The trip north from Petersburg to our new location between Richmond and Fredericksburg was a short one, less than 2 hours. It took more time getting to and from I-95 than we spent on the interstate between Petersburg and Richmond. Unlike the previous RV park which was old and run-down, R&D Family Campground was being nicely maintained. While still a small RV Park, 4 miles east of US 301, it had all the amenities we look for. The young gentleman running the park was extremely nice and helpful and the site was an easy pull-through site with full hookups. He was constantly busy in the park, always with something to do to improve the park. When we pulled up they were busy laying new crushed rock for the roads and sites and he was busy with many landscaping activities that added nice visual touches. The bathrooms and showers were in older buildings, but you could tell they had recently been upgraded with new fixtures and flooring. We would certainly stay here again in the future.
The weather on Tuesday was rainy and cool, unlike the trip on Monday when it was sunny and warm. However, we knew we had a lot to see in the area and could not waste the day, so we headed into Richmond to continue our exploration of the Civil War Battlefields. We made the mistake of trusting our GPS to take us to the National Battlefield, which is set for the the Park Headquarters rather than the Visitor Center. We had run into this before, but usually they are close together so this has been a major problem only a couple of times in the past. This was not one of them. The GPS did not take us to the Visitor Center, but rather to the Headquarters which are in the center of downtown Richmond!! We will have to use the directions given on the website instead of trusting the GPS in the future. Fortunately, the headquarters are also the location of the Chimborazo Hospital, which is part of the driving tour of the park. Although not the only hospital in Richmond during the Civil War, Chimborazo was the largest covering over 40 acres with 100 wards divided into five divisions. Each ward could hold 32 patients so the capacity was over 3000 at a time. All of the structures were built in 1861 from wood are are now gone. The location of the hospital is now a well maintained city park with a few memorials. The small Visitor Center at Chimborazo is dedicated to the history of medical care during the Civil War and the many hospitals in the city along with a short film.
After visiting this site we got directions from the Park Ranger to the main Visitor Center, which is located along the James River at the remains of the Tredegar Iron Works. The Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works is very well done with three floors of exhibits within one of the few remaining intact buildings of the factory. The museum does cover the significant events during the Civil War around Richmond, but also includes extensive exhibits about the impact of the war on the citizens of Richmond and the importance of the Tredegar Iron Works. The Tredegar Iron Works was well known prior to the Civil War and as it was the major iron work in the South, it was one of the reasons that Richmond was chosen to be the Confederate Capital and consequently one of the reasons taking Richmond was so important to the Union. During the war it produced over half of the cannons used by the Confederates, most of the ammunition, the iron plates used on the ironclad warships, and much of the clothing. However, they was a constant shortage of materials and labor during the war limiting the production to only about half of what it could have produced. When Richmond fell in 1865, much of the industrial section of town was put to the torch by the evacuating Confederates. However, Tredegar Iron Works was not burned due to 50 hired guards protecting the property. There was also a nice film about the history of Tredegar and you could walk the grounds to see the remnants. Unfortunately, there is not much remaining today as the factory was allowed to decay for decades following its closing soon after the Civil War. In addition, the NPS has allowed the interpretive signs to deteriorate to the point of not being able to read most of them, so we were left with scratching our head as we looked at rusted iron structures sticking out of the ground. It was still worth visiting even if the grounds were not very informative.
By this point it was after lunch and we had not even made it to the battlefields around the city. So we ate a quick lunch in the truck since the weather was too wet to eat outside and started the driving tour with our CD that we had purchased. Unlike the battlefields around Petersburg, which was a single long siege in 1864, Richmond was threatened each summer during the war. There are battlefields from the Seven Days Battle in 1862 and the Overland Campaign in 1864. In 1863 the Union never got closer than Chancellorsville up near Fredericksburg or there would have been locations for it as well. Since General Grant was effectively blocked by General Lee from Richmond in 1864, his Overland Campaign shifted its focused on Petersburg which was the terminus of the railroads and most of the roads supplying Richmond. Therefore, most of the battlefields close to Richmond make up the Seven Days Battle in 1862. However, the tour did get a little confusing keeping the two time periods separate.
The Seven Days War was the culmination of General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, which is itself confusing since it began with the landing of troops using Fort Monroe at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay to the southeast of Richmond. Therefore, this campaign sees the Union troops attacking from the south and east rather than from the north and west as you would expect. Beginning with a battle at Williamsburg, the Union troops advanced to Richmond culminating with the Battle of Seven PInes just a few miles to the southeast of the center of town. At this battle on May 31, 1862, General Johnston was wounded and replaced by General Robert E. Lee as commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Over the next month, the Union consolidated its position and began surrounding Richmond, however, General Stonewall Jackson was on his way from the Shenandoah to help defend Richmond and General Lee decided to go on the offensive. The first stop on the driving tour is at the bluff overlooking the Chickahominy River where General Lee watched the opening Battle of Beaver Creek on June 26. The next stop is the location of this battle along Beaver Creek where the Confederates were unsuccessful in crossing the creek. However, General Jackson was approaching from the north and General McClellan began pulling back. At Gaines Mill on May 27, the next stop on the tour, Lee continued to press with multiple attacks against the fortified Union position along Botswain Creek. Once again, the Confederates were technically defeated being unable to take this position, but by this point General McClellan had decided to retreat back to the James River. Thus began a race to the River with Lee trying to catch and destroy the Union Army. At this point we had run out of time for the day, since it was already after 5:00. It should be noted that the driving tour of the battlefield around Richmond is over 80 miles in length and simply cannot be seen in one day.
The next day we returned to Richmond to continue our tour of the Civil War Battlefields. In close proximity to the Battle of Gaines Mill that we ended with on Tuesday, was the site of the Battle of Cold Harbor which is the most significant site close to Richmond of Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1864. By this point in the war, the Union was in the process of simply chocking the Confederacy with its naval blockade and the taking of Vicksburg and New Orleans eliminating any foreign supplies and Sherman’s “March to the Sea” which was cutting off the lower south. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was limited to supplies from Shenandoah Valley. In addition, the South was running out of manpower for new soldiers, while the North was continuing to replace its losses with fresh troops. General Grant knew this and was determined to press his advantage. Even though he was technically defeated by an inferior force at Wilderness and again at Spotsylvania Courthouse near Fredericksburg, he did not retreat as past Generals had, but continued to press towards Richmond. General Lee continued to deflect Grant away from Richmond at North Anna River and other minor skirmishes and Grant continued to move south and east around Richmond looking for a way to destroy Lee’s Army. From May 31 to June 12, 1864, these two armies clashed again on the outskirts of Richmond at a crossroads known as Cold Harbor (named for a nearby tavern). Also by this point in the war, both sides had become adept at quickly constructing defensive breastworks and the Confederates had constructed 6 miles of entrenchments between Bethesda Church and the Chickahominy River. The most severe fighting was on June 3, when the Union army attempted a frontal assault suffering between 3000 and 7000 casualties versus 1500 for the Confederates. for the next 9 days the armies engaged in trench warfare, but no major assaults. On June 12, General Grant surprised Lee by again moving south to the James River, which he crossed and advanced on Petersburg instead of continuing a direct assault of Richmond. There is a very small Visitor Center at Cold Harbor with a quick overview of the battle. There is also a walking trail around a small part of the 7 mile battlefield where you can see some excellent remnants of the defensive breastworks of both sides. From this series of battles and tactical defeats from the Wilderness to Cold Harbor, General Grant learned that hastily dug breastworks with supporting artillery were nearly impregnable to direct frontal attacks and he changed his tactics from direct attacks to siege and stretching Lee’s limited ability to defend all along a front stretching from Richmond to south of Petersburg.
From Cold Harbor, it was time to continue with the Seven Days Battles as General Lee chased General McClellan as he retreated southeast to the James River in 1862. There were brief stops at Savage’s Station on the Richmond and York Railroad where there was a brief clash with McClellan’s rearguard and again at White Oak Swamp. Finally on June 30, the Confederates repeatedly attempted to take the important crossroads at Frayser’s Farm while McClellan continued his retreat and by the end of the day had failed to take it. Once again the Union rearguard retreated to a position on Malvern Hill, the last of the Seven Days Battles. On July 1, the Union set up their cannon and stood in battle formations at the top of a gently sloping hill with steep hills and swamps to their left and right. The Confederates were forced to advance up the cleared terrain into the teeth of the Union artillery and counterattacking infantry. The delaying tactics at Malvern Hill provided McClellan sufficient time to retreat to Harrison Landing on the James River and escape. The NPS have recreated the battlefield conditions of the time and placed cannon at both lines. There is a 1.5 mile walk that circles the battlefield with interpretive signs that include photographs taken after the battle that show the houses that are still there today.
The rest of the driving tour is of the forts along the James River that played a critical role in both 1862 and 1864. For the Confederates they protected Richmond from naval attacks which were attempted at the start of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862. Fort Brady, built by the Union Army in 1864 was important in 1864 in protecting Grant’s supply base at City Point from Confederate ironclad warships out of Richmond. Although they did not sink any of the ironclads, which were turned back before reaching City Point by the Union Navy, they did provide early warning of any movements. We also briefly visited Fort Hoke, part of the inner defensive line of the Confederates along the river. It was partially reconstructed by the CCC in the 1930s so is more substantial then the other forts, but visitors are not allowed any access to really see it. Finally we went on to Fort Harrison which was captured by the Union in 1964 and turned against the Confederates who had to reestablish their defensive line to cut it out. It was the largest fort around Richmond and was a severe loss to the Confederates, but the taking of the fort by the Union was more a diversion from the siege at Petersburg and kept Lee from diverting more of his troops to Petersburg. This fort was really interesting and confusing because after taking the fort the Union had to build new fortifications towards Richmond. The fort only had a front wall as part of the trenchworks, so the Union had to first build a back wall (now there front wall) and eventually expand it as well. Therefore, the remains of the fort are confusing with a massive wall down the middle of the final fort. By this point we were exhausted and it was getting past 5:00 again, so we did not cross the river to another Confederate fort (Fort Darling on Drewry’s Bluff) above the James River.
By Thursday we had enough of Civil War Battlefields for a while, but I wanted to finish up with the National Park Sites in Richmond. In addition, the weather had turned back to light rain off and on all day, so it was a good day to spend in doors. Therefore, we headed back to downtown Richmond to the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site. Neither of us had any idea of who Maggie Walker was, but suspected she was important to the Civil Rights Movement since the Historic Site was in Jackson Ward that we knew was an African-American section of Richmond. We were correct in our assumption as Maggie L. Walker was a teacher and successful businesswomen, as well as, being very active in women and African-American issues. Born at the end of the Civil War, Maggie grew up during Reconstruction in the former capital of the Confederacy. Even though the slaves had been freed by the war, they faced many challenges dealing with the “Jim Crow” laws and other methods of discrimination. Maggie served as a shining example of what could be accomplished by hard work and meeting the challenges head on. Born the daughter of a former slave and an assistant cook, Maggie grew up delivering cleaned clothes in Richmond while attending public school. She also got involved in the Independent Order of St. Luke, whose initial purpose was to provide burial costs to its members. The mission expanded under the direction of Maggie Walker, who eventually to top leadership positions in the Order, to include a department store, a local newspaper (the St. Luke Herald), and the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, of which she was the Director until her death. She was the first African-American woman President of a Bank. Her home in Jackson Ward in Richmond is the site of the National Historic Site. Thankfully, following her death in 1934 the family maintained the house in its original state until it was given to the National Park System in 1985. This area of Jackson Ward was the home of African-American middle class consisting of bankers, businessmen, and lawyers. Maggie used her house as a example of what could achieved by African-Americans and filled the parlor and library with expensive furniture, statuettes, china, and books. It is still a show place today and was truly inspiring. The rest of the house is more utilitarian since it was also the home of a growing family including their two sons and their families as well. The house shows the effect of numerous expansions over the years. For example, there are two staircases to the second floor right behind each other, the room off the kitchen is a closed in porch still with a window that looks into the kitchen inside the house, the bedroom (later the payroom) in the back has an elevator they installed when Maggie was confined to a wheelchair, the hallway upstairs has steps that go down and immediately back up between the stairways for no obvious reason, there is a window in one of the bathrooms that looks into a bedroom which has been plastered over, and many other strange features. In any case, it was a unique example of the lifestyle in the early 1900s and has been beautifully restored with all original furnishings. We were fortunate to be just about the only visitors on a rainy morning in April, so we had the pleasure of a personal tour of the house by the Park Rangers. I was able to ask a lot of questions and learn a lot about Maggie Walker and her family. I should also mention the movie they had about her life since it is narrated by Maggie Walker from a recorded speech she gave to a classroom. This was a unique way to learn her life history. After we finished the tour and movie we made an early day of it and returned to the campgrounds for the afternoon.
Friday promised to be stormy and miserable so we took the day to do our laundry and make some reservations for the future. I now have reservations through May where we will be visiting Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. Our goal is to make Maine by the end of June, even though a week around each city may not be long enough. The weather on Saturday was beautiful, so it was back to Civil War Battlefields. Having completed Richmond, the next location were the battlefields around Fredericksburg. You may have noticed, but we are once again seeing the battlefields in reverse as we did the Revolutionary War battlefields last fall. First we learned about the siege of Petersburg which led to the end of the Civil War in 1865. Then we visited the battlefields around Richmond which preceded Petersburg in 1864 and included the Seven Days Battle in 1862. Now we were headed to Fredericksburg which preceded Richmond in 1864 and includes battlefields in 1862 and 1863. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is made up of four separate battlefields: Fredericksburg in 1862, Chancellorsville in 1863, Wilderness in 1864 and Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. Therefore, we knew it was going to take at least two days to see all of them. After an early start, we first had to deal with the GPS system that once again took us to the Park Headquarters instead of the main Visitor Center in Fredericksburg. Thankfully we were able to get directions to the Visitor Center losing only about 30 minutes. Once at the Visitor Center we spent some time in a very good museum about all of the battles, however, the main focus was on the Fredericksburg battle. Their movie gave excellent background, details of the battle, and the aftermath. We purchased the Driving Tour CD for each of the battlefields and even had the joy of participating in a Ranger led talk about the Battle of Fredericksburg from both the Confederate and Union perspective. The Ranger was from Germany, learning more English and History, before returning to Germany to teach at a Gymnasium, middle and high school age students. After the failure of General McClellan to capture Richmond in the spring and summer of 1862 in the Peninsula Campaign, President Lincoln replaced him with General Burnside. He was also planning on announcing the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 and needed a decisive victory to help sell it. Therefore, he ordered Burnside to get him this victory, even though it was November. Burnside took the Army of the Potomac south towards Richmond, but had to cross the Rappahanock River although the Confederates had destroyed all the bridges. He ordered pontoon boats to make bridges, but the order was confused and not carried out which allowed General Lee to bring the Army of Northern Virginia into Fredericksburg and for General Stonewall Jackson to come from the Shenandoah Valley. After two weeks of delay, Burnside finally was ready to make his crossing on December 11, at three locations centered on Fredericksburg. However, his crossing came under fire from Confederate sharpshooters hiding in Fredericksburg. Burnside then shelled Fredericksburg to try and dislodge the sharpshooters with little effect. This was the first time in history that the US Army shelled an American city. Late in the afternoon, a single division crossed underfire by boat to clear out the opposition. The Union army finally crossed over to Fredericksburg in December 12-13. Over night the Union army sacked the town, which had been evacuated prior to the battle, under the eyes of the Confederate troops positioned outside of town on Marye’s Heights and Prospect Hill. This so inflamed the Confederates that “Fredericksburg” became a battle cry for the rest of the war. Rather then defending the city, General Lee positioned his troops at two key defensive positions. His main force was along Marye’s Heights which is a hill west of Fredericksburg that the Union troops would have to attack uphill across open ground with very cover after crossing a 15 foot deep canal under withering artillery from three directions. General Jackson held a line along the ridge of Prospect Hill, south of Fredericksburg, with mixed woods and open fields. General Burnside ordered the main assault on Prospect Hill, not being aware that Jackson’s army had arrived and believing it to be lightly defended. The attack on Marye’s Heights was to be a diversion to keep Lee’s main body pinned down. However, his orders were not clear and the Union sent only a single battalion to initially attack Prospect Hill which was easily repulsed. Through the day, the Union did make a brief breakthrough of the Confederate lines on Prospect Hill, but were driven back. The fight at Marye’s Heights was much worse. Not only were the Union soldiers facing charging uphill over mostly open ground under artillery fire, but the Confederates were positioned behind a solid stone wall along Telegraph Road that they could hide behind and they pop up when the Union was at point blank range. By the afternoon, the Confederates were four men deep along the wall. The Union sent battalion after battalion up the hill and progress was measured by how close they came to the wall before falling back. The carnage was horrendous with the Union losing between 6000 and 8000 men in one futile charge after another. Burnside had to withdraw back north across the Rappahanock without the victory President Lincoln was looking for. The Driving Tour CD was a big help in understanding the Battle of Fredericksburg. It took us from the pontoon bridge sites to the Jackson’s positions on Prospect Hill and Lee’s Hill from which General Lee could see the action on both battlefields. From there the tour goes back to Fredericksburg to Marye’s Hill, however, this is also the location of the Visitor Center and we had already explored it with the help of the Ranger talk.
Even though by then it was after 2:00 we decided to push it and visit Spotsylvaina Courthouse as well, since we had four battlefields in the area and only two days. The Battle of Spotsylvania Courthouse jumps two years in the Civil War in 1864. It is the second battle of General Grant’s Overland Campaign that will culminate in the siege of Petersburg over the winter. It follows the Battle of the Wilderness that is also nearby, but is the subject of another day. After a couple of days of bitter fighting in the Wilderness, General Grant needed to change the battlefield to more open terrain where his superior numbers would be more effective. So he moved his army south and east from the Wilderness towards Richmond and General Lee had to respond. The race was on to occupy the crossroads at Spotslyvania Courthouse. General Sheridan’s cavalry was given the task of clearing the Confederates from the Brock Road but was bogged down and delayed by General Stuart’s cavalry. Meanwhile, General Anderson (who had replaced the wounded Longstreet) used parallel roads recently cut by the Confederates to barely beat General Meade’s advanced infantry. Thus ensued the initial battle at Laurel Hill on May 8. Both sides then dug in building trenches along a 7 mile front. Over the next four days General Grant attempted to find a weakness in the Confederate line with the only limited success of Colonel Upton’s 5000 man regiment that briefly captured Doyle’s Salient on May 10. Seeing this result with only 5000 men, General Grant believed that a concentrated attack with 20,000 men should be even more effective. This attack came on May 12 along the portion of the Mule Shoe known as the Bloody Angle. The Confederate Line was constructed with a significant bulge extending a mile beyond the rest of the line called the Mule Shoe. This made it vulnerable and this was the site of the main attack. In bloody hand-to-hand combat for most of the day the armies fought back and forth across the Confederate line. The Confederates were able to delay the Union long enough to establish a new and shorter set of breastworks to the south that they fell back to on May 13. For the next week, until May 18, there were numerous attempts to break the Confederate line with heavy Union loses. Grant again decided to move the battlefield in an attempt to catch Lee before he had a chance to establish breastworks and trenches. Since this battlefield spanned over two weeks of fighting, it was confusing even with the assistance of the Driving Tour CD. Besides the Bloody Angle where you can still see the breastwork over which so many died, the most impressive part of the tour was a short section of reconstructed breastworks along the new Confederate line south of the Bloody Angle. You can really appreciate the difficult anyone would have in any direct assault of these fortified positions. It also did not help that we rushed through much of the battlefield and the fact there was no movie to introduce the battle. All they had was a kiosk with a short series of interpretive signs that really just added to the confusion. Even though we hurried through it, it was still nearly 6:00 before we were done. So we went out to dinner and talked about what we had seen throughout this very full day.
Sunday was our last day at this location and we had the choice of either returning to Fredericksburg or heading northeast to George Washington’s Birthplace National Monument. Since our next location would still be 30 miles from Fredericksburg, to our south instead of our north, we decided George Washington’s Birthplace made more sense. Besides we were both tired after the long day on Saturday and figured the National Monument would be a short day. The weather on Sunday was great, cool and sunny so it was a pleasant drive through the Virginia countryside. As we expected the National Monument is not very large consisting of small Visitor Center and a replica of a typical 1700s house with outbuildings, farm animals, and fields. I was surprised to find out that George Washington was born at this location, but only lived for three years before his family moved to their plantation at Mount Vernon. This was the homesite of the Washington family which dates back to the late 1600s and four generations are buried in the family cemetery. However, by the time of Washington’s birth in 1732 the family owned many properties including what would become Mount Vernon and his uncle’s family continued to occupy this farm. The original house burned down in 1791, shortly after the Revolutionary War, and was never rebuilt, so a replica of what was believed to be a typical wealthy Virginia farmer was constructed in 1932 in time for George Washington’s 100th birthday. They have since located the original foundations for the home, which is close to the replica, and you can see from the outline it does not resemble the replica at all. They have furnished the replica with period pieces and allow visitors to view the interior every hour through the day. The grounds are beautiful consisting of a combination formal and herb garden, outbuildings including kitchen, washroom, and barns. The farm itself is a demonstration farm for the 1700 time period, although we did not see any activity, except for the cows, sheeps, and hogs. We also took a short drive to the family cemetery and wharf area along the Potomac River. After lunch, we explored the woods around the house along a 1.5 mile Nature trial. It was a pleasant day at a beautiful location along the Potomac and Popes River in the Northern Neck of Virginia. As expected we were back early to get ready to move on Monday.