Fredericksburg is associated with two eras of U.S. history: That of George Washington and that of the Civil War. Fredericksburg is where George Washington was alleged to have chopped down the cherry tree (in Reverend Weems' apocryphal parable).

Though the Washington tale is the stuff of legend more than fact, there are several actual sites related to his life and times. They include the Mary Washington House (home of the first president's mother), the James Monroe Law Office-Museum (take note of the desk on which the Monroe Doctrine was composed), Kenmore (the beautiful mansion of George Washington's sister, Betty Washington Lewis), the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop (a colonial pharmacy open for tours) and the Rising Sun Tavern (a hotbed of revolutionary activity, once owned by Washington's brother, Charles).

During the Civil War, Fredericksburg's position on the Rappahannock River between Richmond, the Confederate capital, and Washington, D.C., the Union capital, made it a crucial battleground. More than 100,000 troops died there before the war was over.

Four major engagements took place within a 17-mi/27-km radius of the town: the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. The battlefields of all four are part of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. You can see the grounds by car, on walking trails or on one of the guided tours that are offered in the summer. There are two visitors centers, one at the Fredericksburg site and one at the Chancellorsville site. The Stonewall Jackson Shrine is at the house where Jackson died after being accidentally shot in the arm by one of his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville. (The Shrine is in the southeast portion of the park.) Though Jackson was buried in Lexington, Virginia (about 100 mi/160 km southwest), his amputated arm was buried in a country cemetery at Ellwood, just west of the battlefield at Chancellorsville. A small gravestone marks the spot.

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