I lived in the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania, Virginia area for 23 years, but I did not find out about my “Strong” and personal connection to the Civil War and the Battle of Fredericksburg until a few years after I moved to Texas.
While I lived in Virginia, I visited the Fredericksburg National Cemetery on several occasions and took quite a few pictures. During that time, I was totally unaware that my great-great grandfather (William Stark Strong) and my great grandfather (William Washington Strong) were with Company E of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers in the Battle of Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg Campaign at Marye’s Heights) on December 13, 1862.
My great-great grandfather, First Sergeant William Stark Strong, was severely wounded during the battle and died the next day. His 21 year old son, Corporal William Washington Strong, survived. If he had died as a result of this fight also (or at any other time during the Civil War), I would not be here today to write this story. A sobering thought on this Memorial Day weekend.
William Washington Strong lived to be 88 years old and, at some point after the war, he assembled and published a book about his regiment’s experiences. Even though some of the pages from his book were lost over the years, a copy has been thoughtfully reassembled by the Survivor’s Association.
The easiest way to read the online version at the link below, is to choose “one page view” and then zoom in on the text several times. The contributor is the Library of Congress:
History of the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers — ‘An Account from the Ranks.’
Needless to say, as soon as I found this online copy of my great-grandfather’s book, I began reading it. To be able to go back in time through the words on these pages, and virtually experience the emotions and conditions that the soldiers experienced during the American Civil War—is an awesome privilege.
Having lived in Virginia for so many years, I know the different places that are being referred to above, and I can easily imagine being there. I have not forgotten how muddy and sloppy the red clay is during and after a rain, and I know what it feels like to walk through pine tree woods while brushing off mosquitos, ticks, spiders, and side-stepping an occasional snake!
Regarding the interaction between my great-great grandfather and his son at the battle of Fredericksburg, I was happy to find additional information in this book. All things considered, Corporal William Washington Strong’s loving concern for his wounded father and his determined attempt to remove him from the battlefield, might have saved his own life that day:
“He (First Sergeant William Stark Strong) fell at Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862, at the most advanced point reached by the regiment in Meade’s famous charge; was wounded in the ankle and in the right side, the latter causing his death. It is our duty and pleasure to record the generous act of the commander of a Confederate regiment that greatly relieved the suffering of Sergeant Strong. When the Union lines were finally driven back, a son of the sergeant, who was a corporal in the same company, went to his father’s assistance, but was unable single handed to take him off the field, and so both fell into the hands of the advancing foe, and became prisoners of war. The corporal approached the commander of one of the rebel regiments, occupying a position in reserve, and asked for a stretcher for the use of his father. On learning the situation, the officer without hesitation detailed men with a stretcher, with orders to take the sergeant to the field hospital a half mile or more to the rear and entirely out of harm’s way, where he remained until his death. When it is remembered that under the orders issued by the commander of the Union army, no assistance could be given the wounded by their comrades, this kind act on the part of the Confederate colonel can be better appreciated.” (Appendix pages 157 and 158)
“The dreadful slaughter in front of Marye’s Hill at no time approached success, but, however brave, the efforts of the troops at that point were from the first utterly hopeless.” (page 32)
There was supposed to be more Union soldiers at the Battle of Fredericksburg, but they didn’t get there in time: “Colonel Biddle in his letters writes, ‘ a support which had been ordered for us failed to come. Had it come the result probably, would have been different.”’ (page 33)
When I was at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery in 2011–a tour guide mentioned several reasons why the additional troops did not arrive as expected. Apparently, there was some miscommunication within the Union army that led to dire consequences in Fredericksburg. One of the biggest problems was the fact that Burnside was given a map with unclear markings. As a result, they got lost.
At the end of the battlefield tour, the speaker talks with great passion about the memory and meaning of the Battle of Fredericksburg. I must say that this Fredericksburg National Park employee (who is the speaker in both of my short videos) knew the history of this battle by heart. His presentation was awesome. I remember thinking that, whatever he was being paid, he deserved a raise!
Considering the contentious political environment in the United States today, I would like to share one last story from my great grandfather’s book. Down by the river, on May 18, 1863—there was an amazing interaction between the Union and Confederate soldiers which clearly shows that, even in the midst of a brutal war, it is possible to ‘harbor no hatred’ for those who hold different beliefs:
“ The weather being excessively hot, the men of both armies indulged in bathing in the river, conversing freely with each other; some of the men on various occasions crossing the river and remaining with the rebels for an hour or so, bartering coffee, etc., for tobacco, and making inquiries—a singular phase of warfare that must not be lost sight of when forming a conception of the disposition of the American soldiers, who, when the hour of conflict arrived, were ready to sacrifice their lives in defense of their convictions, but appeared to harbor no hatred for those of their countrymen who entertained a different belief and were ready to die in its defense. No history of any war, since the beginning of warfare presents such a spectacle. Invariably, hatred between the contestants is a prominent feature which leads to pillage and useless infliction of suffering when opportunities occur. But unless in actual conflict, the men comprising the fighting elements of the opposing armies during the War of the Rebellion seemed ready to extend manifestations of friendship for each other. (page 46)
Memorial Day was originally called “Decoration Day” in honor of the 600,000 lives lost during the American Civil War. Today, Memorial Day honors and remembers all of the soldiers who have lost their lives defending this country. We owe our lives today to those who walked before us. God bless them today and always.
**Back in 2015, I sang “God Bless America’ with the 70 voice Rappahannock Choral Society (RCS). Once again, I sincerely thank Linda Monner, who was the Conductor and Artistic Director of the RCS, for giving me such a wonderful and unforgettable opportunity.**
Excerpt from the History of 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers ‘An Account from the Ranks’
by Wm. W. Strong
Company E-121st Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers
What a touching story with such deep connections…making this Memorial Day so much more meaningful. Thank you for sharing such an amazing part of your – and our country’s – history!
Thank you! I went to a ceremony this morning, held by a veteran’s club–honoring all the soldiers who have died and who are still unaccounted for.
I must tell you, I always enjoy looking at your posts. I love the ocean and I definitely miss it. I lived on an island (Oahu, Hawaii) for 11 years and I miss it so much!
What an interesting post. Imagine how great a sacrifice your Great Great Grandmother made…..seeing both her husband and son go off to war. Did she have any other children left at home? The fact that the Confederate Colonel allowed for assistance for your wounded Great Great Grandfather is amazing, just as it is sad that the Union rule was that comrades couldn’t help their wounded off the field. That is a strange rule….to just leave soldiers dying needlessly.
I do daily work, and have for years, to assist in changing this timeline so that the needless deaths in wars are no more, that peace prevails and there are no more sacrificial “lambs” for dark corporate interests.
Yes. It must have been hard for my great-great grandmother. There were no cell phones or computers then–and absolutely no way to quickly communicate. It probably took a while before she even found out that her husband had been killed. Undoubtedly, she worried constantly about her son also. I am not sure how many children she had, but I know that her son (my great grandfather) got married and had 9 children after the Civil War. And then one of his sons, my grandfather, also had 9 children…..AND THEN, my father had 9 children (I am second oldest of that group). Thank goodness my great grandfather was not killed in the Civil War, because a lot of people would not have been born–and I would not be here either.
It would be nice if humans could come up with a better way to solve their differences (other than war), but so far–for whatever reason–we have not been able to do so.
Wow…that’s a lot of kids!!!
Glad you were born 🙂
Wow Mary this is fascinating, thank you for writing about this part of our history and your family’s part in it.
Thanks Barb! Hard to believe that I lived there for so many years…and I never knew. My dad never said much about his family, I am not sure why.
Hey Barb….I just added my recording of ‘God Bless America’ to this post–under the photo of the Rappahannock River. Forgot I had that!
I sang this song with the Rappahannock Choral Society back in 2015—3 months after I had the lung cancer surgery in late January 2015. At the time, it took all the strength I had to sing this (guess I had to try to live up to my maiden name–STRONG). 🙂
Mary I have always thought of you as Strong, you had a couple of rough periods in your life and got through them all. You have lived up to that last name of yours. God bless you!
You are so living up to that last name of yours “Strong” all those rough times you have lived through and came through with a great attitude about life. I just listened to the recording you did a great job, you sang that with a lot of love for our country.
God bless you
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We owe our freedom today to the courage and commitment of our American heroes. God bless them always!
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Thank you for putting this together.
You are welcome! I am so glad that we found out more about the “Strong” side of the family (better late than never)!
What a great story…just amazing. How nice that you found your grandfather’s book and was able to purchase a copy. I am happy for you that you found your family ties to the Civil War. Great photos that you have too. Hugs
Yes! So happy he wrote a book. Gives me a better idea of what it was like back then
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What a wonderful history lesson. And what a beautiful voice you have Mary. Many thanks for sharing 💚
Thanks Sue—I love singing (it reminds me to breathe).
It is still hard for me to believe that I lived in the Fredericksburg area for so long, and never knew about my relatives in the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. I visited that battlefield many times!
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Maybe the time is just right now for all of that History to come together and for it to mean something extra special.
Loved reading.. Enjoy your week ahead.. 🙂
Hey Mary! Just read about your Civil War connection. What a terrific backstory to your life! Thanks so much for sharing. Now about karaoke….l will differently be there, wouldn’t miss it! Lol =)
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Glad you came and sang a song…..life goes on!
I just have to say something before I forget. Has war ever had good results? We are now into war more then ever. I am of the belief it will never go away and does God love America more then other people of the world. I love though reading your research on the battle of Fredericksberg. What an interesting story especially the part where the soldiers are all down at the river together getting ready for the next battle what a sad, sad, reality. Mary Strong-Spaid I am now reading some of your other stories you have got my attention! I love your imagination, this is your cousin, The first girl of Marianne Strong – Edwards, Julie Edwards
Hello Julie Edwards–nice to virtually meet you. I am the oldest daughter of John Strong (your mother’s brother). If our Great Grandfather William Washington Strong had been killed during the Civil War, neither one of us would be here. And yes. As far back as history goes, there has always been war. Certainly, I will not try to explain why that is. However, there is one thing I do know for sure–the song ‘God Bless America’ only asks for blessing and guidance, which is a good thing to do before you go out into the world. At no point does the song say or imply that God loves America more than other countries or people. It simply asks for blessing, and then asks God to “stand beside her and guide her through the night with a light from above.”
All countries have special anthems and love for the place that they call ‘home’–similar to the love we have for our own parents and children. Listen again to the words. The song does not belittle or disparage anyone else, and it does not say or even imply that America is somehow better than the rest. Sincerely asking for blessing and guidance (for one’s self, a group, a family, a country, etc.)–would lead to less war and misunderstanding. But I don’t know. Sometimes, I get the distinct impression that people enjoy finding reasons to fight with each other. On a different note, if you want to see what your mother’s brother John looked like…go to: https://storieswithnobooks.com/2012/07/31/love-is-stronger-than-alzheimers-disease/
Hi Mary, Actually every time I hear that song tears come to my eyes. I thought the way you sang it was beautiful. I cannot explain war either, just causes so much pain!! Good to virtually meet you! Julie
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Yes, sometimes the things that happen in life are painful. That’s why I am not going to come back into this world again. I got tricked into coming here in the first place (at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it: https://storieswithnobooks.com/2013/03/22/travel-agent-from-hell/
Some top-notch sleuthing makes for a very rich piece of family history.
Thank you! I haven’t been doing much sleuthing lately, that’s for sure. I seem to have fallen into some sort of strange time warp or something. Time is sliding through my fingers at great speed…and I am falling behind. I used to write on my blog at least once or twice a month, but most of 2019 melted away right out from under me! Now…egads…it’s 2020!
Great rendition of God Bless America, Mary. You have a beautiful voice too.
The stories of both sides of exchanging pleasantries, bartering and sharing of what they had is said to be numerous during the Civil War. At times, their encampments were so close, there were times they had dinner together … one of those things never seen or heard, before or after, during the course of war.
Many thanks for the glimpse into your family’s history. 🙂
It must have been difficult….because I am sure there were times when soldiers had to fight against relatives or people that they once knew (and actually had no desire to hurt them).
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GOD BLESS ALL OUR VETERANS in the Armed Forces and ALL the men and women who SERVED!!
Love Always and Shalom, YSIC \o/
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Today is Memorial Day.
We remember all who served and those who gave all…
God bless them always!
This is an awesome discovery of your heritage.
And what a surprise it was!
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