The small troupe trudged through the expansive field on Slaughter Pen Farm Wednesday morning, stopping intermittently under a clear winter sky and under the assault of freezing and whipping winds to recount a battle that raged on the outskirts of the city during the Civil War’s Battle of Fredericksburg.
Four historians rotated turns in front of a cameraman, armed with a smartphone, providing play-by-play accounts of the fighting—strategies, missteps, near misses and bloody clashes.
The group’s production at Slaughter Pen Farm was one of several stops as they hopscotched to numerous battle sites around Fredericksburg as part of a live Facebook video presentation marking 155 years since the famous and bloody Civil War battle in and around Fredericksburg.
Garry Adelman, director of history and education with the Civil War Trust, was the ringleader of the college football gameday-like live production, guiding the historians through the story of what happened on the fields outside the city in December of 1862 and interacting with viewers at the same time.
While the bloody fighting at Marye’s Heights may have been the climax of the Battle of Fredericksburg, the historians were quick to point out the important role fighting at Slaughter Pen Farm played, both in the battle and later during the war.
The historians also highlighted unsung heroes fighting on the cold muddy fields of Slaughter Pen Farm, citing five men who earned the Medal of Honor for their actions.
Union Col. Charles Collis, an Irish immigrant, was one of the soldiers to earn the medal—for grabbing the U.S. flag from horseback and urging his men to fight on despite the hail of bullets and shells littering the plain.
In the fighting on Slaughter Pen Farm, property acquired by the Civil War Trust in 2006, nearly 4,000 reserves from Pennsylvania tried to cross the wide-open field and breach Confederate lines while under constant fire.
One Confederate soldier, National Park Service Historian Frank O’Reilly recounted Wednesday, said it looked like the whole Union army was gathered on the field. Still, the regiment was relatively small considering the Union had 60,000 soldiers at the ready.
The failure to bring in those soldiers as reinforcement proved costly for the Union Army.
O’Reilly recounted another Confederate’s take on how fierce the fighting was.
“One Confederate soldier said this was the most flagitiously, grossly wicked battle of the war,” the historian said, cracking a joke about the soldier’s redundant word choice.
Roughly 5,000 died, with both sides suffering about the same losses during fighting on the several hundred-acre field. While much of the fighting took place under a hail of gunfire and artillery blasts as Southern forces fired on Union soldiers from the safety of the woods, soldiers also fought hand-to-hand as the undermanned federal regiment nearly broke the Confederate lines in two places.
But, without any reinforcements, the Union soldiers had to turn back and retreat from the fight on the fields of Slaughter Pen Farm.
Roughly 200,000 soldiers took to the fields and streets in the Battle of Fredericksburg, the largest such gathering of combatants at the time. About 9,000 died in the fighting.