Picnic Area


Turn north from the Tourist Association parking lot, proceed across CR 270, past the cannon, and go .68 mile to the second entrance of the picnic area. Once across CR 270, you are on the Collins Parkway, which leads eventually to the VMI Museum.

When you reach the crest of Manor Hill, .2 mile from CR 270, notice the buildings on the west. The 18th Connecticut skirmishers set up along here forward of the empty restaurant building. As quoted from Maj. Henry Peale, 18th Connecticut,

We here awaited the approach of the enemy, whose skirmishers in double line could be seen issuing from the woods covering his position. The artillery duel still continued with considerable vigor, and the enemy shelled our line with great accuracy, although without inflicting any considerable damage. Companies A & B were immediately deployed, and descended the hill. Severe skirmishing shortly ensued.

The enemy in three strong lines, now issued from the woods and charged down the hill at double quick, his skirmishers also increasing their step and driving ours more rapidly.

It was at this time decided that a small knoll, some 200 yards to the rear, would afford a better position, especially for the artillery, which could inflict greater damage upon the enemy who would be forced to pass over an eighth of a mile of nearly level ground before reaching our lines. The line accordingly marched in retreat.

And as Maj. R. F. Lang, 1st West Virginia, recalled, In the center just on the left of the Valley turnpike through my strong field glasses I beheld an unfamiliar sight for the battlefield, a body of several hundred with bright uniforms, shining swords. . . . polished buttons, and handsome flags . . . kept the alignment perfect . . . on came the line, and on came the bright uniforms. Another .3 mile will take you to the vestiges of River Road that have survived west of the interstate. Notice that you are on a parallel with St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, whose spire you can see to the east. This marks the western part of Colonel Moor's line and was held by the remainder of the 18th Connecticut. Ewing's guns were about 100 yards west down River Road. In his official report Major Peale stated, The new position of the regiment was most unfortunate . . . being in a lane backed by barns and two rows of fence. A continuous rain of 5 days had rendered traveling on other than the roads extremely difficult, and the men stood knee deep in mud. As the lane was entered by the flank, so nothing but a flank movement could extricate the regiment in order. Companies A & B [skirmishing forward] were now strengthened by Company D, leaving only 4 companies in line, in all somewhat less than 200 men.

The skirmishers of the enemy now appeared on the brow of the hill and rapid firing ensued. . . . As our skirmishers retired around our flank, the line fired several volleys, when it became apparent that the line of the enemy greatly outnumbered our own . . . the order to retreat . . . was followed [starting on left brigade]. The regiment, marching by the flank at a double quick, on emerging from the lane found itself some distance in rear of the retreating line and was thereby thrown into some confusion, but with some exceptions the men were rallied, and were reformed.

And as Adjutant E. B. Culver, 18th Connecticut, wrote, It was no wonder there was some confusion in the retreat, the ground being in horrible condition; the mud so deep from previous rains that it was almost impossible to keep in line when no hasty movement was required. And to add to the confusion the rain began to pour again in torrents, greatly retarding the progress. A final .2 mile brings you to the picnic grounds maintained by the VMI Museum. Pull in here and park. Looking east, you have a good view of the New Market Gap, Rice House, and the school that marks the area of McLaughlin's next-to-last artillery position. A few yards south, in the other part of the picnic area, the cadets sustained two more casualties, while another two were incurred about 50 yards to the northwest of where you are. The area was swept by intense federal artillery fire. According to Cadet Howard, Fifty yards or so to our right was a Confederate officer who had been wounded and was lying nearly prostrate on the ground. Not quite, however; he was resting on his left elbow, and, forgetful of self, apparently oblivious of his wounds, his handsome young face shone brightly and his sword waved from side to side in sympathetic encouragement of his comrades. Another shell exploded and he was cut down for the second time. Prostrate now, and with the "Last Roll Call" sounding in his ears, the heroic soul still waved [his sword] back and forth under the self-renunciatory impulse of the life leaving the earth and to its acclaim in heaven. If it may be so vouchsafed, I pray that I may meet this knight of the bloody plain there on the bloodless plain hereafter, amid the vales of verdure and glades of ever-flowing green, and let him gather from my face how he has been borne for more than half a century in the breast of one, at least, in cherishing, revering admiration.

What effect that waving sword may have had as a cheering incentive on anyone elsefor many beside myself must have witnessed the incidentI do not know, but I know there was no giving back as we pressed forward through the storm.

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page created 20 December 1999

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