Thursday, June 18, 2009

June 11 - Craters And Lost Forts

Why Petersburg, you may ask? A quick breakfast followed by a drive to Petersburg National Battlefield. A quick review of your American Civil War shows that while Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, Petersburg was the guts behind the operation. If Petersburg fell, Richmond would follow and then the Confederacy would fold. Grant knew it. Lee knew it, too. So, both made an effort to “own” the place.

It was a siege that lasted for almost 10 months. Thousands died (some of whom are list at the left. They were trained in artillery but had to the fill the role of infantry. Huge losses, as you might expect). At one point, long hours lead to straying minds. A Pennsylvania miner/soldier joked about tunneling under the Confederate lines and blowing it up. So, guess what they did? The tunneled under it and blew it up. If you saw the movie Cold Harbor, the opening scene it what we know of today as The Crater. The Union dug a tunnel 500+ feet long with ventilation shafts. 8000 pounds of gunpowder. Boom! A huge hole opened up killing hundreds of Confederates. Unfortunately, the Union unit that was supposed to go into breech (and had been training for weeks) was pulled out at the last minute. Others went in. That was the problem – they went in the hole instead of around it. What started out as an impressive feat of engineering and warfare turned into a boondoggle. The siege continued. Eventually, Petersburg fell. A few days later, Richmond fell. A few days later yet, the American Civil War was over. (The picture at the left it what remains of The Crater. Remember, this was almost 15o years ago. Time has filled it in.)

Birds on the battlefield were a little light. Eastern Meadowlarks by the Crater, Pewees in the larger woods, and once again, an Eastern Bluebird nesting in a cannon. (Which brings me to a point - perhaps instead of setting up bluebird boxes, everybody could put cannons in their front yard! Yeah! Think my condo association would mind?)

After dinking around for a bit, I found myself heading to the Jamestown Settlement. I was there ready to buy a ticket when I realized I was at the wrong spot. I wanted Historic Jamestown, a National Park Service site (under Colonial National Park). The other, a large and well done operation, is a private thing. The NPS site is the actual site. The real deal from 1608. Archaeologists were digging everywhere. Home foundations. Wells. They even found the original location of the original fort (something that had been lost to ages). Awesome stuff.

Being on the water, the birds took on a ocean/water sort of feel. Osprey seemed common and I even saw a Bald Eagle (the only one for the trip). Fish Crows, with their “American Crow with a head cold” sort of call, were everywhere.

By 5pm, I opted to get back into bird mode and head over to Kiptopeke State Park, on the Delmarva Peninsula, for the night. I needed be along the Atlantic Coast for my next target bird. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel is a total trip! Kiptopeke seems like a pretty cool place but by the time I got there, set up camp and ate, it was dark. Nighthawks called at sunset. After dark, the Chuck-wills-widows started. The shade and cool ocean breezes made for a nice evening. Of course, pulling that tick off my leg was no fun. If I get really sick in 14 days, we will know why!

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