October 29, 2015
By meriwether, Oct 29 2015 07:28PM
“It is well that war is so terrible, or we would grow to fond of it.”
So spoke Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, Robert E. Lee, on December 13, 1862. Overlooking the town of Fredericksburg, VA, from his powerfully entrenched position on Marye’s Heights (pronounced Marie’s), Lee had one of the best defensive positions of the Civil War. When he uttered those words (some debate if he actually said them) he was mesmerized by the pageantry of the scene before him - lines of Union soldiers in blue, bayonets glistening in the sun, advancing toward him. But he also knew the horrors to come
Union General Ambrose Burnside sent his Army of the Potomac through the bombed out town of Fredericksburg and across a half mile of uprising, open plain into the teeth of Lee’s waiting Confederate forces. Wave after wave of Union boys surged forward into the meat grinder, and wave after wave was repulsed. No matter - Burnside just kept sending them on.
Below Marye’s Heights, Confederate soldiers stood 3 an 4 deep in a sunken road behind a stone wall - a position of perfect cover - and filled the air with lead as each Union charge advanced. No Union soldier would get within 40 feet of that stone wall. By the end of the day’s battle, the area in front of the stone wall was blanketed with Union dead and wounded.
Through that cold night, the cries of the wounded . . . for water . . . for home . . . for mother . . . carried over to the Confederate lines. The next day, Burnside wanted to continue the attack, but was wisely counseled by his subordinate officers not to. The Battle of Fredericksburg was over. Lincoln had wanted a winter victory before he issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January, 1863.This would not be it . . . . instead, it was one of the worst defeats of the Union Army during the Civil War.
I have been traveling a road of history . . . from Fredericksburg to Richmond . . . from Richmond down the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers . . . to Jamestown where the English first planted a foot on New World soil in 1607 . . . to Williamsburg, that well preserved gem of colonial history, and on to Yorktown, where the final battle of the American Revolution saw King George’s Redcoats lay down their arms in surrender.
Colonial, American Revolution, and Civil War sites abound here and resemble an overlay map where significant events occurred in the same place but at different times . . . and all vying for my attention. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to visit most of these sites on previous visits to the area. So . . . keeping in mind the purpose of my usperimeterride, I try to keep moving.
But I had to stop at Fredericksburg National Battlefield because I remember that my first visit there when I was still teaching 8th grade American History left such an impression on me. To see a small house (The Innis House) that stood on that mostly open plain in front of the stone wall still standing there today with bullet holes still plainly visible in the walls is such an amazing thing! Sorry - the history teacher in me.
After touring the battlefield in Fredericksburg I stopped in to the Irish Colonial Tavern, and before I knew it, I was being interviewed for a FM radio program for the next day. Deirdre, the bar tender, also happens to be assistant news director for WFLS 93.3 and does one of the morning talk shows. She had asked how far I was biking, and that did it. She whipped out her cell phone recorder, and the interview began.
From there it was on to Richmond where I cruised through the center of the city and old stately neighborhoods with well kept row houses. I hadn’t planned it, but my route took me right past the stunning neoclassical architectural jewel of the Virginia State Capitol building designed by Thomas Jefferson himself and built in 1788. It predates the building of Washington D.C., and In fact, it had an influence on the design of many of the stately buildings and monuments of the Nation’s Capital which were built in the classic Greek style. Hadn’t planned it either, but wound up taking a last minute tour of the Capitol in Richmond and it was an hour well spent. Many of the interior scenes of the recent movie Lincoln (Daniel Day Lewis) were filmed here; it doubled for the Nation’s Capitol Building.
My ride out the peninsula described above to Williamsburg and Jamestown was on the brand new Capital Trail which connects the old capital Williamsburg with the current capital Richmond. It opened completely just three weeks ago, and it is a beauty of a ride through a gently rolling landscape with hardwood trees dressed in their fall foliage and pine forests taking their turns at lining the path.
I’ve been in Williamsburg yesterday and today . . . and maybe tomorrow . . . waiting for the remnants of Hurricane Patricia to pass through. And then it is on to Norfolk/Suffolk where I am scheduled to work with Habitat on Friday - and working on having some media on hand.
More Kudos to the Kings Dominion Wilderness Campground between Fredericksburg and Richmond which provided a free campsite, and also to the Clarion Hotel here in Williamsburg. The general manager, Neal Chalkley, has given me two free nights because of the nature of my journey, and extended the option of a 3rd night if the weather is still bad. And the Holday Inn Express in Suffolk where I will be volunteering tomorrow, October 30 (My Birthday!) has also extended a free night's stay! Great of them all to do this!
I would also like to extend a hearty thank you to some people who have added their names to my list of donors to either Habitat For Humanity or Save The Children to support my ride: GeorgeAnne and Bill Baldridge, Ray and Kris Young, Gary and Pat Corrigan, Mike Burke, Sue and Ron Lang, Mike Coyle, Janet Rogolsky, and I forgot to include Patty McGraw with Don in my previous listing.
When the rain stops, I am Proceeding On.
Happy Birthday Al! The weather in your hometown is absolutely beautiful! 70s most of this (first November) week and sunshine most of the time. I hope you have some of this great weather as well. Love your history lessons!