Fredericksburg Battlefield Tour

Map showing detail of Fredericksburg Battlefield
In December of 1862, the US Army of the Potomac crossed the Rappahannock and faced the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. With a defensive line encircling Fredericksburg, the Confederates pushed the Federals back across the river in a devastating defeat for the US Army.

Why did the US Army commit to a battle when the odds seemed so stacked against them? Just weeks before the Emancipation Proclamation, the Battle of Fredericksburg took place at a critical juncture in the war. From this point on, either the Union would be one where slavery was a thing of the past, or the Union would fall.

Each place below is a stop of the park driving tour. The tour follows the route indicted by the numbered stops on the circular battlefield tour signs on the park map and out in the landscape.

The battlefield includes shared public roads that may move at high speeds. Drive carefully. This route and audio tour is also available via the National Park Service app (available at the Apple Store and on Google Play).

1. The Sunken Road

A gravel road bordered by a stone wall with a small, white house in the distance.
The Sunken Road was an important commercial road in Fredericksburg before it became a bloody symbol of war in December 1862.

On December 13, 1862, United States forces under General Ambrose Burnside attacked the stone wall along the Sunken Road. Wave after wave of US soldiers marched towards the Confederate line; none made it closer than 50 yards. Confederate troops behind the stone wall and atop Marye's Heights held the high ground with their well-defended line. The Federal soldiers' assaults across Fredericksburg's open fairgrounds proved futile and left the soldiers exhausted and demoralized. They would not forget the loss they experienced at the Sunken Road.

Casualties on this side of the battlefield were dramatically lopsided. By the end of December 13, 1862, there were around 1,500 Confederate casualties and 8,000 Federal casualties.

After the battle, a question haunted these soldiers: how did this happen? In this tour we will learn about the events of December 1862, the circumstances that led to battle here, and how the country was forever changed after of the Battle of Fredericksburg.


Driving Directions to Chatham Manor, Stop #2

On exiting the parking lot, turn left on to Lafayette Blvd. In 0.7 miles turn left at Sophia St. Drive 0.4 miles and turn right at the Chatham Bridge. In 0.4 miles turn left on Chatham Heights Rd. then in 0.3 miles turn left onto Chatham Ln. Following the signs to Chatham Manor. Drive straight for 0.1 miles to the Chatham parking lot. *Accessible parking is available by turning left once you pass through the Chatham gates, all other parking is to the right.*

2. Chatham Manor

A two story brick mansion with well manicured lawn.
Chatham Manor sits atop Stafford Heights opposite Fredericksburg. The US Army of the Potomac began arriving on this side of the river in November, awaiting the orders to cross the Rappahannock River and face the Confederate Army of Norhtern Virginia's defenses encircling the town.

Both physically and chronologically, the Battle of Fredericksburg started at Chatham. Originally established as a slave plantation, Chatham embodies the main cause of the Civil War: the desire of white Southerners to maintain and protect the institution of slavery and the resulting material wealth that slavery produced for them.

On December 11, 1862, the Army of the Potomac commanded by Major General Ambrose Burnside, crossed the Rappahannock River below Chatham Manor. The engineers had only managed to build the bridge halfway across the river when shots rang out and the Battle of Fredericksburg began.


Driving Directions to Lee's Hill, Stop #3

To leave Chatham Manor, continue along Chatham Lane, which turns into a single lane, gravel road, that will take you around the house. Turn left at the exit onto River Road and then immediately right onto Chatham Bridge. Once off the bridge turn left at Sophia St. and drive 0.4 miles, taking a right at Lafayette Blvd. In 0.7 miles you will pass the visitor center. Once you pass the visitor center on Lafayette Blvd, continue for 0.6 miles, past the traffic light at the intersection with Route 3 (Blue and Gray Hwy). At the roundabout in 0.2 miles, stay on the inside lane to take the third exit onto Lee Drive. The parking area for Lee's Hill will be on the right in 0.2 miles.

3. Lee's Hill (Telegraph Hill)

View through bare trees to a town lit up in early dusk.
The view from Lee's Hill is obscured for most of the year, but when the leaves have fallen off the trees in winter, Fredericksburg is visible from here.

On the western side of Fredericksburg, atop a hill once known as Telegraph Hill, Confederate General Robert E. Lee made his headquarters in anticipation of battle. Initially, Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia were situated further south. As reports came in that the United States Army was amassing at Fredericksburg, Lee moved his army into position surrounding the town.

When Burnside and the Army of the Potomac arrived at Chatham, Lee was unsure of the Federals' plan. Where would Burnside cross the Rappahannock: right there at town, further upstream, further downstream? Lee was not prepared to face the larger US Army of 125,000 men because he had divided his forces: Jackson was in the Shenandoah Valley and Longstreet was in Culpeper.

From this hill, Lee was able to see both ends of his line: the north end above the stone wall and the south end on Prospect Hill. His vantage point gave him the opportunity to know what was happening and adapt if necessary.


Driving Directions to Howison Hill, Stop #4

Continue south along Lee Drive for 0.5 miles to the sign for Tour Stop #4, Howison Hill, and pull into a parking space on your right.

4. Howison Hill

Park sign along a road for Howison Hill.
Howison Hill was once an artillery position with a view to Fredericksburg where a group of civilians watched the battle from.

Howison Hill, named for the Howison family that lived nearby, was an artillery position during the battle of Fredericksburg. In this area, Jane Howison Beale and her family watched the battle of Fredericksburg and she recorded her observations, thoughts, and feelings about the scene.

Lee utilized the high hills west of Fredericksburg for his defenses, giving his artillery clear views of the oncoming Federal troops. Citizens also used the heights to observe the battle, hoping that their homes would not be destroyed in the chaos. They watched and waited to see if they would have homes or a town to return to.


Driving Directions to the Union Breakthrough, Stop #5

Continue south along Lee Drive for 3.5 miles until you see the sign for Tour Stop #5, Union Breakthrough and park at the vehicle pullout.

5. Union Breakthrough

A line of tall, bare trees in winter.
Trees line both sides of Lee Drive in the location where Meade's Division broke through the Confederate line on December 13, 1862.

Around 1:00pm on December 13, 1862, Union General George Gordon Meade's 4,500-man division crossed an open field under intense artillery fire. Meade aimed for a swampy tract of woods that Confederate General A.P. Hill left undefended, thinking it was impassible. When Meade's troops broke through the Confederate line they surprised unprepared South Carolinians. Soon the Confederates rallied, and without reinforcements nearby, Meade's men could not hold their position against Confederate General Stonewall Jackson's 38,000-man corps.


Driving Directions to Prospect Hill, Stop #6

Continue south along Lee Drive until the road ends at Tour Stop #6, Prospect Hill, in 0.5 miles.

6. Prospect Hill

Canon in a field in winter
The Confederates defended Prospect Hill with artillery placed near the tree line. They ultimately succeeded in holding their line and the US forces retreated back across the Rappahannock River.

When the Army of the Potomac arrived across the Rappahannock, the Army of Northern Virginia had few forces defending Fredericksburg. Robert E. Lee sent word to "Stonewall" Jackson, leading the 2nd Corps, to transition his troops from the Shenandoah Valley and join the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia at Fredericksburg. Jackson's troops were sometimes referred to as a "foot cavalry" because of their ability to move quickly. On November 24, Jackson's troops began the march. They traveled 13 to 17 miles a day and covered almost 175 miles. The 2nd Corps arrived in Fredericksburg on December 3. These Confederate forces formed a defensive line on the southern portion of the battlefield here at Prospect Hill.

Fighting at here was not as lopsided at it was at the Sunken Road, though the casualties were still steep; about 4,000 Confederates and about 5,000 Federals would become casualties at Prospect Hill.


Other Fredericksburg Battlefield Locations

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    Last updated: January 9, 2023

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    Mailing Address:

    120 Chatham Ln
    Fredericksburg, VA 22405


    540 693-3200

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