Fayetteville, NC to Richmond, VA
Today, we woke up in Fayetteville, NC, and after a hearty breakfast at Fayetteville’s “original” Pancake House (is there some pancake house rivalry going on? Does someone else claim to be the real original? Sadly we do not have the answers to these burning questions), we headed north 211 miles to Richmond, VA.
Along the way, we stopped at a couple of Civil War battlefields. The weather was hot and clear, sunny and sweltering. Everything was cast in a sort of sepia-toned loveliness. Maybe it was that we had set out in search of the Civil War, and, by God, here were signs that it was out there. We were/are involved in a very real journey that had/has finally burst free of the classroom or the brainstorm. Driving north on I-95, we chased down every sign marking a historical site… or, every one that we could (for instance, the Bentonville battlefield site ended up being something like 20 miles off the interstate, so we kept trucking north).
First, we stopped at Averasboro. We followed a rundown route through fields and past derelict houses, peeling paint and toppled factories. Here in North Carolina, it seemed, we had stumbled on a rift between past and present, just as we had hoped to. One problem, though: the Averasboro battlefield museum is closed on Mondays. We headed a bit farther down the road, and found the Chicora cemetery, small but powerfully moving. Here, among the monuments were a series of headstones that, instead of names, proclaimed “Six dead,” indicating that below us rested a number of soldiers too badly injured in the battle to identify. Even standing in the hot sun on a perfectly serene Monday, it was hard to not feel for these fallen soldiers.
At the Chicora Cemetery, we met a couple by the name of Lockwood who were themselves traveling around North Carolina battlefields. They were kind enough to let us interview them on camera (an excerpt of that discussion will soon be available on this site), and they raised — among other points — the issue that for people like Matt and me, the Civil War was history, but for many throughout the American South, it was reality. We see this as an important distinction that we may have previously overlooked. So, Catherine Lockwood, we thank you for giving us something else to think about as we tackle this issue.
Once we crossed into Viriginia (which, several signs pointed out, is for lovers), we came across the Petersburg battlefield. We learned that a battle was waged here for 9 1/2 months of intense trench warfare. The ground was cratered and pockmarked with canon fire. We also discovered the Dictator, a 17,000-pound behemoth of a weapon that fired a 250-pound cannon ball. Again, even on a peaceful Monday afternoon, the physical toll of the Civil War was obvious; you could see it in the landscape.
As Catherine Lockwood also pointed out to us, we need only look around us to find the effects of the Civil War. When we stopped at the Virginia welcome center, we picked up no less than 15 brochures for Civil War attractions. And as we drove, it was all around us in fields, in broken-down houses, in Southern cities struggling to modernize and move on.
Being from Florida, we couldn’t have imagined what it would be like to drive through a part of the country so thick with Civil War sites. It’s a very real and visceral part of the lives of the people around here. Looking around the Averasboro battlefield — a sweeping expanse of sun-scorched field, with no modernity in sight, save for a narrow strip of highway carving a shallow cut through it all — it was not too big of a leap to imagine what it might have felt like to step onto this field in March of 1865.
Days Inn, Richmond, VA