Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

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Here’s an email, received in recent days, that I feel compelled to share, in full.

It regards the ongoing second season of furious activity by dozens of Virginia guardsmen to build a park in Stafford County, Va., that will open a collection of remarkable Civil War sites to the visiting public–a perfect place to picnic and ponder some important American history.

Reporters aren’t supposed to share their opinions, of course, but I gather that bloggers often do, so I’ll confirm from my own observations that these National Guard members, from all across Virginia, are working like the devil–12- to 15-hours days in all kinds of weather, including scorching heat–to get this job done.

The soldiers receive valuable combat-construction training needed in hot spots like Afghanistan, where many of them have served. The rest of us will receive a great gift–unique among the many sites of the American Civil War–that would not be accomplished in any other way.

We should all thank these incredibly dedicated folks in any way that we possibly can.

The Guard,  the nonprofit Friends of Stafford Civil War Sites, and county officials broke ground on the park only one year ago. Now–and cross your fingers–it appears that the 41-acre site may open to the public this fall, in time for the 150th anniversary of Battle of Fredericksburg and the creation of its impressive fortifications and camp by Union troops that winter of 1862-1863.

Late into the night, Virginia National Guard soldiers work furiously to repair an excavator being used to complete access roads into Stafford’s forthcoming Civil War park. (GLENN TRIMMER)

Glenn A. Trimmer, executive director of the Friends of Stafford Civil War Sites, writes:

Hope this note finds you all cool, dry and well.   VA ARNG troops working on the Stafford County Civil War Park have continued in the heat, and unfortunately today in the rain, to work on the Stafford Civil War Park.   This evening I want to share a photo I took last Thursday night about ten or ten-thirty PM.

As background, by last Thursday afternoon the final grading and compacting of both Howard Ave and Battery Heights had been completed and rolled and a request for a compaction test called in and responded to by a local firm who came out  to test and then observe as a 20 ton dump truck filled with stone was driven across both Howard Avenue and Battery Heights.   Howard Ave passed with no problem, however short of Battery #3 on Battery Heights, the ground showed weakness in two areas as the truck rolled over the road.   Further testing and digging revealed well below the clay soil a layer of organics which would if not fixed eventually weaken this road.   The plan up until this time had been for the troops to finish up a little early (only a 12 hour day) and for many to get their first showers in two days.  They were excited.

However with the chance of rain looming and our very tight schedule at risk, CPT Jessee Kopczynski and 1SG Billy Cole made the call that getting that organic material removed and the additional fill dirt put in and compacted in its place needed to take precedence.  We thought this would probably take about 2-3 hours an amount of time that negated any chance of those showers for the soldiers that evening.  Still, without any complaint, soldiers manned their trucks, excavators and dozers and work commenced.

The problem soil was several yards wide and about 25-30 feet long, with a second section of about the same size in front of, and to the left of, the first.  Half way through removal of the bad earth in the second area the Guard Excavator threw a track which came partially  off the rollers and came to rest at an awkward angle across the rollers.  These tracks are very heavy and not easily manipulated.

A second excavator was called in to help with leveling or positioning the disabled one so its track could be put back in place.  Dirt and parts of logs tightly compacted inside the wheel were shoveled out to reveal the problem area and provide working space and a two hour battle began to get that huge track back in place via the use of multiple other machines, chains, pry bars and just plain brute human force.   Soldiers of all ranks worked incredibly hard, and watched carefully over each other in this very dangerous environment and as darkness came light banks were turned on.   About 0930 or ten the track was finally fixed and with the wind picking up and signs of lighting in the far distance the race to finish the fill work continued.   The last vehicle got off Battery Heights at around 11, no one got showers and everyone was exhausted, but safe.

As I drove home that evening frankly stunningly tired (and I’d done no physical work like those Guardsmen that night), I thought about how many people today complain about what is wrong with America.   Indeed between the stalled economy, the divisiveness and seeming ineptness in government, and growing numbers who do so little for others while demanding others or Government supply their every need, one can develop a jaundiced view.  But, the Guard soldiers at our park hailing from widely varying backgrounds, male and female, of all races and many faiths could teach anyone who is cynical a lot about America.

Since taking this picture Thursday evening I’ve looked at it and thought about it a lot.   America will and is indeed OK so long as we can find men and women citizen soldiers like those in the VA Army National Guard who are working themselves to a frazzle, carefully watching over each other, and building Stafford and Fredericksburg a wonderful historical park that honors soldiers and serves our community. …  Good night.

– Glenn