Great Falls Park

Virginia: Part VI

…Continued from Part V:


Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park – Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania is one of the bloodiest areas in the country. This area is home to four major civil war battles: The Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-13, 1862), The Battle of Chancellorsville (April 27-May 6, 1863), The Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-6, 1864), and The Battle of Spotsylvania Court House (May 8-21, 1864). These four battles together caused over 105,000 causalities.

Today, you can visit the battlefields of all four battles. This is a wide area, and will take you the entire day. On our visit, we focused on the battle of Chancellorsville. Chancellorsville has always fascinated me, as it was site that Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was shot while doing scouting on the frontline by his own people. His arm had to be amputated and his prognosis was looking good, until he got pneumonia. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, a decorated veteran of war, was dead on May 10, 1863 just one week after his fatal shot. The battle at Chancellorsville was a long battle; this battle was fought with endurance and strategy. Robert E. Lee and Jackson strategically positioned their troops, which included a 12-mile hike through the night. It paid off for the Confederacy, they won this battle and were able to chase Union troops back North. The victory was bittersweet for Lee due to the loss of his most trusted general. Lincoln was again shocked by another defeat for the Union, and prepared to deliver the news to citizens who were losing interest in continuing the war. It was a few months later that victory at the Battle of Gettysburg reinvigorated the Union.

While on our visit to Chancellorsville, we enjoyed the orientation film (22 minutes, $2.00), as well as the museum. We also walked around and saw the spot where Jackson was mortally wounded, as well as a monument dedicated to him. Steve always teases me when we view battlefields, because I feel so deeply connected to the stories of the soldiers. Afterwards, I feel a sense of loss and sadness. I feel this way about Thomas Jackson. Thomas Jackson was recently a new father at the time of his death, deeply religious, a veteran of the United States Army during the Mexican war, and a professor at VMI. Although not a perfect man, still a man, and his untimely death was a huge loss to the Confederates, to his family, to his students and the nation. I wonder how different the war would have been if he didn’t die.

Stonewall Jackson Monument
Stonewall Jackson Monument

 

James Madison’s Montpelier – Located in Orange, Virginia, is the heart of the U.S. Constitution. James Madison is best known as the Father of the Constitution, architect of the Bill of Rights, and the fourth President of the United States of America. Prior to his presidency, he served as Secretary of State for President Thomas Jefferson, and prior to that he served as a member of the United States Congress. James Madison co-authored The Federalist Papers, which helped promote the ratification of the US Constitution. He was also the first president to lead the nation into war (the war of 1812 against Great Britain).  James Madison was married to Dolley Madison who served as the hostess for both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison during their presidency, making her a staple in the Washington social scene for 16 years. You might also remember Dolley saved valuables from the White House when the British set fire to it. James Madison was extremely studious. He knew how to read 6 languages, and studied various topics such as astronomy, botany, medicine, and governments. It was during his time in the library James Madison started developing the works of the constitution.

James Madison’s home, Montpelier, is now available for tours. The Madison family had bought the land in 1723. James’ father, James Sr., built Montpelier in 1763. Throughout James’ life, additions were made to the home to contain the expanding family and to reflect James’ growing stature. After James Madison’s death, Dolley was forced to sell the property and move to Washington DC. The land changed hands numerous times until 1901, when the DuPont family bought it.   The DuPont family enlarged the house, but preserved the grounds. In 1984 after the death of the last DuPont heir, Montpelier was transferred to the National Trust for Historic Preservation per the will. Since then, The Montpelier Foundation has been hard at work to restore the mansion to its state in the 1830s.

We bought the Signature Tour package, for $20.00. This package allowed us to walk the grounds, the family cemetery, the gardens, the orientation film, and the mansion. The family cemetery has a monument for both James and Dolley Madison. The mansion tour, although not as impressive as Mount Vernon, gave us a lot of insight into James Madison. The Montpelier Foundation is still working hard to obtain original furnishings, and timepieces for the mansion. They have teams scouring books, invoices, and anything that can give them any understanding into how the mansion looked during Madison’s time living there. During our visit, there were teams of archeologists working on a dig where the kitchen would have been. We couldn’t help but notice the most amazing views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Madison’s front yard – it is no coincidence that Madison felt at peace there.

James and Dolley Madison Graves
James and Dolley Madison Graves
Montipiler
Montipiler
View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Montipiler
View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Montipiler

 

Great Falls of the Potomac – Located between Maryland and Virginia, Great Falls is a great destination for hiking, history and beauty. For thousands of years, Native Americans used this area for fishing and trading. It was once home of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Patowmack Canal. In more recent years, it also had carousels and other forms of recreation. Now, a historical park, you come here now to enjoy nature and remember history.

We spent an hour on the Virginia side going to all three overlooks to the falls. Sparky enjoyed going on the small trails. There are plenty of trails if you are up for a hike. Sadly, we didn’t get lucky with fall colors. We drove about 20 minutes to go to the Maryland side. This is where you can view the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, see canal locks, an old tavern, and view the falls. In Spring 2017, there will be an actual canal boat restored for patrons to ride. The view of the falls on the Maryland was nice, but not as spectacular as the Virginia side.

Great Falls Park
Great Falls Park
Sparky @ Great Falls Park
Sparky @ Great Falls Park
View from the Observation Deck @ Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP
View from the Observation Deck @ Chesapeake and Ohio Canal NHP

 

What’s Next

We leave tomorrow morning to New York City! This will be my first time in NYC and I can’t be more excited! We have already booked tickets to Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty, and Top of the Rock observation deck. We have a lot planned to see, as well as visit with friends!

We will be leaving for Colombia on November 2nd.

We will keep you posted!

Andrea

Loves adventures with Steven, family & friends. If not adventuring with loved ones, I am usually running half marathons, reading books, trying new food, cuddling with Sparky, Brady or Tachy, hiking, playing ice hockey, or rooting for a local bay area sports team. “...when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

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