Pause to remember in Fredericksburg this Memorial Day
Part of what makes Fredericksburg such a timeless destination is that this region honors and preserves the past at the same time it fully embraces modern progress. Memorial Day is a great time to see this way of life on display.
Here in Fredericksburg, you can participate in Memorial Day traditions whose roots go back as far as the origins of the holiday itself. There are experiences to be had here that are moving and powerful enough to drown out all of the chatter that goes along with modern Memorial Day, and to put you in a mood of solemn remembrance of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice over the course of our nation’s history. There is also a spirit of celebration of the gifts that past generations have given this community. The holiday weekend can be a great opportunity to explore all of this.
Luminaria at Fredericksburg National Cemetery
The terraced hill of the cemetery, part of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, is a stunning sight itself, but for nearly two decades, members of local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops and other volunteers have painstakingly placed luminaries on each of the more than 15,000 graves of fallen soldiers here.
This twilight event is a cherished tradition, and this year, Fredericksburg National Cemetery will be one of 11 locations nationwide joining together to mark the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Overland Campaign in Virginia, and the great toll it took on towns and cities all over the country as news of the fallen spread. As part of a nationwide event called “Reverberations,” taps will be played simultaneously at all 11 sites at 9 p.m. EDT on May 24, in remembrance of the struggles of a century and a half ago.
The luminaria takes place from 8 until 11 p.m. May 24 at the cemetery. In case of rain, the event will be moved to Sunday, May 25.
Park Superintendent Lucy Lawliss had these words to describe the event’s power after last year’s luminaria:
“It is the ordered immensity and beauty of the thousands of graves, each lit by a single candle, spread across the open unbroken plain at the summit that surprises. If your breath wasn’t taken away by the climb, a gasp accompanies this breathtaking scene.”
On Memorial Day, Civil War reenactors and many others will gather at Fredericksburg’s Riverfront Park, at the intersection of Charlotte and Sophia streets, to reenact a procession of black and white soldiers that took place in 1871. This is the third year in a row that this Memorial Day Procession from downtown to the cemetery has taken place. The one-mile procession will begin at 11:15 a.m. and end at the National Cemetery, where the National Park Service’s Memorial Day observance will begin at noon.
Confederate Cemetery ceremonies rooted in history
Here’s something you might not know about Fredericksburg: The city is home to one of only two remaining ladies’ memorial associations in the commonwealth of Virginia. These are the volunteer groups that helped establish and maintain cemeteries for Civil War dead around the country, and in many ways fostered a community grieving process that took place in the years after the war. The Fredericksburg Ladies’ Memorial Association held one of the first Memorial Day observances in the country, and has continued to hold a Memorial Day ceremony at 10 a.m. at the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery for the past 148 years.
This year’s observance, at 10 a.m. on May 26, will feature J. Terry Dougherty, director of the Spotsylvania County Museum. In case of rain, the program will be held in the auditorium at Kenmore at 1201 Washington Avenue.
The Fredericksburg Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy will also host a Memorial Luminaria in the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery on May 25, from 6 until 10 p.m. This free event will include period music, color and rifle guards, the playing of taps and luminaries to be lit at dusk. The rain date will be May 25 at 6 p.m. The Confederate Cemetery is located at the corner of William Street and Washington Avenue.
If you’re planning to observe Memorial Day in the Fredericksburg region, here are a few other events that can help round out your experience:
The Band of America’s Few, made up of retired and honorably discharged Marines, will perform traditional and patriotic music at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle. The concert takes place at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 25.
The Fredericksburg Festival for the Performing Arts will hold its 27th Annual Chamber Music Festival May 20, 22 and 23 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg. Find all the details here.
The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center, in partnership with Hallowed Ground Tours, will offer part of its series, Neighborhood Tours – the History of Our Homes. The tour on Saturday, May 24, at 11:30 a.m. will focus on Washington Avenue, whose grand homes, sprawling median and monument to Hugh Mercer make it a key piece of Fredericksburg’s identity. Find all the details on the tour here.
The Virginia Renaissance Faire, a multi-week event held at Spotsylvania’s Lake Anna Winery, will celebrate military history May 24-25, with demonstrations on jousting, sword combat and black powder matchlock muskets. You can even learn basic pike skills. Active, reserve and retired military personnel will be admitted at no charge during this weekend. Find details here.