Monday, November 10, 2014

George Washington's Mount Vernon

The last stop, before we left the Washington, D.C. area, was Mount Vernon, Virginia.  We had visited there many years ago and, although the original buildings remain the same, the area around it had changed greatly!

It was a chilly day but plenty of people were lined up to get a look inside our first President's home.  Like the majority of the homes we've visited "no photography" was allowed, which is a shame because the mansion is detailed to look as it did in 1799.  It features a large collection of furnishings owned by the Washingtons.

One of the biggest changes to the property was the large museum where you purchased your tickets and began your tour.  There is also an inn, where we had a delicious lunch, and a huge gift shop.  Dawn and I thoroughly enjoyed shopping for souvenirs.

Washington acquired Mount Vernon in 1754 and spent the next 45 years of his life expanding his home to reflect his status as a Virginia gentleman. After shuffling through the house in a line of other sightseers we began our tour of the numerous outbuildings.

There are more than a dozen original structures.

Among the many outbuildings is this reconstructed slave cabin.  A tour guide inside explained the life of a slave.  A large family lived in cabins like these sleeping on the dirt floor.  They had no beds, or much else in the way of furniture.

In contrast, the overseer had a much more comfortable life.

George Washington thought of himself, first and foremost, as a farmer.  He pioneered innovative methods for the day, including crop rotation and the use of fertilizers.  In fact, he operated four successful farms at Mount Vernon.

Another cash crop was dried fish.  Fish also helped to supplement the diets of the slaves at the farms.  When schools of fish were sighted on the Potomac everyone stopped whatever they were doing and helped bring in heavy nets of fish.

Another change at Mount Vernon was the addition of a delightful "Martha Washington."  She told her audience all about life with George and at Mount Vernon.

George Washington died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799.  His will directed that he be buried on his beloved estate.  He also selected a site for a new brick tomb to replace the original burial vault.  His final resting place was completed in 1831 and the remains of Washington, Martha and other family members are interred there.

In 1793 George Washington said, "No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this...."  He may be right.  We sure enjoyed our visit.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

Our first stop on our whirlwind tour of Washington was the International Spy Museum where we learned all about the world of spies.

It is appropriately located near the FBI building.

We learned all about the "game" of spying.

The museum covers the secrets of the second oldest profession.  Even Moses sent spies into the Promised Land!

Ninjas are (or were) considered spies too!

They even had a German enigma machine.  It produced a cipher thought to be unbreakable.  Allied cryptanalysts finally succeeded in cracking it during WWII.

The museum also demonstrated different ways of killing your enemy with poisonous gas.

An American diplomat used his son's toy to smuggle sensitive information back to the states.

One of the most interesting exhibits was a special one celebrating 50 years of Bond villains.

Who doesn't remember the ultimate spy car?  James Bond's Aston Martin is fully loaded with tire shredders, machine guns, and rotating license plates.

While James Bond is a fictional spy, his creator, Ian Fleming, was a real spy.

There was a LOT more to see at the spy museum - but it's a secret. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Whirlwind Tour of Washington D.C.

We had not planned to visit Washington while Hubby was working in Pennsylvania.  We had stayed there for a week, doing the tourist thing, when our children were younger and figured we had seen enough.

However, a couple weeks ago our daughter, Dawn, was sent to Washington D.C. by her employer to attend the USO Gala.  She was able to stay over an extra day to spend some quality time with us!

We arrived Friday afternoon in time to help her get ready for the ball.  (I did her hair.)  There was dinner, dancing, entertainment by Kellie Pickler, and rubbing elbows with some important generals.  We didn't get to see it though!

We picked Dawn up at her hotel the next morning, moved her to our hotel near China Town, and set off on foot to see the sights.

With the exception of the International Spy Museum (I'll blog about that later), we were mostly after photos.

There was the church Abraham Lincoln attended...........

..........monuments to our first President.........

.........and a monument to our third President (Thomas Jefferson - in case you don't remember).

The White House was unreachable, unless you made arrangements through your congressman in advance.  Fortunately, we had toured it on our earlier trip to Washington.

There are still plenty of demonstrators making their opinions heard in the street in front of the White House.

We finally made it to the Washington Monument after hoofing it around town for about seven miles - according to Dawn's phone app.

That's where we decided to use a tour bus to finish seeing the sights - eventually getting us near our hotel again!

We were able to get on and off the bus to get pictures of the Vietnam War Memorial, otherwise known as The Wall.

Nearby the Wall is the Lincoln Monument - crowded with other people seeing the sights.

It's just as inspiring today as it was when I was here years ago.

At this point, Father and daughter were ready to call it a day!

A couple more photo ops and we re-boarded the bus as it headed in the direction of our hotel.

I enjoyed our quick visit to D.C. but I sure wouldn't want to live there!  The next day we headed for the quieter countryside of George Washington's Mount Vernon, Virginia.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland

One place we didn't want to miss, on our tour of Civil War battlefields, was Antietam, located near Sharpsburg, Maryland - just three hours south of where we are (temporarily) located in Pennsylvania.  It was following this Union victory that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation designed to further weaken the Confederacy.

Antietam is considered the bloodiest one-day battle the United States has ever experienced.  There were more casualties in this one day than in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Mexican War combined.  Antietam had even more casualties than we experienced during D-Day.

We began our visit at the small museum explaining the battle that took place on September 17, 1862, a year and a half into the Civil War.  Confederate forces had won more of the battles, at this point in the war, and President Lincoln sorely needed a Union victory.

Antietam was General Lee's first foray onto Union soil and General George McClellan was trusted to repel this Confederate attack.

Lee placed his artillery line of the high ground adjacent the Dunker Church.  Many of the same generals who would fight at Gettysburg, the following July, were here at Antietam.  General Lee's youngest son, Robert E. Lee, Jr., was a member of the Rockbridge artillery.

Like the other Civil War battlefields we've visited, Antietam has it's share of military monuments........

.........and cannon.......

.........but what was surprising is the number of farms that were caught in the middle of this bloody conflict.

This farm lane served as a breastwork for the Confederate center.  For about three hours 2,200 Confederates held off the attacks of the combined Union force numbering nearly 10,000.  Finally, the thin gray line collapsed and fell back to the Piper farm.  The Union attackers had suffered too many casualties to pursue them.  Seeing the dead on the road, an observer wrote, "They were lying in rows like the ties of a railroad, in heaps like cordwood mingled with the splintered and shattered fence rails.  Words are inadequate to portray the scene."

500 Confederate soldiers held the area overlooking the Lower Bridge for three hours before General Burnside's command finally captured the bridge and crossed Antietam Creek, which forced the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.

When the battle of over, the tiny town of Sharpsburg was overwhelmed by the number of casualties.  Of the nearly 100,000 soldiers engaged in battle, about 23,000 were killed, wounded, or missing but the Union Army held the field.

Most of the soldiers were buried where they had fallen.  Although, when troops came marching through Sharpsburg again, as they headed toward Gettysburg, they found many bodies still unburied and personal belongings scattered all over the field.  Later, a total of 4,776 Union soldiers were reinterred in the new National Cemetery.  A good one third of them are unknown.

Just a mile away from the battlefield is the Pry House where General McClellan had set up his headquarters to direct the Union troops.  The Pry family were a prosperous farming family who evacuated before the battle.

When they returned to their farm they discovered so much loss they could never financially recover, despite claims to the Federal government.  They sold their farm and re-located to Tennessee.

Following the battle, President Lincoln visited McClellan's headquarters where he admonished the General for being too timid and not pursing the Confederate Army.  This was General McClellan's last battle as leader of the Union Army.

Today, it is privately owned and dedicated to the medical advancements made during the Civil War.

It was the first war where a new type of wagon was used as ambulances.

No more Civil War battlefields to visit this year.  Soon we'll be headed home to Arizona.  But, I still have one more trip to share - Washington, D.C.!