The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Battle of Fredericksburg’s 150th to be big
BY CLINT SCHEMMER
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
As befits the single-biggest calamity to strike the community, the National Park Service will go all-out to give people a feeling for what the Battle of Fredericksburg—150 years ago this December—meant to people here and beyond.
All of the eight permanent historians at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park will help interpret the 1862 fighting, which brought the first urban combat, first amphibious crossing under fire, and first shelling of a city in American history.
Special events for the battle’s sesquicentennial will occupy seven days, starting Dec. 7, and include children’s programs, fireworks, music, walking tours, bus tours and a visit by Virginia’s HistoryMobile, the Park Service announced.
“We will be offering programs which we hope will serve the needs of not only Civil War buffs, but, also, those who may not have had an interest before,” park Superintendent Russ Smith said in an interview Wednesday. “We want all our visitors to see themselves in the Battle of Fredericksburg.”
On Sunday, Dec. 9, it will be hard not to notice the occasion as fireworks re-create some of the sound and fury that Fredericksburg felt when Union artillery shelled the town in an attempt to subdue Confederate troops before the battle.
The display will simulate the 100 rounds a minute that exploded during the Dec. 11, 1862, bombardment as some 150 cannons atop Stafford Heights rained rounds down on the Rappahannock River port.
The crescendo begins at 1 p.m. that Sunday in the city’s Riverfront Park as park interpreters lead a public procession through the streets to the foot of Marye’s Heights, walking in the footsteps of some of the advancing Union soldiers. As people move quietly along the route, church bells will toll to honor the soldiers—from North and South—who died in December 1862.
The procession will stop along the way for a brief program, then cross what was the Bloody Plain—the battle’s fearsome killing ground—to the Sunken Road. There, participants will place flowers on the famous stone wall.
At 3 p.m., the program will culminate with a program of “music, reflection, the names of some of those who died, and the words of those who were there,” the Park Service said.
The 150th anniversary programming will far outstrip the park’s regular interpretive offerings, Smith said, letting visitors explore the battle and its effects on the community from many angles, in a short time.
Fredericksburg, he noted, is where an American city became a battlefield for the first time.
Rangers “view the 150th anniversary as an opportunity to tell the story of not only what happened here, but why it happened and how the battle altered the lives of both soldiers and civilians forever,” Smith said.
Of the special events the park has announced, he said, “This is just a preview of what’s to come. We’re still developing programs, still fleshing out this skeleton.”
The anniversary weekend will bring other commemorative events hosted by re-enactment groups, Ferry Farm and Historic Fredericksburg Foundation Inc. Re-enactors portraying Union troops will camp at George Washington’s boyhood home in Stafford County and stage part of their pontoon-boat crossing of the river; Confederate re-enactors will camp at Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania County.
And HFFI will host special visits to Brompton and Braehead, two of the city’s finest pre-war homes, on its Christmas Candlelight Tour.
In actuality, the battle took place a few days later, between Dec. 11 and 15. On those days, park historians will lead special “real time” tours of the battlefield in the very moments and places—150 years earlier—when and where the events transpired.
Dec. 11 tours will cover Chatham and the river’s upper pontoon crossing, the City Dock and the middle pontoon crossing, and deadly street fighting on Hawke and Princess Anne streets.
On Dec. 12, tour participants will learn about the Union army’s looting and bombardment of the town.
On Dec. 13, the battle’s zenith, park historians will lead tours about the early assaults on the Sunken Road, the breakthrough at Prospect Hill in Spotsylvania, and the hopeless charges against Marye’s Heights.
Anniversary programs conclude Dec. 15 with tours of the Yerby house site, Franklin’s Crossing in Spotsylvania and hospital sites in Fredericksburg.
All the park-sponsored events are free, except for for bus tours, which cost $20.
Walkers are encouraged to dress warmly and wear comfortable shoes, especially for the Chatham, Bernard’s Cabins, Franklin’s Crossing and Yerby house tours, which cross uneven terrain.
For details, visit www.nps.gov/frsp/sesquicentennial.htm.
ON THE NET:
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029