A busy April and May ahead….Years of Anguish and To Freedom

To Freedom's culminating program will be held in what is today a grassy area at what was the western terminus of the Canal Boat Bridge in 1862--over which hundreds (at least) of slaves passed to freedom. Image looking from Stafford into Fredericksburg. Courtesy Marc Storch.

From John Hennessy:  April and May coincide with the 150th Anniversary of the arrival of the Union army in Fredericksburg. Though mightily annoying to white residents, this was a peaceful occupation of the town that would last four months. Despite the lack of maneuver and battle action that are so often at the heart of Civil War narratives (and will be for us later this year and the next two), much happened during the occupation worth remembering.  Most important and dramatic: the flight to freedom of more than 10,000 slaves from surrounding counties.  This is one of the most concentrated exoduses to freedom of the war.

With that in mind, we will use our next two major 150th events to explore the Union occupation and, especially, the flight to freedom.

Up first, on April 21, from 1-5 at the Fredericksburg Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street:  Years of Anguish–Slavery and Freedom. This, the third of our  wildly popular Years of Anguish series, will feature David Blight of Yale (perhaps the most prominent scholar in the realm of freedom and emancipation) and Thavolia Glymph of Duke University.  As is our custom, we look at an issue from a national and local perspective.  Covering the local angle, I will present on the Union army and the phenomenon of freedom in the Fredericksburg area.  For more on Years of Anguish, click here

To Freedom:  On the weekend of May 5 and 6 we will present a major milestone event, To Freedom.  The program will include special tours, some historical drama, and the culminating programs on the evening of May 5, which we hope and think will be powerful.  The evening’s events will begin with the Carrying of Stones–a community procession from Riverfront Park next to Shiloh Old Site down Sophia Street to the field below city dock. We will carry with us about 300 stones, each symbolic of the burden of slavery, each with the name of one of the nearly 300 (out of 10,000) slaves who we know crossed the river that spring and summer. At its end, we will separate the name from the stone….and cast the stone aside… 

Then will follow the major commemorative event, Ten Thousand Lights to Freedom, featuring music, dramatic readings, a recitation of names, and 10,000 lights illuminating the north bank of the Rappahannock at Ferry Farm.  You can learn more about To Freedom here.

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About John Hennessy

John Hennessy is the Chief Historian (Chief of Interpretation) at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park
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