Bill and I tried to see and learn as much as we could about the Civil War during the time we lived in Fredericksburg (1995-2004). Bill and I visited nearly every battleground in the greater Fredericksburg area (and even took a motorcycle ride to visit Gettysburg). At the time we lived here, I was a runner, so I never looked at the battlefields as places to get exercise. Now that we are visiting our daughter here, we are looking for places to hike/walk (my running days are over). People have said the battlegrounds are great places for that – but I remembered the walking areas to either be paved or asphalt. My knees prefer natural surfaces so we haven’t been back to visit them. But thanks to a national fitness organization with a local chapter, “Hike It Baby – Fredericksburg,” I’ve not only discovered a nice place to get in a good walk, I discovered an important battleground which we missed when we thought we knew all there was to know about the Civil War in Fredericksburg!
So first, let’s look at the history, starting with this famous quote:
“It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.” – Robert E. Lee
This battleground has been preserved under the Civil War Trust and encompasses 208 acres. Just like Gettysburg, you feel like you are walking on holy (hallowed) ground, where so many precious lives were shed for freedom. This trust is to preserve the memory and history vital to understanding our nation. And it was it’s own battle as it was the most ambitious campaign to raise the $12 million needed, which began in 2006 (that explains how we missed it). Excepts from the website:
“Until that time (2006), the Slaughter Pen Farm was the largest remaining unprotected part of the Fredericksburg Battlefield and remains the only place where a visitor can still follow the Union assault on that bloody day from beginning to end. Nearly all the other land associated with Union attacks at Fredericksburg — either on the southern end of the battlefield or in front of Marye’s Heights — has been destroyed by development.
“The struggle for the Slaughter Pen Farm was among the most intense in Civil War history. More than 5,000 casualties were inflicted on the farm during the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. Five Congressional Medals of Honor for valor were awarded for actions taken on the site that day. According to Ed Bearss, chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service, the farm was ‘without a doubt the most significant part of the battlefield at Fredericksburg that is not protected. Its acquisition will provide an opportunity to permit visitors to walk in the footsteps of history.’
“The Slaughter Pen is the very heart and soul of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. Without it, nothing makes sense. This is the point where the battle was won and lost on December 13, 1862. After Burnside’s bloody failure here, there was nothing the Union army could do to win the Battle of Fredericksburg — or the Confederates to lose it. Correspondingly, this is where preservation ultimately will win or lose the struggle for Fredericksburg’s history.
“Standing on this unblemished historic land — christened in the blood of brave men, North and South — one touches the past, and understands the sacrifices of those men on the most decisive point of the Fredericksburg Battlefield. They fought for this land, and paid for it with their lives. We need to fight for this land, too — for the past, for them, lest we forget.”
— Frank O’Reilly, author of “The Fredericksburg Campaign: Winter War on the Rappahannock”
While I thought I was a history buff, the term “Slaughter Pen” piqued my interest as I had not heard it before. I googled it and only wikipedia gave this information: “Slaughter Pen may refer to battle locations where, as with an animal killing area at a slaughterhouse, military troops with little defense are “caught in a slaughter pen on some disastrous field with a sacrifice” in a short period:
-Slaughter Pen (Cold Harbor), during the Battle of Cold Harbor
-Slaughter Pen (Gettysburg Battlefield), during the Battle of Gettysburg
-Slaughter Pen (Stones River), during the Battle of Stones River
-Slaughter Pen Farm (Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park)
-Floating Battery of Charleston Harbor, nicknamed “the slaughter pen”
Oh my, how horrible to see it put into such terminology. And that is why I felt like I was walking on sacred ground.
They have done a wonderful job of preserving the history of this important battle. I especially liked it because it is still an all natural setting. Which means there are also no restrooms. Aside from that, it is well marked with informational stands to give you the history as you look over the areas being discussed. Since I was in a bit of a hurry so I didn’t stop and read them. But I have since read the history. I really wanted to get a feel for this area as a place to bring our grandsons and enjoy a good walk with our daughter.
It was a beautiful sunny day when I started, just a bit cool (56 degrees) so I wore a light weight fleece jacket that I shed half way around the walk.
And then off to the walk or as I like to exaggerate a bit, hike! There is a slight rolling hill feature to this battlefield.
Our oldest grandson is fascinated by airplanes and choo choo trains. And there are opportunities to see and hear both! I did see three small airplanes take off. I wasn’t fast enough with my cell phone to get a picture. Next time.
I normally won’t solicit for anyone or any organization. But I do believe this is such a worthy cause and an important piece of vital history. So here is a commercial if you would like to join us: “To date, the Trust has raised more than 60 percent of the purchase price for the Slaughter Pen Farm; however, work remains to be done before this incredible part of our nation’s history is fully set aside for posterity. Learn more about the work that remains and how you can help at www.civilwar.org/fredericksburg.”
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.“