“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana. This is just one reason why the National Park Service is dedicated to preserving and protecting the land where pivotal battles of the Civil War took place.
Over the course of 18 months, the Union army staged three major campaigns across the rivers near Fredericksburg, Va. The battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House amassed more than 105,000 casualties.
The Battle of Fredericksburg took place Dec. 11–15, 1862, and included the first urban warfare for United States forces. Today, guests can traverse the “Sunken Road at Fredericksburg” to get a sense of the battle.
John Hennessy, chief historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, describes it as “the most-used walking trail, fully interpreted by wayside exhibits, house sites, and the famous monument to Richard Kirkland, a Confederate soldier known for his humanitarian acts during the war.”
During the Fredericksburg Campaign, a Georgian-style mansion known as Chatham served as a Union headquarters, hospital, and soup kitchen. Today, visitors can tour the home, which contains five rooms of exhibits and serves as the park headquarters. Films provide information on the history of the mansion and the civilian war experience, and guests can also view a preserved portion of the original walls where soldiers left graffiti.
The fighting continued May 1–5, 1863, in Chancellorsville. Start at the visitor center on Plank Road in Spotsylvania to watch a film before taking the trail that leads to interpretive signs and a monument to Stonewall Jackson, who lost his life to friendly fire during the battle.
Elsewhere, visitors can walk ruins of Catherine Furnace, which are all that is left of the Civil War-period iron-making facility. The Chancellorsville History Trail winds through the north end of the battlefield, covering more than 4 miles.
Best known as the first clash between Grant and Lee, this battle took place May 5–6, 1864. For two days, the armies fought not only each other, but also the dense woods and underbrush known as “The Wilderness.”
The area is home to Ellwood Manor, built around 1790. The home served as a headquarters and is open to the public during the spring, summer, and fall seasons.
Spotsylvania Court House
From the Wilderness, the fighting moved to Spotsylvania Courthouse, May 8–21, 1864. Today, visitors can traverse the trail at the Bloody Angle and learn more about the war’s most intense hand-to-hand close combat. There, they can view the rolling landscape and the gentle mounds that remain of trenches once dug by soldiers during combat.
“The trail is not only popular and well interpreted, but to my mind, is one of the most compelling landscapes on the continent,” said Hennessy.
For those who prefer a more customized experience, Hallowed Ground Tours offers tours lasting 2 1/2 hours and longer. Historian Scott Walker tailors his excursions to both individual and group interests. Personal, in-car, or bus step-on service is available for in-depth tours highlighting local history from the area’s Colonial past through the Civil War era and beyond.
“We on the Hallowed Ground crew enjoy showing visitors the many layers of history that are here,” said Walker.
Battlefield information: nps.gov/frsp
Spotsylvania Co. Tourism: visitspotsy.com
Fredericksburg Tourism: visitfred.com