Monday, August 17, 2015

Fredericksburg Battlefield Tour

The greater Fredericksburg area was actually the scene of four Civil War battles: Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Chancellorsville, and the Wilderness. Over 100,000 men fell in the four battles. Entrance to all four battlefields and the Fredericksburg National Cemetery are included in your pass to Historic Fredericksburg.

You can watch the 22 minute video in the Visitor Center either before or after your guided tour. Because of timing, we took the tour first, then visited the small museum in the basement of the center. Finally, we watched the video. It worked for us, but be sure to check with the rangers to find out what time the tour is leaving the center.

 Our guide was an out-of-state volunteer who donates his time every year to give tours of the battlefield. You can’t fault that kind of passion. About 20 people were in our group and there is walking involved. Because we followed the Sunken Road for much of the time, a wheelchair might be possible on this path.

We began by getting a brief history lesson about the battles that were fought in this area. It was at The Wilderness that Generals Lee and Grant first met. We learn about the Union Army and the difficulties Lincoln had his General McClellan, who built a fine army but never did anything with it. He defied Lincoln, mocked him behind his back, and was replaced by Ambrose Burnside. He did not have the love or faith of his troops, but he did come to Fredericksburg with a plan. 

He was to move quickly and take Fredericksburg and outrace Lee, who was in Richmond. Unfortunately, the promised pontoon boats were 10 days late, thus killing the element of surprise. Confederate snipers decimated the Union engineers trying to build a bridge, and in retaliation, the Union troops plundered the town of Fredericksburg. 

The inhabitants left everything behind; the army left nothing. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the population returned to its 1860s level. What we had finally was 120,000 Union troops and 78,000 Confederate facing each other at Mary’s Heights.

Different tours have different topics, and ours was The Sunken Road. The sunken road was exactly what it sounds like, a road lower than the level of the surrounding land, and in the battle of Fredericksburg, it was supplied, along with the stone wall, a lot of natural protection. The Confederates used it to their advantage. 

About 8,000 Union troops were slaughtered as they tried to cross 50 yards below the sunken road. We get a very graphic description of the carnage. This is the bloodiest landscape in North America. Hearing about it was one thing; watching the video made it much more real.

Part of the tour is visiting the Stevens House and the Richard Kirkland Memorial, both of which have fascinating stories attached. I leave it to you to visit and hear them.

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