Virginia Battlefield Tour
Knock another item off on the bucket list. About two months ago several friends and I decided to take a motorcycle adventure deep into the Virginia heartland. What beautiful countryside we were about to enjoy. When I told my editor about those plans and the story line that would follow; she said in a very affectionate and somewhat envious way that she hated me. Not literally, just figuratively.
We had a basic plan of where we wanted to go, but didn’t develop the overall itinerary until the day of our departure. As time and opportunity presented itself, we did very well at achieving that goal. We left Mifflintown a little later than originally planned, but were still able to get underway around 2:00 in the afternoon. Our first destination was Harpers Ferry. We arrived just before dusk and were able to briefly check out this important cross road that was highly contested throughout the “War between the States.” Check out www.johnbrownraid.com .
Part of the purpose of this trip was to do the male bonding thing. Another part of the trip was to ride through some of the most beautiful country that Virginia had to offer. These areas were where the 148th Pennsylvania Voluntary Infantry and the “Army of the Potomac” either passed through or fought during those painful four years. This trip we were trying to cram a lot of stops into the two day ride as we could possibly find. With only a map and some keen observation we found most of what we were looking for. We eventually checked into a room about 8:30pm; then went to some red meat establishment for a very late dinner. The overall day was wonderful with lots of sun and a breeze blowing mostly at our back.
5:45am we arose to 32-34 degree temperatures, with the assurance of very unseasonably mild weather for the rest of the day. When we left the motel about 7:30 we crossed the Shenandoah River and were greeted by an amazing sight, an omen if you want to believe it that way. As we reached the center of the bridge a American Bald Eagle flew about 30 feet over our front. He was so close that I could see its eyes. We pulled onto the shoulder of the bridge to watch for its return, but we watched it as it disappeared downstream into the Potomac River. I have seen this convergence of two rivers before, but this was the most wonderful by far.
The morning air was very cold and we stopped once so I could warm my fingers up on the exhaust pipe. When we arrived at our first destination, Haymarket, the sun was shining the air getting much more friendly. We stopped at a Sheetz for a break and to ask the locals for info. We found the Haymarket has no historic markers to indicate what happened there; neither did Gainesville another area where 148th fought. We were somewhat disappointed, but proceeded to Manassas Battlefield where we saw the troop movement of that first battle major struggle of the war took place. Here we got info on the Bristoe Station Battlefield, then visited that site with more info than we would have had if we hadn’t gone to Manassas first. At Bristoe Station the 148th and the 2nd Corp were heavily engaged with Mississippi and Alabama in the afternoon till dusk. With thousands of causalities on both sides, the federal army withdrew to Centreville to lick their wounds.
Brandy Station was our next destination and here again, very little can be seen, except a few roadside markers. However, while searching for the battlefield we found something not on our schedule. We found a place called the Graffiti House. After the battle at Brandy Station as with many battles local homes were used as hospitals. This house held both federal and confederate wounded. They must have been there for quite a long period of time; because during their recovery time they found the time to leave their mark on the upstairs walls of this home. Much had been forgotten and coverd with wall paper over the years and it wasn’t until the 1990’s that the house was being torn down and the writings rediscovered. Many drawing and names have been preserved in this house that was once slated for demolition. I found out that a distant cousin, Thomas John Husler had been at Brandy Station with the 16th PA cavalry and I was asked to put his name and unit on modern wall reserved for ancestors of soldiers who fought here. What an honor to remember this soldier. I have a picture that was taken while writing down his name. All I can say is what an honor it was to have known that piece of family history. Check out this site www.brandystationfoundation.com .
Next stop was Kelly’s Ford. Here again was a place where both armies used to ford the creek. This was a time before our nation started building the bridges we now have. We got our feet wet as a tribute to the boys who actually waded in deeper waters during their crossings.
Mine Run is another battlefield that shows no sign. Here we met a kindly, talkative old gentleman who knew where some of the old breast works still existed. We followed him for a couple miles and he showed us where the battle took place. He didn’t have many details of what happened there, but told us what he could. This man I’ll call Uncle Dan was one of those characters that every community has. One interesting thing about Dan was that he was driving a very nice looking 1949 Ford F-1. Parked beside him where we first met was a Ford F-350. He told us that this pickup was his trucks great grandson. We found him to be very amusing and were glad to have met him.
The Wilderness and Spotsylvania were just down the road a few miles so we visited them until after dark. We then rode another 60 miles to Charlottesville, checking into a room about 10:30.
The next morning we wanted to be on the Skyline Drive before 9:00am. We filled up with fuel, paid the ten bucks admission and spend the next 105 miles overlooking road side vistas that were breath taking. We did very little hiking, choosing to look and drive the distance which took us over 6 ½ hours. I took several pictures from the mountain overlooking the valley, ridge and mountain tops. The most valued piece of video that was taken was filmed by a friendly stranger. This extremely nice gentleman named John Guy and his family was from Gloucester, Virginia. He overheard me saying that it would nice if we could get all three of us in a video riding down the road. Guess what? He volunteered to do it for us. We followed them to the next roadside stop. It was great.
I also wanted to mention how cool it was riding on roads that were named after our earliest presidents, Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe; all good Virginians. The Constitution Highway was there as well. The low land and mountain were absolutely beautiful and the weather equally wonderful. Unspoken bond of guys with like interest, riding for long periods of time without a word, seeing the sights and breathing the cool air stirred the senses to their extreme. All this has become a memory, its price insignificant compared to what we gained from the experience. The entire adventure ridden with friends was priceless…
Donald E. Husler Jr. 968 Airport Drive, Mifflintown, PA 17059-8414