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.
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.
In October 2017, 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 admire the view Federal officers had during the Battle of Fredericksburg in the winter of 1862.

What great history!

Shortly after climbing a small ladder into the attic, church administrator Dennis Sacrey pointed out war damage to me. A Union artillery shell from the bombardment of the city on Dec. 11, 1862, had crashed through wooden beams, smashing 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.)

Dennis and I deftly avoided duct work, pipes and wires to make our way to a space near a wall. The ultimate objective awaited. "It's only about 60 feet up there," Sacrey said as he shined a light on the ladder to the historic lookout point. I deliberated for a minute or two. Fear of heights 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 visited the steeple dozens of times. Here are images he took from that fabulous spot:

LOOKING SOUTH. (Steeple photos courtesy Dennis Sacrey)

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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