Friday, May 31, 2013

The 2013 Civil War Sesquicentennial Begins!

The month of May, 2013 has been marked by memorable events. As described in my Previous Post, it began with me finishing a major research paper in order to complete my third semester of graduate school. I turned that paper in the night before departing for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The weekend after Chancellorsville, Alison and I escaped for a brief retreat in Cape May, NJ, which you can read about in the Previous Post mentioned above. That adventure was followed by a white water rafting trip on the Potomac River on May 18 (which you can read about in the Next Post), before I left for a ten day trip to Vicksburg, MS to help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the siege of that city (which you can read about in the Post After That).

But first, a bit more about the first sesquicentennial anniversary of 2013, on the fields of Chancellorsville...

I was down at Fredericksburg in December for the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, so I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect for Chancellorsville. It turned out that the commemorative events at Chancellorsville, though similar in some respects, had their own unique character and flavor. One big difference was that my two coworkers and I stayed onsite in park housing rather than driving down to the park and back each day as we had done in December. This was much less tiring and also allowed us to be much more productive and make the most of the time that we had available. The events included everything from ranger led hikes, to a fife and drum concert, to a special program at the final bivouac site of "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee the night before the former made his famous flank march around the Union forces.

The highlight of the event was a real time program on May 3 that began just before sunrise. That program included the firing of a cannon at dawn to mark the opening of the fighting that day. Because of the early morning air the smoke hung over the battlefield much more than normal. This is the shot I captured of that cannon firing.

Another fun aspect of the event was meeting a father who had pulled his son out of school and brought him out to the commemorative events. The boy's Maternal Great Great Great Grandfather was a Union soldier captured at Chancellorsville during Jackson's flank attack on May 2 and his Paternal Great Great Great Grandfather was killed during the fighting on the morning of May 3. Talk about tangible connections to the battlefield!

It was a great way to begin the month of May and another memorable aspect of my job. I continue to be amazed that the government is paying me to go out and photograph these events. I am, indeed, blessed! It is moments like these that make living on a temporary GS-05 salary worth it!

For more pictures that I took at Chancellorsville check out this album highlighting many of my favorites!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Retreating to the Atlantic: A Weekend in Cape May

May always seems to be a busy month, marked by the end of the school year (at least in college), Mother's Day, my Dad's birthday, and my own birthday, amongst other things. This May has certainly been no exception. In addition to the usual activities I had to finish a major research paper by May 1 in order to complete my third semester of graduate school. I also began and will end this month with major sesquicentennial Civil War commemorations. I was down in Chancellorsville for the first week of May and leave for Vicksburg on Monday morning.

In the midst of all this business Alison and I decided we should take advantage of the one unoccupied weekend of the month to take a mini vacation before I set off for another Civil War commemoration. For our first wedding anniversary in January she gave me a pass for two tickets on the "Cape May Whale Watcher," a whale watching expedition out of Cape May, New Jersey. Up until that moment I didn't even know it was possible to go whale watching in the Atlantic. I thought it was a Pacific coast thing.

Since we wanted to do something special to spend time together in between the commemorations it seemed like the perfect time to cash in the whale watching voucher and explore the New Jersey coast. As an added bonus, Mother's Day weekend is still considered the off-season (the summer season begins Memorial Day weekend), so we were able to find a charming bed and breakfast at a pretty  substantially discounted price.

I started work at 6 am on Friday and worked from home so that once Alison got off work, we were able to leave the DC area and head for Jersey. We arrived with just enough daylight left for a short walk on the boardwalk and initial exploration of Cape May. It was far more charming and had a great deal more character than I had anticipated. It turns out that Cape May was the first ocean resort get-away spot in America, with people first flocking to it for that purpose in the 1700s. Much of the town still reflects the influence of the Victorian era when it really took off and beautiful Victorian homes dot the landscape.

Our Bed and Breakfast was one such home, located a stones throw from the beach. It turned out we were the only ones there the entire weekend, so we had the 9-bedroom house to ourselves. For pictures of the B & B, our room, and the trip in general, Take a Look at this Album.

    I discovered that there is a finite limit to the number of pictures that I can include in these blog
    posts, and I am rapidly approaching that limit, so I will be shifting to linking to albums on
    facebook rather than including most pictures directly in these posts. I know it's an extra step and it
    doesn't look as exciting, but what can you do?

Saturday dawned grey and rainy so we were worried that our boat trip would be canceled, but it turned out that the three hours we were on the boat were the only clear hours of the day. We didn't see any whales (we were looking for humpbacks and finbacks), but we had a great tour of the area by boat, and enjoyed watching quite a lot of bottlenose dolphins. It was definitely well worth the trip!

Since I will be in Mississippi for my 30th birthday next week we decided we would celebrate in Cape May instead. After returning from the whale watching expedition we walked along the boardwalk and stopped to enjoy an excellent 3 course meal at a nearby restaurant. Since we were seated early in the evening and before it was busy, we got our food at the early bird price. You can't beat good food for cheap!

Directly across the street from the restaurant was an arcade which included a whole line of skee ball. It was too good an opportunity to pass up and Alison proceeded to show me how much better she is at the game than I am. Our collective efforts earned enough tickets to redeem them for a bouncy ball, a pack of mini playing cards, and two army men.

Sunday was a spectacular day and we took advantage of it to walk a couple miles down the beach from where we were staying to reach the Cape May lighthouse. This lighthouse is unique in that it has Been There Since 1859, is still in use today, and allows visitation. 

The view from the top was magnificent and it was easy to imagine how important that light was to so many mariners. Near the lighthouse we also saw a WWII bunker where two guns guarded the harbor from potential assault and lookouts kept a sharp eye for U-boats. Having gone to school on Point Loma in San Diego, the concept of harbor fortifications is nothing new, but it was quite interesting to see them on the east coast as well. 

It turns out that Cape May is a fascinating place and well worth the visit. Perhaps we'll make it a yearly occurrence!

 Again, This Album includes many more pictures from the trip as well as accompanying descriptions of what you are seeing!