History 2019

Day 08

May 23

  Breakfast is a pretty easy decision since there is a Cracker Barrel near by. As I have said before, when you are not up for a culinary adventure, Cracker Barrel is pretty much always predictable, reasonably priced, decent quality and the service is usually good.  
  I get my required usual dosage of pork and poultry products so I should have enough grease to keep my aging joints well lubricated.  
  It's a short hop over to the Petersburg National Battlefield to see what we can glean from the museum. After that we are headed for City Point which was U.S. Grant's headquarters during the siege of Petersburg and the next stop for JKP as it was also the shipping point for incoming supplies and outgoing POWs.  
  Soon we are at the front gate and make our way into the battlefield.  
  As it turns out, much of the battlefield has surrendered to modern encroachment and the park and museum are surprisingly small considering that this was a nine month siege during the Civil War.  

But one good thing we find is an explanation why there were no remains of the Shand House on the hill that I visited yesterday -

The gentle depression in front of you is the only vestige of the Josiah Jordan House. The house was dismantled by Union troops during the siege of Petersburg. War came to the Jordan farm in late 1862, when Confederate engineer Charles Dimmock laid out ten miles of defenses to protect Petersburg. Battery 5 of the 'Dimmock Line' stood only yards from the Jordan house.

The Shand House, which was also part of the Dimmock Line, obviously met with the same fate as the Jordan House.


But it is still hard to image how such complete demolition and removal could have occurred but the evidence is before our eyes. In the words of a member of the 17th Maine Infantry -

"Every tree, stump, and fence has disappeared ... What was once verdant is now a wasteland of dust and dirt."

  Along a walking path they have reconstructed what a Confederate Battery along the Dimmock Line would have looked like in that day..  

I see a sign for the 'Dictator' but they have the path blocked. I tell Sissy and Andy -

"Let me go see if it is worth the walk before you struggle through this stuff."

It's pretty tough hike around the construction barriers and then a lengthy hike to the site. The Dictator was a seacoast siege cannon used by the Union forces during the 1864 siege. It could hurl a 225 pound explosive shell up to 2 miles but in the end the military found it to be ineffective for their purposes. To quote a Confederate soldier inside of Petersburg at the time -

"...the enemy frequently shoot very large shells into Petersburg, and do some damage to buildings, but the people are getting used to it, so they don't mind them."

I reckon a feller can get used to anything over time, but I believe this would a pretty tough 'getting used to'.

  Judging the size of the cannon and the shells, I'd hate to be one of the fellers assigned to load this thing with explosive shells that weight over 200 pounds. And I bet they didn't even wear earplugs when they set the thing off.  

When I finally get back, I tell Sissy and Andy -

"You probably don't want to walk all the way down there through the stuff."

I do show them the pictures and they are happy enough not to make the long trek.

There's a lot construction in the park so we make our way carefully to the museum proper.


As I get near the door, a Park Range is raising of the colors so I stop to watch. When he is finished, I tell him -

"I was in the Marines and did color guard on several occasions. We had to deal with the big Holiday Flag that could lift several of us off the ground if the wind got up."

  Inside the museum is much smaller than I expected. The displays are few but are well done. This one shows the various ordinance used in the siege of Petersburg.  
  As I wander around, I am fascinated this by 'personal' cannon. It's on the order of the Dictator, but on a much smaller scale.  
  At little further along, I see another variation of the same device that the Confederates used. It is a vivid example of the difference in manufacturing between the North and the South at that time. This is called an 'Iron Coehorn' - 12 and 24 pound mortars developed specifically for the Confederacy for the defense of Petersburg and Richmond. They were a simple device that rested on a plain block of wood for a base.  
  There are also several different cannons located throughout the museum. Behind this one is an actual picture of the Dictator and the crew that manned it.  
  In another display case is a grave marker for Confederate soldier that was carved by his brother. During the war, there just was not enough time for proper burial of the dead and often the only grave markers were what could be done by a friend or brother. Many of the bodies were just put into mass graves with no identification whatsoever.  
  There's an interesting display of what a Union soldier had for a mess kit. Most of these artifacts were recovered from the battlefield after the war. Given the sad shortages of supplies for the Confederacy, they did not have such nice equipment.  

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for a foot soldier to charge a position with one of these things pointed directly at you. If the cannon ball had your name on it, your life was over. The ordinance would rip body parts completely off as it passed by. In the words of Sam Watkins, a Confederate soldier from Tennessee -

"The firing raged in front; we could hear the shout of the charge and the clash of battle. While I was sitting here, a cannon ball came tearing down the works, cutting a soldier's head off, spattering his brains all over my face and bosom, and mangling and tearing four or five others to shreds. As a wounded horse was being led off, a cannon ball struck him, and he was literally
ripped open, falling in the very place I had just moved from."

  Next we head out to City Point which was the major sea port for the Union forces and where General Grant's headquarters was located.  
  This is why we are here as JKP's muster records tell us that he was shipped from here to Point Lookout POW camp which we will visit next on our journey.  
  This was not only a supply hub for the Union forces during the siege of Petersburg, but also a shipping point for Confederate prisoners.  
  So we know that our ancestor passed through this yard at some point during his short stay here. So Andy again snaps a shot of Sissy and me close to where he would have been.  
  The plantation was known as the Appomatox Manor and had been built on a large tract of land acquired by Captain Francis Eppes in 1635 from the King of England. By the time of the Civil War it was the center of a plantation covering more than 2,300 acres with 130 slaves. It was still in the family at the time of the Civil War, then belonging to Dr. Richard Eppes.  
  The Park Ranger on duty gives us a personal tour of the inside and is very knowledgeable about the facility. This was the formal parlor where many social events took place. The Epps were the 'richest of the richest' in this area and would have entertained the upper crust on most occasions.  
  This is a view into the library that would have been stocked with all of the classics in very expensive bindings. Such was the lifestyle in those days of the very wealthy. However, Appomattox Plantation was used as the offices of US Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls and his staff during the siege. When Dr. Eppes returned he found his house in near ruin and his plantation nearly destroyed. Not until March 1866 with the last Union regiments gone and the property back in his name did his wife and children return home to pick up the pieces and start anew.  

We see an interesting photo and device in one of the display cases in the house. Here is the 'rest of the story' -

On August 9, 1864, a tremendous explosion shook the city. General Grant reported, "Every part of the yard used as my headquarters is filled with splinters and fragments of shell," and a staff officer wrote, "Such a rain of shot, shell, bullets, pieces of wood, iron bars and bolts, chains and missiles of every kind was never before witnessed."

Examination of the wreckage revealed that a barge loaded with ammunition had exploded, detonating 30,000 artillery shells and 75,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. 43 people were killed instantly and 126 were wounded (some accounts put the death toll at 300). The wharf was almost entirely destroyed and the damage was put at $2 million.

Confederate Secret Service agent John Maxwell had smuggled a bomb aboard the ammunition barge. Maxwell used a clockwork mechanism to ignite 12 pounds of gunpowder packed into a box marked "candles." He called it his "horological torpedo." (Horological referring to time keeping; torpedo was a term used in the Civil War for a wide variety of bombs and booby traps.)

In the case is one of the 'horological torpedos' that Maxwell did not use and a funny photograph he had made of himself holding his own head. It was not known until after the war that Maxwell had actually been responsible. For quite a while everyone thought it was just caused by improper handling of the ammunition on the barge.

  On the grounds of the plantation, there is the cabin that Grant used as his headquarters. What impresses me is that he did not personally take over the more comfortable plantation house, but chose to stay in the same accommodations that his officers stayed in. It was said that he had much rather sit around the campfire with his men than spend time with the dignitaries and men of reputation of the day.  
  It is a simple structure and the only difference from that of his men was he had an extra room added to accommodate his family.  
  The ranger directs us to visit the wharf area, telling us that there is the original cobblestone road leading down to it.  
  During the siege of Petersburg, this was the one of the world's busiest seaports. From this location, Grant was able to supply over 100,000 troops and 65,000 animals. The horses, mules and cattle consumed over 600 tons of fodder a day. There were between 150 to 225 vessels loading and unloading on a daily basis into 8 different wharves constructed here - the largest one occupying almost 114,000 square feet.  
  Since JKP would have be placed aboard a ship to Point Lookout here, Sissy and I get our beauty snapped also.  
  It would have been across these waters that JKP would have been shipped to his next date with destiny.  
  Next stop is the Point Lookout POW camp. Our plans are to visit it today if there is enough daylight left. On the way we cross over this interesting suspension bridge where the supports are in the middle.  
  Traffic gets a bit crazy on the way over, but by now we are used to dealing with it.  
  The problem is where four lanes have to come down to two lanes to cross long bridges across the various rivers and bays. Somehow, drivers in the United States cannot seem to fathom how to do an orderly merge. My suspicion is that it has a lot to do with mobile phones and a 'me first' attitude.  
  We find it a little disappointing that the only reminder in the state park is this marker. This was one of the largest Union POW camps during the war with a very high percentage of deaths of the Confederate soldiers incarcerated there. They only had tents for shelter during the cold winters and disease was rampant.
  But it is what it is so Sissy and I get our beauty snapped here also.  
  JKP would have been interred for the short time he was here somewhere back in those woods in front of us.  
  Further up the road we see this nice memorial and figure we will pull in and see what it is all about.  
  It turns out to be a memorial set up by descendants of those men who were imprisoned at Point Lookout POW camp.  

As we walk around, we see the sad story why this is a private memorial not on state land. The placard says -

Point Lookout Prisoner Of War Descendants Organization (PLPOW) was founded to honor the sacrifices of their ancestors as well as to bring to the public the true story of the inhumane treatment of prisoners at Point Lookout.
In 2002, the Maryland State Park Service and the U.S. Veterans Administration began to require all speeches and reenactments to be submitted for censoring as well as other discriminatory actions directed at only Southern heritage organizations. The most unacceptable directive for descendants to accept was the prohibiting the display of the Confederate Flag over the mass grave of thousands of men that fought and died under the Confederate banner.

In 2003, PLPOW purchased this land to erect a memorial plaza that would be free of government interference and restrictions. This memorial will list the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of additional documented names of those that died are not list on the monument at the adjacent Federal Cemetery.

It closes with an interesting quote -

"All that was, or is now, desired is that the truth be told, without exaggeration and without omissions, truth for its own sake for the sake of honest history"
Rev. James P Smith, Last Survivor of the Staff of Lt. Gen Thomas J. "Stonewall' Jackson.

It has been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and we see that even today. Regardless of where one lands on all of the discussions about the Civil War, it is a mistake to try to frame what happened over 150 years ago in the modern framework of political correctness. It is history and it happened - good and bad. To try to erase it, suppress it, decide what should be seen and not seen, or to assess it's worth based on what we think now is a position of the highest level of intellectual dishonesty that can be held.

  On a board in the park, there are the 'faces' of Point Lookout - pictures of the men who actually were there.  
  There are various flag poles flying flags representative of the states that had prisoners in the camp. Beneath each flag pole there plaques called 'Voices from the Pen' where quotes from the prisoners of that state are engraved.  
  It was horrible place where many men died from lack of proper protection from the elements. Fortunately for JKP, he was only there for a short time before he was shipped up to the Elmira POW camp in New York state.  
  As we pass by the Confederate Cemetery next door, we see the 'flag pole of contention' mentioned in the memorial.  
  On the way out, I see a Dollar General Store and a gas station. I need to pickup some potassium tablets for recently occurring leg cramps and some Band-Aids for the big blister on my right toe. After I gas up, I go into the Dollar General and they have just what I need.  
  Our motel rooms are in California, Maryland and when we get into the town proper, we think we have landed in the state of California - or at least the state of confusion. There is a fierce storm headed directly for us and traffic is at standstill. Andy and I figure we are fixing to get drenched while we sit. It seems like it takes us forever to move even 100 yards forward.  
  Finally we see the sign that we have been seeking and the bottom has not fallen out just yet.  
  We quickly get checked in and get the bikes and Sissy's car covered up just as the storm blows over. It is raining so hard that it makes little rivers of rain as it hits the ground. There are some pretty serious wind gusts, but everything stays in place and for that we are thankful. We figure we will hold up a bit before we decide what we will do for supper.  

But after about an hour, the storm is past and the skies start clear. I ask the motel clerk my usual question -

"Where do you eat when you are around here?"

"Oh, there's a good Mexican place just up the road" he tells us.

"Close enough for us old folks to walk there?" I ask.

"Yes, just cut across the foot bridge and you should be good. But don't use me as judge of what's good" he tell us.

We figure better the devil he knows than the devil we don't know so we head out for the Plaza Tolteca.

  It is beautifully decorated inside and if the food is the same quality as the decor, it will be really good.  
  I order the 'grande' special and it is indeed 'grande' - comes on two plates because there is so much food.  
  But I'm the man for job and sweep the battle field before me as clean as you can get it without licking the plates.  
  The only problem is they don't provide us wheelbarrows to wheel us to our rooms. But somehow we manage to carefully waddle back there by ourselves. Needless to say, with a feast like that stuffed down the pie hole, the skin over my stomach pulls down the skin over my eyes and it's lights out in short order.