Sisson’s store is one of those ‘lost to history’, out of the way localities, which was highly impacted by the Battle of Fredericksburg. A lost, or seemingly so, corner of the battlefield. From a commercial standpoint Sisson’s store, similar to today’s 7-11 convenience stores, was located in just the right spot to provide services to travelers on their way to or from Fredericksburg. It was located on a triangle of land at the junction of Hanover Street, Richmond or Telegraph (Sunken Road) and the Swift Run Gap (Orange) Turnpike roads.
This sketch map, drawn by Thomas Francis Galway in his diary, clearly shows Sisson’s Store at the junction of the roads. While he misplaces the Mary Washington monument, the remainder is remarkably accurate. The Stratton workshop (Blacksmith Shop) and Stratton house (large brick farm or country house) are noted landmarks. Interestingly, Galwey drew the fence surrounding the Stratton house, as well as an orchard which other participants also mention in their post battle writing. I also found noteworthy that Galwey drew the correct shape of the Stratton house. Most others noted it only as a square. Galwey shows a slight addition on the back of the house. His point of view from Sisson’s store allowed him to see this detail.
The 1864 photo taken from Federal Hill has Sisson’s Store at its extreme right edge. Above it, one can see Brompton. In this cropped copy of the photo, the store is just in view on the right.
Constructed around 1854, it was the home of the Sisson family. Listed as a grocer in the census, David Sisson with his wife Sarah and son Landon provided services to the small surrounding community and passersby. With the addition of the new nearby Fairgrounds, or Mercer Square, life must have seemed to offer boundless possibilities to the owner. The structure was made of brick in a “T” shape which fit into the road junction. By the time of the 1864 photo, the Stratton workshop is missing. Given that it was a wooden structure, and in the center of some of the heaviest fire during the battle, I would imagine that its bullet riddled remains were turned into firewood by cold Confederate soldiers during the long winter of 1863.
Photo 2. Session store circa 1890
This photo, circa 1890’s(?), provides a fair representation of the property. NPS historian, Noel Harrison notes that the civil war era building was torn down in 1893. You can see Brompton in the left background along with a white board fence immediately behind the structure. More importantly, its location was 150 yards from the eastern base of Marye’s Heights, about 300 yards west from the millrace or canal-ditch100 yards north of the Stratton House, and just across Telegraph road from Allen Stratton’s workshop. (Oh, how convenient it must have been to the workers and stranded travelers!) The Swale at this point was roughly in front of the property, though not easily discerned.
During the 1862 and 1863 battles of Fredericksburg, it served as a convenient landmark. The 8th Ohio, was one of the first units in this vicinity. Thomas Galwey wrote of it in his diary, “…they entered a small brick grocery… The blunt end of the house which was presented to us was wide enough for a door which we found barred at our approach. A few blows from the butt of a musket opened it and we carried our bleeding comrades in laying them first on the counters and then as their numbers increased, on the floor….Strangest of all we found here a woman, [Sarah?] who, either by accident or a foolhardy desire to save her property had, after barring the door, descended into the cellar… Bullets whistled through it in every direction. Shells exploded, shattering with their terrible detonations every glass in the windows…The wounded began to beg for water…dragged the poor woman out of her cellar. Opening the back door…they forced her out into the pelting shower of missiles to show them the well. She must have gone mad with fear, if she escaped with her life.”
Other units also encountered the Sisson’s Store throughout the day. All units that ventured out Hanover that day noticed it or were intimately involved with it. The building served both as a place of refuge and a focus of confederate fire. Even at the end of the day, Union troops were forced to maneuver around it. For Humphrey’s two assaulting brigades, it served as the right flank limitation and guide.
Geography and the alignment of the road system define what can be built there. The current inhabitant of the location is the Sunken Well Tavern. It provides a reasonable meal for those who might be visiting the Sunken Road and environs. The location as seen approaching along Hanover Street appears like this today. The view was taken adjacent to the Rowe house half way between the Canal-ditch and Sisson’s Store.
The above Google map will assist you in placing the key locations associated with Sisson’s Store along as the point of view of the photos.
Thomas Francis Galwey,The Valiant Hours, An Irishman in the Civil War, The Stackpole Company, Harrisburg, PA, 1961. P. 61
——– “ ——– , Personal Memoirs and Correspondence; First Lieut. Thomas F. Galwey, Eighth Ohio Infantry, Army of the Potomac. Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, box 335. P. 73.
Harrison, N., Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, Volume 2, E. Howard, Lynchburg, P. 172