Archive | September 2014

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 9: Tired Campaigners

My trip odometer was set at “0” nine days ago.

Several times today I heard members of the ride say how nice it would be to sleep in their own beds again.  I agree.  Eight straight nights in hotel rooms, along with 1,926 motorcycle miles, and, of course, untold hours spent walking through and exploring museums, historic sites and battlefields, earned everyone a well-deserved rest in their own beds with at least one morning to sleep late. 

While I think everyone would like to have extended the trip by many miles and more historic sites, they were also ready to decompress in the quiet of their own homes for a few hours or a few days.  Most days on this trip started with alarm clock reveille before 6 a.m. and ended each day well after 10 p.m. Between reveille and lights out, each day was a full day of riding or walking or both.  Don’t get me wrong.  No one complained.  No one asked for fewer miles or shorter days or fewer visits.  And each morning–without fail–when we met for our pre-ride safety briefing and historical synopsis of the day’s planned activities, all campaigners were ready before the appointed time. 

We couldn’t visit all the sites in the Eastern Theater of the Civil War.  That would take months or even years.  But in nine days we managed to visit eight of the biggest and most important sites.  Each person, including me, has finished the Blue and Grey Campaign with a much better understanding of the men and women who argued, debated, cried, fought, bled, and died and the causes which led them to suffer unspeakable pain and unfathomable loss during those bitter and bloody years.  In fact, several members of the campaign returned home with a pile of books they will read to continue to expand their newly-gained knowledge of the Civil War.  And they all returned with tales–Civil War, motorcycle and after hours–to tell friends and family (and even strangers who get cornered and are forced to listen to their “war” stories).  

Terri cools off with a little DQ.


Mmmmmmm. Good.

Today’s ride, which began with Willie Nelson crooning “On the Road Again,” was uneventful, and rain that had been forecast for today several days ago never materialized.  It would have been hard to find better weather for riding than we had today.  But it was just 360 miles down the asphalt ribbon, swerving around the occasional South Carolina road breaks and potholes and keeping an eye on 18 wheelers and motorists in a hurry.  Lunch, a couple of gas stops, and a final Dairy Queen break to extend our time together, made for an unremarkable ride home.

Each campaigner now has an assignment: A brief essay that records their view of the Blue and Grey Campaign to be provided to the task master Road Captain/blog author/book editor.  The essay will be their contribution to history, at least for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren who inherit the book to be published using the contents of this blog.

For now, the blog posts come to an end again.  But, as long as unridden roads remain unexplored, I’ll make other rides and, no doubt, contribute more scribblings to memorialize those exploits.  I hope everyone who followed along the past nine days enjoyed the Blue and Grey Campaign as much as the campaigners did.  It was a good ride.

 

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 8: Appomattox Courthouse

The Blue & Grey Campaigners stand on the steps of the historic McLean House.

On the penultimate day of the Blue & Grey Campaign, it was only fitting that we concluded our Civil War battlefield tour at the site of the end of the war:  Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.  On April 9, 1865, almost four years to the day after the opening shots of the war were fired at Ft. Sumter, General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, Confederate arms were stacked, colors were furled and exhausted troops began their long walk home to families and farms.

Terri looks at one of the most authentic depictions of the surrender by Lee.

From Lynchburg, we had only a 30 minute ride to the National Parks battlefield site, and we arrived to a nearly empty park just as it opened at 8:30 a.m.  Nine motorcycles pulled up to the entrance kiosk and the park ranger on duty asked, “Are you all together?”  “Why yes.  Yes, we are,” I replied, looking back at nine bikers on nine Harley Davidsons and wondering what his first clue was.  We dutifully showed our Senior Passes, and proceeded, “all together” to the historic site.  The sky was blue, the temperature was about 70 degrees and the site of the final battle of the Civil War had a remarkably peaceful feeling on this perfect fall day.

Ski talks with “Miss Emma” on the porch of the tavern. She wasn’t fond of the Yankee.

The site consisted of some original buildings from the small village known in 1865 as Appomattox Court House, a rebuilt courthouse that served as the visitor center, and an historic reconstruction of the McLean House where the meeting between the two generals took place in the parlor.  

This road led past the McLean house and out of Appomattox Courthouse.

We watched a couple of short videos and wandered through the exhibit area, learning about the final Appomattox Campaign that occurred when Union forces drove the battered and starving rebels out of Petersburg and Richmond and dogged them westward across central Virginia until the denouement near Appomattox Courthouse.  

This barn was across the road from the McLean House.

As we walked around the site we also visited some of the historic structures that witnessed the final actions of the war, including the Clover Hill Tavern where paroles were printed for the 30,000 Confederate soldiers who surrendered and were allowed to return to their homes after they stacked their arms.  On the porch of the tavern was a young woman named Emma, who was the daughter of the tavern keeper and provided a wealth of information about the area in the days after the surrender.  Later, the re-enactor spoke in character with large groups of tourists as they sat on the porch of the tavern.

Lee and George talk about the events of April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Court House.

The McLean House had actually been torn down in the 1890s and then rebuilt in the 1940s using some of the same materials and on the same site.  But it was close enough to the actual structure that it felt as if we were standing in one of the important buildings of the Civil War and all of American History.  After more than 600,000 deaths, the actions of two gentlemen generals brought the war to a simple and undramatic close.

One final look around the park and we returned to the bikes and left the final site of our eight-day tour behind us.

All is quiet now at Appomattox

The ride the rest of the day took us south through Virginia and into North Carolina.  The group was kind enough to follow me through Chapel Hill, home of the University of North Carolina, where Marilyn and I reminisced briefly as we rolled slowly through the downtown and past parts of the University.  It had been nearly 35 years since we were last there.

Lunch had been planned at a quaint sandwich shop in Chatham, Virginia, but the planner (me) didn’t realize they would be closed on Saturday.  So we opted instead for a pretty good lunch at a Mexican eatery just down the nearly deserted Main Street.

The longest part of the day came as we rode through the area near Ft. Bragg, N.C., where there seemed to be a traffic light every quarter of a mile and we seemed to stop at nearly all of them.  Finally, ten hours after leaving our motel in Lynchburg, we arrived at our final motel of the campaign in Lumberton, N. C.  Tomorrow we make the final ride home.  Tomorrow night I’ll post the final entry for the Blue & Grey Campaign blog, and the nine-day, nearly 2,000-mile Orange Park Harley Owners Group ride will, like the Civil War, be history.

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 7: Cool and Damp

Gettysburg was cool and overcast this morning at 7:15 when the troops mustered at the bikes for our pre-ride briefing, and a heavy dew that covered the bikes overnight required some towel work.  But the 46 degree temperature had been expected and everyone was properly prepared with multiple layers of clothing and heavy leathers or heated gear.  No Civil War site visits had been scheduled for today, just a pleasant ride through the Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia countryside.

The cloudy skies stayed with us as we rode south on I-81 through the beautiful and fecund Shenandoah Valley, with 2,000 foot escarpments rising up on both sides.  The Valley had been crucial to the plans of both the North and the South during the Civil War, as it provided bountiful food stuffs for the Confederacy and served as a route for troops going both directions.  Several important battles were fought there and Stonewall Jackson gained much of his fame harassing and pummeling Union forces in the valley.  But we didn’t stop at the battlefields of the Shenandoah.  We had plans to ride the breathtaking Skyline Parkway and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We entered the Skyline Parkway and Skyline National Park a few miles east of Harrisonburg, Virginia, and to the south, where we were headed, the sky grew slightly darker and the clouds began to hang on the mountains, obscuring the “aahhh” inspiring views of the many hollows and valleys which the Parkway would normally produce.  Soon, we found ourselves riding in a light mist on roads that glistened ominously beneath our tires.  The pace slowed and we rode cautiously to the end of the Skyline Parkway at Waynesboro, where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.

A planned lunch stop in Waynesboro provided the opportunity to raise the question of whether to continue the ride as planned along the Blue Ridge for 70 more miles or take a lower, more direct, and, hopefully, drier road into Lynchburg.  On a ride like this, every rider has veto power over the route, and that power was exercised at lunch.  The Blue Ridge Parkway would have to wait until another ride.

After seven days and nearly 1200 miles on the road, the ride is beginning to take its toll on the aged bones of all the riders and a shortened ride today felt good to everyone.

Dinner at the Waterstone.

When the trip had initially been planned, I had hoped to stay in a boutique hotel I found in Lynchburg, but the cost and availability of rooms at the Craddock-Terry Hotel precluded that option.  Still, I wanted to see what we were missing, so seven of us headed for dinner at the attached grill and brewery: Waterstone Fire Roasted Pizza.  

Interior brick wall at the second floor brewery of the Waterstone.

The Waterstone and its brew room are contained in an 1888 vintage tobacco warehouse and the Craddock-Terry was formerly a shoe factory.  Both have been beautifully and carefully restored and are serving as an anchor to an impressive revitalization of historic downtown Lynchburg.

Tomorrow morning, the weather may be cool again, but rain isn’t currently in the forecast.  We’ll make a quick pilgrimage to Appomattox Courthouse where, for all intents and purposes, the great national civil strife came to anticlimactic ending, then continue our jaunt southward through Virginia and in to North Carolina as we head back to Florida.

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 6: Gettysburg

The campaign shirts drew a lot of attention at the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Today, nearly 1,000 miles into our trip, the Blue & Grey Civil War Motorcycle Campaign reached its northernmost point, just as Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia did on July 1-3, 1863 when Union forces finally achieved a decisive victory against Confederate troops.  On those three bloody days 151 years ago, some 51,000 Americans became casualties of the Civil War that ravaged the country for four awful years..

About 1/4 of the 370 foot canvas inside the Cyclorama showing a view from Cemetery RRidge.

Dressed in our special order Blue & Grey Campaign shirts, our troop of ten spent the day at Gettysburg National Military Park trying to come to grips with the bloodiest battle in that great struggle.  Today was not a riding day, though of course we rode to the battlefield.  Today was less about motorcycles than about trying to understand how and why Americans–North and South–risked and sacrificed life and limb in an effort to shape the country’s future.

Ski looks at one of the thousands of artifacts in the museum.

This was the only battlefield on our trip that warranted a full-day at the site.  The morning was spent in the new (2008) visitor center watching a short interpretive movie, viewing the historic cyclorama of Pickett’s famous charge, and slowly working our way through the outstanding museum and the exhibits that told macro stories of the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg and micro stories of some of the individuals who, as President Lincoln declared in Gettysburg on November 19, 1863, gave their “last full measure of devotion.”

George points out my resemblance to my homie from Kansas: John Brown

The Cyclorama was both an interpretive device and a fascinating historical document in and of itself.  More than 40 feet tall and 370 feet wide, the circular Gettysburg Cyclorama was painted on canvas in 1884 by French artist Paul Phillippoteaux and has been a fixture at the Gettysburg battle site for decades.  It’s the largest painting on canvas in the United States and was painstakingly restored from 2005 to 2008.

Abe was a real chick magnet.

On the first floor of the visitor’s center, the OPHOG crew wandered through the maze-like museum for several hours.  Seeing all the exhibits and reading all the text could easily take several days, but the professional presentations yielded a trove of information even during the short time we were there.  Starting with the background to the Civil War, the exhibits go through each day of the battle, then continue on to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and the aftermath of the terrible scourge.  

In honor of his saving the Union and securing liberty for all, we made Abe an Honorary HOG member.

Thanks to a suggestion from Lee, we took a bus tour with a knowledgable guide in the afternoon rather than ride the self-guided auto (motorcycle) tour.  It was a good suggestion, in part because we had an articulate, licensed guide who, in addition to delivering an informative narrative, also expertly fielded all the questions we could throw at him during the two-hour tour around the 4,000 acre park.  The expert guide covered the chronology of troop movements, the effort to restore the battlefield to its 1863 appearance, and the important points on the field where the most vigorous fighting occurred:  The railroad cut on Day 1; the peach orchard, wheat field, Devil’s Den, and Little Round  Top on Day 2; and the famous Pickett’s Charge across an open field and up Cemetery Ridge that marked the end of the battle and the High Water Mark for the Confederacy on Day 3.

Lee asks a question at one of the stops.

Among the stops we made during the day, two stand out as especially meaningful.  One allowed us to walk to the rocky summit of Little Round Top and survey the area below that held Devils Den, the wheat field and the peach orchard where many of the 20,000 casualties of the second day of fighting occurred.  Little Round Top, the guide indicated, may have been the key to the Union victory as General Warren rushed troops to defend the undefended hill against a Confederate attack.

A panoramic view from Little Round Top.


Terri and Ski follow the Guide in locating places on the battlefield.

The other stop allowed us an outstanding vantage point from which to see and understand why Pickett’s Charge was doomed to failure and the slaughter of many of the 12,000 troops who made that fateful march and charge across the field.  Reading books about battles is helpful to understanding the outcome, but seeing the terrain with artillery pieces in place is indispensable.

Mark and Ski walk past a “limber” on Cemetery Ridge.

At the end of the day, all the campaigners were ready to return to the hotel and dinner, but all also agreed that they would like to return to the battlefield for further exploration if they could.  It was, as expected, the most informative day of this nine-day campaign.

Tomorrow will be almost the opposite of today:  All motorcycle riding and no battlefield visits as we start our return trip south through the Shenandoah Valley and along the Blue Ridge Mountains.

 

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 5: Personal Connections

An early morning visit to the mountain above Harpers Ferry.

But before we went to Antietam Creek (AKA the Battle of Sharpsburg) we took a short, unplanned detour in Harpers Ferry at the recommendation of one of the rangers at the Harpers Ferry Visitor Center yesterday.  Only a few blocks from our hotel was the battlefield at Boliver Heights where, just two days before the battle of Antietam Creek on September 17, 1862, three columns of Confederate forces under the command of Stonewall Jackson surrounded nearly 15,000 Union troops at Harpers Ferry and Bolivar Heights on three sides and, with little actual fighting, forced the surrender of 12,500 Union troops, clearing the way for the bloody battle at Antietam Creek.

Learning about the Battle of Harpers Ferry, 1862

We arrived at Bolivar Heights early in the morning as the fog was beginning to lift at the eriely silent former battlefield.  Alone at the site, we walked among gun emplacements and faint remnants of trench work where thousands of soldiers once lived and died.  We wondered what it must have been like for the soldiers who battled for the high ground above the majestic confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at Harpers Ferry.

Facing a rising sun and morning mist, Marilyn, Ski and Terri survey the area.

A short ride of only 15 miles brought us to the battlefield of Antietam Creek.  Many other visitors also decided to mark the 152nd anniversary of the battle, and by the time we arrived at 10 a.m. the parking lot was full and the grass overflow parking lot had begun to fill up as well.  

A panoramic view of part of now peaceful fields at Antietam Creek.


Ranger Dan begins his tour of the West Woods battle site.

Fortunately, though, we walked into the Visitor Center just as one of several walking tours scheduled for the day was about to begin and eight of us opted to make the trek around a portion of the battlefield known as the Cornfield and the West Woods where the heaviest early morning fighting occurred

Ski and Lee listen attentively to Ranger Dan’s stories.

Ranger Dan who led the tour was knowledgable, animated and told a good story about the battle and the men who fought there.  We joined more than a dozen other visitors at a large New York State monument near the visitor center and began our 90 minute walking tour, mostly through the West Woods.  Dan ticked off the regiments, brigades, divisions, corps and other military units with alacrity, but he also added personal stories of individuals who fought in those units to make an impersonal battle more personal.  We learned of the 5,000 casualities in one hour of fighting.  And we learned of individual soldiers who left behind wives, mothers, sons and daughters as they went to fight for a cause they believed to be just and honorable.

Part of the tour contingent treks through a field and into the West Woods.

At the end of the tour, at a monument erected in 1896 to honor the men of the Philadelphia brigade, Dan told one more story of an average private, a poor man with a wife and two children from Michigan who volunteered to fight for the Union.  He was wounded and died at Antietam and buried in an unmarked grave.  His widow was left to raise two children on a small government pension.  That average soldier was Dan’s Great-Great Grandfather and the impact that final bit of information had on us and the rest of the tour group was palpable.  We all walked slowly back to the visitor center with a new appreciation of the personal and lasting nature of war.

Ranger Dan tells his final story at the Philadelphia Brigade monument.

Temporarily (we thought) forgoing lunch, we decided to spend another couple hours at the site watching a movie on the battle and visiting other famous locations on that bloody field.  We went to the Sunken Road which was renamed Bloody Lane after the heavy fighting there in late morning and early afternoon.  There, Confederate soldiers had the perfect cover to fire at advancing Yankee troops, causing casualites as high as 50% and more among attacking forces.  When the Rebels were finally flanked on their right and enfilade fire in turn decimated their ranks, they were sent reeling to the rear.

Ski and Jimmy stand in the Sunken Road.

And we went to Burnsides Bridge, where Union troops under the command of General Ambrose Burnside tried desparately for four hours to cross Antietam Creek on a narrow stone bridge before finally succeeding and taking the field on the south side of the river where it looked like they would deliver a crushing, and perhaps final blow, to Lee’s battered troops.

Union troops once fought at this wall as they tried to cross the bridge.

But they in turn were attacked by recently arrived troops who had made a 14-hour march from Harpers Ferry, and the crushing Union victory which seemed within reach began to slip away.  And that leads to another personal story.  

Jimmy looks at ground his forefather fought for.

Fellow campaigner Jimmy Gardner believed his Great Grandfather had been at Antietam and a check with a helpful Park volunteer and the database to which he had access proved Jimmy right.  He had been a private in the 15th South Carolina Infantry of Drayton’s Brigade, which arrived at Sharpsburg in time to turn back Burnside’s advance.  We visited the spot on the field where their fighting took place, and a proud Jimmy Gardner beamed as he looked over the land where his Great Grandfather had once fought.  Nearly a year later, his ancestor fought again at Gettysburg, where he was captured and sent for the remainder of the war to a Union prison camp.  Jimmy’s ancestral connection once more made the impersonal very personal.  It was a pleasure to share the moment with him.

Inside the Antietam Creek Battlefield Visitor Center

By the end of our time at the battlefield, it was after 3 p.m. and we decided to skip lunch altogether and opt for an early dinner at Gettysburg, our destination for the day.  While we had less than 50 miles to go to reach the famous little Pennsylvania town, we rode some of the best roads so far as we rolled up and down the mountain and forest roads that wound through Catoctin Mountain National Park, which includes part of the eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains.  Shaded, cool and nicely paved, the road was a nice finish to the day.

Tomorrow we’ll spend a full day at Gettysburg National Military Park, probably the best preserved of all Civil War battlefields.

 

 

 

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 4: Manassas and Harpers Ferry

Another day, another battlefield

Something was missing from today’s ride. Wait.  I know:  No one had any bike trouble. All scoots started and ran without any problems.  And that was just part of what made this a really enjoyable day.

It’s unusual when everyone in a group ride is ready to fire up their motors on time.  It’s even more unusual when everyone is ready before the appointed start time.  But today was one of those days.  We only started about 10 minutes earlier than our scheduled 8:30 a.m. KSU but that was a sign that the group was ready to begin another day of adventure on the road.

Split rail fences lined much of the battlefield.


Roger the tour guide explains the role of the 20 lb. Parrot gun.

The first five miles this morning were frustratingly slow as we contended with rush hour Interstate traffic for 2 1/2 miles before leaving the eight-lane parking lot and heading for a surface road.  Which was being resurfaced.  And for the next 2 1/2 miles we tried to stay together and navigate a sea of orange road buoys that lined the construction zone.  We took about 30 minutes to go five miles.  But finally traffic cleared, construction ended and we were gliding through open countryside on a gently curving road cruising along at 55 mph on a crisp northern Virginia September morn.  Things were looking good and several riders commented after we pulled into the Manassas Battlefield Visitor Center parking lot how much they enjoyed the last hour of our 1 1/2 hour trip to Manassas.

Ski and Helen listen to the guide’s presentation.


Ray and Terri hear how Stonewall Jackson got his name.

At the Manassas Battlefield Visitor Center we paused for the now routine group photo before joining volunteer tour guide Roger on a brief but informative tour of the site.  Roger knew his stuff, hitting all the important points of the battle and putting the bloody event into the right historical perspective.  The first battle at Manassas (aka Bull Run) in July 1861 convinced Americans–north and south–that the war would be neither quick nor bloodless.  Most soldiers on both sides and most other Americans believed the war would be short, the south thinking their secession was a fait accompli and the north thinking they would foil the rebellious southerners’ nefarious plot with a quick and decisive battle.

There stands OPHOG like a stonewall. Rally ’round the Floridians.

Although the roughly 5,000 casualties at Manassas on both sides would in a few months seem like a small number compared to infamous battles such as Shiloh in Tennessee and Antietam Creek in Maryland, the bloody, exhausting fight on a hill in northern Virginia and the Union pell-mell retreat back to Washington convinced Americans they were in a real war that would drag on for months–or even years.  Civil War would no longer be about parades and bravado; it would be about death and destruction.

Union cannons stand silent.

After the volunteer’s talk, our group headed back into the visitor center to watch a 40-minute movie.  The video focused on the lives of a few of the people who were at the battle and whose lives and the lives of their loved ones would be inalterably changed by the day’s events.  It complemented nicely volunteer Roger’s military-oriented talk.  Although we didn’t take time to walk the entire battlefield, we did see artillery and troop placements and areas through which troops moved and land over which they engaged in ferocious, hand-to-hand fighting.  It was at Manassas that General Thomas J. Jackson earned the sobriquet “Stonewall” for his determined efforts to repell a Yankee advance.

Behind us is the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at Harpers Ferry.


Ski, Mark and Lee stand in front of the building where John Brown was captured during a failed uprising in 1859.

Following a quick lunch, our merry band was on its way again, headed to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  That portion of the ride also took us through some lush, verdant farm land and on some hilly, twisting roads that everyone enjoyed.  They were easily the best motorcycle roads we’ve ridden since leaving Orange Park

Walking into the sunset past an historic house.

After checking in at our hotel, we walked approximately a mile to historic Harpers Ferry, a large section of which is operated by the National Park Service.  Unfortunately our arrival downtown at about 5 p.m. conincided with the daily closing of most of the historic buildings, but we had a nice sampling of the buildings and the history of the town before, during and after the Civil War.  Harpers Ferry was important to both sides during the war and it changed hands eight times.  But the most important Civil War action was in September, 1862, as Lee began his move north beyond the boundaries of the Confederacy.  General Jackson surrounded the town and forced the Union commander to surrender more than 12,000 troops, the largest surrender of forces in American history.  And the Battle of Harpers Ferry set the stage for our next battlefield visit tomorrow:  Antietam Creek

Two friends we met on the walk back to the hotel.

After strolling through town and grabbing a bite to eat at one of the two available restaurants, we headed back to the hotel to rest for whatever tommorow has in store for our group

Don’t forget to double click the images to see larger photos.

 

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 3: Two Battlefields

The obligatory group picture. Everyone smile!

Yesterday we visited Ft. Sumter where the military component of the Civil War began.  Only a handful of casualties resulted from the bombardment and the surrender of that iconic fort.  Today we visited two battlefields where, over a period of seven days, there were nearly 50,000 casualties.  I think everyone in the group had a much different feeling walking today’s hallowed grounds than the battered parade grounds of Ft. Sumter.

Ski and Lee confer at the original stone wall where Rebels picked off advancing Yankees.

The day started with a mere 2 mile ride from our hotel to the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center at 9 a.m.  A professionally produced 20-minute movie set the stage for our three-hour stay at the site and provided a good overview of the events of December 11-13, 1862.  Fredericksburg was a clear Confederate victory as Union forces suffered nearly three times as many casualties as the Confederate army and were forced into a humiliating retreat after several days of fighting nearly destroyed the northern Virginia river town and left its landscape littered with bodies.

Terri and Marilyn examine a marker along the sunken road.

At the visitor center we examined artifacts that vividly told the story of military and civilian suffering in the only major urban fighting during the Civil War.  The bulk of the fighting at Fredericksburg occurred after Union troops took and occupied the town that once held 5,000 residents.  On a 600-yard wide field below Marye’s Hill (pronounced Maries not Marys) and the Sunken Road Union forces made 18 unsuccessful and costly charges against Confederate troops strongly positioned behind the stone wall in the sunken road.  

One of the original structures on the site, the Innis house still had bullet holes in the interior walls.

After we saw explored the exhibits, we walked the ground where the bloodiest fighting occurred.  Some of the original stone wall that provided cover for Confederate troops is still there and several hundred more yards has been reconstructed over the years.  Although the landscape has changed with the addition of houses and some trees, walking the area gave everyone evidence of why the Union forces were cut down as they futilely charged across open ground.  Some of the structures there during the battle are still there, as are the bullet holes that resulted from nearly 10,000 shots per minute during the heaviest fighting.

George pauses at a monument in the National Cemetery.

We strolled quietly, somberly among the grave markers of known and unknown soldiers re-interred in the National Cemetery created at the end of the war.  Knowing the granite markers represented sons, husbands and fathers who never returned home drove home the ripple effects of a battle fought midway between Richmond and Washington, the capitals of the warring sides.  

Jimmy, Ray, Helen, Terri and Marilyn read the inscription on a monument in the National Cemetery on Marye’s Hill.

Although we didn’t visit all the locations of the Battle of Fredericksburg, we left with a better appreciation for the nature of the battle and its importance in the struggle to impose opposing views of American political culture on a nation struggling to survive.

It seems no OPHOG Blue & Grey Campaign day would be complete without at least some bike problem and today’s winner was Ray, who when he tried to start his bike at the end our visit at Fredericksburg, heard only the sounds of silence.  Turn the switch. No power. No cranking.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.  Remove the left saddle bag and side cover.  Check the fuses.  All good.  Replace the fuses.  No change.  Still nothing.  Then Ski suggested we go by the book:  Use the trouble shooting steps found in the owners manual.  Was the bike locked before the problem started?  Then re-lock the bike and unlock it again.  Voila!  Power and the beautiful sound of a Harley cranking and firing and the throaty purr of the mufflers.  Put the bike back together and ride off to lunch and our next destination: Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitor Center.

Group shot. Strike a pose!


Ski checks out artifacts at Chancellorsville Battlefield.

The Battle of Chancellorsville unfolded only 10 miles from Fredericksburg and only 4 1/2 months later in May 1863.  That battle resulted in another Confederate victory as a superior union force (2:1) was routed by bold moves from Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.  Jackson led a brilliant flanking move only to suffer a fatal wound from fire from his own troops.  Lee won the battle but at the cost of his best general.  Much of the Battle of Chancellorsville, unlike Fredericksburg, was fought in heavily wooded areas that made maneuvering thousands of troops difficult, if not impossible.  Union General Joe Hooker’s loss of nerve undid his careful planning and led to the retreat of his troops across the Rappahannock River and back toward Washington after three hellish days of fighting.

Mark reads about the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Again, another helpful video introduction, then a tour of the well-designed and executed exhibits at the visitor center.  There were several hiking trails of 2-4 miles that we opted not to pursue, but we did walk a short loop that took us past Stonewall Jackson’s final ride and the spot where he was wounded.  A large memorial stone marks that spot today.  After a little more than two hours at the site we headed back to the bikes for a relatively early (5 p.m.) return to the hotel.  Everyone pretended not to be surprised when all nine bikes actually started on the first try.

Don’t shoot. We surrender (to your feminine charms).

For the first time in three days, everyone ended the day only tired, not bone-weary, butt-sore exhausted.  And I think everyone has a new or greater appreciation for the mighty struggle that gripped the nation nearly 150 years ago.  Tomorrow we head for Manassas (Bull Run) for a tour of two battles (1861 and 1862) on the same site then on to the historic village of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. 

 

Blue & Grey Campaign Day 2: Just an Easy Ride. Yeah, right.

Mark removes his rain boots at our lunch stop.

Day 2 of the Blue & Grey Campaign was scheduled to be an easy riding day.  I know, because I scheduled it.  Only 380 miles on mixed roads, some two lane, some four lane, some interstate.  Some low country, some farm country.  No sites to visit along the way. Easy, right?

But the schedule didn’t call for rain. And the schedule didn’t call for three bike problems.  And the schedule didn’t call for splitting up the group so that the Tail Gunner beat the Road Captain to the destination.  But that’s what adventures are made of.

Terri refrains from helping Ray as he hops around the parking lot removing his rain pants.

Rain wasn’t falling when we left Myrtle Beach, but we knew precipitation was looming in our riding future, so we suited up and headed out, discovering very quickly that the route in my GPS was not the route I told the group at our morning meeting we would be following.  But no matter.  I had explained there was only one speedometer in the group that mattered and that was mine and there was only one GPS in the group that mattered and that was also mine.  Where my GPS says we go, we go.  Turned out I had reprogrammed my GPS six months ago when I was planning the Blue & Grey Campaign routes to make today’s ride a little shorter by bypassing Wilmington and coastal Carolina and, I thought, a little easier.  

Helen tries to repair humidity enhanced helmet hair.

But the actual route today was a good one and took us on some nice roads through some beautiful farm country.

Although it rained only sporadically, during the first three hours of the ride, we stayed on wet, sometimes puddly roads the entire time.  On the other hand, the grey, silent, misty clouds fended off the sun and our rain suits felt good as our steeds splashed down the road in coolish mid-60s temperatures.  

Jimmy tries to put all the parts back where they belong after dealing with a truculent electrical problem.

Jimmy Gardner discovered yesterday a continuing problem with an electrical drain on his battery resulting in difficult or non-responsive starting.  So he decided to attack the problem by removing a thrice-repaired battery tender connection that seemed most likely to be the culprit.  As luck (or brilliant planning?) would have it, lunch had been scheduled at a diner next to the Harley-Davidson dealer in Rocky Mount, NC, and he took the opportunity to borrow a couple of tools, remove the seat, unhook the battery, and remove the offending cable.  That problem solved, he joined the rest of us for lunch at the Highway Diner.

Ski, Ray, Mark and George are ready for diner food.

The Highway Diner was a real diner.  Which meant it had the all-important menu item any diner worth its name should have.  Pie.  I think I’m a bad influence.  Four other members of the group succumbed to the lure of real diner pie and joined me in my desert debauch.  Several of them fell into the “a la mode” trap and added giant scoops of ice cream.  But it was a nice addition to a late lunch.  

George made short work of his giant apple pie slice and generous ice cream scoops.

So, back to the bikes and ready for the road.  Except Lee’s 2011 Road Glide wouldn’t start.  Weak and dying battery.  Original equipment.  Time for a new one.  Fortunately we were still parked next door to the Harley dealer.  So seven of us proceeded to replace the battery.  What would have taken one mechanic ten minutes to do, took the seven of us 30 minutes.  Can you imagine:  If the entire chapter had been available to help we’d probably still be there changing the battery.

How many HOG members does it take to change a battery?  No, really.  How many?

But, finally, we got back on the road and headed north to Fredericksburg.  Except the rain, which we thought had ended, reared it’s soggy head again and we made an early gas stop south of Petersburg to suit up again under the protection of a protective gas station awning.  Of course, by the time we finished suiting up the rain had just about quit and all we ended up with was about 10 miles of wet road.  But the roads dried out, and we had smooth sailing to the motel.  Or so we thought.

These Diner diners dined on delicious diner delicacies, with a little help from their friendly waitress.

Just after we passed Richmond on I-295 and re-entered the heavily trafficked I-95 toward Washington, Jimmy’s Deluxe backfired and shut down as we  rolled northward in the third lane of a eight-lane superhighway.  He managed, somehow, to coast to the edge of the asphalt slab as cars and 18-wheelers whizzed by.  Tail Gunner Mark also managed to slow down enough to join him on the side of the road.  The rest of us, knowing from a garbled CB transmission that one of the bikes was “in trouble” slowly and cautiously tried to move across three lanes of traffic without a Tail Gunner to block oncoming traffic and secure an open lane, but it took about four more miles and two exits on the Interstate until we were finally in a position to safely exit and park the bikes.  In the meantime, Jimmy was able to re-start his defiant Deluxe and roared down the highway to try to catch up with us as Mark charged hard to try to catch him before he crossed into Maryland and coasted to a stop in somewhere in Pennsylvania.  I picked up a CB message from Mark as he screamed past our off-road location but was unable to communicate in the 30 seconds or so our CBs were in range of each other.  I texted him and told him we’d meet them at the hotel.  

The rest of us returned to the Interstate and headed toward Fredericksburg 40 miles away, scanning the roadsides for motorcycle parts that would indicate Jimmy’s pugnacious putt had finally bit the dust.  Luckily we found no parts but we did find Mark and Jimmy at the hotel wondering what took us so long.

Just another typical day on the road.

Tomorrow we stay in Fredericksburg to visit Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville battlefields.  I wonder if we should rent a cab?  Nah, that would take the fun out of the great Blue & Grey campaign.

Blue & Grey Campaign: Day 1 Where It All Began

Are we ready for this? Hell yes!

Despite a meeting time of no later than 6:15 a.m., the Blue & Grey campaigners arrived in the early morning Orange Park darkness on time and eager to hit the road for what turned out to be a long day.  After the obligatory group picture, we rolled onto the highway promptly at 6:30 and pegged our cruising speed at whatever the speed limit allowed as we headed north,  a beautiful sunrise greeting the day and the 10 riders heading north.

On our way to Ft. Sumter aboard the tour boat.

The first half of the ride consisted of Interstate and four-lane highway riding, which wasn’t exciting or even particularly interesting, but it did satisfy our need to get to Charleston, S.C., in time for a lunch of ribs and barbeque served by an exceedingly perky waitress at Sticky Fingers.  Then we rode on to Patriots Point where we boarded the tour boat that landed us, 30 minutes later, at Ft. Sumter, in the middle of Charleston Harbor.

We arrive at Ft. Sumter.

Everyone on the campaign agreed on two things:  First, the fort and its artifacts were impressive and served as a good start to our nine-day tour and, second, the 65 minutes we had on the island before our ride back to shore left was not nearly enough time to fully take in all the history and information the National Monument had to offer.

Ski and Mark agree to move the cannon “over there.”

Several members of the group remarked on how inspiring it was to stand on and walk among the ruins (largely but not completely restored) of the first battle of a war that dramatically changed our nation’s history and took more American lives than all other wars in our history combined.  The first shots were fired on the 85-man Union garrison in the fort on April 12, 1861 with no casualties.  Four years later, when the war ended, more than 500,000 Americans had died fighting to change the union.

The Ft. Sumter site has been substantially restored,  but not to its 1861 appearance when it stood three-stories tall on four sides with an additional story on the fifth side of the pentagonal fort.  Nearly all the bricks on the site are original and dozens of cannon are still in place, including several of the biggest cannons ever fired in the Civil War.

Helen, Terri and Ray examine exhibits in the museum.

We wandered around the site on a day where the temperature was in the 90s and the humidity was nearly the same, looking at gun emplacements, cannons and the thick, battered walls that tried to protected both  Union and  Confederate troops from 1861 to 1865.  We also spent time in the small air-conditioned museum that did a good job presenting interpretive artifacts and telling the history of the fort before, during and after the Civil War.

The flags of Fort Sumter wave over Ski who looks at Charleston in the distance.

 

We took one final look back at the fort as we pulled away from the dock in the tour boat, knowing we had a better yet staggeringly incomplete picture of how this great civil conflict began.

Back at the bikes, we looked at weather radar and decided that the potential for late afternoon thunderstorms warranted at least the donning of rain pants.  But the 90 degree temperature and the oppressive humidity argued against adding rain jackets, at least initially.  A couple of awkward turns based on dueling GPS systems and we found our way to US 17 and the final run north to our day’s destination in Myrtle Beach.  Darkening gray thunder clouds and the occasional sprinkle convinced us to stop and add jackets about an hour south of Myrtle Beach.  But the temperature had cooled enough that the jackets were at least sub-sauna.  We never did encounter any serious rain on the way in, though we did see some wet pavement.

George leans against some very old bricks that withstood artillery pounding for four years.


This cannon is at rest and so are Terri and Marilyn.

A little after 6:30 p.m. we rolled into the Best Western for an excruciatingly slow check in after a tiring 12-hour day that had begun 350 miles earlier in a dark Orange Park.  Tired but not whipped, we marched off to dinner and some discussion of the day’s activities.

Tomorrow we ride to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where we will spend Monday touring two separate battlefields.

Remember to double click the photos for larger images.

Blue & Grey Campaign: Getting Ready

Tomorrow at 6 a.m. ten Orange Park Harley Owners Group (OPHOG) members will roll into the starting location to begin the first day of a nine-day, 2,000+ mile ride: an adventurous campaign to eight Civil War battlefield sites.  Everyone is ready.  Some have been packing and repacking for six months since the ride was first announced.  Others (Marilyn and I) started packing yesterday.  But tomorrow everyone will be packed and ready for a 6:30 KSU (kickstands up) departure.

OPHOG Blue & Grey Campaigners model their campaign shirts.   Seated L-R: George Howard, Helen Howard, Ray Wensell, Terri Wensell. Standing L-R: Mark Stevens, Jimmy Gardner, Marilyn Frobish, Duane “Ski” Zeleski, Lee Kennerly, Dennis Frobish

This special ride is a first for OPHOG.  Our chapter has never organized a multi-day, multi-thousand mile group ride.  This will definitely not be your average 100-mile lunch ride.  Despite months of careful planning and route selecting, not all will go according to plan.  As generals well know, the best battle plan begins to fall apart when the first shot is fired.  But this intrepid group is up to the challenge.  We’ve met several times to discuss rules of the road, safety issues, routes and historic sites along the way.  Oil has been changed and fresh rubber mounted as needed.  For riders new to this kind of ride, veterans have offered packing tips and suggestions to make the ride more comfortable.  Now all that’s left is to fire up the V-Twins and roll down the road.

Our campaign will take us to the site of the first shots fired in the Civil War–Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor–then on to Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Manassas, Harpers Ferry, Antietam Creek, Gettysburg, and, finally, to Appomattox Courthouse where General Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to General Grant, effectively ending the war.  All the historic sites we will visit are run by the National Park Service and have extensive exhibits and preserved areas to explain the battles and honor the men who fought and died there.

Each night after the day’s adventures have ended, I’ll post some notes and some pictures on this blog, sharing the day’s activities so chapter members (and others) can follow along with their comrades on the campaign.  When the ride is done, I’ll convert the blog posts and pictures into a small book for the campaigners.

Not much left to do now but re-check the packs, tighten the cinches and wait for reveille tomorrow morning.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t wait to get on the road again.

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