Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Power Tour: 'Paved paradise' and soldiers' graves

Graves of Confederate soldiers in Cross Keys Cemetery in the Shenandoah Valley.
Like this blog on Facebook

And so another Civil War Power Tour is complete. The five-day tally: More than 1,000 road miles traveled, 35 miles walked and hundreds of memories stored away after visits to hallowed ground from Fredericksburg to Antietam.

In Virginia alone, the Power Tour took me to 10 battlefields, not surprising given that state's Civil War-torn history. "What acre does not have blood on it in Virginia?" a longtime state resident said as we chatted on a chilly Sunday morning about 20 yards from the infamous Stone Wall in Fredericksburg.

Of course, the Tour is more about people than places. At a restaurant on Princess Anne Street in Fredericksburg, I had lunch with local journalist Clint Schemmer, an A+ student of Civil War history, in the vault of what used to be a bank. Abraham Lincoln briefly there visited in 1862. How cool is that? Less than a year ago, it re-opened as Foode.

26-year-old Francis Mobley's grave in the 
Confederate section of Mount Hebron Cemetery in
Winchester, Va. He was mortally wounded at Antietam.
In the middle of nowhere, a friendly woman named Charlie gave me directions to the obscure Mine Run battlefield, where George Meade wisely decided against attacking into the teeth of formidable Rebel defenses in late November 1863. In the Shenandoah Valley, where Stonewall Jackson burnished his reputation in 1862, the niece of controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio took time out from sunning herself on her porch in the village of Port Republic to provide directions to the battlefield there.

And in Winchester, Va., which changed hands numerous times during the Civil War, I found that Johnny Reb and Billy Yank remain on opposite sides -- literally. Within sight of the national cemetery, where hundreds of Yankees are buried, lie the remains of more than 3,000 Southern soldiers in the Confederate section of Mount Hebron Cemetery.  In the Georgia section there, I finally found the small, slate-gray tombstone of Francis Mobley, a 26-year-old lieutenant in the 50th Georgia who was mortally wounded at Antietam. He died in Winchester less than a month later.

"You must not be uneasy about me for I will come as soon as I can and would if it was twelve hundred times twelve hundred (miles away)," Mobley wrote before Antietam to his wife, Rhoda, in rural Nashville, Ga. "I would walk it to come." We salute him, too. Let's keep his memory, and history, alive.

Here are highlights from Virginia from another memorable Civil War Power Tour:

Cross Keys Cemetery, final resting place for many Confederate soldiers. 
At Cross Keys, in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I drove the battlefield with the windows down, better to breathe in the smell from freshly manured fields. It was tremendous. Just off State Route 679, I stopped at Cross Keys Cemetery, one of the prettiest, little cemeteries you'll ever see. While cows grazed in a nearby field, puffy white clouds, a deep-blue sky and mountains in the distance served as a grand backdrop for a postcard-worthy scene. During a much-too-brief visit, I paid my respects to two Confederate soldiers buried there: 1st Maryland privates Edward Beatty and Thomas Berry, both of whom died in the Valley on June 6, 1862.

Heater House, a Federal hospital at Battle of Cedar Creek.
At Cedar Creek, I slithered under the wooden fence guarding the old Valley Pike and slowly walked down the long hill to the Heater house, a battlefield landmark, dodging clumps of cow patties along the way. I didn't mind at all. On Oct. 19, 1864, a wounded 6th Vermont captain named Thomas Kennedy was carried to Caroline and Solomon Heater's farmhouse, used as a makeshift hospital. When the area was overrun by Confederates, Caroline, a Union sympathizer, protected Kennedy until the Union army returned. The Heaters were a family divided: two sons served in the Rebel army and Solomon was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy. As the sun began to set beyond the hill near the old, white frame house, I lingered, closed my eyes and breathed in the history.

Bud Hall, Civil War preservationist extraordinaire, at his beloved Brandy Station battlefield.
At Brandy Station, I had the great fortune to tour that remarkable ground with Bud Hall, whose passion for the battlefield of rolling fields and patches of woods is unmatched. The next time you drive there on James Madison Highway, which cuts through Brandy Station, thank Hall that you see a battlefield instead of an auto racing track or vast sea of development. The 72-year-old former FBI agent is instrumental in helping preserve much of that historic land.

                    Meade Pyramid near spot where Union army briefly broke through.

On a chilly morning in Fredericksburg, I heard the crunch, crunch, crunch of gravel beneath my feet as I walked along the old Sunken Road at the base of Marye's Heights. Trying to imagine the scene of the Union army's assaults up the heights on Dec. 13, 1862, I looked past the infamous Stone Wall. Largely an open plain in 1862, it long ago had become a neighborhood of houses and businesses. "What inside a human being could compel him to charge here under fire?" I wondered once again.

Later, I huffed and puffed my way up the steep National Park Service path to the crest of Lee's Hill, which bristled with Rebel artillery during the battle. On the way down, I took the unpaved, and much steeper, route. Just because.

Nearby at the Slaughter Pen Farm, where the battle could have turned in the Union's favor, I marveled at the terrain: flat and mostly open and then a stretch of woods near railroad tracks. I stole a view of the Meade Pyramid near Prospect Hill, where, with a little fortune, the Yankees could have punched through the Confederate lines.

And I winced when I visited for the first time the spot where "Gallant" John Pelham, the 24-year-old artillery officer from Alabama, earned his nickname. Using the only cannon he had left, Pelham shelled the Union army's left flank, delaying its advance and buying time for Robert E. Lee's army. Today, Pelham's Corner is steps from the entrance of Family Dollar and a stone's throw from the parking lot of a CVS Pharmacy.

                 "The Coaling," where Union army set up defensive line on June 9, 1862.

At Port Republic, one of those often overlooked Civil War sites in the Valley, I was astonished two clerks in the convenience store and a woman in the town post office couldn't give me directions to the battlefield. "No one has ever asked that before," the post office worker said. As it turned out, "The Coaling," where the Federals set up artillery and a defensive line on June 9, 1862, is about three miles from the village and two miles from the convenience store. If I had been in the mood to use Twitter, I would have tweeted, "Port Republic. SAD."

Morton's Ford, where the Federals crossed the Rapidan on a misty, cold winter morning.
At Morton's Ford, Hall and I marveled at the most pristine battlefield you'll find anywhere. No markers. No people. Just open ground and woods. In a grove of trees where the Morton House once stood only scattered rocks hint at what was a focal point for the II Corps' attack on the cold, misty morning of Feb. 6, 1864. Ghosts of the 14th Connecticut probably are still peeved at the man who ordered the attack, General Alexander Hays, who went into battle with "two or three extra fingers to his morning dram" and was drunk, according to the Nutmeggers. (Others dispute this.) The 14th Connecticut suffered 115 casualties at Morton's Ford, nearly half the Union army's total. In another grove of trees near what's left of the old Morton house, the remains of the Morton family lie in a small, ancient cemetery. I took Hall's word for it. It may be a resting place for snakes, too.

                       Site of Stonewall Jackson's famous flank attack on May 2, 1863.

At Chancellorsville, my heart ached when I saw a development of houses had sprouted up like weeds on hallowed ground that once was bucolic farmland. "They have paved paradise and put up a parking lot," a friend of mine with deep roots in Spotsylvania County wrote me about development in the area.

Against my better judgment one afternoon, I briefly stood in the middle of super-busy State Route 3 to shoot present-day images for a friend of photos taken near the old Plank Road long ago. The next time I do that, he suggested, I should probably wear a Day-Glo vest.

Historian Clark Hall stands among the remains of a Union hut on Hansborough Ridge.
At Hansbrough's Ridge, near Stevensburg, the ground cries out, "We were here!" From December 1863 until May 1864, thousands of Union soldiers made the ridge and surrounding area their home. Trench complexes and foundations of huts and fire pits dot the rugged landscape, silent reminders of the Civil War. After Hall and I reached the crest, we took in the spectacular view toward the Wilderness in the far distance. In early May 1864, soldiers who camped on Hansbrough Ridge's would become casualties there.

      On a brutally hot day, Stonewall Jackson whipped the Yankees at Cedar Mountain.

At Cedar Mountain, I was all alone. Again. In my only two visits to the battlefield near Culpeper, I have never seen another soul walking the ground. In August 1862, Timothy O'Sullivan captured an image of soldiers standing among graves of the fallen, an ominous-looking Cedar Mountain looming in the background. I stood near O'Sullivan's camera position, trying to envision those wooden grave markers and wondering who once was buried in that field.

James Savage's marker only steps from the grave of 5th Connecticut officer Henry Stone.
I placed a penny on the gravestone
of Henry Stone,
Lincoln side up.
At Culpeper National Cemetery, I drove across railroad tracks near the entrance, parked my car in the small circle and discovered an overwhelming scene: hundreds of pearl-white grave markers. My aim during the early-morning visit was to find the final resting place of Henry B, Stone, a 34-year-old lieutenant colonel in the 5th Connecticut who was severely wounded in the leg at Cedar Mountain. Captured on Aug. 9, 1862, he was sent to a hospital in Charlottesville, where he was treated kindly by his enemy.

After fellow POW James Savage of the 2nd Massachusetts died of his leg wound in Charlottesville on Oct. 22, 1862, Stone was given the major’s woolen garments to replenish his skimpy wardrobe. During his captivity, Stone wrote letters to his wife in Connecticut, but no family letters from home made it to him through Confederate lines, much to his regret. Too weak to write and near death in the winter of 1863, Stone dictated a note to the surgeon who helped care for him.

"I had hope to return home & bring up my family, the children being at that age now when they need a father’s care & attention,” Stone noted. "But there is a merciful Father in Heaven who has always watched over us, & in Him I now put my trust... " Two days later, on Jan. 19, 1863, Stone died in Charlottesville.

After a 20-minute search, I finally found Henry Stone's grave, inscribed simply with his name, rank and state. Only 15 paces away is the marker for another soldier mortally wounded at Cedar Mountain: James Savage.

To honor each man, I put a penny on his marker.

Lincoln side up, of course.
5th Connecticut Lieutenant Colonel Henry Stone's grave in Culpeper (Va.) National Cemetery.

 Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

No comments:

Post a Comment