From John Hennessy, on the eve of the 150th of Fredericksburg.
When next you are in town, look at the clock on the steeple of St. George’s Episcopal Church. That’s the town clock, overlooking Market Square, keeping time for everyone to see for more than 160 years–laborers and lawyers, slaves and soldiers, mothers and middlemen.
That clock measured Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Fredericksburg in May 1862. It signaled time for the church’s bells to ring on the hour and half hour—even in the darkest days of war–which in turn begged passersby to look up (we still do). It marked the appointed time for auctions of slaves at the corner of Charles and William and for school in Jane Beale’s schoolhouse on Lewis. It counted away the last minutes of thousands of lives.
On December 11, 1862, several Union cannoneers, their view of town obscured by smoke, chose to fire at the one thing they could see above the chaos below—the steeple with the clock on it. At least one of them claimed to have hit it.
The clock may have stopped. We don’t know. If so, it, like the war-torn rhythm of Fredericksburg’s days, soon started again.
Nothing more tangible than the turns of that clock, accumulated one-by-one over days and years and decades, separates us from Fredericksburg’s most tumultuous days.