Saturday, February 18, 2023

A Visit to the Petersburg Military Park

As you know (if you keep up with stuff I do), one week from tomorrow I will be participating in the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth. Finishers will be given a medal, a blanket, Gatorade, and free counseling for lunacy. You will waddle back to your car. You will sit down and take your shoes off. Your feet will be black and blue --  and blistered. You are done! 

Today, 7 days before the race, I was feeling good enough to get in an easy weight training session. 

Next thing you know it, someone will be telling me that I need to do more stretching. Oh -- problem solved! 

Nureyev, eat your heart out. 

Afterwards I did something very un-me-like. I visited, yes, another Civil War battlefield. I am obsessed with U.S. history, and besides, the day was too beautiful to go back to the farm and nap. Without even trying or thinking about it, I knew I should drive to the Petersburg National Military Park. The visitor's center looks as dull as my elementary school back in Hawaii. 

It's located near Confederate Battery 5 and formed part of the defences around Petersburg for 9 long months. The visitor's center is small but it has some pretty interesting displays, mostly dealing with trench warfare or the use of artillery during and after the siege. 

There's even a canon the Confederates captured at the Battle of Reams Station and then turned on its erstwhile owners. 

Pardon my French, but the defenses of Petersburg were placed under the command of -- the name is unforgettable -- Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard. (I have to chuckle. Beauregard was the name of a famous wrestler in Hawaii who was a colossal braggart -- partly because he always won the rigged matches he was in.) Then there's this sign about the battle of the crater. 

In case you didn't know, the plan was for Union coal miners to dig a long tunnel underneath the Confederate breastworks, stuff it with gunpowder, and then blow a gigantic gap in their defences. Talk about audacity. After spending about 20 minutes in the visitors' center, it was time to begin my driving tour of the battlefield. Here's what's left of Fort Stedman. 

I think I read that 30 such forts dotted the Union siege lines. Then I reached the site of the crater. There weren't any trees or grass back in 1864, just a moon-like landscape. 

The tunnel entrance has been re-created, sandbags and all. 

The tunnel mockup does, I think, a good job of giving you a case of claustrophobia. 

Despite the audacity of the plan, the attack utterly failed. "The saddest affair I witnessed in the war," was the way Grant put it. 

There were other forts to visit, but it was getting late and I had chores to attend to at the farm. As I left the park, I realized I had been on this road before. 

The Petersburg Half Marathon uses it on its 13.1-mile circuit around the city. Of the 40 halfs I've done, one of my favorites was definitely the Petersburg event, partly because it was here that I set my half marathon PR. 

Wouldn't you know it, when I got home the daffodils were in full bloom. 

Every year I look forward to this day. The renewal of life in the spring is reassuring. None of us knows what the rest of 2023 holds. But we do know that getting outdoors and appreciating God's nature is good for the soul. 

So folks, there you have it -- the results of my Wanderlust. On any trip there are a thousand moments that grab you. I always try to travel with an openness to learning new things. One thing that impressed me today was the humanity of the battlefield. As the two armies faced each other like pit bulls along the entrenchments at Petersburg, their soldiers often experienced the most unlikely comradery. Tobacco was exchanged for sugar or coffee. Riflemen on the skirmish lines went out of their way to tell soldiers in their sights to get their heads down. There is just something in human nature that makes people do things like that. I think of how Paul referred to Epaphroditus as his "brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier" in Phil 2:25. Paul and Epaphroditus had not only shared salvation as Christian believers. They shared the work --  and even shared the danger. I think of those men in my own life who've been more than just brothers to me. We labored and struggled together for the faith of the gospel. I'm thankful for every one of you. God is on the march, and we are not to watch it from the sidelines. It is a scandal for a Christian man to let himself be entertained when he should be enlisted.