This blog is a reprint of my internet journal from 2001 to 2002 in which I documented my "vagabond" solo journey in a Chevy Conversion Van tracing my roots. I not only traced their paths and found their homes and final resting places, but I did extensive genealogical research in court houses, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, cemeteries, and talked to the local people. I traveled with a laptop to upload my notes and photos, and use e-mail. It was a fantastic journey which lasted two years. I had no other home except my van to sleep in...just a bed and video player. My household goods were put into storage for two years. My mail was delivered to me at general delivery when I phoned "MailBox, etc." and told them where to send it. At night I stayed in campgrounds, motels, friends' backyards, friends' homes, and those of the few living relations I've tracked down. As I traveled I collected so much genealogy information, that I had to get rid of items that I had originally thought essential to my travels (like a microwave oven). Between ancestral sites, I visited any tourist sites I could find and got to know alot about the USA. This was a trip of a lifetime and I'm still sorting through all the wonderful memories, photos and invaluable genealogical data I found. I will post to this blog as I can - one or a few days at a time of that journey from 2001 to 2002

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Ancestor Tracking 31 May 2001

31 May 2001         Gettysburg, PA---- Hershey, PA

Picketts Charge field - Gettysburg
 Another chilly night in my Vagabond Van, but I slept well, and left the campground by 7:30 am to start on my battlefield tour by audiotape that I purchased yesterday.  It started at the site of the July 1st engagements to the West of Gettysburg and continued with the battles on July 2nd and finishing with Pickett’s Charge on July 3.rd    3000 Union men died and 4,500 Confederate soldiers died. 
Robert E. Lee Statue -Gettysburg
This is the "Copse of Trees"  -Gettysburg

Maj Warren at Little Round Top - Gettysburg
Gettysburg from top of Little Round Top - Gettysburg
There are supposed to be 1000 statues in the battle fields.  I didn’t believe that at first, but after today, I do believe it.  I’ve never seen so many monuments dotting fields and roads, commerating divisions, brigades, and regiments and where they were positioned for the various battles.

1863 photo of Devil's Den - Gettysburg
2001 view of Devil's Den - Gettysburg
  I saw the “Cyclorama” - a circle painting made in 1880 which depicts Pickett’s Frontal Assault.  By the afternoon I felt quite knowledgeable – or at least sufficiently knowledgeable to depart from the war and take the tour to the Gettysburg Farm of President Eisenhower.
         The retirement home of the Eisenhowers is just west of Seminary Ridge and was in a photo I took from one of the battle observation towers earlier.  It was good to see the home of a President who was alive when I was alive.  In fact I have a 1952 “I like Ike” scarf from the campaign.  I was VERY little at the time, of course.  This farm tour was excellent.  It's a part of the National Park Service.  The home remains just as Mamie had left it when she died in 1979.

Eisenhower's Gettysburg Farm

The Eisenhower Rose
After an identical meal  as yesterday at McDonalds (chicken salad, fruit yoghurt, and tiny hamburger) I was off to Hershey, PA to find some of the famous chocolate.  Finding the $35 Red Carpet Inn was a struggle, but I did find it.  After seeing it I didn’t wonder why it is half the price of the other motels and not listed in my AAA book.  But he said I could use the phone line after 10pm to connect with the internet, so I checked in.  You know it’s pretty bad when the only thing I can find on TV is a Jane Fonda movie.  I ate the McDonalds’ fruit parfait and am waiting until 10 pm to upload this journal entry to the internet.  Tomorrow I’ll go to Chocolate World.  I tried to get there after I checked in, but – I felt like what’s his name, Chevy Chase?, in the movie “Vacation,” or something like that, with the family going across country and finding Wally World closed, so was Chocolate World closed for me.  I'll be back in the morning!  Maybe I'll find Willy Wonka.

Hershey Chocolate Factory, Hershey PA

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ancestor Tracking 30 May 2001

30 May 2001            New Market, VA   to   Gettysburg, PA via  WV and  MD

After a sleep that made me glad I was in a warm sleeping bag in New Market, VA, I got up at 6:30 am and made hot water using the electrical supply from the camp site.  I remembered the first morning I was walking around in Harper’s Ferry and I saw a big RV leaving his site to depart.  Behind him was 25 ft of electrical cord.  He had forgotten to disconnect his power cord from the box.  I flagged him down and he was a bit embarrassed.   I was thinking when I plugged in today, that I don’t want to do that!  I used the next two hours to replace batteries and look for the elusive tire air pressure gauge.  Hmmmm it’s here somewhere.
Electrical cord through the window of my van

Sheep at the New Market campground

Leaving the nearly empty campground I drove back through the interesting little town of New Market.  I had meant to look in the “Old Books Store” but it wasn’t open when I passed.  I wanted to get to the New Market Historic Battlefield from the Civil War and Hall of Valor run by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  It was just west of the town.  A few of us early birds asked them to show the film at 9am as they opened, so they did.  It was a stirring and poignant film about the VMI Cadets and their brave participation in the battle against the Union General Sheridan, and his men. They marched from their boarding school in Lexington VA to New Market VA and about 10 boys were killed. 

New Market Battlefield from Hall of Valor site

Cannon at the New Market VA Battlefield
VMI owns many acres of the battlefield and a farmhouse that was on the site.  It was a beautiful crisp morning to walk the path of the cadets into the battle lines.  Victory that day on May 15, 1864, was to the Confederates, but it wasn’t long before the Union took the Shenandoah Valley.  There is an excellent exhibit in the modern Hall of Valor which describes the Civil War, and it is the first time I have been able to begin to put all the little battles, in place in my mind, so as to understand how each played a part in the saga of the entire war from 1861 to 1865.
View of Shenandoah River
I finally left Virginia.  After criss-crossing it a couple times, I’ve really enjoyed the best aspects of the state, but time to move north.  Back up I-81 Shenandoah Valley through a bit of West Virginia, then a bit of Maryland, then into Pennsylvania.  I can actually see the difference in the houses.  There are so many old houses in these Eastern states.  My goodness, in California they would probably all get on a historic register.  Of course my cousins in Britain would think a hundred year old house was quite modern.

I talked to the people at the PA Visitors’ Center at the border and got a bunch more pamphlets and maps.  Within the hour I was checking into the KOA at Gettysburg, PA.  Again this campground was not full.  I decided on a campground because all the motels seem to cost $75/night minimum.  Anyway, I got to use my coupon for a free night.  After 5 nights, at KOA, you get one free until 3 July, so I might as well take advantage of that.  But I did get a site with electricity.  Might as well, it doesn’t cost that much more.

Then off to the National Park Service Visitor’s Center at Gettysburg.  Overwhelmed might be a good term to describe the feeling of all the people, and all the choices of what to do to see everything at this battlefield.  I decided to see an orientation film, then see the “Electrical Map” that depicts the different battle lines from 1 to 3 July 1863.  Lee thought he had a good chance of gaining ground in the North, after their big win in Chancellorsville, VA.  But the three days of fighting and ending with the classic frontal assault “Pickett’s Charge” left thousands dead and forced Lee to retreat back to the South.  Four months later Abraham Lincoln came to dedicate the cemetery as a National Cemetery, and he delivered the two-minute speech which every school child should know – The Gettysburg Address. 

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

At Gettysburg Peace Monument
View of the famous Gettysburg "Stone Wall"

The KOA campground here at Gettysburg was cozy and the shower hot, so all is well.  The family next to me offered the hot grill for me to use, but I’d already eaten, and nothing to cook anyway.
Tomorrow I'll see more of the Gettysburg Battlefield.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ancestor Tracking -29 May 2001 Virginia

Today I decided to leave the KOA Campground at Fredericksburg, VA early, so by 8:30 I was on the road. But I couldn't resist checking out the geese all around. There was a misty type rain, and overcast.  I drove around Fort A.P. Hill.  Now I know it was named after a Confederate General.  I decided last night, that my visit in Virginia wouldn’t be complete without seeing the birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E. Lee.  So I drove east about 60 miles.  It is interesting that Washington, Madison, Monroe, and Robert E. Lee were all born on this, the Northern Neck of Virginia, which goes out into the Chesapeake Bay.  The area is very beautiful.
Geese at the Campground, Frederisksburg, VA
Pigs at George Washington's farm
Originally tobacco plantations, these estates were very large and wooded.  The views of the Potomac River were beautiful.  Washinton’s birthplace was called “Wakefield” and Lee’s was called “Strattford Hall.”  
View from Washington's house to Chesapeake Bay
Inside George Washington's recreated birthplace

I love this view of the cattle in the river by R.E. Lee's home- it reminds me of the Hudson River Art Movement Style
The Potomac River - now and then
I decided against driving further east to the little village of Hague.  It was tempting to do so because that is my maiden name, but I decided I had better get on back to Fredericksburg because I still wanted to see George Washington’s boyhood home “Ferry Farm” north of the Rappahannock River.     No building survives from George Washington’s day at Ferry Farm in the 1730’s but the foundations of the original house was there.  They had a beautiful view of the river and Fredericksburg on the opposite bank. That's where Washington was supposed to have thrown the dollar across the river and chopped down the cherry tree.  The Union Army used the Ferry at the farm to get troops over the river during several battles of the Civil War a century later.
The foundations of Washington's boyhood home across from Fredericksburg
Continuing west I drove through Culpepper of Minute Man fame, and crossed the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah Mountains. I drove through Luray again, and continued up the Massanutte Mountain to get to New Market, VA.  I wanted to see where the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) military students had bravely fought.  This time I decided to try a campground that wasn’t KOA.  Rancho Campground only cost $17 and included electrical and water hook up.  Just for fun I decided to plug in my thermoelectric cooler container in the van.  I had stopped at a grocery store and bought some food I could keep cool.  I watched TV for 20 minutes, to see if tomorrow the battery will be OK.  I decided I’d better look at a map other than Virginia, and get up north.  I think I’ll go to Gettysburg, PA tomorrow, then Hershey, PA (I could use some chocolate samples), then go up to Scranton, PA and over towards Massachusetts by 8 June when I have my Time Share week there.
Foxglove flowers in Washington's home garden

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ancestor Tracking - 28 May 2001 - Richmond VA - Memorial Day

            Another “emergency” call was sent out on my cell phone.  Very handy these cell phones!   This time to AAA to come and jump my van battery.  Yes, I know I have my own jump "Power Center".  But I thought I’d give AAA a try.  Perhaps not a good idea.  Here I was, sitting at the Best Western parking lot at Richmond – capitol of Virginia, and it took 70 minutes to get a tow truck to me.  Then the guy brought over his little Jump "Power Box" and wha-la  my engine started.  Well, I just wanted to see how HE did it!  Anyway, next time, I’ll do it myself.  My battery had run down because I came out to leave, turned on the key, and then started writing down my mileage, then I started looking up my civil war ancestors, to be sure I knew their units, then I did this and that, and finally, after an hour I was all set to go --  but the van battery wasn’t.
         Well, it was a rainy morning anyway, so I might as well spend it in the dry van – ha!  But I finally got onto I-295 and headed south towards Petersburg, VA.  I had seen the amazing siege lines last year, so this time I wanted to see “City Point’ where Marshall Akins had noted he had been sent to. 
Map--- Richmond / Petersburg and City Point Virginia
City Point was the critical supply point for the Union Army siege of Petersburg.  It was supposedly the busiest port in the world for the six months or so of the siege.  It was also the Command HQ of General Grant.  
City Point Harbor during Civil War
  To finish the story, The siege of Petersburg worked, causing the Confederates to leave, and that caused the evacuation of Richmond, the confederate capitol.  Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen U.S. Grant at Appomattox a few weeks later.  
Epps Mansion - site of Grant's HQ at City Point
I left Richmond and drove downstream along the James River to Flowerdew Hundred Plantation, but it was closed by 3:45pm.  That is where Marshall Akins in Gen Hancock’s II Corps was ferried across the river from Wilcox Landing in June 1864, and later the other Corps walked across a temporarily and hastily constructed pontoon bridge – a marvel of its day. And to the City Point unit of the Petersburg National Battlefield.  I was surprised at the lack of tourists anywhere I went today.   There were just two others at City Point to hear the Ranger talk about the Epps Mansion, a house that the US Army took over in 1864-1865 for their headquarters.  General Grant's quarters were in a nearby log cabin. 
General Grant's Cabin
 I felt it was only fitting having just retired from the US Army,  to stand back at the City Point National Cemetery and watch the Memorial Day Ceremony where a few people were gathered - old veterans no doubt.  I felt like I belonged to this ceremony.  There were little US flags placed at each grave.

City Point Veterans' Cemetery on Memorial Day 2001
So where did Marshall Akins come in?  He was sent to City Point Hospital when he became ill after the force march from Chancellorsville, Bethel Church, Cold Harbor and crossing the James River to Petersburg.   I especially wanted to see the site where this hospital was located. The area is a National monument where Rangers give information and it is kept up nicely.
City Point Hospital, Virginia on the Bay of Appomattox River
   I imagined my cousin, Marshall Akins, a patient at this Hospital, exhausted yet pushing on in the forced march, yet never fully recovered from early illnesses in Alabama.

I drove back up I-295 to Cold Harbor, stopping for gas, and my only food of the day, an ice cream sandwich and banana.  Ahhh ice cream, the staff of life!  I wanted to return to Cold Harbor because I had studied the maps I bought there yesterday and knew where Marshall Akins was situated during the week or so of the battle.  In fact his Corps made the only real advance of the face-off, but they were repulsed without back-up.
Marshall Akin was in the 36th Wisconsin  - with Hancock's unit on right
Cold Harbor Visitor's Center at the battlefield
I took photos of the fields.  Further up the road had been an earlier battle near Bethel Church, the Ranger had pointed out yesterday on a map that there was a monument to the 36th Wisconsin Regiment on a road up there.  So I found the monument and photographed it.  It had been erected by one of the soldiers, years later in honor of those of his regiment who had died, were wounded, or were captured at that spot on 1 June 1864.
Monument to the 36th Wisconsin at Bethel Church - and my Vagabond Van
Those 36th Wis Inf wounded on 1 June 1864 
    The day was fast coming to an end so I was back on the cell phone and I called KOA Campground at Fredericksburg and reserved a tent spot for the night.  Cost $25.61.  It seem like a lot for just a space and the use of the bathroom, but cheaper than a motel. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ancestor Tracking - Richmond VA - 27 May 2001

I ventured into Richmond since it was Sunday and there wasn't much traffic.  I might have to change my opinion of Richmond, now that I am able to drive through it not be scared to death of the traffic.  I went to the Richmond Civil War  Visitor's Center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park System.  It was downtown near Robert E. Lee's home.  It was in what used to be the Tredegar Iron Works, an important factory producing iron products for the Civil War and railroads.  It was interesting in that I think there is a Tredegar Mines or Iron Works in Wales, land of my Rees ancestors.  It was also interesting because it has been carefully restored to be the home of the Visitor's  Center.   

Tredegar Iron Works
The visitor's center is located on the James River (the same that I walked over in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There are locks there and an impressive canal that was once 200 miles long. Now it provides a pleasant River trail - or even an opportunity to rent little motor boats for a fun ride.

James River canal at Richmond VA
I visited the Chimborazo Medical Museum where the main visitor's center used to be. The models showed it was a cantonment type hospital, much like Landstuhl Army Medical Center (whereI served  in Germany a few years ago), and many other of the Army Hospitals of only 20 years ago. That is, it was composed of radiating or staggered wards….the hospital was not one great big building, so as not to be totally damaged in a shelling, etc

Then I followed the route of the Seven Days' Battles of General McClellan's attempt to invade Richmond in 1862. These included the battles of Beaver Dam Creek, Cold Harbor, Gaines Mill, Glendale, Malvern Hill, none of which I had heard of before, but nonetheless very bloody and important battles. The confusing part was Cold Harbor which saw fighting both in 1862 and 1864. The battle I was interested in occurred in 1864 on Grant's march to Petersburg:

    The Akin connection to Cold Harbor--
136 years ago, a relative, Marshall Akins had been at Cold Harbor. According to the history: "The 36th Wis, one of Fox's fighting regiments, was organized at Madison,Wisconsin, from March 1 to 22, 1864, and mustered out July 12, 1865. It was commanded by Col. Frank A. Haskell, who was killed in action at Cold Harbor June 3, 1864, [after the Brigade Commander, Col McKeene, was killed]. Haskell was succeeded by LTC John A. Savage, who died of wounds received in action before Petersburg July 4, 1864.  LTC Clement E. Warner then took command, till mustered-out. The 36th was under fire for the first time at Spotsylvania, May 19, 1864, and became, during its service so reduced by death, wounds and disease, that it carried only 11 officers and 170 men into the fight at Ream's Station in which action it lost 134 men taken prisoners. It belonged to Gibbon's Division, Second Corps, and lost 157 killed, and 185 from disease, etc."      I found the above description of his regiment's history on an internet site, and at the Cold Harbor Visitor's Center I bought the battle maps that showed exactly where his Brigade was placed on each day of the Cold Harbor battle.
I knew Union soldier, Marshall Akin's son, Howard Akins, when I was a child.  He was my mother's cousin.  When he died in 1954 I received a box of his papers (see below), I guess, because I was the only one interested in them.  They were his father's Civil War papers, among other things.  His father, Marshall Akins was in the 36th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry when he was 19 years old. I wanted to see where he had fought at Cold Harbor and Petersburg.  I had read that he had been there from his application for pension written years after the war.    None of the photos were identified.  I can only assume that one of them was Marshall Akins.  The treasure box is below:

 These two tin-types were later found in a photo album of Marshall Akins

 On June 3rd 1864 in just one hour 6,000 Union men died.  In the two weeks of the Cold Harbor battle there were 16,000 casualties.  This battle changed the course of the War in the east from a war of maneuver to one of siege.  This was actually Marshall Akin's second enlistment.  In 1861 he enlisted with the 86th Pennsylvania  Volunteers at age 16.  He lasted only four months due to illness.   After that he moved to Wisconsin with his family and later enlisted there.   I saw the Cold Harbor battle ground today.   The Cold Harbor land is so different now, but the trenches are still there.  It must have been a terrible place to be in 1864. I walked the trails at Cold Harbor Battleground and viewed the same trenches. 
The trenches at Cold Harbor
As Grant went south to Petersburg there were various battles along the way as Lee tried to stop him.   I followed this trail in the van.  Finally at the James River there is a series of fortifications - earthworks - that are well preserved and offer interesting walks around them. I found another black snake.  This one was crawling around on the top of one of the Earthworks. 

I see on a map there is a monument to the 36th Wis on a road just north near the battle of Bethesda Church, I'll have to check that out tomorrow.   By now it was almost 7 pm and my thoughts were turning to the Western Sizzlin’ Restaurant.  So I headed back to eat and to call it a day.  It had been an exhausting day of beautiful weather and poignant thoughts.