Following a lengthy drive from Pennsylvania, our small caravan arrived just in time on December 7 for the first of dozens of programs to follow. Our tour leader was park ranger Donald Pfanz, who led an in-depth tour of the portion of the battlefield south of town known as the "Slaughter Pen Farm." This pristine 208 acres of land was purchased by the Civil War Trust only a few years ago for an astounding $12 million. Given that much of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park is composed of islands of green surrounded by seas of urban sprawl, we are extremely fortunate that much of this tract has been preserved.
That evening, 350 packed into the quaint confines of the historic Presbyterian Church of Fredericksburg on Princess Anne Street to listen to National Park Service historian Frank O'Reilly talk about the eve of the battle. Here, visitors learned of what was going through the minds of soldiers and civilians as the dark clouds of battle began to hover over the city of 5,000 residents. The subsequent fights in their streets and yards would create devastation that took decades to recover from. (NPS Photo.)
The first tour the next morning began at 8 a.m. in Fredericksburg's rain-soaked streets. Converging on Caroline Street, a large group led by ranger Peter Maugle heard about the intense street fighting and urban warfare. In the pre-dawn darkness of December 11, 1862, Union engineers began lugging the much-delayed pontoon boats down Stafford Heights opposite the town in the hopes of creating a bridge to enter the city. The biggest of many problems for them: the Mississippi brigade of ardent secessionist William Barksdale sat across the river, waiting.
"Fire on Caroline Street." Coming up to reinforce the 7th Michigan and 19th Massachusetts, the 20th Massachusetts men were wearing gray overcoats even though they were Union troops. As it turns out, the Federals were amidst a shortage of blue winter greatcoats--forcing them to wear all different colors including shades of blue, black, and gray. Talk about making an already chaotic situation more confounding.
No old or fat reenactors in this unit. Good impression guys!
Park ranger Greg Mertz was also on hand to discuss the Confederate defense of the stonewall. Here, Thomas Cobb's Georgia brigade made a stalwart stand. Cobb said of the defense: "I think my brigade can whip ten thousand of them attacking us in front." His men helped stave off a number four times that size. But, the scrap ultimately cost Cobb his life.