August 3, 2016 – Partly Cloudy, 80 degrees
Miles Today: 32
Miles to Date: 13,846
States to Date: 38
I come from an area of our country rich in history. I stroll by Old South Church where the Adams boys, Sam and John, roused the rabble. I cross the intersection where the Boston Massacre occurred. I pedal past the Lexington Green and Concord footbridge; ‘the shot heard round the world’ echoes still. I pass Washington’s Brattle Street Headquarters during the siege of Boston almost every day. These places rest easy in my mind, unambiguously positive landmarks commemorating our independence from England.
Today, as I pedaled over Chester Gap from Front Royal to Flint Hill and along scenic Benvenue Road, I was keen to the altogether different weight of history in Northern Virginia. Huge clouds, occasional sprinkles, and intermittent sun created thermal updrafts and cool undercurrents. The land itself sighed under its ambivalent burden: a land of honor and glory; a land of ignoble defeat. The Civil War is history. But in Virginia, history is ever present.
The Confederate Army marched from Culpepper to Gettysburg along the route I traversed in both directions. First they headed north: 60,000 confident, strong men; four abreast and three miles long, trailed by artillery and support in a bold move to take an offensive stance against the North. A much smaller number returned along the same route, in the direction I spun, in defeat. As one local said, “After Gettysburg, everything fell apart. The rest of the war was defense and retreat. If we could have just stopped then, perhaps the destruction would not have been so great. But fighting continued and we were humbled.”
One hundred fifty years later the landscape is gorgeous. The stately plantation houses are grand. The few slave quarters still standing appear quaint. There is no evidence of pillage; that hardly a tree stood in all of Culpepper County. But the natives remember. Caught between romantic affection for a way or life out of step with evolving equality and justice, yet baffled why the remedy came so hard. They recall the Civil War. Not as if it were yesterday. As if it were today.