For about a month I have been on what seems to have been an extra long winter break. With classes starting back up again tomorrow I want to reflect on some of the sights I was fortunate to see during this time off from school.
My girlfriend is utterly obsessed with the “Gallant Pelham”, a.k.a. John Pelham. Back in the fall we heard about a ceremony being conducted by the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust to dedicate an acre of land known as Pelham’s Corner. This is where John Pelham began shelling the Union lines as the Battle of Fredericksburg began in 1862. The dedication was planned for Friday December 13th, a day after our finals ended. So we decided as a end of the semester celebration, to travel down there and witness the dedication of the new Napoleon canon at Pelham’ s Corner.
Not knowing really what to expect, we left early and arrived at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center at the Sunken Road at about 9:00am. The V.I.P. there was a tremendous help. He gave us detailed directions to Pelham’s Corner, a map marking the route to take and a plethora of other information about the happenings in the park for the day. So we got back on the road and headed for Pelham’s Corner. After about a ten minute drive we saw Confederate flags waving in the wind and figured we were close. Then, in a grassy corner adjacent to a strip mall parking lot, we saw a cannon and people starting to collect for the ceremony.
There were living historians, as well as the black powder crew from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, who were there to conduct a live cannon firing. The ceremony began when Frank O’Reilly arrived leading a special tour that morning. (He was leading a tour on the movements of John Pelham during the Battle of Fredericksburg. The dedication was one of the stops.) A noted historian and Ranger at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, Mr. O’Reilly addressed the crowd of about 70. He first thanked the efforts of the Central Virginia Battlefield Trust for saving this land and donating a cannon, and then delved into the action that took place there exactly 151 years prior. His colorful speech describing the young Confederate cannoneer was moving yet at the same time very descriptive of the events that took place; as well as placing the action in the larger context of the battle. After his speech a live cannon firing was conducted and the crowd dispersed.
My girlfriend and I then decided to go the Sunken Road and do the walking tour there on our own. Ironically, we were there exactly 151 years to the day, after the battle on December 13th, 2013. Yet, there was literally no one at the Sunken Road.
So we enjoyed a quiet walk to ourselves, saw the Kirkland or “Angel of Marye’s Heights” monument, Marye’s Heights and the Sunken Road itself. As this was my first time at the Sunken Road, I had a pre conceived notion that the land in front of the road was a big expansive lawn as depicted in Gods and Generals, but I was wrong. Once again the encroachment of modern day was seen as the ground in front did not span for more than a few yards. We then made our way to the Chatham Manor house. Once again, we were greeted happily by two V.I.P.s who oriented us to the house. They also engaged in a colorful conversation with us about the different layers of the house and which would be the “correct” one to exhibit and interpret.
For our final stop of the day, we went to the Chancellorsville Battlefield as the sun was setting. We saw the site, and or sites of Jackson’s wounding and then began driving through the battlefield. I must say, at dusk, driving through some of those swamps was a little eerie.
We made our way back to the Valley the next day and were itching for something to do the following week, So we made a day trip to Harpers Ferry, especially Bolivar Heights to do the walking trail there on a nice layer of ice. Getting a view of Harpers Ferry like that in the winter gave me a whole new perspective on the lay of the land. The same at Fredericksburg, being able to see how the land shaped battles without the intrusive leaf cover was amazing. After tramping through the ice, we went to the lower part of town and walked around and enjoyed the park essentially to ourselves.
As Christmas passed, I packed my bags for New England to see both family and friends for a week. Once I arrived I hooked up with my good friend, Bobby. As we both love history, we spent a day sightseeing many of the Revolutionary War sites greater Boston had to offer. The day started with us at Minuteman National Historical Park. Unfortunately, the main visitor center was closed. (Sadly, this was as to be expected with the various budget cuts.) But, we followed the park signs, pulled off at different waysides until we found ourselves at the Park Headquarters. Fortunately, the headquarters had a small orientation center and gift shop manned by a very kind ranger. Also, from here were trails leading to the North Bridge, where the “shot heard round the world” was fired and the Battle of Lexington and Concord began in 1775. We saw the two respective monuments, the bridge, and then had a thoughtful and insightful conversation about the ramifications of this action that took place there and how things could have played out differently.
One of the items on my personal Civil War bucket list was to see the Robert Gould Shaw memorial in the Boston Common. So, after visiting Minuteman NHP we hit the Mass. Pike and headed east into Boston. As Bobby is a Boston native, he weaved in and out of traffic effortlessly as we searched for a parking spot. As we did, he pointed out the site of the Boston Marathon bombings and explained his personal story of terror as this took place in April. After finding a parking spot, we walked to the Common seeking out the monument. On the way, we encountered the Soldiers and Sailors monument. A large stone pillar with metal engravings and what seemed to be a depiction of lady liberty at the top; commemorated the lives lost during the Civil War. We then made our way towards the Massachusetts State House that glimmered in the sun until we encountered the Shaw monument.
The memorial was larger than I had pictured in my head. The artwork was beautifully done, showing the fearless expressions of the men of the 54th Massachusetts as they went into battle. Part of me had to laugh however. There was an African American male depicting a USCT at the monument. He was talking to visitors about the struggles of blacks in the service during the Civil War and answering questions visitors may have had. I do not know where he was from or what organization he represented. His costume seemed legitimate, and his answers were too. (Based off my knowledge). But, there was a sign. “5 Dollars for your picture with a Civil War Re-enactor!”. This is what just simply amused me. In Virginia, you witness countless re-enactors who will willingly take a picture with you for free, hell, they often are begging for the attention. But, here in downtown Massachusetts, tourists seemed flabbergasted by someone wearing 19th century garb.
After spending some time at the monument we walked across town for some seafood and some well deserved beer. As we were quasi playing tourists ourselves that day, Bobby brought me to the famous Green Dragon Tavern. Supposedly before the Revolutionary War, the Sons of Liberty would conjugate at this pub to talk about the ideas of liberty. But, at this point during the day, I did not question the authenticity of the historical information presented. I sat down, enjoyed some fresh mussels a lobster roll and drank some great Sam Adams Irish Red Ale.
This winter break was amazing for a history nerd like myself. I got to experience a special dedication on the 151st Anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, enjoy a quaint and quiet day in Harpers Ferry with my beautiful girlfriend, experienced the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord and viewed with my own eyes the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. As classes start again in the morning, I will surely be dreaming and planning some more history trips in the near future.