Virginia – Been There

The quiet heart of a civil war

Civil War Battlefield Preservation
Re-creation of the Battle of Spotsylvania, near Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Fredericksburg Battlefield. Battle fought 11-15 December, 1862

Photo by Michael Melford / Getty

Virginia – Been There

The quiet heart of a civil war

In Virginia, the roadsides are littered with signs pointing to Civil War sites, while large cast iron signs memorialize events such as “Where Pelham Fell” or “Lee’s Narrow Escape”.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

Almost any road north towards Washington DC will lead me through historic battlefields – whether through Fredericksburg, near where four major battles were fought; or through the Shenandoah Valley, along which Lee marched to Gettysburg.

“I regard the US Civil War as the English Civil War Part II, between descendants of the Roundheads and Cavaliers,” says award-winning history teacher Richard Deardoff, who lives in pretty Fauquier County at the heart of rural Virginia. “The people in the South, particularly in Virginia and Maryland, were trying to recreate the feudal system of Europe. Slaves were the serfs.

“It was an agricultural environment and you have this whole idea – led by philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rosseau – that if you live close to nature you are more moral. But it was a war between a bunch of used car dealers and a bunch of farmers. The North was monetary and productive. The industrialists won the Civil War and went rampant.”

As the North forged ahead, the South – and Virginia – resisted change. “They resisted because the oppressors were telling them to do it,” says Deardoff. “That legacy meant we allowed ourselves to be retarded in our development and growth, because if we change it means the North was right.”

Much of Virginia’s charm comes from this sense of still living in the past, with quiet good manners in daily life and other old-fashioned virtues. People in shops and restaurants have time to chat and small towns are still places to leave doors unlocked. “In 1860 the population of Fauquier County was 21,000. In 1960 it was 24,000. It was flatlined for a century,” says Deardoff. “Things stayed the same.”

Like many Southern towns, Charlottesville's Courthouse is fronted by a statue of a Confederate...

Like many Southern towns, Charlottesville's Courthouse is fronted by a statue of a Confederate soldier, in this case erected in 1909 and acclaiming them as "Defenders of the Rights of States". Photo by William Stevens

William Stevens

William Stevens

Like many Southern towns, Charlottesville's Courthouse is fronted by a statue of a Confederate soldier, in this case erected in 1909 and acclaiming them as "Defenders of the Rights of States".