Blue & Grey Campaign Day 4: Manassas and Harpers Ferry
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.