While recently examining the two Brady & Company images that together make an extraordinary panorama of the "open plain" battleground of Fredericksburg
, I began to consider numerous points of interest that fall within the confines of its cone of vision. It is both sad and remarkable that in the post Civil War years, Fredericksburg
, the town, began to expand into a sizable city and consume, perhaps cathartically, the landscape that became one of the most horrifying places in American memory. To stand on the ground today, amidst the residential and commercial structures that now fill the former vastness, it can be difficult for visitors to visualize just how suicidal and ill-conceived the frontal assaults were that December day. Coupled with the fabled stories of urban street fighting, it is hard to decipher where the 1862 town ended and the open ground to the west began, at least in the mind's eye. With the help of these images, and the scattered landmark structures that have survived to this day, we can walk the modern streets, like trying to conquer a labyrinth, and gain some perspective of a once near desolate landscape.
To create the panorama, the two images must be placed to overlap.
The left edge of the brick structure's roof provides a focal point.
The horizon line will come together where the Marye mansion sits.
Click images to enlarge for greater detail.
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.
From the left hand glass negative, the detail of the likely burial trench is
indicated by the white brackets placed at either end. Click image to enlarge.
The horizontal white line between Weedon Street
and Lee Avenue indicates the approximate
location of the burial trench, based on the 1864 photographs.
The yellow horizontal line indicates a previously suggested location.
Click to enlarge for greater detail.
The "sudden dip or step" as seen from the intersection of Hanover Street
and Kenmore Avenue, the location of the "old mill race" or "power canal".
Lee Avenue runs on a diagonal toward the left, below the step.
Supplement Please review the comments section of this post and read the message sent by NPS historian Noel Harrison, and my reply. Find below the map drawn by the Pennsylvania soldier that Noel refers to. Click the image to enlarge.