This article appeared in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, my local paper, on 15 December. Inspired by Mr. Polk’s excellent essay on the history of the Russian people, I’ve decided to take a break from laying tile and post the article. Mayor Greenlaw may have a fine appreciation for history, but I don’t think this appreciation extends to most Americans. That’s a shame.
“History surrounds and speaks to us,” Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw told a small crowd gathered at the Kirkland Memorial on Sunken Road, where a ceremony Sunday marked the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg. She went on to relate a story about a pair of her ancestors involved in the tumultuous times of the Civil War. One was a tailor who bucked the consensus in Fredericksburg by voting against secession. The other was a banker who had bought a family of slaves at the auction block site on the corner of William and Charles streets. Both of her ancestors were considered good men, Greenlaw said, but they held very different positions in a time when the country was fractured by the war. One ancestor was vilified for taking a courageous stand, Greenlaw said. The other bought a family on a corner, something that was routine at the time.
The U.S. is a “remembering” country, she added, but said we also tend to forget the uglier aspects of our history. Yet, she said, good can still be found when considering stories like those about her ancestors, as well as that of Sgt. Richard Rowland Kirkland. In these stories, she said, we see the challenges of the times and find humanity in the ugliness of war. (Free-Lance Star)
Since becoming a Virginian, I’ve been fascinated by the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. The actions at the sunken road and the fate of the Irish Brigade are well known, but I am most impressed by the battle that occurred a few miles south of Marye’s Heights. Here at Prospect, Hill General Jackson fought a close run defensive battle and emerged victorious. IMO Jackson was brilliant in taking advantage of the terrain and mitigating his enemy’s strengths. He controlled the action from start to finish and that’s no small feat for a defender. I think his only major fault was failing to impart his full plan for the defensive battle to his subordinates. If I'm not mistaken, that was something he was prone to do. A major part of this battlefield was acquired by the Civil War Battlefield Trust in 2009. Listen to historian Frank O’Reilly describe the events and their significance of this battle at Slaughter Pen Farm.