As a volunteer at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, I had the privilege this week to join an NPS site visit to Jericho Mills on the North Anna battlefield. The property still belongs to the Civil War Trust, although it will eventually be ceded to Richmond National Battlefield. Because of various legal and liability issues, the property is not yet accessible to the public. Fortunately, we were given special permission to access the property as part of ongoing efforts for study and preservation. Fellow ECW author Edward Alexander, a ranger at Pamplin Historical Park, was among the other historians on the trip.
As part of the excursion, a number of us forded the North Anna River itself and walked among the ruins of the old mill.
The mill site sits on the north bank, barely visible poking through the trees. Large rock formations jut out from the north bank and spill into the river. A dam once stretched diagonally across the river here, and stone foundation offers a path to the far side. The water is relatively low despite the recent rains, but the path still requires wet feet, shins, and thighs.
The water was moving pretty quickly, and it took a couple intrepid interns from Richmond National Battlefield to first take the plunge. Edward was in the water soon thereafter, taking a more direct—but deeper—path across the river. My honor at stake, I plunged in after him!
As I crossed, I thought of the description offered by an infantryman who made the crossing 151 years earlier: “The bottom of the river was stony, and the stones were slippery,” he wrote. “This, with the swiftness of the stream, made the footing of the most active rather precarious.”
Soon, eleven of us made it to the far bank to explore. The ruins are extensive. They evoked the feel of an old Irish castle somehow transplanted into a jungle.
The north river bank is steep, and the mill complex climbed up the bank in multiple levels, topped by a pair of high chimneys, with yet another level above.
The road to the river ran through the mill complex. “[T]he road down either side was very rough,” a V Corps surgeon said, “being partly new corduroy, and in part a series of rocky steps and shelves caused by the irregular wearing away of the road by a small stream which flowed down its center.”
Edward and I thought we would share with you a glimpse of life among the ruins of Jericho Mill.
(In a friendly bit of rivalry, kudos to the interns from Richmond who headed into the river first and who climbed to the highest level of the ruins. Edward was the first one over the river, though, and he and I were the first to the ruins, so we staked our claim! Reps from Monocacy, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and Manasass also explored with us. Our thanks to all those who made the trip possible.)