Fort Washington Loop (Fort Washington Park, MD)

SONY DSC

Fort Washington Loop, Fort Washington Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

Spanning more than 200 years of history, Maryland’s Fort Washington is situated on a picturesque hill overlooking the wide and placid Potomac River, within sight of Washington, DC. The 19th century fort today lies within Fort Washington Park, protected and administered by the National Park Service. Around the brick structure, concrete batteries are scattered across the landscape, while much of the rest of the peninsula has been overtaken by dense forest. The 3.7-mile Fort Washington Loop—a relatively easy stroll with a few short but steep climbs—circuits the park, passing key sights and offering lovely views of the Potomac. Unfortunately, however, the trail maintenance is not the greatest—the loop suffers from broken bridges, fallen logs, and poor signage. (Note: See my previous post for a photo tour of Fort Washington itself.)

gearweare.com

Fort Washington Loop trail hike information

Fort Washington Loop trail map

Map of Fort Washington Loop, Fort Washington Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Fort Washington Park is a 30-45 minute drive from Washington, DC and is often visited in conjunction with nearby Fort Foote, Harmony Hall, and Piscataway Park. Begin your visit at the Fort Washington Visitor Center, which offers historical and recreation information on the park and serves as the start and end point for this loop hike. The walk from the parking area, which passes between Battery Decatur and an observation tower, is roughly 150 yards.

The view southwest from the Visitor Center (a bright yellow building) is terrific: topped by Fort Washington, green, rolling hills disappear into the still, cerulean waters of the Potomac. A trio of waysides tell the story of the area from the original 1809 structure—Fort Warburton—through the Endicott System of defenses at the end of the 19th century. (Note: Battery White, visible down the hill from the main fort structure, was part of the latter upgrade.)

DSC00444

View of Fort Washington and the Potomac River from the Visitor Center

Once you’re ready to hike, head south on the paved path from the overlook and bear right as the path weaves downhill into a grassy gully. Detour left at the next fork to explore the main fort or continue right to head toward the river and the start of the loop portion of the walk. At 2/10 mile, bear left on a partly graveled path; Light 80—a small, white lighthouse—is visible ahead. As the trail approaches the lighthouse, five different routes converge at a sunny junction. Look for a sign to your left reading “River Trail”—follow this path as it skirts the base of Battery White.

DSC00465

Lighthouse at Fort Washington

The River Trail quickly enters woods and follows a narrow strip of land between the Potomac on the right and the fort walls on the left. As the fort disappears from view, the trail follows an old road that bends eastward and abruptly ends at a wooden boardwalk at around 6/10 mile. Continue onto the brief boardwalk, then follow the singletrack trail as it cuts across a woody ravine and, at 9/10 mile, passes a rifle trench on the right. Views of Piscataway Creek, a significant tributary of the Potomac, are plentiful.

DSC00474

Mouth of Piscataway Creek

From the rifle trench, the River Trail begins the first of two significant climbs. Stay left at the junction, then ascend a set of wooden steps to clear a modest bluff. Stay right at the next fork, then descend sharply into another gully. Cross over a muddy stream, approaching another junction—stay straight this time. Climb a steep and lengthy set of stairs and enjoy the partly-obscured view of the Potomac from atop the ridgeline.

DSC00482

Steep staircase on the River Trail, Fort Washington Park

With the hardest climbs behind you, the trail bears northeast and ascends gradually to Battery Wilkin at 1 ¼ miles. This battery, now rusted and overgrown, was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and remained in service until 1928.

DSC00484

Battery Wilkin

Passing to the right of the structure, stay straight as the grassy field gives way to woods again and an old, asphalted road. Probably the dullest part of the hike, the road from here heads north through the forest for around 1/4 mile, with suburban houses on the right. At about 1.6 miles, the River Trail ends at a parking lot for some maintenance facilities on the left. Continue straight, heading up the paved road that leads north to the park entrance. Battery Meigs, which once housed eight large 12-inch mortars, is passed on the left. Stay right at the intersection at 1.7 miles. (Note: The road heading left leads to Picnic Areas A-D.)

DSC00487

Battery Meigs

From here it is a short walk to Fort Washington Road and the Entrance Station, off to the right. Pass the entrance and cross the road, immediately turning onto an old, overgrown road marked with light blue blazes. This is the Pump Station Trail.

DSC00488

Fort buildings near the park entrance

The Pump Station Trail starts as a straightforward walk on a gravel road, following a deep ravine on the left. As the old road gives way to a narrow footpath, however, the trail becomes difficult to follow. As a general rule of thumb, stay close to the metal fence on the right (on the other side is a golf course), then keep a close eye out for blue blazes as the route bends and bears west. Around 2.5 miles, having skirted a sloping hillside on the left, the faint path crosses a minor creek; around 30 yards farther, the trail splits. Bear right.

DSC00493

Contraption on the Pump Station Trail

After 1/10 mile, the trail passes an unidentified, old rusted contraption on the left; a couple minutes later, upon reaching a fenced-off building on the left, take a minor detour to the right to the banks of Swan Creek, which feeds into the Potomac just downstream.

DSC00495

View of Swan Creek

At 2.9 miles, bear right on an easy-to-miss trail, marked by a small blue stake that reads “0.5.” This is the start of the Waterside Trail, which, fortunately, is easy to follow as it hugs the shore of the Potomac River. At 3.25 miles, the trail passes the old torpedo storehouse, a former storage facility for explosive mine parts (not quite sophisticated “torpedo” we think of today). Stay straight on the now-wide double-track; there is a parking area visible uphill to the left. Roughly 3.4 miles from the start, hikers will be back at the five-way junction between the lighthouse and Battery White.

DSC00501

Battery White

From here you have a couple choices. The first is to return the way you came a couple hours prior—ascending the paved track back to the Visitor Center. The second is to follow a smaller footpath that skirts the side of a hill below Fort Washington and provides close access to Battery White. Both options end near the fort entrance, a short jaunt from the Visitor Center.

Allot 2-3 hours for this 3.7-mile loop. Spring through fall, be sure to wear long pants and bug spray to avoid ticks, as parts of the hike pass through tall grass.

Extra credit

Explore the grounds of Fort Washington, or visit the old Civil War-era structure at Fort Foote, a 7-mile drive north of Fort Washington.

SONY DSC

Approaching sunset at Fort Washington

Posted in Civil War, Fort Washington Park, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fort Washington (Fort Washington Park, MD)

DSC00444

Fort Washington Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

The history of Maryland’s Fort Washington spans several of America’s wars, from the War of 1812 through the Civil War and the two World Wars. The first fort on this site, a stone structure constructed in 1809, was short-lived: it was burned and abandoned by its own garrison as the British advanced on Washington, DC during the War of 1812. The second iteration, enlarged and made of brick, remains standing today and was used to defend Washington during the Civil War. Outer batteries were added in the 1890s, and the fort continued to serve as an army post until the end of World War II.

Perched atop a grassy hill overlooking the Potomac River, Fort Washington offers a beautiful mix of natural beauty and historic flavor. A roughly 3.75-mile loop trail circuits Fort Washington Park, while visitors are free to explore the grounds of the inner fort from 8 am to sunset.

See more outdoor gear reviews here

DSC00441

Walk up to the Visitor Center at Fort Washington Park

DSC00443

Visitor Center overlooking the Potomac River at Fort Washington Park

DSC00459

Entrance to Fort Washington

DSC00446

Casemate at Fort Washington

DSC00451

Fort Washington

DSC00453

View of the Potomac River and Washington, DC from Fort Washington

DSC00455

Officers’ quarters at Fort Washington

DSC00457

Steep stairwell at Fort Washington

DSC00458

View of the Potomac River from Fort Washington

Posted in Civil War, Fort Washington Park, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fort Foote Park, MD

DSC00435

Fort Foote Park, February 2017

– Civil War Series –

One of 68 forts protecting Washington, DC during the Civil War, Fort Foote was built by Union forces to defend the nation’s capital from a potential Confederate naval attack on the Potomac River. Completed in 1863, this battery atop Rozier’s Bluff on the Maryland shore boasted eight 200-pound Parrott rifles and two 15-inch guns. Though it never saw action during the war, Fort Foote remains well-preserved today, and a network of winding paths crisscross the site. Highlights include two gargantuan Rodman guns and a good view of the Potomac River from atop Rozier’s Bluff. Just six miles from DC, the fort is a short trip from the city and often visited in conjunction with Fort Washington Park and Piscataway Park farther south.

carseatexperts.com

DSC00431

Entrance to Fort Foote earthworks

DSC00433

Smoothbore Rodman gun at Fort Foote

DSC00436

Cannon at Fort Foote

DSC00438

View of the Potomac River from Fort Foote

Posted in Civil War, Maryland | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Allied Encampment Auto Tour (Colonial National Historical Park, VA)

DSC00354

Yorktown Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, January 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

As the Battle of Yorktown raged to the east, George Washington and his French ally Comte de Rochambeau set up their encampments in the woody perimeter around Yorktown in 1781. After hitting the key sites on the Yorktown Battlefield Auto Tour, visitors to Virginia’s Colonial National Historical Park today can also check out the longer and more remote Allied Encampment Auto Tour, which tells the behind-the-scenes story of the supply lines and rear bases that facilitated a French and American victory. It is, for the most part, a pleasant drive through the forest and, though signs are a plenty (e.g., denoting where certain contingents slept), there is far less interpretation than the Battlefield Tour. Allot around 45 minutes to an hour for this drive, which begins at the Surrender Field and ends at Yorktown National Cemetery. (Note: A small ford is required to reach George Washington’s Headquarters; it may be impassable after rains.)

(Note: See my separate post covering the Yorktown Battlefield Auto Tour.)

Allied Encampment Tour Yorktown map

Map of Allied Encampment Auto Tour (yellow), Colonial National Historical Park

DSC00347

American Artillery Park

DSC00348

Floodplain near Beaverdam Creek

DSC00350

George Washington’s Headquarters

DSC00353

French Cemetery

DSC00358

French encampment

DSC00359

Allied Encampment Tour

DSC00362

Untouched Redoubt, the only surviving (non-reconstructed) fortification from the battle

Posted in Colonial National Historical Park, Hampton Roads, Revolutionary War, Scenic Byways, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Yorktown Battlefield Auto Tour (Colonial National Historical Park, VA)

DSC00380

Yorktown Battlefield, Colonial National Historical Park, January 2017

– Revolutionary War Series –

The Battle of Yorktown, the last major engagement of the American Revolution, was a decisive victory for Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army and the death knell for continued British occupation. Today, the site of the 1781 battle is protected by Colonial National Historical Park, near the banks of the York River on Virginia Peninsula. Beginning at the park visitor center, the Yorktown Battlefield Auto Tour weaves in and out of the British and Allied (American and French) lines, restored to mimic their appearance during the multi-week siege that ended in mid-October 1781. There are also stops at the Yorktown National Cemetery—dedicated to the Civil War battle that took place here 81 years later—as well as the Moore House (where British surrender negotiations took place) and the Surrender Field (where thousands of Redcoats laid down their arms). The Yorktown Victory Monument, near downtown Yorktown, caps off the tour. (Note: A second, longer driving route–the Washington Encampment Tour–circuits the French and American rear bases in the woods to the west and south of the battlefield.)

Yorktown map

Map of Yorktown Battlefield Tour, Colonial National Historical Park

DSC00284

British Inner Defense Line near the Yorktown Battlefield Visitor Center

DSC00288

First Allied Siege Line

DSC00293

First Allied Siege Line and French Batteries

DSC00298

Yorktown National Cemetery

DSC00306

Second Allied Siege Line, in close range of the British defense line at Yorktown

DSC00307

View of British defenses from the Second Allied Siege Line

DSC00315

Redoubt 9, a British defensive position seized by French forces during the Battle of Yorktown

DSC00320

Mortars and field guns at Redoubt 9/Grand American Battery

DSC00323

Redoubt 10, seized by 400 American troops under command of Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton

DSC00326

Moore House, site of surrender negotiations between Washington and British Commander Lord Cornwallis

DSC00327

View of York River from the Moore House

DSC00331

Wormley Pond, from the road to the Surrender Field

DSC00333

Observation deck at Surrender Field

DSC00340

Captured British mortar, altered to commemorate the American victory

DSC00343

Surrender Field

DSC00378

Yorktown Victory Monument

Posted in Colonial National Historical Park, Hampton Roads, Revolutionary War, Scenic Byways, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peninsula Campaign Driving Tour – Part 1

DSC00298

Civil War Cemetery at Yorktown, Colonial National Historical Park, January 2017

– Civil War Series –

Nearly a year after the onset of the conflict at Fort Sumter in April 1861, the Civil War had seen very few significant military engagements in the Eastern Theater. Following the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, both sides played defense: strengthening their fortifications, bolstering their ranks, and eyeing the enemy with caution. Yet with the two sides’ capitals—Washington and Richmond—just over 100 miles apart, Virginia was fated to see more bloodshed.

As winter gave way to spring, President Lincoln faced tremendous public pressure to mount an assault on Richmond. In November, he tapped a young major general, George McClellan, to head the Union Army; it took another five months to ready the Army of the Potomac, the largest force ever built on the continent. Despite greatly outnumbering Confederate defenders, the months-long Union offensive—known as the Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862)—would end in failure, owing in large part to McClellan’s consistent reticence to take battlefield risks.

Today, visitors can retrace the Army of the Potomac’s march up Virginia Peninsula on a multi-day driving tour from Hampton Roads to the outskirts of Richmond. Battlefield hikes abound—at Dam No. 1 and the Williamsburg Line, for example—while museums in Richmond, Hampton, and Newport News offer interpretation of the events of spring and summer 1862, a pivotal period in the Civil War.

Although possible to squeeze into a weekend trip, visitors will get a far richer experience if they allot 4-5 days—two on the Peninsula covering the battles of March-May 1862, with at least another two covering the Richmond area and the Seven Days’ Battles (June 25-July 1, 1862). Live and Let Hike breaks the trip in two along these lines: this post covers the Battle of Hampton Roads and the arrival of McClellan’s forces at Fort Monroe in March 1862 through the Battles of Williamsburg and Eltham’s Landing in early May; a subsequent post will cover the battles closer to Richmond, from Drewry’s Bluff (May 15, 1862) through Malvern Hill (July 1, 1862).

Note: The below driving tour roughly follows the itineraries laid out by Virginia Civil War Trails and Michael Weeks’ Civil War Road Trip: Volume I (2011). In this age of GPS, I have included addresses for each site (rough approximations—for example, the nearest house) in lieu of specific directions.

DAY 1: HAMPTON AND NEWPORT NEWS (MARCH-APRIL 1862)

Stop 1: Christopher Newport Park (50 26th St., Newport News, VA)

The tour begins in downtown Newport News with the first of several stops dedicated to the Civil War’s naval history. It was here, at the mouth of the James River, that the most famous naval engagement of the war took place: the Battle of Hampton Roads, also known as the Battle of Ironclads. Today’s Christopher Newport Park, near the southwest tip of Virginia Peninsula, looks out over the site on March 8, 1862 where the CSS Virginia made its famous debut. Here the Virginia, the first Confederate ironclad, quickly dispatched of two Union gunboats anchored in the James River—the USS Cumberland and the USS Congress—while nearly sinking a third, the USS Minnesota. The attack instilled panic across the north: the Confederates had built a weapon capable of threatening Washington and outmatching nearly every ship in the Federal fleet…

Note: Allot 10-20 minutes to explore this site.

DSC00197

Christopher Newport Park, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 2: Monitor-Merrimac Overlook Park (1548 16th St., Newport News, VA)

…Except for one: the USS Monitor, the Union’s very own ironclad, which was newly commissioned on February 25, 1862. On March 9, as the Virginia set off again from Confederate-held Norfolk to finish the job of sinking Federal gunboats, the Monitor arrived to meet it. The battle that ensued went down in naval lore: iron versus iron, a slug fest that, after hours of fighting, ended in a draw.

You can see the area where the two ironclads fought from Monitor-Merrimac Overlook Park in Newport News, roughly a 10-minute drive east of Christopher Newport Park. Signs offer interpretation of the events of March 9, 1862, while a fishing pier offers an opportunity to walk out over the river.

Note: Allot 10-20 minutes to explore this site.

DSC00200

Monitor-Merrimac Overlook Park, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 3: Fort Monroe National Monument (20 Bernard Rd., Hampton, VA)

Fort Monroe, situated on the southeast tip of Virginia Peninsula, served as base of operations for Union forces during the Peninsula Campaign. As Virginia seceded in May 1861, Federal forces reinforced the base to ensure the Union kept a foothold on the peninsula; it later served as the staging point for McClellan’s Army of the Potomac as it began its march on Richmond in April 1862. The largest stone fort in the U.S., Fort Monroe boasts high ramparts and an impressive surrounding moat. Visitors can easily spend a couple hours in the Casemate Museum, which covers the area’s storied history, from the colonial period to the Civil War to the World Wars to the present. Decommissioned as an active military base in 2011, Fort Monroe National Monument is now operated by the National Park Service.

Note: Allot 2-3 hours to explore this site. See my post on March 18, 2017 for a full description. After touring Fort Monroe, it will be close to midday, and you’ll be ready for lunch.

DSC00205

Fort Monroe National Monument, Hampton, Virginia

Stop 4: Mariners’ Museum and Park (100 Museum Dr., Newport News, VA)

Rounding out the naval sites, a visit to the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News is a must. While no significant battles took place here, the museum’s USS Monitor Center boasts an impressive display on ironclad warfare and the Battle of Hampton Roads. The crown jewel is the Monitor’s actual iron turret, lost at sea for more than a century until it was rediscovered in 1973, then recovered and transferred to Newport News in 2002.

One can easily spend upwards of 2-3 hours in the USS Monitor Center, let alone the rest of the museum, which has various exhibits on maritime history. The grounds of the museum also include a 5-mile loop trail around Lake Maury.

Note: Allot 3-5 hours to explore this site. Be sure to leave by 3 or 4pm, however, to see the other sights of Day 1.

DSC00230

USS Monitor anchor at Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 5: Young’s Mill (335 Old Grist Mill Ln., Newport News, VA)

Young’s Mill is the first stop dedicated to the land war on Virginia Peninsula, an effort that—to seemingly all observers except for McClellan—was well overdue. Throughout the winter, McClellan made little movement toward pressing the attack, purportedly leading Lincoln to quip, “If General McClellan does not intend to use his army, may I borrow it?” Finally, after shelving an earlier plan to land forces at the Rappahannock River farther north, McClellan launched his offensive from Fort Monroe in early April 1862. Despite having more men than any city in Virginia, however, McClellan’s Army of the Potomac moved cautiously. Brig. Gen. Erasmus Keyes’ IV Corps marched up the west flank of the peninsula, encountering its first Confederate resistance here at Young’s Mill on April 4.

Southern troops at Young’s Mill covered the far right of Col. John Magruder’s first line of defense. Tasked with defending the peninsula from Federal forces, Magruder in 1861 set out to construct three defensive lines: the first, weakly manned, served more as a series of surveillance posts, while the second and third—further west—were heavily fortified. As Keyes’ forces approached Young’s Mill, the Confederate contingent here offered a token resistance before quickly falling back to the better-defended second line.

Today, a small white building at Young’s Mill remains, as well as modest Confederate earthworks, the only remaining remnants of Magruder’s first line.

Note: Allot 5-10 minutes to explore this site.

DSC00232

Young’s Mill, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 6: Warwick Court House (886 Tulip Dr., Newport News, VA)

On April 5, the Warwick Court House became the headquarters for Keyes’ IV Corps during the month-long siege of Magruder’s heavily-defended second line. Here the Union made use of relatively new technology: gas-powered balloons, which engineers constructed to surveil Confederate positions. Today, the old court house building is overshadowed by its newer cousin, which also boasts in its front yard a gaudy Confederate monument built in 1909 to commemorate the dead from Warwick County.

Note: Allot 5-10 minutes to explore this site.

DSC00237

Warwick Court House, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 7: Lee’s Mill Historic Park (280-310 Rivers Ridge Circle, Newport News, VA)

Keyes’ march ended abruptly on April 5 here at Lee’s Mill, where Magruder’s Confederates had constructed robust earthworks to thwart the Union advance. Perched at a strategic crossing across the Warwick River, Southern troops greeted Keyes’ IV Corps with a barrage of artillery fire—followed by an infantry counter-attack—that was sufficient to repel the Federal invaders. It would also reinforce McClellan’s excessive caution: it would be another month until “Little Mac” felt confident enough to send his full force across Magruder’s second line.

Today, a short loop trail circuits the earthworks, and Virginia Civil War Trails signs provide a narrative explanation of the fighting.

Note: Allot 20-30 minutes to explore this site. See my post on March 19, 2017 for a full trail description. By now, it will probably be late afternoon on your first day.

SONY DSC

Lee’s Mill Historic Park, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 8: Skiffes Creek Redoubt (266 Enterprise Dr., Newport News, VA)

The Skiffes Creek Redoubt is another remnant of the Confederate second line. Expecting a Union attack from the James River, Magruder heavily fortified the line’s right flank, including this redoubt—a small, enclosed defensive fort built from earth, sod, and timber. The river attack never materialized, and the only battles along the second line took place farther south and east at Lee’s Mill, Dam No. 1, and Yorktown. Today the Skiffes Creek Redoubt is situated in a wooded area between industrial parks and can be accessed via a short, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site.

DSC00253

Skiffes Creek Redoubt, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 9: Dam No. 1 (Discovery Center, Newport News Park, Newport News, VA)

By mid-April, after Keyes’ retreat at Lee’s Mill, McClellan was convinced that he faced a formidable enemy of at least 100,000 strong. Instead of pressing the attack, he instead settled in for a more passive siege; using dozens of heavy guns, he aimed to gradually blast his way through Magruder’s Warwick-Yorktown Line. He did allow for one attempt at piercing the line, however, dispatching an undermanned force under Brig. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith on April 16 to seize a Confederate position at Dam No. 1. The ill-fated raid would end in the second Union defeat in as many weeks. Now situated in Newport News Park, the site of the Battle of Dam No. 1 can be toured by way of a lengthy bridge across Lee Hall Reservoir, followed by a short hike on the Twin Forts Loop Trail.

Note: Allot 45 minutes-1 hour to explore this site. See my post on March 25, 2017 for a full trail description. By the time you get to Dam No. 1, it will likely be close to sundown; if you lack the time to complete the hike, skip it or come back in the morning.

DSC00263

Twin Forts Loop Trail, Newport News, Virginia

DAY 2: YORKTOWN AND WILLIAMSBURG (MAY 1862)

Stop 10: Lee Hall Mansion (163 Yorktown Rd., Newport News, VA)

After a busy first day in Hampton and Newport News, Lee Hall is the first stop on the second day of this driving tour. The antebellum mansion situated here served as the temporary headquarters for Magruder and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston during the Peninsula Campaign. After the Battles of Lee’s Mill and Dam No. 1, the relationship between these two Confederate generals would sour: upon his arrival, Johnston—who outranked Magruder—would demote the masterful defender to the status of divisional commander and would later outright release him from his command in late May.

Today, Lee Hall Mansion remains preserved and costs $8.00 to tour. Outside are the remains of a small redoubt, the only surviving earthworks at the site.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site (or up to an hour if you do a tour). The mansion does not open until 10am (or 12/1 on Sundays), so it’s best to skip the tour and just move on.

Stop 11: Lebanon Church & Endview (431 Yorktown Rd., Newport News, VA)

Just up Yorktown Road from Lee Hall, as the road edges an open field, pull off to the right, where there are several waysides. Across the street is historic Lebanon Church, situated at a strategic crossroads held by Confederates until May 4, when some of McClellan’s forces established a base here. On the other site of the field, the Endview farmhouse served as a field hospital during the war, first for the Confederates, then for Federal troops.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site. It is possible to tour the Endview Plantation, though the site does not open until 10am (12/1 on Sundays).

DSC00280

Endview, Newport News, Virginia

Stop 12: Yorktown Battlefield (901 Goosely Rd., Yorktown, VA)

During the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, George Washington’s Continental Army employed siege guns to blast away at British defenses. Eighty-one years later, General McClellan would use the same tactics, again at Yorktown, against Magruder’s second line. Vastly overestimating the Confederate force ahead of him, McClellan suspended the Federal march up the Peninsula in early April 1862, instead deciding to roll huge siege guns to Yorktown to prepare for a concentrated artillery barrage. On May 3, however, he lost his opportunity, as Johnston’s troops retreated back toward Richmond.

There are a few remnants of the 1862 Siege of Yorktown at today’s Colonial National Historical Park. Though the park’s focus is the Revolutionary War, you can pick up information on the Civil War at the visitor center, including a Civil War auto tour companion guide. A Civil War Trails wayside near the intersection of Goosley Road and George Washington Memorial Parkway overlooks a Civil War trench line, and the Yorktown National Cemetery commemorates the Union dead in the Yorktown area. Though meant to reflect their appearance in 1781, the reconstructed earthworks at Yorktown also saw use in 1862; both the Confederates and Federals reinforced the existing British and American fortifications, while the previous “no-man’s land” between the two sides was scattered with Union rifle pits. The Moore House, site of the British surrender in October 1781, served as a Union signal station during the Civil War.

Note: Allot at least one hour for this site. (If you are pairing this with a tour of the Revolutionary War sites, allot at least 2-3 hours.)

DSC00284

British earthworks at Yorktown Battlefield (which became Confederate defenses in 1862), Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown, Virginia

Stop 13: Yorktown Waterfront (586 Water St., Yorktown, VA)

Beyond the battlefield, continue downhill to the banks of the York River in downtown Yorktown, where a single Civil War Trail wayside continues the story where it left off: following the Confederate retreat on May 3, McClellan’s Union forces turned Yorktown into a bustling port to support the Federal advance on Richmond. (Note: Around the same time, Federal forces recaptured Norfolk farther south, forcing the Confederates to scuttle the CSS Virginia and thus removing a key obstacle to bringing Union naval assets to the fight.)

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site, or 30 minutes to explore Yorktown Beach and Waterfront.

DSC00383

Yorktown Beach, Yorktown, Virginia

Stop 14: Tyndall’s Point Park (1376 Vernon St., Gloucester Point, VA)

The final stop in the Yorktown area is across the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge in Gloucester Point. A short walk at Tyndall’s Point Park covers both the Revolutionary and Civil War history of this strategic outpost, and impressive earthworks remain intact. The Confederate artillerymen here at Gloucester Point outlasted the rest of the Southern Army on the Warwick-Yorktown Line; it kept firing as the Federals moved into Yorktown on May 3-4. By the end of May 4, however, the troops garrisoned here were forced to retreat, ceding Gloucester Point to Union forces, who used it as a base for the remainder of the Peninsula Campaign.

Note: Allot 20 minutes for this site, which includes a ¼-mile round trip walk.

DSC00375

Confederate earthworks at Tyndall’s Point Park, Gloucester Point, Virginia

Stop 15: Redoubt Park (510 Quarterpath Rd., Williamsburg, VA)

It’s a 25-minute drive from Gloucester Point to the next destination, Redoubt Park, in Williamsburg. Once the bustling capital of colonial Virginia, Williamsburg by the start of the Civil War had fallen into disrepair. Nonetheless, Magruder chose the Williamsburg area to construct his third and final line of defenses on the Peninsula: a series of 14 redoubts aimed at slowing a Federal advance. This line was not as well defended as Magruder’s second, however, and several redoubts remained unfinished on the eve of battle in early May 1862.

Redoubt Park protects the remains of Redoubts 1 and 2, which remain well-preserved but saw no fighting during the war. Waysides along a pair of trails in the park elaborate on the story of Magruder’s third line and the Battle of Williamsburg, the first pitched battle of the Peninsula Campaign.

Note: Allot around an hour to complete both walks—the ¼-mile Redoubt 1 Trail and 1-mile Tuttle Trail—at Redoubt Park. See my posts on April 6, 2017 and April 7, 2017 for full trail descriptions. It should be early afternoon by the time you finish at Redoubt Park.

DSC00395

View from Redoubt 1, Redoubt Park, Williamsburg, Virginia

Stop 16: Bloody Ravine (7135 Pocahontas Trail, Williamsburg, VA)

Situated in the parking area at a Country Inn and Suites, the Civil War Trails wayside at the so-called “Bloody Ravine” is perhaps the most awkward stop on the Peninsula Campaign tour. It is, however, one of the more consequential. On May 5, 1862, this woody area saw the most intense fighting of the Battle of Williamsburg. After retreating to Magruder’s third line on May 3, Gen. Johnston’s Confederates clashed with McClellan’s Army of the Potomac two days later at several points along the Williamsburg Line. Here at Bloody Ravine, Confederate Gen. Cadmus Wilcox’s brigade succeeded in repelling a Federal attack by a portion of Union Brig. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s division. Outnumbered, however, Johnston’s Confederates were forced to retreat again on the night of May 5, continuing their withdrawal toward Richmond.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site, which is no more than an awkward sign in front of the Country Inn.

DSC00409

Sign at Bloody Ravine, Williamsburg, Virginia

Stop 17: Fort Magruder (1035 Penniman Rd., Williamsburg, VA)

Fort Magruder was the centerpiece of Magruder’s Williamsburg Line and came under attack on May 5 by Union Gen. Hooker’s division. While the brunt of the fighting took place further west at Bloody Ravine, the fort was the scene of furious artillery fire throughout the day. Dubbed by one Union commander as “a very ugly place to have an attack,” Fort Magruder looks slightly better today: a grassy patch that retains part of its hilly perimeter, a welcome respite amid a sea of suburban development. A closed fence, however, prevents access to the redoubt interior.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site. Park in the church parking lot immediately to the north of the site.

DSC00411

Fort Magruder, Williamsburg, Virginia

Stop 18: Redoubts 12 & 13 (New Quarter Park, 1000 Lakeshead Dr., Williamsburg, VA)

Northeast of Fort Magruder, Redoubts 12 and 13 covered the far left flank of Magruder’s third line. Neither was occupied by Confederates during the Battle of Williamsburg, but they remain accessible in New Quarter Park, a large tract of woods near the York River. (Note: Redoubts 11 and 14 fall just outside the park and thus are inaccessible.) You can read about Redoubts 11-13 at the Civil War Trails wayside at the park entrance. Reaching Redoubts 12 and 13, however, takes a little more effort: 12 is a short hike from the main parking area at the end of Lakeshead Drive, while reaching 13 requires cutting across the disc golf course at New Quarter Park. (Note: Redoubt 13 is in the woods behind disc gold holes 14 and 15.) Ask at the Park Office for more information.

Note: Allot 30 minutes to reach and explore the two redoubts.

DSC00414

Redoubt 12, New Quarter Park, Williamsburg, Virginia

Stop 19: Cub Creek Dam (Colonial Parkway, Williamsburg, VA)

Situated off Colonial Parkway at Cub Creek Dam (around 2 miles east from the turnoff to Lakeshead Drive), a small pullout offers a view of a peaceful reservoir called Jones Millpond. This area was anything but peaceful during the Battle of Williamsburg, however: in the now-wooded area just to the west, forces under Union Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock seized Redoubt 11 and repulsed a counter-attack by four brigades under Gens. Daniel Harvey Hill and Jubal Early. “Hancock the Superb” would earn praise for the victory and continue his rise to stardom at Gettysburg a year later. (Note: Lt. George Custer, who would make his “Last Stand” in Montana in 1876, took part in Hancock’s attack on Redoubt 11.)

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site. Having finished all the Battle of Williamsburg sites, you can call it a day from here, or continue on to the Eltham’s Landing area, site of another minor battle on May 7, 1862.

DSC00420

Cub Creek Dam, Colonial Parkway, Williamsburg, Virginia

EXTRA CREDIT: ELTHAM’S LANDING AND BEYOND (MAY 1862)

Stop 20: Eltham’s Landing Site 1 (7090 Farmers Dr., Barhamsville, VA)

The first of two sites dedicated to the Battle of Eltham’s Landing (May 7, 1862) is a roughly 30-minute drive northwest of Cub Creek Dam. Look for a small clearing amid the trees on the left, roughly 3.8 miles up Farmers Drive from Barhamsville, Virginia. Here there is a parking area and a single Civil War Trails sign dedicated to this minor engagement.

The battle developed out of an attempt by McClellan to move several divisions by water and stage an amphibious landing to cut off Johnston’s retreat. It was a decent concept but quickly detected by Confederate forces, who marched to meet the Federals as they disembarked near West Point. Around midday on May 7, Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood’s brigade encountered and drove back Union Gen. William B. Franklin’s advancing division before returning to join the rest of Johnston’s army, which continued to withdraw toward Richmond.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site.

DSC00422

Eltham’s Landing site, Barhamsville, Virginia

Stop 21: Eltham’s Landing Site 2 (Farmers Dr. and Plum Point Rd., Plum Point, VA)

The story picks up again less than a mile up Farmers Drive on the right, at the junction with Plum Point Road. It was near here that Franklin’s division landed on May 6 before marching south the next day and encountering Hood’s brigade. While only a minor engagement, Confederate success at the Battle of Eltham’s Landing prevented McClellan’s army from cutting off Johnston’s army from Richmond.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site.

DSC00426

Eltham’s Landing site, Plum Point, Virginia

Stop 22: New Kent Court House (8038 Courthouse Cir., New Kent, VA)

The final stop on this tour is New Kent, Virginia, site of Martha Washington’s birthplace and a waypoint on Johnston’s retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond. There is little Civil War interpretation here, aside from a historical marker constructed in 1942 in front of the old New Kent Court House. For those continuing on to Part 2 of the Peninsula Campaign Tour in Richmond, New Kent is a waypoint along the way; for those heading back to the DC or Baltimore area (as I was), it is a spot to catch on the way home from Virginia Peninsula.

Note: Allot 5 minutes for this site. The final stop, New Kent is a half-hour drive from Richmond and a 2 ½-hour drive from Washington, DC.

DSC00428

New Kent Court House, New Kent, Virginia

Although McClellan suffered numerous setbacks in his march up the peninsula, the Army of the Potomac remained largely intact following the Battles of Williamsburg and Eltham’s Landing in early May 1862. It would be another month and a half until McClellan would finally forgo his attempt to seize Richmond. Nonetheless, McClellan’s consistent inability to seize the initiative on the Peninsula and to make a significant dent in Johnston’s Army of Northern Virginia ultimately contributed to the Union’s failure as it approached Richmond in mid-May. Again reflecting an overabundance of caution, McClellan slowed his advance following the Battle of Williamsburg, choosing to regroup and gear up for another siege rather than press the attack. Despite superior numbers, McClellan ceded the advantage to the Confederates, setting the stage for a series of Southern counter-offensives in late May and June that will be covered in the Peninsula Campaign Tour – Part 2…

Posted in Civil War, Colonial National Historical Park, Hampton Roads, Scenic Byways, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tuttle Trail (Redoubt Park, VA)

SONY DSC

Redoubt 2, Tuttle Trail, Redoubt Park, January 2017

– Civil War Series –

On May 5, 1862, as Confederates clashed with the Union Army nearby, Redoubts 1 and 2 remained silent during the Battle of Williamsburg, the first pitched battle of the Civil War’s Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862). These redoubts constituted the far right flank of Confederate Col. John Magruder’s “third line” of defense on the Virginia Peninsula against Union General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac—which in spring 1862 was marching at a snail’s pace toward Richmond, the Confederate capital. Today, these two earthen forts are preserved as part of Redoubt Park in southeast Williamsburg. The first is reached by way of a short, paved path; Redoubt 2 requires more of a sense of adventure: a surprisingly steep and winding trail leads through dense forest to the overgrown fortification.

Tuttle Trail Redoubt 2 Williamsburg trail hike information

The hike

Driving down Quarterpath Road from U.S. Route 60 in Williamsburg, Redoubt Park is situated off to the left, just before the road turns to dirt and passes Tutter’s Neck Pond. The Redoubt 1 hike takes off from the west side of the parking area, while the Tuttle Trail to Redoubt 2 heads east.

DSC00398

Start of Tuttle Trail, Redoubt Park

Named for a long-time Williamsburg city manager, the Tuttle Trail immediately plunges into the woods but quickly takes an odd turn in which the dusty path nearly doubles back on itself. After this initial twist of switchbacks, the trail descends a minor ravine and crosses the first of three wooden bridges at 0.15 miles. From here the trail crests a ridge and then descends a set of stairs to cross a second bridge at the ¼-mile mark.

DSC00402

Bridge along Tuttle Trail

A third bridge follows around 70 yards later, and then the trail climbs sharply before plateauing. The final stretch to the redoubt is relatively level and within earshot of Quarterpath Road to the west. At roughly 4/10 mile, a Civil War Trails wayside provides an overview of the Battle of Williamsburg—an inconclusive fight that nonetheless slowed McClellan’s march toward Richmond—and is positioned at the base of the fort.

SONY DSC

Rain-soaked ditch at Redoubt 2

Though incomplete on the eve of battle, Redoubt 2 comprised a relatively significant surface area and an impressive surrounding ditch (which, after rains, doubled as a moat). Bearing left, the trail skirts the edge of the ditch then crosses a bridge to enter the earthworks; here a second sign includes a scan of an old map of the Williamsburg Line—the 14 redoubts comprising Magruder’s third tier of defenses. While the redoubt saw no fighting during the war, Gen. James Longstreet’s 17th Virginia crossed Quarterpath Road, just to the north of here, on the day of the battle on May 5, 1862; the regiment was en route to the battle lines at Bloody Ravine. The redoubt also hosted a small battery.

SONY DSC

Bridge into Redoubt 2

After exploring the redoubt, head back the way you came. Allot at least 30 minutes for the round-trip hike of roughly one mile.

Posted in Civil War, Hampton Roads, Moderate Hikes, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Redoubt 1 Trail (Redoubt Park, VA)

DSC00396

Redoubt 1 Trail, Redoubt Park, January 2017

– Civil War Series –

On the eve of battle in May 1862, Confederate Col. John Magruder’s “third line” of defenses on the Virginia Peninsula comprised 14 redoubts—small, enclosed defensive fortifications built from earth, sod, and timber. Together they served to temporarily delay the Union Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign (March-July 1862) in an engagement known as the Battle of Williamsburg.

Aptly-named Redoubt Park in Williamsburg preserves two of the 14 redoubts in Magruder’s third line. Though neither saw fighting during the battle, they remain well-maintained, unlike many others in the area that have been lost to creeping suburban development. The walk to and around Redoubt 1 is paved and partly wheelchair-accessible; five waysides tell the story of Magruder’s line and the Federals’ partial victory in the Battle of Williamsburg.

Redoubt 1 trail Redoubt Park Civil War hike information

The hike

Redoubt Park is situated in southeast Williamsburg, a short drive down Quarterpath Road from bustling U.S. Route 60. Drive past Quarterparth Park, entering a wooded area. Then bear left into Redoubt Park’s only parking area. Two trails depart from here: the easy Redoubt 1 hike and the winding Tuttle Trail, which leads through the forest to Redoubt 2. Park off to the right for the Redoubt 1 Trail. Here a Civil War Trails sign provides a summary, in broad strokes, of Williamsburg during the war, long past its heyday in the colonial days that made the town famous.

Bearing west on the paved path, the trail approaches Quarterpath Road and then winds south. Though wooded today, in May 1862 this area was cleared and teeming with Confederate forces, a last bastion in Magruder’s three-tier defense of the peninsula. Situated 600-800 yards apart, the 14 redoubts of the third line had to wait longer than expected to see action: Union Gen. George McClellan, famed for what Abraham Lincoln dubbed the “slows,” inched his Army of the Potomac up the peninsula at seemingly a snail’s pace in the spring of 1862. Wary of Confederate defenses, McClellan took nearly a month to overtake Magruder’s second and strongest “Warwick-Yorktown” line in early May.

DSC00388

Trail to Redoubt 1

As McClellan prepared a massive bombardment of Magruder’s second line, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston pulled his forces back to the Williamsburg Line on May 3. Two days later, advancing Union forces caught Johnston’s rearguard, and the first pitched battle of the Peninsula Campaign ensued.

The Battle of Williamsburg took place farther east from where you are now, but the series of waysides along the trail today tell the story of the inconclusive fighting on May 5, 1862. While Redoubt 1 was unoccupied on May 5, Quarterpath Road served as a vital artery for both Union scouts and Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his famed cavalry.

DSC00392

Redoubt 1

After 1/10 mile, the boardwalk trail clears the outer perimeter of the redoubt, revealing a short loop within. Heading down the steps to the right, the trail drops to surface level, then climbs a set of steps again to round the loop in a counter-clockwise direction. (Note: The waysides are arranged chronologically this way.) A south-facing wayside offers a view of Quarterpath Road and the approach of Union forces on May 5. By the time Federal troops arrived at Redoubt 1, the Battle of Williamsburg was already reaching its climax on the other side of the peninsula.

DSC00395

View of Quarterpath Road to the south

Ultimately, the Union’s greater numbers forced Confederate troops to retreat farther up the peninsula toward Richmond. But the Battle of Williamsburg again persuaded McClellan to slow his advance on the Confederate capital, allowing the Southerners to regroup and prepare for the battles to come.

DSC00397

Perimeter defenses of Redoubt 1

After rounding the circuit, head back on the paved path to the parking area. Those looking for more can also check out Redoubt 2 on the Tuttle Trail, which starts across the parking lot to the east.

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Hampton Roads, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twin Forts Loop Trail (Newport News Park, VA)

DSC00263

Twin Forts Loop Trail, Newport News Park, January 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Twin Forts Loop Trail in Virginia’s Newport News explores the site of the Battle of Dam No. 1, a failed Union attack on a Confederate fortification on April 16, 1862. Part of the three-month Peninsula Campaign, the Union defeat was the second of the month (a similar effort failed at nearby Lee’s Mill on April 5) and reinforced Gen. George McClellan’s reluctance to press forward with an attack on Richmond, the nascent Confederate capital. The battle ended with 165 Union and 90 Confederate casualties, the bloodiest battle of the campaign to date.

Now overtaken by hardwood forest, the former battleground lies within present-day Newport News Park and—like much of Confederate Col. John Magruder’s “second line” of fortifications on the peninsula—it is relatively well-preserved. The Twin Forts hike—which clocks in at around 1.2 miles and includes a scenic crossing of Lee Hall Reservoir—includes a series of waysides that covers the narrative of the battle.

Twin Forts Loop Trail hike information Newport News Park

Twin Forts Loop Trail Map Newport News Park hike

Map of Twin Forts Loop Trail, Newport News Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

At around 8,000 acres, Newport News Park is one of America’s largest municipal parks, situated adjacent to Yorktown Battlefield in the heart of the Virginia Peninsula. The former site of Dam No. 1 lies just north of Constitution Way, roughly one mile east of the Newport News Park Headquarters. (Note: As of January 2017, the trailhead was closed for construction, forcing hikers to backtrack slightly and park at the Discovery Center on the right.)

A white historical marker at the Discovery Center lays out the setting: after an initial Union attack at Big Bethel in June 1861, Confederate Col. John Magruder set about establishing a three-tier system of defenses on the peninsula to thwart a potential Federal march on Richmond. Such a threat arrived in March 1862, when Gen. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac began a slow slog up upcountry from Fort Monroe. By early April, the Union Army had breached Magruder’s weak first line but was thwarted at nearby Lee’s Mill, a Confederate-held chokepoint along the much stronger second front.

Following this setback, McClellan halted his advance up the peninsula, much to the chagrin of President Abraham Lincoln, who was pressing for a swift capture of Richmond. Instead, the Army of the Potomac settled in for a long siege: he aimed to slowly blast away at his enemy at Yorktown, mirroring the tactics of George Washington’s army on the same battlefield 81 years earlier. The sole engagement during the month-long siege would occur at Dam No. 1…

From the Discovery Center, follow the paved track over a short boardwalk and through the woods to Constitution Way. Cross the road and stop at a series of markers on the right. Here a Civil War Trails sign summarizes the battle, while a replica of an old painting depicts the fighting as it looked in 1862. Just beyond, as you approach Lee Hall Reservoir, lies a monument to North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana regiments, as well as a trail fork—stay straight on the path over the Dam No. 1 Bridge. (Note: The White Oak Nature Trail skirts the shores of Lee Hall Reservoir to the right.)

As you cross the lengthy boardwalk, it is worth noting that the terrain here looks different today than it did during the battle. Today’s reservoir is much bigger than the lake created by the Confederates as part of their defenses in 1862. However, the Warwick River proved to be a significant barrier to the Union advance.

DSC00261

Crossing Lee Hall Reservoir to the Twin Forts Loop Trail

The attack on April 16 began as a probe—after 11 days of stalling, McClellan sent 18 cannons and a relatively small infantry force under Brig. Gen. William “Baldy” Smith to scope out the Confederate defenses and, if possible, press an attack. Smith did as much, opening with volleys of artillery fire in the morning, following by an infantry attack in the afternoon, when he ordered around 200 troops from the 3rd Vermont Infantry to cross the river and seize the enemy’s rifle pits on the other side. Despite taking fire, the Vermonters succeeded in taking the position from the Confederates…for the moment.

The remnants of the Confederate fortifications come into view as you cross the reservoir and reach a trail junction, the official start of the Twin Forts Loop Trail. Take a left on the dusty path to follow the story in chronological order; the next wayside—titled “One-Gun Battery” and situated close to the position seized by the Vermonters—is up ahead on the left. Past the sign, the trail leaves the shores of the reservoir and bears northwest into the woods. Confederate earthworks are visible on the right. At 4/10 mile, the path crosses a minor ravine then intersects with wider Long Meadow Trail at about the half-mile mark. Take a right, then take a right again steps later as the Twin Forts path bears east to continue the loop.

DSC00270

Confederate earthworks along the Twin Forts Loop Trail

After their initial success, the Vermonters braced for a counterattack, though this too failed as the 15th North Carolina Infantry received an unauthorized order to retreat. The Union regiment, however, was set up to fail: with wet ammunition and no reinforcements, their position was unsustainable.

The trail from here explores the upper reaches of Confederate earthworks, where Brig. Gen. Howell Cobb planned his counterpunch. As Cobb’s North Carolinians regrouped, they again pressed the attack and forced the overwhelmed Vermonters to retreat back across the Warwick River. The rest of Brig. Gen. Lafayette McLaws’ division arrived thereafter, helping the Confederates to repel a second Union attack in the evening. Darkness fell, and the Federals called it quits. Historians see the Battle of Dam No. 1 as a lost opportunity for the Yankees, and it would take another 2-3 weeks for the numerically-superior Federal force to press through Magruder’s second line.

DSC00274

Twin Forts Loop Trail, Newport News Park

Completing the circuit, the Twin Forts Trail rounds a bend and returns to the reservoir at around 9/10 mile. Stay left at the fork and cross the boardwalk again, returning to Constitution Way. Cross the road and make your way uphill to the Discovery Center, where the hike began. Allot between 30 minutes and an hour for this easy, pleasant hike.

(Fun fact: George Armstrong Custer, famous for his “last stand” against the Plains Indians in 1876 at Little Bighorn, fought for the Union in the Battle of Dam No. 1.)

SONY DSC

Crossing the reservoir again, back toward the trailhead

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Hampton Roads, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lee’s Mill Trail (Lee’s Mill Historic Park, VA)

SONY DSC

Lee’s Mill Trail, Lee’s Mill Historic Park, January 2017

– Civil War Series –

The Battle of Lee’s Mill on April 5, 1862 was, by all accounts, a minor engagement in the Civil War: it produced only 10 Confederate and 12 Union casualties. In the narrative of Union Maj. Gen. George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign, however, it was very consequential; a fierce Confederate resistance forced attacking Federal forces to retreat, a setback for the Yankees that persuaded McClellan to temporarily halt his advance up the Virginia Peninsula toward Richmond. It would be another month until his forces broke through Confederate Col. John Magruder’s Peninsula defenses.

Though Richard D. Lee’s grist mill is no more, the battle site is relatively well-preserved: a short loop trail circles extensive earthworks while a series of excellent waysides, courtesy of the Virginia Civil War Trails, provides a narrative explanation of the fighting. Situated in a suburban neighborhood in Newport News, Virginia, this brief hike offers an opportunity to get out and stretch your legs as part of a larger Peninsula Campaign tour.

Lee's Mill Trail hike information Newport News Civil War

Lee's Mill Trail map Newport News loop hike Civil War

Map of Lee’s Mill Trail, Lee’s Mill Historic Park; created using National Geographic Maps/AllTrails, alltrails.com (Check out the interactive map and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The trailhead is not far from the intersection of Interstate 64 and Virginia State Route 105 (exit 250) in Newport News. From busy Warwick Boulevard, turn onto Lee’s Mill Road, heading southwest into a residential neighborhood. Drive 1/10 mile and turn left on Rivers Ridge Circle, bearing around the curve for 2/10 mile until you spot a small parking area for Lee’s Mill Historic Park on the left. A Civil War Trails sign at the parking area gives an overview of the battle.

SONY DSC

Trail start

From the parking area, bear left onto a wide, partly graveled track heading into the woods. Weaving amid oak, hickory, and beech trees, the trail crests a minor hill then descends gradually to a trail fork after 100 yards. Here a second sign tells the story of the construction of the Confederate earthworks at Lee’s Mill, which were influenced by French military engineer Marshal Sebastian le Prestre de Vauban.

Take a right, following the loop along a counter-clockwise route. (Note: The waysides are positioned chronologically in this direction.) The next sign reached details Col. John Magruder’s strategy for the Confederate defenses on the Peninsula: three lines of fortifications arrayed between Fort Monroe (occupied by the Union throughout the war) and Richmond, the Confederate capital. Behind a weak, initial line (spanning from Deep Creek to the Poquoson River), the second, Warwick-Yorktown Line, was the strongest. (Note: The third line consisted of a series of redoubts near Williamsburg, Virginia.) Positioned near the right flank of the second defensive line, the Confederate garrison at Lee’s Mill occupied a strategic location at a key crossing of the Warwick River. As of early April 1862, Brig. Gen. Lafayette McLaws commanded 1,800 Confederate troops at the heavily-fortified post.

Take a short detour at around the 150-yard mark, traversing a short boardwalk that ends in the heart of the earthworks. While the view south is obscured, this spot provides a good look at the ramparts surrounding the fort.

SONY DSC

Confederate earthworks from the spur trail

Returning to the main trail, take a left and follow the winding path as it skirts a lengthy wooden fence. The next wayside tells the Union side of the story: the arrival in March 1862 of a massive Federal force, under McClellan’s command, which nonetheless took its time inching up the peninsula toward Richmond. On April 4, the Army of the Potomac marched up to Magruder’s first line in two columns, forcing the Confederates to retreat to the second line. The following day, Maj. Gen. Erasmus Keyes’ IV Corps approached the Warwick River at Lee’s Mill, where they were met with a barrage of artillery fire as well as a Confederate infantry counter-attack. Facing stiff resistance and difficult, swampy terrain, Keyes’ Corps was forced to pull back.

SONY DSC

Warwick River and the swamp that slowedKeyes’ forces

Advancing down the trail, the swamp comes into view: a muddy bog clogged with tall grasses, fronted to the north by a steep woody slope, where the earthworks were positioned. It’s no wonder that Keyes declared after the battle, “No part of this line as discovered can be taken without an enormous waste of life.” That was enough to convince the ever-cautious Gen. McClellan—whom President Lincoln would later criticize as having “the slows”—to halt the Union advance, choosing instead to lay siege to nearby Yorktown to gradually wear down Magruder’s defenses. It would be another month until the Federals broke through the second line, a delay that would give the Confederates more time to prepare for the battles to come.

Now bearing northeast, the trail descends a lengthy boardwalk overlooking the Warwick River, then rounds another corner and heads up a minor ravine to complete the loop. Bear right and continue the final 100 yards back to the parking area. Accounting for stops to read each of the signs, I would recommend allotting 20-30 minutes for this short and pleasant walk.

References

David J. Eicher, The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War (Simon & Schuster: 2001), pages 215-217.

Michael Weeks, Civil War Road Trip, Volume I (The Countryman Press: 2011), pages 133-134.

Posted in Civil War, Easy Hikes, Hampton Roads, Virginia | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments