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City courthouse dig tells Civil War story
Archaeological dig reveals house, destroyed in Battle of Fredericksburg, where Union troops took shelter from Lee's army

 Archaeologists at the courthouse site found artifacts in the cellar of a house destroyed in the Battle of Fredericksburg. At right, from top: a theater token, a brass number from a Union uniform, and porcelain shards.
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Date published: 10/24/2012


Call it "Building X."

What remains of it lay, buried and long forgotten, beside today's Fredericksburg City Hall where a new courthouse will soon rise.

Now, thanks to intense scrutiny by archaeologists and local researchers in recent weeks, you can add this once-substantial row house to the casualties of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

The Civil War's most lopsided Confederate victory, won 150 years ago this December, not only killed or wounded nearly 18,000 men, it erased the brick structure from the town's landscape.

Owned by Fredericksburg businessman Peter Goolrick, the building on Lot 38 was assessed at $1,000 in 1860, local researcher Nancy Moore said. It vanishes from the tax records by 1865.

That, combined with before-and-after photo analysis by National Park Service historian John Hennessy, clearly shows that the war brought down the building, which burned.

"The two images in 1863 of that part of town, taken from two slightly different angles, both don't have a building where you would expect one to be," Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said in an interview. "In my view, that supports [the archaeologists'] interpretation that it was destroyed sometime in association with the battle."

The building's lingering presence was unknown until about four weeks ago, when evidence was uncovered in the archaeological dig the city funded before the $35 million courthouse is built.

It had lain under Thom Savage's law office, entombed beneath a concrete slab, for decades.

Now the building foundation and its contents will be the subject of laboratory analysis--and a forthcoming report to the city--by Cultural Resources Inc., the Glen Allen firm whose archaeologists swiftly excavated the courthouse site.

Taft Kiser, CRI's project archaeologist, said the dig will provide material for further research for many years. But evidence already uncovered puts a group of Union troops in that building around the time of the battle, and provides clues about them and their activities.

The archaeologists found metal insignia from soldiers' uniforms that hint at their unit.

"It's going to be Company C, and a regiment with a '2' in its name," Kiser said. "Eventually, someone will figure out which regiment it was. And there may be some soldier diarist who was in the house and left an account."

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