Walking Through the Swamp: Real Time at Prospect Hill

by Emma Murphy ’15, Battlefield Correspondent It???s done. Thank God. I thought as I slammed my textbook down on the ???cash for textbooks??? counter. The end of the semester ritual of selling unwanted textbooks was complete. ???Alright,??? the scruffy youn…

By Emma Murphy ’15

It’s done. Thank God. I thought as I slammed my textbook down on the “cash for textbooks” counter. The end of the semester ritual of selling unwanted textbooks was complete.

“Alright,” the scruffy young man said as he rang up my books, “Looks like you’re going to have a lot of play money.”

“Play money?” I asked.

“Yup! Good ol’ wad of beer money,” He handed me a hundred dollars in twenties, “Got any plans for it?”

“Yeah” I laughed, “This is going to get me to the 150th anniversary of Fredericksburg.”

“Oh.” He seemed disappointed, “Well, THAT sounds fun.”

“Yeah,” I said cheerfully, countering his sarcasm.  “It will be.”

For weeks the advertisement for the 150th of the Battle of Fredericksburg littered my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds. What better way to unwind from a stressful semester than to go on a “real time” tour offered by the National Park Service? With my newly found wad of “beer money” I filled up my tank in Gettysburg and took the chance to tour the turning point of the Battle of Fredericksburg—Prospect Hill.

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Our tour began like any other; introductions from the historians and excited chatter softly scattering through the large group of visitors. I received more than a few weird glances.   I was the youngest female participant who came on her own free will; I was not dragged to the tour by a husband or significant other.

To begin the tour the NPS historians described for us the conduct of the battle, putting things in perspective.   We were standing on the same ground as Stonewall Jackson’s men as they were being bombarded by Union artillery.  I wondered about the Union soldiers – where they were in the distance – what they were feeling 150 years ago.

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The park historians took us to the edge of the woods, asking us to imagine a swamp there instead of trees. The men that trudged through here were in water up to their knees.  To follow in their footsteps, the rangers released us into the woods. We were not given any specific directions, neither were we given instructions. We were just told to keep walking forward through the woods. The group followed orders and went on ahead.

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I walked into the woods, tripping on logs and snagging my clothes on thorn bushes. We all helped each other out, holding the branches out of the way and hoisting people up over fallen trees. We worked together as one to get to the other side of the woods. That was the most important goal.

As I stumbled, I thought of what it would have been like to have been a private walking here 150 years ago.  Like me, like all of us, he would have I focused on the people around him, one step at a time through the swamp.  Similar to the average Civil War soldier, I didn’t have a clue where we were going, but only saw those around and the surrounding daunting terrain. Perhaps like him, I was just trying to get to the other side.

When we got out of the woods, we stood on the same ground as the men that trudged through the swamp, getting as far in as they did. The atmosphere of the tour had changed. Instead of being the jolted excitement, we were silent and reserved. Walking the same path as these men made us all realize how little these men knew about what was in front of them. I felt touched, standing on land where many were confused, unsure of the battle or what its results would be, yet determined to move forward 150 years ago. The same soil beneath my feet was beneath theirs.

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I stood on hallowed ground on the same day and time as Civil War soldiers 150 years ago. This was why I came on the tour, this was why I wanted to be a part of this history, within history to some extent.  To stand at Prospect Hill was worth every penny of my “play money”.

 

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