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August 14, 2007 > Army of the Potomac meets the Army of Northern Virginia in Fremont

Army of the Potomac meets the Army of Northern Virginia in Fremont

By Geoff Stanford

It is late May 1864. General Ulysses S. Grant's Union Army of the Potomac is literally chasing Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia through the Virginia countryside in a seemingly constant bloodbath. Grant's new strategy of "total war" accelerates the killing on both sides, leading to many more widows and crying mothers, but also creates a feeling that the war may actually end. President Lincoln had finally found, in his words, "a man that will fight." Over and over again throughout the war, the superior Union Army either was soundly defeated on the battlefield, or gained a strategic victory but failed to drop the hammer on Lee's army, allowing them to regroup and consolidate to fight another day. Thus, the seemingly never - ending War Between the States. The Great War has dragged on three years longer than anyone in America had hoped or expected, with many a great man paying with their blood.

Following the Battle of the Wilderness in early May, the two great armies clash again at Spotsylvania Courthouse as Grant continues to put the pressure on Lee and his men, closing in on the capital of the Confederacy; Richmond, Virginia. Grant's "war of attrition" seems to be working as Lee's army digs in at Petersburg. The greatest cavalry general in the Confederate army, Lee's "eyes and ears", JEB Stuart had just succumbed to his wounds in Richmond. He had gained fame early in the war due to his daring and bravery in his "ride around McClellan", where he led a thousand horsemen on a raid completely around the massive Union force gaining invaluable intelligence on their positions and weaknesses. Stuart was one of the great symbols of the "Lost Cause" and his death dealt a huge blow to not only the southern army but to their civilian population as well. The south now seemed vulnerable.

Grant kept up his pursuit until a stalemate occurred at Petersburg, as Lee and his soldiers dug in to protect their capital and essentially their country. Grant knew that if he held the siege long enough, Lee's lines would break. The long held blockade of southern ports by the Union Navy had bled the south dry of virtually any incoming contraband of war, from ammunition to food to medicine. Many of Lee's soldiers were fighting with empty stomachs and bare feet. Lee's lines finally broke on April 2nd and 3rd 1865, as he withdrew his army westward toward its final resting place, Appomattox Court House.

The bloodiest war in United States history and the war that would determine if democracy was a viable institution was finally over. It had been four long years as brother fought brother and the fabric of the country was seemingly ripped apart by minie balls and cannon shells. Held together mainly by the political and personal tenacity of President Lincoln and his vision that the Union must be held together at all costs, or any minority would be emboldened to break away from the Union if they so chose. His willingness to shed blood to preserve the country not only perpetuated the existence of the United States, but also opened the door for democracy and self government to flourish in the rest of the world. The United States had lost just over 600,000 men to combat wounds and disease, men who essentially fought for the country we have today.

This Saturday and Sunday, August 18th and 19th, we have the ability to gain some insight into this amazing time in our country's history right here in Fremont. Ardenwood Historical Farm will be hosting a battle re- enactment and camp life fair, where we can walk through the camps that these brave soldiers spent some of their final days. See how they lived, see how some died, but most importantly remember what they did for all of us.

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