At the beginning of March while the weather was still chilly enough to keep the bugs and snakes at bay, I spent a day on the Virginia Peninsula around Yorktown, exploring Civil War sites and a few miles of earthworks. Newport News Park offers well-maintained hiking trails through preserved earthworks, and the trails vary in length, giving lots of options for weekend adventuring.
Here are a few trail notes and photos from my hike. If you don’t feel like hiking, but want to explore the location, there are Civil War interpretive signs, a Vermont monument, and a cannon at the Discovery Center Parking Lot.
If you just want a short stroll, take the trail beside the Discovery Center for a loop through the woods and the chance to see an artillery battery’s position and the location of George Custer’s “covered way” which was used to move troops without exposing them to as much enemy fire.
For a walk of about a mile, head across the long bridge and follow Twin Forts Loop Trail. This area was fought over on April 16, 1862 and is generally referred to as the Battle of Dam No. 1. The earthworks are incredible!
To take a longer walk, follow the signs from the start of Twin Forts Loop Trail for White Oak Trail. Again, the trail winds along lines of earthworks and through swampy woods. Follow Swamp Fire Trail to shorted the walk or take Wynn’s Mill Loop to MORE earthworks.
My wanderings took all these trails, but my favorite earthworks were out at Wynn’s Mill’s location. I was also curious about that area since from what I’ve been reading the 20th Massachusetts was posted opposite Wynn’s Mill for part of April 1862 and I wanted to get some good photos for a new presentation.
Apparently Wynn’s Mill is a major habitat of the Eastern Cottonmouth snakes and there are prominent signs warning that the slithering critters may be seen crossing the trail on their way to and from the water. I didn’t see any snakes, but I certainly recalled some of the “delightful” snake stories in Civil War soldier’s accounts of fighting, camping, and picketing in this area!
To avoid returning on the same trail, take Swamp Bridge across the wetlands and follow the trail back toward the parking lot. Notice the earthworks and “fox holes” on this opposite side of the swamp. These shallow depressions would have been used by Union troops for picketing and sniping. I believe quite a few regiments camped in the area of the modern golf course at Deer Run which is just visible through the trees in the winter.
When I did my trail homework on Newport News Park, I was pretty sure the paths would be good, but I wasn’t really sure how great the historic lines would be. It was a pleasant surprise to see some of the best preserved earthworks on the Peninsula and to also find a few interpretive signs and panels along the trails.
If you’re in the area and looking for a short, medium, or long hike with some Civil War history, check out Newport News Park.
Link to NNP trail map: https://www.newport-news.org/file/nnparkmap.pdf