New Hope Church: Historic Place of Worship and Battlefield

Charlie Appleton Longfellow, son of acclaimed poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, fell wounded at a place called New Hope Church during the Mine Run Campaign in November 1863. The story of his injury and return home created the backdrop for senior Longfellow to pen a beloved Christmas poem/song, “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day.” Over the years, several authors have written for the ECW blog about historic events surrounding this story, and one of Meg Groeling’s posts on the subject is routinely featured every Christmas Day. This year with the release of a film called “I Heard The Bells” from Sight and Sound, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the Virginia location of the skirmish that set it all in motion.

New Hope Church. We already know what it looked like in 1863, thanks to this find that Chris Mackowski posted in 2018 along with basic locations of the church. But does anything exist at New Hope Church today? What is at the location now?

Library of Congress proved helpful with maps to pinpoint the historic location and then match that location to a modern road and site. Orange County maps and then looking along the Mine Run Campaign lines was a good start. Jedidiah Hotchkiss, famed mapmaker for “Stonewall” Jackson, had New Hope Church on one of his regional maps. The location was confirmed by another survey map.

Details from a Survey of Orange County Map – New Hope Church is in the bottom right of the image, along Plank Road. (https://lccn.loc.gov/2002627460)
Details from an 1871 Jed Hotchkiss map. Note the intersection with Old Wilderness Tavern at the far right. New Hope Church is toward the bottom of the image, to the left of Parker’s Store. (https://lccn.loc.gov/2005625186)

Next I opened Google. Some search results rehashed the now-popular Longfellow story, but with little grounding evidence for the place. Then I found a modern church. On their history page, it reads: 

“New Hope Baptist Church traces its roots to the 12th of June 1857, when a regular Baptist church was constituted, New Hope Meeting House, in Orange County, Virginia.  Several ministers were invited to attend the occasion, but only Melzi S. Chancellor attended.  After preaching a sermon suitable for the occasion, he went through the usual solemn and sacred services for such events, and afterwards, the members entered into and subscribed to [a church] covenant….”

This sign is on the porch roof, above the modern church’s front doors.

The history page on the church’s website goes on to explain that the that by 1858, the church had 50 members and was an active place of worship. Two years later, the church was established enough to begin supporting missionary efforts through financial donations. The first meeting structure was destroyed in 1860, but another church had been built by 1863 when it was taken over as a field hospital. Today, New Hope Baptist Church still has an active congregation and the current church building stands a little to the west of the original site. 

After confirming the location against the historic maps, I wanted to go see the place.  Heading west on Plank Road, I drove through The Wilderness, passed the intersection for Parker’s Store, and entered Mine Run territory. New Hope Baptist Church is hard to miss and I pulled into the parking lot to take a closer look. The modern structure has all the classic look of a country church for a Christmas card – very different from the 1863 appearance. I took a stroll through the adjacent cemetery. All of the old tombstones that I saw post-dated the Civil War, though some of the people would have been alive and living in the area during the fighting years.

New Hope Baptist Church, 2022.

I stood in the parking lot of a church, at the approximate location of a historic church, but I was also on a battlefield. Referring to Union General David M. Gregg’s official report:

“On the morning the 27th [November 1863], pursuant to orders from the major general commanding the Cavalry Corps, the division moved to Parker’s Store, passing on to the Orange plank road in advance of the Fifth Army Corps. At New Hope Meeting House the First Brigade, Col. J. P. Taylor commanding, met the pickets and first line of skirmishers of the enemy’s cavalry. Two squadron of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry and one of the First Massachusetts Cavalry dismounted, soon drove back this line. The enemy endeavored to check the advance by discharges of canister and shell from a piece of artillery, but uselessly. A section of Martin’s (Sixth New York) battery placed at the meeting house compelled the withdrawal of this piece. Additional squadrons of dismounted men were now moved upon the skirmish line, and the enemy rapidly driven a mile beyond the meeting house. At this point the enemy’s cavalry disappeared behind a line of infantry, which advanced to meet the line of the division; a battery of artillery opened from the enemy’s right. To check this advance, four regiments, the Third Pennsylvania, First Massachusetts, First Pennsylvania, and First New Jersey, were dismounted and moved to the front, and two sections of Martin’s battery placed in position close upon our line. This strong line of dismounted cavalry rushed upon the enemy, firing volleys from their carbines, and drove the infantry line to the cover of a dense woods and there held it at bay, Thirty-four prisoners were brought out and reported themselves as belonging to Hill’s corps.

“Major General Sykes, having joined me at this time, moved forward one of his divisions, and late in the evening my division retired within his lines. In this action, the regiments and battery of the First Brigade behaved most handsomely.

“The entire loss of the First Brigade was 2 officers killed and 5 wounded; 17 enlisted men killed and 59 enlisted men wounded, and 1 enlisted man missing.” (Official Records, Volume 29, Part 1 Reports, Pages 806-807)

Church site and battlefield now blends into one, holding many stories at one location. Here, during the Mine Run Campaign: 

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!



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