Friday, September 19, 2014

The Bloodiest Landscape on the Continent

Milford, VA  High 78  Low 54

The Battle of Fredericksburg: Confederates victorious. a town devastated, a Union army humiliated.

Fredericksburg is located midway between the Confederate capital of Richmond and the U. S. capital of Washington, DC. Over a period of 18 months, the Union army staged three major campaigns in this area resulting in four battles: Fredericksburg (December 1862), Chancellorsville (May 1863) and Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House (May 1864). These battles resulted in 105,000 casualties making this area the bloodiest landscape.

We stopped at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and started our journey with an excellent 22 minute movie of the battle.

The Confederate soldiers under the leadership of  Robert E. Lee defended Marye’s Heights behind a stone wall in Sunken Road.


The Union army led by Major General Ambrose Burnside sent seven waves of attackers against the Stone Wall. Not one reached the Confederate line in the Sunken Road. The famous Irish Brigade came within 40 yards before they were destroyed. A total and complete defeat for the Union Army.

This is the view over the stone wall today. However, back in 1862, all of those trees weren’t there – it was a wide open field.


Can any of you tell me why the Union Army just kept sending men marching up to these walls to be slaughtered. There doesn’t seem to be any strategy involved – just march men up towards the wall and watch them be killed or wounded. I don’t understand.

This quote from Lt. Col St. Clair A. Mulholland just tore at my heart strings.

“In the lecture room of the Episcopal church eight operating tables were in full blast, the floor was densely packed with men whose limbs were crushed, fractured and torn. Lying there in deep pools of blood, they waited very patiently; there was no grumbling, no screaming, hardly a moan, many of the badly hurt were smiling, and chatting…The cases here were nearly all capital, and amputation was almost always resorted to. Hands and feet, arms and legs were thrown under each table, and the sickening piles grew larger as the night progressed…Towards morning the conversation flagged, many dropped off to sleep before they could be attended to, and many of them never woke again. Finally the only sound heard was the crunching of the surgeons’ saws and now and then the melancholy music of a random shell dismally wailing over-head.”

The Civil War pitted our country against itself. Brothers against brothers, fathers against sons. But there are also stories of great bravery and kindness.

Richard Rowland Kirkland


During the Battle of Fredericksburg on Dec. 13, 1862, Kirkland’s unit formed behind the Stone Wall and helped slaughter the Union attackers. Daylight on the 14th revealed a ghastly scene to the Confederates. About 8,000 Union soldiers had been shot in front of the wall and many of them remained where they had fallen. As hours went by without food, water or medical treatment, their suffering increased.

At some point in the day, Kirkland could no longer bear listening to the pleas for help, so he told General Joseph Kershaw, his brigade commander, that he would like to try and help the wounded Union soldiers. The surprised general at first refused the request, but he later relented. Kirkland gathered all the canteens he could carry and filled them at the near by water well. Then, at extreme risk to himself, he ventured out to help the Federal soldiers.

P1080998Also, located at this battlefield is the Fredericksburg U. S. National Cemetery which is the final resting place for more than 15,000 Union soldiers who died in the major Civil War battles that occurred between Washington, D.C. and Richmond. 

After the region’s bloody confrontations, the remains of the Union and Confederate soldiers were buried in shallow, hastily dug, and often unmarked graves around the battlefields


Shortly after General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the U.S. Congress authorized the establishment of a national cemetery at Fredericksburg to provide a proper burial place for Union soldiers.

127th Penn Monument

Monument to the 127th Pennsylvania, Fredericksburg National Cemetery
Courtesy of the National Park Service


The Fifth Corps Monument

Construction of the cemetery and the interment of remains began in 1866. All the burials of the dead from the Civil War were interred in the cemetery by 1869.  At the completion of the burials of the Civil War dead, 15,243 Union soldiers lay in the cemetery, with only 2,473 identified.

We’re hopefully going to visit at least one more battlefield while we are here. You could spend a couple of days at each battlefield and still not cover all of the conflict.


  1. I've been to Fredricksburg as well as many other Civil War sites, and they are just plain sad. I will never be convinced that we couldn't have achieved the same end without war between countrymen. As always, there are those who stand to gain from war, and it was no different then. I don't think we will ever truly get over it.

    1. I agree! Dumbest war we have ever fought!! It took over 100 years to end the bitterness, and though it ended slavery, that institution would have been short lived anyway. The war probably extended racist feelings.

  2. So much history to be learned & it's always nice when folks visit a site & come away with not only the factual information but their own thoughts, feelings & opinions as well.

  3. so much bloodshed, and brother against brother. Thank goodness for men like Richard Kirkland.

  4. Visiting Civil War battlefields are on my bucket list. There are so many I'd like to see. The war was so sad and so many were lost.

  5. No, I can't imagine what it would have been like to have just advanced up to the stone wall like that pretty much knowing that you would be injured or killed. I think those battles were pure madness. The history is incredible in that area. If you get a chance go to Gettysburg. The Visitor Center is fantastic. We were lucky enough to have arrived their on their opening day and thought it was extremely well done.

  6. Heart breaking. They marched across the field like that in Gettysburg too. I guess that's why more Americans were killed during that war than all the other wars combined.

  7. Oh how I love visiting battlefields. Each time I try to image what it would have been like to be a soldier. I know what fact for sure...I would have never stood there and watched an army march towards me with bayonet on their rifles.

  8. We've visited that battlefield and were stunned to see all the tombstones in the cemetery. Such a waste. But it is important to know history to appreciate what we have today.

  9. Battlefield touring is on our list for next summer

  10. I think the "Union Army" must be back with its strategies!

    If you get to south Georgia and stay at Georgia Veterans State Park, you're not far from Andersonville. I think you'd enjoy that. Pats to the pups!

  11. Great tour! I am always shocked and amazed by the sheer violence of the Civil War battles:(

  12. One of my ancestors was at that battle. He was promoted after the battle and I think it was because he was one of the few left in his unit.


Thanks for visiting today. I look forward to reading your comments. Have a beautiful day.