June 1st, 2013, will be remembered as one of our grandest successes. But make no mistake; it was a resounding success due entirely to the generosity, collaboration and dedication of dozens of individuals. These individuals chose to give their time, energy and funds to the collective effort to preserve and steward this hallowed ground known as the Wilderness Battlefield.
The day began with the long- awaited dedication of the Wilderness Crossing Trail, a joint project, 18 months in the making, between the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (FRSP) and Friends of Wilderness Battlefield (FoWB).
Gathered on the front lawn of Ellwood Manor were many of the volunteers that made this happen, along with many others, eagerly anticipating the inaugural tour to be led by Beth Parnicza of FRSP. After a round of recognitions, expressions of gratitude and the traditional “ribbon cutting” the group departed the Trail Head at Ellwood for the 1.4 mile (round trip), 90 minute guided walk traversing some of the most historic ground in Virginia.
Thanks to the City of Fredericksburg’s gift of a foot bridge, FoWB’s funding of the installation, Ken Wolfrey’s excellent preparation and installation skills and the hundreds of hours contributed by Scouts, FoWB’s Battlefield Resources Committee, the Ellwood Ground Force and the FRSP Maintenance Department, hikers were able to cross the Wilderness Run and proceed on to the FRSP-owned Wilderness Tavern ruins site.
The addition of the Wilderness Crossing Trail not only connects Ellwood to other parts of the Wilderness Battlefield but allows superb access to historic roadways traveled by early 18th century settlers of the frontier of Virginia.
But the trail opening was only the beginning of a day that continued in the same style with more than 200 guests in attendance throughout the day.
Tours of the restored 18th century Ellwood Manor, the centerpiece for the day, were complemented by living history programs on the beautifully manicured grounds. Under the trees in the NW corner of the lawn, the reformed 23rd Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT) led by Steward Henderson presented a scheduled program explaining the history of the USCT with special emphasis on the 23rd, including their uniforms and accoutrements. They were present all day interacting with visitors.
Nearby on the lawn, the 23rd was joined by the Women of the American Civil War. Through first- person presentations and ongoing interactive conversations with guests, this group offered an interesting perspective on the roles of both enslaved and free African- American women in mid -19th century America.
By 3 pm the sun had shifted and guests were invited to the south lawn to hear a musical tribute to African-American heritage performed by the River Bank Choir. The 60 minute program titled Faith, Fortitude and the Quest for Freedom was the sharing of an inspirational legacy through songs interspersed with a bit of storytelling. A highlight of the afternoon was the dedication of this performance to Charles Weeden (1833-1922), many of whose descendants were in attendance. Despite competition from the Seventeen-Year Cicada Chorus, the musical story told by the River Bank Choir was enjoyed by all.
FoWB met its mission in a very big way on Saturday, June 1. Through collaboration we honored those who came before, we offered enlightenment and education and we raised awareness of the history and heritage of this remarkable place.
There were many, many positive comments, exemplified by the following, from FoWB member Randy Wagoner, recently shared on the FoWB Facebook page.
“My daughter, Reagan, totally enjoyed the recent presentation at Ellwood. Thank you for sponsoring these educational, entertaining and moving reminders of life in the 1800’s.”