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As region preps for Civil War battle's sesquicentennial, top historians explore what Fredericksburg meant and what it cost in lives
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With the terrible Union defeat here by Lee's army, Lincoln's political stock hit bottom.
Ural focused on politics of another kind--those of the Catholic immigrants who formed the Irish Brigade, probably the most famous unit to fight in the battle.
Author of "The Harp and the Eagle: Irish-American Volunteers and the Union Army, 1861-1865," Ural explained how defeat at Fredericksburg--coupled with the first federal draft and Lincoln's call to free slaves in occupied Southern states--dissuaded many Irish Catholics from enlisting in the Union army after 1862.
Using the Irish Brigade as a lens, she vividly sketched the combat and carnage experienced by soldiers as they advanced through the city's streets and tried to do the impossible in assaulting Marye's Heights.
Writing his father the day afterward, Capt. William J. Nagle of the 88th New York expressed his horror over the losses: "Oh! It was a terrible day. Irish blood and Irish bones cover that terrible field to-day We are slaughtered like sheep, and no result but defeat."
O'Reilly focused attention on the field's south end in Spotsylvania County, where the battle was lost when Confederate Gen. Jubal Early sealed the breach that Union Gen. Meade's men had blown in the Confederate defenses at Prospect Hill.
Union troops' more famous assaults against the Sunken Road at the field's north end began as a diversion, he said, but ended as a desperate bid to save their army from annihilation.
That was all set in motion "150 years ago, at this very hour, in this very place," he noted, when the Union Army of the Potomac arrived on the Rappahannock River's north shore and prepared to occupy the town.
"Fredericksburg didn't change the war, per se. But it did change those who would change the war, someday," said O'Reilly, the National Park Service historian who wrote "The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock."Fred150 events: 1.usa.gov/STUrzK
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029