by Michael Aubrecht, The Free Lance-Star: TOWN & COUNTY Feature, Date published: 11/25/06 Section: CIVIL WAR
Online at: When Lincoln visited Stafford County

Founded in 1664, Stafford County has certainly witnessed its share of historical events over the last 300-plus years. It was on the shores of Potomac Creek, in an area known as Marlboro Point, where an Indian princess named Pocahontas was kidnapped and taken to Jamestown. In 1738 Augustine Washington and his 6-year-old son, George, moved to a 600-acre estate called Ferry Farm. This is where the future inaugural president of the United States allegedly skipped a coin across the Rappahannock River and cut down a legendary cherry tree.

During the Civil War, Stafford was used extensively as a staging area by the occupying Federal army and hosted more than 135,000 Union troops. From 1862 to 1863, another U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, visited the county on six different occasions for a total of 14 days. These rarely publicized events provided the basis for Stafford County historian Jane Hollenbeck Conner's latest book, titled "Lincoln in Stafford."

Officially released this week, "Lincoln in Stafford" is Conner's second published piece on local history. Her first book, "Birthstone of the White House and Capitol," traced the quarrying of raw stone from Government Island's rock cliffs, overlooking Aquia Creek, to its skillful finishing and construction in two of America's most noteworthy buildings.

In addition to relating history, Conner's works serve an even greater purpose. Unlike the recent surge of Lincoln biographers who are attempting to financially capitalize on the controversial aspects surrounding the president's private life, this author has penned her studies purely in the "spirit of generosity" and is donating 100 percent of the proceeds to the Stafford County Museum Fund.

As a retired teacher with 20 years of service (16 in Stafford), Jane Conner is no stranger to the preservation and presentation of local history. In addition to her background in the classroom, she is also a member of the Government Island Committee and a longtime board member of the Stafford County Historical Society.

In 2003, Conner was the recipient of an award for environmental awareness from the National Society of Daughters of the American Revolution. She is not the only author in the family, either, as two wordsmiths occupy the Conner household. Jane's husband, Al, is author of "A History of Our Own: Stafford County, Virginia." He is currently working on a four-volume series chronicling the stories of more than 2,000 soldiers from the Virginia Military Institute.

"Lincoln in Stafford" was born out of a side project involving another one of Jane Conner's historical associations made up of retired teachers from Stafford, Prince William and Alexandria. Two years ago an assembly of former educators, unofficially christened the "2007 SOL Group," decided to develop an electronic study guide with hopes of presenting it to the Stafford County School District by next September. Each one of the 10 instructors selected a specific aspect of local history and then set out to develop a computer-based curriculum to aid students in their preparation for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests.

LEFT: Local author Jane Conner has written a book about the sites in Stafford County where President Abraham Lincoln visited.

"Lincoln In Stafford" is a 96-page paperback with 62 illustrations and photographs. It retails for $12.95 and 100 percent of the profits are donated to the Stafford County Museum Fund.

Photo: Scott Neville/The Free Lance-Star

Always the teacher, Conner explained to me, in a phone interview, the group's objective in this ambitious endeavor. "Being familiar with the school's testing procedures," she said, "we set out to identify what aspects of the exams would work well with the addition of Stafford history."

"Once we determined a fit, the group divided the topics. I selected Abraham Lincoln as my subject due to the fact that my own ancestors had ties to the president's beloved home state of Illinois. I knew that Lincoln had been to Stafford, but I also knew that it was a part our local history that few had explored."

She spent nearly a year researching the history of these visits and has labored to present a detailed account of Lincoln's experiences in the county, as well as their impact on the war. Beginning with the president's first two trips via steamboat in the spring of 1862, Conner proceeds to document Lincoln's subsequent visits leading up to the election of 1864.

"I have always admired the man," she said, "but only now do I fully realize how positive of an impact he had on his troops." She added, "Through my studies, I discovered another Abe Lincoln, a man of real compassion, who was often found sitting by the bedside of the wounded."

Lincoln did much more than just cheer up the sick and injured while in Stafford. His mission was to raise the morale of the entire Federal army. These trips came at critical times during the conflict when the Union forces needed encouragement more than any other provision.

Over the course of these trips, the president visited Chatham and reviewed several thousand troops in the fields near the rear of the house. He also witnessed the largest cavalry review in the history of mounted troopers and engaged in diplomatic pleasantries with visiting European dignitaries. Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, accompanied him and noted how appreciative her husband was of the everyday soldier's sacrifice. Lincoln benefited from these motivational jaunts too and later said, "It was a great relief to get away from Washington and the politicians."

Working from primary sources including soldiers' letters, journals, newspaper articles, war correspondents' notes, drawings and photographs, Conner also consulted with other Lincoln biographers and local history experts. In the "Acknowledgments section" of her book she specifically thanks John Hennessy, chief historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park, as well as Chatham NPS scholars Eric Mink and Don Pfanz.

She also credits D.P. Newton and his mother Polly, from the White Oak Civil War Museum. Conner recalled spending countless hours at White Oak, pouring over the museum's archives and notebooks. "Every time that I saw the name Lincoln," she said, "I copied the transcripts down. When I had finished, I had more than enough reference material for a book."

Residents of Stafford, Spotsylvania and Fredericksburg will most certainly be appreciative of Conner's efforts as "Lincoln in Stafford" presents an intimate portrait of the president as he stepped beyond the confines of the White House and traveled out into the field.

Throughout the course of this project, Jane Conner has maintained the same enthusiasm that she shared as a teacher with her students back in the classroom. "My biggest goal is to make Stafford history come alive," she said, "for all the people who may not be aware of the special place in which we live."

Conner also hopes that the attention given to her books will lead other aspiring authors to explore the history of Stafford County for themselves. "Stafford is a place with many, many stories," she said "and they all deserve to be shared."

Jane Hollenbeck Conner's "Lincoln in Stafford" is published by Parker Publishing LLC. The book is a 96-page paperback with 62 illustrations and photographs. It includes an exclusive map of the Stafford County area, highlighting specific areas of interest from President Abraham Lincoln's travels, many of which no longer exist. It retails for $12.95 and 100 percent of the profits are donated to the Stafford County Museum Fund.

BOOK SIGNINGS: Jane Conner will sign copies of "Lincoln in Stafford" at the following locations:

  • Sat. Dec. 2, 1-5 p.m., Borders Books, 1240 Stafford MarketPlace
  • Sun. Dec. 3, 1-4 p.m., White Oak Civil War Museum, State Route 218, Stafford
  • Thurs. Dec. 7, about 11:30 a.m., following APVA meeting, Central Rappahannock Regional Library, 1201 Caroline St., Fredericksburg
  • Fri. Dec. 8, 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Stafford County Administration Building lobby
  • Sat. Dec. 9, 11:30 a.m.- 2 p.m., Olde Virginia Gourmet and Gifts, North Stafford Shopping Plaza, 261 Garrisonville Road, Stafford
  • Sun. May 20, 2007, Chatham (145th anniversary of Lincoln's visit)

STORES: In addition to the locations above, "Lincoln in Stafford" is also available at the following locations:

  • Beck's Antiques and Books, 708 Caroline St., Fredericksburg
  • Belmont/Gari Melcher's Museum, 224 Washington St., Falmouth
  • Chatham Manor, 120 Chatham Lane, Stafford County
  • County Fare Restaurant, across the street from Stafford Courthouse

MICHAEL AUBRECHT is a Civil War author and historian who lives in Spotsylvania County. For more information, visit his Web site at... Send e-mail to his attention to gwoolf@freelance




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