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Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg

Marye’s Heights, immediately west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, played an important and well publicized role in the December 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg. Confederate infantry and artillery posted on this rise devastated a series of charges by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Union forces. The plain across which the Yankees advanced is largely now covered with houses, businesses, and other urban growth, but much of Marye’s Heights commemorates the war years. A Federal cemetery dominates the eastern slope today.

This wayside marker recalls the history of the establishment of the Fredericksburg National Cemetery, which Congress authorized in July 1865 shortly after the war ended. According to the National Park Service, “the cemetery contains the graves of over 15,000 United States soldiers. Most of them are Union soldiers who died in the battles and camps around Fredericksburg. About 100 soldiers are 20th century veterans including at least two spouses. Over 80% of the soldiers are unknown.”

A handful of monuments dot the heights, including this statue of Union General Andrew A. Humphreys, whose division advanced the farthest against the withering fire from Rebels posted on Marye’s Heights.

The National Park Service maintains a roster of the identified dead soldiers buried in the cemetery. Click here to access that database.

This monument remembers the sacrifice of the 127th Pennsylvania Infantry at Fredericksburg. The regiment’s commander, Harrisburg industrialist Col. William W. Jennings, played a role in the Gettysburg Campaign the next summer as the leader of the 26th Pennsylvania Volunteer Militia, a unit assigned to defend Gettysburg to buy time while the Army of the Potomac marched northward to intercept the Rebels. Jennings’ men were defeated at the Skirmish of Witmer Farm and scattered to York and Harrisburg.

Large wayside markers such as this one dot the battlefield park and provide the reader with information on the battle tactics and results.

Just down the slope from the cemetery is the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, which was closed due to the late hour when I took the above photograph in January 2012. Across the street are a restaurant and a Civil War souvenir street, a much smaller commercial section than Gettysburg’s sprawling section of tourist traps.

Much of the Confederate infantry used a stonewall-lined sunken road for cover. The position proved impregnable. Thousands of Union soldiers died or were wounded trying unsuccessfully to take Marye’s Heights. A section of the old wall is original; the rest has been recreated over the years.

Here is a section of the reconstructed stone wall near the entrance to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery and the Visitors Center.

If you go:

Fredericksburg National Battlefield is readily accessible from I-95 in the Washington – Richmond corridor. The Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center is located at 1013 Lafayette Boulevard. Take exit 130A and drive east on Virginia Route 3 for approximately two miles. Turn left at the traffic light at Lafayette Boulevard (US 1 Business). Proceed approximately 1/2 mile. The visitor center is on the left.

After exploring the Marye’s Heights area, follow the tour route to Lee’s Drive and other parts of the old battlefield. Much of the battleground is long gone, but enough remains to give a decent impression of the terrain and tactical situation. Click here for the park’s website which has directions, hours, history, maps, etc.

More photographs taken by Scott Mingus of the battlefield:

Part 1 – Hamilton’s Crossing

Part 2 – Prospect Hill

Part 3 – Lee’s Drive

Part 4 – Howison’s Hill

Part 5 – Marye’s Heights

Purchase Civil War books written by Cannonball blogger Scott L. Mingus, Sr., here on