Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crossing the River: The Battle of Fredericksburg 150 years later

One week ago today marked both the 150th
anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg and the first day following the completion of my second semester of graduate school. The two coincided quite closely. The sesquicentennial commemoration at Fredericksburg began on Friday, December 7 and ended on December 15. My two final papers were due on December 11 and 12 respectively. It was quite a challenge to finish writing both papers and get them turned in in the midst of all the activity at Fredericksburg. I manged to do it though, and just found out that I ended the semester with an A in both classes. That is some pretty nice validation, especially since it was so difficult to get all of the work done amidst everything going on with Fredericksburg!

The events at Fredericksburg were very different from other sesquicentennial commemorations I have photographed. Much of the difference was due to the battlefield itself. The Park only owns the land directly surrounding the Confederate entrenchments, which means that much of the commemoration actually took place outside of park land and in the town of Fredericksburg. This worked very well in this instance since the battle was actually fought through the town itself. That was one of the significant firsts of Fredericksburg: the first time the two armies had made a town a battlefield.

I was down in Fredericksburg six different days and had to drive down to the park and back home each time. That was certainly tiring, but it did allow me to capture a wide range of different moments over the course of the week. 

These are three of my favorites:

Two young girls laying flowers on the historic stone wall to honor the fallen

A bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace" to close the commemoration ceremony

Three brothers standing next to the monument to their Great Great Grandfather: Confederate General Thomas R. R. Cobb, one of the heroes of the battle.

There was no shortage of people dressed in period attire as well. These are five of my favorite "moments out of time."

One of the highlights of the week was a procession that wound its way from the point at which the Union soldiers crossed the river all the way across their path of assault through the town and up to the Confederate defensive line on Marye's Heights.

In this picture you can see the modern fighting 69th New York  followed by the Union 69th New York, a delegation from the Irish Defense League, the 28th Massachusetts, and the 47th Virginia, all marching together and followed by the crowds.

Here are a couple close ups of the 28th Massachusetts and 47th Virginia

During the procession Union and Confederate reenactors fired a volley together to honor the fallen.

These are two of the most unique members of the procession: Irish Wolfhounds that accompanied the 69th New York.

The procession ended with a special ceremony on Marye's Heights that included a 21 gun salute by two modern howitzers

Another significant first of the Battle of Fredericksburg was the fact that the Union soldiers had to cross the river in order to get to the Confederate positions. This was the first amphibious assault under fire in US history.

Normally I do not get to see reenactments of the battles because I am busy taking pictures of NPS events while they occur. Fredericksburg provided me with a a unique opportunity to change that. Since the reenactment happened right in the town I was able to photograph the Union crossing, fight through the streets of town, and assault on the Confederate position on Marye's Heights. I got some really unique shots and a few of my pictures were even featured on the Civil War Trust Facebook Page, which was pretty exciting.

It was a challenging week, but a memorable one that provided ample opportunities for me to capture moments I have not encountered at any other commemoration.

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