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Dustin Dey of Boy Scout Troop 179 in Fredericksburg lights luminarias before the start
Evan Williams, 8, a Cub Scout from Spotsylvania,
Marine Cpl. Aaron Lindsey, who is stationed at Quantico, walks between luminarias
BY JONAS BEALS
In Fredericksburg, Memorial Day weekend is marked by lingering, distant echoes. The fading rumble of a Harley-Davidson engine. The haunting silence after the last note of taps clears the air.
History reverberates here--from George Washington's home at Ferry Farm to Marye's Heights above Sunken Road, where the bodies of Civil War soldiers were piled like cordwood in 1862.
This is the weekend when families and friends of those lost in war gather to catch a whisper of the past, and Fredericksburg is where many of them come to hear it.
"This weekend is dedicated to those who gave their lives," said Eric Black, an Army veteran who brought his friends in the Veterans Motorcycle Club to a ceremony yesterday at the Fredericksburg Area War Memorial.
"I know people whose names are on that wall," Black said of the imposing granite monument at George and Liberty streets.
Every year, Fredericksburg National Cemetery puts the cost of war on display. More than 16,000 white-paper luminarias burn in the darkness, representing the more than 15,000 Union soldiers interred there after the Civil War.
Yesterday morning, Brent Hudson was in charge of about 300 Boy and Girl Scouts who marked every headstone and pathway at the hilltop cemetery with candles.
"They don't necessarily like the hard work," Hudson said. "But when you see it lit up, it's amazing."
Perhaps as amazing is the cemetery itself, which saw its first burial in 1866, more than a year after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.
Fredericksburg National Cemetery was designed as a proper burial site for Union soldiers killed in battles in and around Fredericksburg, including the battles of the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Court House, Mine Run and North Anna River.
Many of those soldiers had not received a proper burial--or any burial at all--and it was a challenging two-year process to scour the city and countryside, identify soldiers if possible, and reinter them in an organized fashion in the cemetery.
It was hardly a popular undertaking among the locals, who had little love for Northerners or their army after the war.
According to research by National Park Service historian Donald Pfanz, the first people to gather for Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) at Fredericksburg National Cemetery were black residents in 1868. They wished "to honor those who had died for their freedom," and came from as far away as Washington and Richmond to do so, according to Pfanz, who is staff historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Tomorrow, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will make a similar pilgrimage. He is the keynote speaker for the 11 a.m. Memorial Day observance at the cemetery.
"We're pleased and surprised to have him," park Superintendent Russ Smith said. "We sent an invite, expecting it would not be accepted."
McDonnell generated national controversy last month when he declared April to be Confederate History Month in a proclamation that did not mention slavery. McDonnell later apologized and amended the proclamation.
Smith said he does not know the content of McDonnell's speech, which will be delivered with thousands of Union soldiers' graves as a backdrop.
"I'm sure that will bring a number of people who will want to hear what he has to say," Smith said.
Jonas Beals: 540/368-5036
A Memorial Day observance will be held at Fredericksburg National Cemetery tomorrow at 11 a.m. Gov. Bob McDonnell is the keynote speaker.
Other participants in the Memorial Day ceremony will include House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, James B. Breeden of American Legion Post 55, the Rev. Donald J. Rooney of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Fredericksburg, the 116th Brigade Special Troops Battalion of the Virginia Army National Guard, and a bugler from the Quantico Marine Band playing taps.
The National Park Service's Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center, on Lafayette Boulevard adjacent to the national cemetery, offers handicapped parking.
Parking for the general public will be at the University of Mary Washington parking lot at the corner of William Street and Sunken Road. Trolleys will shuttle visitors, free of charge, from the UMW lot to the cemetery between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Call 540/371-0802 for details.