Tag Archive | Robert E. Lee

Virginia 2015: Stratford Hall

Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our next place was Stratford Hall. Moving up about 100 years for the George Washington Birthplace, we were going to see the birthplace of Robert E. Lee!


Stratford Hall was the plantation home of Colonel Thomas Lee, who purchased the land for the plantation in 1717 – it was then known as “The Clifts.” He renamed it Stratford Hall, after his grandfather’s home in England. Thomas Lee was kind of a big deal; he was a founder of the Ohio Company, a member of the Virginia colony’s governing council. At the time of his death, he was the President of the governing council and acting Governor of Virginia. The home was not constructed until 1737 (it was finished in 1738).

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

Thomas left the home to his son, Philip Ludwell Lee, who left the home to his daughter, Matilda Lee. Matilda married her cousin, Revolutionary War Hero “Lighthorse” Harry Lee – he was Robert E. Lee’s father – but Matilda was not his mother. Upon her death in 1790, she left Lighthorse Harry Lee a life interest in the property – he could live there until his death, but she willed it to their son together .

Harry Lee married a second time, to Robert E. Lee’s mother Ann Hill Carter. Unfortunately, Robert E. Lee’s father was better at war than he was at finances, and after spending a couple of years in debtor’s prison, he moved the family to Alexandria and his son from his first marriage took over the property, and soon had to sell it due to a lawsuit over an unrelated scandal. After having been home to the Lees for four generations, the sale took Stratford Hall out of the Lee family for good.

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

Although Robert E. Lee only lived at Stratford until he was four, he had fond memories of the home and estate his entire life, and wrote about wishing he could once again consider it home.

The architecture is Georgian, with a Central Hall and wings on either side. It has beautiful central staircases; one on either side of the home. The home has four outbuildings, one on each corner of the house, and they are all still standing. I loved the symmetry of the home.

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

The stables are also original I believe, and there are reconstructed slave quarters at the site.

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

When we got there, we headed over first to have lunch at the restaurant on site before they closed for the day. We split some baked potato soup and crab cakes, which were both fine but not spectacular. Then we headed back over for the tour – Jon chose not to go (I guess he was “historic homed” out at that point).

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

I found the tour interesting, but slightly odd. There wasn’t really much formal information; the docent pointed out some interesting artifacts and then left everybody to peek around the rooms on our own. I did appreciate that she didn’t bug me about the fact that I was sucking on cough drops; better than coughing violently throughout the whole tour, as I was still getting over the cold.

At one point there was a machine in one of the rooms; I imagine it was used as a part of the historic restoration. I asked her to tell me about the machine; but she misunderstood and launched into a lengthy explanation of the particular green in the room (the paint). She went on for several minutes on the paint and its history, at which time I didn’t have the energy to explain that it wasn’t at all what I was asking about. SIGH…

After the tour, I checked out the outbuildings, and made friends with a chicken in the stable. Oddly, there was only one… I also took a little time to look at the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, which detailed the restoration of the home (but don’t explain that funny machine).

My chicken friend

My chicken friend

Stratford Hall’s architecture was probably my favorite historic home of the trip. I loved the brick and the symmetry, and the clean lines and simple styling of the home. The grounds are beautiful, and I’m sure would have been a lovely place to live.

Sadly, the staff were odd. The lady selling the tickets was kind of rude… The docent was nice, but not as well informed as she should have been, and the gift shop clerk… Let’s just say that while I was waiting to make my purchase, she was talking on the phone because she was having some trouble with the credit card machine. No worry, because I was going to pay cash! But she actually asked me if I could “come back later.” Umm… No… So, yeah, the service part of the experience at Stratford Hall could use some work…

Virginia 2015: Gettysburg NMP

Day 2, October 5, 2015

Gettysburg today is a beautiful, quiet town in the Pennsylvania countryside.  But that peace was shattered for three days in July, 1863, when the Battle of Gettysburg resulted in the Civil War’s most costly battle in terms of human life.  Over 46,000 men were killed, wounded or missing in the three days of battle, and it forever changed this small, farming community.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

After I had worked out our trip schedule for our Virginia trip, Jon decided he wanted to fit in a quick trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  And before you tell me that the title of this blog says Virginia, but I’m roaming around in Pennsylvania, there’s a reason!  I decided to keep a consistent heading name for all my posts for this trip – even though we did a couple of detours outside of Virginia!  Gettysburg was only about 40 minutes away from where we were staying in Frederick, Maryland after all! If it were up to me, Gettysburg would never be a quick trip, but I had done the full battlefield tour (with audio tour) before, so I made my peace with doing Gettysburg on a smaller scale this time. Jon is just never going to be an audio tour kind of guy, and I have to accept that…

We got to Gettysburg around 9:30-10 am and did a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center for stamps and postcards. We decided not to see the museum and the movie (that part pained me…), so we could spend more time on the battlefield.  I still need to get back there and do that!

One of the hundreds of cannon that sit on the battlefield.

One of the hundreds of cannon that sit on the battlefield.


Another of the many statues featuring horses at Gettysburg.

Another of the many statues featuring horses at Gettysburg.

Jon wanted to see where Pickett’s Charge occurred, so we started there. We checked out the Angle and the High Water Mark, where the Union Army repulsed the Confederates on the last day of the battle. I was again amazed by the sheer insanity determination that must have been involved in sending those soldiers across a mile and a half of open field. Pickett’s troops, and the other divisions that participated in the charge, were decimated.  Standing there, it is easy to see why.

The Codori Farm was in the middle of Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle in 1863. This barn is a replacement; the original was torn down in 1882. The farmhouse sustained damage from shelling during the battle.

The Codori Farm was in the middle of Pickett’s Charge on the third day of the battle in 1863. This barn is a replacement; the original was torn down in 1882. The farmhouse sustained damage from shelling during the battle.

Half of Pickett’s division was left dead or wounded on the field. The casualty rate for the men that reached the Angle was over 70 percent. When Pickett’s remaining troops made their way back to Seminary Ridge, Lee asked Pickett to organize his troops in the rear to prepare for a counter attack by the Union. Pickett reportedly replied, “General Lee, I have no division now.” Truer words were never spoken.

The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest monument on the battlefield; it also has interior stairs that lead you to the top of the monument for a bird’s eye view of many of the features of the battlefield.  I climbed to the top and surveyed the view; you can see a lot from up there!

The view from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.

The view from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.


A plaque marking directions and distances from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument

A plaque marking directions and distances from the top of the Pennsylvania Monument.


We also checked out Seminary Ridge, where General Lee staged the Confederate line. I do love the gigantic statue of Lee that has been placed as a monument on Seminary Ridge. He’s on a horse, so of course you know I love it!  I’m sure there are lots of people who would argue that it should be removed along with all the other Confederate statues, but I think there is a valid historical reason to leave them, and learn from the past. If we hide all traces of our past, how will people come to understand the complicated road we have traveled? But I digress…

A statue of Robert E. Lee on the battlefield.

A statue of Robert E. Lee on the battlefield.


Our last stop on the Gettysburg Battlefield that day was at Little Round Top, where Joshua Chamberlain, after defending the hill valiantly and running out of ammunition, ordered a fixed bayonet charge to repulse the Confederates charging up the hill from Devil’s Den. Before the Union Army defeated the charge, men were fighting hand to hand on the hill.

Looking down at Devil's Den from Little Round Top

Looking down at Devil’s Den from Little Round Top.


The rock strewn hillside and Devil’s Den’s, a bowl shaped collection of rocks at the base of Little Round Top, are much the way they were during the battle. You can still see where union troops created defensive walls using the existing large boulders, and the numerous smaller rocks on the hill. Chamberlain was the recipient of the Medal of Honor for his bravery on Little Round Top, 30 years after the war.

I found a toad on Little Road Top! He is an Eastern American Toad.

I found a toad on Little Road Top! He is an Eastern American Toad.


We also made one additional stop in Gettysburg – The Gettysburg National Cemetery.  I will post about it next!

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee

The last time I read a book about Robert E. Lee, I was in middle school. I don’t remember the book, but I wrote a book report on it and didn’t get a very good grade. I’ve always suspected it didn’t have anything to do with my report, but rather it was because I choose to read about a Confederate General, all the way up here in the North.

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, by Michael Korda

Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, by Michael Korda

Lee is an integral part of any book on the Civil War; but Clouds of Glory, by Michael Korda is a true biography of Lee. It begins with his birth in 1807, progressing through his childhood, his early days as an Army Engineer and more.

It goes into significant detail on his service during the Mexican War, outlining major successes with placing troops and artillery at specific, strategic points before and during various battles. Lee distinguished himself as a brilliant strategist, frequently risking his own safety to ensure that troops and artillery were placed to best advantage, scouting terrain in enemy territory, engaging in night missions to find artillery placements and routes, and occasionally supervising troops during battle.

Most folks know that Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army at the outbreak of the Civil War. But did you know that he was quietly offered the United States Army’s top post before his resignation? Lee was torn on many levels about the war because he did not want to take up arms against the United States, but felt his first loyalty was to his home state of Virginia. He did not believe that secession was the right decision. He urged his family to hoard U.S. money, as he knew the Confederate scrip would be worthless.

He also freed his father-in-law’s slaves in 1862, in accordance with his will, and set up an illegal school to teach them to read and write, so they would be able to survive as free people. However, at the same time that he considered slavery a “moral and political evil”, he considered abolitionists troublemakers and did nothing to promote the end of slavery in the south.

He was an honorable man, refusing to accept privileges he could not grant to his men. He slept in tents even when citizens offered their homes, and gave away replacement socks and underwear and fancy foods that were delivered to him. He did not take leave to visit his family when they were only 10 miles away. He was polite to a fault, with one of his biggest weakness his inability to be directive and firm with orders to his senior commanders.

He had some colossal battle failures during the war, to be sure, like his assault on the third day of Gettysburg and the Battle of Malvern Hill. But he also made some brilliant decisions that led to an under-provisioned, out-manned Army of Northern Virginia being able to survive and fight for four long years, against all odds.

Lee lost his home and his citizenship during the war; neither were restored in his lifetime. Several of his senior officers openly criticized him after the war, publishing scathing critiques of his command in their memoirs. Yet he steadfastly refused to defend his own record of achievement, instead choosing to work on defending his father’s tarnished reputation.

He died only 5 years after the end of the war, a massive stroke causing the pneumonia that took his life. He was still working at the time of his death, having built a successful second career as the President of Washington College. They renamed it Washington and Lee College (now University) in his honor.

Lee wasn’t perfect, and for the most part, Korda’s book candidly discusses the mistakes he made in battle and in life. He is not made out to be a saint; simply a flawed man like the rest of us, who had to work through some significant conflicts during the war in order to reconcile what he felt was his duty and what he felt was best for his state and the nation.

It is hard to reconcile the inconsistencies of his life, but we also must consider how many of us have expressed our disagreement or outrage on a topic to our friends and family, while doing nothing of substance to right the wrong. Is it fair to judge Lee by a different standard?

There is no doubt that Lee will continue to be debated for years to come, but this was a generally well written, balanced account of his life. There are some irritating factual/editing errors, mostly incorrect dates and statistics, but it is still a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to explore the life of this complex man. Of course, I’m sure my middle school teacher would disagree.


The Grand Tour – Day 7 – Fort Pulaski

We woke up to our last morning at the Marshall House and Savannah, Georgia. We got moving and went downstairs to have another fantastic breakfast with quiche and fruit. Awesome! (Yes, I’m frequently guided by my stomach. So what?) Then we headed out for one last morning wander around town before we had to check out, say goodbye and head on our way. We paid another visit to Colonial Cemetery (I can never get enough of this place!) and we wandered down to get a good photo of the Lucas Theatre.

The Lucas Theatre opened as a movie theatre in December 1921 and at the time, was the largest movie screen in Savannah.  It holds a special place in my heart though, because the first movie shown there, at the Grand Opening, was the silent film Camille, starring Rudolph Valentino!  My namesake!  No, not really, as the movie is about a courtesan, but it is a really good film.  And the 1936 version starring Greta Garbo is awesome too.  Camille is based on the 19th century book La Dame aux camélias by French author Alexandre Dumas’, and the book is also the basis for the more recent film Moulin Rouge (although it diverges quite a bit from the original story).  And in case you are wondering why the film is called Camille, when the main character is named Marguerite, Camille was the American name given to the movie, presumably to give a nod to The Lady of Camellias book title.

The Lucas Theatre, Built 1921, Greek Revival Architectural Style

On our way out of town, we decided to see Fort Pulaski, which is a fort outside of Savannah that was built in beginning in 1829 (it was finally finished in 1847). Although it was begun under the direction of another officer, Robert E. Lee was the second officer in charge of construction, and the one who oversaw the completion of the fort. He was a Second Lieutenant at that time in the U.S. Army.  It was built from bricks, both from a nearby Savannah plantation, and from as far away as Baltimore, Maryland.  Fort Pulaski is named for Kazimierz Pulaski (known in the U.S. as Casimir Pulaski), who was a Polish cavalry soldier who fought for George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  He was a genius at military strategy, learning his trade fighting in battles all across Europe.  He trained U.S. troops fighting the British and participated in the sieges of Charleston and Savannah (shout out to my Polish heritage!).

Jon Posing on the Walk Up to Fort Pulaski

The Arched Entrance to Fort Pulaski

The fort was occupied at the beginning of the Civil War by Georgia troops, but Union troops assaulted Fort Pulaski with rifled cannon (a new innovation that scored the inside of the cannon with grooves to allow heavier cannonballs to travel further and with more accuracy).  Union troops spent a period of time constructing sand batteries on distant Tybee Island, where they then placed 36 guns.  The Confederates knew they were there, but were feeling secure inside the fort.  In fact, Robert E. Lee said, “Colonel, they will make it pretty warm for you here with shells, but they cannot breach your walls at that distance.”  The 11 foot thick walls of Fort Pulaski were considered to be impenetrable, but after 30 hours of bombardment, the Union cannons had breached one wall of the fort and were shelling dangerously close to the fort’s powder magazine.

A View of the Inside of Fort Pulaski From the Upper Wall

The Confederates surrendered the fort and it was occupied and repaired by Union troops for the remainder of the war, successfully blockading the Savannah River and shutting down commerce in and out of Savannah.  At one point, over 500 Confederate soldiers were imprisoned at the fort, in response to the Confederates placing 600 Union soldiers in the direct line of Union fire in the city of Charleston.  These Confederate soldiers became known as the Immortal 600 – and 13 of them died of starvation and dysentery while imprisoned there.  They are buried outside the fort.

Grave Marker for the Immortal Six Hundred – 13 Confederate POWs Who Died at Fort Pulaski

The fort is now operated by the National Park Service as a National Monument, so I was able to get another stamp for my National Parks Passport!  It was an awesome place to spend a couple of hours, checking out the history and enjoying the Southern sunshine.  While we were there we got to see a musket firing demonstration (see the smoke in the photo!), and see what it would have been like to live at the fort (I would rather live at Fort Pulaski than Fort Sumter, hands down). I tried to find alligators too, because I saw on the brochure that they live on Cockspur Island around the fort, but I was thwarted again – no alligators were to be seen.  Jon and I did take a walk on some of the nature trails, but we headed back when we started getting eaten by mosquitoes!

A Musket Firing Demo at Fort Pulaski

After Fort Pulaski, we headed over to Tybee Island to see what it was like. Tybee Island is a resort island with lots of beach access and seaside fun for the kids. We cruised through and took a look, but since neither Jon nor I are real beach vacation folks, it probably won’t be next on our vacation agenda.

Then, we got back on the road for another long drive to our next destination – Americus, Georgia!