This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Bloodiest Day in American History

After his victory at the 2nd Battle of Bull Run on August 30, 1862, Gen. Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River in a surprise invasion of the North.  The goal was to threaten Washington, DC (Lee would actually get within 25 miles of Washington) and force negotiations to end the war and allow the Confederate States of America (CSA) to remain a nation of its own.  It would also relieve some of the pressure that the war had placed on the citizens of Northern Virginia.  It may have worked had it not been for a copy of Lee’s Special Order 191, outlining the plans for the campaign, being lost and then found by the Federals.  Gen. George McClellan then knew where Lee was, where he was going, and what he planned to do.

McClellan’s 85,000 man Army of the Potomac met Lee’s 50,000 man Army of Northern Virginia near the small town of Sharpsburg, MD.  The battle became known, mainly in the North, as the Battle of Antietam (named after Antietam Creek, which flowed through the battlefield), or in the South as the Battle of Sharpsburg. 

The Confederates arrived first and claimed the high ground.  The Union army attacked at dawn on September 17.  There were several vicious assaults and counter-attacks until the Federals eventually broke through the center of the Confederate defenses at what is called the “sunken road” (now called "Bloody Lane").  However, McClellan hesitated and did not follow-up on the Federal’s advantage.  This gave the Confederates enough time for A.P. Hill’s division to reach the battlefield from Harper’s Ferry and, with Lee’s entire force, launch a surprise counter-attack, driving the Union forces back.  As night fell, the two armies had fought to a standstill.

During that one day the Union army lost 2,108 killed, 9,540 wounded, and 753 captured or missing.  The Confederate army lost 1,546 killed, 7,752 wounded, and 1,018 captured or missing.  The total number of casualties for both armies was 22,717 dead, wounded, captured or missing.  This was, and still is, the bloodiest single-day battle in American history.

Once it became dark, Lee and McClellan fell back into defensive positions and consolidated their forces.  At dawn on the 18th Lee waited for the Federal attack, but it never came.  McClellan, always slow to respond, worried that his army was outnumbered by the Confederates, and did nothing. 

Because of the Confederate's number of casualties, plus his intentions being no longer secret, Lee decided to end the campaign and was able to withdraw his army and cross the Potomac into Virginia without any significant interference from McClellan.  President Lincoln fired McClellan a few days later.


When we started out on our drive 44-mile drive this morning we had good intentions of stopping at the first service station we saw and filling the car with gas.  The problem was, we didn’t see any places to get gas.  Before we were halfway to Antietam our “Low Fuel Level” warning light came on.  Unfortunately, the last half of our drive was on winding scenic byways.  Fortunately, the last half of the drive was mostly downhill and we coasted much of the way.  It was beautiful country and the narrow roads were green tunnels, with large hardwoods close to the shoulders and extending over the road.  We would have enjoyed it had we not been holding our breath and worrying so about running out of gas.  Six miles short of Antietam we came into the small town of Boonesboro, MD and found a gas station, probably the only one in town.

While we were in Boonesboro I saw something that surprised me, although it would have been perfectly normal in Texas.  A sign in front of a local café read “Restaurant – Guns – Ammo.”

On the drive to Antietam and back, we frequently noticed a small animal, which appeared to be some type of large rodent, on the roadside, or on the road (as in road kill).  We were not familiar with it and joked about scraping one up and asking a local “What kind of animal is this?”  Then following that question up with “How do you cook it?”  Tonight I looked at pictures of rodents on the Internet and believe that it may have been a woodchuck.  I guess I could have asked a third question.  How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”  The correct answer would have been “He would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much as a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”

Speaking of rodents.  Remember chicken swapping in Virginia?  Well, Pennsylvania may have gone one better.  Last month there was a Spring Rodent Fest!  These people bring their pet rodents to the fest, and much like the Virginia Chicken Swaps, they trade, buy, and sell rodents.  They also have a website, and a Facebook page.

Meanwhile, back to road kill.  If you hit or see it and want to scrape it off the road and take it home, it’s against the law in Pennsylvania, with a few exceptions:

·      If it is a fur-bearing animal, you must buy a fur-bearer license.

·      If it is a deer, you may take it home with you without a license.  You hit it and its all yours.  Provided you report it to the regional game commission office within 24 hours and get a permit number, which enables you to have it butchered at an official deer-processing center.

·      Landowners are allowed to scoop carcasses off their property and dump them in the trash.

·      The state issues “salvage permits” to schools that wish to use road kill as teaching aids.

The state game commission does encourage people not to take road kill that’s been in the road too long.

Guess we couldn’t have picked up the dead rodent to have it ID’d anyway, as we didn’t have the proper license.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Sweetest Place

Today we drove to the sweetest place this side of Heaven.  Hershey, PA and Hershey’s Chocolate World.  The place is huge.  The first thing you notice when arriving is the long outdoor covered walkway where tour buses unload their passengers.  There is even an amusement park (Hershey Park) next door.

We went on the Hershey’s Great American Chocolate Tour Ride.  It’s not a tour of the “real” factory, but a simulated factory tour “ride” that reminded me of Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride.  You ride in these little open cars, which follow the cocoa beans on their journey from the tropical rain forest to the Hershey factory.  There are singing cows and stuff like that to entertain the kids while you learn how chocolate is made.  At the end of the ride you emerge into a huge gift shop (more like a gift mall) where you can buy Hershey chocolate products and all sorts of trinkets and trash stamped with the Hershey name. 

Did you know that Hershey’s Kisses have been on the market for 106 years?  Did you know that they make 80 million of them per day?  One of their biggest competitors is Mars and its M&M candies.  Do you know what the initials M&M stand for?  They stand for Mars and Murrie.  Shortly before WWII, Bruce Murrie, the son of a long-term president of Hershey’s, struck a deal with Forrest Mars to create the candy that would be called M&M’s. 

Something else you may not have known.  In 2008, several Hershey chocolate products were reformulated to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil to reduce production costs.  Because the FDA’s legal definition of chocolate does not allow hydrogenated vegetable oils, artificial sweeteners, or milk substitutes to be used in a product called “chocolate,” Hershey relabeled several products from stating they were “milk chocolate” and “made with chocolate” to “chocolate candy” and “chocolaty.”  Next time you eat some chocolate check the ingredients.  Is it really milk chocolate?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitors' Center

This morning Carol Ann and I went to the Gettysburg National Military Museum & Visitors’ Center.  Two words of advice.  GO EARLY!  We went about 9:30AM, which wasn’t bad.  We bought tickets to the 20-minute slide presentation, the Cyclorama, and the Museum.  Our tickets were for the 10:45AM slide show followed by viewing the Cyclorama, a 42-foot tall, 360-degree panoramic painting of the 3rd day of battle (Pickett's Charge).

We were about half way through the museum when Carol Ann told me that she had lost my reading glasses and the clip-on sunglasses for my prescription glasses while we were in the presentation theater (she is like my “gun-bearer” if I were on safari).  We went to the Information desk and asked if they had been turned in to lost and found.  They did have the Wal-Mart reading glasses, but not the $65 clip-on sunglasses.  We went back to the theater, explained the problem to the theater’s “Praetorian Guard”, who was actually very accommodating.  I had to wait a little over 10 minutes until the presentation came to an end and then I was allowed to go in ahead of the next crowd to look for the clip-ons.  I found them on the floor beneath the seats that we had occupied earlier.  I thanked everyone within earshot who had on an employee shirt and then joined Carol Ann outside where she wanted me to take a photo of some landscaping that she particularly liked.  That’s when I realized that my lens hood has missing from my new lens!  Back inside to the theater where I asked if they had found the lens hood.  They said something like “Weren’t you just here?”  We laughed about how I needed a keeper, but at least they had the lens hood.

It was now about 1:30PM and very hot.  We drove into town to eat a late lunch at Hunt’s Battlefield Fries & Café (Carol Ann said that TripAdvisor called it the best place to eat in Gettysburg!).  We got real lucky and found a parking spot right in front, put money in the meter, and then saw the sign on the door that read “Closed on Wednesdays”.  Today is Wednesday.  Plan B was called for so we went next door to the ice cream shop.

We have a battlefield tour scheduled for Saturday morning.  There are various ways to tour the battlefield.  There is a walking tour, of course.  But it is long and the temperature is in the mid-eighties.  There is a self-drive auto tour, a bus tour, and a Segway tour.  But the best of all is to hire a private guide who drives your car and takes you everywhere and tells you everything.  It would be $30 each ($60 total) for a bus tour but the guide in our car is only $65.  The tour lasts 2 to 2.5 hours and comes highly recommended.  There are over 130 members of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides in Gettysburg.  Unfortunately, they are vastly outnumbered by the souvenir hawkers.

Gettysburg was a small town in 1863 and it’s a small town in 2013.  The population is not quite 8,000 people and it is still being invaded, not by a Confederate Army, but by more than 1.2 million visitors per year.  That’s an average of over 23,000 a week!  However, this is the year of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1 – 3, 1863), which will be commemorated over a 10-day period beginning on June 29.  Over 200,000 visitors are expected during that 10-day period!  I am so glad that our trip was not a month later. 

Where will they put all of those people?  I’m not sure, however Gettysburg has over 70 hotels and motels plus 6 RV parks.  I don’t know the total number of hotel rooms, but the RV parks boast a total of almost 2,000 campsites.  They are working hard to prepare for this year’s anniversary.  In addition to importing dozens of portable toilets for the festivities, expanded cellphone coverage is being added to handle the volume of cellphone calls that will be made and received during the 10-day period.

Once, when my son was a young child, we went on vacation to Gatlinburg, TN in the Great Smokey Mountains.  On a previous vacation we had taken him to a beach somewhere in Florida.  This time we opted for the cool mountains instead of the hot, sticky sand.  Gatlinburg had a long main drag that was lined on both sides with souvenir and apparel shops, restaurants, snack bars, and attractions cashing in on the “mountain/hillbilly” theme.  As we drove along the “strip” our son’s eyes were as large as saucers.  “It’s the beach in the mountains!” he exclaimed.

Now, time shift to the present and Gettysburg, PA.  Our son is not with us on this trip, but I’ll say it for him.  “It’s the beach at the battlefield!”  There isn’t just one long main drag here.  There are a lot of short ones but they are dotted with the same sort of businesses as were in Gatlinburg and the Florida beach towns.  There’s General Pickett’s Buffet, the Lincoln Diner, and Hunt’s Battlefield Fries & Cafe if you’re hungry.  If you want to go shopping you can try the Blue & Gray Gift Shop, the Irish Brigade Gift Shop, Abraham’s Lady, Fields of Glory, the Regimental Quartermaster, Battlefield Leathers, or many other businesses that are cashing in on the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park.  You can also have your photo taken in a Civil War soldier’s uniform.  No thanks, I had mine taken once already in my basic training soldier’s uniform.  It seems as though everyone is trying to profit from the battlefield theme.  In a way, that’s a shame.  This isn’t called “Hallowed Ground” for nothing.  Over 7,000 soldiers were killed here.  There should be a little more respect.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


It was about a 5-hour drive to Gettysburg taking the 238-mile “scenic route”.  Considering the stop signs, traffic signals, and road construction, not to mention the 3 wrong turns, it was pretty good time.  At one point we were within 30 miles of Washington, DC.  I wouldn’t have minded detouring by there but it was not in the cards for this trip.   The last time I was in DC was about 25 years ago when I made my pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial.

We will be in Gettysburg at the Drummer Boy Camping and RV Resort for 5 nights.  We’ll need a couple of days at least for the battlefield tour and museums, plus a day for Antietam and possible Harper’s Ferry.  I also ordered a replacement rear-view camera monitor to be shipped 2nd day air so I will have time to install it before we leave for our next destination, which remains a big unknown at the moment.  Please let me know if there is some “don’t miss” place between Gettysburg, PA and Bar Harbor, ME (as long as it is NOT New York City!)

The Drummer Boy RV park is really big and the campsites are not very close together.  When I registered at the park’s office I was told our campsite was about a mile from the office!  But, there are so many trees it feels like we are camped in deep woods. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Roughin' It

After lunch we began taking everything out of the motorhome’s storage bays (the “basement”) so that we could take stock of what we had and replace it in more of an organized fashion.  About midway through our task I did one of those, “Oh no, not again!” things.  I was bending down to reach into one of the bays and cracked my head on the edge of the overhead door.  I saw stars, just as I did a few days ago when I whacked my head on the rearview mirror when walking around the motorhome. I fell to my knees, held my head, and rocked back and forth while keening like a newly widowed Irish woman at her husband’s funeral.  Carol Ann got the icepack out once again and I held it to my head and sat down until I could see clearly again.  RV’ing is hazardous to your health!

We still haven’t finished the job and it looks like we are holding a garage sale at our campsite.  Too bad no one has asked to buy anything.  I guess I have to finish putting it all back in. 

Carol Ann also needed a little first aid yesterday.  She asked me what was on her neck.  It was a tick!  It must not have been there too long as it was not yet swollen with blood.  My first thought was to touch it with a cigarette until I remembered that neither of us smoked.  I suggested using a butane grill lighter but Carol Ann vetoed that.  Next idea was clear fingernail polish, which she had, but I decided to “Google” the proper tick removal process first.  It turns out that all of those old wives tales are wrong.  You need to do two things according to the CDC.  Remove the tick quickly and completely.  To do so, use a fine-tipped pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible (do not squeeze its body or it will “inject” infectious juices into the skin), and gradually pull with increasing force until the tick lets go.  If you pull too fast or too hard, the tick simply breaks apart and leaves potentially infectious pieces of the tick in the skin.  Once the tick is removed, apply triple-antibiotic ointment and observe the site for redness or rash over the next few days.  Some ticks carry Lyme’s Disease, which is difficult to cure and can leave one weak and feeling unwell for month’s.

Aside from the ticks, head knocks, and leaking sewers, camping out in an RV Park can be a very pleasant experience.  There are people here from tents to half-million dollar motorhomes and there is no “zoning”.  Anyone may take any vacant site he wishes.  Some people may be really roughing it by sleeping on the ground in a tent, cooking over an open fire, and trotting back and forth to the “wash house” in the middle of the night while their next door neighbor is in their 45-foot motorhome with 3 air-conditioning units, sitting in their leather recliners watching satellite TV on a 65-inch flat screen after having just completed a nice steak dinner with a complimentary red wine from the wine refrigerator.  After their TV shows are over they will take a nice hot shower before crawling into their king-size bed.  We are somewhere between those 2 extremes.  I wouldn’t say we were “roughing it”, however.  Our motorhome didn’t cost half a million dollars and is not 45-feet long.  Nor does it have a 65-inch flat screen with satellite, or a king-size bed.  However, it does have two recliners, a 54-inch flat screen (but no satellite), and a queen-size bed (not king).  Oh, and only 2 air-conditioning units.

Speaking of TV.  It seems like many RV’ers these days really “want their MTV!” so they have satellite TV in their RVs.  Some of them have permanently-mounted dishes on the RV’s roof, but most have the kind that are set up on a tripod on the ground.  These can be moved around a lot easier than the motorhome in order to find a hole in the trees for the signal.  Many of these portable dishes will have very long cables to make it easier to find a good place for it.  This RV park is very wooded, making it difficult for people to find a good place to setup their dishes.   A good spot will usually play host to a number of dishes, the owners of which may be parked 50 yards away at the other end of the cable.

In addition to comfortable RVs and satellite TV, there are more golf carts here than you would find at many golf courses.  A lot of people who look like they could really use some exercise, use golf carts to get from point A to point B in the park.  Now, we don’t have a golf cart.  We just take the car.  It is air-conditioned and more comfortable.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Peaceful Mountains

Today was laid back.  After a lazy morning we decided to go for a drive.  The Blue Ridge Parkway is only 50 miles from the RV park and we decided that a ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains would be therapeutic.  The speed limit was only 45 mph, there was very little traffic, and we rode along with the windows down (wishing I was in a convertible).  It was sunny and a pleasant 72 degrees.   We only drove for about 35 miles on the Parkway but we stopped a lot for the scenery and got back to the motorhome a little before 5 PM to find our sewer connection backed up and sewer water flowing across our campsite.  I don't think we were very popular with the neighbors! I had to get my hands dirty but managed to stop the flow.  I will spare you the specifics.  We HAD planned to cook outside on the grill tonight. Oh well, the end to a perfect day.

Tomorrow we will do some housekeeping and reorganize our storage bays.  On Tuesday we will drive to Gettysburg, PA and spend 5 days there.  We intend to spend some time touring the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields.  Gettysburg was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy and Antietam was the single bloodiest day in American history.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Appomattox and Memorial Day

I posted nothing on the blog yesterday so, no, you didn’t miss anything.  However, in my last posting, I failed to mention that much of our drive from Richmond to Lynchburg took us along a portion of the route known as “Lee’s Retreat”. The route actually taken by Gen. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia after their evacuation of Petersburg. 

I also failed to describe the last 22 miles of our trip.  When our Rand McNally RV GPS instructed us to turn onto “Red House Road” my first thought was, “This has got to be a mistake!”  The road was extremely narrow, hilly, curvy, and had no centerline.  The motorhome was actually wider than our half of the road.  Luckily there was very little traffic, probably for a good reason, but when there was traffic it was necessary for me to put the passenger-side tires where the shoulder of the road would have been had there been one!  Top speed was about 25 mph, those last 22 miles taking about 45 minutes or so.  It would have been a lot of fun in a sports car, but it wasn’t in a 40-foot motorhome with a tow vehicle.

Lee’s plan was to march in a southwesterly direction, get around Grant’s army, and join up with the remainder of Gen. Joe Johnston’s army in North Carolina.  Lee hoped that once the two armies were combined they might be able to defeat Sherman (who was laying waste to Georgia and the Carolinas) and then turn around and defeat Grant.  The route to Washington DC would then be wide open allowing the Confederates to sue for peace, which would result in the Confederate States of America being allowed to exist as a separate entity.

Lee left Petersburg on the night of April 2-3, 1865.  Grant waited a day before beginning his pursuit, which gave Lee a one-day head start.  Lee had to maintain that lead if he was to get around Grant.  Lee kept the army moving with little time to rest, sleep, or eat (they had no food anyway).  A resupply point with rations for the men and fodder for the animals had been established at Amelia Court House, not quite half way.  Lee waited on the supplies for 24 hours, losing his one-day advantage over Grant.  Meanwhile, Union cavalry rushed forward and cut the rail line.  Lee abandoned the railroad and marched towards Lynchburg, another supply base.  Again, Union cavalry blocked Lee’s route.

Unfortunately, for the Confederates, the Union cavalry beat them to Lynchburg, captured the supplies, and held on until Grant’s infantry arrived.  Lee then moved towards Farmville where he had arranged to have more supplies sent on the one remaining rail line.  As fate would have it, when his army arrived in Farmville, there were no supplies.   The Union troops had already blocked the railroad.  Lee’s men had been mostly optimistic to this point, but now began to realize what was about to happen.  Many began to desert and go home.

By the time what was left of Lee’s army reached Appomattox they had marched over 100 miles in 5 days, arriving on the 6th day of their march, April 8, 1865.  During those 5 days, while marching 20 miles a day, they had fought one major battle and several smaller battles and skirmishes.  On May 6, 1865 Lee was soundly defeated at Sayler’s Creek, with 25% of his army being cut off from the main body and forced to surrender.

On April 9, 1865, Lee turned and made a desperate attempt to breakthrough Grant’s lines near Appomattox Court House.  Lee’s army was down to 28,000 men while Grant’s army numbered over 100,000 men. In the Battle of Appomattox Court House Lee lost about 500 killed and wounded to only 164 for Grant.  When Lee realized that he would not break Grant’s line he had no choice but to surrender.  It was 4 years to the day of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, that Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. U.S. Grant. 

The American Civil War produced over 1 million casualties, including the deaths of 650,00 – 750,000 (records weren’t kept accurately) Americans, both North and South.  More Americans died in the civil war than in all of the other U.S. wars combined, from the Revolution to Afghanistan.  That would be the equivalent of the U.S. loosing 7 million soldiers over a 4-year period today.  It is impossible to what effect such a loss would have on the survivors, military and civilian.

On Memorial Day, when you stop to remember those Americans who have died for your country, please remember also, those who died during the Civil War, including those of the South.  They were all Americans, no matter their cause.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Swapping Chickens

Today we drove about 180 miles to another Thousand Trails park.  This one is near Lynchburg and Appomattox.  The Virginia countryside is very lush and green (unlike Texas, it rains in Virginia) and the forests in the parts of Virginia through which we have traveled are predominantly hardwood, as opposed to pines back home in East Texas.  One of the nicknames for East Texas is “The Piney Woods” region of Texas.  A lot of Texans get real excited when they visit East Texas because they are not used to seeing trees.

When you look at a pine forest you see the individual trees because there are fewer pine needles on the lower trunks of pines.  Pines grow fast and compete with each other for sunlight.  They grow tall racing for the sun and the winners have more needles, the losers fewer.  The effect is such that when looking at a pine forest at ground level you see a lot of tree trunks.

Trees in the hardwood forests are of many sizes and varieties.  Smaller trees fill in spaces around the larger trees and as a result, when you look at a hardwood forest from the ground level you just don’t see individual tree trunks.  Instead, you see a wall of green from the ground up.  Hence the term, “You can’t see the trees for the forest.” 

Our RV park is literally in the middle of a forest and right now I am sitting outside under the trees with sunlight filtering down through the leaves as I write this.  I believe I could live in a place like this.  But I would need some chickens.

Chickens?  Yes. People in Virginia are really “into” chickens.  Me, I don’t know one chicken from another.  But these Virginians really know their chickens!  Back in Texas we have dogs and cats as pets.  In Virginia they have pet chickens.  I suppose they give them cute little names like “Peeps”, “Chickie”, “Pecker Head”, “Henny Penny”, “Red”, “Cock-a-Doodle”, or “Chicken Little.”  I wonder if Virginians eat chicken?  We don’t eat our pets’ in Texas.

I began looking into this after I saw a homemade sign announcing an upcoming “Chicken Swap,” which I learned is kind of like a garage sale.  Chicken Swaps seem to be regular events where people gather and trade chickens.  “I’ll swap you a Rhode Island Red for a New Hampshire Red.” There is a lot more chicken swapping going on in this state than would imagine!  They even have web sites devoted to the practice of chicken swapping.  Check out,, or

If these are their pets, how can they swap their chicken for another chicken?  Also, does a chicken get attached to its master and try to find its way home after being swapped?  I’ve never seen a news story about a chicken showing up at home after being lost 2,000 miles away.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Civil War Amputations

Today we visited the Chimbarazo Medical Museum and the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.  The Medical Museum was small but very interesting, which I’m sure was due to the fact that Carol Ann and I are both pharmacists and I have worked for much of our careers in hospitals.  I am not going to bore you with any tedious descriptions as I have in my descriptions of battles in previous postings.  But, I do want to mention a few things that you should find quite interesting.

Of five Civil War surgical kits on display, there was one thing they all had in common. A bone saw.  As I mentioned yesterday, a soldier shot in the arm or leg with a .56 or .58 caliber bullet would probably require amputation.  The sooner the amputation was performed, the more likely was the patient to survive.   A good surgeon could amputate a limb in less than 10 minutes.  Survival rates were higher when the amputations were performed within 24 hours of the wound.  Amazingly, nearly 75% of amputees survived.

By the end of the war the Union had 11,000 physicians, the Confederacy about 4,000.  Most of them, North and South, had never even seen a bullet wound prior to the war.  They had to learn quickly as gunshots accounted for 94% of the recorded battle wounds.  Of wounds to the extremities, there were approximately 30,000 amputations in the Union army and almost the same number in the Confederate army. 

NOW.  On a lighter note.  As we were driving back to the RV park this afternoon we found ourselves the fifth or sixth car in line behind a large dump truck.  The road was curvy and we were forced to follow the truck for several miles.  From our position in the “parade” we could see an orange sign with black lettering on the back of the truck.  However, we were too far back to read it.  Finally, we came to a long straight section of highway and followed all of the cars in front of us around the truck.  As we passed the truck I read the sign.  It said, “WORKING VEHICLE.  DO NOT FOLLOW.” What are you supposed to do?

Tomorrow we are leaving the Richmond area for Lynchburg (VA, not TN) and Appomattox Court House, where Gen. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Gen. Grant.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cold Harbor and Malvern Hill Battlefields

I have to back up just a bit. For most of the Civil War there battles fought around Richmond. It is difficult to move from one battlefield to another only a few miles and 2 years apart and keep the timeline in perspective. The first battlefield we visited today was at Cold Harbor (previously discussed on this blog). 

In the spring of 1864 Grant began his “Overland Campaign,” which was to march South and capture the Confederate Capital of Richmond.  Lee battled Grant for six weeks at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, and Totoptomoy Creek.  Grant was stalled each time but never stopped.  The next logical military objective for Grant was the crossroads know as Old Cold Harbor.

Gen. Lee anticipated Gen. Grant’s movements and pulled 62,000 men away from Richmond’s defenses and placed them in Grant’s anticipated path east of Richmond along the lowlands of the Chickahominy River.  When Grant’s army of 108,000 men arrived on June 1, 1864 the Confederates were already entrenched and ready.  By the morning of June 2, both armies had formed a 7-mile front.  The Union army attacked with 50,000 troops at dawn on June 3.  In one hour, Union losses numbered 7,000 and by noon Grant had called off the entire attack.  In Grant’s memoirs he commented that this was the only attack he wished he had never ordered.  Historians have referred to the battle as “mindless slaughter” and “not war, but murder.”

The Union dead and wounded lay between the two armies for four days until Grant and Lee negotiated a 2-hour cease-fire for the Union to retrieve their wounded.  By that time very few were still alive.

For 7 days both armies fortified their positions and waited.  The trenches were close enough at some places for one side to hear the other side talking.  To stick your head up for a look outside the trenches invited a sharpshooter to put a .56 caliber mini ball through it.  If the bullet did not kill on contact it could destroy bone, organs, or sever limbs.  Amputation was the treatment of choice in order to avoid infection.  An abdominal wound (“gut shot”) was usually considered fatal.

During the week there were minor attacks, artillery duels, and sniping.  On the night of June 12 the Union army withdrew south towards the James River.  Grant changed his strategy and abandoned further moves against Richmond. When it was all over there were 13,000 US casualties compared to 2,500 Confederate casualties. Petersburg was now his goal.

After walking the Cold Harbor battlefield we drove a few miles further south to Malvern Hill.  We have now moved from 1864 back to 1862.  Malvern Hill was the final battle in what is know as the “Seven Days Battle”.  The Union army was commanded by Gen. George McClellan and the Confederate army by Gen. Robert E. Lee.

During the Seven Days Battles, as previously mentioned, McClellan had steadily fallen back (retreated) until his disjointed army and its supply trains began arriving in the Malvern Hill area.  McClellan rallied his reunited army of 89,000 on the crest of a nearby hill (Malvern Hill is only about 30 feet higher than the surrounding fields).  McClellan’s plan was to hold off Lee’s army of 71,000 men until he was able to safely retreat south along the James River to his new supply base at Harrison’s Landing.  Being only 2 miles from the James River McClellan had heavy artillery support from Union gunboats in addition to his own artillery.

McClellan placed 18,000 troops at the crest of the hill along with about 40 pieces of artillery. The top was too narrow for any more men or artillery so McClellan put another 15,000 troops in reserve behind the ridge.

From the crest of the hill to the tree line from which the Confederates would approach was 800 yards at the closest point but up to a mile for most of the front.  The bottom of the hill at the tree line was wider than the top of the hill.  This forced the Confederates to be “funneled” up the hill making them easy targets for the Union artillery and sharpshooters.

Lee was anxious to deliver one last blow to the Union troops before they could complete their retreat.  As a result, planning was incomplete, orders were vague and misunderstood, and the attack was delivered piece-meal.  Only about 35,000 of Lee’s 71,000 men actually participated in the July 1 attack.  The effect of the Union guns on the Confederates was devastating.  They were mowed down in waves yet the attack was not called off until nightfall.

On the morning of July 2, the Confederates discovered that the Union forces had moved out during the night and were nowhere to be seen.

The Confederates sustained almost 5,500 casualties while the Union forces incurred about 3,200.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tidewater Virginia

We were lazy today and decided that we deserved a bit of rest.  So, we did not tour any battlefields or museums.  We walked a bit along a lake, beside which our motorhome is parked.  It is quite a nice RV park with large hardwood shade trees.  We walked along a small beach.  Carol Ann walked at the water’s edge and her feet became stuck in the mud.  It was mostly clay and very sticky.  She sank several inches and when she pulled her feet out of the muck her sandals did not come with them.  She had to dig them out and then I had to pull her up and out.

After we returned to our coach I spent a little time installing my flag poll on the rear ladder.  At the top is the American flag and just below it on a horizontal piece I have the Texas flag on one side and a University of Georgia “G” banner on the other.  I also mounted my Hawking Wi-Fi wireless repeater on the pole, however the park’s Wi-Fi antenna is too far from me and there are too many trees in between.  I'll have to use the personal hotspot on my iPhone to post this. 

Late this afternoon we took a drive down the peninsula (between the James and York Rivers) to the small town of Gloucester, not far from Yorktown of Revolutionary War fame.  Gloucester is also close to colonial Williamsburg and Hampton Roads, where the “Clash of the Ironclads” occurred in March 1862.  This was the famous fight between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (previously named USS Merrimac before it was converted into an ironclad).  They pounded each other for hours before both withdrew from the battle in a draw.  

This is the Tidewater area of Virginia, defined from the 3 rivers – the James, York, and Potomac – that flow from the Chesapeake Bay. These rivers did make Richmond vulnerable to attack by water and the Union army under the command of Gen. George McClellan did attempt to reach Richmond by landing on the Eastern tip of the peninsula and marching up it towards Richmond.  This was in 1862 and was known as “The Peninsula Campaign.”

McClellan was able to march his troops very close to Richmond.  He split his army and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who was then in charge of the Confederate armies, saw an opportunity and attacked McClellan in the Battle of Seven Pines in which Gen. Johnston was wounded.  The result was a draw and the Confederates withdrew into their Richmond defenses.  Gen. Johnston was replaced by Gen. Robert E. Lee who began calling his command the Army of Northern Virginia.

Lee had Stonewall Jackson march his army from the Shenandoah Valley to Richmond and join in attacking McClellan’s army.  Jackson was late, yet Lee attacked without him at Mechanicsville.  McClellan commanded the largest army in American history with almost 125,000 troops while Lee had barely half of that number.  McClellan could have easily fought his way into Richmond but he overestimated the number of Confederates facing him and instead of pushing onward he began to consolidate his forces and retreat.  This was the beginning of a week of fighting called “The Seven Days Battles.”  From that point on the campaign consisted of McClellan trying to save his army and its supply lines with the Confederate army in close pursuit.  On June 27, near Gaines Mill, Lee and Jackson both attacked and broke three consecutive Union lines by direct frontal attack.  It was the largest single attack of the war and Lee’s first victory.  However, it was just prior to sunset and too late for the Confederates to press on and achieve a total victory.

McClellan continued his fighting retreat throughout the week until he halted and dug in on Malvern Hill.  Lee attacked repeatedly but could not take the hill and once again darkness concluded the fight. McClellan withdrew his army overnight and Richmond was spared but at a high cost.  A little over 5,000 Confederates were filled or wounded compared to only 3,000 Union casualties. 

We will visit the Malvern Hill and Cold Harbor battlefields tomorrow.

Bull Durham

This didn't get published during our Durham visit for some unknown reason.

Figured you may remember the movie, "Bull Durham."  However, this is a new ball park and not the one in the movie.

Durham Bulls' ball park, Durham, NC after torrential down pour. On to Petersburg, VA and start of Civil War history after lunch. The Crater Battleground tomorrow.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Battle of the Crater

This morning was gray and cool with patchy fog when we left the Walmart parking lot for the short drive to the Petersburg National Battlefield Park.  We made the turn into the Park and the road continued in a right hand curve toward the ranger-manned gate.  Orange traffic cones lined the right lane, forcing you to drive close to the window of the small ranger kiosk.  I could see that it would be difficult not to run over several of the orange cones as I continued in the curve so I began slowing to a stop.  Apparently, the ranger must have had the same thought because he darted out of the kiosk and began snatching his cones from the road.  Apparently not many 40-foot motorhomes towing vehicles come through their gate.  I showed my Golden Eagle National Parks pass to the ranger and asked about parking.  I had pictured in my mind a large parking lot with space for motorhomes and 18-wheelers.  Why, I don’t know. It was obvious that I had been overly optimistic after we passed through the gate and the parking lot came into sight.

There were four rows of parking spaces, each row a little longer than our coach/car combination.  Luckily, the skies were threatening and very few of the spaces were occupied.  We selected the rightmost row of spaces and took it, the entire row.  Literally. We left one space in front of the coach to allow room to pull out when we left.  We unhooked the car, which freed up 3 or 4 spaces, parked it in another row, and walked across the parking lot to the visitors’ center that contained a few exhibits, a gift shop, and a small auditorium where we watched a short video giving us an overview of Petersburg’s role in the Civil War.  After the video we took the car for the self-drive tour through the park.  One of the stops was the site of a Confederate artillery battery.  The earthworks had been reconstructed.  Pointed stakes, about 6 or 8 feet long, placed only inches apart projected from the earthworks at an angle that would certainly make an advancing infantryman hesitate.

Next to this artillery position was a half-mile loop trail through the woods.  A sign announced that we would see 3 examples of something (I forget what kind of examples as I did not pay much attention to the sign) as we walked the trail.  A comfortable walking speed is about 3 miles an hour.  Therefore, a half-mile walk should have taken 10, surely no more than 15, minutes.  The woods were thick with hardwoods and green ground cover.  The trail was smooth and hard-packed.  I should have paid more attention to the sign at the trailhead because the trail branched several times and there were no signs or markers offering any indication of which trail or direction we should take.  After several turns I did notice that every so often a tree would be marked with either yellow or red paint.  I suppose these colors may have meant something to me had I bothered to read the sign. 

We kept walking and turning where we thought we should.  We met an occasional hiker of whom we would ask, “Is this the way back to the parking lot?”  They all replied in the affirmative except for one young man who said this was only his second time on the trail and he really didn’t know (I wonder how long he had been out there!)  We stopped a bike rider who told us to keep going and we would eventually get to the parking lot.  I began to follow his tire tracks, which made several turns along the trails.   I had some peppermints in my pocket but thought I had better save them as they might just keep us alive in the event we were lost in the woods for several days. 

Finally, after an hour of steady walking (which meant that we had walked closer to 3 miles rather than the expected half-mile) we did make it to the parking lot and our vehicle.   We were hot and soaked in sweat as the humidity was extremely high.  I saw another couple starting out on the trail so I stopped them and related the story of our hike to them.  The woman looked at me, dripping with sweat, then looked at her companion and told him that a walk in the woods wasn’t really necessary. 

We got in the car and cranked the A/C to its coldest setting and then continued the driving tour.  Within a few minutes we came to the place on the battlefield that I had really wanted to see.  It was where the “Battle of the Crater” had taken place. 

As I mentioned yesterday, the battle for Petersburg was actually a siege that lasted from June 1864 through March 1865.  Petersburg was the back door to Richmond, capital of the Confederacy.  Since 1861 the Union had attempted numerous times to capture Richmond, only 106 miles south of Washington.  In the defense of Richmond, Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia had faced, and beaten, 5 Union commanders – Pope, McClellan, Burnside, Hooker, and Meade – each with an army twice as large as Lee’s.  Remember, the Confederates were protecting their homes and their backs were to the wall.  They were not going to make it easy for the Union army.

A frustrated President Lincoln, impressed with Gen. U.S. Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, MS, finally went against his advisors and appointed Grant to lead the Union army in March 1864.

Grant’s predecessors had all tried to overwhelm Lee with large-scale frontal attacks in attempts to run over and through Lee’s army.  Grant’s strategy was to outflank Lee’s army (fake a move in one direction and then make an end sweep in the opposite direction).  His first attempt was known as the “Battle of the Wilderness,” which took place May 5 and May 6, 1864.  Grant had crossed the Rapidan River and his army was halted on the south bank waiting for their wagon train of supplies to cross the river and catch up.  The area in which the Union army had stopped was called “The Wilderness”, a thicket of bushes and briars.  Skeletons of men killed a year earlier in the Battle of Chancellorsville still littered the ground where the Union army waited.  It was here that Lee attacked.  Instead of Grant out-flanking Lee, Lee turned his army on the night of May 4 and came at Grant from the West on the morning of May 5.  By the night of May 6, the battle had ended in a draw, however Grant lost 18,000 men while Lee lost about half as many.  Both armies withdrew in order to regroup and rest.

On May 8, Grant marched East in another attempt to go around Lee’s army and reach Richmond.  Lee had anticipated this move and on May 10, at Spotsylvania, VA, met Grant again.  The fighting was especially vicious and lasted until May 18 with 2 major battles amid numerous skirmishes and smaller fights.  In a letter, a Confederate soldier said, “The fighting was horrible.  The breastworks were slippery with blood and rain, dead bodies lying underneath half trampled out of sight.”  A Union officer later wrote, “Below the mass of fast-decaying corpses the convulsive twitching of limbs and the writhing of bodies showed that there were wounded men still alive and struggling to extricate themselves from their horrid entombment.”

Each side lost nearly 10,000 men without either side claiming victory.  The armies once again withdrew to rest and reorganize.  They would meet once again at the end of the month.  Union losses could be replaced.  Confederate losses could not be.  It had become a war of attrition. 

Once again, Lee anticipated Grant and constructed 6 miles of earthworks with artillery covering every possible approach by Grant’s army, which would have to make a frontal assault after slogging through swamps.  The battle of Cold Harbor began on June 3 when more than 50,000 Union troops marched into a wall of rifle fire as fierce as any they had ever faced.  One Union soldier said, “that dreadful storm of lead and iron seemed more like a volcanic blast than a battle.”  In less than an hour, Grant lost 7,000 men, bringing his total losses over the past month to 50,000 men!  As a result of this loss, Grant gave up his plan to capture Richmond and decided to bypass the Confederate capital, capture Petersburg, and then take Richmond from the South.  On June 15 Grant’s army had made it to Petersburg.  The siege of Petersburg had begun.

Now we can get back to the “Battle of the Crater” that I mentioned earlier as part of the driving tour.  The Confederates were well entrenched around Petersburg and the siege was into its second month.  The 48th Pennsylvania Infantry was composed mainly of coal miners and their commander came up with a plan.  His men would dig a tunnel from behind the Union lines to the Confederate lines.  The tunnel would be 511 feet long and end beneath a heavily fortified artillery battery called Fort Elliott.  In the predawn hours of July 30, 8,000 pounds of gunpowder were detonated beneath the fort.  A plume of fire, smoke, artillery pieces, and bodies shot into the air revealing a hole about 30 feet deep, 60 feet wide, and 170 feet long.  One Confederate soldier shouted, “Hell has opened!”  The hole was filled with smoking timbers, broken gun carriages, chunks of clay, and bodies and body parts buried in various ways, according to a Union officer, “some up to their necks, others to their waists, and some with only their feet and legs protruding from the earth.”  About 300 Confederates were killed in the blast.

The plan was for the Union troops to rush through the resulting gap in the Confederate earthworks.  However, the plan was not well conceived and the troops were poorly led.  Their commander was well behind the lines in a bombproof shelter with a bottle of rum.  Instead of charging around the crater, the Union troops descended into it and began scrounging for souvenirs and pulling survivors from the rubble.  As more and more troops moved forward in the attack, the hole became filled with troops who found it almost impossible to escape from the crater.  The sides were steep and slippery and the rim of the crater was lined with Confederate troops shooting and bayoneting those trapped in the killing ground below.  This slaughter went on for 2 hours and nearly 3,500 union troops were lost in the “Battle of the Crater.”  Gen. Grant called it “the saddest affair I have ever witnessed in the war.”  All that is left now, is a lumpy depression in the ground, about 5 to 10 feet deep in places.

Thus ends tonight’s lesson.  Bear in mind that as Carol Ann and I visit these historical sites of the Civil War that they will not be in chronological order.  To do so would require our crisscrossing of Virginia many times.  You’ll have to take it as we get to it.

Tomorrow we will begin touring in and around Richmond.  One of the sites will be Cold Harbor, the battle described in this posting.  After Richmond, we will head to Appomattox, where Lee surrendered to Grant.