Class tours Civil War Battlefields in Virginia

Jacob Sheridan ’14 & Stephen Fenton ’14 – Se were at the Fredericksburg battlefield Friday visiting the other three civil war battlefields in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. The four battles together resulted in approximately 15,000 fatalities, making it the bloodiest area of the civil war. The tour guide we had was one of the best of the trip, and he wasn’t even a park ranger, but just a private historian.

Unlike most of our other battlefield visits, the Spotsylvania battlefield did not seem to be at all preserved. In fact, the tour guide told us how he has fought to preserve some of the battlefield, but unfortunately most of it has been lost to developers. We learned about General John Sedgwick whose troops were being harassed by confederate sharpshooters all day. Against the advice of his subordinate officers, Sedgwick moved towards the front line to personally direct the placement of the infantry and artillery. Once there, he saw that his men were literally trying to dodge the sharpshooter’s bullets, which disappointed him greatly. Sedgwick said, “They couldn’t hit an elephant from this distance.” Soon after uttering this phrase, Sedgwick was fatally hit by one of these confederate sharpshooters. We also visited the spot of the Bloody Angle where the bodies were stacking up three and four high due to the intense close combat. In fact, there was a large oak tree that was cut through on one side with so much musket fire that it was knocked over.

We also drove through parts of where the Wilderness battle would have taken place, but because the battle essentially happened in the woods, we did not extensively visit this site. It is believed that there are still many human remains on the Wilderness battlefield.

At Chancellorsville, we were able to follow the approximate path that Stonewall Jackson used to flank his 28,000 men in place to attack the union forces. They made this 12-mile trip with nearly 40 pounds of gear in around eight hours. Luckily for us, we drove the distance making much better time, but the feat of Jackson’s men was nonetheless impressive. This risky maneuvering, which had cost General Robert E. Lee at Antietam, proved quite beneficial at Chancellorsville where the confederates achieved victory.

Our final stop of the day was the spot where General Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded by friendly fire. On the night of May 2, 1863, during the battle at Chancellorsville, Jackson and his staff were riding back into camp when the 18th North Carolina Infantry confused them for Union cavalry. Jackson and his men tried to identify themselves, but the North Carolina men believed it was a trick and continued to fire. Jackson was hit by one bullet in the right hand and two more in his left arm. Several of Jackson’s staff was killed as well. Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated and he later died of the wounds and perhaps pneumonia. In response to the event, General Lee said, “Jackson may have lost his left arm, but I have lost my right.”