Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Parkers: Civil War travelers

(Historian Bud Robertson, with Shanda and Jett)

Last month, we took a little getaway trip to Virginia. Nothing big or lengthy, but it turned into one of my favorite-ever trips.
With the addition of Jett to the mix this year, we didn't really know what we wanted to do, but when Shanda told me she'd go anywhere as long as Jett could tag along, I brought up seeing Civil War sites. It's cheap (most places are free) and it's relatively close by. After some thought, we decided to go to the eastern half of Virginia where many key battles took place.
Now, if you've never visited battlefields, you kind of have to have an imagination. Many of the landmarks are no longer around or urban sprawl (i.e. Fredericksburg) has significantly altered the ground so things are much different. But you get to see the lay of the land and stand on the ground on which some monumental things occurred.
We started off with a day in Richmond and stopped at the American Civil War Center at historic Tredegar. That's where most of the Confederate cannons were built. The center is basically a museum and it was the only place we visited that we had to pay to see (not a national park). Honestly, it was probably the disappointment of the trip. We found some misspelled or missing words on displays, etc.
Anyway, the National Park Service has its Richmond park headquarters next door to the ACWC and they can provide you with a tour map of the 11 or 12 battlefields around the city. Jett was getting restless so we only visited Cold Harbor and Gaines Mill (and Taco Bell on the way). The former was the site of U.S. Grant's worst day in command, where the Union lost thousands of men in about 20 minutes. Trench works are still very noticeable on the ground and I would show a photo of them, but our camera died that day.
All that was just a warm-up for the next day, when we were to visit the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Park which includes the Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness and Spotsylvania battlefields all in an area of about 20 miles. It's considered the bloodiest ground in the U.S.
We started at Fredericksburg, home of the famous sunken road and stone wall (not Jackson, although he fought there). I'm glad my former boss at The Herald, Tucker Mitchell, gave me a heads up on this one. It would have been really disappointing had I not known that a housing development is encroaching all up on the stone wall. I mean it's a pitching wedge shot from the wall. So basically, there are people walking their dogs where thousands of Union guys died on a significantly improbable charge against the wall. I can only hope that there are ghosts hanging around out there and messing with them.
There is one original section of the wall still remaining. The truck in the background...not so original.

The highlight of the trip (other than the family being together, of course) also came at Fredericksburg. After leaving the main park, we took a short drive down a park road where a few other markers are. At the end of the road, just past Meade's pyramid, we got out of the car at Prospect Hill. There was only one or two other tourists there, but I noticed another man standing by some cannons and talking into a camera. I immediately recognized him as distinguished Civil War historian James (Bud) Robertson (photo at top). He's a professor at Va. Tech and is considered one of the preeminent authorities on all things Civil War, especially Stonewall Jackson. He nearly won a Pulitzer for that book. He's on TV a lot and is easily recognized by his thick Virginia accent. He was also a historical guide for the movie Gods and Generals.
I didn't want to interrupt him, but Jett didn't mind. He let out this loud, almost animal-type shrill that stopped them from taping. Luckily, they all laughed and I had my in. I introduced myself, chatted a bit and we snapped some photos with him. Because it was so unexpected, it was great.
After that, we drove to Chancellorsville, where I immediately bought a Robertson book. Had to, right?
Chancellorsville is known for two things: first, one of the Confederacy's biggest victories as Jackson and Co. flanked and caught off guard a Union corps; and second, Jackson being mortally wounded by his own men (18th NC) as they pushed forward in the dark. Here's the spot where Jackson was shot.

Up next was Spotsylvania, where there was really only one thing I wanted to see: the Bloody Angle. It was a Confederate position on an undulating field. Basically, because of the rolling ground and the messy weather that day, Union troops were undetected as they approached. Once the Rebels noticed them, it was too late. Throw in that many soldiers' guns wouldn't fire because of soaked powder, much of the early fighting was hand-to-hand. Some of the most brutal fighting of the war occurred there, as evidenced by this photo. A 22-inch tree (now in the Smithsonian) was hit by so many bullets that it dropped. Guess the guns started working.

For us, the weather at Spotsylvania was insanely hot. And us new parents made the mistake of walking the ground with Jett. After the first marker, pretty much everything was in the direct sun. And Jett turned the Bloody Angle into the...well, let's just say he filled a diaper.
The following day, we stopped at Pamplin Park/Museum of the Civil War soldier in Petersburg. It was okay, but a little more of a tourist trap/field trip kind of place.
I'm glad we saw what we did and we left some to see on another trip.
If Shanda will go for it.

(Angel of Marye's Heights monument, Fredericksburg)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sorry so slack

I forewarned you when I started this blog: It's going to be difficult for me to be consistent with posting.
I was right.
Just this last week - and this is really our slow time as far as sports go at the paper - things have just been crazy. Ever have one of those weeks where you're worn out and don't really recall what you did?
Oh, yeah. It's called parenting. Still learning.
For the kid to be just a fraction of my size, Jett sure does garner a lot of attention. He's pulling up to a coffee table one minute, crawling down the hall the next and mowing the grass after that (Well, not the latter yet, but I can't wait for that day. We're going to teach him that yard work is as fun as basketball.).
But I have recently discovered a secret weapon: Slider, the forgotten bluetick beagle (Bio: 4.5 years old; loves scratching, licking and sniffing; would like long walks on the beach, but hasn't been).
Shanda doesn't mess with Slider, usually keeps her outside. However, I have found that Slider snatches Jett's attention better than almost anything. So Jett chases Slider around the house, Slider follows me and I follow Jett. It's this odd triangle of rejection. I want Jett's attention, but he's interested in Slider. Slider wants my attention, but I'm after Jett. Usually, I just sit on the couch and watch Jett chase Slider. Doesn't wear me out very much.
Anyway, that's some bit of an update.....

(Coming next time...a review of our recent vacation to Virginia)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The many faces of Jett

Jett's in a really interesting phase right now. He's stimulated by everything.
You know, if someone opens the door, he perks up. If it thunders, he looks around. If Carolina takes a whipping, he starts humming the State fight song.
Well, maybe not the last thing. Not yet anyway.
Here are some photos showing a couple of the faces he makes.
You've heard of Touchdown Jesus at Notre Dame. Well, the top pic is Touchdown Jett.
The second pic is just a funny look he gave us.
I think he looks like a British snob in the third one...and like a disaster eating carrots and rice in the fourth.
He could pass for Chinese in the fifth.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

I've turned into a history dork

Maybe it's just me getting older, but now I get really excited about reading.
More specifically, reading about some of the old wars. So not only am I old, but I'm a dork, too.
Oh well. Never was that cool anyway.
I've been on this history tear (usually in spring, summer) in recent years. I mean right now, all my analogies are Civil War related (Man, he's like Longstreet at Gettysburg) which no one gets and all I want to do is study this crap about guys that got shot down 145 years ago. I mean even our vacation this year was bouncing around to different battlefields in Virginia (Thank you Shanda).
It's become a real passion for me, really the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.
It sounds crazy, but because I cover sports for a living, my getaway has to be something else. And I've found the last few years that the history of those wars has been just that.
So on the brink of July 4th, I thought I'd recommend an author if anyone has an interest in the Revolutionary War (For those not in the know, that was when a cobbled-together group of rebels thumped those British dudes pretty good).
Jeff Shaara (his link is to the right) has a two-part, historical fiction set on the revolution that is really good. The first is called Rise to Rebellion, the second The Glorious Cause. It's called historical fiction because all the big stuff is true (Americans still win, for instance), but whether or not some things like conversations or certain meetings unfolded exactly the way it's written or not makes it fiction. And they are novels.
He tells each chapter from the standpoint of a different character (Gage, Washington, Lafayette, etc) and it works. He's researched their personal writings and is able to keep the story moving while telling it from different angles. Pretty interesting and I've learned more by reading his work than I ever would've just reading regular junk.
Shaara's also written a book on the Mexican War (Gone for Soldiers), which is a good read because it includes many Civil War characters like Lee, Hancock and Pickett fighting alongside one another 13 years before many split and suited up in blue or gray.
Shaara has two Civil War books (Gods and Generals; The Last Full Measure) that complete the trilogy started by his late father Michael Shaara (The Killer Angels). Those are next on my list. I'm working in chronological order, here you see. Shaara's even got WWI and WWII books out now that I'll have to get to eventually.
Anyway, if any of you are still reading down to this point, thanks for enduring.