Virginia Trip 2021 | Days 6 & 7 | Dahlgren, Fredericksburg, and Colonial Beach, VA
As soon as we arrived in Dahlgren, it became apparent that we had simply too much planned for the short 2 days that we would be here. I briefly mentioned this at the end of our last post, but as we neared Fredericksburg, we began to realize just how much history is out here and that there was no way we’d be able to see it all. We like to try to be as efficient as we can while traveling by seeing all the historic sites or national park sites on our route, but today we realized that wasn’t possible. It hurt just a little driving past the Wilderness and Chancellorsville Battlefields, but it was already after 5 so visitor centers would be closed and we were hungry and tired from our hiking and driving that day. We ended up taking it easy that night and hoped we’d have time to do a few historic sites during our 2 full days here.
However, it turned out that we had even less time than we thought. Curtis of course had to work both days, and ended up being gone from 8-4:30 each day. Even if we narrowed our focus to 2 sites that were each 30 minutes away (Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania and George Washington’s birthplace) we wouldn’t be able to reach the visitor’s center in time to simply get cancellation stamps. While it was disappointing, we couldn’t complain, because technically Curtis’ work was the reason we were here and had this mostly-comped trip in the first place… Besides that, Curtis also had a more time-consuming homework assignment for the week, and since we had a few more nights of camping planned after our time in Dahlgren, this was really the only time he could work on it before getting home on Sunday night.
One cool thing that happened though was that the first day when Charlotte and I were alone, I found out that some friends of ours from Arizona, Pat & Jack, happened to be driving through the area that day and we were able to meet for lunch. Charlotte and I had a great time visiting with them outside at our hotel’s pavilion.
That evening, Curtis and I drove up to Fredericksburg to have dinner with Curtis’ work friends. We met them at Capitol Ale House in the downtown area. Some were apologetic that we “had to travel to Dahlgren” as if there was nothing to do there, which we found ironic because we felt there was enough to at least fill a few days, and also the military was paying for this trip, so why would we be disappointed? Anyway, we enjoyed our meal and chatting with people, then when we were finished we went for a walk around the Fredericksburg historic downtown area. While there, we were reminded of some of our favorite things about living in the South: the colonial style architecture, and the different flowers that bloomed year-round. The crepe myrtles were in full bloom all around town.
We wanted to see at least a little of Fredericksburg Battlefield, but with sunset approaching we had to pick one site and waste no time. We chose to drive over to Lee’s Hill, where we made the short walk and read info signs along the way.
History by Curtis: The Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park preserves the history of almost two years of the Civil War encompassed in four battlefields. The section centered around Fredericksburg preserves the defensive positions of the Lee and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the December of 1862 when General Burnsides and the Army of the Potomac attempted to assault the city of Richmond but was delayed and ultimately checked by Lee in a very one-sided and bloody Confederate Victory.
The next day, we had wanted to drive down the Potomac and visit George Washington’s birthplace and Colonial Beach area, but we learned that not only would the visitor center close at 5, but the site also had gates that closed promptly at 5 so it didn’t seem worth the drive to only see the house from the outside. Instead, we just drove to Colonial Beach and got out to walk along the Potomac River. The water along the Potomac was still and peaceful, and would’ve maybe been a good place to kayak had there not been a storm coming – at least we technically crossed into Maryland to bag a new county (the Virginia-Maryland Border is such that Maryland owns the entirety of the Potomac up to the low water line on the Virginia shore…and since the beaches at Colonial Beach were added they are technically in Maryland). We got back to the car just as raindrops started to fall, and soon were caught driving in one of those famous Southern torrential downpours. There were even tornado warnings in nearby towns — do you ever feel like bad weather just follows you around the country? Because we were certainly feeling that as we drove! We had wanted to get seafood while there, but we couldn’t find anything suitable so we ended up returning to Hancho’s Hibachi Box for more drive-through hibachi.
The next morning, we had to check out of our hotel and begin our drive West. Maybe if there were a next time, we would fly and extend our stay…but for now, we had a long drive and the military wouldn’t pay for another night in the hotel. Before leaving Eastern Virginia, we made a little time to stop and drive through Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield. Like Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania Courthouse marked a battle along the road to Richmond. But unlike in 1862, Lee faced General Grant. And while Lee was arguably a better tactician and soldier, by this point in the war Grant had realized that the Union could win the war by attrition: Grant simply had more men and equipment to use. In May of 1864, after crossing the Rapidan and making for Richmond, Grant was engaged by Lee at the Battle of the Wilderness (the third battle preserved by this NPS). After sustaining heavy losses Grant simply kept pushing towards Richmond. Lee, ever the soldier, maneuvered in front of Grant’s column and set up a defensive position North of the town of Spotsylvania Courthouse. Another bloody engagement ensued with heavy losses on both sides. And Grant pressed on to Richmond. This series of events occurred twice more at the Battle of North Anna and at Cold Harbor before finally Grant trapped Lee into defensive positions around St. Petersburg (another National Park Site) for the remainder of 1864.
There wasn’t a visitor center here, so we simply drove through the park, stopping to read roadside signs, and got out for a short walk before continuing on our way West.