During past centuries, Powhatan Indians, Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, President Abraham Lincoln and Red Cross founder Clara Barton all came to the place known as Point of Rocks. The unassuming house built there in the 19th century has a notable history because of its location on bluffs at a strategic bend of the Appomattox River in Chesterfield County.
At present the Point of Rocks house stands empty, awaiting a new owner and its next phase of history.
It was built in 1840 by Minister John Alexander Strachan, who preached at nearby churches. Family stories describe him traveling by rowing a boat with his "great brindle dog…sometimes swimming behind."
A century later, Strachan's descendent, Carolyn Cox Monroe, grew up in the house, and she and her sisters played in nearby woods. "We'd always find arrowheads and Minié balls," she says of the Civil War-era bullets. "As I got older, I realized these represented history of the house."
Point of Rocks is now on the National Registry of Historic Places.
On June 28, 1862, the Civil War arrived at Point of Rocks in the form of a two-hour battle; Confederate artillerists forced a Union crew to abandon its gunboat. Two years later, Strachan surrendered the property to Union Major Gen. Butler during his spring Bermuda Hundred Campaign.
"Butler was to land there, secure a base of operations, sever the rail link between Richmond and Petersburg, and move on Richmond," writes Scott Williams, a member of the Chesterfield County Historical Society, in a monograph for the house's application for its landmark status.
Confederate commanders Gen. George Pickett and Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard rushed troops into Butler's path, and battles at Drewry's Bluff and Ware Bottom Church forced him into defensive positions. Total casualties in May and early June exceeded 6,000 killed, wounded or missing.
That summer, Barton, a Union nurse and the Red Cross founder, arrived at Point of Rocks. She described it as "an over burdened and well conducted field hospital," where, in the 100-degree, fly-infested heat, some 500 "used up, wounded, worn out men" convalesced.
Barton directed nursing and diet for the United States Colored Troops, and she described them as "uniformly polite and soldierly. They are brave men and make no complaints. I am well satisfied they are not a class of men that an enemy would desire to meet on a charge."
In a letter to a Red Cross supporter, Barton wrote: "I have cooked ten dozen eggs, made cracker toast, corn starch blanc mange, milk punch, arrow-root, washed faces and hands, put ice on hot heads, mustard on cold feet, written six soldiers' letters home, stood beside three death beds — and now, at this hour, mid-night, I am too sleepy and stupid to write even you a tolerably readable scrap."
On March 27, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, along with Grant and his wife, Julia, inspected the Point of Rocks hospital. They ascended a signal tower, where they could see the busy depot of City Point and the white tents of Lee's army. Observer William Cook said Lincoln "really threw off the load that was on his mind and enjoyed the day."
After the war, Point of Rocks became a camp for freed slaves. Strachan petitioned the government to return his house, saying that he'd "done nothing during the rebellion that was in any way detrimental to the Federal Government."
"This land is my homestead," he pleaded, "the place of my birth and a lifetime residence…" In 1866, the Strachans returned to Point of Rocks, and the reverend stayed there until he died in 1873. The house remained with his descendants until the death seven years ago of Monroe's mother, Evelyn.
The Chesterfield Historical Society says that Point of Rocks could become an interpretive center for Bermuda Hundred Campaign in its next incarnation. "The Overland Campaign, and Cold Harbor, overshadow what happened in Chesterfield," Williams explains. "We could give it proper due at Point of Rocks."