Wednesday, August 08, 2007

D.C. Trip Travel Log 7

Wednesday, August 1, 2007.

We spent the day around the hotel (I was blogging). Toward the afternoon, my mom began dropping hints of a surprise. In the evening when my Dad got home, we piled into the car full of suspense. The surprise turned out to be a boat ride down the Patomic river by Old Town Alexandria, but when we arrived we found that the boat had been unexpectedly chartered. So we spent the evening walking through the narrow streets lined with buildings over a hundred years old. We saw a house that had been built in the early eighteenth century, and a street with paved with cobblestones. Some men were leading tours of the town and its ghost stories; they were dressed up in period costumes.

August 2 & 3 - loafing around the hotel.

Saturday, August 4, 2007.

Today we left Springfield and headed down to the Chancellorsville battlefield to meet my dad's friend, Bob Roser. Mr. Roser often does volunteer work giving battlefield tours, and today he had agreed to show us around.

We parked a few feet away from the place where Stonewall Jackson had been shot; some monuments marked the ground. The woods all around were thick and green, and birds chirped in the quiet air. The scene was peaceful and it felt mundane. No ghosts hovered about.

The day was hot. After watching a video about the battle we drove to such sites as Hazel's Grove and the site of the original Chancellorsville Inn. Even with the air conditioner on high, we were sweating heavily. It was worth it, however. We saw and touched bullet marks still left in Salem Baptist Church.

The next stop was Fredericksburg, another battlefield. First we saw the cemetery on Marye's hights, where thousands of union soldiers had repeatedly charged to their deaths. Below lay the sunken road, the site of the Confederate trenches. By the visitor's center was a statue commemorating Sergeant Richard Kirkland, "the angel of Marye's Heights." He had given water to hundreds of wounded enemy soldiers between the lines, without the protection of a white flag.

On our way back we drove through Old Town Fredeicksburg. The city is growing fast now, but Mr. Roser said that after it was sacked by Union soldiers, it dodn't regain its original population level until the 1970s.

In the afternoon we set off toward Gettysburg.

Sunday, August 5, 2007.

Gettysburg a small town, no little larger than it was in 1863. Today we toured the battlefield here. The National Park Service has set up roads along the old battle lines; they go in a circuit around the whole field, with specially marked stopping points where major clashes took place. We bought a guidebook and audio CD, and listened to a historian narrate the history of the battle and describe each stop.

A few places were especially memorable. One was Lee's monument, a giant statue of Lee on his horse Traveler, mounted atop a huge pedestal. From that spot Picket's men gathered to make their historic charge. and nearby Lee road out to meet the survivors with his famous words, "It's all my fault." I looked out at the wide, brown field a long time.

Another affecting location was Little Round Top, a high hill that gives a clear prospect of Devil's Den, Death Valley, and the Slaughter Pen, all sites of fierce fighting. A little way beyond that was the Wheat Field. It is the only wheat field in the country, said our CD guide, that is spelled with capital letters. After the fighting there a person could walk across it stepping only on corpses. One man, by the name of Jeffers, saw that his regiment's flag had been captured, and single-handedly attacked the enemy with a sword to regain it. He cut down many, but was pinned to the ground by bayonets. Comrades ran into the fray to rescue his body.

After the tour we made a short visit to the Gettysburg Cemetery, had dinner, and went out to Dairy Queen. At the hotel, something made an unconscious impression on me. I tried to figure out what it was, and finally did: the workers all had American accents. All the other hotels I've been to have employed Hispanics for the janitorial work.

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