St. George’s Civil War – Part 9 – Aftermath and Conclusion

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James Gardner, Princess Anne St, May, 1864
James Gardner, Princess Anne St, May, 1864

The war ended in 1865 leaving Fredericksburg in disarray, affecting all life within. John Hennessy, National Park chief historian of Fredericksburg, writes “By war’s end, the community had been transformed, physically (more than 80 buildings destroyed – just under 10% of the city), economically (personal wealth dropped by more than 70%), and socially (thousands of slaves seized freedom). The experience left behind bitterness for white residents that took decades to heal.” 

Local historian Paula Felder quoted a letter in the Baltimore Sun after the battle describing St. George’s saying “Fredericksburg presents a most desolate appearance – -nearly every prominent building is more or less pocked-marked with shot, shell and mini-balls. The tall costly spire of the Episcopal Church is perforated with 17 shot shells.”  (Some damage may show on the louver in the picture at left)

Given the bombardment during the battle and the obvious target of the church, it is amazing that the Church did not sustain more damage. The 12 year old building still had its steeple and its pews intact. Captain William C. Barnett wrote a poignant memoir which appeared of this fact in the Free Lance-Star of November 8, 1889:  “On the night preceding the bombardment, the tall spire of the church loomed like a spectre to the soldiers of The Army of the Potomac camped across the river. Regularly from the belfry came the solemn record of the hour resounding among the hills. Driven by frayed nerves and tension, one officer vowed that ‘The first shot he put in the city should pass through that clock.’ but the clock survived three days of battle, though in the din of cannonade its tolling could not be heard. On the night of December 14th as the Federal troops retreated back across the river under an injunction of silence, they suddenly heard the sound of the clock of the church ringing out the hour of two—it took up the thread of its monotonous story, ringing out as though  exalting with the victors, while the distant hills echoed back in solemn requiem.”

Still, the Church was faced with a sizeable repair effort negatively affected by declines in the local economy.  While the damage was not as severe as its neighbors, it took five years to bring the church back to its prewar state.

At the end of the war, the church faced other challenges such as finding funds to hire a rector and meeting the Vestry.  The Church had been closed for most of the war from  late 1862 until late 1864  At that point Miss Mary Thom collected funds to support a provisional rector, the Reverend Magruder Maury, a Fredericksburg native, and services were resumed on December 2, 1864 in today’s Sydnor Hall.

The Vestry resumed its meetings on Easter Monday, April 17, 1865, three days after Lincoln’s assassination.  It began a new Vestry book since the book sent to Richmond earlier in the war for protection had been presumably been destroyed by fires in Richmond at the time of its fall earlier that month. This Vestry would be meeting monthly instead of annually due to the extent of their work.  One of its first actions was to send Maury north to collect funds for “our dismantled sanctuary”. He obtained $514 in New York City and $900 in Cold Spring, New York with a promise of further aid. Maury was appointed a full rector in September, 1865.

Another important step was to appoint a Committee of Repairs under John Scott, B. S. Herndon, John Hayes (and later John Coakley) for the purpose of repairing the church “which was very much damaged by shot and shell in the bombardment of December 1862.”  The church measured its finances at that time from Easter to Easter as opposed to the end of the calendar year and would provided updates on progress annually at that time.

Over the next year, the following repair work was done by the committee by hiring various contractors:

  • 1. George Wroton, a local builder and architect, repaired the Church roof for $900 after Thomas Knox (owned today’s Kenmore Inn) bought 40,000 Cyprus shingles for $14 in Norfolk. Wroton was to do other work on the Steeple, dealing with “some breaches in the walls, by shot and shell and repairs of plastering and painting”:
  • 2. George Mullen repaired “the enclosure” for $73

  • 3. Scott and Bowring repaired Furnace $120

  • 4. D. Magee did tin work $83

  • 5. Mr. Reinz repaired the organ for $20

  • 6. By the summer of 1866, the Vestry urged the Committee to “proceed without delay” in repairs done to church “according to their best judgment.  At the same time in 1867 additional work had been completed:

  • 7. Taylor repairing gas fixtures $26.90
  • 8. McIntee repairing walls $82
  • 9. Keysor -Repair and painting steeple and placing a cross at the top $349

In August, 1868, the Vestry noted that the Diocesan Council would be meeting there in 1869 and the “unsightly and unsafe” ceiling needed to be repaired and another committee was appointed to supervise.  By November, 1868, there were $500 in other expenses and a projection of an extra $1,000 to put the church in proper repair” and to provide a new furnace.  Assuming this cost totaled $1500 (detailed treasury records missing), the total cost to repair the war damage was $3,164 from 1865-1868. (By 1870, another $1500 was needed for repairs but it was not clear whether this was specifically war damage). The $3,164 costing the church would be worth $43,000 in 2009 dollars.

How to pay for the expense?  The collection process was very different from our time. Prior to the war church  offerings were not used for church expenses – only for its charity and missions.  Parishioners had always paid the ministers salary separately to the treasurer. The need was so great now that another source was required as well as a more consistent source of funds.  Thus, an unexpected outcome of the war was that it changed forever the way the church managed its finances.

One new source was the Pew tax. A Pew tax of $5 was applied on each pew “to defer incidental expense” in September, 1865. A committee was established in April 1866 a year to provide a more permanent base. They decided on a levee of $20 on each in lieu of voluntary subscriptions (special collections) to support the minister and for defraying incidental expenses. The committee would have the power to rent out delinquent pews. In addition, a separate collection would be made on the 3rd Sunday to pay the debt on the rectory was just under $1300

When the financials were compiled in Easter 1867, the Pew Tax had raised $977 of total collections of $1,944. There was subscription to a “Contingent Fund and Repairs of $402.  The church was able to balance its books with $26.57 in cash left.

The Pew tax was to defray smaller expenses but larger expenses in 1867 were looming that would reach beyond these. In May, 1867, Vestry was to call upon members for a collection for church expenses. They also took a special collection to repair the ceiling – collection for this was taken in the last Sunday and “upwards of $300” taken.

There may have been some legal criticism of the Pew tax.  A separate committee was established in 1868 “to take legal advice on pew tax for both ministry support and to defray the current expenses of the church.”  In March 1869, at Easter the Church did have small cash balance remaining.  Apparently, the Pew tax of $20 was reduced it to $5 in April, 1869 at the time a second financial initiative began. Was it too high ? Was there a legal challenge?  

The second financial initiative was the idea of weekly collections to avoid resorting to endless subscriptions. It was advanced in  November, 1868  to cover the $1500 in cost in the ceiling and other expenses.  Eventually it grew into what became known as the “Envelope System”, the beginning the concept of a weekly pledge and was the second major financial initiative.  A bag would be passed and parishioners would contribute funds in an envelope which would cover the “parochial expenses” or “the rector’s salary, the sexton’s hire, fuel lights, insurance, repairs, and church debts.”  

A committee of 3 was established April, 1869 to construct a list of “such persons as should be called to contribute to the support of the church” which became the weekly pledge for parochial expenses (salaries, utilities, insurance and repairs) .  The treasurer kept records and would be expected notify people past due that “punctual payment is expected.” When charitable gifts were needed the rector would notify the congregation.

In 1870, a committee of 3 was appointed to put out of special circular to the Church of the financial condition. They would go further and actually put out a budget for the “proper maintenance of the Church” and appeal to the congregation to “bring their contributions up to that amount.”  Additionally, they compiled a list of people that had failed to support the church and the Vestry was called upon to “urge them to contribute a specified sum every week.”

The Envelope system was a success. In June 1870, it was noted that it had produced a “larger amount with more punctionality of payment with more ease to the congregation.” Pledges of $2,270 had been made of which $2,055 was collected. The Pew tax of $661 was collected. With all sources and expenses, the church posted a surplus of $260.86.

The new financial sources and restoration work led the Vestry in 1870 to declare the Church “in the best shape since the war.” It must be said the church was not free of debt yet $1800 which included $1300 for the rectory.

Except for the memories the nightmare was over and the postwar period began for the Church. The Church  played three roles in the war – a brief time as a fortress on December 11, 1862 and a target during the fighting, as a center of revival in 1863 and then as a hospital twice – 1862 and 1864. Few other churches can cite this breadth of activity. 

The war had significant economic consequences on the church’s parishioners, uprooting the homes of several of its parishioners, including Mayor Montgomery Slaughter and long time Senior Warden Reuben Thom.  In addition, Slaughter had been one of 6 St. Georgians imprisoned with 13 others as political prisoners in Capital Prison in Washington in 1862.

While the properties could be repaired or replaced and lives restored, the Church permanently lost part of its institutional memory with the destruction of its 1817-1865 Vestry minutes book in Richmond. This may have been the most damaging and frustrating part of St. George’s Civil War for that time and beyond.