Virginia Guard helps Union re-enactors cross river, this time around
By RUSTY DENNEN
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
To cross the Rappahannock River for the Battle of Fredericksburg, Union Army engineers used horses, wagons and manpower to carry wooden pontoon boats to the water while Confederate snipers relentlessly picked them off.
Union re-enactors of that Dec. 11, 1862, crossing from Stafford County will have a much easier time today on a floating steel bridge erected by Army National Guard engineers using big trucks, a small fleet of boats and cellphones to communicate.
And no one was taking pot shots at them from the Fredericksburg shore.
“This is definitely a lot different than how they did it during the Civil War,” said 1st Lt. Marianne E. Heldmann, commander of the Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company, which spent most of Friday moving the bridge sections to a staging area off Ferry Farm below City Dock. It was a combination training opportunity and history encounter.
The unit has a link to the Civil War. Its headquarters component, the 276th Engineer Battalion, traces its lineage back to the Confederate 1st Virginia Regiment, which saw action in Fredericksburg.
It was a strange scene Friday. Modern soldiers with Confederate ties building a bridge for Union re-enactors to attack a Southern city.
Heldmann said it was a great opportunity for the troops.
“This is an important training event for us; we get to work with so many civilian agencies,” she said at the staging area at Little Falls Run Landing on the Stafford County shore.
Erecting the bridge sections on a flowing river, she added, is more complicated than doing the job in a lake at Fort A.P. Hill.
About 120 troops from the Caroline County unit gathered at the Little Falls Run landing with Army-green 5-ton trucks loaded with bridge sections and the boats needed to push them upriver to the City Dock.
The Improved Float Bridge components were unloaded at the landing. Each one unfolded into a 22-foot section of bridge as it hit the water. Four bridge boats, brought in from the Bowling Green Armory, guided the sections to a spot in the river where they were connected for the 45-minute trip upstream.
“When you get to the location, you build a few pieces at a time. You pick a side” and get started, said Sgt. Daniel Corbin of Bowling Green.
Early today, they’ll build the bridge across the river to a spot on the Fredericksburg shore a few-hundred feet downstream from City Dock.
Onlookers on Friday gathered along the shore on both sides of the river to watch the project.
Among them was Carol Polkinghorne of Fairfax, in town for the weekend with the Dixie Rose Relief Society.
“It’s a ladies’ aid society, which shows what women and children were doing during the war,” she said, standing on the Fredericksburg side. “This weekend, we’ll probably be refugees running from Yankees.”
On the Stafford side, Union re-enactors, surrounded by a gaggle of spectators, prepared two pontoon-boat replicas specially built to re-create the landing of the 89th New York Infantry Regiment. The replicas will be on display at Ferry Farm.
During the 1862 crossing, the New Yorkers paddled their pontoons across the river, while under fire, gaining a foothold for the floating bridges that followed.
Also helping with the weekend’s events are about 30 volunteers with the Virginia Defense Force.
And 75 members of the Company A, 1st Battalion of the 69th Infantry of the Army National Guard of New York will rededicate the Irish Brigade Monument at City Dock.
They will stand alongside members of the Irish Defense Forces. Company A is in Virginia for training at Fort A.P. Hill.
Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431