Graffiti is now a fairly common part of our culture’s dialogue, but did you know soldiers in the Civil War also tagged, doodled, and conversed with one another on walls? Inside a two-story home in Virginia, historians are slowly uncovering one of the largest collections of Civil War graffiti that has ever been found.
Now known as the ‘Graffiti House,’ the home served as a field hospital for the Confederacy around the time of the Battle of Brandy Station and later became a headquarters for Federal forces. Soldiers from both sides signed their names and drew inscriptions on the walls during the war, resulting in a collection of over 200 individual pieces that cover the upstairs rooms from floor to ceiling.
“Yanks caught hell,” reads one 1863 inscription. Later, a Yankee trumped the declaration with a huge, showy tag that claims the territory for the “Army of the United States of America.” Back in the day these guys didn’t have spray paint, sharpies or wheat paste: instead they used soot from a chimney to do their scrawling and scribbling. It’s amazing to think that several layers of wallpaper and paint preserved their work.
Similar graffiti can be found in churches, courthouses and private homes in towns where battles were waged, but much of it has been lost of the years. At the Graffiti House, some rooms sit half uncovered as archaeologists slowly restore the collection of caricatures, messages, autographs and inside jokes. Downstairs, the tradition continues in the “Hall of Honor,” where visitors (including some descendants of soldiers) can sign their names and leave messages just as our forefathers did.
The Graffiti House is located just outside of Culpeper, Virginia in Brandy Station, making it an easy day trip from Shenandoah National Park. Check their website for visiting times, as the volunteer-run attraction has limited hours.
[Photo by Libby Zay]