We were up and out the door earlier than usual yesterday to explore historic Fredericksburg, Virginia. Established in 1728, this friendly and charming little city on the banks of the Rappahannock River was an important commerce center during Colonial days, when ships traveled upriver from the coast to load up on locally grown tobacco, bound for Europe.
George Washington grew up in Fredericksburg and his mother, Mary Ball Washington, is buried there. American president James Monroe also lived in Fredericksburg, as did Revolutionary War general Hugh Mercer. Another notable to call Fredericksburg home, was John Paul Jones. Even more famous people spent time in the city over the years, from military leaders, to explorers, political figures, and leaders in commerce and industry.
During the Civil War, Fredericksburg suffered terribly when Union and Confederate troops clashed on December 11-15, 1862. Much of the town was laid to waste in the brutal fighting, in which the northern troops suffered 12,653 casualties killed and wounded, while Confederate losses were 5,377.
A second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863. Even today, several homes and businesses in the town show the effects of the fighting, and more than one still has cannon balls embedded in its walls.
We parked at the Visitor Center and took the Trolley Tour. Our guide, Mark, gave us a good overview of the town and the battle.
There are many handsome homes in Fredericksburg, including Kenmore, the home of George Washington’s sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and her husband, Fielding Lewis. Lewis, once a successful merchant, invested his entire fortune in building muskets for the Continental army. He went bankrupt after the Revolutionary War, because the new nation didn’t have the money to pay him.
Hugh Mercer was a physician and a personal friend of George Washington, who appointed him a Brigadier General in the Continental army. Mercer was killed at the Battle of Princeton in January, 1777, when his horse was shot out from under him. British troops mistook him for Washington and ordered him to surrender. Instead, Mercer drew his sword and charged at them, suffering seven bayonet wounds. Today visitors to Fredericksburg can tour Mercer’s Apothecary and learn about how medicine was practiced in Colonial days, including seeing live leeches, which were used in a process called bleeding.
This memorial honors Sergeant Richard Kirkland, the Angel of Marye’s Heights. During the worst of the fighting in the Battle of Fredericksburg, the brave young Confederate soldier risked his life to bring water to wounded Union soldiers who were laying out in the open between the battle lines. The young soldier made repeated trips in the face of certain death to help men who had been trying to kill him only hours before. Amazed at his courage and compassion, both sides stopped shooting to allow him to complete his mission of mercy. When he finished and crossed back over the Confederate line, soldiers and officers on both sides cheered him. Less than a year later, the valiant young soldier was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. He was one month past his 20th birthday when a Yankee musket ball hit him in the chest.
The Confederate dead from the fighting in Fredericksburg are buried in this cemetery, while Union soldiers are interred in a National Cemetery a few blocks away. Many of the graves in both burying grounds are simply marked Unknown.
After our trolley tour, we stopped at the Battlefield Visitor Center to get our National Parks passes stamped, then crossed the river to tour Chatham, once one of the largest and most famous plantation homes of its time. Built in 1771 high on the bluffs overlooking Fredericksburg, the house was the center of a busy 1,228 acre plantation, and hosted such notables as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Clara Barton, and Walt Whitman over the years.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg, the Union army used Chatham as its headquarters, and artillery batteries shelled the town from its bluffs. Later Chatham was a pressed into service as a field hospital. Hundreds of wounded Union troops were brought to Chatham, which was turned into a house of horrors as men died minute by minute, and others were subjected to crude amputations to save as many lives as possible as quickly as the surgeons could work.
By the end of the war, Chatham was in ruins, and the once proud plantation never regained its former glory. Today Chatham is administered by the National Park Service, and visitors can tour the lower floors and grounds, then walk out to the bluffs to look across the river in wonder at how such a pretty scene could have once witnessed such suffering.
There is a lot more to see and do in Fredericksburg. A total of four major Civil War battles were fought within fifteen miles of the town, and the entire region is one big historical site. We hope to get back again before we leave the area.
Rain is predicted for today, so we plan to take it easy and stay home to rest. I’ll get some writing done, Terry has a crochet project she’s working on, and we’ll make plans for the rest of the week.
Thought For The Day – I may not have gone where I wanted to go, but I have ended up where I needed to be.