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Civil War Site St Marye's Heights

The battle that took place here from December 11 to December 15, 1862, was mostly against Confederate trenches south of the city and here at the heights, slightly east of the town of Fredericksburg. The federal commander, General Ambrose Burnside, took his army across the Rappahannock River and up a wide, sloping field toward the fortified heights. A division of Confederates waited there for them. Our guide lined us up at the stone wall and faced us east, toward the river. Rebel riflemen were lined up facing that way, two and three deep at the wall during the battle. Men at the back had loaded muskets and passed them forward to the soldiers doing the firing, he told us. Empty weapons were passed back to be reloaded. In that way, the Confederates kept up a murderous fire. From a few miles behind the Heights, Confederate artillery lobbed shell after shell against the Union soldiers, who could only put their heads down and keep slogging upward. Burnside’s attack against St. Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road was intended as a diversion, to keep Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee from reinforcing his troops at a position south of the city called Prospect Heights. But capturing St. Marye’s Heights and the road would have been a major victory nonetheless. The Sunken Road ran all the way north to the Union capital, Washington, D.C., and south to the Confederate capital at Richmond. It was difficult to picture the advance of the Union troops that morning. Over the years, what had been an empty field had become heavily built up. We walked north along toward the Innis House, which had been there during the fighting and had been preserved. Built in 1861, the house belonged to a Mrs. Stephens and was occupied by a Mr. Innis who lived there with her.