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Memories of blood
By: Zdenko Kahlina
On the road: Traffic congestion.
We left Washington City early in the morning one Saturday, with the idea of making it all the way to Virginia Beach before dark. Should be an easy task, right! Wrong.
Traffic congestion on highway I-95 around Dale City made us lose three hours of our estimated travel time. This was the worst traffic backup I’ve seen lately. From Dale City to exit 152 it took more than three hours as we were barely moving, just sitting in a car. We even turned onto secondary highway 1, thinking it might be better, but it was just as bad.
Route we completed in two days (550 miles)
So, finally we decided to turn north on exit 152 towards Manassas city in Prince William county. We made a huge detour on the secondary roads 646, highway 28 and highway 17. Except for lost time we had no regrets. At least we were driving and the area was gorgeous.
Once on the George Washington Memorial parkway (Route 17) we just followed the road and around lunch time we were entering historical town of Fredericksburg.
In the Fredericksburg area, one can throw away the alarm clocks. Get ready to be whisked away to another century where the first president roamed free as a boy and the North and South came face to face in battle. The area, standing midway between Washington D.C., capital of the Union, and Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, was the major site of five Civil War battles.
We arrived there mid day only for a quick visit (couple of hours). After finding parking on the city lot (free parking) we walked through the old town streets. It appeared that we didn’t need our car for anything here. You can take the trolley tour at the visitor’s center. Very informative, and you see everything.
Walking in downtown Fredericksburg was very nice, with many colonial buildings to visit. There is Hugh Mercers Apothecary shop (Hugh was a friend of George Washington and a Rev War general), the Rising Sun Tavern, which was run by one of Georges brothers, Kenmore, the beautiful mansion built for his sister, and yes, the Mary Washington house.
In downtown, find chef-owned restaurants, art galleries and studios, and antique and specialty shops. George Washington grew up at Ferry Farm, and the great early 20th century artist, Gari Melchers, lived and painted the local scene at his estate, Belmont. Four major Civil War battles were fought in the region, and more than 7,000 acres of hallowed ground are preserved by the National Park Service. Water sports abound on beautiful Lake Anna and the pristine Rappahannock River.
Visiting all of these places would take about 4-5 hrs, and all are within easy walking distance in the downtown area. Chatham is a very nice colonial mansion on the Stafford side of the river, and it’s free. Ferry Farm is the place where George grew up, and it does have a nice view of Fred from the Stafford side. Do try to visit either the Fredericksburg Battlefield or the Chancellorsville Battlefield. About 30 min drive north of Fred is the Marine Corp museum.
We had a wonderful lunch at the Capital Ale House, where local micro-brews can be tasted alongside new and classic American handcrafted beers. We sampled the great local beer that carried the flavor of tradition and history of this place. After the crub dish we ordered, it was time to head straight to the car and continue our journey.
Heading south from Fredericksburg on George Washington Memorial four-lane highway, also known as Coastal Highway (Route 17) was delightful. The road follows Rappahannock river and is very good, going North-South, through the woods and hills of Virginia and we had very light traffic. It was nothing like when we were leaving Washington on highway 95.
We didn’t know at the time, but our next stop was going to be historical Yorktown, that just happened to be on our way.
One of the reasons that Fredericksburg has had such a long and interesting history is its strategic location at the falls of the Rappahannock River. To the Indians, the falls were favorite fishing and hunting grounds. To Virginia’s early settlers, the fall line was the colony’s first frontier.
Just below the falls of the Rappahannock River, the town of Fredericksburg prospered as a frontier river port. The town’s importance grew with increased river traffic. In 1728, it became an official inland port. Tobacco trade brought prosperity.
Perhaps it was its proximity to George Washington’s boyhood home or maybe it was its safe distance from the Colonial government in Williamsburg, but Fredericksburg contributed heavily to the American cause in the Revolutionary War. Munitions were manufactured here; five generals left their families here to fight; and Fredericksburg fortunes were devoted to the fight. Thomas Jefferson and others met in 1777 in Fredericksburg to draft the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
After the war, the city settled down to relative prosperity. Grand mansions mingled with tidy frame houses and a bustling business district by the river. But a few generations later the city’s location would come again into play – and this time it brought danger and disaster.
Located halfway between the two Civil War capitals Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., Fredericksburg was battered bloody for three years. The city was crippled by a Federal offensive in December 1862. Confederate troops defending the heights above the city were able to hold off repeated Union attacks mounted from the shell-pocked remains of the business district. The armies were back in the spring of 1863. This time most of the fighting raged outside the city, at a country crossroads called Chancellorsville. Again, in 1864, the blue and the gray clashed nearby. Ulysses S. Grant had begun the last big campaign in the East in the tangled Wilderness. Ignoring massive losses, he soon had punched through to Spotsylvania. In each of the campaigns, the armies left many of their dead and wounded behind.
Today’s Fredericksburg has preserved its memories well. Its large downtown historic district is dotted with Colonial structures and reminders of the people who lived and worked here. Its Civil War past is inescapable. A major National Park interprets the battles, and the city still shows its glories and its scars.
Click on the link below to view the Central Rappahannock Regional Library website.