A Surreal Morning in Fredericksburg

IMG_9404One of the bloodiest slaughters in the Civil War occurred on the gentle slope of a hillside peach orchard in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I knew that my great-great-grandfather, George Kriebel, died at Fredericksburg, but did not know any details.  I now know where and how he likely died.

We left Huntington Island State Park in late March with the goal of arriving in Maine on April 1 to start house hunting.  The weather was a challenge.  Below-freezing temperatures and snow hounded us all the way north.  IMG_9430We were in the vanguard of snowbirds heading north and most campgrounds were still closed.  But we found an open KOA in Fredericksburg and could not resist the opportunity to stay an extra day to visit the battlefield.

Zoe, being an Alaskan girl, was thrilled with the cold weather and celebrated her 11th birthday with a new ball.  IMG_9402There is something about the ball-within-a-ball that is all-kinds-of-awesome for Zoe.  She turned into a puppy again, especially because she got to enjoy it (off leash) at a nearly empty campground.  She was able to accompany us to the battlefield, too, so we all set off on an ugly, gray morning, with spitting rain.


The Battlefield Restaurant

The Fredericksburg area has long been industrialized and developed and it takes some work to envision what it looked like in the 1860s.  IMG_9427The battlefield park feels like a sliver of green carved out of an unattractive, sprawl of old houses and decaying businesses.  I stupidly messed up the directions and we drove the length of the park before we found the visitors’ center.

A young man greeted us at the front desk of the visitors’ center, handing us the standard informational brochures.  His eyes lit up and he grinned when I asked if I could find out any details of George Kriebel’s fate–he said that he LOVED doing such research, it was the best part of the job.  He sent us down to watch a movie on the battle while he consulted their records.

We learned that George Kriebel was part of the bloody suicidal assault on Marye’s Heights–in which wave after wave of Union forces were ordered forward across an open field with no cover or protection to almost certain death.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall provided nice cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.

This (now reconstructed) stone wall (also called the sunken road) provided cover for the Confederate army to shoot down on the Union troops below.


A view of the stone wall from lower on the hillside

They were decimated by bullets and artillery mowing them down from the hillside above.  This grotesque squandering of lives resulting from the muddled mismanagement of the “Butcher of Fredericksburg,” General Ambrose Burnside–a man of flamboyant, bushy whiskers (sideburns were named for him) and the first president of the National Rifle Association.

Artillery posts higher above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Artillery posts above the sunken road, higher on the hill.

Our young man researcher was joined by an older woman staff member–also greatly interested in helping us–who pulled out the battleground maps to show us exactly where Kriebel’s unit was in the battle.


George Kriebel’s unit would have been to the left of the Stratton house in this picture.

We followed her directions to the Stratton house and then to the area where George Kriebel likely died.

Photo of the Stratton house after the battle

Photo of the Stratton house after the war.

This exhibit in the visitors' center tried to depict the scant cover--a wooden fence and a house--available to the Union troops at Marye's

This exhibit in the visitors’ center tried to depict the scant cover–a wooden fence and a house–available to the Union troops trying to assault Marye’s heights.

The Stratton house now.

The Stratton house today.

It is full of oldish square houses, a working class neighborhood now.  It was a peach orchard then.  A bizarre wartime grave for a man whose grandson and great grandson would be fruit growers.  I hope he died fast and didn’t lie there, suffering, in a mass of bloody, groaning bodies.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel likely died.

This neighborhood now covers the area in which George Kriebel and thousands of other Union soldiers died.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Oddly enough, this was the street next to the Stratton house.

Who knows where he was eventually buried.  He was not one of those identified for burial in the battlefield cemetery.

Fredericksburg cemetery--it holds a small portion of those who died there

Fredericksburg cemetery–with the graves of identified dead

He was thirty-eight years old and left his wife and four children.  Emma, his youngest, and my great-grandmother, was only seven when he died.

It was a sobering morning.  It’s hard to really imagine the massive death visited on what was a small, lovely town and local farm fields and woods.  I came away with the core thought that war sucks.IMG_941520150326_113926