Friday, December 30, 2005

Battered and Bleeding

You see before you a battered and bleeding man.

I ache from weasand to nock, and I don't expect things to improve in hours ahead. I have Struggled Mightily today, my bravoes, and if the Republic falls on the morrow (no unlikely thing, apparently) it will not be due to lassitude on my part.

Habitu├ęs of the Jingosphere will know that I'm rather in the bag as concerns the plentiful history of my little corner of Loudoun County, and today I was able to hike up my plus-fours, kick off my hobnail boots and have a nice long wallow in it. How long a wallow? How's nine miles on foot through trackless forest, up a mountain and down t' other side, and then a-crawl on the Potomac bank around the extreme north end of said mountain strike you?

Today I was able to immerse myself, over that nine-mile route, in not one but two of the more fruity yet quite ineluctably real facts of bygone days here outside Lovettsville. I've written about both before, but today I've got new photos and insights.

The first involves local Civil War Rebel nutjob John Mobberly. As I've reported before, less than a mile from my house, on January 17, 1865, in the waning days of the American Civil War, Mobberly scouted some remnants of the 35th Virginia Cavalry under the command of Col. Elijah White -- that contingent, one imagines, that had still not had a bellyful of a war that was already virtually over -- over Short Hill Mountain from Neersville in a remarkably pointless raid on an encampment of the Sixth New York Cavalry.

The path that Mobberly chose to lead the 35th over is commonly agreed to be what the locals have always called "Egg Path," so named because local farmers would cart eggs and butter over Short Hill Mountain to sell in the dens and hells of Harpers Ferry. But what I've come to understand is that there isn't -- and never has been -- one single track over the mountain that can be understood to be Egg Path. In fact, Short Hill is absolutely honeycombed with these 150-year-old paths. Today I believe I traced the actual route taken by Mobberly -- the one that makes the most tactical sense while most closely adhering to eyewitness accounts.

The second thing I accomplished today was to trace the full route of one branch of a now defunct road that hugs the Potomac bank around Short Hill. In the heyday of the River Mill (1810s-1850s) Georges Mill Road (the one I helped to fight against paving this summer) continued from the mill around the dramatic north end of Short Hill to Harpers Ferry. In those days farmers would hump their grain down to the River Mill, get it ground, and continue into Harpers Ferry to put the flour onto either the C&O Canal or the B&O Railroad, each of which transected that town. The road finally washed out in a 1936 flood, never to be repaired.

Let's look at the 1910 US Geological Survey map I downloaded from the USGS site. (Click to the map to enlarge it in another window -- it's worth it.)

See where it says "Begin"? That's the Heart of the Jingosphere, there. Pretty much my backyard.

Now, the reason I believe Mobberly to have taken this route is because it makes the most tactical sense. Other "versions" of Egg Path would have placed him and his cohort onto open farmland far too soon; this route keeps the attackers in heavily wooded terrain until they were a few hundred yards away from the pickets, which makes all kinds of sense if you read the original story.

It also goes pretty much right through my backyard, which doesn't hurt.

So (below): The first few hundred yards up the path, it's very easy to follow. Not much ambiguity, eh?

About 1000 feet up, the unambiguous path peters out. You find yourself making arbitrary decisions, following the map with nothing more than blind faith: Well, somebody from the USGS drew this back in 1910, he must have known what he was doing! You find yourself seeing "pathiness" about structures that may be completely "unpathy." I see the path in the next pic, don't you?

Nearing the top of the mountain, other local memories begin to crowd in: The Iroquois used Short Hill for their customary open-air burials when they held this land prior to the French and Indian War. Can you see this summit rock-table put to that use? I sure as hell can:

I've been to this spot now several times, and I never fail to be utterly gutted at this stunning vista. That's Maryland in the middle distance, West Virginia far distance, the Potomac running betweeen Loudoun Heights and Maryland, and Harpers Ferry just around the corner. Neersville (formerly known as Waters) at our feet. Mobberly lived right down there, and I have no doubt at all that he saw this view many and many a time:

Now in Neersville, looking back up at what I've just descended. The radio tower on the ridge marks where I came up & over. Of the slob hunters who discharged their weapons within 50 yards of me near that tower I will say nothing save that by now I have already made two angry cell-phone calls to the local gendarmes. Stupid, stupid "sportsmen," driving their goddamned 4x4s past padlocked gates posting "Private Property, No Hunting." Eeeeeeediots.

This is quite a find, in the Ebenezer Methodist Church graveyard: Bud Butts is said to have been the last man alive to have seen John Mobberly in the flesh. The years fit perfectly. He'd have been eight years old when Mobberly was killed.

Now we're back into the woods, following the Around-the-Points Road down to the Potomac. On the side of a very steep hill, this road's obviously been very carefully constructed. Still standing, 70 years after the road closed.

In other spots, the road's almost an entirely theoretical construct. But here, hugging the bank of the Potomac, you can still see bits and pieces.

Here's what killed this road, the death-wound from which the poor thing was never able to recover. We're at the eastern of two "Points" (ribs of Short Hill that plunge dramatically into the river), and the road seems to be doing OK....

But in the 1936 flood, this ten-foot stretch of the road is immersed....

It rises again and struggles valiantly to remain useful....

But no. Repairing it is not cost effective, and is bloody difficult anyway, as uphill from this point is a straight cliff, and so -- Farmers turn northeast, to Brunswick and Lovettsville, to ship their grain to market. For ten feet of road, an entire economy is destroyed. Amazing.

Below: Upstream on the Potomac as the afternoon light fades. Absolutely what George Washington saw as he paddled upstream in 1748, surveying these lands for Lord Fairfax. Amazingly intact.

Yeah, I'd live here.

Here we are, miles into the back of beyond, and we find walls. They build floodwalls. With their hands and the local shale. And they're still standing after a century and a half of floods.

Just before complete exhaustion set in, I was able to photograph the entire reason the Around-the-Points Road existed in the first place: The River Mill, also known as Peacher's Mill. It had already gone out of business by the Johnstown Flood of 1889. Its riverside walls were destroyed by the 1936 flood. Another flood the strength of what we got in, for example, the Great Melting after the Blizzard of 1996 and that may be all she wrote for this magnificent two-story stone ruin.

The mill was built in the 1820s by one John Peacher. What, you don't believe me, punk? Huh? You need tangible evidence John Peacher built this goddamned mill?

All right then. Just check the cornerstone:

All right. Extremely hot bath and bed beckon. Res Ipsa Loquitur.

Catch you tomorrow -- yawn...


rameau's nephew said...

and people are always saying history is so dry and boring.

I bet you are the sort who would enjoy a picinic at Devil's Den, eh?

Anonymous said...

Ripping good post, Ned. Rest well. Anon

Linkmeister said...

I absolutely love this kind of post.

xzieiltu - the farm next to Xanadu.

Employee of the Month said...

A restorative cocktail, the evening papers and several bowls of shag-cut are in order.

Cracking post.

Neddie said...

Thanks to all! EOTM, there are, I must admit, times when I still ache, albeit remotely, for the salutary powers of tobacco, and your prescription of a cocktail, the evening p., and a few stuffings of shag (kept, of course, in a Persian slipper on the mantelpiece) puts me in precisely that frame of m.

The knees hurt like billy-o today, but the rest of the corpore sano houses a peaceful mens sana. Perhaps the pacific mood is helped along by a slosh of two of


a Bulgarian liqueur distilled from virgin breast-milk, Grains of Paradise, and a pinch or three of Perspective.

XTCfan said...

Nice! Makes me wish you'd remembered the map during our jaunt last March ... seriously, cool stuff, Mr. J.

leuod (how you feel toward the wife after that snifter of brandy and a bowl or two of shag-cut)

Neddie said...

Hah! Different map, X! This foray was ultimately made possible by the 1910 USGS survey -- the first one done on a national scale -- which I hadn't even heard of when we did our walkabout last year. The 1910 map (as you can see) is very clear about the route of the road over the mountain. It starts just about exactly where Dale found that arrowhead in the stream, and takes a very logical route up Short Hill, using the mountain's topographical quirks to its advantage to make as comfortable an ascent as can be done.

Those people weren't dumb.

xnyvwyy did I get a word this bad?

Sluggo said...

Hope you had young Freddie along for this ramble.

This is why photo-blogging was invented. Re-reading this after a few days, still compelling.

Fine job.

Yankees in Lovettsville said...

Dear Mr. N. Jingo, I too am fascinated with our Lovettsville environs, but am more than pleased to have you do the hiking and exploring and the reporting back to us. Lovely to be an armchair tourist on your well-written adventures up and down Short Hill mountain.

Anonymous said...

Driving north on harpers ferry rd at night, near Neersville VA (formerly Waters?) I can always see a bunch of lights on the top of the mountain just to the east. Does anyone know if there is some sort of bunker up there, similar to Mt Weather, or is it just a bunch of towers and lights? I've always been curious about that.

Kim Myers said...

Thanks for the posting. This was a mill of my GreatGreatGreat Grandfather. We visited the site about a year and a half ago.

Kim Myers