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Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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Dutch correspondent sizes up Fredericksburg and the Civil War

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

National Park Service historian Frank A. O’Reilly talks with Marten Kolsloot of the Algemeen Nederlands Persbureau, one of the 10 reporters and broadcasters touring the 1862 Fredericksburg battlefield’s stone wall and Sunken Road on a July 7 visit hosted by the U.S. Department of State’s Washington Foreign Press Center. (Photo by Pete Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star)

Kolsloot wrote this piece for his media organization, reporting on a State Department-hosted visit Thursday to the Fredericksburg battlefield–both the Sunken Road and Slaughter Pen Farm on its north and south ends, respectively. Founded in 1934, ANP is the largest news agency in the Netherlands.

America struggles with war history

Translated from Dutch, 9 July 2011

FREDERICKSBURG–The American Civil War began 150 years ago and this year being celebrated this summer. Americans are still struggling with the memory of the struggle that led to the abolition of slavery.

The north, the Union, fought from 1861 to 1865 against the South, the Confederacy. After the war, slavery was abolished. The history of slavery was long covered up. At the war memorials fifty years ago, slavery was the topic avoided. ‘It was still too sensitive,” said Superintendent Russ Smith of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Park.

Smith told the story of Fredericksburg battlefield, where in December 1862 some 20,000 soldiers died in one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Only a re-built stone protection wall commemorates the battle.

This year slavery is a central theme in telling the war story, though not everyone accepts that. Many people in the U.S. will say they fought not for slavery but for the rights of their state,” said Smith.

He is careful, though. “We try not to convert people, but start a discussion. We tell the story as we see it and hope that visitors understand that,” said the park manager. “It’s not easy for someone to explain that his family fought for slavery.”

In Fredericksburg there is an auction block where slaves were auctioned, still visible.

The battlefield around Fredericksburg covers tens of square kilometers and attracts tens of thousands of people every year. Since the Second World War battlefields threatened by the growing population included areas around Washington, D.C. The national parks do not possess all the land of the battlefields and so could be developed. This is occurring amidst an economic crisis.

Clint Schemmer, local newspaper journalist at the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star said, “People have short memories.”

Supermarket chain Wal-Mart recently proposed a retail building on Wilderness near the Fredericksburg battlefield. The Civil War Trust, a lobbying group that tries to preserve battlefields, succeeded together with local residents to stop the building. Walmart abandoned the site and agreed to move.

“We are not against development, but asked the store to move a few miles, so as to preserve this hallowed ground for the public,” says Nicholas Redding, a member of the Civil War Trust.

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