Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bennett Place


                                                        April 26, 2015


On April 26, 1865, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman at a small farm between Durham and Hillsborough, North Carolina. 

 It is at Bennett Place that the American Civil War came to an end.
One Hundred and Fifty years later, the Fat Bald White Guy and his faithful Hiking Companion ventured to this special place to watch a reenactment of the surrender complete with  Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs.

A young private from the 21st Ohio stood guard at the Unity Monument.  Note the wreaths of flowers placed at the monument and the black arm band on the soldiers arm. 

Over 600,000 Americans lost their lives in this senseless war, a fact that was on my mind today.  This young man would have been the age of a typical soldier.

The Bennett Farm house was chosen because it was conveniently located between the two armies.  The farm had been occupied by the Bennett Family since 1846.  Several members of the family were Confederate soldiers, at least one had died from illness while deployed.  

The two Generals looking for a way to end the war met on several occasions beginning April 17, 1865 and ending with the formal surrender and stacking of arms on April 26, 1865.  The historical site features a visitor's center and museum as well as a historically accurate replica farmstead.

The original chimney adorns farm house where the negotiations and final surrender took place. 
An open parade ground is adjacent.  On this day the farm was buzzing with activity as Union soldiers were bivouacked in the woods on one end of the field and Confederate soldiers occupied the other end.  

The camps had open fires and were period correct.  The soldiers were eager to pose for pictures and explain what it was like to live and fight in the Civil War era.

We got to watch the Confederate Soldiers muster and go through the manual of arms. This is a rag tag group....a bit older and fatter than you would expect of a typical civil war soldier...

In the Union Camp, the fife and drums were especially entertaining playing tunes made familiar from Ken Burns series on the Civil War. 

Milling around the parade ground intermingling with the spectators were some of the principal actors of the day.  General Johnston was in a finely tailored grey dress uniform and "Uncle Billy" Sherman sported a ruddy red beard.  


The Generals also took time to talk with members of the North Carolina General Assembly.... Gosh, I hope they are not negotiating new surrender terms!  I would hate to think we would have to allow more Yanks to move south!

At two o'clock, the drums and fifes began to play and the two armies marched on the field. The first was the Confederate Army under the watchful eye of members of the Union Cavalry.

As they passed by the Bennett Farm, they were greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Bennett. 

On the parade grounds, the Confederate Army presented arms welcoming General Johnston to the field where he read to them General Order 22, dismissing them from service concluding: 

Comrades...I earnestly exhort you to observe faithfully the terms of the pacification agreed upon; and to discharge the obligations of good and peaceful citizens, as well as you have performed the duties of thorough soldiers in the field. By such course, you will best secure the comfort of your families and kindred, and restore tranquility to the country. 

Receiving their final orders, the Confederate Army marched across the field and faced the Union Army and began the surrender of arms.  

But first they paid honor to their flag. 

 Each man in turn touching and even kissing the flag before stacking arms.

During this ceremony, not a word was said by anyone.  It was a solemn and sad experience, with one spectator behind us even wiping her eyes as she softly cried as the arms were stacked.    
As I watched I recalled the words of a Confederate Veteran who said:  

"May justice and righteousness dwell in the land, may mutual tolerance and forbearance take the place of sectional jealousy and bitterness; may the God of love so completely fill the hearts and minds of  this people that the god of battles may nevermore find room in their thoughts; may the reign of the Prince of Peace speedily begin and His  blessed dominion extend over God's  beautiful earth." (Dr. H.T. Bahnson) 

The day ended with a show of unity before the memorial.  The armies marched in and saluted the two generals as they rode between them. 

Musicians sang patriotic songs of the era.....and folks gathered to commemorate the day with a Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America.

Many a son of the Old North State gave their life in this senseless war.  Over 600,000 men died....slaves were freed ....but it took 100 years for African Americans to be afforded equal rights.  There had to have been a better way.

It was not a hike.....but it was a great day. The Bennett Place is a great North Carolina Historical site to visit.  I even got to take a picture with the General.....not Uncle Billy....but General Joseph Johnston....a great American, soldier, congressman, patriot.....who became close friends after the war with William Tecumseh Sherman.  Overall a 10+ day!

I end with some shots of some interesting faces of the day.

Notice the sad looks.  I think everyone was in character today. 
Joseph E. Johnston stood bareheaded at the February funeral of General Sherman in New York.] A concerned bystander leaned forward. "General, please put on your hat; you might get sick." But Johnston would not. His warrior's heart would not let him deny his old friend a soldier's last honor. "If I were in his place," Johnston said, "and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat." Ten days later, Joe Johnston was dead.
in To The Last Cartridge by Robert Barr Smith

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wilson Creek- Harpers Creek Falls


Nestled in the corner of Caldwell County, at the foot of Grandfather Mountain is a hidden gem of a natural area.  Beginning from springs on the upper slopes of Calloway Peak (5920'), Wilson Creek flows 23 miles joining Johns River(1020').  Flowing south, the river forms a small gorge and is designated as a National Wild and Scenic River and is considered a part of the Pisgah National Forest.
Until recently it was a remote and rugged afterthought by hikers and vacationers.  Caldwell County has invested money to improve access and infrastructure....and what you have now is a magnificent hiking area.

 Getting there is pretty easy... just take Brown Mountain Beach Road off NC 181 and when you cross the Wilson Creek/John's River bridge, turn left and follow the green mileage markers along a gravel road.  However understanding where you are is a little harder. I have looked at trail maps online for a couple of years, and still not sure I understand the trail system. But thankfully, there is a nice lady at the Wilson Creek Visitor Center named "Glynnis".   Glynnis is a real expert.  Don't even think about hiking one of these trails until you talk with her!
We stopped at the Visitor's Center and were warmly greeted.  She walked us through the trail map and dissuaded us from our original destination by saying: "Don't you want to see the nicest waterfall in the mountains"   I was to Harper's Creek Falls we went.

We drove down the road from the Visitors Center until we found a parking lot on the left with lots of mile marker #7....the trail head was well marked with a yellow/orange blaze....just 1.5 miles to the falls said Glynnis and off we trudged.
The first quarter mile of the trail is a pretty steep haul....about 500 feet.  That is the bad news....the good news is the rest of the trail covers only 100 feet in elevation....hurt early and enjoy a nice hike.   

Reaching the top of the ridge, the trail 260 (Harpers Creek) to the left intersects with trail 265 (Yellow Buck) to the right.  Being unsure I took the left trail...and soon encountered some young folks trudging out from a night of camping.  "Which way to the falls?"  I asked.  "Don't know, never saw them." they said. I backtracked and begin up the Yellow Buck trail....only to think. "Why am I taking trail advice from 'hikers' who are packing out beer bottles in a black plastic garbage bag?"   So I returned to the yellow blazed Harpers Creek trail....

The trail to the falls is a nice path through the mountain forest along a ridge above Harpers Creek.  In the early spring, there are several window views of the stream...and many campsites along the banks.  I bet this is a very popular camping destination in the dog days of summer!
About 1.25 miles into the hike, the trail intersects with the white blazed Mountain to Sea Trail.  A sign indicates it is but 8.3 miles to NC 181.  Bear to the right at this point...a small incline takes you the last quarter of a mile to one of the best waterfalls in the state!
The trail dead ends at a cliff overlooking two of the three cascades of the Harpers Creek Falls.  The falls are easily five stories high and plunge off the rocks with an intensity that is similar to the more famous Linville Falls.  
Looking at how to get to the base of the falls, we were offered two choices and both involved ropes!   Yep, to get to the base of the middle cascade on top of the third cascade, you have semi-rappel down a rock face....nope not the Fat Bald White Guy!  

But an easier trek down to the pools side at the base of the third cascade consisted of a rock scramble/slide of about 200 feet with an assist of a rope for the last 75 feet....To my devoted Hiking Companion, I said: "Hey we can do that!"   I hoped!

What we beheld is without a doubt the best swimming hole in the state...and on April 12th...with 68 degree weather.....there were people brave enough to take a dip!

At the base of the falls is a large olympic size pool that is deep and smooth and free of rocks...the perfect summer time swimmin' hole.  At the top of the last cascade was a group of brave swimmers who accessed this choice spot via the aforementioned rope rappel.  

A couple of interesting people attracted my attention.  

First was a the flag shirted girl....
Second was the crazy guy who was making the cascade first his personal bath tub....

Then the guy decided to make the cascade a slide!

We also met a wonderful family whose three siblings, Josh, Keely and Emma took turns swimming in the 50 degree swimming pool at the base of the falls.....

If you want to visit one of the best swimming holes at the base of one of the best waterfall....Harpers Creek trail is a bucket list hike for you!...but make sure you bring your swim skinny dippn here!

The trail is a nice 3 miler with many side trails for those who want to explore the riverside...wade in the water ...or take a dip.  Great camping sites and a scenic hike.   Access is a 9....scenery is a 9.... trails are a 9....effort to view ratio is lopsided toward an easy trail for a great view.....Wilson Creek is our main hiking destination this summer....can't wait for the next trail Glynnis points in our direction.