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With fascination, not fear, Civil War battle is relived
The story of the re-enactment is told

 Park ranger Eric Mink, Civil War re-enactors and citizens pass 69th Infantry soldiers in Sunday's Fredericksburg 150th processional.
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Date published: 12/10/2012


Anyone who was unaware that something unusual was happening in Fredericksburg yesterday afternoon must have been an exceptionally sound sleeper.

Shells exploded overhead, church bells pealed and howitzers roared as the region--and the nation--commemorated the Battle of Fredericksburg, fought 150 years ago this week.

Mimicking for a few minutes the Dec. 11, 1862, bombardment of the city by Union gunners, the noise and vibration thumped people's chests, frightened young children and echoed back and forth off buildings and distant ridges.

Only a small taste of what the community experienced in the run-up to the battle, it was still enough to make people stop in their tracks, transfixed, looking up at the skies.

The drama began at 1 p.m. with a public assembly in Riverfront Park, launch point for a procession from the Rappahannock to Marye's Heights that followed in the steps of Union soldiers who crossed the river to traverse a wide plain and assault Confederate defenses on the ridge beyond.

Participants--who may have numbered a thousand--carried carnations from the river to Sunken Road in remembrance of those who fell here, North and South.

Historians Frank O'Reilly and John Hennessy of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, park Superintendent Russ Smith and Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw welcomed the crowd. Attendees included people from across the United States, dignitaries from the Republic of Ireland and other international visitors.

Mayor Greenlaw, descendant of several prominent families dating to well before the Civil War, extended her Southern hospitality and sounded some somber notes.

"Fredericksburg stands in the ranks of a handful of America's communities whose histories have been bisected by a single, tumultuous event--alongside places like New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina, Chicago and its fire and Joplin and its disastrous tornado. In Fredericksburg, everything either happened before or after 'the war,' and here no one ever doubts which war you're talking about.

"We hope by coming here today, you will learn something important not just about Fredericksburg, but about our nation, and the heavy cost, immense effort, and bright triumphs building both a community and nation requires."

Following thunderous fireworks fired from Stafford Heights across the river, the group--which filled the park--began a mostly silent, mile-long walk to the Sunken Road, red and white flowers in hand. (Red for soldiers killed in the battle, white for the wounded.)

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