Fredericksburg… a most fascinating, architecturally pleasing, historical town. It is situated halfway between Washington DC and Richmond, Virginia, on the Rappahannock which made it strategically important to both sides of the Civil War. A town steeped in Revolutionary and Civil War history. A genteel town beautiful to behold. A town ravaged by some of the most hostile battles of the Civil War. A town in which to meander.
We viewed a brief film in the Visitor Centre before boarding the trolley tour. We have been extraordinarily lucky to have had some wonderful guides and our tour guide today was just so informative, at times it was hard to take in all the history of this once incredibly crucial port-town.
Caroline Street, the main street, has shops housed in quaint 18th and 19th century architecture – very pleasing to the eye. There are no department stores or chain stores in Fredericksburg. Bespoke clothing and curios shops line the way. We went to Goolrick’s – the oldest continuously operated pharmacy and soda fountain diner in the country. We splurged on a hot fudge sundae.
On the opposite side of the Rappahannock, high on the banks of the river, sits Chatham. Chatham was built in 1771 as a plantation with slaves working the fields. It was used for meetings with George Washington prior to the Revolutionary War. Over the years Chatham hosted Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, James Monroe and Dwight Eisenhower. In the Civil War it was used as the Union Army headquarters and hospital. It was stripped bare during the war and left in ruins. Subsequent owners restored the house but were unable to keep the fields. It is now in the hands of the National Parks Service.
From Chatham and the surrounding high ground cannon fire rained on Fredericksburg. Cannonballs are still imbedded in church buildings and homes throughout the city. Not far from the centre of town is Sunken Road. This was the site of a bloody skirmish which was renamed ‘murder’. Unionists were ordered to breech a sunken road which was ringed by a stone wall. Confederates had the high ground on the western hill and were able to slaughter the Unionists. Over 8,000 Union soldiers had been shot in front of the stone wall at Marye’s Heights. Many of those remaining on the battlefield from both sides were still alive, but suffering terribly from their wounds and a lack of water. Richard Kirkland (Confederate) gathered all the canteens he could carry, filled them with water, then ventured out onto the battlefield, giving the wounded Union soldiers water, warm clothing, and blankets. Soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies watched as he performed his task, but no one fired a shot. Kirkland did not stop until he had helped every wounded soldier (Confederate and Federal) on the Confederate end of the battlefield. Sergeant Kirkland’s actions remain a legend in Fredericksburg to this day and he is honored with the statue on the Sunken Road. An account of bravery and honour, in a city which was rocked by war and tragedy.
Fredericksburg is a stylish and refined city: a city we are the richer for having visited.
Such is Life!