Some December Scenes from Spotsy

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!

15 Responses to Some December Scenes from Spotsy

  1. Thanks for these photos – they give a true feeling of being there, on hallowed ground.

  2. Great content. Your post reminds us to appreciate the large and small things in our battlefield parks.

  3. The mushroom I see most on downed trees are those turkey tails like your pic. They’re popular right now partly due to the belief they bolster your immune system and while there’s no scientific proof of this, they are known to be very high in antioxidants. My sister makes a tea of them and swears it helps. Please keep sharing your pics of the battlefield environments!

  4. I can’t wait to come back to Virginia in August (for the symposium, of course). Spotsy is on my re-visit list. This time, I’ll be dedicating a whole day if the schedule allows. These are some great snapshots. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Chris, thanks for sharing. Your photo of Upton’s Road (which really stands out in December!) reminds me of my chance meeting with you at the interpretive kiosk at Spotsylvania a few summers back, where you were volunteering to greet visitors, and where I was seeking to pursue the story of the 65th NY Volunteers in Upton’s Assault. The 65th served as skirmishers and eventually joined in the fighting. When we introduced ourselves to each other, I promptly went back to my car and presented your Spotsylvania book, which I was using as a guide for my tour, and you kindly signed. You also explained how I would find Upton’s Road, which I managed to do. I took a photograph of it myself for my own book about the 65th NY. I have always appreciated your friendly and helpful demeanor, and the chance to find Upton’s Road. If I recall correctly, you said that you make a practice of hiking the roadbed itself every May 10th. I’m a teacher and track coach, so that’s a very busy time for me, but one day I would love to join you on that hike! Thanks again!

    –Chris Barry

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