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The battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House were fought nearby in May 1864.The Washington Woolen Mill, a large three-story building, was converted to use as a hospital during the war.At the time of European encounter, the indigenous inhabitants of the area that became Fredericksburg were a Siouan-speaking tribe called the Manahoac.English colonists recorded the name of the Manahoac village there as Mahaskahod.John Washington, a literate slave who shortly crossed to freedom, wrote later about people watching the approach of Union troops across the river from Fredericksburg: “No one could be seen on the street but the colored people.and every one of them seemed to be in the best of humors.” A Second Battle of Fredericksburg was fought in and around the town on May 3, 1863, in connection with the Chancellorsville campaign (April 27, 1863 – May 6, 1863).
Fredericksburg sought to maintain its sphere of trade, but with limited success.The Virginia General Assembly established a fort on the Rappahannock in 1676, just downriver of the present-day city. In 1716, he led an exploratory expedition westward over the Blue Ridge Mountains.As interest in the frontier grew, the colonial assembly responded by forming a new county named Spotsylvania (after Alexander Spotswood, the governor at the time) in 1720 and establishing Fredericksburg in 1728 as a port for the county, of which it was then a part.Located on the Rappahannock River near the head of navigation at the fall line, Fredericksburg developed as the frontier of colonial Virginia shifted west from the coastal plain into the Piedmont.The land on which the city was founded was part of a tract patented in 1671. Alexander Spotswood sponsored a German settlement called Germanna on the Rapidan River, a tributary of the Rappahannock upstream from the future site of the city.