Monday, April 4, 2016

Meeting My Daughter in Petersburg

     Anyone who read my March 28 post No Wonder I'm Broke! knows that we've been doing some spring cleaning at our house. My main job has been to pack up all my daughter's old stuff from the basement and clear it out.

     I consulted her about it by phone and email. I was authorized to throw some of it away. Then I loaded up the car with the rest of it -- about 8,000 pounds of books and boxes, shoes and shirts, papers and other paraphernalia -- and set off down I95 to bring it to her.

This fortification was overrun by Union forces
     My daughter lives in North Carolina, and we arranged to meet in Petersburg, Va., to make the dropoff. We both have also recently developed an interest in the Civil War, inspired by an online course by Yale University Professor David Blight called History 119: The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845 - 1877. If you've got 20-some hours to devote to learning about the Civil War, I highly recommend the lecture. Blight captures the excitement, the sweep and the significance of history, and he even inspired me to go on to read a couple of books including Uncle Tom's Cabin which somehow I'd never read in school.

     I had never been to a Civil War site, and neither had my daughter. She was coming with her boyfriend, and we were staying overnight, but first we decided to meet at the national park in Petersburg and spend the afternoon immersing ourselves in Civil War history.

     In 1864, Lee was retreating through Virginia as Grant tried to encircle his forces and cut them off from the rest of the Confederacy. The two armies fought the Battle of the Wilderness, then they clashed in Spotsylvania and again in Cold Harbor. Each battle was bloody, both sides losing thousands of men, but each time Lee's dwindling forces fought off the Union attack.

The entrance to the tunnel
     The Union army arrived at Petersburg and might have taken the city if it had not hesitated in the face of lightly-manned fortifications. Then, after weeks of stalemate, some mining engineers from Pennsylvania came up with the idea of digging a tunnel under enemy lines, then blowing up tons of dynamite to create a hole in rebel defenses.

     The explosion was set off on July 30, 1864, and blew a crater hundreds of feet wide. Union forces rushed into the breach, but the Confederates regrouped. They slaughtered hundreds of Union soldiers and re-established their lines.

     That set the stage for the siege of Petersburg, as Grant slowly strangled the enemy, until the Union finally took Petersburg on April 2, and then chased Lee to Appomattox where he surrendered on April 9, 1865.

Grant's headquarters
     My daughter, her boyfriend and I spent the afternoon roaming over the battle site, then we drove out to see Grant's headquarters on the James River. Later, we found a barbecue restaurant in the city of Petersburg, now suffering not from the aftermath of the Civil War but from the aftermath of industrial decline. Petersburg has a small historic downtown amidst its urban decay ... and at least one very good barbecue place.

     And then came the denouement to my trip. In the hotel parking lot, we unloaded my car, set the stuff out on the pavement, and then repacked all the boxes, bags, loose books and stuffed animals into her car. We stayed overnight. And then in the morning we waved goodbye -- my daughter to her new house in Raleigh, NC., and me back to B, and our now-less-crowded home in New York.

    

16 comments:

Tabor said...

I do wish my kids were interested in something intellectual where we could share a course, but that is not meant to be.

DJan said...

I know so little about the Civil War, partly because it's all so bloody. But you make me think maybe I should learn more about it. Thanks for the history lesson. :-)

Juhli said...

Since living in the South we have walked a few battlefields and seen what fighting conditions were like. It is amazing that anyone survived but lucky I guess that the accuracy of their weapons was marginal.

I do have to laugh at your hand off of your daughter's belongings. We did the same with the last of my younger son's stuff by showing up with it in our car when we drove to visit him a few years ago. He got a good laugh out of it and lots of baseball cards.

Stephen Hayes said...

I'm a big history buff but I haven't been able to get our son interested in anything other than cars.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Fascinating, Tom! I loved your pictures! It's so nice that you and your daughter share this interest -- and that you got some sightseeing in and had a nice visit while unloading her stuff from your house to hers!

Anonymous said...

To truly appreciate the horrendous conditions of the Civil War one needs to understand that of the approximate 679,000 deaths that were a result of the Civil War, nearly 60% were noncombat related. Instead, caused by disease/living conditions. Mind boggling really...

Olga Hebert said...

My husband was very knowledgeable about the civil war. I miss his passion for that studying.

Pam said...

PBS has some great programming on the Civil War era.

Barbara - said...

I raised two kids in Northern Virginia. Colonial histor is American history is civil war history. I find it fascinating, even though I've been to Gettysburg and Williamsburg ten times if once.

Barbara - said...

I raised two kids in Northern Virginia. Colonial histor is American history is civil war history. I find it fascinating, even though I've been to Gettysburg and Williamsburg ten times if once.

Tom Sightings said...

Well, PBS did the Ken Burns series on the Civil War (now available on Netflix), which I watched a long time ago. Now I've got to get to Gettysburg!

gigihawaii said...

Very interesting history lesson.
Congrats on getting rid of all that stuff.

Jane said...

I encourage anyone to spend a few days in the Fredericksburg area, full of history. I am far from a civil war buff, but I have found the time spent there very moving .

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

Although my father dragged me to all the major Civil War battlefields and some minor ones as well, I only became interested in the Civil War when I discovered a few Union soldiers in my family tree. Although he is half-Russian, my husband's family tree is full of Confederate soldiers, as is my daughter's (sons etc).

Amazing to think Dad never explained why he was so fascinated by this war.

PS. Second great-grandfather Lorenzo, a sharpshooter, was at cold Harbor and Petersburg. As David would put it, the whole famdamliy was in the war, brothers, cousins, uncles, you name it.

Bob Lowry said...

I took that same on-line course about the Civil War and loved it. It was fascinating enough that I got his book from the library and read it too.

joared said...

What a horrible bloody loss of life, our civil war. I surely hope issues never become so pronounced with such unresolved divisions among our states that we go through anything like that again -- though I sometimes think there are those fomenting such, rather than compromising.