One 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. We 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. There 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 Fredericksburg area has long been industrialized and developed and it takes some work to envision what it looked like in the 1860s. The 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.
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.
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.
We followed her directions to the Stratton house and then to the area where George Kriebel likely died.
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.
Who knows where he was eventually buried. He was not one of those identified for burial in the battlefield cemetery.
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.