Virginia is a paradise of history and gardens. Lush forests and gardens worthy of the Garden of Eden are found in every direction. Even the congested northern part of Virginia, so close to Washington, D.C., is covered in natural parks and dense woods populated by critters and vermin.
I often wondered how liberals have captured the most beautiful places in the country and turned them into bastions of progressivism. There is little trace of the former America-loving glory, save for the historical sites that draw thousands of conservative visitors who come to pay their respects to the forefathers who established America, fought for its existence and its freedom, making it an exceptional place for two and half centuries.
My brief journey started on the first highway going south. As the congested and metropolitan northern part of Virginia faded into my rear-view mirror, the landscape became hillier and rural. Corn, soy beans, and dairy producing farms dotted the countryside, mixed with the occasional gentrified, multi-million dollar, well-manicured horse farms with mansions on the hill. Acres and acres of land with expertly mowed grass and few horses in sight were surrounded by white picket fences. No actual agricultural activity was visible, nothing to spoil the picturesque view, worthy of a town and country magazine cover. These were the “penny loafer” farmers who use and rent horses for exercise and pleasure. Closer to Charlottesville, beautiful vineyards with grapes ripening on the vines, advertised wine tours.
South of Fredericksburg, I encountered the first historical sign commemorating the Campaign of 1781 of the Revolutionary War. The Marquise de Lafayette marched through the Wilderness Run to meet with Brigadier General “Mad Anthony” Wayne. They camped south of Wilderness Bridge on June 3, 1781 not far from Ellwood. He reconnoitered the area the next day before marching south, across the Rapidan river. During his Grand American Tour, Lafayette retraced his campaign and visited the Wilderness twice. In November 1824 Lafayette attended a reception at the Wilderness Tavern and in August 1825 had breakfast in Ellwood.
From highway 3 turning left to VA 20 south, dubbed the Constitution Highway, several markers and historical places from the Civil War stood out: the Wilderness Battlefield in Orange County and Chancellorsville Battlefield. Tall grasses and weeds slowed my steps across the field.
In spite of the thick woods that offered good cover, Confederate Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was wounded on May 2, 1863 by three musket balls that destroyed his left arm. Treated at a field hospital at Wilderness Tavern, five miles back, the general did not fare too well. Doctors had to amputate his arm the next day. Transported 26 miles to Guinea station, Gen. Stonewall Jackson never made it to the train to Richmond. He died of pneumonia on May 10, 1863 on a plantation. He is buried in Lexington, VA. As General Robert E. Lee said, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.” A granite marker on the Ellwood plantation memorializes simply, “Arm of Stonewall Jackson, May 3, 1863.” A boulder and a granite column remind visitors of the Chancellorsville Battlefield where Stonewall was wounded. Another marker was erected near the building where he had died. Although bugs are biting me viciously, I walk gingerly on the hallow ground soaked with the blood of many soldiers. There is no rain that can ever wash away their ultimate sacrifice.
Half a mile west of Roger’s Farm on Middle Hill, Gen. Robert E. Lee kept his headquarters from Dec. 1863-May 1864. His army guarded the south side of the Rapidan River. In Culpeper County, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Major Gen. Gorge G. Mead trained the Army of the Potomac for Spring Camp. I tried to picture the encampment, the tents, and their daily lives.
Luisa County formed in 1742 and named for the Queen of Denmark was residence to Patrick Henry for several years. The cavalry battle of Trevilians was fought in this county in 1864.
In a thick corn field, a sign reminds travelers who care to stop, of Maury’s School, a classical school led by Rev. Maury, rector of Fredericksville Parish from 1754-1769. Thomas Jefferson was one his students. Maury’s grandson was Matthew Fontaine Maury, “The Pathfinder of the Seas.”
Matthew Fontaine Maury devised a system of recording data from naval vessels and merchant marine ships which was adopted worldwide. He published in 1855 the first textbook of modern oceanography in 1855, The Physical Geography of the Sea.
Close to a rural airport there was a sign indicating the location of the Bloomsbury estate of the pioneer James Taylor, ancestor of Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor. James Taylor was a member of Spotswood’s Expedition over the mountains in 1716.
General Sumter, born in this region on August 4, 1734, was a member of the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War, and served as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army (1776-1778) during the Revolutionary War. He was associated with the Civil War because Fort Sumter was named after him. As a Brigadier General, he helped defeat the British in the Carolinas. He served as a Congressman and as Senator.
A stately road flanked by very old trees leads to Ash Lawn-Highland, the home of James Monroe, fifth president of the United States. James Monroe and his wife Elizabeth purchased in 1793 1,000 acres adjoining Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The plantation was called Highland and eventually grew to 3,500 acres. Highland was the main residence for James Monroe and his family from 1799-1823; it was enlarged and renamed Ash Lawn-Highland by subsequent owners. The estate is now owned by Monroe’s alma mater, the College of William and Mary.
A highly accomplished American, James Monroe is best known for the foreign affairs “Monroe doctrine.” He was also Governor of Virginia for four one-year terms, U.S. minister to England, France, Spain, U.S. senator, and secretary of state and war.
Not far from Monticello, the residence of Thomas Jefferson, our third president, is the Montpelier estate of James Madison, our fourth president, and his wife Dolley. President Madison and his wife were frequent visitors at the Monticello plantation. Because their home was twenty miles from Monticello, they often spent the night in one bedroom reserved especially for them in the Jefferson’s mansion.
Thomas Jefferson and his beloved Monticello deserve a separate description. On the day I retraced history and his genial imprint on America, a two-hour thunderstorm prevented visitors from reaching the top of the hill. Fear of lightning strikes and insurance policies forbade access to the estate and plantation.
Not far from our capital is another historical wonder, Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington, our first president, an architectural jewel overlooking the Potomac River. I wrote a column about my visit to Mount Vernon in the spring. (http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/45854)
I walk through history often (http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/42829)
It is a source of comfort, happiness, and pride to learn and discover new things about my adopted country, retracing steps of great men and women.
I am an American by choice and I never consider patriotism an inconvenience. I do not take for granted our wonderful nation and the freedom and opportunities that it provided me. I owe a debt of gratitude that I cannot possibly repay to all Americans that came before me. I can try to make America a better place for our children.
I feel blessed and I am in absolute awe that in an area of approximately 100 miles from my home, there is so much history of our country. Virginia’s soil was literally soaked with the blood and sweat of so many famous and ordinary Americans who have shaped who we are as a nation.