Thursday, December 19, 2013

Manassas: Civil War Firsts

Several months ago, we were visiting friends in Carolina Beach, NC and stopped at the Fort Fisher State Historic Site. We visited the site on previous occasions but something clicked with my 6-year old son on this particular occasion. It was there on that visit that my son became interested in all things related to the Civil War.

Living in an RV the last few months has afforded us the opportunity to visit many other Civil War sites to feed his curious mind and fill in facts about a critical period in our nations history. During a recent stay outside of Washington DC, we camped very near the Manassas National Battlefield Park - the site of the very first battle between the union and confederate armies on July 16, 1861. The two armies met here again the following year. In both instances, the union army had to withdraw across Bull Run Creek to escape destruction. The south referred to these battles as First and Second Manassas in reference to the Manassas train junction, while those in the north called them the First Battle of Bull Run and the Second Battle of Bull Run named after the creek the Union troops had to retreat across.
Reconstructed bridge crossing Bull Run Creek
It was at the First Battle of Manassas that Thomas Johnson Jackson got his famous nickname. When it looked as if the union was routing the confederate army, General Jackson brought up his brigade to reinforce the weakening lines of Barnard Bee and two other generals. The story goes that in order to encourage and rally his men, General Bee points to General Jackson and shouts "There stands Jackson like a stonewall! Rally behind the Virginians!" General Barnard Elliot Bee, Jr. is mortally wounded in this battle and becomes one of the first general officers to die in the war while Stonewall Jackson soldiers on to become Robert E. Lee's strong right arm.
Is it just me or does this look like Superman's Dad on a horse?
The visitor center at Manassas National Battlefield Park is situated atop Matthew's Hill a key position during both battles of Bull Run. This location has commanding views of the surrounding area which has been kept much as it was during the battle (with the exception of considerable highway noise). I highly recommend watching the 20 minute video in the visitor center. We attempted to tag along for a tour of the grounds with a ranger but my 5 and 7 year olds did not have the patience for it. The video, which gives a great overview of both battles, was just the right length and held their interest and mine. The entire park is huge, near 5,000 acres with many trails and several interpretive signs. (Note: This property sits at a very busy crossroads and the deer population is huge here. Be cautious when driving this area at night!)
Atop Matthew's Hill 
From Matthew's Hill looking north toward the Stone House and crossroads
Statue of Stonewall Jackson on Matthew's Hill
Jonah pretending to load a cannon on Matthew's Hill
The Stone House where wounded soldiers were cared for
At the First Battle of Manassas, politicos on both sides of the conflict believed that one battle between ground troops would decide the war. Both sides vainly thought their side would sweep the other and the defeated army would immediately concede. At first the Union army appeared to be winning the day but once southern reinforcements arrived the union army was routed. The retreat was orderly until troops, who were mostly inexperienced, 90-day volunteers, found the road back to Washington clogged with retreating spectators and their carriages. This battle showed the nation that this war was not going to be short nor easy for either side. The quote on the plaque below indicates the lesson learned by many during this first battle - that this war would not be easy nor romantic, but terrible and deadly. I had a dim notion about the "romance" of a soldier's life. I have bravely got over it since. 
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Monday, December 16, 2013

Getting Glasses and Going Short

My babies are looking all grown up. Jonah got his first pair of glasses today. And Elisabeth got a short haircut this week.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Mommy's Elves

Helping decorate the Christmas tree at Grammie and Papaw's house.

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Sunday, December 01, 2013

Operation Christmas Lights

We have been staying at my parents during this time of transition given that it is the holidays. Papaw enlisted us to help put up the Christmas lights. He did it all himself last year which is amazing because it's a major operation. We enjoyed helping out this year.
Happy Holidays y'all!

Friday, November 22, 2013

H.L. Hunley: The Civil War Submarine

My son loves the "You Wouldn't Want to....." book series. They are a great introduction into history for young children. One of the first books we discovered in this series was You Wouldn't Want to Be in the First Submarine!: An Undersea Expedition You'd Rather Avoid. Through this book, we were first introduced to the amazing story of the Civil War era submarine, the H. L. Hunley. The Hunley is significant in that it was the first submersible to sink an enemy vessel. While it played only a small role in the American Civil War, it was a major technological advancement of the era. Tragically, three crews of men perished in the operation of this vessel including it's final successful mission against the Housatonic.

After reading You Wouldn't Want to Be in the First Submarine!, my son was interested enough in the story to want to read other books on the subject including Shipwreck Search: Discovery of the H. L. Hunley (On My Own Science) and Secrets Of A Civil War Submarine: Solving The Mysteries Of The H. L. Hunley. I even found an audio version of Raising the Hunley: The Remarkable History and Recovery of the Lost Confederate Submarine (American Civil War) for the whole family to listen to during a family trip. This book covered the 150 year old historical facts around the development and deployment of this remarkable vessel as well as it's recent discovery and recovery off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. It was during the conclusion of this book that I learned about the Friends of the Hunley.

Friends of the Hunley is a non-profit entity that was set up by the Hunley Commission to help raise money for the recovery, conservation, and ultimately the exhibition of the submarine. After a quick internet search, I found that the recovered vessel was housed in Charleston and tours to the public were available. So we decided to make a point of visiting Charleston for the express purpose of seeing the Hunley for ourselves. The tour was well done. Having read and listened to the various sources listed above, though, the tour was mostly a review of what we already knew with the marked distinction that we could see the actual objects mentioned including the steal hull of the Hunley itself.

The Hunley as it appears today
The Hunley is currently housed in a large warehouse looking building where scientists from Clemson University are working to stabilize what remains of the ship so that it may eventually be displayed in an open air exhibit. On the premises of this research site is a gift shop and small interpretive area with models and a full scale replica of a section of the Hunley as well as props from the 1999 TNT movie The Hunley (Tvm).
Inside the full-scale replica; the Hunley was operated by hand cranks
The openings for getting in and out were quite small
The the size of a cross section of the Hunley
If you have any kind of interest in Civil War history, naval history, the history of Charleston, or submarines in general, you will find the facts surrounding the H.L. Hunley most fascinating. You wouldn't want to.... miss out on learning about this enthralling piece of American History and innovation.
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Friday, November 15, 2013

Charleston Area's Premiere Holiday Light Display

Last night, we went to the Holiday Festival of Lights at James Island County Park. The festival has been going on for 24 years and this year began November 8th and ends December 31st.

Note: If you plan to camp at the park during this time, be sure to make reservations well in advance. I wasn't aware of the festival and attempted to make reservations last week for this week and it did not work out.

There are over 700 light displays visible from the comfort of your vehicle as you drive through the winding park roads. There is also a place to park and walk around. We saw a sand sculpture, gingerbread houses, and some light displays that you can't see from the road including a one that blinks to music - my favorite. There is a carousel, train, and climbing wall that require the purchase of tickets. Several large gas fire places are available to warm up and roast marshmallows - $2 marshmallow kits are available at the concession or bring your own. Other concessions are also available. We avoided the Santa Gift shop and Sweet Shop, but they make a nice addition.

Admission is $15 per car (15 passengers or less) seven days a week. Monday through Thursday, if you donate a nonperishable food item, the entry fee is $5 off.

My kids loved it and it put us all in the holiday spirit.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Angel Tree

We are staying just outside of Charleston, South Carolina this week. On our way home from seeing the H. L. Hunley, we decided to take a detour with no particular destination in mind. We ended up in Johns Island, SC where we started noticing signs for Angel Oak "this" and Angel Oak "that." All of the sudden I was reminded of a NPR story that I saw a month ago about the development threat to a huge oak tree that has been around for hundreds of years called the Angel Oak. After a quick internet search on my smartphone, I realized we were in fact in the vicinity of that Angel Oak and set it as the new destination in the GPS. 

My husband had not heard anything about it and was particularly surprised when we we drove up. This sprawling live oak (Quercas virginiana) tree has branches the size of tree trunks; many of which are braced with supports. (If you were over 400 years old, you'd need a cane or two as well!) It is a thing of beauty and history. Just think, it has witnessed not only the founding of our nation but the colonization of a continent. 

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Saturday, November 09, 2013

RV's on the Fort Fisher to Southport Ferry? Yes, but....

After spending a week catching up with friends in Carolina Beach, we took the Fort Fisher Ferry to Southport this morning. We figured that after the 6-hour Newfoundland Ferry crossing, this 30-minute ferry ride would be cake. And, it would have been perfectly uneventful except that the ferryman flagging us during loading nearly had us clip the pilothouse with our awning. Thankfully one of the other ferryman was paying attention and halted our forward movement. We had to reverse and get over a bit more to clear the structure. 

It was $15 because our rig is over 40 feet in length (it's $5 for autos). We probably saved that much in gas, however, and got to enjoy a nice boat ride to boot. We even spotted some dolphin or porpoise during our Cape Fear River crossing.

Our kids enjoying the ride!

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween 2013

The Monarch Butterfly, Navy Seal, and Geisha Girl wish you a Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Perk of Camping at the Fairgrounds

..... on the last night of the North Carolina State Fair. Jonah got to
watch the fireworks from his bunk. Elisabeth, who really dislikes the
noise, was thankfully sound asleep.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Newfoundland in Photos

These were taken in and around Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland in August/September 2013.
Broom Point interpretive area - Gros Morne National Park
From a fishing shack at Broom Point 
The mouth of Bonne Bay 
Vintage snowmobile
Gros Morne Mountain from Bonne Bay Road
Moose Track
East Arm of Bonne Bay from Discovery Center Overlook Trail 
Red Chairs at Discovery Center Overlook Trail Summit 
Woody Point Lighthouse with Gros Morne Mountain in background
Black Fox
Arches Provencial Park
Lewis Pond with the cliffs around Western Brook Pond in the distance

For more Newfoundland posts and pics go here.
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