On April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in the small village of Appomattox Court House. While the official end of the American Civil War would come later, Lee’s surrender marked the effective end to a war that had raged for four years and claimed more than 620,000 lives.
The views are great, the rangers are great, the hikes are great, the tour is great and the pigs are great, but the sheep at George Washington Birthplace National Monument are assholes. They’re direct descendants of the original Washington sheep and it’s made them incredibly arrogant. I spent 10 minutes leaning over a fence rail attempting to get a decent look at them. They wanted absolutely nothing to do with me and opted instead to hide from me in the shaded front of an outbuilding.
In the past few months, I’ve managed to visit something like five National Park sites. They’ve all been tied to a historic person or event and I’ve tried to participate in a ranger-led walk or tour at each one. Sometimes, that’s the only option if you want to really see the site, especially if it’s a historic home or structure. At other sites, there are oodles of options, from hikes, to driving tours or interactive displays. For me, when I visit a historic site, taking the tour has always proved worth it. Yes, I could read the wikipedia page or the official website, but it’s so much easier to have a ranger tell me about it, live and in person with gesticulating included directing me to actually look at what they’re talking about. And that’s why I showed up at Manassas National Battlefield Park just in time for a guided tour of Henry Hill.
The Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site is only about a mile and a half from my house. It’s my most local National Park. Still, it took me more than a decade of living in Richmond, Virginia, before my first visit, in 2015. I went again this past weekend, with out of town friends.
Before my first visit, I’d seen the name Maggie L. Walker around town. I knew the very basic of basics. I knew she was the first African American woman to charter a bank, that there’s a school named after her in Richmond and that her home is a National Park unit.
Of course it was the hottest day of the year, over 100°F, but I was not deterred. Newly single and determined in my National Parks pursuit, I scampered east, to Fort Monroe National Monument. I slathered on a thick coat of sunscreen that I immediately started sweating off, grabbed a bottle of water I’d later forget in the gift shop, threw my camera around my neck and I set off.