I am writing these notes from my motel room in Camp Springs, Maryland, across the street from the main entrance to Edwards Air Force Base. Today we're taking a Christian Heritage Tour of Washington, DC, tomorrow it's on to Richmond, then Saturday we head back to Oak Park, God willing.
Here's a brief recap of Day 3:
7:50 AM Bad news this AM-the bus is broken. A line started leaking and Al (our driver) had to take it to be repaired. The group seems patient enough but after 30 minutes of waiting, people grow restless. But what can you do? So we stand around with our bags, talk a bit, and wonder when the bus will return.
8:20 AM Cliff Raad tells me I need to pray for the bus like General George Patton made his chaplain pray for good weather in World War II. I smiled because I've seen the movie and because Cliff actually served in Patton's Third Army as they drove across Europe.
8:35 AM We're on the road again. First stop of the day: The Monocacy Battlefield, a few miles outside of Frederick, Maryland. Almost no one has heard of this battle, which makes it an interesting conversation point when you go home. The battle took place in July 1864 just as Lee and Grant were beginning their long stalemate at Petersburg that would lead to the end of the war. An army of 15,000 Confederates led by General Jubal Early left Petersburg, swept through the Shenandoah Valley, captured Harper's Ferry, and moved through Maryland, intending to capture Washington if possible. They ran into 5800 Federal troops at Monocacy Junction. Outnumbered almost 3 to 1, the Federal troops (led by General Lew Wallace who would write the novel Ben Hur many years later) held off the Rebels until late in the afternoon. By Civil War standards, this was a small conflict. It's also the only important battle the Confederates won north of the Mason-Dixon line. Though Wallace lost the battle, he was considered a hero because by delaying Early's army, he gave Grant time to reinforce Washington. By the time the Rebels arrived outside Fort Stephens (on the NW edge of Washington), they faced too many Union troops to make an attack so they withdrew into Virginia. That was the last time the Rebels threatened Washington.
Side note: When Early's troops skirmished with Federal soldiers at Fort Stephens, President Abraham Lincoln came out to watch. He enjoyed the spectacle until a Rebel bullet landed a few feet away. Someone yelled, "Get down, Mr. President! They're shooting at you." It's the only time an American president has been under fire in a combat situation.
11:13 AM On our way to the Manassas Battlefield outside Washington. Irene Watt and Richard Dyson are having a theological discussion: What sort of body does Christ have in heaven right now? Is it a "normal body" or a "glorified body" or it is something else? We work through the options and finally conclude that whatever body he was raised with, that's the body our Lord has in heaven. It's his real body since was physically raised from the dead, and it has the scars from the wounds he suffered, but it is "glorified" because it is now immortal. We will have glorified bodies when we are raised from the dead when Christ returns to the earth.
11:15 AM Wild laughter from the back of the bus. Not sure what's happening back there, but Barbara Schulz is in the middle of it. A very nice family feeling has developed in our group as the tour has progressed.
12:30 PM Stop at Leesburg for lunch at McDonald's. I ate with Ruby Solin who was born near Atlanta, Georgia. Her grandfather was 4 years old in 1861. He remembered when the Union troops came to their family home during the battle for Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. For her family the Civil War was a very personal memory. She also said that the Federal troops demanded food, but when the family gave them their last chicken, one of the officers told his men to give it back because the family had been kind to the soldiers.
1:08 PM This has been so much fun we're talking about doing a Revolutionary War tour next year. Maybe fly to Boston, walk the Freedom Trail, then to Philadelphia and Valley Forge, then to Washington, and on to Williamsburg (which I've never seen), and back home.
2:25 PM Vigorous debate about George Custer who as a very young West Point graduate fought in several key Civil War battles--including a victory over JEB Stuart at Gettysburg. He is remembered for losing his most important battle-his last one, at Little Big Horn. Not too smart to split his troops like that, deep in Indian country.
2:40 PM Uh-oh. We're lost. Somehow we took a wrong turn out of Leesburg and ended up on Highway 7 instead of Highway 15 so we went west toward Winchester instead of south toward Manassas. Al keeps saying, "I can't figure out how it happened." We knew we were going the wrong direction when we crossed the Shenandoah River. We ended up going 40 miles out of our way. Most of the people were taking a nap and we had extra time, so it didn't matter much. So we're backtracking to Leesburg and trying to find Highway 15.
2:50 PM Paul spots a car in front of us with a California license plate: "IP ATRNY." We think the ATRNY means attorney. No idea about the IP.
2:58 PM Paul Lavenau and Vern Henriksen are doing the USA Today crossword puzzle. When Paul says, "Watson and Crick," I called out, "DNA." Happened to be the right answer. He also asked about some obscure name and said, "Was that an Indian tribe in Mexico?" I said, "Sure," which really meant, "I have no idea." Never did find out if I was right or not.
4:17 PM Manassas (also called Bull Run) is amazing. It's the scene of two Civil War battles. Most people know about the first battle in 1861--the one where folks from Washington brought picnic baskets so they could watch the battle in style. The Rebels routed the Union army in the first major battle of the war. A year later the armies clashed again and the Rebels won a second time. In the first battle, General Thomas J. Jackson got his famous nickname--Stonewall. In the second battle Jackson and General James Longstreet defeated Union General Pope. Manassas is surrounded by development because it is on the outskirts of Washington. Commuters travel right through the heart of the battlefield.
Nice serendipity: A year ago Cliff and Phyllis Raad scouted out the entire route we are following. When they got to Manassas, they happened to meet a Park Service guide who grew up in Berwyn, just south of Oak Park. He agreed to lead us when we came this year. But last week he called Cliff and said he couldn't do it because the National Guard has called him to active duty. When we arrived at the visitor's center, a summer intern came onboard to explain the battle. We drove to the stone bridge where the battle began. While the intern was talking to us, a car drove up and a Park Service ranger came to our bus. Turned out to be Tim Nosal, the young man who grew up in Berwyn. He hasn't been called up yet so when he heard we had arrived, he came by to say hello. Turns out his father lives in Oak Park and two of his brothers graduated from Oak Park-River Forest High School. He's a true Chicago guy. He asked us to go to the Plaza Restaurant in Berwyn and have some dumplings and pork for him.
While the group viewed a film, I decided walk the battlefield. I had almost an hour to myself to go tramping through the fields. At one point I left the trail and started walking across a field of prairie grass up to my waist. Haven't done that since I was a boy. Felt like I had been transported back to 1861 and I was with Stonewall's men advancing through the field, setting up our guns on Henry Hill, getting ready to fire at the Union army. You can do things like that at Manassas because the battlefield looks much as it did 140 years ago.
5: 17 AM Someone asks if I'm going to write a book about the Civil War. I'm thinking about it. Maybe I'll write a novel set during the war.
6:48 AM Huge traffic jam heading into Washington. Everyone is pretty tired. Lots of construction around the Potomac River. Another problem: We can't find the motel. It's not where the map says it has to be. We're driving around the perimeter of Andrews Air Force Base. What did they do with the motel? Bigger problem: When we find it, there's no way the bus can park in front to let us off. So Al parks on the side of an extremely busy road across from the main entrance to the air force base. He can drop us off but he can't stay there. He has to go to a residential area, turn around, and come back to the motel. It was not designed with buses in mind.
7:12 PM We find our rooms, wash up, and head back out for supper. More problems: Where is the restaurant? It's a new Golden Corral in Largo. But it's not off Exit 15. Another traffic jam. When we call the restaurant, they say it's off Exit 17A. So we wind our way through traffic, back to the freeway, and find the right exit. But still no restaurant. I hear Al say, "I haven't had a day like this in a long time." Been a Murphy's Law day from the start--and Mr. Murphy isn't through with us yet.
8:50 PM After several more tries, we finally found the restaurant. It's near FedEx Field-new home of the Washington Redskins. It was jammed with people, incredibly crowded. Lines everywhere. A buffet is fun when you can actually get some food, but this was a real challenge-and our people were tuckered out. And we couldn't get the waiter to bring us some rolls. We waited over an hour and still didn't get any rolls. So we made food jokes and I skipped the main course and had cherry cobbler instead. Just as we were getting ready to leave, he brought us some rolls. It was still crowded when we left.
9:15 PM Finally in our rooms. What looked to be an easy day turned out to be an ordeal of sorts. Delays and wrong turns and bad directions all day long. But we took no casualties, saw two battlefields, Paul and Vern conquered the crossword puzzle, we made it to our motel, Al got the bus parked somehow, the rolls finally arrived, and we all made it back to our rooms. All's well that ends well. We'll tour DC on Thursday, then it's on to Richmond on Friday, and back home on Saturday. It's been a great trip so far.
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