We’re getting ready for a wedding this afternoon here at Stevenson Ridge. Teal, peach, and off-white pom-poms festoon the fireplace in the chapel, and spider-thin curly-que candelabras, also teal, sit at the center of each table. A sign in the lobby says, “Happiness is not a destination. It is a way of life.”
Outside, it’s the kind of day our handyman, Frank, would call a “Chamber of Commerce” day—sunny and pleasant and enticing.
As I look out the front doors across the great lawn, I see the needle-thin radio tower that rises above nearby Myer’s Hill. Of course, I’m drawn back to events 152 years ago.
If I stood on this spot on May 13, 1864, I’d have watched Federal forces storm the hill only to be driven off a short while later by Confederates. In the back and forth, Federal commander George Gordon Meade was nearly captured when the Rebel counterattack—so fierce and effective—nearly overran his staff. “Gen. Meade had to gallop for it,” said one of his aides, “and not being familiar with the paths came quite near enough being cut off!” Meade finally made good his escape by jumping his horse across the Ni River.
Infuriated by his near miss, Meade ordered half of his army to counter-counterattack. The V and VI Corps swept forward—just under 40,000 men. “The rebs were lying on the other side to avoid our shells which were hissing and exploding around the crest,” said one Federal soldier, “and when they heard our cheers supposed a mighty force was coming and so they ran like the devil.”
At the end of the day, the hill belonged to the Federals.
Standing in front of the Lodge, I would have had a front-row seat to the action.
Trees obscure the view today, and only the radio tower lets me know the exact location of the hillcrest from here. At the time, a soldier described it as “a bold, round hill on the south bank of the [Ni], upon which was a well-appointed farmer’s dwelling.”
The Ni River flows off to my left; the topography of Stevenson Ridge slops gently off perhaps half a mile to the river’s edge. The river itself is only about ten feet wide or so, but the banks are steep. In the rain of May 1864, they would have been treacherously slippery.
I think about those Federal soldiers marching through that rain. The first wave—men under the command of newly minted Brig. Gen. Emory Upton—had fought on May 8; engaged in a bold, desperate attack on May 10; and had been embroiled in the brutal slugfest at the Bloody Angle on May 12. How exhausted and spent they must have felt.
I think about those Confederate defenders—among them, men of the 9th Virginia cavalry, who all came from the surrounding countryside. How they must have felt defending, quite literally, their home field.
I think even of Meade. The area where he rode his horse to safety is now a horse farm.
What a juxtaposition of scenes for me today: “happily ever after” happening in the here and now; gunpowder, rain, and blood 152 years ago.
Couples who get married here at Stevenson Ridge get to celebrate one of the best days of their lives. Knowing what turmoil this property has seen in the past, I am glad that it now gets to see such happiness.