Twice the focal point of major attacks by the Union army, Marye's Heights ranks among the foremost landmarks in American military history. On December 13, 1862, during the Battle of Fredericksburg, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside assailed the ridge with nine divisions totaling 30,000 men. Confederate William Miller Owen watched as line after line of Union soldiers surged toward the ridge. "What a magnificent sight it is!" he marveled."We have never witnessed such a battle-array before; long lines following one another, of brigade front. It seemed like a huge blue serpent about to encompass and crush us in its folds. . . ." Miller's fears were unfounded. Not a single Union soldier reached the heights, though 8,000 fell in the attempt.
Five months later, Union troops again stormed the heights. General Robert E. Lee had taken most of the Confederate army west to Chancellorsville, leaving only a skeleton force to hold the high ground behind Fredericksburg. In a brief but fierce struggle, Major General John Sedgwick's Sixth Corps carried the heights on May 3, 1863, only to have the Confederates retake them the following day. Click Tour of 2nd Fredericksburg & Salem Church for a folder that provides more information on this fighting and describes a driving tour that includes a visit to Marye's Heights.
After the war, twelve acres on Marye's Heights were set aside as a national cemetery for the 15,000 who died in this area fighting for the Union. The Daughters of Wisdom, a Catholic order, purchased eight adjoining acres and in 1948 established a school called the Montfort Academy. The needs of the school outgrew the property, however, and in 1997 the Daughters of Wisdom sold the land to the National Park Service. This important tract is now part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
The National Park Service has already removed modern buildings and installed four exhibits: one at the Wellford family cemetery and three at an overlook. To reach these exhibits, proceed through the national cemetery to the open gate at the top of the hill. For more information on what happened during both battles see Willis Hill.
To learn more about visiting Fredericksburg Battlefield, click here and Chancellorsville Battlefield, click here.
To learn more about the Battle of Fredericksburg, click here and Battle of Chancellorsville, click here.