The North Anna River, Today

NAR-River Is Up
At the boat landing adjacent to the Route 1 bridge, the river ran high enough to flood the parking lot.

The day was quiet and the water high along the North Anna River today. One hundred and fifty two years ago, Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps was coming to grief as it tried to advance down the Telegraph Road and the IX Corps was coming to grief dashing itself impotently against Ox Ford. A thunderstorm would rip through across the battlefield late in the afternoon, drenching a foolhardy assault led by the inebriated James Ledlie. Robert E. Lee, delirious with fever, impotently muttered, “We must strike them a blow. We must strike them a blow.”

This afternoon could not be more beautiful. After 18 days of rain in the last twenty one, today soared into the low eighties with abundant sunlight to dapple the tree-shrouded earthworks. Despite being the anniversary of the battle, only a single blue pickup truck sat in the parking lot of the county park.

When I have the opportunity to give talks about North Anna, or when I sign copies of Strike Them a Blow, I tell people, “Thank you for taking the time to take a closer look at this most overlooked phase of the Overland Campaign.” I am sure other battlefield visitors have come here today, either by intention or coincidence, but it seems so quiet and alone here. Even the construction equipment at the entrance to the park, left by the adjacent gravel company, sits silent and abandoned today.

Someone needs to remember the men who marched and fought and died here, who wallowed in another night of storm and mud with the rain-soaked horror of Spotsylvania still fresh in their minds. “The men suffered much,” said Capt. James Fleming, “having had no rest for the past three days, and their rations having run short, long marches, constant duty, &c., the officers sharing alike with them in the fatigue, exposure, and short rations.”

Some 2,017 Confederates and some 2,623 Federals ended up as casualties at North Anna—in a great battle of the campaign that never quite escalated into a great battle. For those 2,600+ men men, though, it was bad enough.

“How we longed to get away from the North Anna,” recalled artillery Pvt. Frank Wilkeson, “where we had not bit the slightest chance of success.”

How they longed to get away.

How I feel compelled to come.

Someone needs to remember them. But today, all seems quiet.

Road to Chesterfield Bridge
The trace of the original Telegraph Road, where it intersects today with modern Oxford Road, before descending to the river
Henegan's Redoubt Hidden
Henegan’s Redoubt, invisible in the treeline, protected by a field of barley
Anderson's Line Dappled
The sun dapples the impressive earthworks of Anderson’s line
NAR Park
Donna Neary’s wonderful painting, Even to Hell Itself, and the battlefield’s only monument, erected by the descendants of Cpl. Michael Shortell of the 7th Wisconsin in honor of “all the valiant men who lost their lives on the battlefields of North Anna.”

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