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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My next blog will return to the Pontoon Bridges.
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.
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.
Vizetelly drawing: Harvard University, Houghton Library. Modbm_ms_am_1585_20_recto
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