Sunbright, site of the Third Corps Ball, Winter of 1864

Historian and friend Clark B. Hall passed along this comment regarding the Third Corps Ball, mentioned in today’s post:


The 3rd Corps Ball referred to took place in the big, beautiful home of Dr. Daniel Kennedy, “Sunbright.” This home sat on a prominent knoll near the Orange & Alexandria Railroad tracks about two miles south of Brandy Station. Serving as the Divisional HQ of General Joseph Carr, the home faced east, away from the tracks, and the image I am sending you by separate cover depicts Sunbright in March 1864, just a month or so after the 3rd Corps Ball.

A developer bought this house in 1988, and a week after I visited and photographed the house with the permission of the tenant, the house mysteriously burned down. You can  draw your own conclusions regarding that “coincidence.”

Sunbright was one of Culpeper County’s magnificent homes.. But, its sad fate placed Sunbright squarely within the gunsights of “progress.”

Here is the March 1864 photograph mentioned:


Indeed a wonderful home in all respects.  And a home that, if it were around today, would have many stories to tell. Perhaps just obscured only by a few layers of paint?

Speaking of graffiti under paint, there’s something else that comes to mind here.  Just a few decades ago, within our collective memory, Culpeper boasted numerous structures – beautiful homes – which stood witness to the war, each with a history and stories to tell.  Many of those are lost.  Likewise, some of the topographical features that played a prominent role in the war are grossly altered without regard to significance.  And what remains is at risk.  Just over a year ago another important site with respect to the Winter Encampment – Glen Ella, where General Gouverneur K. Warren spent the winter – was leveled to make way for a modern home.  And in just recent months, a large house went atop Cole’s Hill, marring the profile of a hillside which up until that time remained very close to what the soldiers called “cold mountain.”

Winter Encampment 097

This discarding, and in some ways destruction, of our history and heritage will continue so long as those in positions of leadership remain aloof to the problem. The Brandy Station Foundation should be at the fore of these issues.  But it is not.  Ever since the president of that organization, Joseph McKinney, pushed out a policy not to “oppose common property improvements,” the Foundation has remained quiet.  While the position of the Foundation spoke of “reversible change,” a proper definition of such (if there could be) was lacking.  The statement appears now, just as it did to preservationists in 2011, as just bunting.  Leadership in the foundation has not uttered a single word in regard to these irreversible damages seen to the county’s historical resources.  With that comes a shortfall towards the organization’s stated reason for being.  An organization chartered for preservation should, in fact, be an agent favoring preservation – not enabling destruction  – of those resources. The policy, crafted to allow the Brandy Station Foundation to save face, all the while turning a blind eye to what happened on the battlefield, has in effect been a “camel’s nose under the tent” which allowed this irreversible change.

It is impossible to reverse what was done over the last few years.  But to save what is left, it is time the Brandy Station Foundation recognizes the damage done by its policy of non-intervention in preservation matters.  It’s time for the Foundation to renounce its policy.  There is much still at risk and much preservation work to be done.

Wainwright’s Diary, January 31, 1864: Lots of recruits… and women

On the last day of January 1864, Colonel Charles S. Wainwright mentioned several subjects in his diary.  He first turned to recruitment and reenlistment matters:

January 31, Sunday.  The convalescent camp at Alexandria has been broken up, and the ground and buildings taken for a camp of distribution.  My first installment of recruits is there now …. New York, I hear, is alive with returning regiments, and squads of recruits marching off.  I hope to be there this day week.  My return of re-enlisted men shows 117; it is about done in my command.

Historian Allan Nevins dropped a note from this passage related to the recruiting efforts.  Reenlistments within the Army of the Potomac reached over 16,000 that winter.  That’s over one-eighth of the army which could have just went home for good, with no shame at all.  But they signed the papers and remained.  Well took a furlough and remained.  Nevins’ other observation here was to the positive effect on recruitment while these men were on the home front, making appearances.

One veteran who did not remain with the army was Wainwright’s surgeon, Dr. Mosser, who’d left in December. “He was only a contract surgeon, and has gone home to Pennsylvania on invitation of his old master, who offers him a partnership with half the profits.” Wainwright noted the young doctor should bring home “three or four thousand a year.” Not to mention, a lot safer than practicing his trade with the army.

Closing his entry, the bachelor colonel touched upon social events… that he was excluded from:

I am really without anything to enter today; have not been so hard pushed for material since last winter.  The officers of the Third Corps gave a grand ball last week; an immense room was put up; supper brought down from Washington, and so on.  It is said to have been a great success. I did not receive an invitation so was not there. There are lots of women in the army now.

The ball even made Harper’s Weekly, in the February 20 edition.  Thanks to Son of the South, that resource is readily available on the web. The accompanying article described the ball in detail, noting the dancing-hall was “made up of tents, and decorated with flags and evergreens.”


The article went on to say, “While the fortunate soldiers who have partners are at supper with their ladies, those not so successful are engaged in what is called the ‘gander’ dance, which our artist has faithfully represented on the same page” to the lower right.  The article concluded:

This ball was quite a success, a score of generals attended; and it was altogether an event to break up the monotony of every-day dreariness in camp.  It was the first opportunity that gave the ladies staying with their husbands in camp a chance to come together.

While in some measure a welcome “domestication” of the camp, the presence of so many women in camp interfered with some military actions.  The same issue of Harper’s Weekly discussed the actions at Morton’s Ford on February 6-7, reporting, “When the order came for this advance, Friday night, nearly a thousand ladies, wives of the officers and men, were in camp.”

Keep in mind, there was no family support plan in the Army of the Potomac as we know them today.

(Source: Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 317-8;  Harper’s Weekly, Volume VIII, No. 373, accessed from Son of the South website.)