Between the ill-fated campaigns of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the Union Army of the Potomac spent the winter months of 1862-1863 encamped across the whole of Stafford County, Virginia. There are countless landmarks noted in the diaries, memories and letters of those Soldiers. One of the best known is the White Oak Primitive Baptist Church.
Located just off State Route 218 in the eastern section of the county, the church was founded in October 1789. Sometime in the 1830s, the word “Primitive” was removed from its title. This was due to members of the congregation breaking away from many of the traditional Baptist doctrines. Many of the church’s African-American members were or had been slaves at nearby Chatham Plantation.
It would be the Sixth Corps that drew the assignment of camping in the area surrounding the church. The structure itself sat in a grove of white oak trees, which made drilling difficult for the Union Soldiers. Daniel Holt, a Surgeon in the 121st New York Infantry wrote: “We are in the vicinity of this venerable church if such a name can be with propriety be applied to an edifice not so good looking as my barn and wood shed. The structure is a large one story frame without steeple, spire or anything to mark its being a house of worship. Indeed it looks like a great barn, with too few windows to afford light even for that; with an exterior which never knew a painter’s brush-not even white washing; at best it never had even a passable appearance, and now that troops are quartered in it and horses occupy one end…with clapboards off as high as a man can reach, it presents anything but a neat or decent appearance”.
White Oak Church still stands today, not so much as a house of worship, but as a monument to the many men who spent several months of their lives in dreary, winter quarters nearby.