Wednesday, October 11, 2017

'Stairway' to heaven? A visit to Fredericksburg Baptist Church

This ladder leads to the steeple of the Fredericksburg (Va.) Baptist Church.
(CLICK ON IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
A Union artillery shell fired from across the Rappahannock River smashed through these beams ... 
... and struck this interior wall in the attic of the church.
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Exterior view of the church.
For the past several months, I eagerly anticipated my visit to the Fredericksburg (Va.) Baptist Church, used as a Union hospital and observation point. I couldn't wait to climb into the steeple to see the view Federal officers had during the great battle fought here in the winter of 1862.

What great history!

After we climbed a small ladder into the church attic this afternoon, church administrator Dennis Sacrey quickly pointed out Civil War damage. A Union artillery shell fired from across the Rappahannock River had crashed through wooden beams and smashed into an interior brick wall. (The church suffered significant war damage,  Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National Military Park chief historian John Hennessy notes in this post on the excellent Mysteries and Conundrums blog.)

We then deftly avoided duct work, pipes and wires to make our way to space near a wall in the old church on Princess Anne Street. I stared up at the confined area that led to my ultimate objective.

"It's only about 60 feet up there," Sacrey told me as he shined a light on the ladder to the historic lookout point. The ladder looked like it went on forever. I deliberated for a minute or two. Fear of heights finally did me in. I chickened out.

But I did leave with a souvenir from my brief visit: a splinter in my hand.

A lifelong member of the church, Sacrey has been up in the steeple dozens of times. Here are images he took from that fabulous spot:

LOOKING SOUTH. (Steeple photos courtesy Dennis Sacrey)
LOOKING WEST.
LOOKING WEST TOWARD HURKAMP PARK.

From the safety of ground level, I shot the "Now" image below to pair with the 1864 "Then" image by James Gardner. For a large-format version , go to my Then & Now blog here.


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