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.

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