Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park actually encompasses four Civil War battlefields where a total of 100,000 soldiers fell. It is considered “The Bloodiest Landscape in America.”
The first battle to take place here was the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside made charge after charge against Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s well-entrenched troops on Marye’s Heights resulting in horrifying casualties. During the course of the battle, the town of Fredericksburg was shelled by Union troops and street fighting occurred between the two forces—causing significant damage to many homes and buildings.
The Battle of Chancellorsville, May 1-5, 1863, is considered to be Lee’s greatest victory. Union forces under Major General Joseph Hooker were surprised by a daring flanking maneuver and abandoned the field in a complete rout. However, Confederate victory came with a high price. Lee’s top commander, General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, was accidentally shot by his own men while scouting ahead of his troops. He died on May 10, following the amputation of his left arm.
The Battle of the Wilderness, waged over May 5-6, 1864, and the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 8, 1864 were part of General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to constantly engage, and eventually wear down, Lee’s army. The two battles were extremely costly for the Union with a total of 36,000 casualties, but Grant succeeded in keeping a constant pressure on Lee and forcing him to continually withdraw to the South.
—Tracey McIntire, NPCA
If You Go
- To get the full story on each battle, ideally you should plan one day for each section of the park. Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville each have visitor’s centers with films and exhibits. Shelters at Wilderness and Spotsylvania provide interpretation of these battles. There are also several walking tours available for each battlefield—either ranger-led or self-guided.
- Be sure to allow time to visit the Stonewall Jackson Shrine at Guinea Station where the general died, and Chatham Manor, a 1768 Georgian Mansion overlooking the town of Fredericksburg. The home served as Union headquarters and hospital during the Battle of Fredericksburg. It also has the distinction of having been visited by two presidents—George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
- For a real novelty, stop at Ellwood, a home on the Wilderness battlefield, to see where Stonewall Jackson’s arm is buried. And don’t miss the inspiring Sgt. Richard Kirkland Memorial at the base of Marye’s Heights—dedicated to a Confederate soldier who risked his life to bring water to the wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg.