Early this morning, I drove south from Fredericksburg, Va., with my friend Jane toward Spotsylvania Courthouse to witness the 150th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Saunders Field — the opening engagement in the larger Battle of the Wilderness that raged from 5-6 May 1864 during the U.S. Civil War.
The Wilderness confrontation marked the first time the Union Army, now under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, did not retreat; the first time the 23rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops moved out as part of the Army of the Potomac; and the first time my great, great grandfather U.S. Pvt. Arthur Bull entered the fight. Today, I attended my first reenactment of this pivotal battle.
On Courthouse Road near the battlefield, traffic thinned. We seemed to be alone on the highway when suddenly, there they were. White canvas tents pitched across the countryside north and south of the road, smoke rising from campfires and Union soldiers everywhere readying to move into battle. And just like that it was 1864 again, made tangible by thousands of reenactors paying homage to those long-gone soldiers who changed the march of history.
Later, we sat under trees beside a stream and watched the Battle of Saunders Field unfold — Union and Confederate regiments advancing and retreating, cavalry galloping to and fro, cannon batteries booming, gun smoke everywhere.
But for me, it was that first breathtaking moment seeing the Union Army bivouacked by the road that brought everything back to life — including my ancestor across the field on duty with the Union artillery.
© 2014 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.