Spring Skies, Meadows, and Dogwood Blossoms: A Touch Of History
All of the following photographs were taken near my home in Pennsylvania, but they remind me of great events in Virginia in the 1860s!
Smaller than The Rapidan, but it reminds me of it!
Late April and early May brings sunny skies and spring showers. The woodlands and meadows explode with flowers and blossoms as the combination of moisture and warmth sparks a rapid period of growth.
During our Civil War or War Between The States, this period also marked the time that the predominately dirt roads of that period became stable enough for armies to take to the field.
In 1863 and 1864 two great battles were fought just west of Fredericksburg, Virginia.
In both cases the Union Army regrouped from the previous years fighting in the Fredericksburg area and the spring offensive was launched from there.
I mention this today as each year at this time I think back to those happenings. As an avid reader of Civil War History, I came to associate the blooming of the dogwoods and the leafing of the trees with these battles, as many of the accounts of the time give detailed descriptions of the Virginia countryside and they always mention the dogwoods, the leaves, and the calling of the whippoorwill. Although our area is evidently hillier than that part of Virginia there is still a strong resemblance. Surprisingly, I have not visited the area, but am relying on written accounts and current photographs. In the 1860s the wilderness was an area of scrub oak and pine thickets interspersed with small fields. When one was reading the books it was easy to picture the type of terrain, because of the similarity to home, not to mention that the whippoorwill call was frequently heard here back in the 1960s when I started studying the war. It is sad that I haven’t heard one for many years and have no audio recordings of them.
As an aside, The Civil War has always been of particular interest to me, as one realizes that had the been born in that period of time that they would likely have been involved in some of those events and perhaps have died or been seriously injured in them.
The first battle was known as “Chancellorsville”, which ironically was not the name of a town, but rather a crossroads with a large house and most likely some outbuildings, located in a brush overgrown area of Virginia known locally as “The Wilderness”
The Union Army of The Potomac launched its’ offensive on April 27,1863 and came to battle with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, on May 2nd, in fighting which focused around the crossroads area, with other important action taking place nearby also. The battle ended when The Union Army retreated back across The Rapidan on the night of May 5-6th.
There were about 24,000 persons wounded and killed, with an estimated 1,600 killed in action on each side. The Union Army outnumbered the Southern Army by more than 2-1, but Union Commander General Joseph Hooker was completely outgeneraled by Lee.
One year later, in early May of 1864 The Army of The Potomac commanded by General George G. Meade launched another offensive southward in the same general area.
This time the battle was named “The Wilderness” after the area in general and not a specific spot. Again, the odds were heavily stacked in the Union Army’s favor, but this time there was an important difference. Now the newly appointed commander-in-chief of all of the union forces, Lieutenant General U.S. Grant made his headquarters with the Army of The Potomac and made the important decisions, while Meade dealt with the day to day administrative details of the army.
Grant met every bit as much of a disaster in the Wilderness as Hooker did at Chancellorsville, but he was known for being a determined officer. For the first time a union general did not concede defeat and go back north to rest and refit for the next try. This time there was to be no turning back until the end of the war in 1865, and Grant put the Army of The Potomac on the road south where it was involved in another horrendous battle at Spotsylvania Court House, which began on May 8th.
Total casualties were 18,400 for the Union and 11,400 for the Confederates, with more unbelievable carnage in the days to come, as now there were no pauses to regroup.
Sorry for the historical rant! I'll get back to wildlife issues in the days ahead.