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Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield

Hike Summary

Wintry still, and another trip to a battlefield. The previous week was a total loss all round: although I’d gone for a drive, I ended up not taking many pictures and was just generally feeling like crap that week, so that explains the lack of posting.  The winter blues I suppose.

So, the Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield is one of 4 battlefields that make up the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. It covers a huge part of two counties and a city, and I had a hard time at first getting my bearings with the whole thing. It was a little difficult to figure out where to get started, because unlike many of my other hikes, there was no preplanned route for me to follow from the wonderful people at Hiking Upward.

It took a bit of research on finding which park actually had a decent length loop hike, and Spotsylvania was the place. I did want to stop by the visitor center first though, so that is where I directed my GPS to go. The visitor center is in old town Fredericksburg, a place that I really need to spend some more time just exploring. My previous experiences have been limited to the movie theater that is located off of the interstate that we’ve been to a few times, but if the avalanche of tourism info I received from them is anything to go on, there’s a whole lot more stuff to do than meets the eye.

So, the visitor center was a bit gutted to say the least. All of the displays were currently removed and so there really wasn’t anything to see there. However, I got some helpful additional brochures, including interpretive directions for the Bloody Angle Trail, which was part of my hike. I also decided to stop in the gift shop, because I’m a sucker for gift shops and always like to buy things if they’re any good.

Again, no good stickers for my laptop. I continue to be disappointed in this regard. However, I did run across something that I was almost forced to get, and my inner 10-year-old is very happy:

A National Parks Passport. This is possibly a silly thing to have, but it’s also neat. It’s a little spiral bound book where you can get cancellation stamps of all the parks you’ve visited. Pretty much every National park has a cancellation stamp somewhere, and my inner completionist now has me wanting to revisit all the parks I’ve been to.  There are a lot of National Parks I’ve been to in this area, even if not all of them have hikeable places, but I am more than happy to go back again.

While I was there also I hiked around the very short Sunken Road walking tour, which was interesting, with a lot of ruins and foundations, as well as a hawk that I attempted to get a clearer picture of.

Legs stretched, we made our way to the Spotsylvania Battlefield, which was about a 20 minute drive from the visitor center.

There’s a little shelter, kind of like a highway rest stop, with some bathrooms and little informational overviews of the battlefield. There are some extra pamphlets and a donation box: this is one of the few National Parks I’ve been to that doesn’t require a fee to enter: the rangers told me that things are so spread out that it’s virtually impossible to enforce. That doesn’t seem to stop Shenandoah, who has fee forms at far-flung locations, but then again Shenandoah is probably considered to be one of the crown jewels of the parks system, plus they get all the Skyline fees.

The first part (and several parts, to be honest) are along the shoulder of the road that winds its way through the park. At first it was pretty mundane, with a lot of woods and road, not exactly the most compelling sort of hike. The weather had warmed up nicely over the last day, melting most of the snow, leaving only little rotten bits behind.

The trail finally veers off the road at Upton’s trail and starts to wind through the trees, and then breaks out of the trees into a field. There’s a monument here for Upton’s Charge, where he took 5000 men on an attack of the Confederate earthworks.

There are earthworks everywhere here at this battlefield, both sides put them up. Most of them are not much more than gentle ridges in the ground now, but they can still be seen fairly clearly from the air. There’s a rebuilt section of it later on in the hike (also accessible by the car tour)  where you can see what they looked like at the time of the war.

Like the other battlegrounds I’ve been to, this place is both steeped in history while at the same time somewhat banal. Sometimes it’s easier than other times at getting a grasp on the history, of being able to see exactly what went on here. It’s hard to see it sometimes when I’m hiking along and a helicopter from Quantico is buzzing overhead, or the traffic is making that sibilant shushing noise as it goes past. I’m thinking one of these days, possibly this year since it’s the anniversary, I’ll come and see a reenactment.

The Bloody Angle section was quite interesting, even though I did it backwards. There’s a special separate interpretive pamphlet for it, and there are signposts describing what went on that day. The Bloody Angle is similar to Bloody Lane in Antietam – a place of great slaughter. It’s named for the funny angle that the earthworks took in this section, where Major General Wright’s troops assaulted for almost 24 hours straight.

There are many ruined farmhouses along the way as well, since the poor farmers were basically caught in the crossfire, and had their houses burned down and destroyed by the troops to prevent sharpshooters from taking up places to snipe from. One of the ruins is a relatively new find, only rediscovered in the past couple of years.

I think my favorite part was the last bit, the Laurel Hill Loop. This is where the battle started. This was mainly open, rolling fields with a couple of markers. I liked the sense of openness at this section, with the blue sky overhead and a single large tree in the field.

Back at the car, I decided to stop at the Wilderness battlefield. I drove around that battlefield, but didn’t really get out of the car to look at much, it’s something I’ll definitely need to revisit, along with the Chancellorsville Battlefield site.

Since it was on the way, I couldn’t pass up an excuse to stop at one of my favorite places, Moo Thru. I love ice cream as you know, and this place serves some excellent stuff. It’s all from local cows, and they have a great selection of flavors in traditional as well as soft serve, and they’re pretty generous with their servings. They also have soups and sandwiches, the grilled cheese is delicious. I like to try to make a Neapolitan type sundae with strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, they didn’t have a plain vanilla so I went with caramel toffee instead, which was excellent. If you’re ever anywhere near Remington, I highly suggest stopping here.

Feb 20, 2014 Spotsylvania Battlefield
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