Amtrak let me off in downtown Fredericksburg, where buildings that might have witnessed the original battle were snugged up against the modern train station (background).
After breakfast, I sneaked through Confederate lines toward the site where Union forces were getting ready to cross the Rappahannock on a pontoon bridge.
Although the city of Fredericksburg had been evacuated before the original battle began, in the reenactment many women and children stayed on to support their menfolk.
The new commander of the Army of the Potomac, Gen. Ambrose Burnside (he of the famous whiskers) miscalculated the timing of his attack. By the time the pontoon bridges were ready to be erected, the city was well defended by General Lee's troops.
Confederate troops assembling along Water Street (now Sophia Street) where some of the original fighting took place.
Down by the Rappahannock, waiting for the Union attack.
On the other side of the Rappahannock, at the Ferry Farm (George Washington's boyhood home), the tents of the encampment of the 20th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, have emptied in preparation for the river crossing.
At the Ferry Farm, soldiers were inflating observation balloons for use in directing the battle.
When construction of the pontoon bridge was prevented by withering fire from Confederate troops, Union forces rowed over to establish a beachhead.
With the bridge finished (courtesy of the modern Army), Union forces were able to start marching across.
The first soldiers across the bridge established a perimeter to protect the troops that followed.
Stepping around fallen soldiers, Union troops begin their advance on the city of Fredericksburg. Artillery from the far side of the river supports the attack.
More troops cross the pontoon bridge as fallen soldiers from both sides lie on the ground.
An overall view of the crossing looking across the Rappahannock to Ferry Farm, where Union troops had assembled (photo taken from behind the "Sentry Box," a restored home that was damaged during the battle).
Members of the 20th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, begin their assault down Caroline Street, pushing the Confederate forces in front of them. (Note the hometown support: a Boston Bruins sweatshirt in the background.)
Confederate forces on Caroline Street attempt to hold back the Union advance.
Union forces continue their advance. A history of the 32nd Regiment describes how the soldiers protected themselves from the December chill by donning the lighter blue overcoats many of the soldiers are wearing here.
After the city was taken, Gen. Burnside's objective was across a 2,000-yard expanse of rising bare ground, ending at a four-foot stone wall below a sharp elevation (Marye's Heights) where General Lee had placed his artillery. It was a plan designed to end in disaster.
The National Park Service exhibits Civil War artillery at the summit of Marye's Heights.
The artillery on Marye's Heights had a clear view back down to the city (no pine trees and no nearby houses). As one Confederate commander said, "A chicken could not live on that field when we open on it."
The wall at the foot of Marye's Heights went along the Sunken Road, a perfect cover for Confederate infantry.
As Union troops advance into a barrage of Confederate artillery and infantry fire, thousands of onlookers capture the moment in digital photos. Col. Francis Parker writes: "We recall the terrific accession to the roar of battle with which the enemy welcomed each brigade before us as it left the cover of the cut and with which at last it welcomed us. We remember the rush across that open field where, in ten minutes, every tenth man was killed or wounded."
Wave after wave of General Burnside's Army of the Potomac is sent up the hill in a futile attempt to take Marye's Heights. Col. Parker writes: "To the memory now comes a strange jumble of. . .situations and occurrences as do not appear in the battles of history or fiction. . . Our regiment . . . getting into such positions that it was equally a matter of wonder that we should ever have gone there or . . . should ever have escaped alive."
"Our men, proudly disdaining cover, stood every man erect and with steady fire-firing kept the rebels down behind the cover of their stone wall and held the position until nightfall." When the sun sets, members of the 32nd Regiment are pinned down within 40 yards of the Sunken Road without the possibility of relief. George W. Dunham's comrade in arms, Daniel Westgate Sr., is wounded severely. Unable to be evacuated for more than a day, he dies six days later in a hospital in Georgetown, DC. Col. Parker writes: "Night closed upon a bloody field. A battle of which there seems to have been no plan, had been fought with no strategic result."
Confederate history recounts the story of Sgt. Richard R. Kirkland ("The Angel of Marye's Heights"), who crossed the lines of battle to bring water to Union troops. On the other side, Col. Parker tells of a Union soldier carrying canteens up the hill, pretending to be downed by Confederate fire before springing forward to the trapped soldiers.
The steep rise up to the heights where so many are buried. "Rest on embalmed and sainted dead, / Dear as the blood you gave. / No impious footstep here shall tread / the herbage of your grave."
Coming back down the hill from the reenactment, there were signs that, while the battle had been lost, the war had been won.