150th Anniversary–Battle of the Wilderness

My second great-grandfather, Lawrence T. “Larl” Boling married Sarah Tapp, daughter of the now famous Catharine Dempsey “Widow Tapp,” (making her my 3rd great grandmother) because she had the misfortune of living on the land that became known as the “Wilderness Battlefield,” in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during the Civil War.

On Friday, May 2, through Sunday, May 4, Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) in collaboration with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) and in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness will offer Programs and Events as included at the end of this post. Please come join them for this commemorative event.

The Wilderness is the name given to a dense forest, with thick undergrowth, located about ten miles west of Fredericksburg, Virginia. It runs roughly 15 miles along the south bank of the Rapidan River and stretches approximately 10 miles to the south. During the Civil War, this dense forest was the location of two major battles that occurred almost exactly a year apart. 


In the first battle, “Chancellorsville” (April 30 thru May 6, 1863), Confederate General Robert E. Lee faced Union General “Fighting” Joe Hooker. It was during the Chancellorsville battle that, after his Corps had flanked the Union army and almost destroyed it, Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson was mortally wounded by his own men.

Widow Tapp’s field

Catharine DempseyMuch of the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on the lands that Catharine Dempsey Tapp rented from Major James Horace Lacy, who lived at Ellwood, two miles to the northeast. Her husband, Vincent Tapp died before 1860, leaving her to raise the family. Catharine was the daughter of Daniel and Betsey Dempsey of Orange County, Virginia.  Few families of modest means became so famous. “Widow Tapp, as she was known” (my third great grandmother), with other family members eked out an existence from the poor soil. The Tapps occupied a lopsided log cabin where seven people lived in a space perhaps 30 by 20 feet. A corncrib, log stable, and a few fruit trees surrounded the house. Four milk cows and seven pigs wandered the property.

Catharine Tapp’s net worth barely exceeded 100 dollars. She owned no land; she owned no slaves. A kitchen garden and small patches of corn, potatoes, and wheat likely provided much of the family’s food. The war that so devastated others in Spotsylvania County could do little to diminish the Tapps; they had little to lose.

“Eliza “Phenie” Tapp (my 2nd great aunt) was just four at the time of the battle, but in the 1930’s she described her childhood memories to National Park Service historian Ralph Happel. She remembered that as her family fled their home bullets struck the dirt around them, kicking up dust like the first raindrops of a coming storm.”

Phenie Tapp Interview

Photo of Phenie Tapp being interviewed by National Park Service historian. This is from a marker at the site of Widow Tapp’s farm in Spotsylvania County. (Site of the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1863.)


Phenie Ta[[

Phenie Tapp is the granddaughter of Catharine Dempsey Tapp better known as “Widow Tapp” from the farm where much of the Battle of The Wilderness was fought.

The 1864 Overland Campaign Begins with

the Battle of the Wilderness

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB) in collaboration with the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) and commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness will offer Programs and Events beginning on Friday, May 2 through Sunday, May 4.In early spring of 1864, while headquartered in Culpeper, Virginia, General U.S. Grant, USA devised a historic plan to end the American Civil War; it became known as the Overland Campaign. Though it would take the better part of a year and the massing of casualties in the hundreds of thousands to reach its goal, it would begin with the horrific two-day battle at the Wilderness on May 5 and 6 of 1864.

Battle of the WildernessWith casualties reaching nearly 30, 000 during the two days of fighting, it is our duty and responsibility to keep their stories alive. “It is not so much a need to relive the past as it is an obligation to honor our ancestors be they military or civilian, black or white, Confederate or Union. At the very least, we owe them that,” said Zann Nelson, President of Friends of Wilderness Battlefield. Beginning on Saturday, April 26 and running through August 17, Ellwood Manor will be open seven (7) days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. After August 17th, the Ellwood house hours of operation will resume the Sat., Sunday and holiday schedule through October. There is never a fee to enter Ellwood or participate in any of the events offered on the grounds, though donations are always welcomed. For more detail visit  www.fowb.org. Upcoming Schedule of events: May 2-3: 2-Day Wilderness Battlefield Bus Tour: Guide: Gordon Rhea … SOLD OUTMay 3 and 4: “Living History at Ellwood Manor” ongoing 10-5 May 4: “Tours of Historic Ellwood” will be extended until 7 PM

Special Commemorative Programs at Ellwood Manor will include: 
  • Military Hospitals during Battle: With nearly 3,000 Union soldiers killed and 12,000 more wounded, the Battle of the Wilderness was one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War and one of the busiest for their doctors. Come listen to surgeons explain how the wounded were transported off the field to the hospitals. They will also go into detail about how the sick and wounded were cared for once they arrived at the various hospitals set up around the region. Presented by “Doc” Duvall and John Pelletier, well-known authorities on the subject of military medicine. 
  • Union Staff Officer: Bob Broadwater, a seasoned historical presenter will interact with visitors about the role and duties of the staff officer to such commanders as Generals Grant, Meade, or Warren. 
  • The Heritage Tent: Sponsored by FoWB’s Heritage Program. Visitors will hear the stories and view photos of the men and women who were residents of the Wilderness area and the soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Wilderness. Descendants are encouraged to visit the tent to share their stories. Visitors are welcome to come with information to see if their ancestor may qualify for the Heritage Program. Staff will be on hand to answer questions and help visitors with their ancestry quest. 
  • Wet Plate Photographer: Sunday, May 4 only: John Milleker, Jr., professional photographer and skilled “wet plate” artisan of Baltimore, MD, will show and explain the process of Civil War-era photography used to chronicle the events of the four years of struggle. Mr. Milleker’s artwork will be available for purchase in either the wet plate format or digital photographs of you and your family in a historic setting.
  • Sketch Artist: Local artist David Mitchell will explain the role of the Civil War era sketch artists such as Alfred Waud in reporting the stories of battle to the home front newspapers and magazines. David will be offering personal sketches of visitors for a small fee.

In addition, to these programs the National Park Service is sponsoring the following activities on the Ellwood Manor Grounds: Children’s Activity Tent (Saturday and Sunday)Military Living History Encampment (Friday, Sat. Sunday and Monday)Two hour Guided Walking Tour (1:30 PM on Sat. May 3)One hour presentation on the Impact of the War on Civilians (3:30 pm on Sat. May 3)Campfire Program: 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM on Sunday, May 4. Please see http://www.nps.gov/frsp/special.htm for further details. Ellwood Manor is a circa 1790 house within Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.  The cemetery has the grave of Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson’s amputated arm from the Battle of Chancellorsville, and the house was a Federal headquarters during the Battle of the Wilderness.  Friends of Wilderness Battlefield stewards the property in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS).  For directions and more information visit www.fowb.org.

Friends of Wilderness Battlefield
parkdayregistration@fowb.org | http://www.fowb.org
P.O. Box 576
Locust Grove, VA 22508

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