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg,” Daniel & Company, Inc. Contractors, (2014). http://www.danielco.net/portfolio/details/presbyterian_church_of_fredericksburg