Howison’s Mill

I return to the crossing of Hazel Run (click here) to look at the mill which operated in this location for over 100 years. Howison’s Mill was constructed of wood and stone in 1797 by William Drummond. It stood two stories tall and got access to water from the mill pond built upstream on Hazel Run. Ownership of the mill changed hands several times, but at the time of the Civil War it was owned by John Howison.

Confederate Use of Howison’s Mill

The mill first appeared in a drawing of Fredericksburg, as seen from Lee’s Hill, sketched by London Illustrated News Civil War Artist Frank Vizetelly. On the morning of 11 December, while Burnside’s Union Army of the Potomac is attempting to cross the Rappahannock River, Brigadier General Joseph Kershaw noted the mill, tucked away behind Willis Hill, on his brigade’s left flank during their initial deployment. On the 13th, Brigadier General Cobb placed the 16th Georgia in reserve behind Willis Hill, while three other regiments of his brigade occupied the Sunken Road, protected by the stone wall. Author, Frank O’Reilly, in his book on the Battle of Fredericksburg, noted that the ‘regiment relaxed near the Old Rock Mill operated by the Howison family’.

The 16th Georgia remained in that position until late afternoon on the 13th when Colonel McMillian, the acting commander of Cobb’s Brigade, ordered them forward. “I sent for that regiment [16th Georgia] and placed it on the right to strengthen and protect that point”. It is unclear whether the unit moved around Willis Hill from the mill along Courthouse Road, today called Lafayette Blvd., or climbed up the back side of Willis Hill past the Miller house, crossed over the top of the hill and then descended to the Sunken Road, similar to other reinforcing Confederate infantry units. In either case, they suffered around seventy casualties, an expensive move for a unit of approximately 325 rifles.

Drawing by Civil War artist Frenk Vizetelly of Fredericksburg on 11 December 1862.

Frank Vizetelly was hired by the London Illustrated News to provide illustrations in the days before photography. His sketch of the Union attack on Fredericksburg, on the morning of 11 December 1862, captured the drama of the fight at the river. Howison’s Mill as seen from Lee’s Hill is tucked below Willis Hill adjacent to Hazel Run. Both the mill and the miller’s home sit amongst a forest of pine trees on the back side of Willis Hill. A line of Confederate infantry can be seen marching west along Courthouse Road.

The Caldwell subdivision map, drawn by Wiliam Sneden, shows the Howison’s Mill at the corner of  Courthouse Road (then called Telegraph Road, and Lafayette Blvd. today) which went between Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Court House. You can make out how the mill race looped around the back of the mill to provide water to its overshot wheel before dumping into Hazel Run.

1856 Calswell subdivision map west of Fredericksburg

In 1856, the land west of Fredericksburg city limits was subdivided by a group of developers and mapped by civil engineer William Sneden. At the northwest corner of Sneden’s plat map we can see Howison’s Mill. Note how the millrace curls around the building. Mercer Square is outlined in red.

Union Surgeon, Doctor Reed Bontecou captured Howison’s Mill in the spring of 1866 at the end of his photographic expedition to Spotsylvania and Wilderness Battlefields. He earned a place in medical history, being responsible for pioneering and taking the largest number of clinical photographs of the wounded. Bontecou’s photographs helped other doctors provide advanced medical treatment of wounded soldiers. Bontecou traveled to the former battlefields around Fredericksburg to collect medical specimens (some still survive in the army’s medical collection). On the trip he brought along a team of photographers who took a total of 121 photographs. This was one of four photographs at Fredericksburg (click here and here). Note the photo number etched on the plate; 117. You can make out Willis Hill in the background above the mill and the miller’s house. That portion of Willis Hill, mostly devoid of trees, which Vizetelly sketched, was in the process of being leveled for the National Cemetery (click here).

Photo of Howison's Mill taken in April 1866.

In 1866, Union Doctor Reed Bontecou obtained permission to visit the battlefields of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse before he returned to civilian life. On this trip he took 121 photos. At the end of that journey, he returned via Courthouse Road. He stopped on the outskirts of Fredericksburg where he took his last four photographs, #117-121. We are fortunate that Howison’s Mill (#117) intrigued him enough to capture these images. The others were of the Stephens House (#118), Brompton on Marye’s Heights (#120), and the Innis house (#121).

Maps of Fredericksburg

In 1867, the Michler-Weyss survey team plotted the mill. The team mislabeled the fill required for the Unfinished Railroad (click here) as a ‘Dam’. The approximate location of Bontecou’s camera is plotted in orange on their map. The southern end of Willis Hill was used as an artillery position by Eshleman’s Battery (click here) during the first battle on 13 December 1862 and reused by Parkers’ Battery during the second battle on 3 May 1863.

1867 Michler-Weyss survey notes

The Michler-Weyss survey team used Willis Hill as one of their key identification points for their work in the Fredericksburg area. There they flew a flag, upon which they were able to sight, to triangulate their survey work. Just below the Willis Hill Heights, they captured the location of Howison’s Mill. They misidentified the embankment built to carry the railroad tracks over Hazel Run as a ‘Dam’. I identify the approximate point from which the photograph was taken in orange. By this point in time, the top of Willis Hill was being regraded in order to accommodate the National Cemetery.

The finished Michler map notes the mill, but not the miller’s house, below the new National Cemetery. The dirt roadway seen north of Hazel Run could possibly be the embankment of the mill race.

Extract of Michler 1867 map at Fredericksburg, Va.

The final Michler map was published in 1867. In it, we see the National Cemetery dominating Willis Hill. Howson’s Hill is tucked in below the height. The miller’s house did not make the final map. A roadway, likely associated with the mill race, is seen parallel to Hazel Run.

In 1937, the immediate area had changed only marginally. This aerial view comes from a portion of an agricultural survey made to map fields and forests. The most notable development is the railroad side yards and Courthouse/Telegraph Road/Lafayette Blvd. is paved, with a bridge over Hazel Run. The mill itself was destroyed by fire in 1894, according to Noel Harrison, National Park historian.

1937 aerial photo outside Fredericksburg, Va.

In 1937 the US Department of Agriculture took aerial photographs to identify farm fields and forests during the Great Depression. This photo is a small segment of one taken in the Fredericksburg area. The railroad yard associated with a lumber yard and road improvements are evidenced in this shot. Howison’s Mills approximate location, adjacent to Hazel Run, along with road improvements such as the bridge over Hazel Run, are identified.

In this 2016 aerial view of the mill area, many changes have occurred. Most notable is the construction of State Route 3 that bisects Hazel Run valley. During its construction, the mill site was buried under six to ten feet of fill. Some of the mill race still exists on National Park land, west of the mill site. I will provide photos of this in a future post.

2016 aerial photo west of Fredericksburg, Va.

This 2016 aerial provided by the City of Fredericksburg displays further development in the area. The major addition is State Highway 3 which runs along Hazel Run. Earthmoving associated with this construction buried the remains of the mill under six to ten feet of fill.

These photos of the Howison’s Mill were taken in the late 1800’s, possibly in 1880, prior to the destructive fire of 1894. The mill structure shows a crack in the stone front. The overshot wheel appears serviceable. Both photos show that the mill is for sale. What appears to be a power pole is seen in the right hand photo.

Two photographs of Howison's mill

Photographs of Howison’s Mill circa 1880. The mill structure shows a crack in the stone front. The overshot wheel appears serviceable. Both photos show that the mill is for sale. What appears to be a power pole is seen in the right hand photo.

I recently visited the mill site. I rendered this drawing of what the mill may have looked like if it still existed today. The size is proportionally based upon the previous photographs, and is an estimate.

Sketch of Howison's Mill placed over 2019 photo

Howison’s Mill if it existed today might look something like this.

We end up with the 1866 Bontecou photo as we bid farewell to Howison’s Mill. Just to the right of the mill proper, you can make out the trace of the Confederate military road. General Lee’s army built a number of military roads along their front line in order to quickly move troops and supplies. I will revisit this road in a future post.

Bontecou photo #117 of Howison's Mill with annotation by Peter Glyer

One last look at the Howison’s Mill photographed by doctor Bontecou in April 1866. The Confederate military road trace skirted Howison’s Mill.

 

My next blog will return to the Pontoon Bridges.

Sources:

Books:

Harrison, N., Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, Volume 2, E. Howard, Lynchburg, 1995. P 233-236.

Report of Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Kershaw, C. S. Army, Commanding McLaws’ Division. O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME XXI, p 588.

Report of Maj. Gen. Lafayette McLaws, C. S. Army, Commanding Kershaw’s Brigade.  O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME XXI, p 578-584.

Report of Col. Robert McMillian, C. S. Army, Commanding Kershaw’s Brigade.  O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME XXI, p 607-8.

O’Reilly, Francis A., The Fredericksburg Campaign; Winter on the Rappahannock. Baton Rouge, Lousiana State University Press, 2003, p 103.

On Line:

Bontecou: https://www.nps.gov/frsp/planyourvisit/event-details.htm?event=E73E0FB4-1DD8-B71B-0B125B648014B5B7

Maps:

Michler map of Fredericksburg published in 1867, on file at Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/item/99439215/

1856 Map of Land owned by Jn S Caldwell & others. Showing the division into lots & streets, as laid out in June 1856 by Wm Sneden, Civil Eng

Michler-Weiss Survey Books, cupboard 1, shelf 5, box 9, book 6, record group 77, National Archives, Washington DC. 1867.

Drawing:

Vizetelly drawing: Harvard University, Houghton Library. Modbm_ms_am_1585_20_recto

On line:

https://fredericksburghistory.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/some-tidbits-on-alum-springs/

Photographs:

Howison’s Mill, 1866, #117. (Photographer: Dr. Reed Bontecou; Collection: MOLLUS, US Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA)

Howison’s Mill, ca.1890s (Photographer: Henry B. Hoffman; Collection: Jerry and Lou Brent, Fredericksburg, VA)

Howison’s Mill, ca. 1880s (Photographer: Unknown; Collection: Copy in Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania NMP, Fredericksburg, VA)

Aero Services Corp, 4 March 1937, # FG4-21 http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/BAH/dam/mg/mg416.htm

Central Rappahannock Heritage Center http://crhcarchives.org/

City of Fredericksburg GIS map site:  http://fredericksburgva.gov/index.aspx?NID=515

 

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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