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Irish to have role in 'battle' events

December 7, 2012 12:10 am

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Re-enactors will use two pontoon boats and a U.S. Army floating bridge to cross the Rappahannock River. lo120712Pontoons3a.jpg

Re-enactors try out one of the full-scale pontoon boats they built on the Rappahannock River, preparing for Saturday's 150th re-enactment of the Battle of Fredericksburg.

BY CLINT SCHEMMER

This weekend will bring sights, sounds and smells the likes of which no one's experienced in Fredericksburg for 15 decades.

It will be loud, for one thing, with periodic rifle fire and cannon blasts, including a 21-gun salute from atop Marye's Heights on Sunday. If you have a dogs or cats, keep them close.

It'll be only a small taste of what people here felt during the Battle of Fredericksburg, but that should be enough.

The Irish will be here in force, naturally, for the once-in-a-lifetime Civil War commemoration.

On Saturday afternoon, re-enactors will depict the Irish Brigade's attack on the Stone Wall, with Trench Hill standing in for Marye's Heights. On Sunday afternoon, representatives of the Republic of Ireland will take part in the culminating ceremony for the battle's 150th anniversary program.

U.S. military personnel will salute their Civil War predecessors with soldiers from the descendant units of the Stonewall and Irish brigades and the 1st Virginia Regiment participating.

THE IRISH

At noon Sunday, members of the Irish Defence Forces will help re-dedicate the Irish Brigade monument at City Dock. Historian Frank O'Reilly, a Sons of Union Veterans officer, and a representative of the Irish Embassy will speak. Fredericksburg Councilman Matt Kelly will describe what motivated Irish immigrants to fight in the Civil War.

The Irish participation this weekend "is a recognition that, as if we needed one, this battle reverberated across the land--and even across the Atlantic," John Hennessy, chief historian of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, said Thursday.

"One of the reasons the Irish at Fredericksburg are so compelling is that most of us are the children or descendants of immigrants. The Irish Brigade's involvement in the Civil War and their sacrifice at places like Fredericksburg is really one of the most remarkable acts of devotion ever to an adopted nation."

At 1 p.m., the Defence Forces troops will walk in the public procession from the Rappahannock River to Marye's Heights, leaving Riverfront Park, pausing at Hurkamp Park and Maury Field before closing the gap to Sunken Road.

At 3 p.m., a representative from the Irish Embassy in Washington and the vice mayor of Kerry, Ireland, will take part in the culminating ceremony at the Stone Wall. That's when townsfolk will hear a salute from Virginia Army National Guard artillery atop Willis Hill, about where Confederate artillerist E. Porter Alexander placed his guns during the battle.

MILITARY HERITAGE

Also certain to be moving will be the presence of the descendant units of Union and Confederate regiments who fought here.

The 75-man contingent from the 69th Regiment, New York National Guard, will retrace soldiers' footsteps, carrying the battalion's battle flag. They'll advance with re-enactors and veterans of the 69th who are traveling here simply to convey honor to those who came before them. The regiment is directly descended from the 69th New York of the Irish Brigade.

The New Yorkers will link up with former Confederate foes, soldiers of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Virginia Army National Guard. The unit is a legacy of the Army of Northern Virginia's Stonewall Jackson Brigade.

The two groups will join at the Sunken Road alongside soldiers' descendants for music, reflection and a salute to their service in 1862.

RIVER CROSSING

Equally vital in the sesquicentennial is the work of the Virginia National Guard's 189th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, which will bring the latest in military mobile bridging technology to support Civil War re-enactors.

Today, the soldiers--in boats--will position 26-foot-wide bridge sections near City Dock, with final assembly early Saturday.

"This is a great training opportunity for the 189th to be able to assemble the bridge on a flowing river," said 1st Lt. Marianne E. Heldmann, the unit's commander. "This mission also requires coordination with multiple civilian agencies, which is what we do when we are on state active duty."

At 10 a.m. Saturday, cannons will echo over Ferry Farm, signaling the start of "Fire on the Rappahannock" fighting that ends about 4 p.m. at Trench Hill.

At 11 a.m., 600 Union re-enactors will cross the river in pontoon boats and on the National Guard's floating bridge, and battle their way up Rocky Lane and Lower Caroline and Sophia streets toward Riverfront Park.

Union and Confederate regiments will muster at Federal Hill and Trench Hill about 1:30 p.m. for inspections. At 2:20 p.m. at Maury Stadium, 150 men will fire a three-volley salute before the Battle of Marye's Heights begins at 3 p.m. at Trench Hill.

American History TV

C-SPAN, the National Geographic Channel and Heritage Media LLC, a local firm making a documentary, will shoot video this weekend.

At 6 p.m. Saturday, C-SPAN3, the American History TV channel, will broadcast a segment shot during one of the recent "Battle Town" lectures at the Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center. Jeffrey McClurken, a historian at the University of Mary Washington, explains "why Fredericksburg became the center for such a massive conflict at a time when most armies of the era would have gone into winter quarters," the professor said. (Think political pressures and the Emancipation Proclamation, issued two weeks after the battle.)

The Battle of Fredericksburg (Dec. 11-15, 1862) was unusual in many respects, particularly the season in which it was fought in and around the town.

Weather counts now, too, so the weekend's forecast may boost attendance. Saturday will be sunny with a high of 70 degrees, Sunday 61 degrees and partly cloudy, AccuWeather says.

LOGISTICS

Plan to take a shuttle bus to get around downtown, to Fredericksburg and Spotyslvania National Military Park's visitor center and Chatham Manor, and the re-enactors' camps at Ferry Farm in Stafford and Slaughter Pen Farm in Spotsylvania.

Fredericksburg is imposing parking restrictions and plans to close roads to accommodate the many big events planned downtown to mark the 150th anniversary.

And if you encounter a stranger, it might well be a descendant of the soldiers who fought here. Their kin are coming from all over to witness the occasion.

Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029
Email: cschemmer@freelancestar.com




CULMINATION

3 p.m. Sunday at Sunken Road: Music, words and respect for sacrifices at Fredericksburg

PROCESSION

1 p.m. Sunday at Riverfront Park: Trace soldiers' footsteps

PONTOONS, BATTLES

10 & 11 a.m., 3 p.m. Saturday: 'Fire on the Rappahannock'

TOURS AND TALKS

Park Service rangers inform, guide visitors at Sunken Road, Slaughter Pen, Prospect Hill, in churches, on city streets

ARMIES' CAMPS

Hundreds of re-enactors at Ferry Farm and Slaughter Pen Farm

CANDLELIGHT TOUR

HFFI.org spotlights Braehead, Brompton, Civil War sites

NEXT WEEK

'Real-time' NPS tours Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 15; historians' battlefield preservation banquet Dec. 13

Program: tinyurl.com/frd150

Fire on the Rappahannock: fredericksburg150.org

Tourism: visitfred.com

National Park on Facebook: bit.ly/fbfred

News coverage: bit.ly/fred150




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