Thirteen new sites just made the list, including Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Connecticut, Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma, and an eighteenth-century frame house in Virginia.
Tag Archives: Virginia
While Continentals, Redcoats, and militiamen were battling it out in the American Revolution, a related struggle played out on the frontiers of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia as settlers and Indians wrestled for control of the West. This frontier war for land and independence doesn’t get as much scholarly attention as the conventional war to the eastward, which is why I was glad to see the release of Richard D. Blackmon’s Dark and Bloody Ground: The American Revolution Along the Southern Frontier a couple of months ago.
Blackmon demonstrates that colonial officials tasked with maintaining the Indians’ loyalty had long struggled with unscrupulous traders and land-hungry frontiersmen, and found their role even more difficult when those frontiersmen became rebellious colonists. In the South, this responsibility fell on the shoulders of John Stuart, Superintendent for the Southern Department. Both Stuart and his Whig opponents tried to secure the support (or at least the neutrality) of the southern tribes, which required supplying the Indians with the arms and powder on which they depended for hunting and persuading the tribes to expel agents working for the opposing side.
All-out war finally erupted on the frontier in the summer of 1776, after Stuart and his deputies failed to convince the Cherokees that a general assault on the settlements would only inflame white Whigs and Tories alike into reprisals. The response from the Carolinas and Virginia was precisely what Stuart had feared. Frontier militias rebounded from the attacks and marched into the Indian towns, burning crops and dwellings while engaging in battles with war parties. These invasions of Cherokee country forced the tribe to trade land for peace, although a faction of warriors led by Dragging Canoe refused to lay down their arms and instead moved south to continue resistance against the settlements.
The Creeks, meanwhile, were divided over whether to join Britain’s war against the colonists, reluctant to take up arms without the support of British troops and supplies. Pro-British Creeks did attack the Georgia frontier in 1778, although the Whigs kept part of the tribe neutral by supplying them with goods. When British armies finally invaded the South, the Whigs faced the two-front war which they had long dreaded, but British military activity in that region was never as well-coordinated as advocates of a frontier strategy desired.
Ultimately, those Native Americans who cast their lot with England lost their military gamble, as British troops evacuated the southern posts they had been trying to maintain since the late 1770’s, leaving the Cherokees, Creeks, and other tribes at the mercy of an independent United States. Although the war brought devastation and bloodshed to the frontiersmen (the Cumberland settlements in present-day Middle Tennessee and the Kentucky settlements proved especially vulnerable), it reduced residents of the devastated Indian communities to an especially precarious existence, and the final peace between the U.S. and England in 1783 proved to be a mere intermission in the contest for the West.
My only complaint about this book is a curious omission. Blackmon’s description of the struggle between frontiersmen and Cherokees in 1776 is quite detailed, but it doesn’t really cover the summer attacks on the settlements in what is now northeastern Tennessee. He does deal with the wrangling among Tennessee settlers, British officials, and Native Americans that preceded these attacks, as well as John Sevier’s later battles against the Chickamaugas, but readers interested in the early history of the Volunteer State may be disappointed that the siege of Ft. Caswell doesn’t get the same coverage as the Ring Fight, the defense of Boonesborough, and the Battle of the Bluffs.
That criticism aside, this book is a great addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the American Revolution or the early frontier, utilizing both official documentation and eyewitness accounts of the major engagements. Blackmon’s analyses of Andrew Williamson’s exploits and the negotiations at Ft. Patrick Henry are the best I’ve read. Even if your knowledge of the war’s backwoods battles is extensive, it’s heplful to have a solid overview of the entire frontier war for the South in one volume, placed deftly in the context of the larger war as a whole.
If you drive along U.S. Route 58 in Lee County, VA you might notice a distinctive geologic feature a few miles east of the entrance to Wilderness Road State Park and just inside the eastern boundary of Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Atop the ridge of Cumberland Mountain sit the “White Rocks,” a sandstone formation containing light-colored quartzite that shines when the sun hits it.
In the late 1700’s the rocks were an important landmark for the hundreds of thousands of settlers traveling on the Wilderness Road below. The sight of this outcrop let migrants know that they were about a day’s march away from Cumberland Gap, which offered a passage through the mountain wall into Kentucky. (Today you can drive from White Rocks to the Gap’s opening in fifteen minutes.)
I doubt any of those frontier migrants felt like climbing to the top of the ridge to see what the valley looked like from the rocks; they had more important things on their minds. Today, though, if you want to check out the view from White Rocks, there’s a three-mile trail that will take you there. That’s three miles one way, mind you, and it’s mostly uphill. Not exactly easy, but you can take in some nice scenery once you get there.
Sort of a bird’s-eye view of Daniel Boone country. Actually, I guess it is a bird’s-eye view, since you’re eye-level with the birds.
If you’re going to hike to White Rocks, make sure you see Sand Cave, too. It’s about a mile from the White Rocks overlook, and on the other side of the ridge. I’d never been there before last week, but as soon as I saw it, it immediately became one of my favorite places in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The cave gets its name from the fine sand that covers the floor. There’s a small waterfall near the cave’s entrance. My pictures don’t really do it justice; with the waterfall-fed stream running through the trees and the cave’s ceiling towering overhead, it’s like stumbling across the Garden of Eden. It’s not a deep cave, but the semi-circular roof towering overhead and the wide entrance make it pretty spectacular. The sand inside is so thick that it’s like walking on a beach, with your feet sliding and churning all over the place.
Those of you who follow the Civil War blogs are probably aware of the SCV’s recent legal defeat. Those of you who don’t can get up to speed by clicking here.
I’m afraid I can’t give you my opinion on the city’s ordinance or the judge’s ruling because I don’t really have an opinion about either one. As I’ve said before, the sight of a Confederate battle flag doesn’t offend me; I have about the same reaction to it as I would to the flag of Argentina. On the other hand, a law against the flying of any flags on municipal poles except those of official government entities doesn’t offend me, either. It sort of seems like common sense, actually. So whether the SCV won or lost this one, I’d be cool with whatever.
Let’s indulge in a counterfactual exercise with this very recent bit of Civil War history. Suppose the law had been overturned. What then?
What would the SCV have gained from the effort? They would’ve gained the right to fly the Confederate battle flag from municipal poles in Lexington, VA. Would it have been worth it?
Sure, Lexington has symbolic value to devotees of Confederate heritage, since it’s the final resting place of both Lee and Jackson. But anybody who wants to go to Lexington and wave a Confederate flag, plaster a Confederate flag sticker on their car, or march around in a Confederate flag t-shirt can still do so. Your right to display a Confederate flag in Lexington is as secure as it was before the ordinance, if I understand the situation correctly.
I know the SCV’s raison d’être is to maintain the legacy of the Confederacy, and that perpetuating the display of the Confederate flag falls well within those limits. And, again, I’ve got no problem with the display of the flag, so long as it’s not done with blatant insensitivity toward the feelings of people who might legitimately be hurt by it.
But when I think of all the causes that the SCV might take up—battlefield preservation, monument restoration, scholarships, etc.—I can’t help but wonder whether this was time well spent.
Then again, it wasn’t my time.
About the time I was first getting seriously interested in early American history, my parents and I took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We planned to visit Carter’s Grove, the plantation home of Carter Burwell (and before that, site of a seventeenth-century English settlement excavated by famed archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume), but it was only open on certain days of the week and we got our schedule mixed up, so we missed it. CW sold the property five years ago.
Now it’s falling apart, because Halsey Minor, the tech investor who bought the place, has evidently overextended himself and can’t afford to keep it up.
Inspectors from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have been monitoring the property and have noted in reports the continuing deterioration of the mansion.
“Very little general maintenance work has been conducted,” inspectors said in a March report to the court after a visit to the mansion earlier this year.
“Of critical importance is the need for repairs to the failing HVAC system,” the report says. “During this site visit, there was visible standing water in the mechanical room in the basement, emanating from the chiller water pump. The risk for flooding is very high and could result in an explosion should water make contact with the gas burner.”
The inspectors found water leaks and worsening signs of rotting, cracking and mold throughout the mansion. It was unclear, they said, whether recent repairs actually stopped the water intrusion.
On the outside, they found more shingles missing from the roof, more bricks missing from the walls and more mortar cracked.…
[A court-appointed trustee] discovered that the insurance on the property had lapsed, the property’s caretakers had not been paid in a month, and that utility companies were threatening to shut off the gas, electric and water services for lack of payment. The Carter’s Grove bank account had only a few dollars left.
Pretty sorry outcome for one of the most significant pieces of architecture in the country.
The Confederates built Fort Pocahontas atop the site of the 1607 Jamestown fort, so now they’re excavating the former to get at the latter.