Friday, March 28, 2014

A Historic Hike leading to Stonewall's Shrine

On Sunday I was up early again and headed down to Fredericksburg to meet a hiking group for the first time. We were hiking a battlefield trail for 10.5 miles, my longest hike in a few years.The weather was a lot colder than the day before so we were glad to get started.
This is a very friendly group and we got on famously as we marched along. Our organizer only allows about 17 people to each event which I thought was a superb idea to avoid overcrowding.
The trails were easy to hike, very well maintained and we were surprised but pleased to discover that we had them to ourselves. We hardly passed anybody.
The trails run along what was once part of he Confederate line in the Civil War with trenches and also hollows which protected the cannons still clearly visible.. This hill was nicknamed Dead Horse Hill because so many horses perished here during the war.
"The trees around our guns were literally torn to pieces and the ground plowed up. I have been several times covered with dirt, and had it knocked in my eyes and mouth." A Confederate artilleryman.
We stood around during our break not wanting to sit on the cold benches. I nibbled a few dates and some nuts, slugged some water, then was ready to move on. We all felt the same, it was just too cold to stand still and the wind here was fierce. We carried on our hike and were all amazed at how quickly we finished the route. We arrived back at our cars having covered 10.5 miles and after promises to hook up again soon, we climbed inside our vehicles, glad to be out of the wind.
I decided to take a different route home since there was still some of the afternoon left and headed for the country roads.
I had a quick stop at Slaughter Pen Farm which had a few boarded up abandoned buildings. This was a historic point during the Civil War where the Union soldiers manged to get the better of the Confederates but over 5000 lives were lost. Five medals of honor were awarded for valor on these fields. The site came close to demolition for an industrial site until the Civil War Preservation Trust rescued it and purchased the land for $12 million, the most expensive private sector battlefield preservation effort in American history at the time. Interesting little video here.
But it really was too windy and cold to walk around too much and so I moved on. I came across an old house which was slowly collapsing in on itself. 
After a couple of photos from the outside, because there was no way that I was going in, I carried on, following the signs for "Stonewall" Jackson's shrine. I turned up a road that ran along a railway line and then came upon a small white building.
This was where Jackson spent the final 6 days of his life. It was an outbuilding on the Chandler farm and was furnished for the general when he arrived. He had been wounded accidentally by a volley of fire from his own men at the Battle of Chancellorsville, resulting in his left arm needing to be amputated. The plan was for him to recuperate here until the railway line, which had been cut by Union soldiers, was restored and then he could be moved to Richmond.
The Chandlers placed a bed and other furniture in the room and a mantle clock to make the room more homelike. But after 3 days Jackson developed pneumonia. Although his body was weak, his spirit remained strong and exclaimed that it had been his desire to die on a Sunday. Surrounded by physicians, his men and wife and baby daughter he passed his last hours in delirium, barking out orders as though on the battlefield. At 3;15pm he grew quiet and then passed away with a smile, quietly saying, " Let us cross the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."
The bed here is the actual bed he died in and the clock is the one that doctors stopped at the time of his death. It still runs today and the docent told us that during a bad storm with tornadoes passing through he held the clock to his chest to protect it in case the building was hit.
I was glad I'd found this historic little shrine. It touched me deeply that I was standing on the same floorboards that a notable and well respected general had stood, and looked out through the same window on to the same rail road that had hoped to whisk him to safe recovery.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Historic Ships in Baltimore, MD

On Saturday I went with a group of friends to Baltimore to look over the Historic Ships. For some reason I'd been thinking that this was a temporary exhibit and was fully expecting to see an armada of beautiful old schooners and galleons with sails unfurled that billowed in the salty breeze. So I was very disappointed to find myself standing on the quay looking at a couple of rusty tubs with not a single flapping piece of material in sight apart from a U.S. flag. We were actually viewing the 4 resident vessels in the harbor that sit there all year long and are therefore easily overlooked. But, wanting to remain upbeat, I refused to allow my enthusiasm be dampened in any way and so strode forward and up the gangplank of the first boat to explore it thoroughly.
The Chesapeake is a lightship from 1930, the most modern built by the US Lightship Service at the time, boasting superb stability, accommodation, signaling capacity and engineering. During World War II it aided in the war effort off the Cape Cod Canal. It was decommissioned and since 1971 has served as a floating museum.
This was the Captain's room which looked pretty comfy to me.
The lightship has a gallery of photographs of dogs that served as mascots on Navy and Coast Guard ships from the 1880s through the 1950s. There were some wonderful images here.
Up on deck afforded a great view of the harbor. We were really lucky in that with the weather being dull and chilly, there were no crowds. It made walking the ships a lot more enjoyable.
The next craft was the USS Torsk, which had sunk 2 Japanese frigates, the last enemy warships to be torpedoed at the end of WWII. Commissioned in 1944, she has made over 10,000 dives.
This chap stood to attention as we boarded but didn't hang around.
This was a remarkable tour as I'd never been on a submarine before. It was extremely compact and I marveled at how much equipment and supplies this vessel held. Not a single space was wasted and I wondered at how a crew of men coped on board.
We passed through many of these doorways and I took great delight in swinging through them just as I'd seen crew members do on TV. There were a few guys working on some of the equipment and one of them did a double take as I came flying through feet first. These were volunteers doing restoration work and they encouraged me to join them, even though I'd only probably come for one day, my labor would not be refused.
Many of the pipes and equipment on board had been painted over so a huge restoration job is to scrape off the paint revealing the beautiful copper and brass underneath.
One of the sleeping areas. These berths were tight and not really long enough. I climbed into one of them and struggled to turn on my side. Obviously guys with claustrophobia didn't work on submarines. Under the mattresses was storage space where the crew kept their gear.
A waste disposal unit and one of the torpedo hatches, there was one at each end of the boat. I love, love, loved this submarine and will likely go back a day later this year to help out.
The third ship to tour was the Constellation, launched in 1854. This was the last all-sail ship built by the US Navy and the only vessel still afloat that saw active duty during the Civil War. It's also the largest example of traditional Chesapeake Bay wooden shipbuilding in existence.
A beautiful boat, and huge! We walked around the deck, impressed with the numerous piles of rope and then waited for a cannon to be fired which is done once a day, I believe. Click on the photo and check out the wisps of smoke rising up from behind her back just as the cannon fired!
Down below. There were 4 decks, which were all impossible to stand up in properly, as folks back then were quite shorter than us. Both sides were lined with cannons, bare wooden floor boards pitted and worn with action.
There were a lot of cabins for the officers, chaplain and surgeon, and I zoomed in on one of the letters on a desk. The props, even if not all authentic, were very well done.
And then down on the next level was the surgery at one end of the ship, and the hammocks where the rest of the crew slept.
I climbed into one of these, it was incredibly comfy. I could just image the ship rocking and my bed gently swinging, what a wonderful way to be lulled to sleep.
 Down in the bottom of the hull was where final restoration work was being carried out. We had to walk bent double through here. The base of the masts could also be seen down here, huge pillars of wood.
USS Constellation in 1862 by Tomaso de Simone. A lovely painting showing the vessel with her sails unfurled. An interesting point about this ship was pointed out by Anna after we'd finished the tour; the USS Constellation is believed to be one of the most haunted ships afloat. There have been no fewer than five different apparitions spotted in various areas below-decks over the years. These include a former captain and a 20th century night watchman who still hangs around, playing cards with himself. The night watchman's ghost is supposed to be so real looking that he has even given some visitors tours of the ship without them being the wiser until afterwards!
The last ship we saw was USCGC (United States Coast Guard Cutter) Taney, constructed in 1935 for the US Coast Guard. She is the last surviving ship from the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. She saw duty during the Vietnam War and has patroled both east and west coasts.
The whole boat had a retro feel as far as the furnishings were concerned, I really liked it.
This Pepsi Cola artwork is wrapped around an escape hatch, the only exit from the boiler room to the main deck.
These bunks looked a lot more comfortable than the sub's.
Some photos of the ship during action, and it's seen a lot. She fired over 3400 rounds in gunfire support missions, provided medical assistance to over 5000 South Vietnamese civilians, carried out search and rescue duties, fisheries patrols, training cruises and even seized a record 160 ton haul of marijuana in a 1985 drug bust. She was decommissioned in 1986.
I really enjoyed the tours, especially after my initial disappointment, and we definitely lucked out regarding the crowds. As we were finishing the weather broke with the sun suddenly warming up the harbor, and as the clouds blew away the people appeared as though on cue. By the time we left, the harbor was a mass of people walking about, stuffing ice cream and watching street performers who had also popped out from nowhere. We drove back back, fortunate to miss the heavy traffic and I got home before dark, relishing the chance to have a lazy evening and prep for another busy day on Sunday.