A Review of the 150th Anniversary of Fredericksburg Reenactment and Commemoration
By: Charles Cummings – Editor of American Civil War Today
December 11, 2012
I had the pleasure of attending the 150 events for Fredericksburg this past weekend. It is worth saying straight away that the events are continuing until December 15th (the official 150 anniversary is from December 11 to 15). It is common that major events are done on the weekend before to allow more visitors to attend, as was the case here. I won’t go into the historical background and event format in this article, but you can listen to the podcast with the chairman of the event if you are interested in the historical background and event format.
The first thing that comes to mind when I think about this past weekend is just how unique the experience was. The event was unique because the battle was unique. As I learned over the weekend, the Battle of Fredericksburg was a battle of firsts. First bombardment of an American town by Americans, first amphibious crossing, first time a town became a battlefield, and more. What happened at the event? Saturday’s highlights included reenactments of the amphibious assault across the river, Union troops crossing a pontoon bridge (albeit the modern variety compliments of the Virginian National Guard, a reenactment of the city fighting, and finally a reenactment of Marye’s Heights. I felt that seeing a reenactment in a town was a really unique experience. Everyone was so close to the action, often merely feet away. It’s difficult for me to say how many people watched the reenactment; however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was in excess of 10,000. In addition to the reenactments on Saturday, the NPS offered some really great tours. I attended “Fire in the Streets” and “Across the Bloody Plain”. Both tours were led by very able NPS guides as we walked the footsteps of historical Union regiments. Finally, the evening was capped off with a 1 hour talk by the lead NPS historian on the “Ordeal of the Town”. Saturday was a very full day, with non-stop events from 8 AM to 8 PM. In fact, there were so many choices during certain times; one had to choose which events to attend.
Sunday, in fact, was the official commemoration event hosted by the NPS called “A Nation Remembers: Fredericksburg. A Culminating Event”. However, in the morning prior to this event, I attended a tour on the “Breakthrough at Prospect Hill”. The battle on the Union’s left flank, Confederate’s right, is often forgotten due to the terrible experience of Marye’s Heights. What is often forgotten is this part of the battle was actually Major General Burnside’s initial main focus. The NPS historian discussed in some detail about the battle plan and confusion which led to Major General Franklin only using 2 divisions initially out of the 65,000 men under his command, despite that fact that Major General Franklin was supposed to lead the main attack. Marye’s Heights was meant to be a divisionary attack to hold Lieutenant General Longstreet’s corps in place. I won’t go into additional detail here. However, if you get a chance to visit Fredericksburg, be sure to visit Prospect Hill and talk to an NPS historian about this often forgotten part of the battle. The official commemoration was from 1 to 4 PM. We met at river, were each given a rose to represent a casualty, and followed the Union and Confederate reenactors, the modern units from New York and Virginia that fought in the battle, and representatives from Ireland (to represent the Irish Brigade), in the footsteps of Union soldiers to the Sunken Road. At the Sunken Road, the NPS led us in a 1 hour ceremony which included music, songs, and historical readings from eyewitnesses of the battle. At the end of the ceremony, a modern gun salute was done by modern artillery, and we each places a rose on the stone wall.