Fredericksburg, Virginia, was the scene of intense fighting during the American Civil War (1861–65), and has high Ghost and Haunting activity. Fighting also took place nearby in Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, and The Wilderness. More than 100,000 soldiers were casualties of these battles.
Battle at Fredericksburg
The main fighting at Fredericksburg took place between December 11–15, 1862, ending in a major victory for the South. The battle involved one of the most futile and foolish assaults of the war, executed by General Ambrose Burnside.
Burnside had just been named commander of the Army of the Potomac on November 7 by President ABRAHAM LINCOLN, who was frustrated at the Union’s repeated defeats under the leadership of General McClellan. Burnside immediately launched a campaign against the Southern capital of Richmond, Virginia, by way of Fredericksburg, which enjoyed a strategic position on the Rappahannock River. An army of 115,000 Union troops arrived in town on November 17. Only a few thousand Confederate troops were stationed there, but the Union soldiers had no way to reach them, due to a lack of bridges across the river. They were stalled on the eastern bank.
Burnside ordered pontoon bridges to be built. While his army was idled, General Robert E. Lee had a chance to amass about 78,000 troops behind Fredericksburg on high ground.
When the bridge supplies arrived and work began, Confederate snipers easily picked off the soldiers. Nonetheless, the bridges were built and Union troops poured into town, looting and laying waste. The Confederates retreated, but the two armies engaged in heavy fighting on the south side of town.
The Federals suffered heavy losses. In response, Burnside launched a senseless assault on entrenched Confederates in Marye’s Heights, along a line which became known as the Sunken Road. The South had the advantage of cover on a hill. To attack, the Union troops had to storm up the hill in the open, unprotected. They were mowed down relentlessly by Confederate fire. Burnside would not stop—he sent 14 waves of soldiers in assault and not a single man reached the Confederate line. Finally Burnside withdrew, and on December 15 he ordered his remaining men back across the river. In all, 13,000 soldiers lost their lives or were wounded. Morale sank. Lincoln immediately relieved Burnside of his command.
The South was buoyed by yet another victory. However, the Confederates did not know that only six months away was the battle that would turn the tide against them—GETTYSBURG. And strangely, there would be a near repeat of Burnside’s foolish charges, only the folly would be on the part of the South, when General Pickett would send thousands of men in a charge across an open wheat field, to suffer the same fate.
Fredericksburg has long had a reputation as a haunted place, predating the Civil War. The town is especially known for its high number of visual apparitions—about 25 percent of reports, compared to 10–12 percent at Gettysburg battlefield and environs. Most haunting phenomena consists of sounds, Smells, and sensations rather than visual perceptions. One reason for Fredericksburg’s haunting characteristics, according to MARK NESBITT, Civil War historian and ghost expert, may be the Rappahannock River—water is often associated with areas of high paranormal activity.
Among the notable haunts in Fredericksburg are:
Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road. The site where thousands of Union soldiers fell in Burnside’s foolish charges is haunted by apparitions and the sounds of battle.
The Chimneys. Located in the historic downtown, The Chimneys is home to a café, coffee bar, and the offices of the Ghosts of Fredericksburg Tours. Several ghosts have been reported, including a little boy, little girl, and two adults.
St. George’s Episcopal Church. Also in the historic district, the church has a woman in white and a mysterious “red room,” seen by a police officer, which does not exist. Wooden doors to the pews are said to open and close mysteriously.
Also of haunted note are Salem Church on Route 3 in Chancellorsville, which was used as a hospital, and Bloody Angle in Spotsylvania, the scene of 20 hours of straight fighting. Nesbitt has gotten numerous examples of Electronic Voice Phenomena at Bloody Angle. See CHATHAM.
- Nesbitt, Mark. The Ghost Hunters Field Guide to Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Gettysburg, Pa.: Second Chance Publications, 2007.
- Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Ghosts of Fredericksburg . . . and nearby environs. Private press, 1991.
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