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Marines learn history by touring Civil War battlefields

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Civil War BattlefieldThe heat index reached triple digits on Thursday afternoon, but that didn’t stop nearly 70 Marines and civilians with the Marine and Family Programs Division in Quantico from enjoying the rich military history offered by the Fredericksburg area.

During the two-day professional military education event, participants visited several local battlefields, including Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Spotsylvania.

The division supports Marines and their families through a variety of programs, including counseling, new parent support, substance-abuse assistance, victim advocacy, education and career services, personal financial management and relocation assistance, among others.

When Capt. Audy Whittington approached the division’s director, Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein, with several teambuilding ideas, Stein immediately gravitated toward the guided tour as a way to boost morale and build a deeper understanding of Civil War history.

“Brig. Gen. Stein talked a lot about cohesion when he became director of the division,” Whittington said. “We wanted to do something fun and promote unit cohesion.”

But several things had to fall into place to make the event a possibility: funding for food and lodging, a tour guide, transportation and other costs.

Several groups and individuals stepped forward. The  Association Foundation provided a gift that covered the cost of lodging at the Wilderness Presidential Resort.

In addition, the Civil War Trust provided Kristopher White as a tour guide, and Victoria Matthews with Economic Development and Tourism for the City of Fredericksburg offered her research and planning expertise.

Nineteen Marines participated in the first day of the tour. On Wednesday, White provided a dynamic overview of the Battle of Fredericksburg, and then everyone ventured downtown for lunch.

At the end of the day, they retreated to the Wilderness Presidential Resort, where the group camped overnight. They held a grill-out followed by a talk by White while gathered around a large fire pit.

Whittington enjoyed watching the spirit of camaraderie around the campfire. Marines of all ranks, from private to one-star general, sat shoulder to shoulder sharing war stories.

On Thursday, civilians joined the group for a visit to the Chancellorsville battlefield, and in the afternoon, made their final stop of the tour–Spotsylvania.

A glimpse into Civil War history

When they arrived at the Spotsylvania Battlefield Exhibit Shelter, everyone sought shade by gathering under the pavilion and nearby trees. All eyes and ears were on White as he shared the history of the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864.

He also related the story of the death of Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick, who was the highest-ranking Union casualty of the war. During the battle, Sedgwick was directing artillery placements when he uttered his famous last words: “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”

“Moments later, a Confederate bullet hit his left eye, and he went down in heap,” White said.

Moving across the battlefield, White then described Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s attack on a half-mile bulge in the Confederate line called the Muleshoe Salient. Grant used a tactic developed by Emory Upton, a young Union colonel, using a tightly packed, fast-moving column of regiments.

White said Grant’s 20,000 men succeeded in breaking through Confederates lines, but Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee kept sending reinforcements to the salient, leading to a long, drawn-out battle in a torrential downpour.

The group’s tour ended at the Bloody Angle–the site of nearly 20 hours of nonstop, gruesome combat.

Katrina Laskowsky of Spotsylvania works as a training and curriculum specialist in the division. She said the tours were not only fun and interesting, but also a great teambuilding exercise that allowed her to grow in her relationships with her co-workers.

While Laskowsky has been to the Fredericksburg battlefield on numerous occasions, she had never visited the Spotsylvania battlefield, even though she lives in the area.

“It is amazing to finally learn about the history present in my own backyard,” she said. “And what’s amazing is they don’t have to do things like this for us, but they do. This is really wonderful.”

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(c)2017 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.) — www.fredericksburg.com/flshome

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