November 14, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again, Or Can You?

I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia, for ten years.  I attended Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington) and lived there following graduation.  I really enjoyed Fredericksburg, but I was a different person then and have only been back one time since the late 1970s.  Today, Tim and I spent the day in the city.

A Part of the Campus of the University of Mary Washington
Fredericksburg is a beautiful city located midway between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia.  It boasts countless historic sites and is known for both its Revolutionary War-era and its Civil War history.  George Washington spent his boyhood years at Ferry Farm across the Rappahannock River.  Washington’s mother Mary lived in Fredericksburg, as did his sister Betty.  James Monroe’s law office was also here.  Beautiful eighteenth and nineteenth century buildings line the streets in the historic district.

Mary Washington House
It’s because of its designation as a historic district that much of Fredericksburg has seen little change since I last visited.  I had been afraid that the charm and beauty of the city would have vanished with waves of new development, but this was not the case.  Yes, the outlying area is a mass of strip shopping centers, malls and housing developments, but the historic core remains intact.

Because Tim and I have been following a Civil War theme lately, we wanted to visit the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park (wow, that’s a mouthful!).  Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania represent the most contested ground in the country, a place where four horrifying battles were fought.  Because of the strategic location of this area, the Union army launched three major campaigns and suffered staggering defeats.  There were more than 100,000 casualties during these battles, and the area has been dubbed the bloodiest landscape in North America.

Fredericksburg National Cemetery
We started with a walking tour of Sunken Road, near where I used to live.  We walked where Confederate forces, concealed behind a stone wall, easily defeated the Union army during the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.  The town of Fredericksburg was devastated, and the Union army humiliated.  The road has been restored since I lived there, and missing sections of the stone wall have been reconstructed.  It is a compelling landscape.

Sunken Road

A Section of the Original Stone Wall Along Sunken Road

Monument to Richard Kirkland, "The Angel of Marye's Heights" -
Kirkland Was a Confederate Soldier Who Offered Water to Wounded Union Soldiers
During the Battle of Fredericksburg
We also visited Chatham, an eighteenth-century house that sits on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River and the city of Fredericksburg.  Chatham has hosted three presidents, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, and is a beautiful example of Georgian style architecture. It is a part of the National Park and is particularly significant for its role in the Civil War, when it served as Union headquarters and later as a hospital.

Tim and I have been noting how the National Park Service and other historical organizations have greatly broadened their interpretive themes.  The role of slaves is finally being afforded extensive interpretation.  Civil War sites are also focusing on the effects of the war on the communities where the battles took place.  This is particularly true at Chatham, which was devastated by the war and would not recover until the twentieth century.

One of my favorite parts of the day, however, was lunch.  When I lived in Fredericksburg, I was introduced to good Southern barbeque at Allman’s, a tiny, 1954 restaurant that looks like a dive.  I had hoped against hope that Allman’s might still be open, and it was!  Neither the restaurant nor the food had changed, and the staff was incredibly proud of that fact.  Allman’s barbeque sandwiches are topped with cole slaw, and the barbeque sauce has a pronounced vinegar base.  What good memories that lunch brought back!  This was our first taste of barbeque on the trip, and I can’t wait to sample different regional variations as we travel south and west.

Allman's Bar-B-Q

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