A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Leesylvania State Park

It’s off to Leesylvania State Park for another round of checking out the local history of the area

Leesylvania State Park is south of Washington, DC, about twenty miles or so.  It’s probably better known for boating because it’s on the Potomac River.  But the park also has a pocket of history–I only found it because I checked out the park.

Leesylvania means “Lee’s Woods.”  In this case, it was General Lee’s father who owned a plantation on the land, along with a family named Fairfax.  Both of those are common names around Virginia: Leesburg (city), Leesburg Pike, Lee Street, Lee Highway, Fairfax county, Fairfax (city), Fairfax Street. I like looking at street names because they often tell a lot about the story of a place.

Map of the park is here if you want to check it out and see where I’m going.

First stop is Free Stone Point Beach.

Freestone Point Beach, viewed from the Potomac River

It looks like a bunch of trees, but it’s actually a bluff.  It’s more obvious during winter after the leaves have fallen.  This bluff was a landmark for ships navigating on the Potomac River during George Washington’s time.

This was Confederate territory during the Civil War.  It’s strange to feel that between the last place I visited and this one, I crossed the battle lines.  But time has a way of smoothing those lines out and blending them together.

The Confederates had an artillery battery here.  It was actually used as a decoy by General Lee while he built batteries at Possom Point, Cockpit Point, and Evansport.

But that didn’t stop a skirmish from happening at Free Stone Point.  On September 25, 1861, a Union gunship fired on the Confederate battery.  They exchanged artillery.  Didn’t do much to either side.

War is strange, isn’t it?

Fishing pier on the Potomac, showing a sign for Maryland

It was a nice walk out here.  I waded into the water–it was surprisingly warm.  The currents were quite strong–a constant slushing sound coming to shore.

I decided to walk on the fishing pier.  Note the Maryland sign.  This was about 30 feet in, so I crossed the state line into Maryland on the river.  When I was growing up, I thought crossing a state line would be more dramatic.  If I hadn’t noticed the sign…

This border was pretty important in 1957, because Virginia did not allow gambling or drinking.  But Maryland did.  So an enterprising person moored a “recreation resort” boat named the S.S. Freestone on the Maryland border.

Off to the Lee Wood’s Path.  That’s about two miles round trip, and I spent most of my time repelling all borders from bugs and cobwebs.

Ruins of a chimney, and the foundation of the Fairfax house.

Ah ha!  Ruins.  These are from the Fairfax family’s house.  The chimney’s all that’s left, with warning signs all over that the bricks are unstable.  This was the Fairfax Plantation house, one of the places George Washington stopped by to stay when he was coming into DC.  Even though Mount Vernon was 14 miles away, they were neighbors.

Path through woods

This is the path I took through Lee’s Woods.  It was steep in some places and had me sweating.  Much better to take it in winter.  It made me wonder what this place looked like when the plantations were here.  How did people get around?  How big were the plantations?

A sign marking where the Lee house stood

The sign marks where the Lee House stood, but time didn’t leave much behind.  If the sign hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have know the house had been here.  There used to be a foundation, but a road building project (now gone) destroyed the foundation.

But the Lees had a garden nearby.  One of the interesting bits here that I like for stories are what they did with the trees.  The nuts from the American birches were ground up for flour, pressed for oil, or roasted for coffee.  And, of course, eaten whole.

White oak trees were used to make barrels for wine, and the dogwoods were used for tool handles.

Site of old railroad, now taken over by trees

You can’t tell with this photo, but that’s a steep drop off.  And it’s where a railroad was built, going from Neabsco to Powells’ Creek.  It was completed in 1872.  Doesn’t look like a place for a railroad, does it?

The railroad company had a lot of problems with the location.  They had to do a lot of work to maintain the grade so it was more level.  Because of the terrain, there were landslides and derailments.  One train had to be hauled back up the side with tree!

Brick Chimney

This was at the end of the path.  I knew I was getting close to the end because I could hear the buzz of boat motors coming from the river.

The chimney is what remains of the Freestone Point Hunt Club.  It was established in 1926 by businessmen from New York.  They hunted ducks on the Potomac and hunted so many that the population declined.  The club closed in 1957, and this is all that’s left.

More information on the park is here.

Adventures Around the Web August 19-25, 2017

The Passive Voice

A Check Girl

This is a quote from a Raymond Chandler story.   Wow.  Just wow.

Susan Elia MacNeal on Signature

These Six Incredible Women Served as Undercover Spies During World War II

When I was in school, history that was taught wasn’t particularly interesting.  It was dates and events, not about the people.  Finding things like this on the internet gives history a very different perspective that’s often lost.  And well…spies.  Shared from Gail Reid in the Desert Storm Combat Women Facebook group.

Bored Panda

10+ of the Best Shorts of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Number two is awesome!

Fossil Guy

Mallows Bay Ghost Fleet Along the Potomac River, Maryland

This is a ship graveyard in Maryland.  I would check it out, but it’s only accessible via the water.  But the story about it is pretty cool.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Business Musings: Eclipse Expectations

Kris was was in the starting place for the eclipse, so it’s got a lot of good details.  But it also talks about how hyped it was and people planned for big business in the totality areas–and didn’t get enough business.  Which slides right into what publishers do with books, like assuming everyone will buy a book because it’s like another book.  Very interesting post on marketing.


A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Fort C.F. Smith

I went to Fort C.F. Smith the same day I did Fort Ward.  It was such a nice day, and it was near the library, so I stopped over.  I really wanted to get some more of the sunshine.

First up, this Civil War fort is hard to find.  For some reason, the state or county inexplicably has a sign that points to a right turn, and then no signs indicating where to turn again unless you coming from the opposite direction.

The fort is smack in the middle of a suburban area, so it’s on a shady little street.  Without the sign, I wouldn’t know this had once been a Civil War fort.  It’s a basic park.  Green grass, trees.

Map of Fort C.F. Smith

So here’s the handy dandy map of what it used to look like.  Farmland was used to build the fort in 1863.  This was one of three forts that protected the Aqueduct bridge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Fort C.F. Smith was named after General Charles Ferguson Smith.  He was commandant of the the U.S. Military Academy while Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman were there.

It was a lunette fort, which was apparently pretty unusual.  I had to look the word up to see what it meant.  It’s a fort that that has two faces.  This fort’s two faces are on the southern and western side.

The fort came with:

  • Barracks (got to have some places for the soldiers to stay)
  • Mess hall (that’s the place the soldiers eat)
  • Officer’s quarters (that would have been a little fancier than the barracks)
  • Barn (probably for horses)
  • Headquarters building (where the officers did their planning)

Two stone pillars mark the entrance to Fort C.F. Smith Park

This was one of the entrances to the park.  It’s not the entrance to the fort.

Off for a bit of walking.

Park area marking the original entrance of Fort C.F. Smith

This is the original entrance to the fort.  Can’t really tell much looking at it.  in the upper left third of the photo, there’s a post sticking out of the ground.  That marks the entrance.  It’s just a numbered post–if you visit this park, download the brochure before you go or you will have no context whatsoever.

Meadow of flowers and butterflies

There was a bench here so I sat down and looked at the flowers.  This is a meadow as it might have looked to the farmers of the time.  You can’t see it in the photo, but there were little yellow butterflies bouncing above the flowers.

As I sat here, I could hear the freeway on the other side of the meadow.  The roar of jets drowned out the thrilling of the birds.  The park was under the flight path of Ronald Reagan Airport.


This was one of the cannons.  There were supposed to be eight, but it looked like the others had been removed.  The hill was a ramp to help move the equipment around.  Artillery is heavy!  During Desert Storm, we hauled shells for artillery to the front line and the trucks were always running on fumes because of the loads.

Stone well

The land was turned back over to the original owners after the fort was decommissioned and they used this well for their water.  I’m from Southern California, so I’ve never seen a well in person.  How I would picture it is those illustrated drawings that make them look rickety.  This was about 30 inches high (measuring by where it hit me on my legs), and the top was sealed up.

Can you imagine lowering a bucket with it’s own weight into that well, then getting filled with water, and hauling it back up?  Takes some serious muscle!

As you can see, there’s not a lot left here.  Why wasn’t more preserved?

The answer is the military.  The buildings were removed when the fort was decommissioned in 1865.   We’re lucky to have this much preservation because it could have disappeared as the world changed.

More of the story about this fort is on the park website.

A Writer/Veteran Looks at History: Fort Ward, Virginia

I’ve been disturbed at the attempts I’m seeing to destroy history.  In Baltimore, there’s talk of removing statues.  Remove history and you take away who we are.  Since Virginia has a whole lot of historical sites, I thought I would visit them and talk about them.

First up is Fort Ward, which is in Alexandria, Virginia.  I like places where I can walk the area and try to picture what it was like for the people who were there.  Plus I get some good walking in.  The weather was nice and sunny, so it was pretty fun checking everything out.

This was a Union fort during the Civil War.   Today, it’s a park where you can walk around with your dog or even have a picnic.  The buzz of cicadas do battle with the sounds of cars racing by just outside the park.  It’s like an island in the middle of busy.

Fort Ward was an earthen fort built to defend Washington DC during the Civil War, though it never actually saw an action.  Construction was completed in September 1861.

This is a picture of the original design.

A diagram of the 5 pointed star shape of Fort Ward.

Time’s now worn down the earthen walls, and it’s hard to picture.  But this design was so that on the star’s points, soldiers could catching approaching enemy in the crossfire.  Very old military technology.

Gated entrance to Fort Ward
Starting at the entrance to the fort.  You can see what a nice day it was out–that sky is a pretty blue and clear.  Warm, but not muggy.

This gate was the only entrance to the fort.  The fort was surrounded by a dry moat.  I can imagine this being a guard post with two Union soldiers on duty, watching for arriving visitors.

Dry moat surrounding Fort Ward.

This is where I start imaging what the soldiers did.  This is the dry moat.  The picture doesn’t show the height really well, but it’s actually pretty steep.

Imagine running up to this berm and dropping down against it, your muzzle loader rifle at the ready and the enemy coming on the other side.  The berm would stop any bullets headed your way (hopefully), but you would still have to stick part of your body up over the berm to fire back, making yourself a target.

Rear view of Fort Ward

I wander on and come up to the fort itself.  This is from the rear view, from inside, so it’s what the Union soldiers themselves would have seen.  That white wall has a shelf in front of it for guard duty.

I get up and walk along it and this is what I see:

What I might see on guard duty from Fort Ward. All grass and bushes now.

And I stop here and think about being a soldier on guard duty.  It’s cold out, because whenever I was on guard duty, it was always cold!

And I’m scared because I don’t know what’s coming, except that I know that my enemy might be coming over that next hill to kill me.

War is both very personal and very impersonal.

Defensive position with cannons at Fort Ward.

Back down the stairs to check out what we in the military calls the “defensive position.”  This position was set up to defend Little River Turnpike (which turns into Duke Street) and Leesburg Pike (which turns into King Street,  Obviously named after General Lee).  All those streets are still here, but it’s hard picturing how it must have looked in 1861.

Time to get closer.


This is one of the bigger cannons.  War then was definitely not for short people!  I can barely see over the cannon to where the enemy is coming.

So I try a smaller cannon.

Following a cannon's line of fire.

Cannon fire is very loud.  I was on Fort Lewis, walking on the sidewalk across the street from the parade field.  Someone was test-firing the cannon.


I jumped and was going, “What the heck?”

I’d been in front of the cannon, so it was much noisier.  If you ever go to a cannon demonstration, make sure you are on the side you see in the photos above.

The door to Magazine No3

This was where the ammunition was packed with black powder.  It was very hazardous duty.  Then the military didn’t have the safeguards to protect the soldiers, so people often got killed.

Door labeled "Filling Room No5"

And this is where the ammunition is stored.  Also not a particularly safe place to be.

The front of Fort Ward, though bushes

Then I walk around to the front of Fort Ward.  If this fort had seen action, this is the view the approaching Confederates would have had.

More of the fort is visible at winter when the plants die off, so I can’t see much now.  But there’s that trench I’d have to cross if I were on the Confederate side, with cannons pointed down on me and probably soldiers with muzzle loaders.  Look on the left for a cannon poking out.

The last part of my trip I don’t have any pictures for, because there’s nothing left other than the story.  After the war ended, the African Americans who had been freed established what became known as “The Fort” around the remains of Fort Ward.  It was their home and a place where they raised their families.  They emphasized faith, education and moral codes.

As the Civil Rights Era kicked off, they were displaced by time.  All that’s left is a sign and a graveyard of a church in the area.  But some of the new generations still live in the area, and the street names mark the location (Seminary Road).

Here’s the link to the Fort Ward site.

I’m thinking of hitting Leesylvania Park next (you guessed it–named after General Lee, who lived in Virginia).  It’s a pretty area, a bit of challenging walk, and some interesting history that involves–of all things–gambling!

What do you think?  Is there anything you want me to wander off and check out (safety permitting)?




Adventures Around the Web August 12-18, 2017

Fall is continuing into Washington DC.  Last week, I saw the first fall squash at the farmer’s market.  I’ll be visiting an end of summer tradition, the local county fare, today, and I decided to take the day off for the eclipse, in case everyone goes nuts.  In DC, you never know . These are the same people who, when a single drop of a sprinkle hits their windshield, goes into full panic mode.

The Military Yearbook Project

USA Military Platoon and Personal Photos

This site takes the concept of a school yearbook and puts up the group photos from Basic Training.  Some great history here.  One of the earliest photos is 1934!.  Mine’s not on here, but I would have been Fort Dix, 1989.  From Tracy Jordan, Desert Storm veteran.

K. Gitter on Do You Remember?

These Vintage Photos Show the History of the Supermarket

Shopping for food has changed quite a bit over the years.  I found it fascinating to see that in the early days, it was a series of small shops specializing in produce or fish, not a general store of everything.  I also remember in Los Angeles the grocery store, Mrs. Gooch’s, which was also a precursor to Whole Foods and got bought out when they started growing.

Joanna Penn on Creative Penn

Writing Christian Fiction and Success Over a Long Career with Jerry Jenkins

(Link Corrected) Under the process question, he describes how he cycles through his writing to get a clean first draft.  He calls it revising, but it is a form of cycling.  I used to call it revising when I write, but that leads to thinking it’s actual revision, which isn’t, so I’ve just called it moving around in the story.

Harvey Stanbrough

Why Do You Write?

This is an interesting look at the different categories of people coming into writing and all their reasons.  When I first got on the internet and joined up with writing communities, I ran afoul of what I call hobby/lottery writers–people who wanted to write a best seller so they could quit their day job.  I thought everyone was like me–wanting to write full time, always wanting to improve as a writer.  It ended up being the reason I dropped off writing communities, because they were also the same people passing around a lot of bad information.

Melissa Ragsdale on Bustle

7 Things People Who Use Bookmarks Will Never Understand About People Who Dog Ear Books

Waves!  Yes, I dog ear my books.  Don’t know why. Just always have.  Might be that, being an INTP, it’s easier than tracking down a bookmark.  If I had one.  The writer of this might be able to find free bookmarks, but I usually don’t see that many around.

And since I mentioned dog ears, here’s a dog doing a Marilyn Monroe imitation.



Apologizing for History

Washington Monument against cloudy skyThis weekend, I wanted to get out and do something fun.  That turned into a trip to the Museum of American History, which is right near the Washington Monument.  It was cloudy out, with rain predicted…and humid and hot.

The museum can be a lot of fun.  Like their Transportation history exhibit, or the one on food (with Julia Child’s kitchen).  There’s even the office of the man who invented  the first video game.  It’s pretty cool looking at how different creative people are.

There were also two exhibits which apologized for history.  I got a problem with that.

  1. History’s best value is if we take all of it into context.  Apologizing takes a piece of it entirely out of context, and devalues the rest.
  2. When the rest is devalued, we don’t hear about the positive things people did.

One of the exhibits that went on apology mode was on the Japanese internment during World War II.

What happened to the Japanese in the U.S. was a terrible thing.  I was glad for the opportunity to read George Takei’s biography, because his internment camp as a child put a different perspective on what happened (it was actually more interesting that the actor part).  I also went to an exhibit several years back (think that was at Freer-Sackler) of items made by people in the camps.  It was both sad and amazing, because it spoke of the power of  human spirit.

But I also have a bit of family history that comes with World War II and the Japanese.

My grandparents lived in San Francisco during World War II.  My grandfather was a minister of a church there.  My grandmother reported that she had to do a submarine watch on the coast of California.


After the war intended, there was a lot of distrust of Japanese.  My grandfather gave them jobs around the church.  It was a deeply unpopular thing to do, and he did it anyway.  The Japanese honored him about ten years ago.

History is about putting things into perspective and honoring who we are, warts and beauty and all.  Apologizing robs of us that perspective, which we need as human beings.


Adventures around the web August 5-9, 2017

Even though it’s August, the signs of fall are already showing up in Washington, DC.  I went to the farmer’s market in Old Town Alexandria this weekend and the first of the apples were for sale.  It’s hard to believe the summer is almost gone.  It always seems so short!

Kevin Tumlinson on Medium

Self Publishing Destroys the Universe

Post is courtesy of the writer above.  It goes after all the nonsense that self publishing means the books are terrible, or that somehow writing fewer books a year ensures quality.  A lot of silliness debunked.

World War Wings

Rare Footage of the Blackbird’s Last Flight

My father worked for Lockheed in Burbank, the company that developed the Blackbird.  One year, we went up to Palmdale for an organization day, and the Blackbird was on display.   I remember it had a guard in front of it and seemed kind of small.  I recently went to the Smithsonian, where the plane is on display.  It was huge!  I had to ask my father what he remembered, and he thought it was small, too.  So that one many years ago might have been a test model or one for display.   The video shows footage of the jet flying and landing.  Link from Wayne Guenther, Desert Storm veteran.

Helen Sedwick on Bookworks

5 Legal Myths That Writers Still Fall For, Debunked

This hits a bunch of myths floating out there that I’ve heard, like mailing your story to yourself.  The one that stands out most for me is #3.  There was a big lawsuit when a writer published a book with a very recognizable person in it, just renamed.  The individual was so recognizable that people who had read the book were commenting on it to her.  The writer was sued and lost.  Link from Anne Allen.

Orson Scott Card on Galaxy Press

Are We At the End of Science Fiction?

This is an interesting look at the science fiction genre.  It hasn’t sold well for a long time–I’ve seen several resources say the low sales are because they don’t have happy endings.  I’ve found myself passing on a lot of stories because the world has ended and humans are fighting for survival, and it’s such a negative for me that I don’t want to read it.  My own dream–completely outrageous–is that I want to be the writer like J.K. Rowlings who does that for science fiction.  Link is courtesy of the Writers of the Future Contest (I have three honorable mentions).

Tom on Feedreader

Information Overload vs. the Human Brain: Infobesity Causes, Symptoms, and How to Beat It

Overload is something I’ve had to look at because of my day job.  Most of the time management books talk about how to jam more in each day, not on how to push back on the sheer amount of data coming in a warp speed at us.  It’s always good to conduct a review of what we look at and drop anything that’s maybe not worth the time.  I’ve unfollowed sites that got too political over what their content should be, and others because they post way too many articles on a daily basis.

Kristen Lamb

Wonder Woman Vs. Atomic Blonde–What Truly Makes a Powerful Female Character?

I remember seeing one of the first books with this strong (and armed) female character, and it was just magic.  It filled a hole left by characters who whimpered in the corner and did nothing to help themselves.  Somehow it evolved in books to smart-mouthed characters I didn’t like and in movies to characters who seemed to be men in disguise.  This is a good discussion on what Wonder Woman did.  We’ll see if the film industry gets smart…


Adventures around the web July 29-August 4, 2017

Manu Saadia on The New Yorker

The Enduring Lessons of Star Trek

Very interesting article on how Star Trek The Next Generation went away from Star Trek’s original concept.  It mentions one of the things that I always had problems with: people all got along with each other.  That made it hard to do stories that were about the crew, without having some outside influence intervene.  I know that idea originated with Gene Roddenberry, but still…

Joris Nieuwint for War History Online

When His Landing Gear Failed, This Harrier Pilot Made An Emergency Landing… On A Stool

The primary thing the military does is train.  Because in war, training’s all you have when things go wrong.  All the training comes in handy in this video.

Zack Walkter on Do You Remember

Meet the First Woman to Cycle Around the World (in 1895)

This is a pretty cool story–and it’s got photos.  This actually started because of a bet two men made!

Josh Jones on Open Culture

Enter a Huge Archive of Amazing Stories, the World’s First Science Fiction Magazine, Launched in 1926

Writers today tend to diss the pulp writers as “hacks,” usually stories unseen because they produced a tremendous amount of stories.  Somehow speed has become equated with poor writing, though this era produced Dashiell Hammett.  If you haven’t read any of his stories, those are really good.  Link from Harvey Stanbrough (spell checker gave me Gainsborough for his name.  Weird).

Gary Grayson

Gary and the Seal in the Scilly Isles

A charming video from Rhonda Hopkins. The seal wants a belly rub and a chin scratch!