In the late afternoon of May 4, 1863, Louisiana troops of Brigadier General Harry Hay’s brigade swarmed up a slope near Smith Run, just west of Fredericksburg. Awaiting them were the veteran troops of the Army of the Potomac’s Vermont Brigade. The onrushing Confederates had already overrun the Union Sixth Corps’ first line of defense on the eastern side of the creek and had splashed across to the other side. The Vermont men lay in solid ranks, the sun at their back, holding their fire while the Southerners advanced into a killing zone. They then rose up and delivered several volleys that left the ground strewn with dead and dying soldiers. This brief action bought the Union Sixth Corps a brief respite in which to begin a withdrawal, which would effectively bring the Chancellorsville Campaign to a close.
An 11-acre portion of this battlefield was preserved through a partnership of state and local governments and the CVBT. The price of this land was high - $300,000 – but not as high as the cost in blood in 1863. The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation provided half of this purchase price, or $150,000. On September 20, the Fredericksburg City Council appropriated $100,000 as their contribution to the purchase of this ground. The remaining $50,000 was paid by the generosity of the CVBT membership. Member donations made it possible to pay the full amount at closing, thus avoiding any interest costs whatsoever.
There has been some controversy over this battlefield because long-range plans call for a four-lane road to one day cut through this area. The CVBT is sensitive to these concerns, but notes that most of the May 4th battlefield has been developed over the past few decades with houses, a school, and apartments. The preserved land will only be representative of a much larger battlefield that encompassed much of modern-day Fredericksburg. This site, however, is exceptionally well preserved. As Fredericksburg grew, the Smith Run area remained isolated by its topography. As a consequence, this small area retains its historical integrity and can be interpreted with a high degree of accuracy. This acquisition will allow visitors to gain a fuller understanding of the Chancellorsville Campaign and the role played by the Union Sixth Corps. This Federal formation suffered fully 25 percent of the Federal casualties sustained during this campaign. At Smith Run, this part of their battle history can finally be told.
The City of Fredericksburg was an instrumental partner in this success. In 1996, the Fredericksburg City Council set aside a 4.5-acre historic preserve near Hugh Mercer Elementary School. This area includes a representative section of the terrain across which Confederate troops attacked and will remain in its natural state. In 2001, this governing body stepped forward again with funding to preserve yet more of this intriguing battlefield. Trails through wooded terrain along Smith Run now link these sites.
The Commonwealth of Virginia and the Fredericksburg City Council deserve our thanks. Our CVBT membership, however, should not be forgotten. They have come forward with hard earned donations to complete this purchase. The CVBT will also continue its efforts to add to this initial purchase. Our intent is to preserve even more of this terrain where men from Vermont and Louisiana clashed in a desperate action, a short battle so intense that Medals of Honor would subsequently be awarded to four soldiers who fought there. We appreciate the members who have made this victory possible.