Sometimes things just work out. When I planned this journey, I had never heard of “Spotsylvania”. I booked this particular location because of it’s proximity to Washington, DC as it is only about 50 miles away. We wanted to go back and see Washington again (previous visit in 2006), which we did. Little did I realize that Spotsylvania is literally in the middle of four major battles of the Civil War. And very close to the homes of 3 Presidents (Washington, Jefferson and Madison) and Robert E. Lee.
We did spend our day in Washington but we also spent a lot of time driving around hallowed ground, where so many (over 100,000) lost their lives, reading the stories and learning so much. And, as a bonus, the countryside is very beautiful (even in the snow we got one day). If anyone is at all a history buff, this is a great place to visit.
Today was a quiet day, editing and posting the pictures from yesterday, watching a Flames game and then a brief tour around the resort. Which led to a brief tour around the battlefield of The Battle of Chancellorsville, May 3, 1863. This tour was brief so we may do more tomorrow.
First, the resort. This is a very large campground with a small timeshare in the middle. The campground lots are privately owned.
The Battle of Chancellorsville was a victory for the Confederate army of General Lee. It stopped the advance of Union troops on the Confederate Capitol of Raleigh. One of, if not the bloodiest mornings in American history, there were 17,500 casualties in 5 hours. That's 1 per second folks. When it was over the Confederate army laid 500 Union soldiers by a nearby house with no medical aid , food or water. It was two days later, under a white flag they allowed a couple surgeons and nurses in. They operated using doors from the house for operating tables, amputating limbs and whatever. They averaged a patient every 15 minutes. I stand and look at these sites and am torn between sadness, wonder and awe. Incredible doesn't even start to describe it. The scene that morning must have been beyond horrific. Unimaginable.
Washington, DC. Capitol of the United States of America. City of history, politics, scandal and heroism.
We spent the day here, the first hour or so riding a double decker bus (3 degrees Celsius, so quite cool) and then hours of walking and lastly another hour on the bus. There is far too much to go into here so suffice to say we both took way too many pictures but I have narrowed them down to just (ha ha) 81. Washington landmarks, monuments and architecture.
After the big day yesterday we did nothing today. So, I just took a short walk down to the lake and pair of Canada Geese came to pose. Say what you will, Canada Geese are noisy, mean, messy and a general pain in the a**. However, they are also very beautiful too.
As previously said, we are in the middle of history. You can't turn around without seeing it. So today we start by going to the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, the General in charge of the Confederate forces during the Civil war. A military genius, he was offered the command of the Union forces by President Lincoln but turned him down. It is my belief that had he accepted the war would have been short. As it turned out, Lee's armies held off far superior numbers and firepower again and again. Anyway, I digress.
The Lee family has been in Virginia for centuries. Two of them signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Built around 1738, Robert E. (grandson of Thomas) was born here in 1807. Some of the mansion is original and some is being restored. There is one picture low to the floor in the great center hall where they say the floor boards are original. Robert E. Lee walked on these floors. There is another picture of two angels that are in the fireplace of the nursery when Lee was raised. When he was four, the family moved and before they left, legend has it, that they found Robert E. talking to the angels in the fireplace. When asked what he was doing, he said "saying goodbye to my angels".
Then off to Fredericksburg, the site of another horrific battle in 1862. Four days of bloody warfare ended with a Confederate victory and over 18,000 casualties. Simply unimaginable.
Lastly a brief tour around Fredericksburg itself. It was mostly destroyed by artillery fire during the battle, but many of the buildings that were there then were repaired and still stand today. I believe the most poignant thing we have seen, for me at least is the auction block where slaves were auctioned off. We saw an advertisement for "60 to 100 valuable Negroes to be sold at auction". In another place we saw a letter written by a land/slave owner where he states "If a slave gets sick and dies, it's OK. I just purchase another". While ending slavery was only one reason for the war, it was a significant part. We also saw a home purchased by George Washington for his mother, Mary Washington.
We awoke this morning to about 2.5 inches of snow. On the news, it was panic in the streets. Schools closed, flights cancelled, all the usual stuff. To us it was pretty. It didn't hold us back (in fairness we weren't in traffic).
There are four major Civil War battle sites near here. The closest is less than mile away and the furthest is 15 miles. We had already visited two of them so we decided to drive around to the other two. The Battle of the Wilderness and the Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse. In reality they were one battle. The first part in the wilderness May 5 - 7, 1864 and the second at Spotsylvania May 8 - 21, 1864. These were the first battles where Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee faced each other. The scenes are quite eerie in the fog and the snow. It likely makes for some boring photography, pictures of fields and forests in snow and fog. We just tried to take shots of where things happened. There are signs along the route telling the stories and we took pictures of all of those, but too many to post here. Here are some statistics on the battles.
Battle of Fredericksburg - Dec. 11 - 15, 1862. Union General - Burnside. Confederate General - Lee. Union Troops - 106,000. Confederate Troops - 72,500. Losses, Union - 12,700. Confederate - 5,300. That's 18,000 in 5 days.
Battle of Chancellorsville - April 30 - May 6, 1863. Union General - Hooker. Confederate General - Lee. Union Troops - 97,000. Confederate Troops - 75,000. Losses, Union - 14,000. Confederate - 10,000. That's 24,000 in 7 days. At one point, there were 17,500 casualties in 5 hours!
Battle of the Wilderness - May 5 - 7, 1864. Union General - Grant. Confederate General - Lee. Union Troops - 102,000. Confederate Troops - 61,000. Losses, Union - 18,400. Confederate - 11,000. That's 29,400 in 2 days.
Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse - May 8 - 21, 1864. Union General - Grant. Confederate General - Lee. Union Troops - 102,000. Confederate Troops - 52,000. Losses, Union - 18,400. Confederate - 13,400. That's 31,800 in 14 days. A total of 61,600 in the 16 days of the two battles.
When you are standing there overlooking these battlefields and imagining what it must have been like, the noise, the smells, the screams, the death it is well, unimaginable.
Our last day in Spotsylvania, Virginia. We decided to visit the mansions of the 3rd President of the United States (Thomas Jefferson) and the 4th President (James Madison). Virginia produced 4 of the first 5 Presidents. We started with James Madison's Montpelier. Beautiful home and there is an archeological dig being done right now. More on the history of the man in a bit.
Next Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is better preserved as it has been designated a historical monument for much longer. It sits atop a mountain (?) with incredible views.
Jefferson, the 3rd President is considered the author of the Declaration of Independence while Madison is the considered the architect of the Constitution. They were very good friends. Both men were very wealthy for much of their lives but by the end, both were broke.
Both men realized the hypocrisy of writing the word "All men are created equal" while both were slave owners. However they both felt the nation would not survive without them and the nation was more important. Jefferson predicted the Civil War before his death on July 4th (the nation's birthday) 1826. Jefferson freed his slaves before his death or in his will, but Madison never did.
Bot men were extremely bright and well educated. Both spoke several languages. And both were instrumental (obviously) in the formation of the U.S. Both owned plantations and slaves. One of the things we learned on our tours was how well prepared they were with their arguments for the meetings in Philadelphia to create the Union. I mused later that much credit must be given to the slaves for the creation of the U.S. The slaves allowed men like these to have the time to work on higher callings than farming and earning a living.
Something I hadn't considered about slavery. When slaves were sold families were broken. If an owner decided to sell a slave, he/she might sell a husband, or wife leaving the other with the kids. Or, sell the kids off separately. Some of the kids were the product of affairs between the masters and the slaves, or rape. Jefferson apparently had several children with slave women. The kids then became slaves themselves. What a black era in not only U.S. history but all of mankind. There were slaves in other countries as well.
We say goodbye to Virginia today as we head for Tennessee. The day is cloudy, foggy and for much of the trip raining. However still a good trip, albeit long (about 9.5 hours).
On the way we make a slight detour through West Virginia where we have lunch in Union, West Virginia. One of my favourite things. Find a small town, find the local diner where the locals have lunch and eat there. Good food, reasonable prices and wonderful atmosphere. Today we listened to the heavy West Virginia accent as they talked about the farms and the livestock. Very cool.
We took pictures of lots of abandoned, run down buildings. That is not to say that all the homes are run down, there were plenty of nice ones too, but the old ones carry the most interest for us.