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A short story by Etta Belle Walker


Title:     Fredericksburg
Author: Etta Belle Walker [More Titles by Walker]

Fredericksburg, fifty-five miles south of Washington and about the same distance north of Richmond, Virginia, on Route 1, rightly claims to be one of the most historic cities in the United States. Visitors who make a tour of the Valley of Virginia and the Skyline Drive may want to begin their trip here, for it serves as a hub for long or short visits to neighboring places of interest. From Fredericksburg one may drive to Culpeper, Sperryville and Panorama and enter the Skyline Drive at that point, or he may wish to go from Fredericksburg to Warrenton and thence to the Skyline Drive. Another excellent route is by way of Orange and Stanardsville and on to Swift Run Gap, the Southern entrance to the Drive at the present time.

A splendid trip from this old city is to "Wakefield," the birthplace of George Washington, in Westmoreland County, and from there to "Stratford Hall," the ancestral home of the Lee family and the birthplace of General Lee, both in Westmoreland County. About two miles from Fredericksburg on this route is "Ferry Farm" where George Washington spent a part of his boyhood.

In the city itself there are shrines to famous folks of an earlier period. The home of Mary Washington, mother of the first President, is open to the public. "Kenmore," former home of Betty Washington Lewis and Colonel Fielding Lewis is well cared for by an association. Both these homes have good examples of eighteenth century furnishings. The Rising Sun Tavern was the scene years ago of the Victory Ball after the surrender at Yorktown; it was host to most of the famous men of Virginia and neighboring States for years. In the Masonic Lodge are a number of relics of Washington's time and an original Gilbert Stuart portrait of the General. General Hugh Mercer, a noted physician of the Revolution had his apothecary shop in Fredericksburg and the visitor may see it upon request. Mary Washington's will is on record at the courthouse here.

On Charles Street in Fredericksburg, Virginia, stands a shrine to the memory of James Monroe, who served his country in more public offices than any other American in the history of the United States. This quaint story-and-a-half brick building, which he occupied from 1786 to 1788, was the only private law office in which Monroe practiced his profession. It was built in 1758 and stands in its original state, even to the woodwork and mantles of the interior. Only the old brick floor and plastering had to be restored. This was accomplished in 1928, when the building was opened to the public as the first shrine to the memory of the fifth President. At that time there was placed in it the largest number of Monroe possessions in existence, handed down for five generations in straight line to his descendants, who made the shrine possible.

James Monroe brought his bride, the former Elizabeth Kortright of New York, to Fredericksburg, and in the little shrine are hallowed intimate possessions of hers as well as those of her distinguished husband; a wedding slipper, a dainty French fan; two handsome court gowns, one of silver brocaded on white satin, the other of cream colored taffeta, richly embroidered with dahlias in natural colors; her bonnet and veil in which she welcomed Lafayette on his return to the States in 1824; her lorgnette, which must have added to the reputation she had for dignity; her Astor piano and her silver service marked "J. M."

Of Monroe's personal possessions there are many. Here too is his court dress with its rare old lace, cut-steel buttons and knee breeches, worn at Napoleon's court; the quaint huge umbrella presented him by the City of Boston on the occasion of Lafayette's return, with its original covering, whale-bone ribs and ivory handle, all contributing to its weight of seven and one-half pounds; his mahogany brass-bound dispatch box in which his Louisiana Purchase papers were carried; his silver-mounted duelling pistols, recalling that Monroe came near fighting a duel with Alexander Hamilton; and other articles too numerous to mention, including interesting historical letters by and to James Monroe from the outstanding men of his day.

Perhaps the outstanding exhibit in the Law Office shrine, however, is the desk on which Monroe signed the message to Congress which formed the basis for the famous Monroe Doctrine. Mahogany, high, brass-bound, this handsome desk forms a part of the furniture bought by the Monroes in France, brought by them to this country in 1798, and now finally shown in the little museum dedicated to their memory. The Monroes, being the first to move into the rebuilt White House after the original one had been burned by the British in the War of 1812, and being confronted with empty rooms, took with them this lovely furniture. Still later, on leaving the White House, the beloved possessions again went with them, and it is to this fact that the happy privilege of the public to see these things today can be attributed.

More than a hundred years later, a successor of Mrs. Monroe was to express her patriotism and interest in historical accuracy through cataloguing and making inventories of the furnishings of the White House. This lady, Mrs. Herbert Hoover, in searching the records, learned of the Monroe furniture and of its ultimate resting place in the Monroe shrine, and asked permission to copy it at Government expense, the copies to be placed in the White House. Permission was gladly given and today there is a "Monroe Room" in the White House, furnished with the reproductions of this historic furniture. The originals, however, remain in the little museum in Fredericksburg, relics of active, public years spent by a great statesman on two continents.

The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park was established in 1927. Quoting from a booklet which may be secured from the park headquarters we find:

"This park was established ... to commemorate six major battles fought during the great sectional conflict between 1861 and 1865--the two Battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Salem Church, Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House--and to preserve for historical purposes the remains of earthworks, roads, and other sites of importance on these battlefields...."

At the Battle of Chancellorsville General Stonewall Jackson, famous Confederate commander, was mortally wounded. A simple shaft marks the place and a wild flower preserve is located near it.

"While the fundamental purpose of the park is historical education, its program is by no means confined to this limitation. It offers important recreational and educational features aside from critical military history. The Jackson Memorial Wild Flower Preserve ... affords excellent instruction in botany.... The deep woodlands of the area threaded with foot trails leading along the old trenches are a delight to lovers of the outdoors...."

[The end]
Etta Belle Walker's short story: Fredericksburg