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Commemorating Fredericksburg’s Dark December

Sesquicentennial visitors got to see a grand show at last fall’s commemorations of the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, thanks to the National Park Service and the Battle of Fredericksburg Commemoration Committee. The NPS offered tours of the historic Virginia town, while the Commemoration Committee sponsored a reenactment of the pontoon crossing of the Rappahannock River and also a re-creation of the December 12 house-to-house fighting within the city itself.

Eric Mink, historian for the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, reported that the event came off well, and said crowds were much larger than had been expected for the tours, bringing in between 400 and 500 participants. He was also impressed by how well-informed many of the visitors were about the 1862 battle. Many were especially intrigued by the urban fighting, noting that they could stand right in front of houses that had survived the battle.

The Battle of Fredericksburg involved a number of “firsts” for the war, Mink pointed out, including a pontoon crossing of a river launched under fire, the U.S. Army bombarding a town and urban combat on a large scale.

The 2012 version of the river crossing involved some help from the U.S. Army National Guard’s 189th Multirole Bridge Company, which had laid down a “ribbon bridge”—but it came up short on the Fredericksburg side, forcing Union reenactors to plunge into knee-deep water to make it to the shore. At least they didn’t have to worry about dodging Rebel bullets, as their 1862 counterparts did.

A Direct Living Link to the Civil War

There’s no precise count of how many children of Civil War soldiers are still with us, but it’s safe to say Juanita Mary Tudor Lowery is a member of a very exclusive club. The daughter of a Union veteran who served in an Iowa regiment, Juanita, who lives in Kearny, Mo., just celebrated her 86th birthday. Infantry Private Hugh Tudor, who enlisted at age 16 in 1864, didn’t see much action, but he did get a look at some notable commanders during Sherman’s March to the Sea. On March 25, 1865, for example, he wrote in his diary: “This morning Genl. Sherman and his 14th Corps came in….The[y] fired 15 guns to salute Sherman.”

Tudor returned to farming after the war, marrying Elizabeth Watkins. When she died in 1917, they were childless. In 1920 Tudor married Mary Morgan, with whom he had HuDean Grace and Juanita Mary. In 1928, Tudor and his family attended a Grand Army of the Republic encampment in Denver, where he and Mary were interviewed and photographed with their children. Though Juanita doesn’t remember her dad, who died when she was 2, she has carefully preserved his wartime mementos.

Balloon Contest Winner

Congratulations to Andrew Richard Chmyr, the winner of the contest announced in the December issue of Civil War Times! He correctly identified the balloon tender George Washington Parke Custis as America’s first aircraft carrier.

Chmyr wins free admission and a balloon ride for two at Genesee Country Village & Museum. In addition, he will receive a free one-night stay at the Genesee Country Inn, a historic bed and breakfast just down the road from the museum, as well as a $25 gift certificate for dinner at the historic Caledonia Village Inn.

Recycling the Civil War?

Restorationists working on the steeple of Williamsburg, Va.’s Bruton Parish Church got a surprise. The large black ornamental ball on the steeple, easily visible from the ground, actually appears to be a recycled mortar shell, perhaps from the Civil War. “We aren’t positive what it is,” pointed out Matthew Webster, director of the Historic Architectural Review Board, who has seen the artifact. “If it is a mortar shell, it has been altered for another use,” according to Webster, since a hole has been drilled straight through its middle.

Bruton Parish Church’s steeple repairs have since been completed. Webster points out that to remove the unusual artifact now, so that it could be more closely examined by experts, would require tearing apart the whole steeple assembly. Large Union mortars were at nearby Yorktown during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, so it’s possible that a leftover bombshell was recycled for this purpose. “We’d love some help on this,” said Webster.


Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.