There’s a saying that every human being on the planet is connected by just six degrees of separation. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the case of Ellwood Manor, nestled in the heart of the Wilderness.
The legacy begins with two brothers. William and Churchill Jones were the sons of Churchill Jones and Millicent Blackburn of Middlesex, Virginia. When they became orphans at a young age, the boys were placed in the guardianship of Colonel Armistead Churchill of Bushy Park. They grew up and courted the two daughters of their guardian, Judith and Betty.
In the 1770s, William and Churchill Jones moved to central Virginia to rent farmland from the governing Spotswood family. Along with Benjamin Grymes and Dudley Diggs, they cleared land and built up foundries around Germanna Ford. Once they had established themselves, the brothers went back to Middlesex to marry their sweethearts. Judith married the elder Churchill and her sister, Betty, married William. In 1773, they brought their brides to the new homes they had prepared for them in the Wilderness. They sowed the seeds of wealth and prominence that would reach through the next century.
At the start of the Revolutionary War, Churchill enlisted in the Southern Legion under Colonel William Washington in South Carolina. He also became fast friends with “Light Horse Harry” Lee and was one of the original members of the Order of the Cincinnati. William, however, was opposed to the Revolution, and did not play a part in the war for American independence. Instead, he occupied his time with building his empire in the Wilderness. In 1785, twelve years after he was married, he and Betty had their first child, Hannah Harrison – named after her grandmother on her mother’s side.
In 1788, Churchill and William gathered up enough money to purchase their first parcel of land that spanned 642 acres through the dense wilderness. They would cultivate this land and diversify between growing corn, wheat, and oats to sell in Fredericksburg, as well as providing timber for the iron smelting industry that began to boom in this portion of Virginia (a prelude to the establishment of Catharine Furnace around Chancellorsville). To support their growing businesses, the brothers built homes for themselves and their families on adjacent plots. Churchill would build Woodville (no longer standing) and William would erect the modest Ellwood.
The two-story wooden structure was just one of the many other buildings that would take root on the ridge overlooking Wilderness Run about fifteen miles west of Fredericksburg. By 1830, the Jones holdings in the Wilderness exploded to 5,000 acres and became home for slaves and skilled craftsmen. Supplementing their income, the Jones family also built what would become the Wilderness Tavern, another historical landmark of the coming Civil War.
The success and wealth of a man could be gauged in his ability to impress and provide for his guests. One account of William’s hospitality says, “A small knoll exists just north of Ellwood, perfect for observation by commanding officers. And it was here, in 1781, that Major General Lafayette would pitch his headquarters tent. While awaiting reinforcements from Mad Anthony Wayne, on their way to Yorktown, the Marquis’ horses consumed a field of timothy, and yet, Jones supplied the troops with 700 pounds of beef. Lafayette never forgot the kindness, and breakfasted with him at Ellwood during his 1824-25 grand tour of the United States.” William would also invite Harry Lee to stay in his home during a rough patch in his life, and rumor has it that Lee wrote his memoirs in one of the upstairs rooms of Ellwood.
While William was busy hosting generals, Churchill was flaunting his own fortune by purchasing a well-known estate on the other side of the Rappahannock. Chatham was built in 1768 (ended construction in 1771) by William Fitzhugh, the grandson of Robert “King” Carter. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Judith Henry (mistress of Henry House at Manassas) was also the great-granddaughter of “King” Carter. Fitzhugh named Chatham after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham – chief spokesman for Americans against the Crown in the growing tax disputes. Like William Jones, Fitzhugh invited many prominent characters of the Revolution to his home, such as George Washington – a close friend – and Thomas Jefferson. Unlike William, Fitzhugh couldn’t keep up with his extravagant lifestyle and begrudgingly moved to Alexandria, giving up Chatham around 1790. It’s in Alexandria that Fitzhugh lived out the last of his days until he succumbed to a fever brought on by exposure. But Churchill Jones picked up his legacy for $20,000 and bought Chatham in 1806. Churchill was only able to enjoy Chatham until his death in 1822. It was then given to his brother, William, under the condition that an annuity would be paid to his third wife, Miss Seldon.
(Historical connection side note: Fitzhugh’s son, William, would rent out a home on Orinoco Street to Anne Hill Carter Lee, Robert E. Lee’s mother, after her husband Harry left his family. This was probably around the same time that Harry was at Ellwood, penning his memoirs. Also, William Fitzhugh’s daughter married George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s adopted grandson, and their daughter Mary Anne would later marry Robert Lee, bringing their connection full circle.)
Back at Ellwood, Hannah married her second husband, Judge John Coalter of the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Though her mother, Betty, was in ill health at the time, Hannah and her husband moved to Richmond, leaving her childhood home behind. In 1823, Betty Jones passed, leaving William alone at Ellwood. He didn’t stay that way for long and just five years later, the 78-year-old planter married Betty’s grandniece, Lucinda Gordon, who happened to be 16 at the time. Lucinda was the granddaughter of Betty’s elder sister, Lucy, who married John Gordon – another early settler in the Wilderness. A year later in 1829, Lucinda gave birth to their first daughter, Betty Churchill Jones. Yes, William named his daughter after his deceased wife and brother.
Growing up, Betty remembered that her father wore old-fashioned knee britches and ruffles until the day he died in 1845. At the age of five, she was sent to live with her half-sister so she may get an education. She would spend her winters at Chatham and her summers at Ellwood. As the only child of William and Lucinda, she was spoiled and petted at every turn, especially by her brother-in-law, Judge John Coalter. Her sister, on the other hand, was an effective teacher and disciplinarian, which prepared her for later challenges that would come in her adult years. She would attend the wedding of her cousin, Elizabeth Tucker Coalter, to John Randolph Bryan at Chatham, and witness many prominent guests pass through both family estates. Robert E. Lee even courted his future wife, Mary Custis, at Chatham and benefited from the Jones hospitality, as his father had.
After William died in 1845, Ellwood was left to his widow, Lucinda, under the condition that she never remarry. But telling a thirty-three year old woman to stay single her entire life with a teenage daughter didn’t stick. In 1847, Lucinda remarried to John Strother Green of Culpeper, and all of Ellwood was passed to Betty. She still frequented her step-father’s estate at Greenwood and maintained a strong connection with her mother’s new family throughout her life. Betty was put into the care of William Fitzhugh (earlier mentioned) and continued to attend school in Fredericksburg after leaving her sister’s care. She then ventured to Eagle Point at Gloucester County to visit her cousin, Elizabeth Tucker Bryan (earlier mentioned) for a short spell.
It was there that she would meet her husband, James Horace Lacy, a modest tutor who was working for the Bryan family and teaching their ten children. I’d like to think that they had some romantic encounter amongst the gorgeous gardens on the plantation settled at the mouth of the Severn River. Anything less mawkish would be uncharacteristic of the proud and haughty Betty Jones, who had once said that she would have rather had the Devil show up on her property than a poor person. And back in the early 19th century, there were few poorer than a tutor. They were married on October 19, 1848 at Ellwood. Despite his humble beginnings, Lacy would be nicknamed the “Lion of the Wilderness” as he took over the blossoming enterprises. He also became known as a great speaker and ardent secessionist.
Their wealth and prominence in the community only grew and many families rented farmland from the Lacys, including Catherine Tapp, whose homestead would come under the heat of battle during the war. In 1857, as the sectional tension began to build in the country, Betty and James bought the infamous Chatham Manor at auction after her half-sister, Hannah Jones Coalter, passed at the age of 77. Ellwood, much smaller in comparison to the grand Chatham, became a summer home for the growing Lacy family.
War came to Virginia in 1861. The Lacys would not emerge unscathed by the trauma of war. James entered the army and rose to the rank of Major, though he got in the way of operations more often than not (according to the historians attending Ellwood today). Betty and her five children would stay in neither Chatham nor Ellwood and sought refuge in Fredericksburg with a friend, Mrs. Henderson White, as the tide of war swept across central Virginia. Chatham would become the headquarters for General Irvin McDowell in April of 1862, and then a field hospital during the battle at Fredericksburg that December. Notable figures like Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, and Walt Whitman would grace the halls of the Lacy estate. General Rufus King also occupied the area around Chatham, but did not treat the estate with respect, as Betty recounts, “The old paneling was torn down for fire wood and the doors and windows cut out.” (Historical connection side note: This is the same General King whom John Washington, an escaped slave from Fredericksburg, attached himself to after emancipating himself during the first occupation of the town.)
At Ellwood, the Lacys took extra precautions to protect their investments. Most of the slaves were moved to another plantation along the James River, leaving a skeleton crew to take care of the property. To evade the Federals in Fredericksburg, Betty and her family went to her mother and step-father’s home at Greenwood. There, while visiting his family, Major Lacy was captured by soldiers and taken to Fort Delaware. After her husband was exchanged and allowed back into service, Betty and her children hopped around Virginia to places Lexington and Bedford, staying with friends and extended family.
In her short memoir, she tells what life was like in war torn Virginia. “It is true we had no coffee, except what was made from rye and sweet potatoes, no tea and very little sugar, but as the plantation was not in the enemy’s line of march, bread, meat, fowls, fruit and vegetables were abundant. We wore homespun dresses dyed by the old servants, plaited our own straw hats, and I even learned to make the uppers of the children’ shoes, sending them to the country shoemaker to have the soles put on. The prices paid for the bought shoes were almost fabulous. I remember giving fifty dollars for a pair that were not fellows. The boys had frequently to wear suits made from the uniforms of Federal soldiers picked upon the battlefield, with buttons covered. We had to rely for light upon Confederate candles that we made by wrapping cotton wicks dipped in wax and tallow around a bottle and allowing the wick to project at the mouth of the bottle.”
The Lacys would continue to stay clear of Ellwood, but the war couldn’t as the armies pushed back and forth across the region. The home and its grounds were used as a Confederate field hospital in May of 1863 during the battle of Chancellorsville. The
Second Corps would come to used the Wilderness Tavern, as well. After the battle, one of the doctors with the Second Corps wrote to his wife, “All the wounded have been sent off but about 250 who have been left under charge of Dr. Graham at Major Lacy’s house, a beautiful place, fine house and an ice house well filled.” The wounded who couldn’t be transported were left to convalesce at Ellwood, under the care of Dr. John A. Graham of the 5th Virginia Infantry. Many suffered from bone injuries or amputations, and some were recorded to still be at Ellwood until August of that year. Lacy, when he became aware of his home’s contribution to the war effort, sought compensation for 192 gallons of milk and 5 pounds of lamb. He was reimbursed $220 for the acquisitions made upon the plantation. The furniture in the house had been shipped out by Robert E. Lee, according to Betty, and put into the care of Mr. Bryan at Carysbrook. After the war, the furniture was loaded onto a ship to be send back to them, but the ship sunk and much of the furniture was thought to be lost with it. However, two months after the wreck, Lacy’s property was recovered and then passed down to their children.
In one of the most iconic and memorable moments of the Civil War, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was wounded by his own men. He was taken to a field hospital which happened to sit just northeast from the Wilderness Tavern. It’s there his left arm was amputated by Dr. McGuire. Reverend Beverly Tucker Lacy, the brother to James Lacy, was Jackson’s chaplain and took it upon himself to “take care of” the general’s severed limb. The Reverend Lacy took his arm and buried it in the family cemetery not far from Ellwood, where Betty’s father and mother were interred.
The following year, battle would rage in the Wilderness as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee would face off in the first engagement of the Overland Campaign. Ellwood would be utilized as the V Corps headquarters for Major General Gouverneur Warren. The estate was ravaged by Union and Confederate artillery and the constant movement of troops (on foot and horseback) across the grounds. Lieutenant General Grant set up his own headquarters just north of Ellwood. For three days, the Lacy house would not know a moment of stillness, as orderlies and staff officers came and went with
their dispatches and messages. By the time the armies moved south to fight at Spotsylvania, Ellwood was a wreck, but still standing. Blood stained the floor, outbuildings were torn apart for firewood, and the ground around the house had been churned up by all the activity. The caretaker of the home had been arrested and sent to the Capitol Prison in Washington, leaving the home empty and desolate.
After the war, nothing was the same for the Lacy Family. Betty and James would go on to have a total of eight children in the span of seventeen years, enduring the hardships of reconstruction in a defeated Virginia. Chatham underwent extensive repairs and wouldn’t be habitable until November of 1865. The grand estate was sold in 1872 to Oliver Watson, and was passed off from one owner to the next until it came into the possession of the National Parks Service and now serves as a park headquarters.
The Wilderness Tavern, first built by the Jones, had been sold to William Simms and his family in the 1830s. At the time of the war, it was used as a pitstop for travelers and a general store, with ten slaves and several other skilled workers helping to run the property. The last existing structure, the Wilderness two-story dependency, burned down in 1978. All that remains along Route 3 today is the chimney and a wayside marker to tell its story and significance during the Chancellorsville battle.
Ellwood would remain in Lacy hands until 1907 when it was sold to Hugh Evander Willis and continued its purpose as a farm. In 1903, a former staff member of General Thomas Jackson, James Power Smith, marked the location of the Confederate soldier’s arm with a granite slab. The marker at Ellwood would be just one of ten positioned across four other battlefields in central Virginia where Lee or Jackson made an impression. Smith was Betty’s son-in-law, the husband of her daughter Agnes, married at Chatham in 1872 before the home was sold. By 1977, the National Parks System came to own this piece of Wilderness history as well. Today, it’s become the recommended first stop for anyone looking to visit the Wilderness Battlefield.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers and Friends of the Wilderness, Ellwood has been restored and is open for visitors. At the time of my visit, the upstairs was still off-limits, since the stairs were not up to par for guest traffic. On the ground floor, four rooms give a glimpse into the life of the Lacys while they lived at Ellwood, and feature exhibits about the Wilderness battle. One room is set up to resemble how General Warren would have used it as his headquarters
and showcases a period-drawn map of the Wilderness as the officers understood it. Another room is arranged to highlight the field hospital aspect of the home’s use during the Chancellorsville battle, complete with a cot and medical display. The back room allows guests to inspect sections of the original wall, floor, and fireplace that the park managed to preserve during the remodeling. A knowledgeable tour guide is available during their regular seasonal hours. Due to the Coronavirus, Ellwood is currently closed, but you can check with the NPS website listed in the references below to stay up-to-date on when they’ll be reopening. The grounds, however, are currently open and you’re able to roam or walk its trails.
Facing away from the house and off to your right (southwest) there’s a walking trail that leads directly down to the old family cemetery. The only marker that exists today belongs to General Jackson’s arm. From the cemetery, one can look out across the Wilderness and former farmlands that the Lacys cultivated before the war.
Another trail to the east leading away from the house will take you across Wilderness Run, the lifeblood of the Ellwood plantation, and straight to the remains of Wilderness Tavern and Route 3. Remember that if you look across the road and toward your right from the Tavern site, you’ll be looking approximately at the spot where Jackson’s arm was amputated.
For more direct notes on the trail between Ellwood and the Tavern, see the map below.
http://www.fowb.org/index.php/battlefield/wilderness-crossing-trail-guide/ (trail guide)
Historic American Landscapes Survey, Creator, William Fitzhugh, John Lee Pratt, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Helen Devore, Frances Benjamin Johnston, James Horace Lacy, et al. Chatham Manor, 120 Chatham Lane, Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg, VA. Fredericksburg Virginia, 2000. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/va2249/
“Hell Itself: The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864” by Chris Mackowski