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Eye on Local Churches
Local author pens tale of churches in Civil War
By Amy Flowers Umble. Photo by Peter Cihelka
Date published: 9/27/2008 (FLS Town & County)

Fredericksburg is sometimes called "the city of churches" because of the steeples dotting its skyline. But during the Civil War, those steeples provided targets instead of symbols of sanctuary.

Bullets riddled the tall towers, and inside the chapels below, soldiers on both sides stripped churches of their pews and stained their floors with blood.

"The congregations today are really a testament to the strength and tenacity of the congregations then," said author Michael Aubrecht, who has just released a book, "Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy."

The 128-page volume was released this month by The History Press, and Aubrecht will host a book-signing party at the National Civil War Life Museum in early October.

The book tells the history of five downtown churches, all of which survived the Battle of Fredericksburg. The book took a little more than 10 months for the Spotsylvania County resident to write.

He said the churches' perseverance really made the book. "I was impressed with the way these churches were able to handle themselves amid one of the darkest periods in American history," Aubrecht said.

The history of the black congregations also interested the author. "The African-American perspective was crucial to the book," he said. "It's a far-too-neglected part of Civil War history."

Including that history complicated things somewhat. For example, when Fredericksburg Baptist Church split into black and white congregations, forming what's now called Shiloh Baptist Church (Old Site), each congregation recorded different facts in its history.

"I presented each version and allowed them to stand on their merits," Aubrecht said.

He also included information on how the churches impacted society both before and after the war. Before the battles reached Fredericksburg, the congregations hosted many discussions.

"And faith was a major component of the healing that was required to take place after the war," Aubrecht said.

The author focused a lot on the Civil War, which is not surprising. The conflict played a strong role not only in the churches' history, but also in Aubrecht's life.

He became a Civil War buff at age 7, after a trip to Gettysburg. He was so taken with the history that for Halloweens he dressed up as Civil War soldiers, in costumes his mother made for him.

When he started writing, however, Aubrecht didn't first turn to his historic passion but focused on another love: baseball.

He wrote for Baseball Almanac, and one day, out of material, he penned a piece on baseball during the Civil War. People were so receptive to the work that he began periodically writing Civil War pieces for The Free Lance-Star and for magazines.

Six years ago, Aubrecht's writing took another turn when he and his wife returned to church, attending Spotsylvania Presbyterian with their four children.

Aubrecht began including faith in his work, and now writes predominantly about Christianity during the Civil War, filling a niche he said had been ignored.

It provides him with a new audience, and Aubrecht gets letters and e-mail from people who picked up his book on Stonewall Jackson's faith without any interest in the famed Southern general.

Many tell him his books inspire them to do more research on the war. "But I'm most pleased that a lot of people pick up the Bible after reading one of my books," Aubrecht said.

And one Christian group developed his book about Jackson, "Onward Christian Soldier," into a Sunday-school curriculum.

Aubrecht liked the course so much that he teaches it himself. He added some material and plans to take the class on a special tour to the Stonewall Jackson Shrine in Caroline County.

"It's not a course on hero worship, it's a course on worshipping, looking at the example of a hero," Aubrecht said.


WHAT: Book-release party and signing for "Historic Churches of Fredericksburg: Houses of the Holy" by Michael Aubrecht. Author's talk, tours of the museum, hors d'oeuvres, dessert and live music by Burke Classic Rock
WHEN: Friday, Oct. 3, 6-9 p.m.
WHERE: National Civil War Life Museum at Massaponax
COST: The book costs $20, but all other aspects of the party are free.
DETAILS: or 540/834-1859




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