Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Playing the role of tourist

Every once-in-a while, I get to go and play a tourist - I'm not out researching, or trying to give a talk, or selling a book. A couple of weekends ago, I got to spend a little time in Harrisonburg, Virginia. My darling wife was presenting a paper at James Madison University, and we got to tag along.

After a morning spent at children's museum in Harrisonburg, we headed up the interstate to New Market.  Often I drive up I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and literally pass through the New Market Battlefield. I cannot recall if I had ever actually visited the area; if I had, it would have been in the mid- to late 1980s, possibly during the trip to Gettysburg in 1988.

On arriving in town, "Thing Two" was asleep in the backseat, and so we drove around and visited the two large cemeteries in town: Emmanuel Lutheran Cemetery, and then over to St. Matthew's Cemetery. Both are great old cemeteries and hold the remains of Confederates from the battle. St. Matthews has a large Confederate monument marking the burial spot for many Confederates killed or mortally wounded during the battle, and was also the final resting place of the cadets from the Virginia Military Institute before being reinterred on the campus of VMI.

Figuring that Thing Two had had enough of a nap, we headed to the battlefield. We toured the museum, looking at the uniforms and flags and different displays. It would have been nice to see a little more about the battle, but I understand that they are trying to reach a broader audience. We also watched "Field of Lost Shoes," the short documentary on the 1864 battle. Overall, it was really good, with great interpreters.  I was a little concerned with the whole slave running away bit - it seemed unnecessary and gives into the whole "the Union army got close and the slaves sought freedom" part of popular culture. Was this actually based on a true story from one of the local farmsteads? Is there proof that slaves did run away from their homes on the approach of the Union army getting ready to fight at New Market? How about information on the slaves that chose to remain behind and not run away? Or, is this simply a North Carolina phenomenon?  Oh well...

We spent time touring the battlefield and walking about the Bushong Farm. It was late in the day, and rather cool, so there will be other places to explore in the area on a return visit.

On Saturday, we had a chance to visit Dayton, Tennessee, and the area where Lt. John Meigs, the son of Federal general Montgomery Meigs, was killed. Meigs was out on a scout when he and his companion ran into Confederate scouts. In the very brief skirmish that followed, Meigs was killed. His fellow soldier returned to camp and informed the Federal command Phil Sheridan, that Meigs had surrendered and was killed later. Sheridan ordered one of subordinates, George A. Custer, to burn all the town of Dayton and all of the houses in a three mile radius of the site. Much of the town survived, but many of the farms in the area were torched.

Overall, a great weekend of just touring Civil War sites. Time to get ready for the next adventure.

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