March came in like a lamb and went out like a lion in Virginia. We arrived at Hidden Acres KOA in Bowling Green on the first and the weather was very nice. It has been downhill from there, however. We have had cold weather, temps reaching down into the 20’s and rain. We have been trying to get some sightseeing in between the bad weather.
Millie had her root canal work done and the crown repaired. She was glad to get that over with. She was pleased with both the Endodontist and Dentist she had chosen. This is a new experience, finding medical care in a strange city.
We are going to dispense with a daily diary. We figured folks don’t necessarily want to read about doing laundry, etc. We will try to fill you in on all the extra things we do.
Bowling Green is about 45 minutes south of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is steeped in history, both Revolutionary and Civil War. Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center where we were shown a short film on the city. We loaded up on information and then strolled up the street lined with historical buildings and great shops.
While at the Visitor’s Center, we were told about a special attractions passport that is offered and decided that would be the best deal for us. It gave us access to 9 historical attractions in the area.
We visited Ferry Farm, across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Ferry Farm was the boyhood home of George Washington. It is situated on a site overlooking the river and the town on the opposite side. Although the buildings are no longer there, archeological digs are taking place and the sites of several of the buildings have been discovered. The Visitor’s Center has displays of the artifacts found and the Washington family.
There was a ferry operating on the Washington property but was not owned by the family. In fact, the family considered the traffic across their property to the ferry as a nuisance. George Washington inherited the farm when his father died in 1743 and his mother Mary managed the property for him until he was 21. He later inherited Mt. Vernon when his half brother died.
Ferry Farm is the setting for two of the popular fables surrounding Washington. One is the story of the cherry tree and the other the story of him throwing a silver dollar across the river.
Union forces occupied the site of the farm during the Civil war and built a pontoon bridge across the river to move troops to the opposite side, where they occupied the city of Fredericksburg in the spring of 1862. Pontoon bridges were used at the site during several other campaigns of the war.
Chatham (The Lacey House) is situated on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River. This house is a National Park site and was built between 1768-1771 by William Fitzhugh and was the center of a large plantation. George Washington stopped at the house at least twice. Chatham was put up for sale in 1796.
Major Churchill Jones purchased the plantation in 1806. His family held the property for the next 66 years and Robert E. Lee was a guest at the home.
William Fitzhugh’s daughter Molly married George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson of George Washington and her daughter Martha was the wife of Robert E. Lee.
James Horace Lacy married Churchill Jones’s niece and owned the house at the time of the Civil War. He was a member of the Confederate army. His wife and children left the house in 1862 and the Union army moved in. The Union army used the house for the next 13 months. It serves as a headquarters for General Irvin McDowell and President Lincoln visited him there. This makes Chatham one of three houses to have been visited by Presidents Washington and Lincoln both. (Mt. Vernon and Berkley Plantation are the other two.)
In December 1862 the Union troops under Ambrose Burnside attacked Fredericksburg. They were defeated by the Confederate troupes under General Lee. Burnside lost 12,600 men in the battle. Chatham was turned into a hospital with Union surgeons operating inside the house. Clara Barton (founder of the Red Cross) and Walt Whitman (poet) assisted in caring for the wounded.
Needless to say, the house was in bad shape by the time the war ended. The Lacy family could no longer maintain the property and sold it in 1872.
After several owners, it was purchased by Daniel and Helen Devore in the 1920’s and restored by them. Several exterior changes made earlier were removed and the house returned to its early appearance. A porch that was added to the front was removed and the shadow of this can be seen.
The house was purchased by John Lee Pratt in 1931 and willed to the National Park Service in 1975.
The interior of the house contains exhibits on the house. It is not furnished but the rooms are available for you to look at. Some graffiti from the occupation during the war is visible on the plaster walls. The gardens are beautiful and we enjoyed visiting this home.
In Falmouth, VA, opposite Fredericksburg, is Belmont. This estate was the home of world-renowned artist Gari Melchers and his wife Corrine who was also an artist.
This large comfortable home was purchased by Melchers In 1916 and he lived there until his death in 1932. Corrine willed the house and its art collections to the Commonwealth of Virginia in her will.
We were given a tour of the house by one of the docents. Even though Melchers was known the world over for his art, the house is very comfortable and not pretentious. The furnishings are antiques and art collect by the couple while they lived in Europe.
Gari Melchers stone studio across from the house was built in 1924. It was built to his specifications and contains a large north-lit studio and two galleries that contain some of his most important paintings. The studio is outfitted with his workbench, easels, brushes, smock and model’s platform.
A gazebo with a wonderful view of the Rappahannock River is part of the beautifully landscaped gardens.
Housed in a building 184 years old is the Fredericksburg Area Museum. This building was originally used as the Town Hall and Market Place. The exhibits here tell the story of Fredericksburg from Colonial times to modern day. A special exhibit was shown on George Washington and the Masonic Lodge.
The Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop on Caroline Street was the office of Dr. Hugh Mercer, physician to George Washington’s mother. Costumed docents explained to us treatments used during colonial times. It is amazing that patients recovered after some of these “cures”.
The Rising Sun Tavern, also on Caroline Street was built by Charles Washington (youngest brother of George) in 1761 and was his private residence until 1792. It then became a “proper” tavern, the only one in Fredericksburg. This meant that it was the only place considered proper for ladies and refined gentlemen to stay.
Costumed docents gave the presentation on the building and customs of the time. Do you know that it was common for travelers to sleep 5 to a bed? That people in colonial times did not bathe in the winter? The time we spent at the tavern was very entertaining and informative.
The Mary Washington house was the home purchased by George for his mother. She had lived at Ferry Farm for many years and as she grew older needed to be closer to her daughter Betty who lived in Fredericksburg. The original home was 4 rooms and George added to the house to make it more comfortable for his mother.
Some of her personal possessions are included in the period furnishings of the house. There are formal gardens in the back of the house and a large porch across the back. Of particular interest are the closets off the parlor added by George Washington. At that time, taxes were assessed by England on rooms in a house. The criteria for tax was that the doorway could be entered without stooping. The closets in this room have full sized doors, meaning that the closets could be taxed as rooms.
Kenmore was the home of George Washington’s sister Betty and her husband Fielding Lewis. It was built in 1775. This home is presently under restoration and is not furnished. A separate visitor’s center does show a film on the house and has some examples of furnishings from the period on display.
Our tour was very interesting, as we were able to see the restoration work underway. This house has some of the most beautiful plasterwork in the United States. It is not known who did this work, but the craftsmanship is magnificent. The front entrance hall and stairway was being painted back to the original colors the day we toured.
An archeological dig was being done outside the house. This house was also a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War. It was in the path of fire from both sides and two cannonballs have been left imbedded in the exterior. We would like to return to Kenmore and see it when the restoration is finished and the furnishings are replaced.
President James Monroe practiced law in Fredericksburg before becoming president. He owned ¼ block of property on Charles Street. The building there houses the James Monroe Museum. It was believed at one time that one section of the building housed his law office, but it has been established in the last few years that the building was not on the property when he lived there.
The museum contains exhibits about Monroe’s presidency and the Monroe Doctrine. It also contains furniture belonging to Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, much of which they purchased while living in Europe.
The battlefields – Fredericksburg-December 11-13, 1862 In November 1862 Union General Ambrose Burnside led his army south towards Fredericksburg, hoping to cross the Rappahannock River and take the town of Fredericksburg and meet General Robert E. Lee in battle somewhere between the town and Richmond. However, the pontoon bridges he planned to use had not arrived yet and by the time they did, Lee had positioned his army on the heights behind the town.
After two weeks, Burnside decided to make his move. Three bridges were to be constructed. However, Confederate riflemen in the town began shooting engineers building the bridges. The Union artillery bombarded the town but was unable to remove the riflemen. Finally, volunteers from the Union army rowed across the river and were able to take the town. The bridges were then completed.
The Union army crossed the river the following day, ransacking the town. Burnside and his generals devised a plan of attack against Lee’s army. The Union army would attack from two fronts.
The southern end of the attack, against Stonewall Jackson’s troupes, managed to break through the line, but the Confederates managed to drive them back.
The western line of the attack was through the town and across a broad open area to Marye’s Heights where Confederate General James Longstreet had positioned his men behind a stone wall. A sunken road ran behind the wall, making this a perfect place for defense. By the end of the day the bodies of 8000 Union soldiers covered the open field. It was the North’s worse defeat of the war. Wounded soldiers left in the field shielded themselves behind the bodies of their dead comrades. On the night of December 15, Burnside brought his troupes back across the river.
There were 2 homes located in the field, one of which, the Innis house still stands. Confederate soldiers used this house to fire on Union troupes through the windows. The house sustained hundreds of bullet scars. The Stephens house is no longer there, but the grave of Martha Stephens is located behind a picket fence near where her home stood. She assisted wounded Confederates during the battle.
A memorial to a Confederate soldier known as “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” stands near the wall. 19-year-old Sergeant Richard R. Kirkland left the protection of the stone wall and ran across the field to give water to wounded Union soldiers. Union riflemen ceased firing as this young man moved from soldier to soldier on his errand of mercy.
We walked up the hill at Marye’s Heights to the National Cemetery there. This cemetery contains the graves of 15,000 Union soldiers, 85 percent of which are unknown. Confederate soldiers were buried in private cemeteries in the area.
After leaving Marye’s Heights, we drove to Lee Hill, where General Lee had his command post. It commands a good view of the city and during the war; all of the trees would have been removed to give the artillery a clear field for shooting.
As we walked up the hill from the parking area, we were commenting on the large number of trees we were seeing in the area that were uprooted. They were all laying in the same direction. We later learned that this is the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel last year. The storm did a lot of destruction to the forests around here.
We then drove to Prospect Hill, which was the site of southern end of the Confederate line, led by Stonewall Jackson. His troupes managed to drive the Union army back following their breach of the line.
Chancellorsville – May 2, 1863 President Lincoln replaced Burnside with General Joseph Hooker. On April 27 the new commander marched his army upstream and crossed the Rappahannock and Rapidan rivers at shallow fords, arriving at the Chancellorsville crossroads 3 days later. Lee discovered this and rushed his army westward, causing Hooker to establish a defensive line. Stonewall Jackson took advantage of this and on May 2 marched his troupes around the Union army, surprising and destroying Hooker’s right flank.
Lee pressed his advantage for 3 more days and drove the Union army back across the river.
Tragically, Jackson was shot by his own troupes while scouting in front of his main line. His arm was amputated at a field hospital near Wilderness Tavern. On May 4 he was taken by ambulance 27 miles to Fairfield Plantation near Guinea Station. As the house was full of family and friends escaping the war, he was taken to a small plantation office building where a room had been set up for his recuperation. The plan was for him to gather strength here so he could be moved to his home. Unfortunately he contracted Pneumonia shortly after his arrival there and died on May 10.
We drove the route that Jackson’s ambulance had taken and marveled at the agony that ride must have caused to a wounded man. It was not an easy ride even in our modern truck and would have been extremely hard in a horse drawn wagon. The trip for Jackson was 15 hours.
The Wilderness – May 5-6, 1864 This battle took place in the thick woods of the area known as the Wilderness. It was the first of encounters between Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee. The armies sparred for two days, and the battle was a draw. Grant headed south toward Spotsylvania Court House, breaking the stalemate.
Spotsylvania Court House May 7 – 21, 1864 Both armies wanted control of the crossroads at Spotsylvania Court House as it controlled the shortest route to Richmond. On May 12 the most intense hand-to-hand combat occurred here at what was to be called “The Bloody Angle”. Lee was able to construct new earthworks here and hold off Grant until May 21 when Grant abandoned the battle.
Many of the areas around here still contain earthworks that were used for defense by both sides. It really gave us a sense of the numbers of the troupes and the scope of the battlefields when we drove for several miles with earthworks alongside the road.
On a warm Sunday afternoon we went to the National Zoo in Rock Creek Park in D. C. We enjoyed seeing the exhibits. Of particular interest is the Think Tank where scientists are learning about the minds of orangutans. The orangutans live in the Great Ape House, but travel on their own to the building housing the think tank by way of a series of cables 40’ above the ground. They can go back and forth on these cables but are unable to climb down the support towers. It was amazing to glance up and see two of these great animals swinging along on the cables. One very large orangutan was in an enclosure in the think tank taking a nap. Another younger female was in the enclosure and was very interested in a camera on the ledge outside the glass. She was really trying to get it.
We went into the Great Ape House and saw a very large silver back gorilla. He was watching all of us watch him. A couple of the orangutans were also in the building and were busy covering their heads with straw. One started it and then the other followed suit.
We particularly wanted to see the Panda’s, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian. They are the most popular exhibit at the zoo and a large crowd was gathered at their enclosure. It was fun to watch them eating bamboo and waddling around. They are such special animals and so pretty.
That day we learned that D. C. was not a great place for our big truck. We decided that any further forays into the city would be done with public transportation.
We purchased passes for 5 round trips on the VRE, which runs from Fredericksburg to D. C.
We made our first trip on the commuter train towards the end of the month. We had to get up early to get to Fredericksburg and catch the train. It was a nice ride, very smooth and we enjoyed watching the countryside go by. This would be our choice of transportation if we lived here and had to work. It was very convenient.
We departed the train at L’enfant station and walked the 2 blocks to the Smithsonian Castle. This large red building was the first building of the Smithsonian and now houses a visitor’s center and offices. As we are National Members of the Smithsonian, we went to the special members desk and were given a packet of materials. We then viewed a film on the Smithsonian.
The Smithsonian was established in 1846. An English scientist, James Smithson, who had never even been to America left the funds in his will to establish the museum. He died and was buried in Italy, however in 1904 his tomb was moved to the U.S. and now rests in a small chamber in the Castle.
We walked across the Mall to the Museum of Natural History. At the ends of the Mall stand our nation’s Capitol and the Washington Monument. Our first stop in the museum was the hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals. We were in this hall for nearly two hours. We didn’t know there were so many beautiful gems and crystals. Of particular interest was an exhibit on the fluorescence of some minerals. These stones actually look one way in light and actually glow under the absence of light.
We were excited to see a geological exhibit of sediment from the Brazos River in our hometown of Richmond, TX.
The South American Continent and Culture was an interesting and informative exhibit. It covered four ecological areas of South America.
The Hall of Western Cultures contained exhibits with mummies and death masks. We also watched the film on Egyptian culture and mummies.
A special exhibit on the Alutiq people of Kodiak Island, Alaska was of interest, giving our having been to Alaska last summer.
We had lunch in the Atrium Café. It was expensive but good. We spent $30.00 for lunch and it was a light meal.
After lunch we viewed the exhibits on bones, reptiles, giant squid and the Insect Zoo. So far we had only been on the second floor of the museum!
We toured the Dinosaur Hall and the display of Ice Age Mammals. We then saw the Hall of Mammals with 274 mammals on display in their native habitats. The film in the Evolution Theater was very interesting and entertaining.
We then decided we had walked enough for the day and since it was nearly time for a train back to Fredericksburg, we headed back to the VRE station. We had been in the museum from 10:30 until nearly 4:00!!!
It was overcast the day we drove south to Richmond, about 30 miles south of Bowling Green. We toured the capitol building. Thomas Jefferson designed the center section of the building. The wings were added later to accommodate the legislative chambers.
We asked about a tour and were directed to a tour that was already in progress. We were given the history of the building and shown the original chamber used by the governing body when Virginia was still a colony. Frankly, we were somewhat disappointed by this tour, it was the shortest one we have had so far of the capitols we have visited.
We climbed the stairs to the second floor where we entered the gallery of the State Senate. The legislature was in session, however it was the lunch hour so there was not activity to see.
We had planned to visit the Civil War Museum and White House of the South in the afternoon. That was not to be, the only parking in the area were parking garages and our truck will not fit. We had lunch at Fuddruckers and then headed back north.
We decided it was time for Millie to try her hand at driving the truck, as she hasn’t done so yet. She didn’t want to drive on a busy interstate, so we took a state route back. She drove the truck with no problem; it is just a little hard to determine where in the lane you are as you don’t really have anything to reference with (such as the hood).
We planned a trip to Montpelier, home of James and Dolley Madison. Dick used his computer routing to plan our trip. He didn’t realize that Virginia also has a town named Montpelier and that it is nowhere near the Madison home. Well, we had a long drive through the countryside, but it was enjoyable and scenic.
When we finally arrived at James Madison’s Montpelier, we learned that the house is under restoration (getting to be our luck) and is closed for tours for at least 4 years. We were shown a film about the restoration of the house and a guide took us through the grounds. We were able to walk around the outside of the house and view the work going on. The DuPont family had last owned the house and they had added on to it. All the additions are being removed and the house is being restored to the Madison era.
James Madison, Sr. constructed the original house on land owned by his father. At age 43, James, Jr. married Dolley, a widow 15 years his junior and they returned to Montpelier to live. However, the house was not large enough so it was expanded to basically a duplex arrangement with the younger Madison’s living in the new addition.
After his presidency, the Madison’s returned to Montpelier and again enlarged the house. Dolley was a renowned hostess and they did a lot of entertaining there.
From the front of the house, the view is magnificent, with the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. It is easy to see why Madison loved this place and basically spent his entire life there.
We walked past the rear of the house and viewed Dolley’s garden. The garden is now the size that it was during the time of the DuPonts, and would have been about 4 times larger in the Madison’s time.
A barn built for the DuPont children presently contains the Education Center. There we viewed a film on the Madisons. Two rooms of Montpelier have been reconstructed in this center, Dolley’s bedroom and the dining room. Another exhibit room contains a display of various furnishings from the house. If you are interested in more information on the restoration of Montpelier, go to their website www.montpelier.org , there you will see a section on the restoration. It is very informative.
We walked along the paths to the old slave cemetery and then on to the Madison family cemetery where James and Dolley are buried. A celebration of his birthday had been conducted the week before and the many wreaths in the photo are from that ceremony. Dolley’s grave is behind, it is the smaller obelisk.
Now for an update on the new Freightliner M2. It is a fantastic truck and we are enjoying driving it. The fuel mileage is about 10 miles to the gallon, towing or not, so we are pleased with that. Our mileage on the F550 was much lower when towing. We have decals to be added to dress it up to match our Travel Supreme, just haven’t had them put on yet. We have added a couple of pictures of the rear of the truck showing the bed and the large box we had designed to carry our bikes.
Spring is slow coming this year but many trees are blooming and some of the spring flowers. We had a couple of nights with temps in the low 20’s and the beautiful pink magnolia trees froze back just as they were to come into full bloom.
Not all the photos we have added are hyperlinked, so be sure to visit our photo pages to see them all.
We are spending the month of April here too. There is so much here to see and we will need the extra month. As we are planning to go north from here, we want to weather to warm up some more also. See you next month!