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John Henry Myer
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

The Triumphs and Tragedies of John Henry Myer,    By John F. Cummings III

"In adversity and difficulties arm yourself with firmness and fortitude." -From the Latin

As the end of 1862 brought hostility to Fredericksburg, Virginia, the war for Southern Independence was by far surpassing all expectations on both sides of the Mason Dixon. Those that had greeted it with patriotic fervor in the previous spring, would soon see a harsh reality indiscriminately reaching both military and civilian targets. The "quick little war" that had been predicted, soldiered with "90 day troops", was not to be. This war would touch everyone. The Federal bombardment and subsequent looting of Fredericksburg sent terror through a civilian populace that could have little imagined their historic town as the epicenter of armed conflict. The boyhood home of George Washington would now bear witness to the power struggle deciding the future of the "United States" he labored to create.

One of Fredericksburgs citizens warrants recognition for his endurance under hardship and his role in bringing the future City of Fredericksburg out of the decay wrought by war. In his lifetime, John Henry Myer would come to know adversity and overcome its sorrows with great aplomb.

Immigrating from the Kingdom of Hannover in the 1840s, Myer settled in Fredericksburg, making his 1850 census appearance as a "saddler". Within a few years he purchased a substantial piece of property on the towns Market Square, living and working out of one address while serving as landlord to others. Abandoning saddlery in 1852, Myer would soon become renowned as a baker and confectioner. In 1853 the Myer home and business were ravaged by fire. Luckily, insurance was sufficient enough to allow him to rebuild. Between 1858 and 1865, three Myer children died before the age of two, all succumbing to "fits". In December of 1862, while John was serving in the Confederate army, his wife and young family would suffer the battle of Fredericksburg and the looting by Federal soldiers that followed. Their home was in the heart of Fredericksburgs business district, the target of some of the worst destruction. In May 1863, in an obvious effort to safeguard his family from further depredations of war, John Henry Myer purchased a 400-acre tract of land near Spotsylvania Court House, formerly known as "Bleak Hill", twelve miles south of town. Just like Wilmer McLean of Manassas to Appomattox fame, the Myer family would be stalked by the war as they sought refuge.

May 1864 brought North and South to the fields and orchards of the new Myer estate, and in the armies' wake the home and all out buildings were set to the torch. With his unit, the 40th Virginia positioned in a section of the Confederate line not two miles from the hill, Myer was undoubtedly able to view, with great anxiety, the plumes of smoke signaling the destruction of his home. Both armies would leave Spotsylvania on May 21, taking the fighting closer to Richmond. The following day, near the North Anna River, Myer was captured. Surviving a period as prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland, Myer returned to Fredericksburg where he reestablished his prewar business. He later formed a partnership with Frederick Brulle as a miller of flour. Their "Germania Mill" would become famous for the quality product they produced. In 1876 the mill caught fire, yet like the Phoenix, rose again the  next year, only to be eclipsed by the death of Myers wife in May. Surely John Henry Myer had the strength of Job.

 
 
John Henry Myer

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Courtesy of Anne Ligon

 
 
 
212 William Street

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Save Myer's Hill!
 
 

 
 
 
1101 Caroline Street  -  Where Myer Died
 
 

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Myer Family Plot

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Bottom 3 Photos by John F. Cummings, III

With his success as a merchant and despite the weight of his many tragedies, Myer found time and spirit to give back to his community, serving 30 years as a town councilman. As a new century approached, tragedy would not leave the doorstep of the Myer household. In February of 1884, daughter-in-law Annie Claiborne Myer died, seven months after giving birth to a daughter, Mary. The bereaved father would console his son John Henry Myer, Jr. They found solace in one another, thereafter noted as constant companions, "more like best friends". Fate would not allow Annies death to be the final, bitter footnote. John Jr. died prematurely of appendicitis in 1900 at the age of 48. Living now with his oldest daughter Mary, and her husbands family, the Eckenrodes, Myer longed for the peace of retirement from both business and public service. This came in 1906. Sadly, within three years, John Henry Myer would pass away, quietly in his sleep, after an attack of paralysis. The end came December 5, 1909 after 83 years, over sixty of which was spent in Fredericksburg. His obituary remembered him as "a man of strictest integrity, active and progressive in his business life, a member of the Presbyterian Church, a Mason and an honored citizen." " A Good Citizen Gone", ran the headline

Today, ironically, Myers name has passed into obscurity. Nothing heralds his achievements or draws attention to his memory. Life has continued for nearly another century in Fredericksburg and in those intervening years it appeared that not a single picture of the man survived. In the summer of 2000, after a year of exhaustive research, several photographs surfaced in a family collection. Most of the structures within the city that Myer owned or occupied still stand with the exception of the Germania Flour Mill which is a ruin in the old mill district. Myers greatest legacy was his grandson, Hamilton James Eckenrode, Historian for the State of Virginia and Virginia State Archivist. Eckenrode authored many well-respected titles including biographies of James Longstreet, Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was also the editor of the Southern Historical Society Papers between 1920 and 1930

The Myer property in Spotsylvania has been divided into smaller tracts, but the foundation of the home remains within a wooded 74-acre parcel. This land is currently destined to become a subdivision unless preservation groups can negotiate a deal to save it. What remains is perfect for future interpretation. A trail system and signage would present the story of both the military engagement and the civilian life that preceded it. The author of this article continues research on the fighting of May 14, 1864 as well as the life of John Henry Myer. A small archeological dig was conducted on the site in March and April of 2000, giving an indication of the extensive cultural resources that exist. It is the authors hope that one day soon this site will be accessible to the public. The author is currently working on a book about John Henry Myer, his life in Fredericksburg, and the fighting at Spotsylvania Court House.

Further information is sought and available through the Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association at P. O. Box 1964, Spotsylvania, Virginia, 22553.

Copyright 2000 by John F. Cummings III          Revised 10/10/00

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