ECW Weekender: From Enslaved to Soldier – A New Tour in Fredericksburg

On February 22, 2020, from 1 to 5 pm, Fredericksburg Tours will present a new tour that I have created, entitled “From Enslaved to Soldier.” This tour will explore slavery in the Fredericksburg area, from the City Dock on the Rappahannock River, through the city and the surrounding communities, and to a place where slaves escaped the area, during the first Union army occupation. Many of the enslaved men who escaped returned in 1864 as soldiers in the United States Colored Troops, the USCT.

There have been several news stories about the slave auction block, which inspired many people in the community to take part in several discussions led by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience on behalf of the City of Fredericksburg. I was personally interviewed about the slave auction block and participated in the various meetings. This led to the Fredericksburg Memorials Advisory Commission to form a committee for the presentation of African American History of which I am a member.

Since I work as a battlefield guide with Fredericksburg Tours, John Kanaster, the owner, asked me about an African American history tour. He knew that John Hennessy, Chief Historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, and I had led a few History at Sunset Tours about slavery. After I co-founded the 23rd USCT, I thought about combining a slavery tour with the introduction of the United States Colored Troops into the Overland Campaign and the first skirmishes. Additionally, I had known and talked with two other people who had led African American tours of Fredericksburg, Barbara Weston and Jervis Hairston. Barbara has been a family friend for all her life and her father, Reverend M. L. Murchison, had been the Pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church New Site.  Jervis, former Director of City Planning and Community Development for Fredericksburg led a tour for members of the African American History.

The tour will travel through Lower Caroline Street, a street where many prominent people of Fredericksburg resided. Mary Minor Blackford lived in this neighborhood, a very prominent member of the American Colonization Society, who often taught black children to read. Two slave jails were on this street, as well. We will visit the City Dock, where slaves were brought into the city to be sold. There, we will get off the bus and I will discuss agricultural or plantation slavery versus urban slavery.

We will go to Chatham, a Stafford County plantation owned by J. Horace Lacy at the time of the Civil War. We will go to the slave auction block and discuss its history and its present-day controversy. At Old Mill Park, I will talk about the first Union army occupation of Fredericksburg and the escape of at least 10,000 enslaved during that occupation. I will discuss John Washington, a slave who escaped and worked for the Union army as a servant and scout, before moving to Washington, DC. Next, I will highlight the lives of some of these men who returned as soldiers.

From there we will go to Germanna Ford in Orange County, Virginia, the area where the 4th Division of the IX Corps – the USCT Division crossed the Rapidan River. These troops guarded both sides of the crossing on May 6, 1864, during the Battle of the Wilderness. During General Gordon’s flank attack at Saunders Field, they were ordered to double-quick to the action, but the VI  Corps had turned back the attack, just before the black troops arrived at the fight. We will go to the site of the Chancellorsville Inn, where the 23rd USCT was stationed guarding wagon trains when they were ordered to come to the assistance of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry. We will pass by the site of the skirmish and past the state marker to the 23rd and stop at the Spotsylvania County African American Heritage Trail stop that tells the story of the 23rd’s skirmish.  Historic Salem Church will be our last stop before returning. The 4th Division as a unit were in a skirmish on May 19th, with the Confederate cavalry, as the division was protecting the area from Plank Road to Massaponax Church Road, as they were guarding the wagon trains.

This is a four-hour bus tour with some walking. We will briefly stop at the Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Centers, where I will show the African American exhibits that are now displayed in each visitor center.

I feel honored to lead this tour, since this is the home of my maternal family. Some of my ancestors were enslaved in this area, and now, I can proudly lead a tour that will educate people about slavery, but also how those who escaped came back and fought for their freedom.

Go to the Fredericksburg Tours website at www.fxbgtours,com for ticket information. The bus seats 20 people. After this first tour, we will offer the tours as a bus tour or a private tour.

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.
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1 Response to ECW Weekender: From Enslaved to Soldier – A New Tour in Fredericksburg

  1. Next time I’m up that way, I’ll have to look into this. It sounds like an amazing tour! I hope the first one goes well!

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