Blue & Grey Campaign Day 3: Two Battlefields
Yesterday we visited Ft. Sumter where the military component of the Civil War began. Only a handful of casualties resulted from the bombardment and the surrender of that iconic fort. Today we visited two battlefields where, over a period of seven days, there were nearly 50,000 casualties. I think everyone in the group had a much different feeling walking today’s hallowed grounds than the battered parade grounds of Ft. Sumter.
The day started with a mere 2 mile ride from our hotel to the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center at 9 a.m. A professionally produced 20-minute movie set the stage for our three-hour stay at the site and provided a good overview of the events of December 11-13, 1862. Fredericksburg was a clear Confederate victory as Union forces suffered nearly three times as many casualties as the Confederate army and were forced into a humiliating retreat after several days of fighting nearly destroyed the northern Virginia river town and left its landscape littered with bodies.
At the visitor center we examined artifacts that vividly told the story of military and civilian suffering in the only major urban fighting during the Civil War. The bulk of the fighting at Fredericksburg occurred after Union troops took and occupied the town that once held 5,000 residents. On a 600-yard wide field below Marye’s Hill (pronounced Maries not Marys) and the Sunken Road Union forces made 18 unsuccessful and costly charges against Confederate troops strongly positioned behind the stone wall in the sunken road.
After we saw explored the exhibits, we walked the ground where the bloodiest fighting occurred. Some of the original stone wall that provided cover for Confederate troops is still there and several hundred more yards has been reconstructed over the years. Although the landscape has changed with the addition of houses and some trees, walking the area gave everyone evidence of why the Union forces were cut down as they futilely charged across open ground. Some of the structures there during the battle are still there, as are the bullet holes that resulted from nearly 10,000 shots per minute during the heaviest fighting.
We strolled quietly, somberly among the grave markers of known and unknown soldiers re-interred in the National Cemetery created at the end of the war. Knowing the granite markers represented sons, husbands and fathers who never returned home drove home the ripple effects of a battle fought midway between Richmond and Washington, the capitals of the warring sides.
Although we didn’t visit all the locations of the Battle of Fredericksburg, we left with a better appreciation for the nature of the battle and its importance in the struggle to impose opposing views of American political culture on a nation struggling to survive.
It seems no OPHOG Blue & Grey Campaign day would be complete without at least some bike problem and today’s winner was Ray, who when he tried to start his bike at the end our visit at Fredericksburg, heard only the sounds of silence. Turn the switch. No power. No cranking. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Remove the left saddle bag and side cover. Check the fuses. All good. Replace the fuses. No change. Still nothing. Then Ski suggested we go by the book: Use the trouble shooting steps found in the owners manual. Was the bike locked before the problem started? Then re-lock the bike and unlock it again. Voila! Power and the beautiful sound of a Harley cranking and firing and the throaty purr of the mufflers. Put the bike back together and ride off to lunch and our next destination: Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center.
The Battle of Chancellorsville unfolded only 10 miles from Fredericksburg and only 4 1/2 months later in May 1863. That battle resulted in another Confederate victory as a superior union force (2:1) was routed by bold moves from Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Jackson led a brilliant flanking move only to suffer a fatal wound from fire from his own troops. Lee won the battle but at the cost of his best general. Much of the Battle of Chancellorsville, unlike Fredericksburg, was fought in heavily wooded areas that made maneuvering thousands of troops difficult, if not impossible. Union General Joe Hooker’s loss of nerve undid his careful planning and led to the retreat of his troops across the Rappahannock River and back toward Washington after three hellish days of fighting.
Again, another helpful video introduction, then a tour of the well-designed and executed exhibits at the visitor center. There were several hiking trails of 2-4 miles that we opted not to pursue, but we did walk a short loop that took us past Stonewall Jackson’s final ride and the spot where he was wounded. A large memorial stone marks that spot today. After a little more than two hours at the site we headed back to the bikes for a relatively early (5 p.m.) return to the hotel. Everyone pretended not to be surprised when all nine bikes actually started on the first try.
For the first time in three days, everyone ended the day only tired, not bone-weary, butt-sore exhausted. And I think everyone has a new or greater appreciation for the mighty struggle that gripped the nation nearly 150 years ago. Tomorrow we head for Manassas (Bull Run) for a tour of two battles (1861 and 1862) on the same site then on to the historic village of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.