The Culpeper Mine Road as a Metaphor for Me

The Culpeper Mine Road to the Wilderness, Virginia (photo by author)

The theme picture of the bog, which I picked as symbolic of my journey following the road of the 65th NY over the years, means a lot to me on a number of levels. For one, it reminds me of the tour I got there by Bob Johnson, a gracious host and arguably the foremost expert on the road itself, which goes through his community, called Lake of the Woods and abutting the Wilderness National Battlefield. The road itself connects the community to the trails of the battlefield park, and I walked it in July 2015 after lunch with Bob, retracing the route taken by the 65th NY volunteers as they headed on May 6, 1864 to the horrible Battle of the Wilderness.

This is the second and most obvious reason the road means a lot to me. Knowing my great-great grandfather, Sergeant Timothy Carroll, headed down this road en route to the extreme right of the Union lines, and hence into one of the worst spots on what would be a horrible battlefield, gives this wooded path a powerful meaning for me.

The battle, in which almost 18,000 Union troops would be killed or wounded, to go with 11,000 Confederates, featured a surprise Confederate flank attack late on May 6th which landed right in the 65th NY regiment, resulting in the capture of their brigade commander, General Alexander Shaler, along with the loss of 57 men of the regiment, killed, wounded, or captured. Some of the captured men would end up in Andersonville prison camp deep in Georgia, and would experience the horrors of starvation, scurvy, and dysentery. Their dozen graves at the Andersonville National Cemetery attest to their suffering and death there.

The grave of Pvt. George F. Kuhn, who enlisted from Tiffin, Ohio in Company K, and was captured at The Wilderness and died at Andersonville (photo by author)
The grave of Co. C. veteran Thomas Morris, a New Yorker captured at The Wilderness and buried at Andersonville, Georgia (photo by author)

The third reason the Culpeper Mine Road means a lot to me is what it taught me about the process of Civil War research. When I was lucky enough to win a grant to follow the route of the 65th NY over Grant’s Overland campaign, traveling with my father in 1996, we started from Culpeper, Virginia, where the 6th Corps was camped, among them the Chasseur regiment, and we began our drive south by crossing the bridge at Germanna Ford, exactly where the 65th NY had crossed. Or so I thought then. Later research in the War of the Rebellion, or the Official Records or OR as it is often called, along with the letters of regimental commander General Joseph Hamblin, revealed to me that in fact the regiment had been detached, along with the rest of General Shaler’s brigade, to guard the 6th Corps wagon train and cross downriver at the Culpeper Mine Ford. They would be summoned to the front to bolster the lines after the bloody first day’s fighting on May 5, 1864, and hence they would journey down the Culpeper Mine Road to get there.

My years of researching about the regiment are filled with such discoveries, which change one’s understanding that had perhaps been built on earlier and less accurate research. To come full circle, my discovery of the different route of the Chasseurs led me to an online posting about the Culpeper Mine Road by Mr. Bob Johnson, and hence my later trip to the road to meet with him as my host and guide.

Finally, the remnants of puddles seen in my photograph of the road are a reminder to me of the flash flood I drove into in July 2015, starting once again from Culpeper, but this time by myself and following a dirt road off of the main road to try to get as close as possible to the site of the Culpeper Mine Ford. Sometimes the striving for historical accuracy can be downright dangerous, as I discovered when I drove into the roadside ditch which I couldn’t see under the deep puddle I drove through, leaving me stuck and helpless to prevent water pouring into my car as I stepped out of it to stand on the roadside berm. Luckily I was towed out, and was only a bit late to see Bob for the lunch and tour we had together, needing some time to literally bail out my car once it was towed out of the ditch.

So, this picture of the Culpeper Mine road holds a lot of meanings for me, and reminds me that though it involves challenges, historical and literal wrong turns, the beauty and fun of my ongoing Civil War research is that there will always be surprises, challenges, and new learning ahead.

The memorial to Capt. William Tracy of the 65th NY, in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY. He was killed at the Wilderness and buried there, but his family put this memorial up in the cemetery in his honor. (photo by author)

Published by 65th NY Guy

I am a high school history teacher in my 34th year of teaching. I have been studying the 65th NY Infantry, my great-great grandfather's regiment, since 1993. After 8 years of writing, I recently finally published my history of the regiment, "No Flinching From Fire." I also coach cross country and track and field, and I have a wife and two daughters.

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