I hate travelling on Virginia interstates. Drive one mile and you’ve driven them all. You would have no idea about the state’s richness in natural beauty and history from driving on I-64 near Williamsburg or Charlottesville or anywhere along I-95. Drop a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth on most miles of these tree-lined corridors and I’d bet they wouldn’t have a clue which side of the state they are on.
I guess I have to accept the interstates for what they are worth. Without them I couldn’t live in Richmond and work south of Petersburg. It’s often occurred to me how easy it is to travel between the two–a mere thirty minutes from work to the heart of Richmond that took the Union army nine and a half months to accomplish. The interstate distorts our sense of scale.
This masked reality is evident at the North Anna River. I drove up to Spotsylvania this morning and realized around mile marker 105 that I had driven over the North Anna without even realizing it. A river that checked the aggressive Grant’s army for a few days in May 1864 and offered Lee a tantalizing opportunity to devastate his opponent while they crossed. Tall bluffs that stymied Ledlie’s infantry as they sloshed their way up and offered natural artillery firing platforms for both sides. And I completely missed it as I reached down to change songs.
I guess it’s only fair. The North Anna is often overlooked in the Overland Campaign. Sandwiched by the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor, the relatively smaller combat along its banks is overshadowed by the larger battles. But the maneuver and mentality in the middle of May is one of the more fascinating aspects of the Lee vs. Grant campaign.
You wouldn’t know it today from the road. I pulled over on my way home to grab the photo above. How easy it is today to cross that once-treacherous barrier. Blink and you’ll completely miss it.