The House of Henry August Ebert

The Ebert House, or as it was sometimes known after the Battle of Fredericksburg, the “Battle House” was built possibly as early as 1826. It was located upon 1,300 to 1,400 acres owned by John S. Wellford. It, as well as a number of other properties west of town, carries the notation in deed and tax documents “on Wellfords field.” Not quite an exact designation by modern standards. Several years ago when I was first searching for information on the fairgrounds known as Mercer Square in the tax records, “Wellfords field” was a common enough entry, yet tantalizingly unspecific.
In the mid 1800’s, Fredericksburg was experiencing a moderate growth spell, or so hoped the investors: McGee, Chew, Manuel, and Caldwell, among others (Click here). Absalom McGee purchased three acres in 1855. He sold the lower portion amounting to one-half square or approximately one acre to Allan Stratton also in 1855. When the Sneeden map of the entire subdivision was made in 1856, McGee’s name was still on the remaining portion of about two acres.

S1-Sneeden-1856-map-web

Beginning in the year 1858 Henry Ebert is listed in the tax records, along with McGee, until he had free and clear title to the land in 1860. Both properties totaled three acres between them and were located just below Marye’s Heights. Alas they were ill-placed during the Battle of Fredericksburg, however, both houses survived. Strangely, the brick Stratton house is prominently mentioned in battle narratives, while the Ebert House is a shadowy feature in the tumult of the battle.
Henry August Ebert, his wife Sophia and daughter Anna emigrated from Prussia. The National Park Service sign concerning the Ebert property gives the Henry’s emigration date as the 1840’s. However, based upon his obituary and the date and place of birth of his eldest daughter, I would say 1855 or 56 is more realistic. In 1858, Henry purchased 1-93/100 acre from Absalom McGee on August 4 for $900. The house and small barn were located in the curve of the roadway originally known as Telegraph Road where it skirts the plain at the base of Marye’s Heights. This location is now more properly identified as being at the junction of the Sunken Road and Kirkland Street. In the 1860 census, 28 year old Henry, whose last name was misspelled as Abert, lists himself as a grocer. His wife, Sophia, also 28, is listed along with daughters Anna, age 5, Dorothy (Doretta), age 3, and Mary, age 8-months.

Photo #1. A 1927 photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Photo #1. A 1927 photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

The house had two entrances; one entrance, to the western end on the right side of the photograph, entered the parlor. The door to the east accessed his grocery store. The store remained in operation from 1858 until 1944 when the house was finally sold by the family. It was continuously owned by the Ebert family up until that time. The 1913 will of Sophia Lange Ebert, Henry’s widow, bequeaths the “home and store” to her two single daughters, Mary and Doretta Ebert; the “balance of her real estate” she bequeathed to her two married daughters, Mrs. Annie L. Pfaff and Louisa Franklin. The Ebert land as well as the Stratton land was sold and subsequently subdivided over time. The small rectangle of land at the west end of the property between Kirkland and Mercer Streets is today owned by the National Park Service. It is upon this land that the outline of the Ebert house foundation and the monument to Sergeant Richard Kirkland, the “Angel of Marye’s Heights”, stand.
The Ebert house stood amidst a cluster of middle class homes just below Marye’s Heights on the western edge of Fredericksburg. All of these families—Sisson, Ebert, Stephens, Innis, Stratton, and Hall were directly impacted by the war. Before the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862, Confederate officers ordered the Ebert family (Henry being absent with the army) and the others to leave their homes. His wife Sophia with her young daughters took refuge with her brother’s family several miles west of town. They returned days later to find dead bodies “all over the property” and their home scared by eight hours of combat. Hopefully Henry was able to see his family following the battle.
While the Ebert house and barn was seen in period photographs, as in this 1864 photograph taken from Federal Hill:

A cropped portion of 1864 photograph of Marye's Heights below Brompton. The Ebert house and barn are highlighted in yellow.

A cropped portion of 1864 photograph of Marye’s Heights below Brompton. The Ebert house and barn are highlighted in yellow.

and this 1862 drawing by Alfred Waud:

A portion of the A. Waud 1862 battle panorama. The Ebert house and barn are highlighted in yellow.

A portion of the A. Waud 1862 battle panorama. The Ebert house and barn are highlighted in yellow.

 

few, if any, of the participants mention them. They were alluded to by Colonels Brooke and Miles and by General Caldwell, among others, when they discussed a possible flanking attack on the right and Confederate sharpshooters in houses, but not directly. This portion of the Confederate defense was originally occupied by the Phillips (GA) Legion of Cobb’s Brigade from Hanover Street to the north and Mercer Street to the south. These troops were reinforced by the 25th North Carolina and the 3rd South Carolina during the battle:

The Ebert house and barn are noted by the small yellow rectangles at the center of the photo arcs.

The Ebert house and barn are noted by the small yellow rectangles at the center of the photo arcs.

While the Legion seemed to hug the stone wall where they could, in the natural trench between the Ebert house and southward towards the Innis house, what did the Confederate troops do who were located in the flat open ground to the north of the Ebert houses? Presumably the house and barn were occupied by Confederate troops. There is no wall between the Ebert House and Hanover Street to the north behind which to seek cover. As can be seen in Photos number 2, the ground is flat and open:

Photo circa 1870/80's of the Ebert house showing the sunken Road. The Innis and Stephens houses are in the background.

Photo#2 circa 1870/80’s of the Ebert house showing the sunken Road. The Innis and Stephens houses are in the background.

Did they simply stand in ranks to fire on the advancing Union troops? Did they dig in? On the night of 13 December, when General Lee was concerned that the Union might renew the attack the next day, he shifted troops. The 1st Virginia makes mention of arriving in this area after dark on the night after the battle. They occupied a line just in back of the stone retaining wall below Brompton where they dug rifle pits for protection. You can see evidence of these pits today as depressions behind the wall. If they had to dig in, what had the previous troops done in the roadway in front of their position? A mystery!!
The stone wall continued straight eastward towards the town on the other side of Ebert’s barn along Telegraph Road (now Kirkland St) all the way to Fair Street (now Littlepage St) as can be seen in photograph number 3. Both photographs 2 and 3 were taken by F. Thedore Miller, a local Fredericksburg photographer probably circa 1870’s-1880’s. They are currently owned by Jerry and Lou Brent.

Photo #3, circa 1870/80's with a corner of the Ebert barn on the right side. The Stratton house is in the left background. Note the continuation of the stone wall in the middle foreground.

Photo #3, circa 1870/80’s with a corner of the Ebert barn on the right side. The Stratton house is in the left background. Note the continuation of the stone wall in the middle foreground.

 

According to a survey conducted during the Depression by NM Deaderick, the house itself was classified as having two stories, in that the attic is actually a half story. It measured 16 feet in width by 30 feet in length and featured a gabled roof. The roof was made of wood shingles. It had one chimney located on the western end. Inside there were five large rooms and four small ones. The approximate ceiling height was seven feet. The stair was listed as built-in with three steps turned at the bottom. The walls were plastered and papered. The floors were irregular six, seven and eight inch boards of pine. The chimney had two openings, one in the parlor and one in the attic. The mantels were carved in the parlor and plain in the room above.

Current view of the land upon which the Ebert house and barn stood. An outline of what these structures might have looked like is in yellow. Compare with photo #1 above.

Current view of the land upon which the Ebert house and barn stood. An outline of what these structures might have looked like is in yellow. Compare with photo #1 above.

In the store portion of the structure, the walls were partially plastered and partially walled with boards from seven to twelve inches wide. This portion of the home must have been cold in the winter season. Outside, between the house and small barn there was a well. In the photographs you can see there was a fence that ran along the curbside between the two structures. Sometime after the war, possibly in 1871, Henry added a small room with a shed roof onto the back or southern side of the house.

Current view of Sunken Road with sketch of the Ebert house on the left. The Innis house in the background.

Current view of Sunken Road with sketch of the Ebert house on the left. The Innis house in the background.

In an interview, presumably taken during the depression, the owner occupants were quoted “had always lived there, her grandfather’s home, thinks that very probably the weatherboarding has all been replaced since the battle of 1862, as she knows the house was pierced by several balls and bullets”. A visitor to the area in 1868 was quoted in a newspaper report to say about the Innis house damage; “Just at the north end of this wall stands an old frame house which was so badly riddled with shot and shell that one can scarcely lay his open hand on it anywhere without covering some of the holes thus made.” One can imagine the damage suffered by Ebert a mere 260 feet away.

AC Redwood 1886 shetch of Confederate troops during the fighting of the Battle of Fredericksburg in the Sunken Road.

AC Redwood 1886 shetch of Confederate troops during the fighting of the Battle of Fredericksburg in the Sunken Road.

This 1886 Allen C. Redwood sketch shows Confederate troops under Brigadier General Thomas Cobb and General Joseph Kershaw behind the stone wall at the foot of Marye’s Heights on December 13. It was published in Battles and Leaders, volume 3, page 80. The image is from the Library of Congress.
During the battle, this end of the battlefield was assaulted by no fewer than twenty-one Union regiments, beginning with the 8th Ohio and culminating with Tyler’s Brigade of Humphreys division in the closing minutes of evening light. Most of these Union regiments made their way out of Fredericksburg via George and Hanover Streets. All along the way they were pounded by Confederate artillery and finally turned away by the Confederate troops posted in the Sunken Road.
In 1863, between April and September, the Confederate army paid for the use of the vacant land behind the house. Listed are expenditures: hay for the 8th Alabama Infantry Regiment, grazing cavalry horses, twenty-five bushels of corn, and thirty-seven and a half cords of wood for the 1st Virginia Cavalry. Payment amounted to $1,150 in Confederate script.
Henry’s war record is typical of many enlisted men in the Confederate army.
He was a member of Company A “Washington Guards” of Fredericksburg, 30th Virginia Infantry, Corse’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division, 1st Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, C.S.A. The 30th Infantry Regiment completed its organization at Fredericksburg, Virginia, in June, 1861. Men of this unit were from Fredericksburg and the counties of Spotsylvania, Caroline, Stafford, and King George.
Henry’s record shows that his residence was listed as Fredericksburg VA; a 29 year-old Grocer. He enlisted on 7/28/1861, and was mustered into “A” Co. VA 30th Infantry as a Private. He was listed as: Absent, sick in the November & December 1861 roll. Detailed March & April 1862 roll as a baker. He was hospitalized 6/30/1864 with edema of the legs, Chimborazo Hospital, Richmond, VA. Hospitalized with pneumonia January & February and March & April 1865 rolls; furloughed 3/3/1865.
Postwar Henry returned to his family and the grocery business in Fredericksburg.
Birth: 1832 est . Death: 1896.
Burial: Confederate Cemetery, Plot: Section 4, Lot 68, Grave 6.
In the years following the war, visitors primarily from the North, engaged in historic tourism by visiting battlefields. One of these visits made its way into Battles and Leaders, volume 3, page 77 which cites a photograph made in 1884.

1884 sketch of the Sunken Road looking north from the vicinity of the Innis and Stephens houses. Note the Ebert house circled in yellow.

1884 sketch of the Sunken Road looking north from the vicinity of the Innis and Stephens houses. Note the Ebert house circled in yellow.

Unbeknownst to the photographer/artist who made this sketch of the Sunken Road looking north in the vicinity of the Innis and Stephens houses, Henry Ebert’s house was captured in the background.

Location of 1884 and 1886 sketches looking along the Sunken Road.

Location of 1884 and 1886 sketches looking along the Sunken Road.

The following two pictures were taken of the Ebert house in 1957. They may well be the last photographs of the house before it was demolished. You can still see the four Maple trees that Henry planted to shade his property which shows up in Photos #2 and #3 as young saplings.

1957 photo of the Ebert house not long before it was torn down.

1957 photo of the Ebert house not long before it was torn down.

Photo of rear of the Ebert house in 1957. Note the small room with a shed roof added by Henry possibly in 1871.

Photo of rear of the Ebert house in 1957. Note the small room with a shed roof added by Henry possibly in 1871.

Henry August Ebert's obituary from the Daily Star.

Henry August Ebert’s obituary from the Daily Star.

A special thanks to Noel Harrison for his remarkable research and all important files which are resident at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP). For some reason, the Ebert House did not make it into his 1995 two volume set of Fredericksburg Civil War Sites. I hope that I have done him justice in my use of his information.

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About Peter Glyer

I am retired with a lifelong interest in history, primarily the Civil War and WWII - Europe. I was an Army engineer, hence my interest in terrain. I graduated with a degree in City and Regional Planning and a Masters in International Relations.
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