Archive for January, 2012

Looking Back– Seeing The Sesquicentenial Through Exploring Richmond, VA

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Richmond District Federal Reserve Bank

December 31, 2011 marked the end of the  Sesquicentenial , the  150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, an event memorialized all across this country as  the nation looked back on its deadliest war,  nearly 700,000 casualties,  more than all of our other wars combined.  The virtual epicenter of the Civil War, Richmond, VA ,  is only a two and a half  hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia so it makes a great week-end getaway trip.  Last fall  my husband and I decided to spend a few days in Richmond and,  in the spirit of the Sesquicentenial, to take  time  to tour some of  its famous Civil War memorials.  Standing on the overwalk  above the  River District’s Kanawha  Canal,  looking east towards the tall office tower of the  Federal Reserve  District Bank  in Richmond’s  bustling downtown area  and south towards the rocky rapids of the James River,  I  would never have guessed  that less than 150 years ago,  this entire spot was caught up in a mighty conflagration as the evacuation of Richmond, on  April 3, 1865,  signalled the near end of  the Civil War.  The morning of April 2nd,  General Robert E. Lee telegraphed  Confederate President Jefferson Davis, notifying him that Lee’s  line was broken in 3 places, concluding   ” I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.”    Ordered by General Ewell,   Confederate troops set to work before evacuating to destroy their  armory, tobacco warehouses, navel vessels  and bridges so they wouldn’t fall into Union hands but  the fires they set  raged out of control.  It  completely destroyed much of the by- then nearly deserted Richmond but was eventually tamed by the Union forces who began occupying Richmond on April 3rd.   Within a week of  Richmond’s  evacuation,  General Lee would surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to  General Ulysses S. Grant’s  Union forces  at  Appomattox, VA.   Within a week of that surrender,  the tragic assassination of President Lincoln on April 14th,  especially tragic for the South as the Reconstruction envisioned by Lincoln was very different from the Reconstruction that ensued.

Tedegar Iron Works, Now a Civil War Museum

The observance  of this 150th  anniversary, the Sesquicentennial,  of the beginning of the Civil War,  was especially poignant in Virginia,  on whose soil almost 80 % of the battles were fought.  Richmond,  one of the South’s most powerful and industrialized cities at  that time,  became the Capitol of the Confederate States of America and its wealth and industrial capacity became crucial to the Confederate military campaign.  Probably no single company was more influential than the  Tredegar Iron Works,  which was the largest company of its kind in the South.  Located on a bluff overlooking the James River and utilizing the river’s water to produce steam and to run water wheels, Tredegar  produced the majority of the artillery pieces and munitions for the Confederacy during the War as well as the  rails for the railroad,  rails which became vital in keeping troops and supplies moving.  Several of the original buildings are still standing at Tredegar,  apparently due to the foresight  of  its owners in hiring nearly 50 armed guards to prevent its buildings from being set on fire during  Richmond’s  1865 evacuation .

Statue of President Lincoln with Son Tad

 The  Tredegar site and the surviving buildings are now a museum and serve as the Visitor Center for the   Richmond National Battlefield Park,  operated by the National Park Service.  It is also the location of the famous statue of  Abraham Lincoln,  sitting with his son Tad,  memorializing  their visit to Richmond on April 4, 1865.   Just to give an idea of the important battles that were fought in and around the Richmond area, the Richmond  National Battlefield Park  self-guided driving tour includes the preserved battlefields of  Beaver Dam Creek battlefield, Gaines Mill battlefield, Glendale battlefield, Malvern Hill battlefield, Drewery’s Bluff battlefield  and the  Cold Harbor battlefield,  all of which have self-guided walking trails winding through them.  
One of  the most poingnant aspects of the museum is its  ” Voices From The Home Front” display, recorded narrations of  letters and diary entries from both soldiers and everyday people written during the War. One letter, written by a young soldier to his father, starts out by saying that  “this is the last letter you shall receive  from me…”,  explaining that he had  been struck  by a large piece of shrapnel and is not expected to survive much longer.  A diary entry from a young Richmond girl noted that  “all of Cary Street is burned and Main Street is on fire”,  that the fire is spreading rapidly,  that she and her friend Flory run to her front  gate almost every minute to see if the Yankees are coming into the city.

Tredegar Museum Cannon

A bronze cannon, actually produced by the Tredegar company,  typically so heavy it took six six draft horses to pull,  plus an exhibit of the ammunitions  used in such artillery pieces is one of  the museum’s most dramatic exhibits.  Precision workmanship, cast from heavy, solid  metal,  it took 6  men to fire that cannon —  2 men on the ammunition supply box,  called a  “Limber Chest”  which was placed well behind the cannon,   1 runner between the Limber Chest and the cannon, 1 loader,  1 rammer whose job was ram the shot in and then, after  firing,  to sponge out the cannon interior to extinguish any remaining sparks  and  an officer whose job was to finalize the location to be targeted, the particular shot or shells to be used,  the degree of elevation of the cannon ( which was determinate of  the range the shot would travel ) and then to actually call the  order to fire.  But what really struck me was the ammunition itself. I had supposed that  “cannonballs”  were solid balls of metal– which they were previously.  But no, by the time of  the Civil War the military machine  had already invented a more deadly product,  a cannonball with  a hollow center which was then filled with 1 inch  munition balls.  Today,  in this  era  of  Hellfire missiles fired from drones, cruise missiles fired from offshore ships, intercontinental ballistic missiles poised at the ready all over the world,  missiles with names like Apache, Viper, Sidewinder and Tomahawk, names heard almost nightly on the news,  it seems like there is a numbness to the destruction of war,  like it’s not even real.  But standing in Tredegar,  looking at the exhibit of the solid cannonball next to the new, “improved”  cannonball crammed to the max with deadly smaller shot,  the escalating  efforts of man to create ever more destructive weaponry came through loud and clear. 

Brady’s 1st Traveling Darkroom

Our final stop in the museum was  the book store, filled to the brim with books and DVD’s about the Civil War and its various campaigns.  The National Park Service actually has created a series of  short, about 50 pages or so,  but informative booklets about various aspects of the War  and we bought  “The Seige of Petersburg“,   which detailed  the decisive  campaign of the War.  Located less than 25 miles from Richmond, Petersburg, VA  was held under seige for  nine and a half months by Grant, resulting  in over 40,000 Union casualties and about 30,000 Confederate casualties.  But when Grant’s army finally broke through Lee’s entrenched lines surrounding  Petersburg,  it was all over but the shouting.   The  Union occupation of Richmond and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox were a direct result of the fall of Petersburg.   The other book I ended up buying  chronicled War  photos  by  Mathew B. Brady.  Brady was the most famous photographer of  his day, if you were an important person you sat for a Brady portrait.  In fact,  one of his portraits  of  Lincoln was used for the engraving for the five dollar bill.   When the War broke out,  Brady set up several horse-drawn mobile photography wagons, including darkrooms,  to photograph all aspects of  various Union campaigns on site,  something never before undertaken.  As he had official permission from Chief of the Army McDowell  to  accompany the Union troops,  effectively Brady was the first military “embedded” photographer.  Entitled “Mr Lincoln’s Camera Man”  by Roy Meredith and printed by Dover Publications  ( ), this book is a tremendous visual accounting of the Civil War and includes  350 photographs taken by Brady during that period which have been reproduced directly from the negatives owned by the Library of Congress. It’s primarily because of Brady that we can look back 150 years later and see much of what really happened during those bloody years.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

On The Eastern Shore of Virginia, January 1, 2012 Dawned Auspiciously Bright And Beautiful

Friday, January 6th, 2012

There may have been  blizzards  raging across other parts of the US  but here on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, January 1, 2012 dawned as a bright and beautiful day which,  ever the optimist,  I took as a sign of good things to come for our area this year !   And it was particularly auspicious for our plans for the day which were to go to Williamsburg  for brunch and a walk  through the  historic area before they take down the Christmas decorations in Colonial Williamsburg’s Restored Area.   Clear blue skies, temps forcast for the mid-60’s — who could ask for anything more for a New Year’s Day stroll  down cobblestone streets in the historic area, a living museum harkening  back to the early 1700’s  ?

Setting off about 11 am, we breezed right along.  Views  from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge were spectacular, water shimmering in the morning sun, seemingly thousands of seabirds out to greet the New Year, soaring gaily above the Bridge, calling to their fellow revelers,  diving for a  fine fishy feast for the holiday.  Out on Rt. 64 west, the roads were nearly traffic free, likely thanks to the ever-popular Rose Bowl parade and we made excellent time, arriving at the luxurious  Williamsburg Inn well in advance of our 1 pm brunch reservation so we took a moment to just sit and relax,  soaking up some sun outdoors on the Inn’s peaceful back patio overlooking  the golf course.

The Regency Room at the Williamsburg Inn is a truly beautiful dining room, filled with soft light streaming in from a full wall of windows running along one entire side, beautifully decorated , lovely and quiet,  just a wonderful restaurant to celebrate the arrival of the New Year,  a  surprise treat from my very thoughtful husband.   But they really outdid themselves with a spectacular brunch buffet,  a true foodie’s delight.   After ordering a bottle of Virginia wine, a  Barboursville  Chardonay, we set off for  the Cold Salads Station where my husband helped himself to some Eastern Shore oysters on the half shell, salty and flavorful, straight from our pristine waters, shucked before his very eyes, while I sampled the marinated shrimp, perfectly chilled,  a smige of Ceasar salad and a tiny wedge of Stilton cheese.   There were so many delicious hot offerings at the Hot Foods Station I had to circle  around twice before I could decide on what to try first whereas hubby loves breakfast and opted right off the bat for  a  slice of  the shrimp, scallop and sausage fritatta, some eggs benedict served with choron sauce and the  grilled fingerling potatoes with carmalized onions.


Following  the long-time  southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck,  I started with some black-eyed pea and ham chowder, smoky and delicious,  followed by 3 cheese ravioli in a sauce of oyster mushrooms, a slice of  breast of duck and a slice of cold prime rib, sliced paper-thin, served with with horseradish cream, all  accompanied by a salad of wild greens and spinach dressed with a luscious vinaigrette,  everything pairing well with our chardonay.   Hubby was back at the Cold Salads Station for another little bit of the  Scottish smoked salmon, which he declared “the best I ever ate” and some of the  Caesar salad.  For my final go-round ( before dessert),   I visited the elaborate Carving Station, opting  for a thin slice of beef  fillet, piping hot, rare and juicy,  along with some of the roasted potatoes.   Even though we  had been taking care  to only have very small tastes of everything, we were both getting pretty full.  But…… I never miss a wonderful dessert if I can help it so I just had to visit the Crepe Station for one of the little crepes, made while you watch, topped with fresh berries and a drizzle of rich caramel sauce.  And I did save room for what I was pretty sure would be the piece’ de resistance,  the Bananas Foster.  Was I right or was I right ??    Expertly wielding  an omelet pan,  Chef’s assistant  Michael Ellis made the best Bananas Foster that I have ever had,  possibly  that I may ever have,  a supreme combination of  banana slices, spices, sugars and rum  flaming nearly to the sky and then dying down into a simmering ambrosial concoction, poured over a creamy scoop of rum raisin ice cream,  the perfect end to a very special  meal.

And then,  off  for our stroll through the historic area, an absolute necessity after all those  Regency Room calories !   For those not familiar with the Colonial Williamsburg  historic  area,  it is the amazing restoration and re-construction of  many of the most important buildings that existed in Williamsburg during the Colonial era including  the Capitol building, the Governor’s Palace and the Bruton Parish Church.  As the capitol of  colonial Virginia, Williamsburg  was a well-known and very important city,  really the center of  commerce and government of the colony as well as the location of most respected college of that era,  the College of William and Mary,  alma mater of  George Washington and  Thomas Jefferson,  among its many  famous graduates.  In the early 1930’s,  John D. Rockefeller and his wife created the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation  ( ) , whose mission was and is to re-create a Colonial era town and educate visitors about life in that period, to be in effect a living museum for  that period of American history.   Re-enactors work and dress in contumes  of the period and speak to visitors about Colonial customs, all of  which is always a lot of fun.  Holiday traditions of the era are observed which is how the door and window decorations of  Williamsburg have come to be so famous.


Virtually every  house in the Restored Area is decorated by a  wreath made  only of material which would have been available and used by residents of that time.  Boxwood, cedar and pine woven into roping,  decorated with fruits, seed pods, plant materials, shells, cloth, etc.  which are the allowable materials for the beautiful wreathes desplayed each year in the Foundation’s  blue ribbon door contest.  Numerous books and articles have been written on how to make a Williamsburg style natural wreath, no plastics, no doo-dads,  just raw materials straight from Mother Nature,  fashioned into a festive, eye pleasing decoration.  It’s  such an easy drive from the Eastern Shore to  Williamsburg and we try to come every year  during the holiday season to see the decorations,  usually eating  in one of the authentic period taverns which serve a menu of 1700’s holiday fare. Sunday happened to be a day when all the horse drawn carriages, elegant reproductions which according to one of the drivers were handmade in Austria ( except for the wheels,  which are fashioned by  Colonial Williamsburg’s very own wheelwright) and cost in the vacinity of $250,000 apiece.  That’s a pretty steep price but  they are truly gorgeous and a 15 minute ride for 4 people costs about $15/ person so it doesn’t take too many years to amortize the investment.  At any rate, there’s  always something new to see in Williamsburg and its   a wonderful way to kick off a brand new year .


(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)