Tag Archives: Virginia Inn

Walking a Mile in Their (Civil War) Shoes: The Perils of Living History

Biblical parables and shop-worn cliches aside, my feet hurt. I simply cannot imagine marching hundreds of miles with these medieval torture devices on my feet, only to be thrown into some of the most brutal combat our country has ever seen.

Civil War shoes worn by the author

Shoes of a Confederate Infantryman Worn by the Author

Ok, so I’m overstating the case. But, these shoes are not Nike Air Jordans (Yes, I’m dating myself here).  They are authentic recreations of the typical nineteenth century footwear worn by Confederate soliders on Civil War Battlefields during one of America’s darkest times. The soles are thin but hard, and they are fastened together by iron nails, as you can see in the photo.  The nails create the contact point with the ground, which makes the shoes slippery on hard, smooth surfaces (such as the ubiquitous hardwood floors of that era), as well as hard and inflexible on the bottoms of one’s feet.

After about 30 minutes of wearing them, my feet felt like I had hiked on a concrete path for 10 miles. The souls of the men that wore these on long marches and into battle had to be harder than the soles on their feet.

This, of course, is the point of Living History Civil War Re-enactment is much more than playing dress-up and fantasizing about daring adventures in the days of yore. Re-enactment is about treading where the people of the past have tread and experiencing what they experienced as best as one can with our modern sensibilities. In its purest form, Living History is about empathy and education. To an observer it may seem silly. To a participant, it is often quite serious.

I wore these shoes during a happy and light-hearted affair, but when I sat down after the fanfare was over, rubbing my sore feet while relaxing in one of our whirlpool suites, I reflected on the people that have come before. Something as simple as a shoe, and the very real pain it caused, was enough to help me appreciate the hardened force of will that must have permeated the armies of the Civil War, both Federal and Confederate. Tough men in tough times doing tough things.

This is why the work of those who would educate us about the historical mileu is so important. Mort Kunstler, for example, is a renowned artist of Civil War scenes. His work is authentic, inspiring, and evocative. He brings out the human and emotional element of some of the quieter but more poignant moments of the American Civil War.  We were honored to host this eminent artist at a reception in our historic inn, especially since the scene Mort Kunstler depicted in Unconquered Spirit occurred just two blocks from our house, which was standing at that time. In fact, only a few months after Generals Lee, Hill, and Longstreet came together in front of the courthouse in the Town of Orange (the scene from Unconquered Spirit), a number of Lee’s officers, including the famous J.E.B Stuart, attended a wedding party right in our parlor! Thus, with several folks (including Sharon and I) dressed in period-appropriate clothes, the reception took on a meaning and a flair akin to that of the Civil War wedding reception that, according to one contemporary diarist,  continued until 4 o’clock in the morning!  Town and County officials, local residents, historians, and friends celebrated Mr. Kunstler’s work with food, wine, and good cheer. The following day, Mr. Kunstler signed his prints on the historic steps of the Orange County Courthouse, which was the backdrop for his recent painting.

We would like to extend a special “thank you” to Steve Silvia of J.S. Mosby’s Antiques and Bill and Nancy Graham for providing authentic period clothing, as well as Brian Pratlow for serving as part of our honor guard and as a greeter. Our favorite local caterer, Chef Paul Diegl from Real Food provided some of the food. Also, thank you to Frank Walker, emminent local historian and Civil War tour guide, for helping to organize the event!

For anyone who is interested, we served wine from Barboursville, a popular Virginia winery. The Cabernet Sauvignon was the clear favorite!

A Hot Air Balloon is the best way to see the Piedmont!

 What makes the Virginia Piedmont Special?

Over 1000 feet above our Virginia Bed and Breakfast Inn

Beautiful sunrise over misty Piedmont hills

If you ask anyone who has been to Orange, VA what they thought about it, probably one of the first things they’ll say is  “It’s so beautiful!”   Indeed it is, which is one of the many reasons why Sharon and I moved here and bought our historic bed and breakfast inn! Let me explain to you why this is.

First, I shall amaze and enlighten you with  a quick and easy geography lesson. Virginia is essentially one giant watershed–that is, the water from the mountains to the west drains through Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually into the Atlantic. This watershed is actually quite diverse and includes several topographical zones.  In the East, we have the Tidewater, so named because the rivers flowing from West to East are close enough to the coast, and low enough in elevation, to rise and fall with the Atlantic tides.  The Tidewater is characterized by low wetlands and predominately sandy soil. The eastern broder of the Tidewater is the Chesapeake Bay, and the western border is a geological feature called the Fall Line. The Fall line runs north to south, roughly along the route of I-95.  The Fall Line marks the farthest point inland where the rivers are no longer tidal, and where they historically were no longer navigable by large vessels.  Hence, this is the reason why so many Virginia towns and cities were established along this North-South Corridor (Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, just to name a few).

West of the Fall Line is the Virginia Piedmont. The Piedmont is the quintissential Virginia landscape, filled with babbling creeks, streams and rivers flowing gently on their perpetual journey to the Chesapeake Bay. The Piedmont is best characterized by gently rolling hills, historic  pastoral landscapes, large forested areas, beautiful sprawling farms, and plenty of wildlife.  Historically, travellers and commentators have called the Virginia Piedmont “Virginia Horse Country” or “Virginia Hunt Country” because of the historical predominance of these activities here.  More recently, the moniker Virginia Wine Country has increased in usage due to the immense number of Virginia wineries and vineyards dotting the landscape.  Naturally, large expanses of vineyards lend themsevles to scenic views and romantic ideas. It is in this iconic Piedmont zone that one can find Orange, VA, and the Holladay House Bed and Breakfast.

Flight above Orange, Virginia. Our inn is in Orange, VA, which is off to the left.

Our inn is in Orange, Va, beyond this photo to the left

Continuing to the  West, the Virginia Piedmont terminates at the Blue Ridge Mountain range, one of the most scenic and picturesque natural landscapes in America. The Appalachian trail meanders through these mountains, as well as the Blue Ridge Parkway, Skyline Drive,  and numerous Wildlife Areas and State and National Parks.

The Blue Ridge Mountains then descend into the famed Shenandoah Valley, which is bordered on its west side by the Allegheny Mountains, which, like the Blue Ridge, are also part of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

The Peacefulness of . . . Hot air?

So, why the geography lesson?  Because when one understands what makes the Piedmont region unique, one will understand why I was so excited to launch a hot-air balloon five minutes from our Bed and Breakfast Inn! If you continue to read my regular blog posts, you will begin to discover why the Virginia Piedmont is a vital component of America’s history and economy. In modern times, the region still appears much like is did almost 2 centuries ago, and you cannot help but sense the essence of history when you meander across this region.  From a hot-air ballon, this sense of history, place, and natural romance comes to you with stunning clarity!

View of our balloon from the ground, taken outside Gordonsville, VA

The chase crew spotted us near Gordonsville, VA!

The rolling hills, immaculate horse farms, roaming sheep and goats, meandering rivers, historic sites, and low forested mountains are breathtaking from 1800 feet. We launched early in the morning, just after sunrise, and the mist was still nestled among the shallow valleys, with the early sun reflecting brilliantly off the moisture in the air.  The views were breathtaking. One of the most unexpected characteristics of a balloon ride is the quiet stillness one feels when floating in the air currents.  High above the human-induced bustle below, the world is peaceful and still. You have little sensation of movement, because when you are moving at the same speed as the air currents, you feel no breeze.  You are free to reflect upon the beauty of the natural world, and the stirring consequences of the history that happened on this landscape. Truly, the Virginia Piedmont is a special place, and we strongly encourage anyone to view it from the vantage point of a comfortable basket gently sailing in the air currents above.

If you wish to book a balloon ride, contact us directly, or contact Mandy at Monticello Country Ballooning. She is an expert balloonist, and a great gal!