Antietam

On the way to our next campground in Pennsylvania, we took a slight detour to a place near a town in Maryland called Sharpsburg. The bloodiest battle in U.S. History took place in this vicinity. In the south, it was called the Battle of Sharpsburg, but it is more commonly known as the Battle of Antietam. On September 17, 1862, near Antietam Creek, almost 23,000 American soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing. General Lee had his army along a ridge west of the creek, along with Generals “Stonewall” Jackson and James Longstreet.

Picture-perfect old-fashioned gas station in a small town we drove our rig through.

When stopping for lunch, we always have to be creative about finding a place to park. (I can only eat at Cracker Barrel every so often.)

A park ranger gives an overview of the Battle of Antietam with battlefields behind.

The 12-hour battle began at dawn when Union troops under the command of George. B. McClellan attacked the Confederate’s left flank. After all the killing, maiming, and bloodshed, the lines of battle were almost exactly as they were when the day began. The next day, Lee slipped back across the Potomac in retreat with his men. Although, tactically the battle’s conclusion was a draw, the Union claimed victory, which allowed Lincoln enough confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged the French and the English from recognizing the legitimacy of the Confederacy.

The Dunker Church, built in 1852. This pacifist German church was a focal point of the fighting at Antietam as the day began.

The Poffenberger farm, at which Union General Joseph Hooker’s men spent the night before the battle in the North Woods. At first light, the skirmishes began when “the stars were still shining.”

Standing in front of the 24-acre Cornfield which saw some of the most horrific fighting in U.S. history. Stonewall Jackson’s Confederates battled Union forces under the command of Hooker and Mansfield.

The sunken road running through the battlefield saw fierce fighting during the battle. It was nicknamed “Bloody Lane” because it was said that blood flowed like a river inside it.

A look up one end of the sunken road with Cindy above.

Five hundred Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking this bridge over Antietam Creek. After three hours of bloody battle, Burside’s troops finally captured the bridge, forcing the Confederates to fall back toward Sharpsburg. The bridge is now known as Burnside Bridge.

Cindy has taken the bridge with only slight effort.

After touring the battlefield, we continued across the Mason-Dixon Line to another significant Civil War town, Gettysburg. We pulled into the Gettysburg Campground where we had a very nice site for the next two nights.

At the entrance to Antietam National Cemetery.

4,776 Union soldiers rest at Antietam Cemetery, along with the dead from four other wars. The Confederate dead were buried in Frederick, MD and Shepherdstown, VA (now WV).

Monticello

After worshipping our Creator at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lynchburg, VA at the 8 a.m. service on Sunday morning, we drove over an hour northward to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate just outside of Charlottesville. Jefferson was one of the most complex of the American founders. Concerning this great man, Leslie Bowman states: “Philosopher, revolutionary, president, connoisseur, gardener, epicure, diplomat, scientist, educator, innovator, and farmer, Thomas Jefferson was, is, the essential architect of American life.” He, of course, gave us the words in the Declaration of Independence. Monticello, his beloved home, sits on an 850′ high mountain, providing lovely views of the surrounding countryside.

Holy Cross Catholic Church, Downtown Lynchburg, VA

Holy Cross

Jefferson’s Copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in the Museum

After purchasing our tickets, we watched the introductory movie and toured the museum before driving down the road to Michie Tavern, an 18th century inn which serves Southern food, buffet-style. We stuffed ourselves with fried chicken, black-eyed peas, green beans, mashed potatoes, biscuits, cornbread, and peach cobbler, and then returned to Monticello for the tours.

Historic Michie Tavern

Interior of this 18th-century tavern, servers were in period dress

We first took the Ground and Gardens tour where a well-informed guide took us on a walk across the grounds, talking about the property and showing us the flower gardens and vegetable gardens. We enjoyed the beauty and variety of Monticello. Jefferson had a lifelong interest in gardening, botany, and agriculture.

East Front of Monticello, the view that would first greet visitors as they approached.

The Neo-Classical, Palladio-inspired Monticello

Cindy, beside Jefferson’s vegetable garden along Mulberry Row

Jefferson’s vineyards, on the slopes of Monticello

Part of Monticello’s flower gardens.

Next, we took the Slavery at Monticello tour. Our excellent guide shared with us the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored on Jefferson’s 5000 acre plantation. Jefferson on slavery was a contradiction. He called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot” yet he owned hundreds of slaves on Monticello. They appear to have been no better treated than those on other plantations. And, he freed very few of them, even at his death. How could the man who wrote that “all men are created equal” practice slavery?

Our excellent guide for our Monticello slavery tour

Cindy, before the Hemming slave cabin. A reconstruction of the dwelling of woodworker John Hemmings and his wife, Priscilla. More than 70 members of the Hemmings family lived in slavery at Monticello over five generations, including Sally Hemmings, the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, and likely his mistress after his wife died.

Finally, we took our Behind the Scenes tour of the main house of Monticello. Not only did we get to tour the lower level, but we also walked through the second and third floors of the neoclassical structure. Our guide, Grace, was amazing and made our two hours of walking through the home very enjoyable. She regaled us with stories of Jefferson and his family as we made our way from room to room.

West Front of Monticello (if it looks familiar, check out the back of a nickel). This was the “family” entrance which opened up onto the gardens.

Pictures were not allowed inside, except for in this room, The Dome Room. the room was inspired by Jefferson’s visits to the Hotel de Salm in Paris. This was the first domed residence in America. An oculus, or a glass skylight, sits at the zenith of the dome. The exterior was inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Rome as depicted by Palladio.

Jefferson’s Garden Pavillion

On the way back to our vehicle, we stopped by Jefferson’s Grave for a few moments of reflection. He is buried halfway down the hill with other members of the family. We arrived back in Lynchburg after dark. The next day we would drive on northward.

The grave marker of one of America’s founders.

The James River and the Natural Bridge

Checklist upon leaving the RV site. It’s important to pay attention to the details.

Our Saturday started early. We were at the Wilderness Canoe Company by 8 a.m. in preparation for our 9.5 miles canoe trip down the Upper James River. Cindy was a little leery about the whole thing, but as usual, once underway she enjoyed herself. We saw plenty of wild creatures, including several river otters, blue herons, geese and ducks, turtles, and a few wild turkeys. Cindy and I, in our own canoe, worked our way down the James over about a four-hour time period. We navigated the ten Class I rapids and four Class II rapids without incident. There was only one time we were close to flipping the canoe. I stayed pretty dry all day, but Cindy took the plunge three times. Two of the times were due to slipping when trying to get back in the canoe. The other makes for a little better story. Just over halfway down the river, nature called. Without providing too many graphic details, let’s just say she fell out of the canoe partially exposed and landed in the river without all her clothing in the proper place. It was, of course, hilarious — or at least it was a few minutes later.

Fear and trepidation before our 9.5 mile canoe trip down the James River.

Wild turkeys on the banks of the James.

It was a beautiful four hours.

Blue Heron

If Cindy looks a little wet, it is because the photo is just after her unfortunate, comedic incident.

Railroad bridge over the James River

Mountains rise behind the bridge which signals that we are nearing the end of our journey downriver.

After four hours on the James River, we had some of the best burgers we’ve had at a hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant in Glasgow, VA, not far from the canoe company. With our energy renewed we drove to the Natural Bridge State Park where we were not disappointed. We were surprised how touristy the park was. There was an admission charge of eight dollars apiece. But, it was worth it. We were so impressed after we walked down the trail and arrived at the Natural Bridge. The solid, gray limestone arch is enormous. It is 215 feet high. 40 feet thick and 100 feet wide. It was carved over millions of years by a tributary of the James River, little Cedar Creek. It was called by the native Indians “The Bridge of God.” A young George Washington visited the bridge as a surveyor, and, according to legend, carved his initials in the rock wall. Thomas Jefferson bought 157 acres of land, including the bridge from King George III for $2.40 in 1774. He called it “the most Sublime of nature’s works”.

The 215 foot-high, enormous Natural Bridge

Looking up from below the bridge.

At the natural bridge was a Monacan Indian “village” demonstrating how the Native Americans of the area once lived.

Monacan Indian making pottery.

Natural Bridge

Legend has it that George Washington scaled 23′ of the side wall of the Natural Bridge and inscribed his initials.

The Careys’ at the Natural Bridge