Historic Point of Rocks gets its due

Chesterfield has gained another gem in its crown of historic sites. About 50 gathered in front of the Strachan House at Point of Rocks, last week, for a presentation of the deed ceremony.

Point of Rocks, not the recreational park R. Garland Dodd, but the location a half-a-mile east that has been an important place for man since area history has been recorded. (See history on this page.)

“It was a long time coming,” said George Fickett, who has been instrumental in the acquisition of the 30 acre parcel and future park as a member of the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia and a Civil War enthusiast. Mr. Fickett said there are a few other important historic sites left to save, “but they will never be as important as Point of Rocks.” He said that the purchase of Point of Rocks would be hard to beat.

The property has been purchased from the family of Evelyn C. Cox whose daughter Chrystal Monroe said her mother would be elated about the sale.  

“It’s been up and down and up and down, but it was worth it in the end,” said Ms. Monroe.

The house and property will be used as an interpretive center and will, at some point, be the jumping-off point for all Civil War sites in Chesterfield.

“My vision is to see Historic Point of Rocks become the hub to all of our other Civil War sites,” said Fickett. “In the beginning there will just be trails around the site with markers describing the site and what happened there. Later as funding becomes available a small museum/ visitors center for our Civil War sites. I believe there should be a main visitor’s center between I-95 and I-295 for the whole county then branch out from there.”

The 30-acre property went up for sale in 2006 and Fickett and the Historical Society went to work. The sales price was $724,000. As time passed, Parks and Rec joined in and helped to find the money to buy the extremely historic property.  With a $24,000 donation by the owners, a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program with matching funds from the county, the deal was done.

“We do have funding to do an initial renovation of the house to include paint/window repairs/foundation and floors so that we can make it weather tight,” said Mike Golden, Director of Chesterfield Parks and Rec. “We would hope to get that work underway this summer/fall.”

According to Fickett, there is a grand opening scheduled on November 2, 2013.  “It will be a great opening to a great historic site. The county Park and Rec have already given its first tour of the site in the van tours of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.”

Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle accepted the deed from Ms. Monroe during the Thursday ceremony and as Fickett said, Mrs. Cox would be very happy.

“I am glad I was able to be part of making a little old lady’s dream come true, said Fickett. “I know the family is very excited to see how we develop this historic site and are also glad their mother’s dream has come true.”

Early History
Point of Rocks takes its name from a 60-foot high sandstone cliff that stands along the Appomattox River. The site was used by Native American Indians and was mentioned by Capt. John Smith in his notes on Virginia. In 1642, Abraham Wood established a trading post there. The land was then passed to Wood’s heirs for 371 years, making Point of Rocks one of the oldest properties in the Country continuously owned by one family.

During the Civil War
At the time of the Civil War, Rev. John Alexander Strachan, founder of Enon Baptist Church, owned Point of Rocks. Strachan constructed a house on the property in 1841.

The first fighting at Point of Rocks took place on June 26, 1862, when a Union flotilla, including 12 gunboats and the ironclads Monitor and Gelena, attempted to reach the railroad bridge over Swift Creek, located just a few miles upriver. Pres. Abraham Lincoln personally ordered this attack because the destruction of the bridge would impede Confederate reinforcements and supplies coming up to Richmond from the south. Many of the Union ships were grounded during the attack. This, combined with heavy fire from the Confederates hidden among the banks, prevented the mission from being successful.

Point of Rocks Hospital
After the Army of the James arrived at Bermuda Hundred in May 1864, a union field hospital was established that Point of Rocks, consisting of tents set up by the orchard around the Strachan house. The house served as the surgeon’s quarters.

As the Bermuda Hundred campaign gave way to the Siege of Petersburg, the hospital further developed into a large complex that could hold more than 5,000 patients at a time. The hospital served the 18th core of the Army of the James, which included the United States colored troops. Patients were under the care of two women pioneers in the field of medicine, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and Harriet P. Dame. At a time when women were not allowed near the battlefields, Barton and Dame saw the war close-up in field hospitals. Barton served as a superintendent of nursing at Point of Rocks Hospital from June-August 1864.

A Union Cemetery was also established on the site, which contained the remains of more than 2,500 soldiers by the end of the war. After the war, the remains were moved to City Point National Cemetery, where the wall around the cemetery was constructed of stone quarried from the bluff at Point of Rocks.

Lincoln at Point of Rocks
On March 27, 1865, Lincoln, his wife Mary Todd, and sons Robert and Tad, visited point of rocks, along with General Grant and his wife Julia. Dr. Moses Greeley Parker escorted them on a tour of the hospital, later describing the visit in a letter

“The president looked over the hospital buildings without going into them. He seemed anxious and care worn. He said little and was very thoughtful and evidently wanted to be alone; for he soon left us, walking to the point of rocks and sat down under what was called the Pocahontas Oak. There he sat down toward our line of breastworks. Sometimes he placed his elbow on his knee and rested his head warily on his hand. Obviously he was thinking of something we knew not of. He had, in fact visited General Grant and probably knew what was about to take place,” wrote Dr. Greeley.

The fall of Petersburg and Richmond, Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination all took place within 18 days of the President’s visit to Point of Rocks.

After the war ended, Strachen and his family returned to Point of Rocks, and he spent the rest of his life there. The house is listed on the National State and County Register of Historic Places.

In 2013, the descendents of Wood and Strachen sold the property to Chesterfield County. The purchase was made possible by a grant from the American Battlefield Protection Program with funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund administered by the National Park Service. Matching funds were provided by the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and the Cox family. The Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia was instrumental in the effort. Historic Point of Rocks Park is the combination of years of work done by a dedicated group of volunteers from Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia and the children of Evelyn A. Cox, who wished to preserve her family’s land in its history for future generations.

History provided by Chesterfield Historical Society

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