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Mannsfield: Beautiful antebellum mansion became scene of suffering

ëBehind the Linesí

Don PfanzA weekly series, ëBehind the Lines.î An anecdotal narrative tells the in-depth story of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburgóthe action, the major players, the behind-the-scenes intrigue and the effect on the town. Writing the series is Donald C. Pfanz, staff historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. A native of Gettysburg, Pa., Pfanz graduated from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg in 1980, then joined the National Park Service. He served at Petersburg National Battlefield and Fort Sumter National Monument before joining the Park Service here. He has written two books: ëAbraham Lincoln at City Pointí and ëRichard S. Ewell: A Soldier's Life.í

Part 17 of a series on the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg

TWO MILES SOUTH of Fredericksburg, overlooking the Rappahannock River, stood ìMannsfield,î Fredericksburgís most elegant antebellum house. The Georgian-style stone structure was the center of a sprawling 1,800-acre estate.

Gracefully curving hyphens connected the main building with two flanking dependencies. A long, straight driveway led past a grove of trees to the Richmond Stage Road (modern Routes 2 and 17). Behind the house stood a garden and the family cemetery, while 30 supporting structuresóbarns, farm offices, slave quarters, etc.óflanked the main building to the north and south.

Mannsfield played a major role as a headquarters and hospital at the Battle of Fredericksburg. The owner at that time was Arthur Bernard, a 50-year-old bachelor worth $150,000. Census records show that Bernard owned at least 77 slaves at the beginning of the Civil War, ranging in age from 70 years to 4 months.

Bernard was a strong-headed fellow, and it wasnít long before he put himself on the wrong side of Union authorities. Gen. John F. Reynoldsí corps crossed the Rappahannock River one-half mile above Mannsfield on Dec. 12, 1862. When Reynoldsí troops marched across Bernardís fields, the outraged owner demanded that the army take another route. Reynolds responded by clapping the owner in irons and sending him under arrest to Aquia Landing.

Reynolds proceeded to make Mannsfield his headquarters. He shared the building with at least four other generals: William B. Franklin, William F. ìBaldyî Smith, and Albion Howe. Although most of the furniture had been removed by the owner earlier in the war, several expensive carpets, fine paintings and gilt candelabras remained. To rough soldiers used to sleeping outdoors in tents or cabins, occupation of the mansion with its warm coal grates, was heaven.

ìIt seemed a sin to take possession of so handsome a drawing room,î wrote one Col. Charles Wainwright, ìbut we did not injure anything, and as I stretched my blankets on the fine Bruxelles carpet, and looked around at the handsome pictures and bright fire, I for once thanked my stars that I was a staff officer.î

Late in the day, Union army commander Ambrose E. Burnside met with Franklin, Reynolds and Smith at Mannsfield. After examining the terrain, the generals retired to Arthur Bernardís study to discuss a plan of action for the next day. They agreed to attack the Confederate-held heights south of Fredericksburg. Burnside returned to his headquarters across the river, promising to send written orders later that evening.

While Franklin and his officers waited at Mannsfield for Burnsideís orders, soldiers of the Iron Brigade bivouacked outside the house. One man inadvertently let a sow out of its pen. In its dash to freedom, the agitated animal ran over one of Franklinís staff, who was lying on the ground nearby. The angry officer seized the soldier and had him tied to a tree, where he remained until his regimental commander secured his release.

Other soldiers went to work chopping down trees on the property to use as firewood. A black servant in the 6th Wisconsin regiment at one time had been a slave at Mannsfield. As two soldiers started taking their axes to an old tree, the man became upset. He explained that Bernardís grandfather had planted the tree and that it would break the old manís heart if they cut it down. He urged them to let the tree stand, but whether the soldiers heeded his cries is unknown.

The following day, Union troops attacked the heights. Franklin and the other generals moved their headquarters into the nearby grove so that surgeons could use the house as a field hospital. Gen. George D. Bayard, the 27-year-old commander of Franklinís cavalry, was chatting with a group of officers in the grove when a Confederate round shot tore through his body, carrying away his thighs, a hip, and part of his abdomen. Bayard stubbornly clung to life. Friends carried him into the house, but doctors could do nothing to save him.

Chaplain E.T. Roe visited the young officer shortly before his death. ìOf all the ghastly wounds I saw that day, his was the most awful. It needed but a glance to see, as he calmly stated to those who visited him, ëthat his days on earth were numbered.íî

Roe was astounded by Bayardís tranquil demeanor. ìHe talked calmly of his death as of a settled thing, and only inquired particularly how much time he had left on earth.î Doctors optimistically predicted that he might live 48 hours, but he died later that night.

ìMy heart sank within me as he gave me his hand in farewell,î remembered Roe, ìand I almost murmured, ëWhy are the best taken?íî

Roe left Bayardís room and walked through the house, which was now packed with wounded and dying men. ìCries and groans resounded from every apartment. Ghastly and bloody wounds met the eye in every direction. Some had their eyes shot out; the tongues of some were swollen out of their mouths; some had their bodies shot through; others were torn and mangled by shell and shot, and all were crowded wherever there was any space.î

Some soldiers took Roe to be a doctor. One asked him to dress a wound; another showed him a hole in his arm and asked if he would have to lose the limb.

Unable to endure such scenes, Roe wandered outside. Night was falling, and he sought shelter in a stone passageway under the house that had been used by Bernard to store tobacco. As he lay his blanket on the cold stone floor, he noticed something white lying against the wall. At first, he thought it was a dog, but upon closer inspection, it proved to be a pile of amputated arms and legs.

By then, the jaded clergyman no longer cared. ì... I had seen so much of blood and horror during the day that I had grown callous. I quietly spread my blanket within ten feet of the bloody heap, and listened sadly to the shrieks and groans from the hospital above till I fell asleep.î

By the time the Union army retreated across the river two days later, Mannsfield had been vandalized and its grounds had become a graveyard. Northern soldiers seemed to take particular delight in destroying Bernardís fine library. A Confederate soldier visiting the house a few days later found books on the floor, damaged bookcases and bayonet holes through a fine oil painting that hung on the wall. It was enough to ìmake any book loverís heart ache,î he lamented.

Mannsfield did not survive the war. On April 4, 1863, Confederate soldiers who were cooking in the house accidentally set fire to the building and destroyed it. The structureís charred walls remained standing as late as 1891, but, in time, they, too, disappeared, their stones being used for other building projects. Today, Elks Lodge 875 occupies the site.

NEXT: The struggle for Prospect Hill

DONALD C. PFANZ is staff historian with Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. He is author of ìAbraham Lincoln at City Pointî and ìRichard S. Ewell: A Soldierís Life.î