The next battlefield I visited on my New York trip was the Battle of Stony Point – and what a field it is!
It was here that I first learned of my now-favorite Revolutionary War figure: Brig. Gen. Anthony “Mad Anthony” Wayne. Using the same type of tactics that had been used by the British against his own forces in the 1777 Battle of Paoli, Brig. Gen. Wayne launched a midnight surprise attack, against a fully-manned British fortification atop steep cliffs, located on a peninsula. The only approaches were through swamps. In order to ensure that the surprise was complete, and that there were no accidental warning shots fired, Wayne ordered his troops to make the attack with unloaded weapons. The Continental Corps of Light Infantry would only use bayonets in the assault.
The plan worked to perfection. The British were completely caught off-guard and Wayne’s troops executed a double-envelopment and took the fort and hundreds of prisoners.
Today, the field has been made into a really lovely New York State Park. It seems pretty well-preserved to me (at least when compared with other Rev War battlefields, which all seem to be neighborhoods or shopping districts these days). There are several interpretive markers that do a great job of telling the story, and even a few artillery pieces.
I’m not primarily a Revolutionary War nerd, but the Battle of Stony Point really prompted a lot of interest from me. It doesn’t get the big headlines like Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, or even Brandywine, but its story is every bit as worthy.
I’ve spent some time lately redesigning my home network thanks to some new (to me) equipment that I found on eBay. This post is a breakdown of what I’ve done so far (and maybe a bit about my plans moving ahead).
For a few years, I’ve had a really nice router that allowed me to create separate subnets for different purposes. Up to this point, I’d only had small, “dumb” switches, so for each new subnet that I wanted to create, I needed a completely separate router interface and switch. It got out of hand really quickly, becoming a rat’s nest of different consumer-grade equipment.
A few weeks ago, I found a used NetGear “smart” managed switch. In addition to 24 gigabit Ethernet ports, it also has 4 SFP ports for later expansion. All the ports support at least PoE (802.3af) with 8 of the ports supporting the more powerful PoE+ (802.3at) standard. Of course, it allows for VLANs, and link aggregation, too. This one piece of equipment has enabled everything else that I’ve been able to upgrade. It’s a really powerful addition to my home LAN.
I’m not going to lie – this took a little while to get set up. It wasn’t immediately obvious that the aggregate links I was setting up on the switch for my uplink to the router, and for one of my servers, weren’t using LACP by default. This manifested as unreliable links – not broken ones. Most traffic would get through, so it was hard to pin down exactly what was broken when I’ve also just moved EVERYTHING else at THE SAME TIME. I made this move as a total heart transplant as far as the network was concerned, because I felt a lot of pressure to get the Internet back up quickly for the other members of my household. In the end, trying to rush caused me to miss things in the troubleshooting process. There were several cycles of reverting all the changes and starting from scratch. I also could have done a better job of finding documentation and doing a written plan of action first.
In the end, everything worked out, and we have a MUCH more capable network now.
Prior to having the ability to do separate VLANs on the same switch, I had to run totally separate hardware stacks for each subnet I wanted to provide. The same was true for Wi-Fi access: there were multiple access points, each tied to its own subnet and with its own distinct SSID.
Why not put in an access point solution that was also VLAN-aware, and since I now have a PoE-capable switch as well, take advantage of that at the same time? This would also let us get rid of the $15/month we were paying to lease our main Wi-Fi router from our ISP. That was going to be the next phase of the plan. I decided on a Ubiquiti UniFi U6-Lite Wireless Access Point, and was able to find a refurbished one for sale to save a few bucks.
I already had some experience with Docker, so I decided that I would run the UniFi Network Controller software myself within a container. I know – it’s sort of overkill for a single access point setup, but that’s the easiest way to get the VLANs going the way that I wanted. It was super easy to deploy the container, but I had a little trouble getting the access point to adopt at first. It turns out that my VLAN configuration wasn’t quite right on the switch: I really needed a separate management VLAN for the access point and controller to live on so that all the other VLAN tags would work correctly – after a little bit of experimentation, I found a config that worked.
That’s been a theme of this project so far: if I was more experienced with VLANs, or with LAG configuration with the switch, then this whole thing would have been almost plug-and-play. But isn’t that why we have home labs? So we can play with these technologies and gain experience?
Returning to the task at hand – the UniFi Controller software is really wonderful. There is SO MUCH data about your network and how it is running, and it’s beautifully-presented. My kids really enjoy seeing the animated visual representation of traffic flow that can be turned on within the topology section of the dashboard. Very cool stuff!
In addition to our regular “Home LAN” Wi-Fi, we now have separate SSIDs (and VLANs, each with their own appropriate restrictions) for my kids to use, for IoT devices in the house, and even for guests (with a super-slick captive portal built in!) I’m very impressed with the UniFi system.
Servers and Services
So what are we going to do with all these new network capabilities? Well in my last post about this general topic, I talked about a lot of the things that my boys and I had been playing with in our home lab – we’re still doing those things, but at a larger scale and with better organization now.
For starters, I’ve really come to love Proxmox. Since I last wrote here, we’ve upgraded our virtualization server from an old desktop to a used 1U rackmount server that the boys’ grandfather found for us on a local marketplace site. The new machine is a Dell PowerEdge R610 with 2 Xeon X5675 CPUs (for 24 total threads), 80GB of RAM, and 2.4TB of storage. It’s a monster of a machine, so I don’t keep it on all the time – I only use it when I want to play with a really complicated system or set of systems together. I’m able to keep it off because it has an iDRAC integrated lights-out management system that allows me to send a network signal that turns the machine on remotely.
For a few years, I’d been running most of the network services that need to be on all the time on small, inexpensive single-board computers. These have been really great because they don’t use a lot of power or make any noise, and have been reliable enough and fast enough for our purposes. As I’ve gotten more used to having the power of Proxmox around, I’ve started to see the limitations of my old way, though. And similarly to the issue of each subnet needing its own networking, each service that I wanted to limit to a particular subnet needed its own server for that subnet in order to remain truly isolated.
Now that I have proper VLANs, why not set up a lower-power server and run a single trunk connection? Whenever I need to add a new VLAN, it’s as simple as adding a new tag on that server’s interface and the switch port. Proxmox makes that process really easy.
So that’s what I’ve done. I’m replacing 3 separate single-board computers with a single laptop we were no longer using. I put a little more RAM in it, installed Proxmox, and set up a few VMs for hosting internal and external services. All the websites I host for our family are now containerized (including this one). I have a single VM backup to run (which takes just a couple minutes) and all that data is safe. This setup will also make the eventual migration of the sites to new hardware a breeze.
For containerization, I’m still using Docker. I feel like I was a little late to that party, and I had some trouble wrapping my head around it at first, but I see all the benefits now. I know that I can run LXC containers within Proxmox, but I haven’t messed with that too much. I really like the interface that Portainer supplies, and I feel like I have a setup that works really well for our purposes. I might experiment a little in the future (it IS a home lab, after all) but for now, Docker is our “production” setup.
For the Future
Things are working really well for now. I’m so pleased with how everything has come together since ripping out all my old networking and rebuilding around a commercial-grade switch.
I think the next thing I’d like to do is replace my current network storage setup with a proper NAS. I don’t think I’d want to use the UI that comes with the types of systems that you get from something like a Synology or QNAP – I’d probably just use them as a raw pool of storage, and run something like NextCloud for the “friendly” interface to all that storage. I just need a big hard drive that I can talk to over a couple of TCP ports. 🙂
Next, I’d like to improve the reliability of my hosted services by setting up a modest Proxmox cluster. There are a lot of ultra small form factor, so-called “1-liter” desktops on the secondary market – largely as they come off of corporate leases, it seems. My own experience (and what I’ve seen from other home lab enthusiasts) seems to suggest that with enough RAM, they’d work out really well as Proxmox nodes. I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to set it up as a high-availability cluster, but being able to shuffle VMs back and forth as I move around the underlying hardware, or do updates, would be of great benefit.
I’m excited about the possibilities that are available for the boys and I to explore. I’m sure there will be more posts coming as we build more things!
Regular readers will know that my first history-nerd love is the American Civil War, but when I’m traveling through an area, I’m happy to explore all the history that place has to offer. It’s a great way to learn new things and expand your horizons. And it’s really fun when you can find new connections in history that you never knew about.
That’s what happened as I drove through Pennsylvania on the way to the site of the Battle of Minisink.
My route took me across the Delaware River at the town of Lackawaxen, PA. The one-lane vehicle bridge that I drove across began its life as a suspension aqueduct that carried the Delaware & Hudson Canal traffic across the river, cutting down transit times and removing a bottleneck that kept the canal competitive with upstart railroads in the mid 19th century. The structure was designed by John A. Roebling, the great engineer who is most famous for designing the Brooklyn Bridge. His son, Washington A. Roebling – who supervised the completion of that project after his father’s death – had served as a staff officer during the Civil War for another great engineer: Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren. Like I always say: history is absolutely EVERYWHERE.
The history that I was actually trying to find was just up the hill from the crossing on the New York side of the river. The site of the Battle of Minisink is now a county park and seems to be fairly well-preserved. It consists of a wooded hilltop with a small interpretive shelter and several monuments and markers. This was a relatively minor skirmish in the course of the war – only about 200 total combatants were involved – but it was comparatively bloody. The British forces overwhelmed and surrounded the small colonial militia force that attempted to hold out. Those who weren’t able to flee were not afforded the luxury of becoming prisoners.
One of the markers I read on the field mentioned that there was a monument to the battle in nearby Goshen, NY – which happens to be one of my favorite towns in this part of the country because of its connection to the 124th NY who fought on Houck’s Ridge at Gettysburg. I figured that a Revolutionary monument was also probably worthy of a visit. Especially because according to the markers, at least some of the dead from this field were buried underneath it.
And while I’m in Goshen, I have to re-visit their lovely monument to the 124th NY “Orange Blossoms” regiment, who took extremely heavy losses in the Triangular Field at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.
Despite the occasional rain shower I encountered during the day, it was an excellent leg of my New York trip. Stumbling onto historical connections that I never knew existed is one of the most satisfying feelings, and it’s why I’ll always look forward to stopping for every roadside historical marker I come across.
In April of 2019, I did something that I had never done before: I planned a multi-day battlefield stomping tour of West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee that would take me to some of the most remote places I had visited on my own. It was scary and exciting all at the same time. I spent weeks studying Google Maps and laying out the perfect route. I booked hotel rooms. Finally, after work on the Wednesday before Easter, I started the journey west.
My plan was to be checked in to the Wingate in Bridgeport, WV that night, but I had a stop that I wanted to make along the way.
Battle of Moorefield – Civil War Battlefield #83
Deviating from my route a bit, I turned north on US Route 220, and found a wayside marker for the Battle of Moorefield. This cavalry fight took place in the gorgeous mountain valley here, and the rolling terrain would have made for some seemingly good defensive positions. The action flowed south toward the town from this spot, but I’m glad that I took the time to take in this picturesque view.
After a good night’s rest, I woke up early, grabbed some breakfast in the hotel lobby, and hit the road for a great day of exploring. I knew this day would be the trickiest of the trip, as several of the stops that I had planned were up in the mountains, in the middle of the National Radio Quiet Zone (NRQZ) – where my cell phone would definitely not work. If I ran into some kind of problem, I’d have a hard time getting help.
Battle of Philippi – Civil War Battlefield #84
Appropriately, my day started at the first land battle of the Civil War – no, it wasn’t Manassas – it was the Battle of Philippi. There is a nice park along the Tygart Valley River here with flags, markers, and monuments – some of which aren’t Civil War-related. There is also a covered bridge here, which factored in the battle, although it has clearly been modified to handle modern automotive traffic.
Battle of Rich Mountain – Civil War Battlefield #85
I took a bit of a winding route from Philippi so that I could approach Rich Mountain from the west, much like the Union army did during the battle. My understanding is that this road – which follows the original trace of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike – has since been paved, but at the time I visited, it was gravel all the way up to the summit. Once I was at the top, the first thing I noticed was how serene it was. Speaking as someone who has lived in suburbs all his life, it is shockingly quiet in the mountains of West Virginia.
There is something of a joke among Civil War nerds that a common question that tourists ask is something like this: “If a battle happened here, why aren’t there any bullet holes in the monuments?” (The second question is “Why do these battles always happen in National Parks?”) Well, I can tell you, at Rich Mountain nearlyeverymarker has bullet damage in it (though I doubt it was caused in the 19th century). To be honest, I got a little nervous reading these tablets that had clearly taken rounds fired from behind where I was standing.
There is a local preservation group that seems to spearhead the acquisition and care of the battlefield land, but they have their work cut out for them given the state of the signs and markers when I visited. The American Battlefield Trust has also helped with securing land at the site.
Even with the rough condition, there are adequate waysides at the top of the mountain to understand what happened during the battle. Most notably, this is the battle that (rightly or wrongly) gave George McClellan the chance to make a name for himself, and basically catapulted him into the command of the Union army. I’d argue that William Rosecrans was actually the critical personality at this battle. Definitely worthy of a visit – this one is a hidden gem of the Civil War.
Battle of Cheat Mountain – Civil War Battlefield #86
A short drive to the southeast from Rich Mountain put me inside the NRQZ. My cell phone would be without a signal for the next 4 hours as I drove up and down the mountains.
My next stop was the Battle of Cheat Mountain, now contained within Monongahela National Forest. There was a short drive up a gravel mountain road right off of US Route 250, approaching the site of Cheat Summit Fort (also known as Fort Milroy) from the east. Even though there were 20th century strip mining operations in the area, the terrain immediately around the fort is still pretty well-preserved, and it is another amazingly quiet spot. There is an observation platform near the middle of the fort, and even some preserved earthworks. Plenty of waysides and markers tell the story. From the sound of things, this was an extremely remote and miserable place to be for the Union soldiers in the early days of the Civil War, with snowfalls occurring even in August.
Battle of Greenbrier River – Civil War Battlefield #87
Down in the valley to the east of Cheat Mountain, is the modern day town of Bartow, WV, site of the Battle of Greenbrier River in the fall of 1861. The US Forest Service ranger station on the east side of the town has a small museum with information about the local wildlife as well as some historical displays about the Battle of Greenbrier River, as well as the Battles of Cheat Mountain and Camp Allegheny, including a few artifacts. Outside, a wayside marker describes some cavalry action that took place in the area later in the war.
Continuing along US Route 250, and crossing over the east fork of the Greenbrier River, you can find the site of the Confederate Camp Bartow a short distance to the east. A nice wayside there discusses the failed Union “reconnaissance-in-force” that attempted to dislodge the Confederates and that we now recognize as the Battle of Greenbrier River.
Battle of Camp Allegheny – Civil War Battlefield #88
One of the great pieces of information I got from the ranger at the Bartow Forest Service station was that the best approach to the site of the Battle of Camp Allegheny was from the east. A dirt road splits off from US Route 250 immediately before you hit the Virginia state line, and that would be the smoothest way for me to reach the top of the mountain. There is a small area to pull off right at the start of that road so that the couple of waysides and markers talking about Camp Allegheny can be viewed.
The dirt road up to the “Top of Allegheny” was rough. Probably the scariest road I’ve ever been on. It is a single lane, dirt road, twisting up the side of a mountain. It is full of massive potholes that you have to carefully avoid (especially when you’re in a 2009 Honda Civic with very low ground clearance), and absolutely nothing like guardrails. It was a bumpy and potentially dangerous ride, but I was not going to pass up the chance to visit this site!
At the top, I pulled into the small Forest Service parking area just as a slight drizzle started. I took some time to examine the wayside there and then fired up the video camera on my iPhone to capture my impressions.
The site of the historical fort is out in the field you see toward the end of the video. That is all private property today. Once again, this was an extremely peaceful and quiet place. And the fact that you have to take a single-lane dirt road to get there, and that there wasn’t a prayer that you’d get a cell signal (thanks to the NRQZ) really made it feel like you were stepping back into 1861. This one stop was definitely the emotional high point of the trip. I am SO glad I did it.
It became clear that there was no good way down the mountain to the west, so in order to head to my next stop, I’d have to retrace my steps back to Bartow.
Green Bank Observatory and Science Center – A Brief Interlude
At Bartow, I turned south, and drove along the Potomac Highlands Trail until I reached the town of Green Bank, WV.
This very unique town is host to the Green Bank Observatory and Science Center. Here, massive radio telescopes listen for signals from the distant universe – something that is only possible inside the NRQZ. Radio transmissions are extremely restricted in town. Residents aren’t allowed to run wi-fi access points, nor use microwave ovens in their homes. The radio telescopes are situated relatively far from public roads, and only diesel-engine vehicles are allowed to take visitors close enough for tours as even the radio noise from a spark plug is enough to ruin their experiments.
I grabbed lunch at the Starlight Café within the museum – seemingly the only restaurant in town – and had a chance to check out the exhibits and pick up a few souvenirs for the boys. Since there are no radio transmissions allowed in the area, I also was able to catch a photo of a rare historical artifact.
Battle of Droop Mountain – Civil War Battlefield #89
Heading farther to the south and west, I was eventually able to see signal bars on my iPhone again as I approached my next stop, the Battle of Droop Mountain. A roadside marker along the way confirmed that I was on the right track.
Many units have individual markers like this one to the 22nd Virginia Infantry that are placed along the main tour road. Col. George S. Patton, grandfather of the famous WWII general, commanded this particular regiment at Droop Mountain.
The true highlight of this field is the distinctive observation tower located on the far eastern slope of the mountain. The views up the valley toward the town of Hillsboro, WV are magnificent. Trust me when I say that the photos I took don’t do it justice.
Battle of Carnifex Ferry – Civil War Battlefield #90
My next leg took me deeper into West Virginia and weaving through the mountains that were clearly coal country. I passed several old industrial sites, and small towns on my way to the West Virginia State Park that preserves the Battle of Carnifex Ferry.
Like Droop Mountain, the fact that this is a state park means that it is pretty well-preserved, and therearenumerousmarkers to explain what took place here. I think my favorite aspect of this park was the numerous warnings – on their website, as well as on signs around the park – that you should stay on marked trails because of the high risk of unexploded ordnance STILL being in the ground here after more than 150 years.
One such trail leads along the side of the mountain to stunning views of the Gauley River valley below. Once again, the images you get from a camera just can’t capture the feeling of being there yourself.
Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes – Civil War Battlefield #91
Just north of Carnifex Ferry is a much smaller engagement: the Battle of Kessler’s Cross Lanes. Today, this site is little more than an intersection. There are somemarkers near the local volunteer fire station, as well as a wayside at the local gas station that explain more about what happened here.
New River Gorge Bridge – Another Brief Interlude
I was done with battlefields for the day, but I still needed to make it to my hotel for the night, which was booked for Princeton, WV. I made my way to US Route 19 and headed south.
Along the way, I knew I would need to pass over the New River Gorge Bridge – one of the tallest and longest single-arch bridges in the world. Now, I am very acrophobic, but I’ve never really had a problem with bridges, so I wasn’t worried about having to drive over this thing, but I made a critical mistake: I pulled over at the NPS New River Gorge visitor’s center to get a view of this engineering marvel first.
The bridge is on a scale that I can’t even describe. It spans the gorge 867 feet above the river – high enough to fit the Washington Monument and 2 Statues of Liberty stacked on top for good measure, underneath the arch, with 20 feet to spare. I was blown away by how massive it was. This would easily be the tallest structure I had ever been on. After I collected myself, I was able to white-knuckle it across, and I swear that I felt absolutely EVERY slight sway and bump my car made along the road deck.
Obviously, I survived. 🙂
Got an early start from the Microtel Inn in Princeton, WV. The first order of business was to check out downtown Princeton, and then see how many other sites I could hit in Tennessee and Virginia.
Battle of Princeton Court House – Civil War Battlefield #92
I parked near the court house and explored a little bit. Sadly, I could only find one wayside marker that mentioned the Battle of Princeton Court House. It talks about some fighting happening near the court house itself. There is a military museum across the square, but it wasn’t open during my visit. It is very hard to get a sense of the fighting here, as the area appears to have been built up in the years since, and I suspect that much of the terrain has been altered.
With my visit to Princeton, I have now seen every official Civil War battlefield in West Virginia, so that’s a pretty cool milestone.
Battle of Cove Mountain – Civil War Battlefield #93
Heading south on Interstate 77, I crossed into Virginia, and before long I was in the outskirts of Wytheville, VA on my way to the site of the Battle of Cove Mountain.
The terrain here is very pretty. As the name suggests, the field sits in the valley of a horseshoe-shaped mountain formation – only opening up on the western edge. The valley is full of farms among the rolling hills, and is quite pretty to drive through.
Fighting seems to have happened down the valley near the open end, but that is mostly an educated guess on my part. The few markers I was able to find are short on details. The old brick church here became a temporary hospital, and is still used on special occasions by a local congregation in Wytheville.
After a few moments of reflection at the church, I got back in the car and decided to go southwest. There was a threat of storms, and I decided to try to maximize my trip by going to the farthest battlefield I could and then working my way back home, hitting more sites along the way. I crossed into Tennessee, and was delighted to get WDVX back on my radio once again.
There were a few incidents of fighting in Dandridge, and there area fewmarkers that at least make mention of them. The official Battle of Dandridge happened on January 17, 1863. The Bradford-Hynds House – used by both Union and Confederate officers as a headquarters at different points – still stands downtown. That downtown area sits in something of a bowl-like depression geographically, and my best guess is that the fighting happened up at the rim.
Battle of Mossy Creek – Civil War Battlefield #96
At the time that I visited, the bridge over Mossy Creek was out, so I had to take a bit of a circuitous route to reach the Battle of Mossy Creek. The field has been overtaken by a baseball diamond, an industrial park, and – appropriately – a National Guard facility that has a few historical markers and waysides near its entrance. Given all the construction, I have to imagine that the terrain isn’t what it was in the 19th century.
Battle of Bean’s Station – Civil War Battlefield #97
I had gotten a tip that while the field of the Battle of Bean’s Station no longer existed, you could get a good view of the area from an overlook on Clinch Mountain along US Route 25E. There is even a marker there that mentions the fighting. It was very overcast and rainy on the day that I visited, so I didn’t get the greatest experience myself. I have since learned that there may be other markers and waysides closer to the shoreline.
Unfortunately, the battlefield no longer exists because it is underwater now. When the TVA built the Cherokee Hydroelectric Dam, they flooded the area where the action took place.
Battle of Bull’s Gap – Civil War Battlefield #98
Thanks to another tip, I was directed to the Bull’s Gap Railroad Museum as a source of information about the Battle of Bull’s Gap. It turned out to be great advice. I had a lovely conversation with Bill (who seems to run the museum) and his brother. They regaled me with tales of their Civil War ancestors and their actions in the area. History can have such an impact in places like this.
Bill was nice enough to direct me toward the gap, which seems to have been where the combat action was, but I couldn’t find a single marker anywhere in the area.
Battle of Blue Springs – Civil War Battlefield #99
Another place where I believe the terrain has changed, and there were a few different actions at different times in the area of the Battle of Blue Springs, so I couldn’t get a good sense of how things unfolded exactly on the ground. There is a wayside marker in the local Food Country parking lot, and another roadside one nearby.
Battle of Blountville – Civil War Battlefield #100
My 100th battlefield! What an incredible milestone in my journey!
There are many historicalwaysides, markers, and even a memorial describing some of the action along the main street in town. I was able to park my car and just walk along the street reading as I went. Blountville is clearly very proud of its history.
During my walk, I learned that part of the town – including the court house – burned due to artillery fire from the Battle of Blountville. One of the things that I didn’t expect to find was the original bell from the town court house, which the plaque identified as having been forged in my native Maryland.
After I’d had enough exploring, I made my way back to the car and continued east on Interstate 81, crossing back into Virginia. I was well on my way home, but I hoped to hit just one more town before I ran out of daylight.
Second Battle of Saltville – Civil War Battlefield #101
The aptly-named Saltville, VA had a key role to play in the Civil War. This was the Confederacy’s main source of salt – especially toward the end of the war – and it was vital to keep those supplies coming as salt was used as a preservative for the food that was feeding the army. As much as the Confederates wanted to defend this place, the Union wanted to disrupt and destroy these operations. Two official battles were fought here, and because of the way I came into town, I passed by the site of the Second Battle of Saltville first.
Salt Park is along the road southwest of town, and has a very cool display of equipment that would have been used in the production of salt in the 19th century, and gives something of an idea what the salt works would have been like. In addition, they also host a couple of wayside markers that discuss the battle. The hills where the Confederates had their defensive positions set up are visible from here, and they look quite imposing.
First Battle of Saltville – Civil War Battlefield #102
The best place to experience this field from is a small park on the hill overlooking where Cedar Creek runs into the Holston River. The Confederate defenses were posted on this hill. A very good wayside marker tells the story here, but this is also one of those fields where you can almost see what happened as soon as you look out from this defensive position. The Union forces – mostly consisting of United States Colored Cavalry Troops – were slaughtered by the vengeful Confederate defenders.
The last few years have been pretty crazy. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic that the world has been dealing with, I’ve had a lot of things going on in my personal life that have kept me quite busy. While the main focus of my blog here is history, from time-to-time I like to give an update on the things I’ve been exploring in the technology world – mainly because it’s one of those things that my boys and I love doing together. I continue to use the same kinds of open source software that sparked my love of computers in the first place, and that ecosystem has only gotten more robust in the last 20 years. The things my sons and I have set up now have given us a great platform to try out the possibilities and expand our understanding and creativity. It’s been a great way for us to bond.
The boys have been learning about Linux and all the related software by using Raspberry Pi single-board computers. We have quite a collection – and I’m glad because it’s quite hard to find them these days because of all the semiconductor shortages. We’ve had a few Pi 3Bs, a Pi 3B+, a Pi 3A+, and lots of Pi Zeros. Some family members got together to buy the boys a Pi 400 for Christmas the year before last, but it suffered a horrible death due to being transported around too much.
Sometimes, we experiment with microcontrollers, like the BBC micro:bit, Adafruit Circuit Playground, or even Arduinos, and it’s as much a learning experience for me as it is for the kids. If we do anything particularly notable there in the future, I’ll probably make a post about it.
The boys each have their own laptops – courtesy of their maternal grandfather, who has a knack for collecting used computers and reselling them online. Every time we visit, the boys want to “go shopping” in Baba’s basement warehouse for new-to-them pieces of tech gear.
Isaac’s laptop is an Asus X54C with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. Like his brother, he can boot into Windows 10, but prefers to use KDE neon. Isaac likes to code silly things with Scratch and Microsoft MakeCode – sometimes he loads his creations onto one of our microcontrollers.
I don’t know that I ever really announced it here, but I’m back to self-hosting this website after using a provider for a number of years. The current iteration runs on a Pine A64+ – a really awesome little single-board computer with a quad-core, 64-bit ARM chip and 2GB of RAM – running the Ubuntu Server variant of ArmbianLinux. For resource efficiency reasons, I moved from Apache to nginx for the webserver a few years ago. The site is still built with WordPress. I also host a few other things on this box, including my kids’ websites.
By accident just walking around my local Microcenter one day, I discovered the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter X and couldn’t believe how powerful it looked for the price. I just had to pick one up, and it is now my main router. This has enabled me to run multiple different LANs and segment network traffic in my home to keep IoT devices away from the rest of my computers. While networks seem to intimidate a lot of people, I’ve found the EdgeRouter to be pretty simple and even fun to set up and use. Ubiquiti’s products are great for anyone who wants to take their home network to the next level.
Along the lines of networking, I wanted to have a VPN set up so that I could have secure access back to my home network if I needed to modify anything on the go, or just to encrypt my traffic for security reasons if I had to use public wi-fi. I set up OpenVPN on a dedicated server for this purpose and have absolutely no complaints about the way it performs.
I’m certainly no expert on containers – I’ve only begun playing with Docker recently on a Raspberry Pi 4 with 8GB of RAM that I’m running as a server – but I can see why it’s become a popular technology. Managing the containers through a web interface – I use Portainer – has made it much easier to understand what is going on. The boys and I have played with a few things in Docker:
Guacamole – An open source VNC / RDP / SSH gateway that can run on basically anything with a modern web browser. Very cool technology, but it was a bit of a resource hog on the Pi.
PiHole – I’m a little bit paranoid about “smart” TVs, so in addition to running a totally separate network segment for my IoT devices, I also funnel their network requests through this DNS filter to cut down on the amount of spying that these devices are capable of (or even like to do). This also has the benefit of cutting down on the amount of ads we see on websites, and I have it configured to protect us from other harmful stuff out on the Internet.
Habitica – A tool for making real life self-improvement into something like a video game. The “open source” version forces you to clone their entire website – including all their payment processing code – and really seems to be intended for people who want to help them fix their bugs. That said, this was a little too clunky to be useful as a self-hosted thing in our case.
Grocy – We set this up as a home inventory system for groceries. Still experimental for us at this point. I love the idea of being at the grocery store and knowing how many cans of soup we have at home, but keeping the inventory up-to-date is where we have a problem.
I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I feel comfortable running the things I really care about within containers, but maybe that will come some day.
The REAL fun has been in exploring Proxmox – an open source hypervisor server based on Debian. Admittedly, virtual machines are definitely heavier on resources than containers, but they provide a lot more flexibility in my mind. Through a web interface, we can now quickly spin up virtual servers to play with different operating systems, software, and even network configurations – and it’s a lot easier to tear them down once we’ve finished.
I’m running Proxmox on a second-hand Dell XPS 8300 Desktop with 16GB of RAM and that has been plenty for our purposes. So far, I’ve kept a dedicated FreeBSD VM running on it, as well as a VM for playing with Kali Linux. The boys have also used it for test driving different Linux distros before they each chose one for their own laptops.
In the lead-up to the Battle of Brandywine, a relatively small action took place in Delaware at Cooch’s Bridge. So far as I know, it was the only battle to ever take place in Delaware. So when I had to run some errands in nearby Elkton, MD a few years ago, I felt like this site was worth a stop. It’s certainly easy enough as the field is not far from the first exit in Delaware along Interstate 95.
There is a small park here on the American side, with lots of reallygreat wayside markers describing historical topics beyond just the battle that happened here. Recently, the State of Delaware purchased the Cooch family home, with an intent to make a historical park out of it. I’m excited to see what happens there. You can also find some roadsidemarkers in the area that describe the various phases and positions of the battle. For a small field, it is very well-marked!
There is a large stone monument to the battle located along Old Baltimore Pike, but there is nowhere to safely park to examine it closely. Sadly, I could get close enough to notice that the base of the monument is surrounded by 4 Civil War-era Naval Parrott Rifles, so that is a bit of a head-scratcher.
All-in-all, it’s a very nice, well-monumented field given it’s small size and relative obscurity. I heartily recommend a visit if you’re ever in northern Delaware.
I had heard about a special program for kids happening at Brandywine Battlefield Park, the site of the largest battle of the American Revolution, so I decided to take the boys up for the afternoon. It was a really great hands-on experience. My dad tagged along, too, since he had never visited the site.
We took a tour of both historic houses there, and the boys were engaged enough to ask questions and participate. After the tours, we formed up with some other kids in the field outside the visitors center to learn how new recruits during the American Revolution were trained. One of the museum guides in period dress taught the kids how to line up, and then walked them through the procedure for loading a mock wooden musket, and finally led them in an attack that ended with a charge! The boys had a great time getting to connect with the history in a very tangible way.
The British didn’t know what they were in for that day.
Back in February of 2019, I took a day to explore some of the battlefields that I hadn’t yet visited in Northern and Central VA. I put together a route on Google Maps, hopped in the car, and spent the day on the road. This post consists of my edited notes on each field from that day.
Battle of Dranesville – Civil War Battlefield #74
The action of the Battle of Dranesville took place around the intersection of VA Route 7 with Reston Ave. & Georgetown Pike. There is a marker on Georgetown Pike, and a wayside not too far away. There is also another wayside at the Dranesville Tavern Park about a mile to the west. The terrain seems to favor the Union position, as it appears they were elevated. The armies came through this area during many campaigns, as indicated by other markers in the vicinity.
Battle of Chantilly (or Ox Hill) – Civil War Battlefield #75
A small portion of the field exists as Ox Hill Battlefield Park. Most of the area has become modern shopping and housing complexes. The push to save this field in the 1990s is what sparked the modern battlefield preservation movement, so this place is doubly significant for a battlefield nerd like me. The park is quite nice, with a walking path and 9 different waysides describing the action of the battle. Markers exist for the deaths of Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens and Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny, but only Stevens’ is accurately placed. Gen. Kearny was likely killed in what is now the middle of Monument Drive.
Battle of Blackburn’s Ford – Civil War Battlefield #76
First Battle of Auburn – Civil War Battlefield #78
There is a marker for the location of Stuart’s Bivouac, and that’s about it. I was in the process of exploring this battlefield – pulled over on the side of the road with my flashers on to get my own photo of the above marker – when a lady pulled by slowly and rolled down her window to ask if I needed help. I’ll leave the answer to that question as an exercise for the reader. 😉
Second Battle of Auburn (or Coffee Hill) – Civil War Battlefield #79
I’m really not sure why this is even considered to be a separate battle from the First Battle of Auburn. It took place the next day, in the same vicinity, and involved basically the same combatants. Nevertheless, there are some nice markers talking about it near Cedar Run.
Second Battle of Rappahannock Station – Civil War Battlefield #80
First Battle of Rappahannock Station – Civil War Battlefield #81
From the Rappahannock Station Park, it was a quick drive across the river to the intersection of Business Route 15, and US Route 15/29, which period maps seem to indicate was the center of the action for the First Battle of Rappahannock Station. There are no markers there that I could find, even though there is a good-size gravel pull-off along the side of a major road.
Battle of Kelly’s Ford – Civil War Battlefield #82
A short distance away from Rappahannock Station lies the site of Kelly’s Ford. A battle here in March of 1863 was the main attraction for me this day, but the river crossing was also used by Union troops later at the Battle of Brandy Station. There are nicewaysides near the modern-day bridge over the ford. There also appears to be a marker at the spot where “The Gallant Pelham Fell”, but it was back a trail that was marked as being an active hunting area, so I decided not to risk it on my own.
One of my favorite things to do is have adventures with my boys. A few summers ago, we took a day trip to Valley Forge National Historical Park so that the boys could see some Revolutionary history (they both seem to have some interest there) and to give them a chance to complete yet another Junior Ranger program.
At the time we visited back in June of 2019, the Visitors Center was closed for renovations, and a series of temporary trailers were in place to allow folks to pick up maps, watch a short introductory movie, and purchase souvenirs. We especially enjoyed getting to pretend that we were General George Washington for a brief moment.
Once we’d oriented ourselves and got our Junior Ranger activity books, we set out on the standard auto tour route of the park. While not actually a battlefield, the encampment at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777-1778 was a turning point for the Continental Army. Baron von Steuben developed a training program that brought the Colonials much closer to being a professional fighting force. And I really think there is something to the idea that the shared hardships forged bonds among the men that would carry them through the rest of the struggle.
Both boys were interested in exploring the reproduction huts along Muhlenberg’s brigade line. These show something of what the living quarters were like for the men that wintered here.
Nearby, at Redoubt #2, we took our turn manning the outer defenses of the camp. With the British Army spending the winter in Philadelphia, this position had a great view of the likely approaches that would have been used if the red coats had decided to attack.
Continuing along the tour route, we came to an equestrian statue of Maj. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne – one of my favorite figures from the Continental Army. He played a prominent role at both the Battle of Paoli, and the Battle of Stony Point – both fields that I have visited and will need to write up one of these days. The Battle of Stony Point is especially cool and worth a visit for its views of the Hudson River alone.
Our next stop was at Washington’s Headquarters. The house was open on the day we visited, and it was really cool to have the ranger there explain how the house was used by General Washington and his staff. The building is in great shape and getting to see and use the original handrails that were still on the steps was a pretty awesome experience. Tangible connections to the past are always much more impactful.
The visit ended with a return trip to the Visitors Center to have a ranger check our work on the Junior Ranger activities, swear in, and get our badges! We’ll definitely be going back to see the renovated Visitors Center and learn more about our country’s history together.