The thermometer tried to stay above forty as morning edged toward noon, but winter temperatures had settled onto the Spotsylvania battlefield and proved harder to budge than the Confederate army. I was out for my morning exercise, which normally consists of a loop or two around the Chancellorsville history trail, but this day had taken me to Spotsylvania on business, so I decided to hike the Spotsy battlefield instead of the usual.
My chosen route, just under three miles, left from the parking area by the exhibit shelter and paralleled the north side of Brock Road before plunging into the woods. I followed a stretch of Lee’s Last Line, popping out by the Harrison house site, passing the McCoull house site, and walking up toward the Bloody Angle. Rather than follow the interior of the Mule Shoe, though, I walked up to Upton’s Trail and let that led me back to the road that took me back to the exhibit shelter.
Parts of the path remained waterlogged from a rainstorm over the weekend, forcing me to wade through waist-high field grasses as I tried to circumnavigate the water or gingerly pick my way around wide swaths of mud. But overall, the brisk air proved companionable rather than hostile, making for a pleasant day on the battlefield.
When I’m out on the trail, I always try to keep myself open to whatever the world wants to show me. In warmer weather, there are usually plenty of animals and plants to wonder at (for example, see here). Even on a cold December day, though, a few things caught my eye. My cameraphone hardly does them justice, but here are four things that just happened to jump out at me as I walked.
This gnarled cedar tree twists up from the ground along the path from the visitor center toward the Confederate line on the north side of Brock Road. The park’s maintenance staff at some point chainsawed off the ends of a number of branches that tried infringing on the path. It looked like an octopus tried to wrangle a force field that neatly nipped off the tips of its arms.
Coming out the woods along Lee’s Last Line, I’m always taken by the panorama that opens up. The trail sprints out across an open field to the site of the former Harrison House, still marked today by piles of rubble. The house sat on the knoll at the center of the photo where the trees are. It’s beautiful in the summer, but at this time of year, the defoliated trees and brown fields accent how open and exposed some of these fields would have been to cross under fire. Confederate defenses here were so strong during the second half of the battle, though, that Federals never got close enough to cross this particular stretch of ground.
The forest is usually brimming with mushrooms and other fungi in the warmer weather, but I was surprised to see this tametes—one of a slew—growing on a fallen log near the old spring of the McCoull house.
This is an original section of Upton’s Road, looking in the direction where Upton’s 6,000 men came from. The park trail intersects with the old roadbed here. Toward the camera’s rear, the path/road head back toward the Confederate line; toward the camera’s right, the path runs up to the road and the parking area for Tour Stop 2. Most hikers don’t notice the original road as the way by.
Nothing earth-shattering here, I know. But I’m glad that I can return to these battlefields over and over, day after day, and still find things to marvel at. I’m sure many of you approach your own favorite battlefields the same way. For those of you who don’t, I invite you to open yourself up to what your battlefields want to show you. Let the world jump out at you. Enjoy the sense of wonder.
And, preferably, do it on a warmer day than this!