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A war hallowed and human page 2
Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Frederickburg: Coming Together: Fredericksburg, 1862

 Re-enactors exchange a 'handshake across the wall.' Prior to battle, the soldiers had declared an informal 'truce.'
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Date published: 12/9/2012


Before long, dozens of little boats were making the crossing. Some were given names; "Monitor" and "Merrimac" were popular choices. Hundreds of soldiers gathered on the shore to greet each new shipment. And not a shot was ever fired. This contact was officially forbidden, of course, and officers issued strict orders and delivered threats, but these were ignored.

One group of Northern and Southern cavalrymen even met for breakfast upstream from Fredericksburg on the morning of the big battle. They were eating, drinking coffee, and joking among themselves while only a few miles away the killing went on.

On another occasion, the Southerners listened in silence while the Union band across the river played patriotic music including "Hail Columbia" and "The Star Spangled Banner." When the musicians began playing "Dixie," the Rebels broke into rousing cheers. Union soldiers joined in singing and the men had a high old time.

Once, when Union solders heard Confederates on the other side cheering, they yelled over to ask what was going on. A Rebel soldier yelled back that Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson was inspecting his troops. When the Yankees heard that, they shouted back, "Hurrah for Stonewall Jackson!"

Despite the rules and orders against fraternizing with the enemy, the men started to visit back and forth. They began to think of one another not as enemies, but as people very much like themselves. All the soldiers were far from home, afraid, lonely, bored with the routine of everyday army life, and sick of the endless war.

Some built crude rafts; others paddled across the icy water clinging to logs. A few hearty souls plunged in and swam quickly across the river. All were greeted warmly, ushered to bonfires, and given hot drinks. They talked openly about themselves and their families, exchanging stories about life back home, about "this damned war." Wouldn't it ever end?


They complained about their officers and griped about the politicians back home who made ringing, stirring patriotic speeches while the young ones like themselves did the suffering and the fighting and the dying. They came to know a lot more about the people they had been trained to kill, how much they had in common, and how much of what they had been told was nothing but lies and propaganda.

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Duane Schultz taught in the psychology department at Mary Washington College in the 1960s. Since then, he has written more than two dozen books in psychology and on World War II and the Civil War, including "The Fate of War: Fredericksburg, 1862" (Westholme Publishing, 2011).