Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Birthday Fred-Spot

Remarks commemorating the 82nd birthday of the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Battlefield Parks:

In 1863 to be an Irish immigrant in America was to face
discrimination and ridicule yet Peter Welsh joined the 28th
Mass. Vols. and in a letter that year to his father-in-law in
Ireland he looked beyond the present circumstances and wrote,
“Here Irishmen and their decedents have a claim a stake in the
nation and an interest in its prosperity.” Peter Welsh had
survived the Battle of Fredericksburg but would later die of
wounds received at the Mule Shoe in Spotsylvania the
following year.

In the spring of 1862 most of the population of Fredericksburg
was packing to leave the city before the hated “Yankees”
arrived. Yet to John Washington, a slave, the arrival of Union
forces brought a different response. He wrote of the time, “I
called all the servants in the Bar-Room and treated them all
around plentiful and after drinking the Yankees health I paid
each one according to orders. I told them they could go just
where they pleased but be sure the Yankees had no trouble
finding them.” John Washington would cross over to Union
lines and leave slavery behind.

To move this nation towards fulfilling Peter Welsh’s vision
and ensuring John Washington’s freedom a terrible cost
was paid. Tally Simpson of the 3rd South Carolina
Volunteers writing to his sister while here in Fredericksburg
on Christmas Day 1862, “If all the dead (those killed since the
war began) could be heaped in one pile and all the wounded be
gathered together in one group, the pale faces of the dead and
the groans of the wounded would send such a thrill of horror
through the hearts of the originators of this war..”

The Civil War, like any human endeavor, is a story of great
triumphs and compassion as well as great blunders and
cruelty. By taking time to understand the past, succeeding
generations can build upon the successes, and avoid the pitfalls,
and recognize the sacrifices that have been made, and
understand that they may also be called on to make them, to
maintain the liberties we enjoy today. Events like the Civil
War are also a point of reference helping us understand from
whence we came and how far we have come in meeting the
ideals of our founding fathers.

Today we are celebrating the 82nd anniversary of the
establishment of the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania National
Battlefield Park and to recognize the men and women of the
National Park Service who have not only maintain the park
but who have committed themselves to passing on the stories
and the lessons of this pivotal event in our nation’s history to
succeeding generations.

Eighty-two years ago John T. Goolrick writing in the Free
Lance Star on the dedication of the park noted that, “….but in
fact it (referring to the park) will never be completed. Year by
year memorials and groups and new park space will be added
by those who wish to honor their dead or aid in preserving
history.”

Working with the Park Services and other community
partners like the Civil War Preservation Trust, and our own
Central Virginia Battlefield Trust, Fredericksburg has done its
part to fulfill Mr. Goolrick’s vision.

Today the Sunken Road has been restored. Willis Hill and
portions of the Smith Run Battlefield have been preserved. By
placing an easement on its riparian lands along the
Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers Fredericksburg has
preserved numerous Civil War sites.

The city has confirmed the importance of the park in its
Comprehensive Plan to include acknowledging the importance
of preserving site lines from the park in regard to future
development. Civil War sites within the City have been
identified and a process is being put in place to work towards
their preservation.

Fredericksburg has been working, with representatives of the
National Park Service, in drafting a citywide preservation plan
that acknowledges the importance of the battlefield park.
Memorials have been added to honor the Irish Brigade and the
exploits of the 7th Michigan. These efforts have not only help
preserve our history and tell the story of the Civil War they
have added to the quality of life and economic health of
Fredericksburg

It is somewhat ironic that the prosperity and the quality of life
in Fredericksburg are tied to events that devastated this city
and turned it into a battlefield over a century ago. Yet today
thousands of visitors from across the country and around the
world visit the city to learn about, and experience, through
tours, lectures, and reenactments, those terrible years in
Fredericksburg’s history.

These visitors stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and
shop in our stores providing the revenue that has helped
Fredericksburg build schools, police stations, and other
amenities that have improved our quality of life. The
battlefields also provide recreational opportunities such as
walking trials, biking, and green space to be enjoyed by
residents and visitors alike.

We are now only a few years away from the 150th anniversary
of the Civil War. The city, National Park Service and
community organizations are working together to plan events
to commemorate this event which will bring many new visitors
to Fredericksburg and provide new opportunities to tell the
story of the Civil War and highlight the need to protect these
battlefields for future generations.

While we are today rightfully celebrating our successes we
must not forget the challenges that we still face. These
battlefields are located in the fastest growing region in
Virginia. The reality is we cannot, nor should we, stop growth.
However, we must recognize both our obligations to future
generations in preserving their history, and the lessons learned
from it, and acknowledge the importance of these battlefields
to the long-term prosperity of the region.

As we consider the future development of our communities we
must keep three simple truths in the fore front of our
deliberations. That these parks are both unique and
irreplaceable. That people do not travel from across the
country or from around the world to visit a retail store. That
the average positive impact of a retail development is around
fifteen years while the positive economic impact of these
battlefields will last for generations as long as we continue to
protect them.

I look forward to continuing the strong relationship between
the city and the National Park Service as we face the challenges
of the future--To go beyond just maintaining the parks and to
take every opportunity to enhance them. On behalf of the City
of Fredericksburg I wish the parks a Happy 82nd birthday and
look forward to many more in the future.


This weekend I hope to post some musing I’ve been working on regarding taxes. Looking forward to a good discussion on this issue in light of the current financial situation in which we find ourselves. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

Muttley said...

The big park birthday party and you were the best they could come up with? Oy vay!