Following the meal a ranger spoke to us about the Peninsula Campaign of 1862 early in the Civil War.
It was the largest amphibious campaign conducted by the United States prior to World War I. General McClellan, leading the Union troops 115,000 strong, landed at Hampton Roads and marched up the Yorktown Peninsula, hoping for a quick capture of Richmond, the newly established Confederate capitol.
With the element of surprise, a better knowledge of the land, and a little more audacity, McClellan could have ended the war right then with a lot fewer casualties. He had four times as many men, but none of those three elements. His maps were inaccurate, and the Confederate forces tricked him into thinking they were a lot stronger than they were.
So much other history surrounds the peninsula that little is known about the Civil War campaign. There's Jamestown, Yorktown, and Colonial Williamsburg. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first English colony - Jamestown - in North America. Then, there's the decisive Revolutionary War battle at Yorktown. All of that, plus the fact it was a Confederate success, has overshadowed the Civil War significance of the Peninsula campaign.
After the talk, Larry and Carol Strong - our leaders - introduced everyone and gave us a preview of what the caravan was to be about.
April 1, 2007 - We found a small Baptist church in Newport News this morning - the Emmaus Baptist Church. It's interesting to see how other folks handle their worship service. Afterwards we found a Panera Bread for lunch and WiFi to send this.
During the afternoon the caravan visited two plantations - Lee Hall and Endview - both recently acquired by the State of Virginia to preserve. Lee Hall was built in 1858 by an affluent planter. This stately mansion that is an architectural gem that was commandeered by Confederate Generals Magruder and Johnston. It was there that they executed the brilliant defense of the peninsula in 1862. It was later taken by the Union and used as a hospital. No fighting took place on the plantation, so there was never any damage done to the old home. It has now been furnished with period furnishings and is beautifully restored and maintained.
Endview was built in 1769, seven years before Independence was declared. It is a smaller home that has survived three wars - the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. In each case it was used as headquarters for army officers of both sides as control of the area changed hands.
At 5:30p we had our first GAM with Jim and Sheila Skipper, John and Maryann Johnson, Charles and Rhona Nunez, Bob and Millie Glancy, and us. We built a small campfire to make it more homey, and everybody enjoyed getting acquainted.
April 2, 2007 - The day started with a carpool convoy to Fort Monroe on the southern end of the Peninsula - about 15 miles from our campsites. The Montagues - Winston and Carol - rode with us. Security was tight at the entrance gate as everyone had to show picture ID and proof of ownership of the vehicles. Fort Monroe has been a military outpost since 1609, an active military base since 1823. It's now a training base for the army. The old fort is surrounded by a wide moat, and the entrance through the thick walls is through an extremely narrow gate.
Once inside the fort we parked and were divided into two groups with two guides to take us through the Casemate Museum. Each of the rooms inside the fortress was called a casemate, and they were all filled with relics of the past. Robert E. Lee served at Fort Monroe as a recent graduate of West Point. His statue displayed the uniform he wore while there. There were several other notables who served there, including Edgar Allen Poe, who was noted for his ability to read and write. One of the casemates was used as the prison cell of Jefferson Davis after he was captured following the Civil War.
After the museum tour we were treated to a buffet lunch at the officers club. The picture to the right is a cannon on the grounds of the officers club.
After lunch we drove to the Maritime Museum, the main feature of which was the story of the Battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads - the Monitor and the Merrimack. Actually, the Merrimack had been renamed the CSS Virginia. The Virginia sank two union ships before being confronted by the Monitor. They battled to a draw, neither able to inflict much damage on the other. The Monitor was distinguished by having the first revolving gun turret. That turret was raised about 10 years ago from where the Monitor had sunk in a storm not far from Cape Hatteras and is on display. A full scale replica of the Monitor is on display - all 160 feet of her.
That classic battle was fought on March 9, 1862. The Monitor Center is a $30 million addition to the Maritime Museum, completed and opened to the public on March 9, 2007 - 145 years after the famous battle. The Virginia was ultimately sunk by the Confederate forces to avoid its capture by the Union. It was sunk in the ship channel at the mouth of the James River, so even in death it was useful in blocking Union ships from going up the James to support McClellan's troops.
The Maritime Museum has much more than just Civil War exhibits. It is extremely well appointed with lots of old boats and ship replicas.
By the end of the day most of us were complaining about sore feet, but it had been a most educational day. Even though having visited the area before in trips to Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown, we had never before recognized the significance of the Peninsula to Civil War history.
April 3, 2007 - This was moving day - about 75 miles to Pocahontas State Park near Chester, Virginia - south of Richmond. It was a beautiful, sun shiny day - quite warm for early April. The only caravan activity was a barbecue supper, spread out at the Strongs' trailer, complete with barbecue pork, baked beans, potato salad, cole slaw, and peach cobbler.
April 4, 2007 - The Petersburg Siege lasted 9 1/2 months from June of 1864 to April of 1865. Grant's objective was to cut the rail lines into Petersburg. Success would be tantamount to the fall of Richmond and the end of the war. He never expected it to take so long, but the Confederates were stubborn. When he finally succeeded, Lee surrendered a week later, and the war was over. But at what a cost! Thousands upon thousands of men lost - on both sides. All told it was a miserable time.
Ranger Grant Gates guided us through the Petersburg Battlefield - now managed by the National Park Service. He did a fantastic job of describing the siege, making it come alive.
One of the most famous battles during the siege was the battle at the crater. Union troops had dug a 510 foot long tunnel under the Confederate line, planning to discharge tons of explosive. Poor planning and conflicting orders from the generals caused the plan to fail, but it must have been a traumatic time for both sides. The crater left by the explosion is still very much visible.
Following the battlefield tour, we moved to a picnic area for lunch, then moved on to the old Blandford Church and Cemetery. This old church was established in 1735 by Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson. The church is rich in Colonial, Revolutionary, War of 1812, and Civil War history. The windows of the church are Tiffany stained glass - beautiful - each window contributed by a different Confederacy state. The cemetery is immense, including some 30,000 Confederate soldier graves.
March 31, 2007 - The caravan rendezvoused at the Newport News Park Campground in southeast Virginia. Bill and Susan Stone cooked up a batch of Brunswick stew for everyone, serving it with cornbread and cake.
Old Ship's Figurehead
At Maritime Museum
Barbecue at Pocahontas
We rode with the Strongs - our leaders, Larry and Carol. Following the formal caravan activities, we drove into the City of Petersburg to look around. Petersburg shows little sign of prosperity. Many buildings are unoccupied and crumbling with age. We stopped at the Siege Museum for an interesting movie and view of their exhibits. A gracious lady showed us around. She had an optomistic view of the future for her city, telling of a hope for thousands of new residents as a result of new additions to nearby Fort Lee. Renovating the city will be challenge.
April 5, 2007 -Today a tour bus picked us up at 9am at the campground for a guided tour of Richmond. The weather was clear, cool, and a little breezy, so jackets felt good. Our first stop was at the approach to the bridge over the James River overlooking the Tredegar Iron Works. It was a good photo op at a good view of the James looking east. Our guide, Marc Ramsey, described Richmond as it was before the war in 1860, a major flour producer with several mills in town, using the port facilities on the James to ship flour and tobacco to markets abroad.
The next stop was at the Museum of the Confederacy and the Confederate White House downtown. Those historic sites are being crowded in by other buildings, mainly medical facilities. After strolling through the museum, a guide escorted us through the White House. This was the home and headquarters of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865. After the war it was used as a school, but has been renovated and now is as near what it was during the Confederacy as can be determined.
At 1:00pm we reboarded the bus and rode through town, past the state capitol building, to historic Shockoe Slip. This is an area of town that was burned by the evacuating army after Petersburg fell. Most of the old buildings have been rebuilt, including the building where we ate lunch - the Richbrau Restaurant and Brewery.
Then, again aboard the bus, we drove by the site of the infamous Libby prison where Union prisoners were held. Then, it was on to the Chimborazo "Hospital on the Hill." This was but one of many hospitals in Richmond during the war, considered to be state of the art at the time. Over 75,000 wounded men were treated there with a mortality rate of less than 20 percent - good for those days when little was known about sanitation and antiseptics. The hospital wasn't just one big building. None of the buildings are there now, but a model in the Visitor Center shows what appeared to be a hundred or more small buildings and tents that housed the patients. The complex was on a high bluff called Chimborazo Hill. A re-enactor had set up shop in a shelter on the grounds, entertaining us for a while with flags, bugle, drums, guns, and an array of goods depicting what a soldier's life was like during the war.
We arrived back at the campground a little after 5:00pm, tired but happy. It had been a good day.
April 6, 2007 - The tour bus was back at the campground at 8:00am to take us all into Richmond again. We approached the city from the west along an avenue of beautiful estates. The dogwood and redbud trees were in full bloom along with the azaleas - outstanding scenes. After a short stop at the old Confederate Memorial Chapel, we drove down Monument Avenue toward town. There, every block or so, are monuments to Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart, President Jefferson Davis, and maybe a couple more Confederate notables. Old homes along the avenue are nearly wall to wall and must be choice residences.
We passed Robert E. Lee's residence on the way to the Virginia Historical Society. This elaborate museum holds artifacts that describe Virginia's history from the earliest human inhabitants to modern times. The Civil War section may be the most complete story of the war - at least the most complete of the war in Virginia. A well informed lady in period costume explained the changes in life style of Richmond residents during the war - in particularly what people had to substitute for coffee, sugar, salt, and medicine. She told how some things the price was up 9000 percent if they could be found at all.
A box lunch was there for us to enjoy before again boarding bus to ride to the old Tredegar Iron Works - now a National Park Service site. This was the Confederacy's only
iron works, operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout the war. The works produced all of the armor plate - some 1,000 tons - used fit out the ironclad ship CSS Virginia (Merrimack). The company also produced some 1160 cannons. Located on the banks of the James River near downtown, the site of the ironworks affords an outstanding view of the Richmond skyline - especially the prominent Federal Reserve building. The museum that now occupies the old buildings tells a complete story of the Civil War.
To complete the tour, the bus took us to Hollywood Cemetery, the final resting place of three presidents, 25 Confederate generals, and many other notables. It is huge and extremely well designed with numerous huge trees and flowering shrubs - lots of dogwood (both white and pink). The most outstanding monument was a pyramid made of stacked granite rocks, almost 100 feet high. This was a memorial to the war efforts of Confederate women. There are some 18,000 graves of Confederate soldiers, most of which are not marked. A record, however, exists of each soldier buried there, and as families claim their ancestor, a marker can be placed on the grave. The three presidents are James Monroe, John Tyler, and Jefferson Davis. The cemertery also borders the James River and affords a beautiful view of the Hollywood rapids and Bell Isle in the center of the river. It is a remarkable place. Our guide pointed out one grave with the epitaph: "I told you that my feet were killing me!"
Confederate White House
Virginia State Capitol
Virginia Historical Society
Tredegar Iron Works
Pres. Tyler Monument
Pres. Monroe Monument
These are the kind of touring days that only can be done with a group like our caravan. We would never do this on our own, but everyone had a good time and learned a lot.
April 7, 2007 - Snow! On Easter's Eve. What a surprise to awaken to the white stuff. Our car was covered with it, and the trees were decorated with it. It was still snowing as we left in a car convoy to Pamplin Historical Park.
Not sure what I was expecting today, but it was a genuine surprise to see the excellent presentations at Pamplin Historical Park. This state-of-the-art museum is privately owned and relatively new - 1990s. It is located about 6 miles south of Petersburg at the site of the Union breakthrough of the Confederate defenses of that city. It preserves a large portion of the earthworks on the battlefield where that key battle took place on April 2, 1865, the engagement that essentially marked the end of the Civil War. It was here, after this battle, that the Confederates conceded Petersburg, evacuated Richmond, and a week later that Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse - 142 years ago, almost to the date.
The Pamplin family donated $300 million in land and cash to create this park. The museum in the main building is primarily focused on telling the story of the soldiers. Entering the museum area, each person is handed an MP3 player which is activated automatically when passing through each passageway. Prior to that, each person picks a soldier from a list, and the MP3 player is programmed to follow that soldier through the war. Ann and I picked a soldier from Gwinnett County, Georgia. His story came from letters written to his mother back home. It ended sadly after three years when he died of typhoid fever. There were about 45 numbered exhibits. At each exhibit, punching the number into the MP3 player, keyed into a narrator explaining the exhibit. Exhibits depicted the drills, the rampant diseases, what the soldiers had to eat, their uniforms, their religious activities, their music, their games, how they worked on the trenches and earthworks, the care of their horses, and how they suffered in the battles. Most of the artifacts on display were found right on site. When hurricane Isabel came through, uprooted trees unearthed all sorts of mine' balls, cannon balls, rifles, canteens, bayonets, and other paraphenalia.
We watched an hourlong movie about the Breakthrough Battle that was graphic in its story of the horror of the fighting.
At noon we gathered in a nice dining room for a buffet lunch of fried chicken, barbecue pork, baked beans, string beans, potato salad, blueberry muffins, cornbread, and peach cobbler.
After lunch, some of us walked with a guide on a tour of the old earthworks which, though much eroded, is still easy to picture what happened. A re-enactor demonstrated the loading and firing of a rifle, while we shivered in the cold and were peppered with snow flurries.
The old plantation house, built in 1812, is the only original building on the site, It belonged to Dr. Pamplin's ancestors. Had the weather been better, we could have had a tour of it and the surrounding plantation.
This is truly an amazing place, one that we would never have known about but for the caravan.
With the cold weather, no one was too interested in an outside GAM, so it was decided to have the scheduled GAM in the local pizza parlor. We met with Duyane and Judy Canada, Peter and Loree Ferguson, Dave and Kathleen Carlig, and our host - Ken and Nancy Davis. This is a valuable part of caravanning - meeting new friends.