On Tuesday, May 24th, we began our 206-mile drive to Wytheville, VA (pronounced WITH-ville), where we would spend three nights at the Wytheville KOA.
About 80 miles into the drive, Phil received a phone call from the title company in Jasper, TN. He learned that the teller who had prepared the cashier’s check for our closing on Friday had failed to sign the check. No one had noticed this omission until the title company’s bank was unable to process the check. It took us several phone calls to get this handled but, eventually, a banker at the Knoxville, TN office of US Bank (other than the one who prepared the check) arranged to have a manager from a branch about 25 miles from Jasper drive to the title company and sign the check. It took several hours to get this done but we were very relieved to hear that this crisis had been resolved.
Upon our arrival at the Wytheville KOA, Jan remembered that we had stayed there before. Our visit to downtown Wytheville on Wednesday brought back memories of the Zombie Bash we had stumbled across when visiting there in October 2016. After stopping at the Visitor’s Center and picking up the 65-page booklet, Wytheville’s Historic Walking Tour, we walked one of the seven designated walking loops, along West Main Street. The town was created in 1790 and has done a good job of maintaining its historical heritage. We ate lunch at the 7Dogs Brewpub.
On Friday, May 27th, we drove 187 miles to New Market, VA where we spent the Memorial Day weekend at the Endless Caverns RV Campground. We had overnighted at this campground in October 2020 but had not had time to visit the caves.
We toured the Endless Caverns on Saturday afternoon. These caverns were discovered by two boys in 1879 while hunting rabbits. Tours began shortly thereafter. Our tour lasted 75 minutes and covered nearly a mile, Virginia’s longest commercial cave tour. Endless Caverns is a limestone solution mine. Water has slowly washed away the softer minerals, leaving passages and rooms behind. Endless Caverns is more cave-like than other show caves we have visited, with narrow crevices instead of wide walkways. The walkways were quite slick and steep in many areas, often requiring us to hold onto the handrails. The cave system still has areas that have not yet been explored. The furthest exploration, done in the 1960s, went 6.5 miles and the explorers turned back due to lack of food, rather than running out of cave.
On Sunday, we visited the Virginia Museum of the Civil War. This is the only state-owned Civil War museum in Virginia and is administered by the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The site consists of three elements: the Civil War museum, the New Market battlefield and the historic Bushong farm. The museum focuses on the whole war in Virginia, with special attention paid to the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864 and the role played by the Corp of Cadets from VMI.
In the Spring of 1864, General U.S. Grant sent Gen. Franz Sigel south in the Shenandoah Valley with 6,000 troops to cut off the railroad which was supplying Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army. The Confederate Commander in western Virginia was General John C. Breckinridge, who had served as Vice President from 1857-1861 and had come in second in the Electoral College to Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Gen. Breckinridge was hard pressed to find sufficient troops to meet the threat from Gen. Sigel’s advance, so he called on the untested Corp of Cadets from VMI. Half of these cadets were 18 years of age or younger; some as young as 15. The cadets marched 84 miles from Lexington in four days to join the fight. Gen. Breckinridge had not intended to use the cadets in actual battle. However, in the course of heavy fighting in the afternoon, the cadets were moved to the front line and heavily engaged. As the Union army retreated north, the cadets overran an artillery battery, capturing one cannon and many prisoners. Of the 247 cadets engaged, 57 were wounded, ten fatally.
After exploring the museum, we walked across the battlefield. Using a guide we obtained with our tickets, we gained an understanding as to what transpired at various points during the battle on the Bushong family’s farm and orchard. We were able to enter the Bushong’s farmhouse, where the family had sheltered in the basement while the battle raged around them. This house had also served as a hospital following the battle.