What is a Heritage?


By Joanne Vaughan Boucher


Heritage is defined as that which is inherited, an evidence of the past, a tradition, or a legacy. A heritage can belong to a group of people or to an individual. A heritage is often unique and irreplaceable. This irreplaceability creates a need to preserve the heritage, traditions and legacies of those who came before us, whether it is familial, cultural or national.


Recently I had the opportunity to go on a road trip driving from the Dulles area to Grayson County, Virginia. My route took me through Manassas, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville, Wytheville and finally Grayson County. I had the wonderful opportunity to see firsthand our National heritage and my family heritage. I visited Arlington Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial and Manassas and several Civil War sites. I walked the ground where just over 150 years ago the first battles of the Civil War took place; and, where Abraham Lincoln fretted over what was to come for our Country. I stood where Thomas Jackson stood firm with his men waiting to go into battle at Henry House Hill and where General Bee trying to get control of his retreating men shouted, look at Jackson and his men standing like a stone wall, rally behind the Virginians. The incident was very brief during one of the first battles of the Civil War when a small piece of our National heritage was made. Shortly after that incident, Thomas Jackson became known as Stonewall Jackson. He was a man known for his perseverance, hard work and leadership.


I also visited the site of the Bloody Angle at the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield. This Civil War battle site provided a time for me to reflect on my family heritage. It was in this battle where my great, great, grandfather, a member of Company F of the 4th Virginia Regiment, part of the Stonewall Brigade, was captured and taken prisoner by the Union troops. I saw the remains of the trenches dug by the Confederate soldiers. It was in these trenches, on the rainy night of May 11, 1864, where the soldiers were allowed to sleep on their arms so as to stay in position to protect their lines. Suddenly in the early morning of May 12th, they were awakened by the sentinels warning them that the Union troops were moving in. My great, great, great grandfather and his comrades were left without firing arms due to the heavy moisture of the night, and many of the soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade were taken prisoner by the Union troops. When the Confederates rallied following the battle there were so few left of the Stonewall Brigade that they no longer existed as a Brigade and the few remaining troops joined other units. While visiting this site I wondered whether my great, great grandfather felt a sense of relief leaving the battlefield or did he fear that he would never see his family again. Fortunately, he survived life in the prison camp and after being released in June of 1865 made his way home to Grayson County where he lived the rest of his life and is buried in the cemetery at Ebenezer Methodist Church in Spring Valley.


In Fredericksburg I visited Marye’s Heights the site of another Civil War battle. I stood on the heights and looked out over the battlefield. The Union troops came from across the Rappahannock River and there was nowhere for them to go but straight into a fierce battle. More than 20,000 Union soldiers lost their life and are buried up on the hill. It was during this battle that a Confederate soldier displayed compassion. He brought water to the wounded Union soldiers out in the field. When the troops saw this, both sides stopped their fighting. His display of compassion was acknowledged by all. I wondered why the war didn't stop then. I went into the town and visited the home that George Washington bought for his mother, where she lived after he became our first President. I visited Ferry Farm across the Rappahannock River, where George Washington lived as a young boy. While standing alongside the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia I saw a bald eagle soaring overhead. I could not help but to think of what the eagle stands for in our country: freedom, strength, and power. These are the things that the men and women who carved out our heritage stood for and fought to obtain, not only for themselves, but for all who would come after them. 


Our duty is to maintain the heritage that was given to us and to encourage the next generations to continue the preservation of a heritage and legacy that is like none other. Virginia is an historical place: everywhere you turn, you relive history; you discover a tradition; and you hand down a legacy. We can't help but to honor our ancestral and national heritage.