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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Battle re-enactors and spectators fill city streets

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg


As the Yankees were marching into downtown Fredericksburg, a few stopped at a road barricade on the corner of Frederick and Sophia streets to empty their boots, full of water from crossing the Rappahannock River.

“It felt like I was standing in a bucket,” said Dick Watters, a re-enactor with the 116th Pennsylvania volunteer infantry, part of the Irish Brigade. He said the recreated pontoon bridge built by Army National Guard engineers was about 8 feet short, meaning Union soldiers coming from Ferry Farm had to walk through some water to get to City Dock.

Union soldiers cross the river from Ferry Farm to City Dock, on a reconstructed pontoon bridge and boats

Watters joked that the water from his boots was enough for soup.

“Two soups for dinner!” said 9-year-old Nathan Guilbert, as he saw another re-enactor do the same thing.

A member of the 116th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry empties his boot of water from the Rappahannock

Nathan and his sister, Joanna, 7, were watching the Battle of Fredericksburg with their grandparents, along with hundreds of others who snapped photos and watched American history play out once again. Nathan hoped to see a special type of pistol that generals carried, while Joanna said she knew lots about the women of the time period.

Their grandmother, Jackie Kotowsai, a history teacher in Spotsylvania, said Joanna had been covering her ears and nose earlier as the troops were first beginning their attack into the city.

“I bet in the old days it would smell terrible,” Nathan said.

The frightening sounds of gunfire and canons led some small children to cry. Other parents were heard reassuring kids that this time, the men that dropped in the streets were not actually dead.

Fighting on Sophia Street

Meanwhile, between the morning and afternoon battles, tourists roamed the downtown streets. Many lined up at a stand outside Wally’s Homemade Ice Cream Shoppe, enticed by the smells of chili and brunswick stew. The sounds of battle continued in the background.

Spectators take a break between battles for lunch on Caroline Street

David Wasserman and his son Adam, 14, traveled from the D.C. area Friday night to stay in one of the city’s hotels.

“It’s just unusual to have a re-enactment taking place where the battle was originally fought,” said Wasserman, who has been to many re-enactments. Most of the time, they occur on nearby land. The father and son noticed many anachronisms Saturday morning, such as Confederates deploying off a school bus onto a street with moving traffic.

“You’re never in danger of thinking it’s a real battle,” Wasserman said.

Union soldiers advance on Sophia Street