Sunday, January 4, 2009

Fredericksburg - A Study in Contrasts

From Fredericksburg

Happy New Year to all! I started off the year with a visit to Fredericksburg. Posts on the battlefield tour are forthcoming. I have not visited this site for many years, and time has brought changes both exciting and sobering.

Once I finished the main battlefield tour, I set out for the Pelham Marker. Along the way, I passed the Slaughter Pen Farm, recently saved from development by the Civil War Preservation Trust. Surrounded by industrial and commercial properties, this tract alone affords an unobstructed view of the terrain Meade’s troops advanced across in the most successful attack of the day on Lee’s lines. The purchase of this farm is one of the great victories for battlefield preservation in recent years.

And yet just a few hundred yards away the Pelham Marker stands at a busy crossroads, hemmed in by a CVS on one corner, and the Pelham’s Corner Rite-Aid and gas station on another. Here, Pelham advanced well in front of Lee’s lines and directed the fire of two guns against the flank of Franklin’s assault. Pelham drew the fire of several Federal batteries and delayed the Union assault for over 30 minutes. With one gun out of action, he shifted position repeatedly and kept firing with his remaining Napoleon, ignoring calls to return to his lines and retiring only when his ammunition was nearly exhausted. Lee witnessed this brave and reckless display and commented “It is glorious to see such courage in one so young.”

To be fair, the developers reserved a small plot for the original stone marker and two interpretive signs donated by a corporate sponsor. But any impression of Pelham’s vantage point or the field of fire of his intrepid gunners exists now only in the mind’s eye. And so Fredericksburg offers a study in contrasts. Many areas of the battlefield lie almost untouched by development, while others have been lost forever. With this in mind, I thought it fitting to open the year with a few thoughts on the importance of preservation. Please support the efforts of the Civil War Preservation Trust and your local preservation groups this year.

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