Saturday, April 29, 2017

Three Historic WWII Airplanes to Visit Greenville

As first seen here on local family site, Kidding Around Greenville...

Any history buffs or airplane enthusiasts in your bunch? In one week three historic WWII planes will be landing at the downtown Greenville airport as part of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Fighters & Bombers tour. The B-25 “Miss Mitchell,” a P-51 “Red Nose” and an SBD-5 Dauntless dive bomber will be on display from May 5th through the 7th as part of a five-stop tour to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid over Japan. Many aircraft were scrapped for aluminum after the war, and so it is uncommon to find restored WWII planes that are still flight-worthy 70 years later; this is your chance to see not one, but three notorious aircraft up close!


The planes!

The North American B-25 Mitchell is an American twin-engine, medium bomber named in honor of aviation pioneer Major General William "Billy" Mitchell. The B-25B was the bomber used in the Doolittle Raid four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and although the damage inflicted during the raid was relatively minor, the mission forced the Japanese to divert troops for home defense for the remainder of the war.

The North American Aviation (NAA) P-51 Mustang is an American long-range, single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber used during World War II and the Korean War. During WWII the US P-51s carried out more than 213,873 missions, destroying 4,950 enemy aircraft – almost 50% of the total losses suffered by the enemy.

The SBD was developed before WWII, and although it was considered obsolete when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it was the 1st American combat aircraft to shoot down a Japanese Zero fighter, and is considered to have helped turn the tide of WWII at the Battle of Midway on June 4, 1942.


Tour info!

The hours of this event are as follows: Friday May 5th 12:00pm – 5:00pm, Saturday May 6th 9:00am- 5:00pm and Sunday May 7th 9:00am- 5:00pm. While there is no charge to view the aircraft, rides are only available by purchase. For pricing and more information, please visit the CAF Fighters & Bombers Tour website.

Parking will be available near the Runway Cafe ramp of the Greenville Downtown Airport (GMU), located on Airport Road Extension in Greenville. Plan on spending some time at the aviation-themed playground during your visit, and if you get hungry, the Runway Café has a kids menu… Check out my posts Aviation Park at GMU and Watching the planes posts for more on that!

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a non-profit organization, established with the purpose of restoring and flying WWII aircraft. The organization is based in Dallas, TX, and operates a fleet of more than 166 aircraft, the world’s largest flying museum. To learn more about CAF’s mission to educate the present and future generations visit their website. GMU has also been host to WWII planes during the Colling Foundation Wings of Freedom tour; for more on that please see my post WWII Bombers in Greenville


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Antietam

Lauris announced that “it was the bloodiest day of the Civil War.” I had to look it up, because somehow it seemed that Gettysburg held that title, but Lauris was right; the bloodiest one day battle in American history occurred at Antietam, with 23,000 soldiers killed, wounded or missing after twelve hours of combat on September 17, 1862. (In comparison, Gettysburg involved the largest number of casualties in a single battle, however, those 46,000 - 51,000 were casualties during three days of battle.) The Battle of Antietam ended the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's first invasion into the North, and led to the issuance of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.

The Antietam Maryland Monument

As common with the National Battlefields, the Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit. In addition to securing a map of the driving tour of the battlefield, the exhibits and movies provide a needed refresher for those of us who last discussed Antietam in high school some twenty years ago. Plus there’s a good view from the second floor, providing a sort of bird’s-eye-view of the immediate vicinity of the Cornfield & West Woods, and Bloody Lane. The latter also has an observation tower, with a different perspective and a slightly different view.

Titled: miniature cannons behind a large cannon

The self-guided 8 ½ mile auto tour features 11 stops, and begins at the Dunker Church. Built in 1852, this German Baptist church became a focal point for Union attacks the morning of the battle. We stopped at the North Woods where Union Gen. Hooker’s men spent the night before the engagement at Poffenberger farm. We paused at the Cornfield, 24-acres that saw over 60% casualties for some brigades. And then the West Woods, where in 20 minutes over 2,200 Union soldiers were killed or wounded.

Cornfield

Such incredible numbers, and so hard to comprehend with blue skies overhead, green grass underfoot, the first spring roadside flowers blooming.


Recently Lauris asked “why do we only visit battlefields?” I reflected and realized we have spent considerable time at historical sites such as Richmond, Petersburg, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, even though interspersed with parks and scenic areas. This surprised me, as I’m really not a history buff; I prefer unique geological formations, impressive views, and bird/flower/nature-watching over signs about events that unfolded years ago. After thinking about it, my answer to his question was, that I'm trying to provide each family member with engagement during our travels (history for Roberts, nature for me, education & exercise for the boys). The emphasis on battlefields has been unintentionally heavy recently, but in my defense the battlefields often contain a bit of everything, including the nature & solitude that I'm craving. I’ll have to think about his point on future trips – I want a healthy balance, and it might be time to give the battlefields a rest.

Near the Roulette Farm

At Mumma Farm and Cemetery we took a hike. The easy, 1 mile Antietam TRACK trail loop features interpretive exhibits about the Mumma and Roulette Farms as it traverses the fields, streamside, woodland and pond habitats. The boys enjoyed a small break from more serious discussions to enjoy the quiet of the countryside: the small creek, a stone wall, the cows.

Roulette Farm

Back on the driving tour you’ll pass the stop where the Union armies advanced, and soon you’ll reach Bloody Lane. Once known as Sunken Road, this is the spot where 2,200 Confederates held off nearly 10,000 Union soldiers for three hours before falling back to the Piper Farm.


Crossing over Highway 34 the tour continues to Lower Bridge and the scene of the Final Attack, before ending at the Antietam National Cemetery. At first the Union dead were buried where they fell on the battlefield, but later they were re-interred on this hill along with soldiers who died in hospitals or combat in the region. Confederate soldiers were buried in Hagerstown & Frederick MD, and Shepherdstown VA (now WV).

Mumma Cemetery

Back to September 17, 1862; the battle ended about 6pm with no major shift in the lines of battle. Of the 100,000 troops involved, about 23,000 lay dead, wounded or missing. Late the next evening Gen. Robert E. Lee forded the Potomac to Virginia, and ultimately, the field was left to the Union Army.



The surrender at Appomattox Courthouse wouldn’t come for another 2 ½ years….

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The confluence at Harpers Ferry

View from Jefferson Rock

Harpers Ferry is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers - the Shenandoah mirroring our trip up Interstate 81 from its headwaters in the mountains of Virginia, and the Potomac tracing a more easterly route through West Virginia on its journey to the Chesapeake Bay. However, it isn’t only the rivers that converge in this corner of WV; state lines, national parks and trails, and American history collide for an intense experience that has all the hallmarks of the perfect spring break destination.

St. Peter's Catholic Church

We started our morning closer to Interstate 81, where we had arrived late the previous evening after a day spent in Appomattox Court House and Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia. The short drive didn’t net the boys any new state lines crossed; it was only another mile east of Harpers Ferry (after our visit) that we re-entered Virginia from WV in order to access the bridge across the Potomac and into Maryland. This means the total # of states traversed that day was 6; we would still venture into Pennsylvania and cross New Jersey on our way to New York that evening.

View across Arsenal Square

Despite seemingly being at the center of everything, Harpers Ferry has an isolated feel to it. We utilized the large parking lot at the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park Visitor Center and then took the free bus 2 miles into town as there isn’t really any public parking in what is termed “Lower Town”. Once there, we realized that the rivers effectively cut the town off from everything except the rest of West Virginia – and as it is the furthest, most northeast corner of the state, the town seems remote as you’re trying to get there. The seclusion is somewhat of an illusion though, as we soon found ourselves on Shenandoah Street with a network of roads and trails leading every which way, one of those being the Appalachian Trail. As it winds through the mountains from Maine to Georgia, the AT crosses the Potomac from Maryland utilizing the Potomac Railroad Bridge, skirts the original site of John Brown’s Fort, and then cuts right through the heart of town. Deciding to start our Harpers Ferry experience by getting a lay of the land, we started up the stone steps on the AT and worked our way up to Jefferson Rock.

Ruins of St. John's

Steep steps led past St. Peter’s Catholic Church and the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church, one of the five earliest churches in Harpers Ferry (1852). Although Jefferson Rock is only ¼ mile from the fort, it is an ascent in elevation, which is what makes the rock a worthy destination.
“On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approachs the Patowmac, in quest of passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea… This scene is worthy a voyage across the Atlantic.”
This is how Thomas Jefferson described the view during his visit in 1783. The uppermost slab of Jefferson Rock originally rested on a narrow base that threatened to crumble from the weight of weather and tourists. Sometime around 1855 four pillars were placed under the corners of the slab, and today it is illegal to walk on, climb, ascend, descend or traverse Jefferson Rock or its supporting base rock.

John Brown's Fort

Having descended we made our way towards John Brown’s fort. In October 1859, determined to arm slaves and spark a rebellion, John Brown and his followers seized the armory at Harpers Ferry along with several other strategic points. The raid failed, and most of the men involved were killed or captured. Brown was tried and executed, and the nation took several large steps towards Civil War. Today the fort stands between Arsenal Square and the original site of the fort, and visitors can experience the raid at the John Brown Museum through film and interactive exhibits. (See this article for an interesting read on the “Second Raid on Harpers Ferry”)

Footbridge to C&O Canal and Maryland Heights

From there we headed to the Point to see where the Potomac and Shenandoah converge. This natural corridor where the Potomac cuts through the Blue Ridge Mountains has seen traffic for centuries: first American Indians, then European settlers. Robert Harper started a ferry across in 1747, and the rushing waters inspired George Washington to locate the US armory here some years later. Further downriver the bridge connecting Virginia to Maryland can be seen, and a train trestle that still is used by trains crosses towards the Harpers Ferry tunnel. In addition to the Potomac Railroad Bridge now carrying foot traffic and the Appalachian Trail, the ruins of the old Baltimore & Ohio (B & O) railroad bridge are still present. Once a majestic wood covered bridge that spanned the Potomac River, this was the bridge used during John Brown’s raid across the river. When Virginia seceded in April, 1861, the bridge remained a physical connection to the Union, one that would be rebuilt and destroyed nine times (four times by war, five times by floods).

View from footbridge back towards the Point

From the Point we descended the stairs to reach the trails along the Shenandoah River. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (the aforementioned C&O) National Historical Park stretches all the way from Washington DC to Cumberland in Maryland, and for the section in Harpers Ferry, the Potomac Heritage Trail follows the C&O Canal Towpath as well. This developing network of hiking and water trails extends all the way from western Pennsylvania to the Chesapeake Bay. On our visit the floodplain was awash with bluebells, and while there are trails to bring visitors back to the Visitor Center, we opted to return to the shuttle stop to save our strength for the next leg of our trip.

On the banks of the Shenandoah


There remained much of Harpers Ferry that went unexplored; from the Civil War battlefields at Bolivar heights, to General Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 battle line at Schoolhouse Ridge, to the panoramic views of the town and river from Maryland and Loudoun Heights. The 4,000 acres includes 20 miles of trails ranging from easy riverside strolls to four-mile hikes across Civil War battlefields to eight-mile adventures into the mountains; the best place to start planning your trip to Harpers Ferry is the National Parks website. For us however, this portion of the adventure came to a close – we crossed the two rivers, several state lines, and hundreds of years back into the present, and headed north to the site of the bloody Civil War battle, Antietam.

Note: not Jefferson Rock

Friday, April 21, 2017

Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia

From Appomattox Courthouse we headed west, past Lynchburg and through a mountain pass. We were en route to Interstate 81, which would take us north between Shenandoah National Park and George Washington & Jefferson National Forest all the way into West Virginia. While crossing over the ridge it was tempting to hop on the Blue Ridge Parkway (and Skyline Drive) and follow the ridgeline north through the Blue Ridge Mountains, but in interest of saving some time we continued along the James River down into the valley. Right before hitting the Interstate we reached our next destination: Natural Bridge State Park.


The Monacans are an eastern Siouan nation that has occupied Virginia for up to 10,000 years. Four centuries ago the tribe could be found as far east as the Falls of Richmond, where John Smith and his Jamestown settlers first made contact with the tribe. Legend has it, that the Monacans were fleeing from a band of enemy warriors when they came to a deep, wide chasm. With no way across, they closed their eyes and prayed. When they opened their eyes, a narrow rock bridge provided them escape across the gorge. Once women and children were across, the braves turned to face the enemy with newfound courage, emerging victorious to tell the story that has since been handed down through dozens of generations. The Monacan people call this sacred place Mohomony, meaning ‘Great Mystery’ or the “Bridge of God.” About 1,400 Monacans still reside in Virginia, primarily in the Bear Mountain region near Lynchburg. Within the State Park, the Natural Bridge Monacan Indian Village has been recreated to offer insight into Monacan life in the region in the 1700s.


On July 5, 1774 Thomas Jefferson purchased this piece of land from King George II of England. A frequent visitor, Jefferson was passionate about preserving the awesome natural formations in this corner of Virginia for future generations, as well as making it accessible for all to appreciate. Among visitors to the site during this time are three presidents (James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren), John Marshall (Fourth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court), Henry Clay (Kentucky Statesman) and Daniel Boone. Legend also has it that George Washington helped lay out the 157-acre plat that Thomas Jefferson later purchased. For ten years the land was leased to Patrick Henry, and upon Jefferson’s death in 1826 he left the parcel to his family.

That white rectangle in the upper left corner supposedly holds George Washington's initials

Starting with 1811, nitrate (used for making gunpowder) was mined in a cavern beneath the Natural Bridge, evidence of which can still be seen in the Saltpeter Cave just beyond the Monacan village. The bridge was also used as a shot tower for making musket balls for the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Molten lead was dropped through a copper sieve from the bridge, the holes in the sieve controlling the size of lead shot. Surface tension and the cooling of the molten droplet as it fell created a round ball, and the final dunk in the cold creek waters finished the process. During the Civil War both Union and Confederate troops made detours from their marches to see and cross the Natural Bridge.

The fence can be seen in the distance, the only visual reminder that you're crossing Cedar Creek

The Indian footpath over the bridge gradually evolved into US Route 11. The highway still crosses the bridge today, although safety fences block the view; if you don’t know it’s there, you might never realize the chasm you’ve just crossed. In 1827 a mule trail was built along Cedar Creek & under the bridge, to allow access all the way to Lace Falls.


In 1830 guests could pay $1 to be lowered from the Bridge in a cage accompanied by violin music. The “Drama of Creation” light and sound extravaganza first started in 1927; President Calvin Coolidge throwing the ceremonial ‘first switch.’ The light show still runs today, beginning after the Park closes in the evening. The Natural Bridge was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998. About 2 years ago a real estate investor donated a portion of the acreage that included the Natural Bridge to the Virginia Conservation Legacy Fund, who then deeded it to the State once remaining debt had been paid off. Natural Bridge is the newest state park in the state, only 7 months old (September 2016).


The arch is composed of solid grey limestone, and is 215 feet high, 40 feet thick and 100 feet wide. The rocks that form the bridge are about 500 million years old.


This ancient eastern arborvitae was the oldest and largest in the world before its death in 1980, according to a sign at the site. The 56 inch-diameter evergreen is estimated to be more than 1,600 years old.


If you visit in the spring (as we did), you will be treated to a fantastic display of wildflowers, all visible from the trail. The Natural Bridge was definitely a highlight of our trip north; what a treasure for the Virginia Park Service! To reach the Natural Bridge, proceed to the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 130, parking in the designated parking lot. After entering the Visitor Center and paying the entrance fee, proceed outside and down the stairs to the Summerhouse Café. From this point it is 450 feet to the Natural Bridge, 1,800 feet to the Monacan Indian Village, 0.4 miles to the Salpetre Mines, ½ mile to the Lost River, and a little less than a mile to the Lace Waterfall. Admission is $8/person, $6/ages 6-12.

from left: Dutchman's breeches, star chickweed, large-flowered bellwort, spring beauty & Greek valerian

from left: golden alexander, wild geranium, green & gold, squawroot and wild blue phlox

from left: an aster?, ?, trillium, redbud and wild columbine


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Appomattox Court House

We stood on a country lane in Virginia, the sound of musket-fire and cannons bringing history to life as reenactors told the tale of the events that took place precisely 152 years previous. I enjoy putting effort into planning our family vacations, but even my attention to detail neglected to notice that our visit to Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park would coincide with the anniversary of the day in 1865 that General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in what signaled the end of the Confederacy.

Mikus and General Robert E. Lee on the steps of the McLean House

First of all, Appomattox. It’s pronounced ap-uh-mat-uh ks.

Fanning the flames

A second fact that I learned is that Appomattox Court House is the name of the village. None of the events of the surrender took place in the actual courthouse, but are instead named for the village. What was a stop along the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road became the county seat with the formation of Appomattox county in 1845. The county courthouse was built in 1846, burned in 1892, was reconstructed in 1964, and today houses the visitor center and museum.

Appomattox county courthouse center, county jail on right

The Battle of Appomattox Court House was fought on the morning of April 9, 1865 and was the final engagement of Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Lee had abandoned the Confederate capital of Richmond after the ten-month Siege of Petersburg. Retreating west, he hoped to join his army with the Confederate forces in North Carolina but instead were pursued and cut off by Union forces.

Meeks stable

The surrender took place in the parlor of the McLean House. The terms asked that the Confederates pledge not to take up arms against the United States; they would not be imprisoned or prosecuted for treason, officers were allowed to keep their sidearms, the men were allowed to take home their horses and mules to carry out the spring planting, and food rations were provided for the starving troops. Custer and other Union officers purchased the furnishings of the room Lee and Grant met in as souvenirs. In 1893 the house was dismantled by a private company in preparation to move it to Washington DC as a war museum, but the piles of bricks and lumber were never moved. In the 1940s the National Park Service used plans and archaeological evidence to rebuild the house on its 1848 foundation, and today the reconstruction is open to the public as it would have looked at the time of the surrender.

Parlor of the McLean house: Lee sat at the marble table on the left, Grant at the wood table on the right

A few of the original village structures have survived, including the Clover Hill Tavern (1819) and its kitchen (now a bookstore). On the morning of April 12, 1865, about 5,000 Federal troops lined the Richmond-Lynchburg State Road to receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. After the Stacking of Arms (weapons, flags and other accoutrements), the Confederates were given passes (paroles) that allowed the soldiers to return home; the Tavern was where these parole passes were printed. At the surrender ceremonies 28,000 Confederate soldiers passed by and stacked their arms. 26,300 of those are listed on the Appomattox Roster lists, while an additional 7,700 who were captured at Sailor's Creek three days earlier were treated as prisoners of war.

view of courthouse through Clover Hill Tavern

The surrender didn’t immediately end the Confederate States of America, but the terms set at Appomattox Court House governed the surrenders of all the other Confederate armies: Johnston’s army in NC, Taylor’s army in Alabama, and Smith’s army in Texas. The end of the war (and of the Confederacy) was final only after Edmund Kirby Smith surrendered on June 2nd.

Nearby Longacre Bed and Breakfast


A few spots associated with the events of the surrender lie outside the village, including Lee and Grant’s headquarters sites, a small Confederate cemetery and the North Carolina monument. Three miles southeast is the town of Appomattox; the closest restaurants, stores and accommodations are located here. We spent the night at Longacre Bed and Breakfast, an English Tudor built in 1933. Located on two ½ acres of secluded gardens, the B&B features 5 guestrooms in the main house and 1 carriage house all with private bathrooms. The breakfast and hospitality couldn’t be beat; I highly recommend booking at Longacre if you’re looking for unique accommodations on the doorstep of Appomattox Court House National Historical Park.

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