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Denomination didn’t matter. If a church had a steeple, gunners wanted to hit it.

The leafy trees veil much of modern Fredericksburg in this summertime view from Chatham Manor, Fredericksburg National Battlefield. The two prominent steeples are those of the St. George Episcopal Church and the Fredericksburg Baptist Church. They are little changed since the Civil War. (photo by Jean Huets)

Federal gunners at Fredericksburg and elsewhere simply couldn’t seem to resist using tall structures, in particular clock towers, as targets. Churches were not exempt. When the shelling let up, if the churches still stood, they often became hospitals. Two such churches were the Fredericksburg Baptist Church and the St. George Episcopal Church.

The Baptist Church, interestingly, was more racially integrated in its early history than later. “By the late 1840’s the church claimed over 800 members, nearly three-fourths of them slaves and free blacks.” With the completion of a new church in 1855, the congregation split. The whites moved to the new building, and the blacks bought the old and became an “independent body.”

From July 1862 to September, Federals held the Baptist pastor Rev. Broaddus and six other Fredericksburg men as hostage for four Union men imprisoned by the Confederacy. The bombardment of  Fredericksburg in December severely damaged the church and Rev. Broaddus’s home and scattered his congregation. He moved to Charlottesville at the invitation of a church there. Services at the Fredericksburg Baptist Chuch did not resume until the end of the War.

St. George’s offered services throughout the war–at least when not being used for target practice or as a hospital. During the “Great Revival” that swept the Southern hosts in 1863, a local clergyman wrote of a service at St. George’s, “On this occasion, perhaps 1,500 were in attendance, mostly soldiers. Every grade, from private to Major General was represented.”

On the witness tree Walt Whitman saw at Frederickburg.

Sources: Michael Aubrecht, The Great Revival at St. George’s Episcopal Church and Houses of the Holy; websites of Fredericksburg Baptist Church; Baptist History Homepage. Michael Aubrecht’s book Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy (amazon)

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