Abbott Lake at the Peaks of Otter
Blue Ridge Parkway know the immediate draw: the views. But dig deeper and you’ll find the infamous mountains are rich with Civil War history as intriguing as the scenery.
Notable Civil War figures trekked the Blue Ridge mountains, not only during raids, but for pleasure as well. And one was even carried among the peaks to his final resting place.
On your next parkway adventure, seek out these spots for a glimpse of journeys past.
Admiring the Peaks of Otter
Even during Hunter’s Raid, soldier Frank Smith Reader of the 5th West Virginia Cavalry Regiment of the Union Army took time to marvel at the landscape
surrounding him. During the battle, which, according to CivilWarTraveler.com, began on May 26, 1864 – when “Union Gen. David Hunter marched south from Cedar Creek near Winchester to drive out Confederate forces, lay waste to the Shenandoah Valley and destroy transportation facilities at Lynchburg” – Reader kept a diary of his stint in the Civil War.
On June 15, he writes about their experience at the Peaks of Otter:
“Marched S. by S.W. 17 miles to day, camping in the valley at the foot of the Peaks of Otter and near the rail-road. We came over the Blue Ridge and a rougher road could not be imagined. From the side of the mountain one of the most magnificent views is presented to sight that I ever saw. As far as the eye can reach a fine undulating country is seen. The Peaks of Otter is the finest sight for mountain scenery. One of the Peaks is 4,260 ft. high and from the top a far more lovely view is seen than from the side of the Mt.”
Reader’s journal is available for viewing on Washington & Lee University’s website: miley.wlu.edu/Readerdiary/index.html. The university’s library holds the original diary among its special collections.
In the summer of 1867, General Robert E. Lee took what was his first “real vacation since the war,” reads Charles Bracelen Flood’s book “Lee: The Last Years.” Flood writes that Lee’s getaway began with his daughter, Mildred, on an expedition to the Peaks of Otter. After spending the night in an inn at the base of the mountain, the two headed up Sharp Top Mountain on horseback.
“They managed to get their horses to a point nearer the peak known as Sharp Top than anyone had previously ridden; then tying their mounts to trees, they climbed the rest of the way on foot,” an excerpt from the book reads.
Quoting Mildred’s account of the trip, the book continues: “When the top was reached, we sat for a long time on a great rock, gazing down at the glorious prospect beneath. Papa spoke but a few words, and seemed very sad.”
Moving the Earth
At milepost 276.3 in North Carolina, earthworks created by Gen. George Stoneman and his men are still visible. During Stoneman’s Raid, he led “6,000 cavalrymen from Tennessee into western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia to disrupt the Confederate supply lines, destroy mines and ironworks and to free prisoners at Salisbury,” says CivilWarTraveler.com.
While in Boone, the cavalry raided the small town before Stoneman divided his command to forage the land and rendezvous on the east side of the Blue Ridge near Wilkesboro. According to Peter Givens, an interpretive specialist for the Blue Ridge Parkway, “protection of the gaps was an essential part of Stoneman’s movement through the mountains and at Deep Gap, the earthworks were constructed.” The earthworks are visible, says Givens, in the “triangle” formed by the parkway, U.S. 421 and the access road onto U.S. 421.
A Journey Home
Following his death on May 10, 1863, Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson lay in state at the Confederate House of Representatives in Richmond. A day later, “the coffin was taken to the railroad station and put on board a train. Jackson’s route back to Lexington was by way of Gordonsville, where the coffin was switched to another train, taken to Lynchburg, and carried on board a canalboat, the packet boat Marshall, which arrived in Lexington on the evening of the fourteenth,” reads “Stonewall: A Biography of Thomas J. Jackson” by Byron Farwell.
The packet boat left Lynchburg around 10 p.m., according to the Appomattox Chapter 11 United Daughters of the Confederacy web site (appomattoxudc.tripod.com). During this time, residents of the area – lanterns and torches in hand – “crossed to the canal side of the river to witness the boat’s passing.” Aboard the Marshall, his coffin traveled up the James River near the Blue Ridge Mountains to Lexington. He was buried at the Presbyterian Cemetery, now the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery.