A few miles from where I grew up in Stafford County stands a place of worship where people gather every Sabbath: Hartwood Church. Originally organized in 1825, the building that stands today was constructed in 1858. Resting on high ground near the intersection of several roads, the lonely church would take on a strategic significance during the Civil War, as these thoroughfares provided access to oft-used fords of the Rappahannock River.
Captain Frank Hess of the 3d Pennsylvania Cavalry wrote of the area around the church: “The country here was well wooded. Much cleared land, having become too poor to raise crops, had been abandoned and on all this there had grown up a thick crop of scrubby pines, to dense to be seen through and at some places too thick to penetrate even on foot.”
Francis Adams Donaldson remembered that it was a “lovely little backwoods one story brick church, with a little square belfry, capable of seating about one hundred people, and is planted right in the primitive forest”.
This lovely little backwoods church would give its name to the largest battle fought in Stafford County when on February 25, 1863, Fitzhugh Lee’s Confederate horsemen struck the Union cavalry outpost stationed at the church (a full examination of the battle will be posted to the blog closer to the 150th Anniversary).
Following the Gettysburg Campaign after the Armies returned to Virginia, the church became the headquarters of the Third Cavalry Division, Army of the Potomac, commanded by Judson Kilpatrick.
The church has survived its war wounds-specifically the damage done to the interior by Union Soldiers-and the Presbyterian congregation remains active today.