On a lovely spring day in 2002, my husband and I decided to visit the battlefields in Spotsylvania County, near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Virginia is full of Civil War Battlefields, as much of the war was fought here. We packed a picnic basket and drove from our home in Dumfries, down I-95, to the visitor center on Route 3. Because this was a weekday, there were no historians on the battlefields and very few tourists in the area. I have always liked visiting Virginia’s many tourist attractions during the week, when the kids are in school and most people are at work. The lack of crowds makes for a much more pleasant visit.
We made frequent stops. We were in no hurry. We visited the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Inn that was once there. The park provides excellent maps for self-guided tours by car or foot. We drove from one point of interest to the next and stopped for lunch at a picnic area near the Wilderness Battlefield on route 20.
It was a very quiet day. The sun was warm, but in the shade of the trees, we needed jackets. We spread our lunch out on the picnic table and began eating. My husband, John, is a talker. He was rambling about the things we had seen and where we were headed next when we heard a sound from the woods.
“That sounded like a bear,” he said.
“It was a dog,” I responded calmly, between bites. John is afraid of bears, sharks, heights, the ocean and a few other things that I won’t mention.
We continued eating, with John looking around nervously. I am sure that I was grinning. I am not particularly afraid of the bears that live in Virginia.
I hike a lot. My sister, Wanda, and I spend many days hiking the trails in Shenandoah National Park. We often run into bears. We have learned that bears do not like people and they do not like noise. They fear us and when they see us, they will run away.
A growling sound from the woods reminded me that in early spring, food is not as plentiful for the bears as it is at other times of the year. With little discussion, we gathered up the leftovers and returned to our vehicle. We actually sat in the car for a few minutes, looking around, hoping to see the source of the growling from the safety of the car. Nothing came out of the woods so we continued on our trip to the trail at the Bloody Angle.
As we walked around the battlefield, we talked about men who came from as far away as Texas to fight with Lee. We wondered at their bravery and fortitude.
We talked about how quiet battlefields are, how they seem like cemeteries. The wind always seems to be blowing. We came to the spot farthest away from the parking area and stopped.
Trees surround the spot, in an almost perfect circle, and except for the trail leading in and the trail leading out, the ground is unmarked. There is a depression near the center of the circle. We stood and looked around, not really knowing why the spot “felt” so strange.
John walked away from me for a few moments and while he was gone, I started to hear noises.
I stood quietly and looked at the ground, not sure what I was hearing. When he walked back towards me, talking as usual, I shushed him. So we both stood there, listening.
I heard the sounds of a wagon, wagon wheels turning and people shouting. I heard the sound that a hammer makes when it hits an anvil or other metal object. I heard moans. I heard voices, but I could not understand what anyone was saying.
John and I looked at each other. He was noticeably uneasy. I was curious. I looked into the woods, trying to see between the trees. I wondered if there was a farm nearby. I did not remember seeing one on the way there. I made a mental note to look more closely on the drive home.
We were standing there, just listening to the strange noises, when suddenly they stopped. It became completely quiet. For some reason the quiet was spookier than the noise. For several minutes it was as though we were standing near a small noisy town and then, suddenly, there was nothing. There was no sound, not even then wind.
John was about to say something when we heard the shot. We looked at each other with our mouths hanging open.
“That was a gunshot,” John said.
I nodded. I swallowed and then I turned around and walked away from the place.
I am a hiker, an antique collector, a reader, a writer and a civil war enthusiast. I am many things, but I am definitely not a “ghost hunter”. I walked away from that place as quickly as I could.
I have visited many places in and around Virginia. I look forward to returning to most of them, but I do not think that I will ever make another visit to the Bloody Angle.