Once again, I violated my “local eats only” protocol and paid the price. A quick bite at Denny's for breakfast was a bust. Service was slow and the eggs were undercooked (come on!). In fact, at one point, I noticed a very, very, very old gentleman waiting at the table next to me. He was dressed in gray and mentioned that he needed to get back the front to repel Burnside's assault at the Stone Wall. Here he is over a century later and he STILL hadn't received his grits. I'm lucky I got mine when I did!
The battle of Fredericksburg is another great example of why idiots should not be in charge. Ambrose Burnside, commander of the Army of the Potomac (the Union) and fresh off some previous idiocy at Antietam (they named a bridge after his stupidity), thought it was a swell idea to send thousands of men across an open field pocked with canals and fences and then up an incline in the face of Confederates who where entrenched behind a stone wall with nine cannon in support. When the first assault was cut to pieces (duh!), he rationalized that the second try would be successful. He thought the same for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth attempts. Thousands were dead or wounded. Not one soldier made it to the wall. Burnside volunteered to lead the final assault but his men talked him out of it. Lincoln accepted his resignation. (Burnside, for the recored, never wanted to be the head of the Army of the Potomac. He had declined the offer twice already. He finally took the position only to prevent someone else from getting it. While a likable guy according to some, a lot of men died because he was basically a dufous.)
Portions of the original stone wall still exist (at left), as does a now unoccupied home used as a Confederate HQ (the marine who was with us during the tour was stunned when he realized the HQ was in front of the line. Welcome to the American Civil War!). It still has some original lumber and therefore original bullet holes from 1862. The program led by the Park Interpreter was very well done. Wow, those interpreters – they know everything.
It was my intention to drive a bit around Fredericksburg a bit on the NPS driving tour. (This town, by the way, is pretty slick. I managed to stay out of dozens of antique stores, many of which occupy buildings that were around to witness the battle in 1862. The bullet holes in the walls prove it.) I first went to Chatham (a NPS site), the site of an awesome house that stood during the battle (and can be seen in the old photos). After watching (and hearing) an actual cannon firing demo (with only half the powder, I might add), I realized I was getting a bit hungry. Hmmmm.
How about the Capital Ale House?! What a great idea!
Folks, if you are into beers like I am, this place is a must. I can't believe what I saw. Over 30 PAGES of beers were on the menu. Thirty! Over 350 different bottles and dozens of tap. It makes Old Chicago and Oak Cafe look like party stores. Have you seen that beer commercial by Heinken with the woman who walk into the closet with all the shoes and then you see the guys walk into the closet with all the beer? It was THAT MUCH beer from all around the world! I almost did the scream and dance like the commercial guys, but I held back. It was a beer guy's Valhalla. Along with my black bean burger, I enjoyed the Blue & Gray Brewing Company's James River Pale Ale (#579). All in all, an average Pale Ale. Great eating atmosphere too. I was fired up for the Stout as well, but it came in a 22 ounce bottle! Wow! That is a lot of beer. So instead, I got the Starr Hill Brewing Company Amber Ale (#580). (It was at this point that I illustrated extreme beer dorkitude. “Are you sure you want it?” she asked? “Well, let me check” as I scrolled through hundreds of beers in my database stored safely on my Netbook). A solid amber ale. Four out of five. Good malty tones throughout with nice balance and body. A super beer for a hot summer day.
After lunch, I drifted over to a pottery store. A vacation goal of mine is to secure a locally crafted ceramic coffee mug from a “destination state”. I now can add Virginia to my collection which already contains Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Montana, and Texas.
I soon drifted my way to the Spotsylvania Court House Battlefield. In May of 1864, 10-13,000 casualties were tallied. For me? I had the opportunity to do something not a whole lot of people get to do...
My mom traces our family history. Through her efforts, we now know that an ancestor, Byron (or Bryan) Buck was a soldier with the 4th North Carolina Infantry. He is my great-great grandfather. It turns out he survived the war (otherwise I would not be here, right?). While he survived the war, he did not do so intact. He lost his right hand at one of the bloodiest hand-to-hand engagements of the Civil War. Gettysburg? No. Antietam? No. Spotsylvania Court House. It was May in 1864.
With the efforts of the park staff (who, in the case of the park interpreter, recognized, with me, a simple fact – Seinfeld is a very dumb show), they were able to show me exactly where his unit fought. (Wow. Again, park interpreters showed me that they know everything!) I found myself not just on the battlefield, but the exact portion of the battlefield in which his unit fought. To this day, some of the Confederate trenches he likely occupied, at a horribly location known to history as the “Mule Shoe salient” (at the Bloody Angle), still exist (at left). It was here that some of the bloodiest fighting on American soil took place. There is even a monument to his brigade's leader (Stephen Ramseur). I can certainly say that we will never know his exact footsteps on that day, but I can at least see trenches that were occupied by members of his regiment, perhaps even him. Incredible - to say the least.
For the record, a "salient" is something that projects from a line or a surface. or something that stands out conspicuously. From a military standpoint, if you have your troops in a straight line and one group comes forward and forms a "bubble" (or in this case, a "mule shoe"), you have a problem. Defending a salient? You simply don't want to be in that position, because you can not get all of your firepower to fire in the same direction. Ultimately, my great-great-grandfather had to bust his butt to stay alive because the powers-that-be created an awkward defensive position.
Elsewhere, somehow, I managed to miss the monument to a Colonel John Sedgwick. His final words are so often quoted in the annals of the Civil War. During the battle, his men were flinching with the constant peppering of sniper fire. Aggravated, he chewed them out, finishing with “They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance!” Seconds later, he fell off his horse with a bullet inconveniently lodged in his head. As a Corps commander, he was the highest ranking Union casualty of the war.
Realizing that I needed to continue to feed my Civil War addiction, I opted to stay in town for another night. For the first time in days, the weather seemed to be accommodating for camping but I was not up for it. I had a date. A second date, in fact, with the Capital Ale house.
I saw earlier in the day that the parking in this town can be tough. I opted for a cab. My smoking, toothless cabbie (I'm not joking) got me there in no time. With the previously mentioned thirty pages of beer to choose from, I gave my waiter the rundown : locally brewed beers only minus the few I had already had. With my shrimp and crab linguini, the Legend Brewing Company Pilsner (#581) was a super addition. Ultimately, it was like no other pilsner. Very, well, flavorful. For an after dinner drink, the Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout (#582) was, well, a bit over done. The oak barrel part was okay but with the vanilla beer it was a bit over powering. The dessert beer was the Summer Ale (#583) from the St. George Brewing Company. A sub-par summer ale. Two out of five.
It is also worth noting that, by this point, most of my mosquito bites (there were many) had transformed into those nasty callous-like red globs (kinda like smallpox), really lessening my interests in camping. Ugh. To add insult to injury, while at the Ale House, I simply moved my netbook a bit on the table in front of me while a wayward wasp managed to be between my finger and the computer. Pow! That “cigarette burn” feel shot through my finger. Needless to say, I got him back with a stinger of my own - the 30-page beer menu...