Fredericksburg, Dec. 11, 1862

The battle of Fredericksburg began this date, 148 years ago. We are on the eve of four years’ worth of 150th anniversary remembrances of the American civil war, and so it is, perhaps, good to stop for moment today and think of Fredericksburg back in 1862.

It was one of the few Civil War battles I knew about while growing up, partly because it was so bloody but mostly because of what General Lee said as he watched the Union soldiers fall:

It is well that war is so terrible—we should grow too fond of it

A reenactment was featured in Gods and Generals, and that is also why this battle, among so many others, has registered for me: the scene where the two Irish brigades clash, one on either side of the wall up on Marye’s Heights.

I always think of what was in store for many of these same men at Gettysburg in a few months, too, and of course, there is Col. Chamberlain’s account of the “starlight burial” of the men of the 20th Maine who fell at Fredericksburg, and how the aurora came out that night while they dug the graves.

Composer David Carpenter has written a 19-minute musical work called simply Fredericksburg, and it is worth listening to, no matter what your preferences are in music. If you are like me, you might at first think, “yech, some modern atonal crap.” It is much more than that, though, and if you have an idea of what happened in this battle, you may come to realize that Mr. Carpenter has gotten beyond sides and touched on something important for us today.

I found the link to this work at the Society of Composers page for David Carpenter, and if you scroll down to the Fredericksburg article here (keep going past the first mention of the music itself), there is much to learn and think about, and the Whitman poem, Vigil Strange…, as used in this work, is also given there.

Fredericksburg in 1862 and Gettysburg in 1863 are two examples out of many of the terrible hell that this country went through in the middle of the 19th century. For me, Carpenter’s Fredericksburg illuminates what Americans from that era would ask, first and foremost if they were transported to any of our upcoming 21st century remembrances today: “Are you out of your minds?”

Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine,
Cum sanctis tuis in aeternum.

(Links updated October 3, 2011.)

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