Civil War Re-enactment, Massena, New York (2012)
Today, I crossed the 45th parallel in Robert Moses State Park and was transported to another time and place in American history. In a blink of an eye, I found myself transported about 150 years back in time south to a point around Fredricksburg, Virginia and smack in the middle of the encampments of the two opposing forces, the Confederates and the Union Army. The American Civil War (1861 – 1865) had been underway for a year but now in 1862 Fredricksburg was the focus of the Union troops.
From Wiki: The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought December 11–15, 1862, in and around Fredericksburg, Virginia, between General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate States Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Major General (United States) Ambrose E. Burnside. The Union army’s futile frontal attacks on December 13 against entrenched Confederate defenders on the heights behind the city is remembered as one of the most one-sided battles of the American Civil War, with Union casualties more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates.
The battle of Fredericksburg occurred over a period of four days as, each day, the Union troops attempted to take the small hillock occupied by the Confederates with their cannons. In the Massena reenactment, these four days are compressed into an hour or so of action as Union troops approach the hillock and are repulsed by gunfire and heavy-duty cannonfire. Although no one dies in these re-enactments (real guns but no bullets), the sounds of the cannonfire and the sound, smoke and chaos that black powder creates provides some idea of what it might have been like on a battlefield 15o years ago.
As the troops from both sides leave their respective camps and take up positions on the battlefield, it is important to check that everyone is ready for the battle that will ensue. Even though there is no live ammunition involved in the re-enactment, it is still important that the re-enactors go through a series of safety related drills to ensure that their rifles are indeed operational and safe to fire in the close quarters that will represent the advancing lines.
While Union troops were assembling in the open fields, the Confederates were rolling their cannons into position and assembling their troops in the advantageous uphill locations.
While the various troops were assembling, the story of the Fredricksburg battle was outlined for the assembled spectators and, of course, for those who might need a reminder, a reminder was given that cannons can be very loud!
Since they occupied the uphill position, the Confederate troops had a major advantage in this battle. They could launch their cannonballs a longer distance than Union troops and would be able to see the arrival and placement of enemy forces more easily.
The weaponry of the day used black powder which provided propulsion for the cannonballs and lead bullets but also created a lot of noise and smoke and, as the skirmishes progressed, seeing one’s target – the enemy – would become more problematic.
Each day that the Union troops attempted to take the hill, they were repulsed and forced to retreat taking their wounded with them and leaving their dead behind.
The Union troops were thoroughly defeated in this encounter but, as the battle progressed, a member of the Confederate side showed compassion for the enemy and came out onto the battlefield to give comfort and assistance to the fallen foe.
The Confederates won this battle but, in the end, lost the war. Many families on both sides of the battles lost much more.
My other (July 28th, 2012) images of the Civil War Re-enactment weekend in Massena, New York are here:
If you are especially fond of re-enactments, take a peek at our entries for the various re-enactments of the French and Indian War at Ogdensburg, NY.