Visitors to the area can retrace the footsteps of Civil War soldiers and witness firsthand the devastation of battle in the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park, the second largest military park in the world. Spanning more than 8,000 acres, four battlefields reside here: Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. More than 85,000 men were wounded here, 15,000 killed.
Two visitor centers at Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg provide audio-visual presentations and museum exhibits. Today, visitors can explore the battlefields in a whole new way using the recently-launched Fredericksburg Battle App, developed by the Civil War Trust. Available for the iPhone, the GPS-enabled touring application guides visitors through four detailed tours that cover the entire Civil War battlefield — from Prospect Hill to the Sunken Road. Various “virtual signs” allow users to access accounts of the great events at the specific locations. The application also features onboard historian videos, audio accounts of soldiers and civilians from the battle, animated maps, photos, orders of battle, chronologies and key facts.
The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, located in Fredericksburg’s historic downtown district, features Civil War artifacts and exhibits that tell the harrowing stories of the civilian experience, including the Fredericksburg at War exhibit, which focuses on the tragedy and aftermath of the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. A wooden door, marred by the bullet of a Union soldier. Diaries and letters written by battled-scarred soldiers for their frightened families. The museum also features a collection of Civil War guns and weapons on display for the first time in more than a decade.
Perhaps one of the most unique museums in the area is the White Oak Civil War Museum in Stafford. The museum houses an extensive collection of Civil War artifacts, most of which were lost and discarded by the troops themselves. The dedicated museum staff has taken great care to collect, restore and display letters, maps, replicas of soldier huts and other items. D.P. Newton, museum curator, was recently awarded the 2011 Discovery Trail Site of the Year award by the Civil War Trust for his dedication to providing an outstanding visitor experience through his world-class exhibitions.
In addition to Civil War history, the Fredericksburg area boasts an extensive Colonial history. Rising Sun Tavern, first built in 1760 and operated by Charles Washington, brother to George Washington, was at the time the only “proper” tavern located in the bustling port city of Fredericksburg. For an interesting perspective on Colonial medicinal practices, visitors to the area can learn vivid living history at the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop. This is not your ordinary school physical! There’s a plethora of potent potables floating around this one-of-a-kind museum. Dr. Mercer served the citizens of Fredericksburg for 15 years with medicines and treatments of the time. He then left his practice to join the Revolutionary army and died as a Brigadier General at the Battle of Princeton.
Ideal for student tours, Hallowed Ground Tours offers in-depth tours highlighting local history, from the area’s Colonial past through the Civil War era, and beyond. Some tours can be adapted to a school group’s specific testing needs. Attractions along the tour include Kenmore Plantation, James Monroe Museum, Ferry Farm and Mary Washington House, among others. For information, visit www.hallowedgroundtours.com.
While exploring the area, dive into history, haunts and all things that go bump in the night during a candlelit evening ghost tour. Mark Nesbitt, renowned author of the bestselling “Ghosts of Gettysburg” series, brings the paranormal to historic downtown with the Ghosts of Fredericksburg walking tours. Many of Fredericksburg’s historical figures are still thought to linger, perhaps because of unfinished business. From a wandering English girl in search of lost love, and a lingering worshipper in St. George’s Episcopal Church, to a Sioux Indian Princess haunting the estate of Fall Hill, and empty rockers, crashing dishes and the booming sound of heavy footsteps through The Chimneys, the Fredericksburg area delivers a heart-stopping, hair-raising ghost tour experience, sure to leave visitors wondering — “Who’s there?”
The Fredericksburg area is playing a significant role in commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, with a variety of commemorations and events planned to honor the history and sacrifice that was made here. The area’s Sesquicentennial observances will engage the community to help convey the region’s wartime experience to the nation at large. The observance will use creative programming including reenactments, special exhibits, lectures and film festivals to engage a wider audience and will go beyond the battlefields to portray the human experience of the community at large — slave and free.
Throughout the Sesquicentennial, explore the roots of momentous issues through a local eye, using the sites where some of the war’s most notable events took place. Learn how the experiences of the region characterized and foreshadowed the evolution of the war, and how some events were experienced very differently depending on one’s gender, economic status, race or uniform color. For more information and for a schedule of events, please visit www.nps.gov/frsp.