In the late 1980’s while conducting genealogical research on my family I was given a family bible and a box containing newspaper clippings, war medals, military uniforms, photos and correspondence from my grandfather Howard Alfred Decker.
Contained within those precious items was information on my great, great grandfather Alfred Decker, including information on his military service record.
It was these family heirlooms that led me to learn more about Alfred, the “Battle of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Campaigns” as well as the “Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park.”
Knowing that my great, great grandfather Alfred Decker had spilled his blood and lost a limb on that Virginia battlefield made it all the more poignant to me.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park
The “Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park” consists of 4 Civil War Battlefields. They are Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania.
The park also contains 4 historic buildings. The buildings are as follows; “Chatham Manor”,” Ellwood Manor”,” Salem Church” and the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine.”
An abbreviated description of each area of the park is provided below.
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Campaigns
The “Battle of Fredericksburg” was fought on December 13th, 1862 and the “Battle of Chancellorsville” was fought during late April and early May 1863.
Wilderness and Spotsylvania Campaigns
The “Battle of Wilderness” occurred from May 5th to May 7th, 1864. It was the first battle in Grant’s Virginia Overland Campaign on 1864. When it was over the Union Army had an estimated 2,246 dead, 12,037 wounded and 3,383 presumed captured or missing.
Occurring from May 8th until May 21st the “Battle of the Spotsylvania Courthouse” was a carry-over of the “Battle of the Wilderness” with May 12th, 1864 bringing the bloodiest of battles. My great, great grandfather was part of the fighting that infamous day and he bore both the physical, emotional and mental scars of it for the rest of his life.
Records show that it was on May 12th,1864 that Union and Confederate soldiers fought for 20 hours straight at what was to become known as “The Bloody Angle.”
The “Battle of the Spotsylvania Courthouse” is considered significant in that it essentially changed the course of the war.
Up until that time the “Army of the Potomac” had not been able to go forward from a battle and maintain dominance of the war effort.
Together the two battles were considered one of the bloodiest campaigns in American history.
Built by William Fitzhugh, “Chatham Manor” is a 10 room circa 1700’s manor constructed in the Georgian architectural style.
“Chatham Manor” sat on 1,280 acres and was the site of a slave rebellion in 1805. Shortly afterward, Fitzhugh sold the plantation to an officer in the Continental Army by the name of Major Churchhill Jones.
It changed hands again and eventually was seized by the Union Army in the spring of 1862. At first the home served as Union Headquarters and later as a makeshift hospital around the time of the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Historical records indicate that after Fredericksburg visitors to Chatham Manor noted large amounts of amputated body parts and dead soldiers lying all around the manor house and grounds.
Over the years famous visitors to “Chatham Manor” have included George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, General Robert E. Lee, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton and William Henry Harrison.
Presently “Chatham Manor” contains a museum as well as the park’s administrative offices.
Built in 1790 by William Jones “Ellwood Manor” sat on 5,000 acres of fertile farmland.
Famous purported visitors to “Ellwood Manor” included James Madison, James Monroe, Marquis de Lafayette and “Light Horse Harry” Lee.
In addition to the famous visitors, the adjacent family cemetery was the site of the famed burial of Stonewall Jackson’s left arm on May 2nd, 1863.
Like “Chatham Manor”, “Ellwood Manor” also served as a Union field hospital and was at the center of the May 1864 Battle of the Wilderness.”
As such, “Ellwood Manor” and its grounds also overflowed with amputated body parts, buckets of blood, death and destruction.
The circa 1844 “Salem Church” is significant because it was used as a field hospital by both Union and Confederate armies during the “Battle of Chancellorsville.”
Stonewall Jackson Shrine
The “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” was constructed on the site of the onetime 740 acre plantation of Thomas Chandler that was known at the time as “Fairfield Plantation.” The “Stonewall Jackson Shrine” marks the exact location where the man slipped from this mortal coil and into the annals of history and legend.
Alfred Decker’s Story
Alfred Decker was born on April 6th, 1842 in Orange County, New York. He was the son of Dennis Decker and Mary Jane Ferguson.
At age 22 he mustered into the Union Army as a Private. He was part of the New York State Heavy Artillery 15th Regiment Company M. Company M was made up of Germans and others who had been recruited in both the Orange County and Sullivan County, New York areas.
He was severely injured on May 12th, 1864 during the “Wilderness – Spotsylvania Campaigns.” His injury resulted in his leg being hastily amputated at “Ellwood Manor”.
It was the amputation and the other injuries he received that day that would vex him for the remainder of his life.
Alfred was discharged from military service due to his injuries. He went home and eventually died as a result of gangrene that he had contracted at his amputation site.
Guided and Self-Guided Tours
Guided walking tours as well as a caravan tour are offered during certain times of the year whereas self-guided tours are available year round.
Those opting for a self-guided tour can purchase audio narration products from the park’s gift shop to listen to while they walk through both the grounds and historic buildings.
Hours of Operation and Admission
As of 2010 admission to the “Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park” is free. There is however a charge for watching each of the two 22 minute movies at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville visitor centers.
The fee for viewing each 22 minute movie is $2.00 for those ages 10 to 61 and $1.00 for those ages 61 and older. There is no viewing fee for children under age 10.
The “Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park” grounds are open daily year round from dawn until dusk except for Christmas and New Years Day. It is closed on those two holidays.
Hours of operation vary per season and per building. Both the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Battlefields have visitor’s centers which are primarily open from 9:00 am until 5:00 pm, with extended hours of operation during select periods.
Both the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Battlefields do not have a visitor’s center but they do have exhibit shelters that are periodically manned throughout the year.
“Chatham Manor” is open daily from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm. Both “Ellwood Manor” and “Salem Church” are primarily open on the weekends and holidays depending on the season. Similar can be said of the “Stonewall Jackson Shrine.”
Visitors that would like to confirm days and hours of operation in advance of their trip can do so by calling the park’s hotline at 540-654-5532.
Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial
National Military Park
120 Chatham Lane
Fredericksburg, VA 22405
Those wishing to learn more about Civil War battles and related historic sites will find a plethora of resources online such as the “History Channel” website.