The Stone House, Part 3

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Last update
Jul 13, 2005

Photo of the Stone House

From the pamphlet entitled
The Stone House,
Silent Sentinel at the Crossroads of History
By Michael D. Litterst

Peace Returns to the Stone House - Temporarily

With the immense number of wounded Northern troops left behind on the field, the Stone House was the scene of continued activity for several days after the end of the fighting. The relative calm in the days following July 21 brought not only curious local residents to survey the destruction but newspapermen as well, who reported on the conditions of the area and the curiosities of the battle.

By all accounts the Stone House was a scene of utter chaos in the days following the conflict. As one of the few stone buildings on the battlefield and strategically located at a major intersection, it was likely a busy hospital, and , accordingly, very disorganized. A correspondent from Richmond touring the Federal hospitals in the area during the days immediately following the battle reported: & in the various hospitals for the wounded enemy, we saw only neatness and careful attention, and of a kindness that elects a free expression of thanks from the suffers. We must make one exception. There was one hospital where the filth was so disgusting that our tarry was very brief. It was the stone house on the roadside, where a northern surgeon had charge of his own people. Fortunately, his victims were but few.

Another of Richmond's daily newspapers made reference to this hapless young Federal surgeon. The Daily Inquirer reported on July 26 that a lone "young and apparently inefficient" surgeon had charge of the Federal wounded in the Stone House. The paper reported that he was there at the invitation of General Beauregard(24k) Beauregard himself to care for his fallen comrades. At the time of the reporter's visit, there were thirty-two wounded in the house, "their clotted wounds still undressed."

Among the local visitors to the Stone House to see first-hand the wounded and captive Yankee soldiers in those initial days after the conflagration was a young girl and her mother. As they passed among the injured Federals, the girl (in apparent response to some frenzied, pre-war rhetoric of her parents) exclaimed, "Mama, these men don't have horns!" Nearby, the chaplain of the 1st Minnesota moved among the men and replied to her softly, "My dear child, these people are like your own."

In the days and weeks that followed the clash at First Manassas, the wounded Federals in the Stone House were taken to Richmond as prisoners of war. The Confederate forces continued to occupy the area until March 1862. Undoubtedly in those intervening months, the Stone House was visited as a curiosity by countless Confederate troops, local residents, and visitors from all over the South. Following the evacuation of the Centreville lines, a like procession of Northerners as well must have passed through the battlefield and stopped at the famous Stone House landmark. No doubt some of the civilians who had strained to see the battle from the heights above Centreville on July 21 finally made it to the battlefield during the spring and early summer of 1862.

It is unknown when Henry and Jane Matthews returned home and attempted to repair some of the structural damage inflicted on the Stone House during the battle bought the preceding July. A photograph of the house taken in March, 1862, however (shortly after the evacuation of the Centreville line by the Confederates), shows scaffolding on the roof, indicating the building was in the process of being re-roofed. Likewise, the same photograph shows a majority of the windows in the Stone House with broken panes, which may gave been replaced during these renovations. One window appears to be boarded up. Possibly indicative of the difficulty in obtaining windows glass at that time.

Second Manassas

As spring turned into summer, the armies once again locked in combat in Virginia, this time on the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers. To the residents of Prince William County, who had suffered firsthand the effects of battle less than a year earlier, this shift must have been a welcome change. However, the warm June winds brought a new Confederate commander to the peninsula. With General Lee(57k) Robert E. Lee at the helm of his newly-named Army of Northern Virginia, the Confederate forces suddenly, unexpectedly, were on the offensive. After relieving the pressure against the Confederate capital by driving Major General George McClellan(51k) George McClellan's Army of the Potomac away from Richmond, Lee began shifting troops north against Major General Pope(25k) John Pope's newly created Army of Virginia in the north-central part of the state. By the time McClellan's, Lee's, and Pope's armies had converged seven weeks later, Manassas once again found itself the focal point of the contending armies. And once again, the Stone House's location at a strategic intersection would ensure it would be witness to the unfolding events.

In the days leading up to the Second Battle of Manassas, the Stone House served as nothing more than a silent witness to the passing troops as they took their positions on the once and future battlefield. General William Taliaferro(36k) William Taliaferro's Confederate division, marching north on the Sudley Road the morning of August 27, passed the Stone House on the way to their eventual position along an unfinished railroad grade near Sudley Church.Sudley Church Likewise, countless Federal divisions passed the Stone House on the Warrenton Turnpike and Sudley Road as they marched to their place in the line, or formed up to attack the Confederate position. The commanding general of the Federal troops himself, John Pope, established his headquarters on Buck Hill, just to the north of the Stone House, and directed (or misdirected) the battle from within sight of the now historic house.

Once the fighting began, however, the Stone House was quickly converted to its familiar role as a field hospital. Federal surgeons moved in on the morning of August 29, hung a red flag from the upper floor to identify the house as a temporary aid station, and began treating Federal wounded. As one veteran recalled, in the Stone House "many a poor boy obtained the last glimpse of earth during those two days (29th and 30th).

The following day, August 30, the Stone House was the scene of a flurry of activity, with Federal troops again passing the house on the way to battle and an ambulance detachment parked at the house. Shortly after noon, as his 23rd New York moved west along the Warrenton Turnpike to join in the Federal attack against the Unfinished Railroad (the famous assault on the Deep Cut), Musician George W. Edgcomb(30k) George W. Edgcomb passed the Stone House. Edgcomb's curiosity led him inside for a look at the "historic" structure. Going up to the second floor, he observed the work in the busy hospital. There he found a wounded fellow Union soldier, whose right leg had been shattered by a solid shot and subsequently had been amputated at the knee. Edgcomb gave the wounded man a drink from his canteen, then hurried on to rejoin his regiment.

The lull in the fighting that morning allowed the troops to gather the wounded of the previous day or hastily bury the bodies of those who had fallen. Several members of the 2nd New York Cavalry recovered the body of their lieutenant, Frederick Compton, and buried the popular officer at the corner of the Stone House, in a coffin fashioned out of cracker-boxes. Compton's remains were later recovered from the site.

Likewise the 22nd New York buried one of its officers in the yard of the Stone House on August 30. Several members of the unit returned to the field to recover the body of Captain Robert E. McCoy, who had been killed the previous day by two bullets to the body and one to the head. The men found Captain McCoy's body, "stripped of coat, vest, pants, sword, watch, and revolver." The captain's brother, Lieutenant James W. McCoy, fashioned a coffin (also out of cracker-boxes), in which the deceased was interred, wrapped in a blanket. The men barely completed their somber task before they were swept up in the Union retreat back to Washington.

The suddenness of the Confederate counterattack led by General James Longstreet's troops in the late afternoon on August 30 sent the Federal army headlong back toward Washington, catching many of the surgeons working at the Stone House unprepared. The 23rd New York had there hospital set up at the Stone House, and the order to retreat barely gave them enough time to place those who were strong enough to be moved into ambulances. A regimental historian reported that " a number of the surgeons remained to care for those unable to be moved. George W. Edgcomb of the 23rd New York, whose curiosity had led him into the Stone House earlier in the day, once again passed the structure as his unit retreated in the face of the Confederate countercharge. Remembering the soldier to whom he had given water, Edgcomb's curiosity again caused him to detour into the Stone House. Finding the fellow, Edgcomb learned that the wounded man was very concerned about being left behind to be captured by the Confederates. Edgcomb and another fellow "carried him down stairs and, after placing him upon a stretcher, started with our burden." In that the wounded man was rather large, and having to keep "from being run over by army wagons whose drivers were trying to get out of range of shot and shell", Edgecomb and his companion reluctantly left their wounded friend at the Stone Bridge. The wounded man's identity was never gleaned by Edgcomb, and he later surmised that the man was "probaly one of the unknown dead in a southern grave." The identifies of two other wounded soldiers brought to the Stone House on August 30 are not only known, but are preserved in the house itself. Two members of the 5th New York Infantry, Private Charles E. Brehm and Eugene P. Geer, arrived at the Stone House after being wounded during the late stages of the battle. Brehm had been shot in the right foot, and Geer in the groin. They were taken upstairs to the southeast room. At some point during their convalescence in the Stone House, the men carved their initials in the floorboards, Brehm carved his last name and the date: "Brehm Aug 30," Geer carved his first and middle initial, and for some unknown reason was unable to complete his last name. Thus his carving appears as "E.P. Ge." Charles Brehm was paroled on September 2 (probably at the Stone House), and spent seven months in a Washington Hospital before being discharged in May, 1863. He survived more than 45 years, dying in New York City in 1909 of a variety of ailments, many of them induced by alcohol. Eugene Geer was not as lucky, He was paroled on an unknown date and place (also probably the Stone House), but was unable to overcome his wounds, to which he succumbed on September 30 at College Hospital in Georgetown.

Another wounded soldier thought better of stopping for aid at the Stone House, a hospital so close to the firing still going on in late afternoon. Private George F. D Paine of the 13th Massachusetts, who had been wounded in the leg during Longstreet's attack on Chinn Ridge and was limping to the rear in an attempt to get medical treatment, noticed the Stone House and its red flag (indicative of an aid station) and started toward the structure. Before he reached his destination, however, an artillery shell struck the house, "knocking a hole that looked as big as a bushel basket" in the gable end. Deciding that perhaps there were safer places to recover, Paine kept going east on the turnpike before being assisted by an ambulance corpsman.

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