Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Westward Ho!

             Today (Sunday) begins our trek back toward the west. We’ve been spending the last week with family and friends in the Virginia area after making the drive across the country.

My brother, John, and I squeezed in our compulsory rounds of golf, even getting a round in at the Bull Run Golf Course. Being a Civil War junkie, I enjoyed wandering the grounds in the area of this famous battle site. A couple of years ago we attended a reenactment of the Battle of Bull Run on the actual site. It was fascinating watching as the opposing forces maneuvered and parried with their troops, canons, and cavalry. The Confederate forces called this the Battle of First Manassas. Union forces called it the First Battle of Bull Run after the name of a stream in the area. This was the first major battle of the Civil War, and it was a stunning loss for the boys in blue, dashing all hopes of a quick end to the recently begun dustup.

The primary reason for Isaura and me coming back east was to attend the 66th Annual Coppage-Coppedge Family Reunion (ours is Coppedge from my mother’s mother), being held this year in Williamsburg, Virginia. We drove down on Wednesday, settling into our reserved cabin on a military base just a few miles from our reunion site. Referred to as the Cheatham Annex (part of the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station), John, Isaura and I were able to spend four nights in a great little cabin on the banks of the York River as part of the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) program for military personnel. We’re going to have to come here again!

The whole area of eastern Virginia drips with history. Revolutionary War battles and Civil War battles took place at every turn, including sea battles like the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack (aka, the “Battle of Hampton Roads,” March 9, 1862), the first battle between two ironclad warships which changed the way naval warfare would be conducted forever. Though the exchange of cannon fire resulted in a questionable draw, there was no going back to the wooden sailing ships.

The most interesting part of our visit here was our tour of the original settlement site of Jamestowne (old English spelling). Go back in American history and you’ll recall that it was settlers from England in 1607 that first found safe harbor in what would later be called Jamestown. Can you name even one of the three ships that brought these first settlers? They were the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery. Our guide was actually part of a six-person team of archeologists digging up thousands of artifacts just in the past six years, providing a much clearer picture of the people who first settled here. Captain John Smith and Pocahontas are all part of this, but it may not be quite the story of romance that we’ve been led to believe. It is true that Pocahontas was a princess of the Powhatan tribe, albeit, a very young princess of about ten years of age. Captain Smith was likely in his late 20s. Pocahontas did play a significant role in maintaining peace between the settlers and her tribe. However, a few years later she was kidnapped by Indians from another tribe along with some English sailors, meets an Englishman by the name of John Rolfe whom she marries, moves to London when she is just twenty and becomes the toast of the town. Just as she and her husband are sailing back to the Americas she takes ill and dies at age 22.

The most intriguing bit of information that has been recently unearthed about the Jamestowne Settlement has to do with Jane. Our guide explained that when the sickness of 1609-10 occurred, it decimated the settlers, reducing their number to 60, down from several hundred. Conditions grew so bad that they were eating anything and everything, including horses, rats, dogs, snakes and so forth. Besides all of this, the most disturbing bit of information drawn from the diaries and records of that time was that “an untold number of the English fed on the meat of their dead fellows.” This report of cannibalism has been verified and validated by the archeologists who discovered the remains of a young girl of about 14 who was a victim of this barbarous act. Not knowing who this girl was, she has been named Jane. There are several books about her and this sordid matter. The archeological dig in Historic Jamestowne continues. What else might they discover?

A true blessing from this part of our trip was the chance to visit with my friend and retired Navy chaplain, Rick Wilkins. Rick drove up from his home in Virginia Beach and had lunch with John, Isaura and me at the Langley Air Force Base Officers Club. After lunch, Isaura went shopping at the Exchange while we three guys played a round of golf at Eaglewood, the base course. I was soundly thrashed by my two ingrate opponents! Licking my wounds, we rejoined Isaura and had a delightful dinner at The Olive Garden before saying goodbye to Rick.

Isaura and I will begin our trip back to California by first heading west to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello! We’ll be stopping in Jackson, Tennessee; Sulphur Bluff, Texas; Dodge City, Kansas; and Delta, Utah before returning home to Ripon, California.

I’ll check back with you next Wednesday!

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