- John Hennessy
In the spring of 1864—150 years ago—the toil, sacrifice, and destruction of three years of Civil War merged into a swelling Union tide whose advance seemed inexorable, even if its success and destination remained in doubt. The Civil War became a whirlwind, rushing southward through Virginia and the Confederacy. Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg joined the lengthening list of the nation’s bloody battlefields. That divided nation and the world watched intently, for that spring and summer the final course of the war would be set.
In 2014 the nation will come together on these fields once again to remember. Starting on May 3 and continuing until May 26, the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park will present a series of programs that will take people to the scene of momentous events, often at the very time they took place, 150 years later. The words of those who were there, living history, music, participatory programs, exhibits, special tours, and the culminating moment on May 10 will constitute a nation's remembrance of one of its most difficult times.
(John Hennessy is Chief Historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.)
You can learn more about our area's involvement with what was known as the Overland Campaign with materials from our resource list, CRRL History: The Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.
Above and below, you will find images from the Virginia Historical Society's collection that touch on the war's human toll:
Uniform of James Scott Lowell, born in Portland, Maine, June 25, 1846 and entered the Union Army at 17 years old. Served in Battery 7 as Guidon of regiment. First battle was The Wilderness. Last battle was the siege of Petersburg. (1993.86.1-3) Credit: the Virginia Historical Society
Portrait in oils of David Watson, Major, C.S.A.
Born in Louisa County, November 5, 1834. Died May 13, 1864 from received in action at Spotsylvania C.H. Enlisted 1st Regiment Artillery, 1861. July, 2nd Lieutenant. April 30, 1862, Captain, 2nd Company, Richmond Howitzers. Battles include Seven Pines, Seven Days below Richmond, and all campaigns of the Army of Northern Virginia. Major, winter, 1862. Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Wilderness, until mortally wounded. (1946.168)
Credit: United Daughters of the Confederacy, VA Division, on deposit at the Virginia Historical Society.
"Stonewall Brigade captured at Bloody Angle in the Wilderness--on way to prison at Fredericksburg." Photographic print, Rebel Prisoners at Belle Plain, Spotsylvania Co. (2002.501.12)
Credit: the Virginia Historical Society.