Day 8: Sunday, October 11, 2015
On this land, within a radius of only 17 miles, over 100,000 men were casualties of Civil War fighting between 1862 and 1864. After leaving Montpelier, we headed to our next destination, Fredericksburg, VA. On the way into Fredericksburg, we passed by the information shelter for the Wilderness Battlefield. The Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park is made up of land on which five Civil War battles were fought over the course of the war – Fredericksburg in 1862, Chancellorsville and Salem Church in 1863, and The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House in 1864.
To be honest – looking out at the battlefield, it didn’t look anything like The Wilderness that I had seen in old Civil War photos. I had heard about the horror of the Wilderness; a battle fought through such thick undergrowth that it was impossible to see 20 feet in front of you. A battle where the artillery and bullets lit the undergrowth on fire, and wounded men lying on the battlefield were consumed by the blaze. But why was there so much thick undergrowth – and why wasn’t I seeing it now?
The short answer – development. The creation of the Orange Plank Road and several iron mines in the area before the Civil War had destroyed the virgin forest there. A thick second growth forest had grown; all the trees were about the same size – 25-30 feet tall and 3-5 feet wide. These shorter trees allowed the light to reach all the way to the ground, so the forest floor was clogged with vines and briars. It was difficult for a few men to penetrate the undergrowth, much less a whole army…
There is one building remaining on the Chancellorsville battlefield (right in the same area as The Wilderness) from the time of the Civil War – the Ellwood house. Ellwood was a prosperous but not ostentatious plantation that belonged to the Lacy family at the time of the Civil War – although they were not in residence at the time. It was interesting to see this more modest plantation home – Ellwood was a large house (probably four bedrooms), but certainly not a mansion like Monticello or Montpelier and the decoration was much more modest.
Ellwood does have a unique claim to fame – in the family cemetery behind the house lies the grave of Stonewall Jackson’s arm. Yep – just his arm. During the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Jackson was wounded by his own troops, and had to have his arm amputated at a field hospital nearby. The division chaplain saw the arm lying on the ground outside the tent, and thought it would be more appropriate to give it a proper burial, so he brought it over to Ellwood where his brother lived, and buried it there. Interestingly, none of the 14 family graves have markers, but Jackson’s arm does. Being famous got you perks, even back then…
We had just a little while to get stamps and postcards at the Visitor’s Center before they closed for the day, but we wanted to check it out because we didn’t know if we would get back again.
Then, we headed into Fredericksburg for dinner downtown – we happened upon a place called J. Brian’s Tap House. It is a pub in a historic building – but we sat outside on their back patio. It was perfect – the temperature was wonderful and we were surrounded by plants and flowers. I had the shrimp and grits with a mixed greens salad – it was delicious, with a bit of Cajun spice on the grits to make them less bland. My Adventure Brewing Backpack Wheat beer hit the spot too. Jon had the Blackberry Salmon with rhubarb greens, and mashed potatoes. He loved his Hardywood Great Return IPA too – it was a NW style bitter IPA.
We finished our evening with a short walk along the Rappahannock River Walk – we walked until the light was getting too low in the sky to see the view.
Driving Distance for Day 8: 101 miles – Waynesboro, VA – James Madison’s Montpelier – Fredericksburg, VA
Hotel for the Night: Sleep Inn, Fredericksburg, VA. It had an odd space shower, with a unique bubble on one end. It was clean and quiet, but had an abandoned steak restaurant and house next door that looked a bit sketchy. The housekeeping looked a bit haggard too.