Tourist in My Hometown: What Is It With Men and Battlefields?

As far as we are concerned a lack of huttes, bratwurst and beer is no reason to stop hiking. Special bonus in Virginia: lots of walkable battlefields.

Now, I will hike in the pretty countryside, battlefield or no battlefield. But, I don’t mind a few historical markers and rusty cannons along the way. And it’s so cute how excited the husband gets about them.

This weekend, we drove down to the Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield, just outside Fredericksburg.  This was a pivotal two-week battle of the Civil War, at which Generals Grant and Lee threw thousands of men at each other in an effort to control the roads leading to Richmond.

First of all, 1-95, GAH. It was so bad on a weekend, I can barely wrap my mind around how soul-destroying the commute must be on a week day. Next time we head in that direction, I’m finding an alternate route!

At the ranger's station.
At the ranger’s station.

We followed directions on this blog, Civil War Hikes. Two brothers hike battlefields, take photos, then write about the trails, including a lot of historical background. Really a neat project, and a great help to the directionally impaired <not naming any names here>. We started at the ranger’s shelter (bathroom, yay) and followed the directions I had printed out from the blog for a good five miles over fields and through forests. It was really fun on a pretty day.

Lots of fields, birds, bugs, and butterflies.
Lots of fields, birds, bugs, and butterflies.
Confederate trenches are clearly visible everywhere. This is kind of neat.
Confederate trenches are clearly visible everywhere. This is kind of neat.

This guy, General John Sedgwick, was boasting to his Federal troops that the Confederates “couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance” about a minute before he got shot straight through the eye. The moral of this story is, on a battlefield, STFU.

Monument to the unlucky General Sedgwick.
Monument to the unfortunate General Sedgwick.

The Spindle family, a widow and her children, literally woke up in the middle of a battle one day. They fled with nothing but the clothes on their backs while the Confederate troops shot the house to pieces. It was not the most gentlemanly act of the war.

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The marker shows the spot where the Spindle house once stood.

The Spindles were relatively lucky. At the McCoull house, located in the middle of the Mule Shoe salient, three sisters cowered in the basement while some of the worst fighting of the battle raged around them. They emerged to see thousands of corpses. Nearly 1,500 Federal troops alone were buried on their farm.

Marker showing the house that once stood here.
Marker showing the house that once stood here.

At the so-called Bloody Angle, Federal and Confederate troops basically beat and stabbed each other to death by the thousands over possession of a small hill. Corpses were found lying five deep at some points, some drowned in the muddy earthworks by the bodies piled on top of them. Good grief.

The Bloody Angle.
The Bloody Angle.

Of course, there was much standing around and visualizing troop movements. And of course, a guy who was super excited about being there asked me to take his photo with a monument. It happens every single time we go to a battlefield. I’m reading markers describing horrible carnage and at least one guy wants his picture taken. I get the historical interest, but really?

The men who visit these sites are seeing something that is awesome to them. I can see it in their eyes. But I am the mother of a young man, the same age as many of those who died in battle. All I can see, amid the tranquil fields and flowers, is the ghost of a terrible waste.

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4 comments

  1. Hate to tell you, but there are no pleasant alternative routes to I-95 anywhere along the Eastern seaboard. It’s I-95, overcrowded “country” roads, or the woefully expensive, inefficient, tax-sucking behemoth called Amtrak.

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  2. I got married in Fredericksburg! My husband loves battlefields too. On our various weekend trips down from DC during wedding planning, we’d inevitably end up on a battlefield tour or visit to some historic home or other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like visiting them too. But I can see that I am getting something completely different out of it than the guys are. I remember one time at Gettysburg I was up in an observation tower and there were a group of big guys getting really emotional about the view. It was a bro moment, for sure.

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