Adapted from That Furious Struggle: Chancellorsville and the High Tide of the Confederacy by Chris Mackowski and Kristopher D. White
The Wilderness was once one of the must rugged parts of Virginia and would be the backdrop for two large battles during the Civil War—Chancellorsville in 1863 and The Wilderness in 1864. Despite its name, though, the Wilderness was not entirely wild. A number of small farms had been cut out of the rough, second-growth jungle and important roads and farm tracks plunged through the forest.
Chancellorsville, located at the intersection of Ely’s Ford Road and the Orange Turnpike, sat some 10 miles west of Fredericksburg. Despite the name, Chancellorsville was nothing more than a large brick home, sometimes used as a tavern and inn, built at an important crossroads that met in the eastern half of the Wilderness. The house was actually built in phases. Construction began on the original section in 1813. By 18616, the Chancellorsville Tavern, “large and commodious for the entertainment of travellers,” provided food and lodging for wayfarers heading up and down Ely’s Ford Road and the newly constructed Turnpike that ran toward Fredericksburg. In addition, the building later housed a post office. By 1835, a new wing, two-and-a-half stories tall, was built, and after that, a storage area was added.
The first owners of the house, George and Ann Chancellor, had originally lived across the road at Fairview. Following George’s death in 1836, the big brick house eventually moved out of the family possession, changing hands at least twice. However, the Chancellors would again reoccupy the house as renters in the early 1860’s, and Frances Chancellor and her six unmarried daughters reopened the inn for business.
War loomed on the horizon and would send armies crashing toward Chancellorsville, which would make the intersection the most important crossroads in America. On the third day of battle, flames would destroy the house. But in 1861—on the eve of war—it was just a crossroads with brick mansion in a clearing of the Virginia Wilderness.