Mo & Terry Smedley


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Appalachian Autumn (2008) Tour

Part 11:  Pamplin Historic Park, Alexandria

This is the end of our travel blog until we return home.  We're leaving tomorrow morning for Centralia via Washington, Chicago, and Portland.  With some luck, our pre-arranged transport van will meet us at the Centralia Amtrak station on Monday afternoon.

Today (Thursday), we made a very short hop from our hotel in Petersburg, VA to the Pamplin Historic Park, which offers several Civil War museums and living history exhibits.  Petersburg is the spot where the Federal (Union) troops made the final and fatal breach of the Lee's Confederate line on April 2, 1965.    Just seven days later, Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox.

The museum is a combination of high-tech multimedia, conventional museum exhibits, and living history presentations.  I elected to walk the approximately two mile trail that winds through the area where the Federal breakthrough occurred.  You can still clearly see the dirt embankments created by the Confederate troops, and in a few places it's quite possible to discern smaller depressions used to hide rifle positions.   One of the more interesting multimedia exhibits was a collection of three-dimensional (stereo) photographs taken around the area in 1865, displayed on a large screen where 3D glasses could be used to view.  This was the first war of which we have a detailed photographic record.  Several pictures showing piles of dead and injured troops littered across the landscape were especially moving. 

The brutality of the Civil War conflicts is hard to fully comprehend.  The Park contained numerous exhibits related to the extreme injuries sustained by both sides.   Amputation was extremely common, as it was the only surgical solution to the shattered limbs that resulted from the large bullets (about 5/8" in diameter) that were used.

We watched a live demonstration of rifle loading and firing.  At the fastest, a Civil War-era rifle could be fired every twenty seconds - for a brief period of time before the rifle needed to be cleaned, or the soldier needed to move or rest.  Of course during those twenty seconds, the soldier preparing to fire was incredibly exposed to shots coming in from opposing troops. 

At the "breakthrough" where the Federal troops crossed the Confederate line, there were approximately 14,000 Federals and 2,800 Confederates.  Having been cut off from food for several days, the much smaller  Confederate lines simply could not fend off the Federal attack.   The troops that were ordered to attack considered it a death sentence.  Many of them wrote their names and home towns on their uniforms in hope that someone would tell their relatives if they were killed during the battle.  I'm still researching the injury and casualty count for this single battle.


A mostly uninteresting picture, except to highlight that it took at least twenty seconds to load and fire the rifle. Pamplin Historic Park offers a Civil War "live-in" for groups of 20 or more.  You dress in period attire, and live in this reconstruction of a typical camp for a weekend.  A recreation of the Hart farmhouse near the embankments, with the "live in" camp in the background. This is the spot where the breakthrough occurred on April 2, 1965.   In the distance, you can clearly see the dirt embankments behind which the Confederate troops were waiting.
This is what the view looked like from behind the Confederate lines.  Here is an example of how clearly you can make out the original embankments in the area. Another view of the embankments. An extremely knowledgeable Amtrak baggage handler at the Petersburg station kept our group entertained with local history.  Notice that only the men were interested in the railroad history - the women were on the other side of the building.
We had a 45 minute wait in Petersburg, so we could watch the CSX freights roll by. The interior of the Amtrak station in Petersburg, Virginia.  It was built in 1954.  Look very carefully at the construction - there are two windows, a speaker above each window pointing in opposite directions, and an obvious line on the ceiling suggested a prior wall.  Can you guess why it was constructed this way? Here's the station looking the opposite direction, which makes the prior separation quite obvious.  Even as late as 1954, in Virginia new buildings were constructed with segregated public areas.  It seems hard to imagine in 2008 that only 50 years ago racial segregation was both legal and common.  This is the view from our Alexandria hotel.  You can see the Amtrak/subway station, and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in the distance.
The GW Masonic National Memorial.  You can see Mo in the lower right corner of this picture. From the (handheld) camera at full telephoto - you can see the US Capitol Building from Alexandria. Pictures taken at our farewall dinner in Alexandria:  (L-R)  Barbara & Carl Whitehouse  (our tour guides), John Downing (New York), Elwin LeFevre (Illinois) John & Laura Bishop (California); Debbie & Bill Peterson (Illinois)
Virginia & Bruce Hibberd (California) William & Donna Kitzmiller (Michigan) Dottie & Paul Waltz (Ohio) Linda & Ed Schwartz (California)
Mary Grant (Minnesota), Paul Cors (Wyoming).  Paul has been on TWENTY SIX tours with Rail Travel Center! Us.