On Tuesday, as we approached Baltimore-Washington International, we saw the Appalachians shading from oxblood to dull brown. From that altitude, the landscape looks gently ravaged as though ripped by a beast and now partially healed. One can see isolated settlements without visible roads among the hollows. A wind farm is built along a series of ridges. Strip mining has left deforested pits among the trees. We drove south from Baltimore, mostly on I-95, through Washington, past the Pentagon, roughly following the route McClellan’s Army of the Potomac took in 1862.
“Inevitably, the war would have an impact on the city.”
We’re in Fredericksburg, Va., to celebrate Thanksgiving with my father-in-law. It’s his first holiday season as a widower. Up the hill, a few hundred yards from where I’m sitting, along Lee Drive, are three Confederate cannons with the barrels plugged. The city’s fate was sealed on Sept. 17, 1862, the single bloodiest day of the war. Almost 25, 500 Americans were killed or wounded at Antietam Creek, not all that far from here in Maryland, and McClellan failed to pursue the rebels as they crossed the Potomac back into Virginia.
“The city nestled on the fall line of the Rappahonnock [River] and retained a quaint charm when newly constructed railroads diverted trade and development to Washington and Richmond.”
My father-in-law’s neighborhood is dense with trees, predominantly black and red oaks. His yard is thickly littered with red leaves. Holly trees throughout the woods are heavy with red berries. The battle raged from December 11 to 15. The Union army suffered 12,653 casualties; the Confederates, 5,377. When my middle son, in his second year at the U.S. Naval Academy, arrives by train from Annapolis today, we plan to tramp the battlefield, beginning at Marye’s Heights.
[All of the quoted material is taken from The Fredericksburg Campaign (Louisiana State University Press, 2006) by Francis Augustin O'Reilly.]