Fredericksburg, My Favorite City in Virginia (part three)

part three of five

As a child in the D.C. public school system, I was in the honors track (there was an educational track system at that time). While in this program in Payne Elementary School and Eliot Junior High School, I visited national and state parks and battlefields, museums, and government buildings. I also attended plays and concerts and went to the World’s Fair three times—twice in New York City and once in Montreal, Canada. During other visits, I went to Richmond, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.

During these visits, I learned about the Civil War battles in Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Richmond. However, it was my two visits to Gettysburg that completed my transformation to Civil War buff. I loved Gettysburg, PA, and I learned to love visiting these places in Virginia, but they still did not measure up to Fredericksburg in my eyes.

My fourth through sixth grade teacher was Mrs. Nora Drew Gregory. She taught her class us a lot of “Negro History” during Negro History Week, which was before Black History was given a month. That should be a clue of how old I am! She could give us her own insight, as she was a very prominent black American. Her brother was Dr. Charles Drew, the doctor who developed blood plasma and blood transfusions. Her husband was Dr. Francis Gregory, an educator and assistant superintendent of D.C. Public Schools. Their son is Frederick Drew Gregory, the astronaut and former acting director for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She nurtured my interest in American History and the Civil War. I first learned about the United States Colored Troops in her class.

On some visits to Fredericksburg, my Uncle Mac, Mr. William MacDonald Campbell, Sr. (my mother’s brother), would tell us about the family history. Besides being a D.C. Transit bus driver in the 1960s through 1980s, Uncle Mac would go into the D.C. Public Schools and teach Afro-American history through his words and paintings. In 1967, he founded the Organization of Afro-American Culture, an organization of our neighborhood teenagers. The OAAC or Uniters was a cultural and history organization that taught us about black history going back to the ancient African kingdoms up through the Civil Rights of the late 60s and early 70s. I was the chancellor or president of the organization for part of the time, and I concentrated on slavery and black soldiers in the Civil War, as well as Black Power organizations in 1968 until about 1973.

As it turned out, my experience in banking would give me a reason to return to my museum-visiting roots. In 1982, Guardian Federal Savings and Loan was merged into Perpetual Savings and Loan, whose operational headquarters was in Alexandria, Virginia. As a branch manager, I now had to visit Virginia on an ongoing basis. Crestar Bank acquired 69 branches from Perpetual in 1992, with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, I now had to go further south into Virginia—deeper into Civil War Virginia, the capital of the Confederate States of America. As a man, I began to look at Virginia in a new light. We had a few branches in Fredericksburg and I lobbied for a few more for my favorite city, although I was not successful at that time.

After I was promoted to regional manager, when I visited Richmond Crestar (then later SunTrust Bank, after they had acquired Crestar), I began to explore the museums there in my free time. I visited the Richmond National Battlefield Park, the Confederate White House, and the Museum of the Confederacy. I then began visiting the other various battlefields in Virginia, branching out from the Richmond campaigns of 1862 and 1864 to Petersburg and Appomattox. I would always go back to the Fredericksburg Battlefield at least once every couple of years.

However, it took two Redmond/Ennis family reunions in Fredericksburg in 1988 and 1989 for me to finally visit Chancellorsville, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House Battlefields and the Jackson Shrine. I had visited Chatham in 1987 during one of my many visits to the Fredericksburg Battlefield. While I was at the University of Virginia in 1995, my roommates—Mark Adema, Bruce Brown, Doug Brodzik, Dan McCown,Ed Stahl—and I skipped class to go to the four battlefields. Dan, who was a reenactor, and I gave tours of these battlefields. Little did I know that 12 years later, I would be an interpretive park ranger leading tours on these very same four battlefields.

About stewardthenderson

Civil War historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park and living historian with the 23rd Regiment USCT and 54th Massachusetts Infantry Co. B. I am also a member of the Trail to Freedom Committee in the Fredericksburg, VA area and a member of the John J. Wright Museum in Spotsylvania, VA.
This entry was posted in Battlefields & Historic Places, National Park Service, USCT and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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