This tour of the Sunken Road area of the Fredericksburg Battlefield can be viewed at home, or can be used as a guide onsite. If following this tour onsite, the distance covered will be about a half a mile and the tour will take about an hour to complete. This tour is also available via the National Park Service app (available at the Apple Store and on Google Play). View a map of the Sunken Road Walking Trail (pdf).
Begin a tour of the Sunken Road at the entrance to the road from the parking lot behind the visitor center.
During the Battle of Fredericksburg the US Army of the Potomac embarked on a winter campaign and sent waves of soldiers to attack a seemingly impregnable position. Why did this happen? This tour explores the events and contexts for the Battle of Fredericksburg. Learn of the commanders, the private soldiers, and the civilians who were thrust onto the center stage of the Civil War. Wind your way up the hill and into the National Cemetery, where nearly 15,000 U.S. soldiers rest—a reminder of the cost of war and of the nation put together from the pieces left over.
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #1, Introduction
Welcome to the Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour! This tour begins at the entrance to the Sunken Road and takes you on a guided walk along the defensive position of the Confederate Army during the Battle of Fredericksburg, up to Marye's Heights, and through the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. This introduction addresses the question: what was on the line when the battle took place here in the winter of 1862.
Welcome to the Fredericksburg Battlefield. This audio walking tour includes 7 stops, covers about half a mile of ground, and will take approximately an hour to finish. The tour follows the Sunken Road, climbs Marye’s Heights, and loops back to the parking lot through the National Cemetery.
To begin the tour, start at the entrance to the Sunken Road next to the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. The Sunken Road extends north from the visitor center. While walking along the road from the visitor center, the hill to the left, west of the road, is Marye’s Heights. To the right, east of the road, is downtown Fredericksburg, bordering the banks of the Rappahannock River.
The Battle of Fredericksburg, which occurred in December 1862, resulted in a resounding defeat for the United States Army of the Potomac. One Union veteran wrote home, “The whole undertaking has proved a great failure & thousands of lives have been thrown away & not one thing gained.” This tour explores what happened here and hopes to answer the questions: why did this place matter in 1862? ...and why does it matter today?
The story of the Battle of Fredericksburg begins well before the armies fought here. From the beginning of the war, both sides focused their crosshairs on the Fredericksburg area because of its strategic location between the two warring capitals: Washington, D.C., and Richmond. During the war, Fredericksburg changed hands at least seven times between the two armies. In the winter of 1862, Fredericksburg was in the path of the Army of the Potomac once again.
Battles and campaigns were traditionally infrequent during the winter months; poor weather made troop movements difficult. It was more common for the warring armies to build temporary headquarters and wait for better weather in spring. But things were different in the winter of 1862. Why?
After the Federal victory at Antietam on September 17, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln planned on signing the proclamation on January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation, which included liberating enslaved people in rebelling states and recruiting black men into the US military, would officially aligned the Union war effort with the destruction of slavery in the South. To drive home the proclamation and to offset the disappointing Federal war effort in 1862, Lincoln wanted one more battlefield victory. So, instead of settling into winter camps the Army of the Potomac prepared for a campaign.
To lead the army on its campaign, Lincoln turned to a new commander. In early November, Lincoln gave the reins of the Army of the Potomac to Major General Ambrose Burnside and tasked him with leading nearly 130,000 Union soldiers to victory. When he assumed command of the army, Burnside’s forces were scattered around the town of Warrenton, about 40 miles from Fredericksburg. Burnside figured, if he moved quickly enough, he could march to Fredericksburg, cross the Rappahannock River, and approach Richmond before the Confederates knew what was happening. The first Federal soldiers left Warrenton on November 15. They arrived opposite the river from Fredericksburg two days later, but then, their march ground to a halt. Forced to wait for bridging materials that would get them across the Rappahannock River, the U.S. soldiers could do nothing but watch as Confederates quickly made their own march to Fredericksburg and began setting up defenses for the inevitable battle. The elements of speed and surprise, which Burnside’s plan hinged on, were gone. Amidst the two armies’ preparations were the civilians of Fredericksburg, who suddenly found themselves caught in the middle of the maelstrom.
Continue the walk north along the Sunken Road until you reach the small, two-story, white house that will be on your right.
Walk to the Innis House, Stop #2
Walk north along the Sunken Road, away from the parking lot, approximately 0.1 miles until you reach the small, white house located on the right, to the east of the road.
The Innis House was completed just a few years before it would suffer lasting damage when the war came to Fredericksburg.
The people of Fredericksburg had lived along this road for almost 130 years before the Civil War even began. How did the Sunken Road and the now infamous stone wall come to be? When war came in December 1862, the civilians of this town found themselves in the middle of the two armies almost immediately. Some refugees fled Fredericksburg; others persistently stayed. The quiet unassuming homes along the Sunken Road soon earned famous spots in American history as the settings for some of the battle of Fredericksburg’s bloodiest fighting.
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #2, Civilians at Fredericksburg
The civilians of Fredericksburg were caught in the maelstrom as two armies swarmed around their typically quiet Southern town. This stop explores the experiences of the residents whose lives were affected by the battle.
As you walked to this stop, you have travelled north, up the Sunken Road, also known at various times as the Court House Road, or the Telegraph Road. Since Fredericksburg’s establishment in the 1720s, people have lived along this road and travelers, especially farmers bringing their harvests to markets in town, frequently used this path to enter and exit the city. Over the years, repeated traffic caused the roadbed to erode, eventually earning this location its present name, the Sunken Road. To combat erosion, the people of Fredericksburg constructed stone walls, using sandstone taken from a local quarry to shore up the sloping ground. The wall, built in phases, was largely finished by the early 1830s. The section of wall directly in front of the Innis House is a reconstruction. Just slightly farther up the road, the next section of the stone wall between the Sunken Road and the Kirkland Memorial, is the only original section of the stone wall that still exists. As time passed, and the city expanded, the Sunken Road remained an integral part of day-to-day commerce. Homes along the road catered to this commerce. People living here included the Eberts, a pair of German immigrants who ran a grocery store, the foundation of which lays just beyond the Kirkland Memorial, at the end of the stone wall, and Martha Stephens, a woman who frequently found herself in court for running an unlicensed tavern from her house, you passed the foundation of stones that mark her home right before reaching the Innis House. The Innis House had barely been completed when the Civil War began. Sitting on land owned by Martha Stephens, this home was built in the late 1850s for her son, John Innis. The Innis House was the newest structure along the Sunken Road when war came to Fredericksburg. If you peer through the windows of the Innis House, you will see bullet holes from the ensuing battles of Fredericksburg dotting the clapboards. The Civil War placed the civilians of Fredericksburg squarely in the middle of the warring armies and those that could fled to places they deemed safer. The last time Federal forces had been in Fredericksburg was the spring of 1862. At this time the US forces oversaw the liberation and emancipation of nearly 10,000 of the area’s enslaved people. The Union soldiers left Fredericksburg in the summer after being recalled towards Washington and the city once again fell back under Confederate control. Apart from an occasional skirmish or raiding party, there was no major battle in the vicinity of Fredericksburg throughout this time. With the arrival of Federal forces across the Rappahannock River in November, the atmosphere was different. Realizing a battle loomed near, even more civilians fled. Just a few days after the first US forces arrived opposite Fredericksburg, Confederate forces began to arrive. The Confederate troops poured over Marye’s Heights and took up positions here in the Sunken Road. The stage was set, and the civilians left in town waited between the two armies and sought shelter once the battle began. Their city was now a warzone. The next stop on the tour is the Cobb Memorial, a rectangular stone monument located across from the Stephens House site, just a little ways back down the Sunken Road.
Walk to the Cobb Memorial, Stop #3
Walk in the direction toward the Innis House, but turn left at the first paved park trail, leading up Marye's Heights. The trail leads up the hill and turns, placing you at a view over the Sunken Road. It is approximately 0.16 miles to Marye's Heights from the Cobb Memorial.
The Cobb Memorial was one of the first monuments placed at the Sunken Road.
The Sunken Road and the stone wall were convenient features that became critical to the Confederate defenses during the battle. How did General Robert E. Lee take advantage of his position? What would be going through the minds of the soldiers behind this wall during the battle?
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #3, The Confederate Defense
When Confederate forces arrived in Fredericksburg, they found ground perfectly suited to setting up a defensive line. Ultimately, United States forces would never come close to reaching the Confederate defenses and the stone wall here would become a symbol of the futility of the US assaults.
As the Army of the Potomac marched and the Fredericksburg Campaign got underway, the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was spread out, covering the city of Culpeper and the approaches to the Shenandoah Valley. Robert E. Lee, commanding the army, waited to see what his Federal opponents would do. When he received word that the U.S. forces were marching towards Fredericksburg, Lee set out to counter the move. The delay faced by Union forces in getting across the Rappahannock River, allowed Confederates to arrive on the outskirts of the city by November 20, 1862. The Confederates assigned to defend Marye’s Heights came upon the Sunken Road and the stone wall when they arrived. It was a nearly perfect position: one they did not have to build or create. From here, they could take up positions and be ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Some Confederates dug into the roadbed, creating an even deeper trench to stand in; others used their free time to construct a theatre on the back slope of the heights and put on amateur plays to fill the time. Fighting broke out on December 11, 1862, when Union engineers finally began building pontoon bridges across the Rappahannock River. Though delayed by Confederates in the town of Fredericksburg, Union soldiers eventually captured the city and finished the bridges. On December 12, Ambrose Burnside funneled men, cannons, wagons, and supplies across the river. Burnside’s plan called for simultaneous attacks against the Confederate left, here at Marye’s Heights, and the Confederate right, at Prospect Hill. By controlling Marye’s Heights, the Confederate army also defended the Telegraph Road, which traveled south towards Richmond. Realizing the importance of their position, the Confederate defenders here braced for the impending attacks. Initially defending the stone wall were roughly 1,500 Georgians under the command of Brigadier General Thomas R.R. Cobb. A staunch secessionist, Cobb was a well-known lawyer in Georgia before the war and had published a two-volume set of books defending slavery that ran almost 600 pages long. Just a few months shy of his 40th birthday, Fredericksburg would be Cobb’s first battle as a general, and defending the Sunken Road his first test. He embraced the challenge, and had written to his wife late in November, “We hear their drums and bands plainly and my blood boils whenever I hear them.” On the morning of December 13, Confederates from positions here observed almost 800 yards of open ground in front of them stretching to the edge of Fredericksburg as Federal forces prepared their attacks. One Confederate wrote of the scene that the Federals’ “infantry with waving banners, accompanied by magnificent artillery and superb cavalry. . . made an imposing panoramic display of the glorious pride and pomp of war.” The first Union attacks of the day began around noontime and started towards the Sunken Road. Confederate artillery atop the hill began to fire, but the infantry waited, intentionally allowing their enemy to get closer. “Our men did not pull a trigger until they got within easy range,” one Georgian wrote, “And then taking deliberate aim, they gave them volley after volley right in their faces.” The Union attacks all melted away from the stone wall in the face of such unrelenting fire. More Confederates poured into the Sunken Road, adding their musketry to the din. Again and again the Federals came, and each time Confederates repulsed them. Shortly after the first Union attack against the stone wall, Thomas Cobb was mortally wounded. Cobb had earlier made the Stephens’ House his headquarters, and he was standing in the road near here when a Union artillery shell exploded, sending shrapnel into his left leg, and severing his femoral artery. He bled out within the hour. In the 1880s, this small stone monument was erected to commemorate Cobb’s death. Even with Cobb’s death and other officers wounded, the Confederate line never buckled. Hour after hour, the Union attacks kept coming, leading one Virginian to write, “As I witnessed one line swept away by one fearful blast. . . I forgot they were enemies and only remembered that they were men, and it is hard to see in cold blood brave men die.” When the shooting finally came to a stop in front of the Sunken Road, the Confederates here had suffered almost 1,000 casualties—dead, wounded, and captured. The wall, however, had not been reached by a single Union soldier, and nearly 8,000 Federals had been shot trying to reach the wall. Their bodies laid out in front of the Sunken Road as a testament to the continued attacks. What motivated the Federal forces to keep attacking? How did the fighting here figure into the overall plan? From here, the next stop on the tour is up Marye’s Heights. Follow the trail next to the Cobb Memorial and stop once you reach the first interpretive panels at the top of the hill.
Walk up Marye's Heights
Walk in the direction toward the Innis House, but turn left at the first paved park trail, leading up Marye's Heights. The trail leads up the hill and turns, placing you at a view over the Sunken Road. It is approximately 0.16 miles to Marye's Heights from the Cobb Memorial.
View the Sunken Road from atop Marye's Heights, the high ground held by Confederate forces at Fredericksburg.
The repeated Federal attacks against the base of Marye’s Heights have become the most famous event of the Battle of Fredericksburg. Futilely charging again and again without success, each US attack in turn was repulsed. Why did the Union soldiers keep attacking? Explore the decisions made by US commanders during the battle and discover how the attacks at Marye’s Heights fit into the grander battle plans at Fredericksburg.
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #4, Why Here?
The seemingly futile US assaults against the well-fortified Confederate position behind the stone wall and atop Marye's Heights has led generations of observers to ask one fundamental question: why? What was Burnside's plan, and where did it go wrong?
From atop these heights looking down on the city of Fredericksburg, it is easy to wonder what madness could have compelled the US commanders to choose this as a place to attack on the morning of December 13, 1862. In reality as strong as this position is, compared to the rest of the Confederate battle line, it was one of only two places the US Army could attack. To the north, the Confederate line went all the way to the river, making it impossible to go around. Directly to the south of Marye’s Heights, the ground dropped into a shallow valley, and the Confederate line bowed backward. Any attack there would leave US forces surrounded on three sides. At Prospect Hill, the southern end of the Confederate line, the artillery occupied more high ground. The US couldn't go around, they had to go through, and the places that offered the best chances for success were here at Marye's Heights and five miles to the south at Prospect Hill. On the morning of December 13, that was the plan. The US was going to hit the only two places they could with as much force as they could. With any luck, a crack in the Confederate defenses would reveal itself under enough pressure. If the US could capture Marye's heights, they would control the road to Richmond. The capture of Prospect Hill would allow Burnside to control the railroad he needed to keep his army supplied as they moved south. From either Prospect Hill or Marye's Heights, the Union forces could make it impossible for the Confederates to stay, forcing them to either retreat or allow a portion of the Army of Northern Virginia to be destroyed. From Burnsides perspective, a successful movement at either front would have given him the battlefield victory he had been tasked with winning before the end of the year. On the morning of December 13, Burnside set his plan into motion, but problems arose before the attacks even began. First, the orders arrived late, and were not delivered to the officers in charge of the attacks, General Sumner at Marye's heights, and General Franklin at Prospect Hill, until 7 in the morning of the 13th; and second, the orders lacked clarity. Rather than explicitly telling Sumner and Franklin what to do, he just told them to advance one division, about 4 or 5 thousand soldiers, and properly support them. Franklin and Sumner would interpret these orders very differently. Sumner understood them in the context of the plan Burnside had talked about, but Franklin, claiming later that he believed the orders meant the plan had changed, did not. At first, everything seemed to be going to plan; although delayed by fog and Confederate artillery, Franklin had initially reported success. A division of 4,500 men had broken through the Confederate line. It looked as though the plan was working, and unaware that Franklin wasn't following up the breakthrough with more troops, Burnside ordered continuous assaults against Marye's heights. It wasn't until after four divisions, approximately 16,000 men had been thrown against Marye's Heights, that Burnside realized that Franklin had only sent a token 9,000 to attack Prospect Hill. Burnside immediately sent Franklin new orders telling him to restart his attack, but this time with his entire force. Burnside would not learn of Franklin’s refusal to follow this order until after it was too late to stop the next attack against Marye's Heights. Burnside again ordered Franklin to renew his attack, again Burnside would renew Sumner's attack on Marye's heights, and again Franklin would do nothing. Only in the impending darkness of the chilly evening would Burnside call the attacks off. Continue walking along the trail atop Marye’s Heights until you reach the cannon position.
Continue on to Artillery Position
Continue of the trail atop Marye's Height, until you reach the cannons (350 down the trail) just before the entrance to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
The Washington Artillery atop Marye's Heights generated a formidable wall of fire during the battle.
The Confederate cannon posted on the high ground overlooking the fields in front of Marye’s Heights proved a deciding factor in the battle. Fire from these cannons made reaching the Heights an impossible goal for the United States soldiers tasked with the repeated assaults on December 13, 1862. In the midst of the political fallout from the devastating loss at Fredericksburg, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. How would Lincoln’s proclamation change the course of the war?
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #5, Consequences of the Battle
How does the Battle of Fredericksburg fit into the larger history of the Civil War? This stop considers the question of how the war was rapidly changing, both armies were getting accustomed to fighting bigger battles, both armies were beginning to realize that civilians could no longer stay on the sidelines, and the Emancipation Proclamation, released just weeks after the battle, officially changed the stakes of the war.
The Battle of Fredericksburg proved to be among the most lopsided major engagements of the war. While the numbers of killed, wounded, and missing at the south side of the battlefield were almost evenly split between the US and Confederate forces, the story was different at Marye's Heights. Here, for every Confederate casualty, there were 8 US casualties. Overall, the US suffered 12,650 casualties, to 5,370 Confederate casualties, the majority of whom came from Prospect Hill. Part of this drastic difference is a result of the Confederate artillery on Marye’s Heights. The nine guns on this hill alone could fire 300 pounds of shot and shell a minute at the attacking Union soldiers, and this was just one of many Confederate artillery positions. At first, Confederate gunners fired solid cast iron projectiles at approaching Federal infantry. But as US forces moved closer, the artillery switched to cannister and exploding projectiles at the same time the Confederate infantry opened fire from the road below. Imagine an old-fashioned metal coffee can, only rather than coffee that can is filled with 1 inch iron balls; during the war this was called canister shot. When fired, the can ripped apart, turning the cannon into a giant long range shotgun. Exploding projectiles set with time fuzes burst above and in front of the attacking infantry, raining them with shrapnel, blowing huge holes in the attacking US battle lines. At close range, the cumulative artillery and infantry fire was horrifyingly effective, creating a wall of lead and iron that was impenetrable for US soldiers attempting to take the heights. The tools of war ensured that the Confederate Army would not just hold their position, but would triumph. In many ways, this lopsided Confederate victory fundamentally changed the war going forward. Both armies were becoming accustomed to fighting larger battles and accruing more casualties than either side imagined at the beginning of the war. And, in this battle, the backdrop was not a farm or a country road, but a city. The war was escalating, the stakes kept getting higher, and the civilian population was no longer on the sidelines. Just weeks after the Battle of Fredericksburg the Emancipation Proclamation would strike the heart of Southern society in a way few imagined was possible at the beginning of the war. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was one last olive branch to the Confederacy. Either the seceded states could rejoin the Union and accept a slower, more gradual abolition process, or they could keep fighting and have emancipation forced on them at the point of a sword . Before the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, a return to the pre-war status quo of the Union was still an option, at least in theory. The Confederate victory at Fredericksburg dulled the threat of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it did not deter Lincoln from signing the document on January 1. Confederate leadership, including Robert E. Lee himself, understood the effect it would have on the war. Lee communicated his thoughts concerning the Emancipation Proclamation to Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon in a letter on January 10th: "In view of the vast increase of the forces of the enemy, of the savage and brutal policy he has proclaimed, which leaves us no alternative but success or degradation worse than death, if we would save the honor of our families from pollution, our social system from destruction, let every effort be made, every means be employed, to fill and maintain the ranks of our armies, until God, in his mercy, shall bless us with the establishment of our independence." As far the United States was concerned, 3.5 million enslaved people were now free men and women, being illegally held in bondage by their former enslavers. The opportunity for a negotiated return to the Union with slavery intact was gone. Meanwhile, forces from within the United States government were working to ensure that emancipation would become enshrined in law permanently throughout the country. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, it was not clear whether the war would result in one nation, a free country, or two nations, one based explicitly in slavery. Consider the possibilities and consequences of emancipation as you the path at the top of Marye’s Heights into the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The next stop is the Humphreys Monument, the large bronze figure located in the center of the cemetery.
Walk to Humphreys Monument, Stop #6
Continue along the trail to the entrance of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The main central path through the cemetery will lead you to the Humphreys Monument. The distance from the Artillery Position straight to the Humphreys Monument is approximately 400 feet. You are welcome to walk through the cemetery at your leisure before continuing the guided tour. *Pets are not allowed in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.*
The Humphreys Monument stands at the center of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
The Civil War brought death on a scale unknown to the United States. Over the four-year conflict, 2% of the country’s population was killed. In the immediate aftermath of battles like Fredericksburg, the dead were buried in hastily created pits that could hardly be called graves. Once the war was finally over, the question of what to do with the remains of those killed was unanswered. The National Cemetery system emerged from that pivotal question and provided a final resting place for United States soldiers who died. Because of the unreliable ways to identify the dead, most graves in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery are unknown. The majority of graves here are from the Civil War, though there are some from later wars as well—the cemetery was closed to further burials in the 1940s.
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #6, Remembering the Dead
In the wake of the battle, thousands of soldiers lost their lives, and thousands more went back to army camps where they would await the next move. The Fredericksburg National Cemetery is the final resting place of over 15,000 United States soldiers who lost their lives during the war and is a place to remember and reflect on what happened here.
Before the war was over, the armies would meet in the Fredericksburg area three more times – at Chancellorsville in 1863, and the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in 1864. With each passing year the war became increasingly more deadly, the battles longer, and the campaigns more difficult to endure. By April of 1865, it was clear that the nation U.S. soldiers sought to save would indeed endure. As the armies dispersed in the spring of 1865, however, the question remained – what kind of nation would emerge from this deadly conflict? The states finally ratified the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery forever, in December of 1865. The 14th and 15th Amendments, establishing Black citizenship and protecting enfranchisement, would take even longer to become law. The future of the 3.5 million people who had been enslaved at the start of the war remained unclear. Before the country could address the more sweeping social and cultural changes wrought by the war, some very practical questions need to be addressed. Throughout the war-torn United States, soldiers lay buried in temporary field graves or no graves at all. Efforts to formally bury soldiers had begun during the war but the Federal government could not keep up with the conflict’s massive death toll. After the Battle of Fredericksburg, U.S. burial crews had gathered their dead and buried them in various places on the plain in front of Marye’s Heights. Many lay in mass graves, others in marked graves that were quickly deteriorating. Similar conditions were repeated on battlefields across the country. The Federal government acknowledged the need to address the burial of US soldiers and undertook an effort to formalize and expand the National Cemetery system which had commenced during the war. In Fredericksburg, the Federal government searched for an appropriate place to put the cemetery, settling on the very hill which US soldiers sought to desperately reach in December 1862. In 1866, proponents of the cemetery entered negotiations to acquire the land, while re-interment parties, first made up of soldiers, and then of a formal Burial Corps, tackled the sobering work of identifying Union dead buried in Fredericksburg and the surrounding area. By 1868, the Fredericksburg National Cemetery was the permanent resting place for over 15,000 United States soldiers. The Humphreys Monument, at the center of the cemetery was conceptualized and dedicated by soldiers of Andrew Humphreys’s Division. Though Humphreys survived the war and is not buried here, his soldiers felt that Fredericksburg was the proper place to honor their service and that of their fallen comrades. Humphreys’ Division was one of the last attacks against the stone wall. US General Joseph Hooker observed, “No campaign in the world ever saw a more gallant advance than Humphreys’s men made there.” Places like the National Cemeteries and objects like the Humphreys Monument sought to preserve a memory of the war and influenced how the United States defined itself after its bloodiest conflict. From here, the last stop is the Cemetery Superintendent’s Lodge, located down the pathway towards the main Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center.
Walk to Superintendent's Lodge, Stop #7
Turning south from the Humphreys Monument towards the main Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center will put you on the steep cobblestone path that passes the cemetery terraces and leads down the hill. The Superintendent's Lodge is located just before the main cemetery gate to the left of the path. *The Superintendent's Lodge is not open to the public. Please view from a distance.*
The Superintendent's Lodge is one of the standard features of National Cemeteries after established after the Civil War.
The end of the Civil War brought unification and the end of slavery, but it did not solve every problem that faced the United States. How would the war be remembered by survivors of both sides? What type of nation would Americans build out of the ashes of this awful conflict? These same questions that Americans faced in the postwar period still challenge us 160 years later.
Sunken Road Audio Walking Tour, #7, What Kind of Nation Did the War Create?
The United States born out of the Civil War was dramatically different from the country that existed when the conflict began. Slavery was abolished, but no one knew what freedom would look like. This stop is a reflection on how the nation changed after the war and how Americans would fit the story of the Civil War into a national story that is constantly evolving.
In the late 18 and early 1900s, this building housed the National Cemetery Superintendent, his family, and his office. Early on, this position was held by a Union veteran whose sole responsibility was the care of the cemetery, maintenance of burial records, and orientation and assistance for visitors who came to pay homage to fallen Union soldiers. When the Federal government first established the National Cemetery system, only United States soldiers who had died during the Civil War were eligible for burial. Eventually, with pressure from the Grand Army of the Republic, the primary U.S veterans’ organization, the National Cemeteries were opened to all United States military veterans. The burial of Confederate dead was managed by local and state organizations throughout the South. The majority of the soldiers buried here in Fredericksburg died during the Civil War. Because of the circumstances of their deaths and the lack of identification standards during the war, more than 80% of the soldiers interred here are unidentified. The American public reckoned with the scale of death during the Civil War and the inability to identify the resting place of loved ones. Acknowledging this, the federal government sought to standardize the design of the cemeteries and ensure that, as spaces the public could visit to think about the consequences of the war, the cemeteries would help give meaning to the sacrifice these soldiers made. If you visit a National Cemetery that dates from the Civil War, you will notice certain key features that can be found in all of them. For example, the superintendents’ lodges all replicate a style known as the “federal style” that mirrored the design of the War Department building in Washington, D.C. In later years, cemetery superintendents placed plaques featuring the Gettysburg Address on their quarters. You can still see that plaque here today. What types of messages do you think visitors may have gathered from features such as these? Another way that Americans sought to derived meaning through the Civil War was through the establishment of Memorial Days. These events not only encouraged participants to reflect on the memory of the war, but also to consider what kind of nation the United States should become. In the aftermath of the Civil War this was a fraught issue, and Memorial Days reflected that tension. Early on, Black members of the Fredericksburg community led Memorial Day celebrations in this National Cemetery while white residents participated in a Confederate Memorial Day at the city cemetery where Confederate soldiers are buried. However, in 1884 the Grand Army of the Republic returned to Fredericksburg and invited Confederate veterans to participate in their Memorial Day ceremonies. The Confederate veterans agreed under the condition that Black U.S. veterans not be allowed to attend. The Grand Army of the Republic agreed to these terms, effectively segregating Memorial Day ceremonies in the National Cemetery. Developments such as these in the postwar period reflected the many questions that the Civil War had left unresolved and the power that public spaces like National Cemeteries had to testify to what the American nation was and could be. What type of nation had the Civil War saved? And what type of nation had it created? If slavery was dead, what exactly would freedom look like? And would the country live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words dedicating the Gettysburg National Cemetery: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”