A Confederate hand, long ago, scratched those words in charcoal on the wall of the Graffiti House. A Union hand came along later and wrote “United States of America,” with such flourish that the line from the “s” in States covered up the offending slogan. So it goes in Graffiti House, where multiple autographs, competing slogans, skillful portraits, and dates of significant events compete, mingle, and overlap on the walls. At the time, those idle hands couldn’t have known that their work would be preserved for future generations and provoke years of research and debate.
After being under the weather for nearly two weeks, it was exciting to get out again, even if it was just a 45 mile drive from home. Since it was Labor Day weekend, I didn’t have the luxury of solitude this time. Even so, it was still exciting to stand and gaze at the graffiti left by Civil War Soldiers. Battlefields are cool, but its hard to get a feel for a place and time when gazing out at an empty stretch of land. I feel a connection to the past with artifacts and architecture, and the Graffiti House has both.
Graffiti House was constructed in 1858 by John A. Stone, postmaster of Brandy Station, Virginia. The house was moved from a spot near the railroad to its present location, and may have once been used for railroad business. During the Civil War, the house was first used as a way station for soldiers, then during the Battle of Brandy Station the house served as a field hospital. Both Union and Confederate Soldiers left their marks of the walls while recovering from their wounds. Brandy Station is significant not only for the Graffiti House, but also for June 9th 1863. On that date, the largest cavalry battle ever fought in North America happened right at Brandy Station, (sometimes called the Battle of Fleetwood Hill). General J.E.B. Stuart (whose autograph is still visible in the Graffiti House) and his 9,500-man cavalry division faced off with 8,000 Federal cavalryman and 3,000 Northern troops. The battle raged on all day, and ended with a total of nearly a fifteen-hundred casualties. Although Stuart claimed the battle was a victory, the battle marked the end of the Confederacy’s cavalry dominance. The Graffiti House served as a hospital for both Union and Confederate soldiers during the battle of Fleetwood Hill. Many of the charcoal drawings date from this time. Walking into the three rooms of the house (Marshall, Bowman, & Stuart rooms) feels like walking back in time to the Civil War. The first room on the tour is the Marshall Room, which contains the autographs of Lieutenant James Marshall, grand-nephew of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Michael Bowman, 7th Virginia Cavalry, and Robert O. “Bo” Peed. Some even say that George Custer passed through Brandy Station, and left his initials G.C. on the wall with great flourish. One of the most interesting drawings is that of a confederate soldier with moustache. The next room is named the Bowman Room, for Sergeant Allen Bowman of the 12th Virginia Cavalry. Unfortunately, one of the previous owners sold several sections of graffiti out of this room, including several detailed portraits. Only the photographs survive today. The “Dancing Lady” managed to survive intact, although historians have determined that she is not dancing, but rather holding up her skirts while crossing the mud to visit her Officer husband at Brandy Station. She must have made quite an impression on the soldiers at Brandy Station in order for them to record her visit on the wall in charcoal. The final room in the Graffiti House is called the Stuart Room. This room is the most historically significant room in the house. In addition to the “yanks caught hell” quote covered by “United States of America,” there was once a scroll on the wall which is called the Maryland scroll. This scroll listed the soldiers from Maryland who were assigned as the crew of a Confederate artillery piece. This scroll was cut out of the wall and sold, but was later returned to Graffiti House. This room also contains the possible autograph of J.E.B Stuart, and a primitive figure holding a dagger above the quote “J Davis, good on the boots.” Historians think this refers to a patriotic envelope in circulation during the Civil War that depicted Abraham Lincoln kicking Jefferson Davis in the rear. Graffiti House is not the only attraction in the area. The town of Culpeper is only a few miles away and has a Civil War battlefield driving tour, a museum, and several historic monuments. There are also several historic homes in Brandy Station (not open to the public), and right next door to the Graffiti House is the enigmatic Fleetwood Church, constructed in 1880, but left in such a state of decay today that the structure in unsafe to enter. Graffiti House, Brandy Station, and Historic Culpeper are about 45 miles North of Charlottesville on Route 29. Graffiti House is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9-4 and admission is free.