Some of the most poignant scars the war left on the terrain have been erased, if only to be redrawn in a more fitting location on Willis Hill. I refer to the original burial trenches that contained Union dead from the December 1862 battle and later those who did not survive wounds received during the Spring Campaign of 1864. I will discuss the latter in a future post. Here I will focus on what I believe is visible within these images.
In his now classic two-volume work, Fredericksburg Civil War Sites, National Park Service historian Noel G. Harrison presented documentation as to the nature and the location of these grim features. In referring to the "easternmost north burial trench", Noel provides a post-war recollection, quoted from a Confederate officer, Captain C. H. Andrews, who had witnessed the site first hand in January 1863:
"A short distance nearer the city and where the open field made a sudden dip or step, was a line of earth-works, thrown up hastily as a protection against the bullets of the Confederates, and in this earth-work defense dead horses were placed, and with them had been laid the bodies of dead Federals, for here and there the legs of horses and arms and legs of soldiers were thrust out, and overall loose dirt was piled up, intended to cover and bury them. It shocked us greatly -- the inhumanity to brave, dead and now helpless comrades."
The "sudden dip or step" is a strong clue toward identifying this position on the ground. The only place along the plain that best fits that description is on the south side of Hanover Street, and east of Weedon Street. Reinforcing this belief is what I believe is photographic proof, seen in the panorama images. Seen atop the edge of the hill that is today above Lee Avenue, there appears to be a dark line, a berm, that runs between Hanover and the location of modern Mercer Street. Basically it looks as if it hugs the lip of where west bound waves of Union soldiers would have topped the hill and sought to achieve cover from the gunfire raining down on them from nearly 375 yards away, well within the effective killing distance of the rifled muskets of the era. The ground behind (coming back toward the camera position) has been terraced and manicured as residential property today. Looking up at it from the Hanover Street intersection with Kenmore Avenue, one can imagine the desperate struggle all along the battlefront. Another 187 yards to their slight left oblique, stood the lone Stratton House, behind which other wounded and desperate men had begun to huddle for safety. A white line running from in front of the Sisson Store, running southerly toward Stratton, is a road that follows present day Littlepage Street, roughly 182 yards ahead of the trench.