Trip Rpt. No. 7 -- New Market, Staunton, and CLE
Jun 20, 2014
For years, I passed the New Market Battlefield when traveling on Interstate 81 and wanted to stop and see it. Well, now I have the time and decided to "just do it."
I thought that it was logical to spend the night in the little town of New Market and visit the battlefield in the morning before the temperature rose. The second part of that thought was correct. If you are traveling I81, do not stop for a meal or the night in New Market. Just do not do it. Staunton and Lexington are a short distance to the south and Woodstock is a short distance to the north. All are better.
As for the Battle, it is not all that interesting when compared to other confrontations during the War. Essentially, it was lost by Union General Sigel whose mistakes present a cautionary tale, but little more. Moreover, it does not appear to be that important in the grand scheme of things, except that it bought time for the harvesting of crops in the valley, which were sent to hungry Confederate troops and civilians.
The site has two things to recommend it, however. First, there is a fairly easy walking tour of the battlefield that is comprised of a one-mile loop, with an optional one-mile additional hike. Although there is really not that much to see on the field, the vistas are spectacular. On the eastern side of the field, you gaze at Massanutten Mountain just a couple of miles away with the Blue Ridge behind it (Massanutten may technically be part of the Blue Ridge.). On the western side of the field, you look across the wide valley to the Alleghenies at the edge of the horizon. It is breathtaking.
Second, there is a small museum dedicated to he role of Virginia during the War. I assumed that it would be a grapy, little hole-in-the-wall with a few pedestrian exhibits. I was wrong. It is small as museums go, but its main exhibit sets out a great timeline of the war. Yes, the Battles at Chancellorsville and New Market get five to eight feet of display space and Gettysburg and Vicksburg are reduced to a line. But, it still gives you a great sense of flow to the War.
So, if you are toodling on I81 on a beautiful day, stop and take a nice walk along the Battlefield and enjoy the vistas. If it is raining, stop at the museum for an intellectual respite. Just eat or sleep before or after New Market.
New Market and VMI Cadets
The unique aspect of the Battle here is that the cadets of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, VA, fought in the Battle as a group. I gather that VMI now controls or owns the Battlefield and the museum that is also the visitors' center. Not surprisingly then, the film at the Center is dedicated to describing the participation of the cadets in the Battle. The film points out the maturity, bravery, and honor (as well as other abstract nouns) of the cadets.
Given my warped point-of-view, the film told me that Confederate MG Breckinridge sent approximately 250 teenagers, with no battle experience, to the front lines. at that point in the War but Breckinridge probably overestimated Sigel's strength). I do not understand why he had to use the cadets. Even the film does not imply that there participation was determinative.
To make matters worse, using VMI cadets in combat enabled General Thomas (Sigel's successor) to conclude -- not without some justification -- that VMI was a "combatant" institution, just like a military headquarters. Breckinridge failed to foresee this consequence.
Thomas, a crony of Lincoln, had the zeal of jihadist when it came to emancipation and the war. But, as is often true of zealots, he had the political sense of a yam. So, he decided to burn VMI to the ground. He was vilified by both sides for this act. Alas, the folks at VMI did not take the opportunity to improve the architecture when they rebuilt it. Pity.
On 16 June, I fled to Staunton, a town about halfway between New Market and Lexington on I81. For some mysterious reason, the locals pronounce it "Stanton" while Yankees pronounce it properly as "Stah-un-ton". I think that this is an "I say 'pot-tah-toe', you say 'tater'" thing.
Naturally, there were actions around Staunton during the Civil War, but its claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson. The fact that Wilson left town when he was one-year old somewhat diminishes the luster of the claim. But, the locals restored the house in which he was born and created a museum for Wilson. It was mildly interesting -- but the post-presidency house on "S" Street in DC is more interesting as I remember.
The town is very nice and has a lot going for it. There is still a "downtown". It hosts the American Shakespeare Center that produces quality plays year round. During the summer there is the Heifetz Festival featuring classical music. I will try to catch a performance at the Center but, alas, I will miss the Heifetz. In addition, the town hosts Mary Baldwin College.
The downtown seems to be very active. It still has two, old-fashioned movie theaters. Also, there is an arts center. Better yet, there appears to be a goodly number of nicer restaurants and some good, everyday ones. Surprisingly, they had a Indian restaurant and a Mexican one. I ate at a gastro-pub that was good, not quite as exotic as "2 cents" in Key West, but good. It was far superior to the culinary wasteland that was New Market.
Unfortunately, I need to fulfill my "Continuing Legal Education" requirements for the Florida Bar. So, I decided to return to Lexington for a few days and hide out in a hotel and take computer courses until my mind turned to jelly.
There are some good lectures offered by the Florida Bar. But most are not very good, and some are downright terrible. I do not understand why the Bar features lecturers that cannot complete a sentence without saying "ah" not once, but twice. Moreover, they read you the statute or the rule and then paraphrase it. I could do that. They do not provide any insight. Yet, the Bar thinks this is valuable. Go figure.
To reward myself for putting up with this crap, I have nice dinners. One night, I went back to the Bistro. For an appetizer, I had hummus, tapenade and goat cheese with toasted pita. The hummus was a bland mix of red peppers and chick peas. But the tapenade and the goat cheese more than made up for it. For my main course, I switched continents. After all, foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. I had seared, sesame encrusted tuna over soba noodles with snow peas -- excellent. Who thought that one could come upon fresh tuna and soba noodles in Western Virginia?
Tonight, I returned to the Southern Inn, in which I was a tad disappointed on my first visit. It was much, much better the second time around. I had sautéed monkfish -- a favorite of mine when I was younger but, alas, now is missing from menus. This monkfish was cooked perfectly. It was accompanied by couscous with olives and tomatoes. This was sort of a repeat of Domestic in Shepherdstown. But, I can deal with this quality of repeat. There was one additional significant difference, it was also accompanied by a tasty arugula salad.
Even though I consumed a large portion of fish, I was still a tad peckish. So, I did something unusual and ordered dessert -- pecan pie or as Henry called it "Karo nut pie". I make a mean pecan tart -- but this was better than mine. While it did not make me feel like a superior baker, it made be feel very satisfied.
Tomorrow, I head by to Staunton for a production of Macbeth that I hope counterbalances the additional, mind-numbing CLE courses that I will be doing.