Sunday, December 9 started quiet and foggy in Fredericksburg. As I looked across the Slaughter Pen Farm, I could imagine the morning of December 13, 1862, as the men of John Reynolds’ First Corps looked across that same ground, through fog that might’ve been a little thicker. The quietude would soon break for them—just as it would break for me with the resumption of Sesquicentennial events.
The marquis event for the weekend was a commemorative event that began in Fredericksburg’s Riverside Park and then processed through the city along the route followed by the Union Irish Brigade. From my duty station at Herkamp Park—which had been the edge of town in 1862—I saw the fireworks exploding over the Rappahannock, meant to symbolize the bombardment of the city on December 11. As the roar echoed through the buildings, I understood for the first time the magnitude of the bombardment. Cliché as it sounds, the sound gave me chills.
Re-enactors representing Confederate and Union soldiers and Civil War-era civilians were among the units participating in the procession as it made its way through the city.
One of the units participating in the procession was the modern-day descendant of an Irish Brigade regiment, the 69th New York. They marched with their unit mascots, a pair of Irish wolfhounds.
Along the Sunken Road, nearly a thousand people filed in for a “voices” program that featured songs, music, and the words of soldiers and civilians.
Fireworks from Marye’s Heights again symbolized the hot work of artillerists. Later, National Guard howitzers atop the heights shook the ground as the battery fired a round of salutes. The Guard unit, the 111th Field Artillery Regiment, was a descendant of the Stonewall Brigade.
At the conclusion of the program, visitors were invited to lay carnations on the Stone Wall in commemoration of the soldiers of both sides.
My own role in the event was small—one of many people helping with crowd control and logistics support. I also served as a shepherd of sorts for the musicians who set the pace for the procession. In that capacity, however, I unexpectedly found myself leading the procession along its final leg, from Maury Stadium up to the Sunken Road. I then led the musicians, as the lead element of the procession, onto the road and into position. The experience had a profound impact on me: to walk onto that road in that manner, paying respect to the tens of thousands of soldiers whose stories I get to share, as part of the official Sesquicentennial….. It was about all I could do to hold it all in. It will stand as one of the most deeply poignant experiences of my life. (My thanks to reader Jim Williams for the photo.)