American Civil War: Eastern Theater Tour Report

Following our 2015 Eastern Theater tour in 2015, our guide, Fred Hawthorne wrote a tour diary and you can read this below. 

Day 1: Group pickup at Dulles airport went smoothly. We met with the coach and driver Mike and had drove to our hotel. The group met at 17:30 for a welcoming drink Laura had arranged and a brief introduction where we went over the map booklets previously distributed and discussed special requests. We ate at a nearby restaurant and returned to the hotel by 21:00.

Day 2: Manassas: This proved to be the first of a string of pleasant, sunny and clear ’fall’ days. Following a viewing of the excellent orientation movie "Manassas: The End of Innocence" and the presentation of the lighted map of the 1st Manassas battle, interpretive stands were made at the following sites: Stone Bridge, Matthews Hill, Stone House (saw soldier carvings of Eugene Geer and Charles Brehm on the second floor) and then we went on to Henry House Hill where a short walk was taken. Lunch was at a Subway sandwich shop whereupon we returned to the park and stopped at the Brawner Farm interpretive center and a viewing of their lit map of the 2nd Manassas battle. A short walk up to the site of this fight took place where I gave a talk on the opening of the battle of 2nd Manassas. Upon our return to the coach we made a stop and a walk at the "Deep Cut," and a final stop at the "Dogan House" before departing for Fredericksburg. Our evening dinner was at a Smokey Bones bar-b-que restaurant.

Day 3:  Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville: Our morning started at the lovely Chatham Plantation where I gave a brief overview of the Battle of Fredericksburg while we looked down over the city. We watched a brief video on the history of the home and some free time was given to look around. Stops were made at Prospect Hill, scene of the near-breakthrough of the Confederate position, followed by a stop along the historic "Sunken Road." There we viewed this park’s orientation film and took a short walk to the original section of the stone wall and the Sergeant Richard Kirkland Memorial. To Chancellorsville next and a viewing their orientation film and a look around the small but well done museum. I was made aware of a Park Ranger-led walk to discuss the mortal wounding of General Stonewall Jackson so gave the option of following this for awhile. We then drove out to Ellwood House on the Wilderness battlefield. There we walked to the site of the burial of the arm of Stonewall Jackson and were able to take a brief look inside the old house. Driving back to Chancellorsville interpretive and photo stops were made at Hazel Grove, the Lee-Jackson Last Bivouac, Catharinem Furnace, and the Chancellorsville Clearing. The return to the hotel was made via the scenic River Road. Following freshening at the hotel we returned to town for dinner at the Capital Ale House.

Day 4:  Columbus Day Federal Holiday “The Overland Campaign”: Another sunny and pleasant morning with clear blue skies as we left Fredericksburg and drove out to the Wilderness battlefield to start our visit to the sites of Grant's Overland Campaign of 1864. A stop was made at the Wilderness Shelter and after a brief look around I gave an overview of the Wilderness battle in Saunder's Field. Additional interpretive stops were made at the Widow Tapp farm, and the Brock Road Intersection. Drive by commentary took place at the Higgerson and Chewning clearings and the spot where General James Longstreet was wounded. We then drove to Spotsylvania via Todd's Tavern following roughly the path of the Union army. At Spotsylvania, an interpretive stand was made at the Laurel Hill shelter and we walked to the site of the sharpshooter killing of Union 6th Army Corps commander, General John Sedgwick. An extended stop was made at the Mule Shoe Salient and Bloody Angle.

We continued on past wartime Spotsylvania Courthouse and county jail making a brief stop at Massaponnax Baptist church before acquiring provisions for the trip south via Guiney Station and the Park location known as the "Stonewall Jackson Shrine." There I allowed the resident park ranger to tell the group about the house and the last hours of the General. All viewed the various rooms in the small cottage. Having gained about an hour on my schedule I stopped at Ox Ford County Park and offered an optional and fairly rugged walk back into the woods to see some well preserved earthworks from the Battle of Ox Ford or North Anna. We continued driving south making a brief stop at Yellow Tavern and the memorial to fallen Confederate Cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart. Our final goal this day was to get to Cold Harbor before the visitor contact station closed at 16:30. Arriving shortly after 16:00 we watched both the program on the June 1862 battle of Gaines' Mill and the program on the 1864 battle of Cold Harbor. I walked a short distance down to show the extensive earthworks and we boarded the coach for a quick ride down and two interpretive stands: Confederate advanced entrenchments and the monument of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery -sacrificed during the attacks here. A short ride across the James brought us to our Chester hotel to which we arrived at 17:30. Dinner was at an Outback restaurant -we returned to the hotel by 21:10.

Day 5:  Richmond: We set out a bit earlier (08:15) than planned to visit Hollywood Cemetery, the burial place of some 18,000 Confederate Veterans, the burial site of J.E.B. Stuart, and the burial site of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. A quick photo stop was made at the the falls of the James River and the classic view of Richmond. We then headed to the old Tredegar Iron Works via Richmond's scenic Monument Avenue. I arranged for the group to visit the Civil War Center Museum at Tredegar as well as the Richmond National Park Visitor Center. We then drove up to the Museum of the Confederacy where a tour was arranged of the "White House of the Confederacy." Mike dropped us there at 11:20 and our house tour was scheduled at 11:45 so a short visit to the museum and store was made by many.

En route out of the city we made a photo stop at the site where supposedly Richmond was named by an early settler who likened the view to that of Richmond-upon-Thames. Several concurred it was similar. The balance of the afternoon was spent with brief stops or pass-bys at the various fields of the Seven Days' Campaign of 1862: Savages Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill. Upon our return to the hotel at 17:40 many enjoyed a complimentary drink. We left the hotel at 18:40. A nice dinner was had at a chain restaurant (Red Lobster) and a return to the hotel by 21:35.

Day 6:  Petersburg: We departed at 08:15 and our first stop was at a Sheetz convenience store to obtain provisions for the troops whereupon we drove the short distance to City Point and a walk out to the little cabin used as a headquarters by Ulysses Grant -supreme Federal commander. At the park proper the group assembled to watch the orientation film. Four people accompanied me on a short walk to Battery 5 and the famous Dictator siege mortar while the rest shopped or looked around the Visitor Center. Along the Eastern Front battlefield we made a stop at the park's restored fort to see how these fortifications really looked when originally dug. Two other battle stops were made at Fort Stedman and the famous Crater before arriving at Blandford Church and a scheduled viewing of the Memorial Stained Glass windows that honor of the Confederate states and their soldiers. Our last stop was at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier at which we arrived at 13:10. A brief stop was allowed in the bookstore and we met Christine, our guide of the site for a four hour tour. The musket firing demonstration was a particular hit. Having a bit of time before dinner Mike drove us to nearby Fort Fisher which was the largest earthen fort on the Petersburg front. It is in particularly fine condition and I led a walk out to the bastions. Dinner was at the Bistro and Market and Main to which we arrived at 15:45. We returned to the Chester Hotel by 20:50.

Day 7:  Appomattox: Another beautiful day. It was sunny albeit a tad cooler than previous days. Our first stop after checking out of the hotel was the remote death site of Confederate Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill. We then drove out past the White Oak Road battlefield to Five Forks. This little visitor facility is often overlooked due to its remoteness. But it is wonderful as it has a variety of weaponry and munitions that are reproduction and thus allowed to be handled so all enjoy feeling the actual weight of a rifle or a carbine or to draw and wield a sabre or pistol. We viewed the film and then drove to the actual Five Forks crossroads where we dismounted and I briefly laid out the battle that forced General Lee to abandon the Richmond-Petersburg front in April of 1865. We, like Lee, then drove west using U.S. 460 about an hour to Sailor's Creek -site of the last major battle of the American Civil War and where a large number of Lee's retreating men were captured. At the Sailor’s Creek State Park the Park Ranger gave a nice intro to the battle, a brief time was allowed to look around the small but well done museum, and a photo stop was made at the Hillsman House. We drove into Farmville where we, like the Confederates, obtained provisions.

We then continued to Appomattox. Forty-five minutes was spent at the
Appomattox division of the Museum of the Confederacy and then we drove a short distance to the actual park arriving in time to view the Surrender movie. I walked with the group to the McLean house where the surrender took place and then to the Surrender Triangle where I described the process of the laying down of arms ceremony. Park maps were distributed and all were left to explore the village according to their individual interests. I circulated from site to site keeping an eye on all and answering questions and directing them to other points of interest. We met Mike at the coach at 17:00 and were in Lynchburg at our hotel by 17:40. Our evening meal was two blocks away at Main Street Eatery to which we walked.

Day 8:  Lexington and the Shenandoah Valley: We ate breakfast out today and by 0840 we were en-route over the Blue Ridge to Lexington and it was a beautiful fall morning with crisp color starting to come out in the trees. Much of the route was along the scenic James River. Following a restroom break we headed up to the Stonewall Memorial Cemetery and visited the gravesite of Stonewall Jackson and his family. We then were dropped off at Washington and Lee College where we were taken into the Lee Chapel where General Robert E. Lee and his family are entombed. The docent was a pleasant southern Lady and she gave a traditional talk to our group before releasing us to explore and take pictures. Our group had to walk onto the campus of the Virginia Military Institute where the cadets were undergoing Physical Education on the parade ground. I briefly pointed out some of the various buildings: John Marshall Museum, old Barracks, the Commandant’s House, the famous statue: “Virginia Mourning Her Dead” and the graves of the cadets killed at New Market, and finally the Cadet Chapel and Museum. We then drove down the Valley to our next stop of the day: New Market. This was a perfect day to view the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

We arrived at the VMI Hall of Valor at 14:00 and saw their film and had a short look around the building. We drove over to the "Field of Lost Shoes" and I pointed out key points of this site. The day ended with a Skyline Drive over the Luray Gap and up on top of the Blue Ridge where all were able to enjoy the beauty from the several
stops we made at Hazel Mountain Overlook Hogback Overlook, and Range View Overlook. As we neared the end of the mountain trail it was near sunset and we were treated to a gorgeous Shenandoah Valley sunset -perhaps a once in a lifetime experience for many on board. Sunset was at 18:36. We were at Picadilly's restaurant in Winchester, Virginia at 19:21 and following a lovely meal at our hotel and checked in by 21:20.

Day 9:  Winchester and Harper's Ferry: We awoke this morning with a somewhat overcast sky -our first. Yet our resident forecasters on board insisted it would all break and our stretch of nice weather continue. It did indeed get clearer as the day went on. We quickly drove south along Interstate 81 to U.S. 11, the old Valley Pike, so I could show the group Bell Grove Plantation House and the Cedar Creek battlefield. A brief explanation of the battle was given en route. As they were setting up for the 151st Reenactment of the battle all could see the campsites as we drove along. We stopped at the National Park contact station in Middletown to view the overview lighted map of the Cedar Creek battle. As we drove back along the Valley Pike to Winchester I pointed out the approximate sites of the battles of 1st and 2nd Kernstown and explained their chronology in the war. Shortly after we also passed the area where 1st and 2nd Winchester were fought. We arrived at 10:00 at Stonewall Jackson's Winchester Headquarters where the general lived with his wife in the winter of 1861-1862. Many of the General's personal possessions were inside and the docent gave a thorough tour. She actually spent extra time with us as we did not depart until 11:20 -about an hour and a half tour of seven rooms. At 13:30 following a leisurely lunch we departed for Harper's Ferry National Park.

En route I explained the significance of the town: the violent abolitionist John Brown's Raid in 1859, the pre-war use of the Ferry as a rifle manufacturing facility and embarkation point for westward explorers, its use as a Confederate training center in 1861 and the significant battle during the Maryland Campaign of 1862. I walked the group to the point of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and then led four on a climb up the hillside to Jefferson Rock. This being the anniversary of the John Brown raid there was quite a bit of commemorative activity in town and all were able to explore until 16:00 when we departed to retrieve our coach. We arrived in Gettysburg about 17:30.

Day 10:  Antietam Campaign: Throughout the day it was partly cloudy but a stiff breeze made the wind chilly at times and uncomfortable for long stands. We left at 08:30 for Monocacy National Battlefield -site of an 1864 battle but also the location where Special Orders 191 were lost by the Confederates and found by the Union precipitating the Antietam or Maryland campaign. I gave the group a short half hour in the museum and then we convened briefly outside where I talked about the finding of the orders. We then following the armies to the South Mountain passes. Stops were made at Crampton's Gap and the War Correspondent's Arch and we drove up and over both Fox's and Turner's Gaps. Arriving earlier than scheduled I made an unplanned stop at the Pry House farm where I explained the overview of the battle of Antietam from Union General McClellan's perspective. We arrived at the Visitor Center at 11:40 and viewed the noon showing of the orientation film. Our early stops on the field were photo stops: Poffenberger Farm and North Woods, Mansfield Wounding Site and East Woods. At each of these stops brisk winds made outside standing uncomfortable so I spoke on the coach and then let them off for pictures. By the time we reached the historic Cornfield and the West Woods the wind abated allowing us to get off for a more extended stop. A quick stop at the VC for restrooms and we drove / walked over to the Dunker Church. I offered an optional walk of about one mile to follow the Union approach to the Sunken Lane. All but three chose to come along and by now the weather had warmed and the walk was pleasant. We got to the lane and met our other party and I talked of the lane's defense and capture. We then proceeded to the historic Burnside Bridge -closed for structural repair, a stop at the final assault area and the National Cemetery. En route we made a promised photo stop at a surviving slave auction block. We departed at 16:45 and drove a particularly scenic route to dinner and the lovely fall colors were highlighted by the setting sun. We were about twenty minutes early for dinner arriving about 15:40 but they were happy to accommodate us. This dinner was at the Carriage House restaurant, returning to the hotel by 20:30.

Day 11:  Gettysburg: Our long-anticipated Gettysburg day dawned bright and warming and everyone was up early and eager to go. We left at 08:30 and visited the following with extended stops: Culp's Hill, Oak Hill, North Carolina Memorial Area, Little Round Top, Sickle's Salient drive-through. We then returned to the Virginia Monument area where we dismounted to commence our traditional "Pickett's Charge" walk. We had noon tickets for the Movie/Cyclorama presentation at the National Park Service Visitor Center
and following those each had free time to explore the museum, grab a bite to eat in the dining saloon or shop. At 15;00 we met up again and drove to the center of town to the David Will's house and spent 45 minutes learning about the visit of Lincoln and the Gettysburg address. Our farewell dinner was in the "Spinning Room" of the Dobbin House as has become traditional. Hotel arrival was 21:20.

Day 12:  Departure: Luggage was loaded and we bid adieu to the hotel at 09:00 for the Gettysburg National Cemetery. I walked the group from the Baltimore Street entrance showing them key sites related to the burials and the site where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. We next drove to our final stop at the Shriver House. The docent there gave the usual well-presented tour I have come to expect. I believe all thoroughly enjoyed it. We left for Washington at 11:21. En route we stopped for a leisurely lunch at Barley and Hopps in Frederick. The restaurant I had originally planned to use (Mimi’s Café) had closed for business so this was chosen and all said they enjoyed it. We then left for Washington at 13:51, a bit later than planned. We still managed stops at the Marine Corps Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. I had purchased shuttle tickets so we could all quickly get to the sites we wished to see including the Kennedy grave. We drove then to the Lincoln Memorial at 18:00 and gave all a half hour to visit and photograph. During that time the sun was setting over Arlington and the Potomac and the view was marvelous. All were back onboard at 18:30
prompt and we departed the city. We were at Dulles Airport by 19:05 and I saw all clients and Laura through the luggage drop and to the security checkpoint by 19:28.

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