Ramble On

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bottling the Vagabond

Well, the Vagabond Gingered Ale is finally bottled.  I posted the ingredients and about brewing it back in January - here's an excerpt and link to the post:    

Vagabond Gingered Ale is a deliciously dark , full-bodied ale, with the gentle essence of fresh ginger.  The freshly grated ginger in this recipe offers a joyously refreshing balance to the sweetness of malt, counter-balanced by a judicious choice of hops.  The blend of the main ingredients offers a complex triad of flavors – uniquely satisfying for the vagabond brewers who journey to places that have no boundaries.


I'm going to let that bottle condition for a couple of weeks before giving it a try, but I am looking forward to it. Compared to some of the other beers I've brewed, this one has come in at around 4.3% ABV - much lighter.  Still, it is my first batch that is completely assembled from a recipe - so as long as it's drinkable, it's a success!

Meanwhile, I am still enjoying a last few bottles of the honey porter - and I had good feedback on the brew from everybody I shared it with.  I also have a one gallon batch of a Belgian Dubbel going, which I racked over cranberries in secondary.  I'll bottle that one later in the week.

And in the queue, there's another batch of the honey porter, a Belgian variety called L'Petit Orange - which I will include coriander and orange peel in to welcome spring, and finally a honey kolsch.  

On the brewing front, I've got my work cut out for me for the next few months.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Berlin Reunion - 2013 ed.

Last Saturday was our annual reunion of folks who were stationed with the Air Force in Berlin - I often post on the topic of my time in Germany under the label tagged below.  I'm always amazed at the crowd that shows up for these events, and I'm very happy when someone makes the effort to show up from afar.  This year, we had folks in from Oregon, Upstate NY, NC, Los Angeles, and downstate VA, and those were just the ones I heard about.

Now my group photo above (actually borrowed from Russ Janecka) was taken late in the evening...we always do that, and so we don't get everybody in! But you can see that everyone is having a great time.

This is a group of people that I'm proud to be part of, and I do look forward to seeing them all each year.  The surprise of who shows up randomly from year to year just makes it that much more interesting.  There's never enough time to catch up with everyone - that would be my only complaint!

It was great to catch up with Russ after all these years.  We overlapped for about 18 months in Berlin, and he trained me on some equipment - I ended up replacing him when his enlistment ended and he returned to the States.  He actually went back to Texas and has had a great life raising a family there.  He brought along some excellent photos from the day - I'd forgotten about the play "Norman, Is That You?" that he and others performed in, for example!  Being qualified on that particular system opened quite a few doors for me, in Berlin and after I left the service.

The event is held annually on the last Saturday in February at Blobs Park in Jessup, MD - right next to Fort Meade.  So if you haven't made it to one yet, consider joining us next year.

A last photo here of the seal of the "Electronic Security Command" - a legacy major command in the USAF.  It's called something else now, of course.  But the plaque that showed up at the reunion was a nice touch and made its way into a ton of photos.

Here's to you all.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Pork Diaries: Another February Butchering Event

Chef Nathan Anda of Red Apron Butcher demonstrates butchering.
A few weeks back, one of my work colleagues sent along an email from DC’s Living Social – the event they were promoting featured a butchering demonstration, charcuterie tasting, and beer pairing.  Who am I to say no to such an ingeniously cobbled together event?  I was like a fly attracted to a blue light – especially since this would be only a week after David, Chris and I had completed our own hog butchering event with friends out in Luray.

So last Monday, Mary and I went downtown to F Street NW – for a moment, I relived so many 9:30 Club concerts since we were on  the same block that the club used to be – and joined a warm crowd of 60 or so folks for the show.  

When I first saw the invitation and considered the butchering part of it, I thought, “Well, perhaps the butcher will take a loin and show how to cut pork chops or something;” needless to say, when we got there and there was a half carcass laying out on the stainless steel table, I knew we were in for more than that – and then the chef proceeded to saw off the head.

The chef – Nathan Anda – is a man on a mission, offering charcuterie and salami and specially prepared sandwiches made with them.  He described how he’d developed a passion for butchering over the years, and now travels to gourmet destinations like Napa and Italy to learn about new ways to cut and prepare meat for consumption.  These days, he butchers as many as 30 hogs a week, all raised at an “Animal Welfare” approved farm in North Carolina.

He runs a shop out of farmers markets called Red Apron Butchery (link:  http://www.redapronbutchery.com) but will soon open three stores that you can read about at the website. 

The charcuterie tasting included salami, bologna, mortadella, finocchio, and
and a pleasant surprise, the bourbon fig rillette.
For the charcuterie, we were offered Nate’s version of Bologna, Mortadella, Finocchio, Salami Cotta, and a Bourbon Fig Rillette.  At first, I thought the rillette was scrapple, but I’ve learned that there is a major difference – the rillette contains no corn meal or any other cereal product.  The combination of pork, lard, bourbon, and fig was quite an innovation, and one that should inspire all would-be pork enthusiasts.

I don’t know what to make of the beer pairings – we liked one of them very much, a smokey pilsener-styled beer, but there was a second that was more like a barley wine, a bit sweet for my taste.  Although the event flyer described an Eggenberg Pilsner and Schlera Marzen, I’d hesitate to say that’s what was offered. 

Overall, even though the beer pairing was something of a let down, the event was a success.  Mary and I had a great time, and I plan to follow Nate’s offerings at the Red Apron Butcher.

In part because of this event, I’m very much looking forward to cooking up some of the pork I brought back from this year’s pig, now that I think of it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Brew, Share, Enjoy ... Repeat

Neighbor Dan has undertaken some upgrades at the little brewing operation he’s had going on over there around the bend.  It all started last spring when he decided he was ready to graduate to all-grain brewing – the pots required to do this are just too big to fit in a standard kitchen, so it’s typical that a home brewer would move outside or to the garage once he or she reaches this threshold. 

In his case, Dan had room in the little barn on the property – I’ve posted in the past about his efforts to get the place in shape for scaling up the operation.  Last week I stopped by for a little while to visit him and Sally, and they told me he’d be brewing on Saturday, so I stopped by with Tessie to help out.

There’s a plan to feature a Beaver Run Brewery product at an upcoming nuptial, and he was setting out to brew a batch of the Flat Tale IPA.  I learned that he will be putting part of the batch into the new kegs, shown here.  That’s an upgrade even from the all-grain move!

While we were waiting on the boil, another one of the valley home brewers, Josh, stopped by to use the grain mill so that he could grind some malt for an upcoming brew he’d planned – an oatmeal stout.  I didn’t get the whole grain bill, but I know it includes Briess Victory, English Barley, and English Dark Crystal malts – he gave me 4 oz. leftovers of each, which I ground to save and mix in with a future brew.
During all of this, we sampled a few home brews.  I’d brought along a quart of the honey porter and the saison, while Dan had his smoked ale – “Rauch” – and Josh had a double IPA to share.  This was a robust range of styles, very suitable for a winter’s day.  I’d look forward to a tasting like that anytime!

Soon enough, it was dark and the boil was finished.  We called it a day.  But I can say this, that’s a lucky couple who will soon be enjoying that Flat Tail IPA “vom fass!”

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Pork Diaries: Scrapple

That's the scrapple - front and center!

Last year, it was at least a week before Mary and I were able to enjoy some of the fresh pork from my butchering adventure.  This year, the delay was less than 24 hours - for me at least, since Mary is still waiting - and the first thing I tried was the one furthest from my mind!

David’s family was out of town and we decided that we’d go and enjoy a beer at the Mimslyn Inn on Saturday night.  There was a good scene there as always, this time with Acoustic Thunder playing, and with a mix of out-of-towners and locals hanging around the bar and at the tables.  One of the out-of-towners good-naturedly yelled “Free Bird” at the end of each song during the second set…I have to admit that I don’t remember if that request was honored.

Soon enough it was closing time, and David started telling me about the new “smoke free environment” over at Uncle Buck's.   I was surprised at the thriving scene happening in the lounge there – very surprised, and I’ll leave it at that.

It was getting late, and David suggested maybe some breakfast when we got to his place and I dropped him off.  That sounded good, and next thing I knew, he’d broken out some farm-fresh eggs and some (even fresher) scrapple from the butchering that we’d just completed that morning!

The scrapple maestro.
I made note last year of the authoritative Wikipedia article about scrapple, which is also called pon haus by the Pennsylvania Dutch (or simply “pudding” in our butchering shed).  You can find that here:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapple.  However, the unfortunate redundant use of terms like hog offal and mush in that article are not likely to win many new fans.

Getting back to the fine breakfast David was whipping together, he fried the scrapple up in the traditional style, getting it crisp around the edges.  I dressed mine up with some sweet pepper jelly (thanks again, by the way, for sharing a jar of that!).  It was pretty good…still not the first pork product I’ll reach for in the freezer, but I can enjoy it once in a while.

And that’s important to remember.  Because if you don’t have scrapple, “What the hell is the point of butchering a hog?”

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Snowy Walk in the Woods

On Sunday, Tessie and I awoke to a crisp, clear winter’s morning at Hawksbill Cabin.  All day Saturday the sky was gray and spitting snow flurries, but there was no hint that we’d find such a pretty dusting of snow when day broke. 

We got up and did the normal routine – a short walk around the back and into the wood lot, then down the drive to the stream and around the bend to the neighbor’s house.  I snapped the photo here from the road, unable to resist the golden light that was just rising above Skyline Drive. 

After breakfast, one of us was still feeling her oats and she talked me into a walk in the snowy woods over at Hawksbill Recreation Park.  Here’s a shot of Tessie running to catch up with me along the pathway.

Short and sweet today, I wanted to be sure I got these photos onto the blog!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Everything But the Oink

Making 20 pounds of brats was one of the highlights on
Saturday - as was making the pudding, also shown.

David likes to say “We use everything but the oink” when we talk about butchering, but as the story goes on, he reveals that they used to use that, too.  Over the years the processing has moved away from making products like head cheese, which really does get close to using 98% of the animal, or from using various other body parts in the scrapple. 

Still, “everything but the oink” is a good way to describe the activities of the second day of butchering, which is Saturday, in our case.  That’s when we process the large cuts from Friday down into pork chops and roasts, but it’s also when we take the organ meat – the heart, kidneys and liver, cook them in the pudding pot, and make scrapple. 

When we arrived at the butchering shed on Saturday
morning, Mark was already working on the scrapple, and
on a batch of sausage.
My friends make it out of corn meal and a combination of organ meat, lard, and boiling water.  As I learned last year, it’s called Pon Haus by some, and one of the preferred ways to eat it is to grill a slice and make a sandwich.  (I’ll have a post on a meal of scrapple soon.)

As far as the activities our team went to work on, Chris fired up the band saw to cut down the loins and roasts, and I went to work on a couple of sausage recipes.  We’d planned to take about five pounds of ground pork, 10 of breakfast sausage, and then about 20 pounds of bratwurst.  Chris had made a special stop in Northern Virginia on the way out to pick up six pounds of ground veal that we blended with the pork for the brats.

I picked up all the spices we needed (my brat recipe is posted below), and found the natural casings in a store in Luray.  I loaded it all into the sausage presser and started making links…a challenging process if you’re not doing this all day long, as shown in the video below:

Here’s the brat recipe, which was taken from Jerry Predika’s “The Sausage Making Cookbook” (Amazon link below):
  • 4 lbs. fine ground pork butt
  • 2 lbs. fine ground veal
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram (I used ground and cut this to 1/3 tsp)
  • 1.5 teaspoons white pepper
  • 3 teaspoons salt (I always cut this by half or more)
  • 1 cup cold water

Combine all the ingredients, mix well, grind on fine, and stuff into hog casings.

So that’s all there is to sausage making.  The brats look great though, and I can’t wait to try this year’s batch!

Here’s the Amazon link to the sausage cookbook:

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Butchers at Work

At the end of the first day, the carcasses have
been broken down into large cuts.  On the second day,
these get worked down further into chops and roasts.

My take away from the butchering experience last year was summarized by Ted, who had taken a lot of pictures during the event and offered some advice along the way: 

“From pig to pot to pan to plate…last weekend's visit to Luray where I helped brother-in-law Bill and others butcher 4 hogs. … the bulk of the butcherin' took place on Friday; sausage, scrapple, packaging, and clean-up on Saturday; and Sunday breakfast. We used to do this almost annually many years ago and this is the first time for me in many years. Back then, Ann and I would buy some pork, but this year was just to participate in the process for the social camaraderie and metaphysical benefits of doing so.”

Here's a picture of Chris with some "Iowa Chops" - he set the
saw up to cut the pork chops extra thick.
I knew I could count on David, Mark, Jesse and Bill for advice, as well as camaraderie and metaphysical benefits after last year, and I was hoping that my friend Chris, sharing the hog with me, would find that as well.  Catching a glimpse of him working on various tasks around the shed, I think he did – I kept busy myself, and know that I did.  Here I’ve got a few photos to share of us working on the hog; meanwhile, a little more description of the activities.

From where I left off yesterday, the pigs are moved down the line in the butchering shed, the carcasses end up in halves on a table down at the end.  Here, the loin is cut out, the racks of ribs cut, and the shoulder, ham, and bacon cuts are made.  As these large cuts are done, we carried them back across the room to store them out of the way on the big table, since we shared the workspace on the small table and needed to keep it clear.

Mary and I lost much of the ham last year due to freezer burn
after the power outages.  I decided to cut my ham down into
smaller roasts - here I'm skinning it prior to making those cuts.
There is also a natural break in the action during this part – the butcher pauses to process the head.  In our case, we don’t use everything, but we do save out the jowls and the tongue.  Chris wanted to send the jowl out to have it smoked; it was a great idea, and we should get some bacon out of it.  The tongue becomes part of the pudding meat, along with many other organs.

Time permitting on the first day, a second task is to take the larger cuts and start breaking them down.  Most of the time, this has meant breaking down one of the butts into smaller parts that could be ground for sausage, which is what we did.  We also took down part of the other shoulder for that purpose as well, ending up with a few roasts for pulled pork but with plenty of sausage meat – tomorrow's post.

So at the end of the first day, we no longer had hogs – we had pork – some of which was already recognizable as something to eat:  the hams and bacon, for example.  There was plenty to do the next day, but the second day’s work goes fast, since the big physical part of the process is out of the way. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Inside the Butchering Shed

After scalding and removing the hair, the carcasses are
hung on a rack for further processing.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about arriving at the butchering shed early on Friday morning, finding David and Chris there getting things ready for our day of processing pork.  I thought I might revisit and edit last year’s post about this place for the description of the butchering process – most of what’s below comes from that one.  Except to say, I did mark the spot on Foursquare this time, and with my second check-in, I became the mayor.

Now on with the post…

The scalding tub is the first stop for the carcasses
inside the butchering shed.
Call it a shed – as I do, or a shop or a shack – the utilitarian little building we spent most of Friday and Saturday in matches all those definitions.  From the outside, nestled in among some outbuildings behind a very recognizable house on the outskirts of Luray, it’s not much – a simply constructed 20x30 building simply built of concrete masonry.  Inside, it’s another story, as it is very practically laid out for the business of processing animals into food.

I’m including a few photos of the equipment to show how the place is outfitted.  Like so many process oriented buildings, this one is simply, linearly, laid out.  The animal comes in at one end and moves down a line, progressively evolving from a carcass to large cuts and roasts.  That’s effectively what gets done on the first day of the work.  

At the front of the shed there is a large window with a barn door opening that slides the wooden covering out of the way.  Below the window is the scalding tub, a large basin that the animal gets placed inside before anything else.  The heat in the tub – the water is kept at 140 degrees – facilitates removing the hair from the animals – it also gets some of the dirt off, which was important this year, since one of them went down in the hog wallow. 

These hooks are used to hang the carcasses.
After a “bath” of a few minutes, the carcass is raised up out of the water to the nearby table, and the team goes to work with some tools to take off as much hair as possible.  While there was a bloody aspect to some of the work, this part of the job seemed the dirtiest to me: the pig, warmed from the water and with the hair loosened, needs to be cleaned.  Along with all the hair, most of the dirt comes off, and is left behind over in this part of the shed.

Next, at the end of the big table there, the head is removed and hung on the steel overhead rail.  The removal is a straightforward job that I didn’t do, but I did hang them up after the decapitation.  Next, a little cut behind the ankle tendons on the rear legs, and the carcass is ready to hang from the rail, with the aid of more hooks and a winch.  With the first one hung in this fashion, we moved back to the truck to do it over, until all four of the animals were hanging from the overhead, bodies next to heads.

This lard press is available for use...I haven't taken
advantage yet.  Next year, maybe!
From there, we began the process of cleaning the carcasses by removing the viscera and splitting them into halves.  Once it’s halved, the carcass is moved on down the line to a smaller table at the end of the building. 

We’ll cut the “trotters” off and start separating out the roasts – the hams, the ribs, the loins, and the shoulder.  Later the table was used for breaking some parts down further into sausage meat, and then it was used to prepare some of the parts for use in scrapple.

That is pretty much the work of the first day, and the tale only covers that side of the shed.  Butchering has begun transforming the animal into food cuts, which we generally do on the second day, using specialized equipment on the south side of the butchering shed.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Butchering Day Arrives

The pigs were still asleep when their time came.

For the second year running, I’ve had the privilege of joining some Page County friends to do a hog butchering, a two-day event that takes place in late January or early February.  After some logistical gyrations we managed to get together last weekend to take care of business with the hogs.  My friend Chris, who shares a hog with me, was able to make it out this year, so we both have a stash of pork that will last until next winter now – and in my case, it occupies my three freezers in the two houses!

(Note:  I wrote about last year as well, and if you read those posts in 2012, some of what I write over the next three days may seem redundant.  If you haven’t read them, just click the “butchering” label at the end of this post for access to everything I’ve posted on the topic.) 

By the time I arrived at the butchering shed on Friday morning, somewhere around 6:30, I’d already been “up and at ‘em” for a while.  I’d had a late work night Thursday and decided postpone the drive out afterwards – so I set the alarm for 3:30 and slogged through a wintry mix that eventually would turn into a blizzard when it made it to New England.  As it was, I just did some minor slip and slide as I carefully drove out to Luray, making it in about two hours and twenty minutes – slightly longer than the usual two hours door-to-door.

Literally - riding shotgun.
When I arrived, David and Chris were already inside the shed, which was quickly warming up as the water in the scalding tub was heated to 140 degrees.  Chris had taken a look around and David had given him the once-over on some of the equipment, but we had some time to plan how we would divvy up the hog while we waited for the other butchers to arrive. 

They did, and at first light we went over to the farm to kill the hogs.  I photograph pretty much everything that goes on while we doing this, and while this activity is a perfectly natural thing, it is alarming for the first timer to watch, so I don’t share the photos on the blog here.  Although this week I plan to include a little more detail…there may even be some videos over on the HawksbillCabin YouTube channel!

Preparing for the deed.
The winter storm I drove through had left a dusting of snow out on the pasture, adding an authentic country atmosphere to our activities of the day.  I literally was riding shotgun in David’s truck, with the .22 there resting against my thigh (“Just like Texas!” a friend wrote on Facebook).  When we finally got to the farm, we joined the others and they quickly got out into the field to kill the pigs.

David was an efficient shot, just four bullets for the four hogs.  Jesse and Bill quickly followed, doing the knife work.  As each animal went down, they quickly moved on to the next one so that the whole thing was over in a minute or two – I’ve read that the animals have little regard for their dead comrades, even if they were litter mates, but I believe there’s a benefit to having this done with quickly and efficiently.

Once the deed is done, David picks up the carcasses with a skid steer and moves them into his pickup, and we haul them back to the butchering shed.  That’s where the real work of the day begins – and I’ll pick up there with tomorrow’s post.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

That Super Power Outage

So, I’ve been thinking about that power outage in the Super Dome the other night.  As the television showed the impressive logistics of striking Beyonce’s stage, we had just a glimpse of the complexity or the equipment and electrical power involved.  It’s not a surprise that there would have been strains on the systems there that night - not at all.

I’ve worked in critical buildings before, government data centers, where there was a requirement for steady power on a 24/7/365 basis.  These buildings generally have a primary and back-up source of electrical power; they often have a third back-up so that one of the others can be taken down for maintenance while adequate back-up is still available.

I don’t know the specifics of the arrangement at the Super Dome, but I am sure that power infrastructure along these lines is provided there.

Still, with nearly $4-million in commercial revenues per minute on the line, that building experienced a power crisis – for more than 30 minutes!  Somewhere this week there is a facility manager who’s feeling more pain than just being the butt of a bunch of bad jokes.

My hunch is that the problem happened during the switchover between power sources – either because of a need to go to the back-up system, or because of the extra requirement the half-time show required.  

In those 24/7/365 operations I mentioned, the best of them would have gone through a series of rehearsals for this process starting weeks in advance.  There would have been a script with detailed information and assigned individuals for each action, from switching circuits to standing by the back-up in case it was needed.   
The procedure would have been documented step by step, and the team would have practiced over and over.  The back-up plan would also have been documented and practiced, not only to reduce the risk of failure but to ensure that any potential outage could be corrected in a few seconds – not minutes, and certainly not a half hour later!

I guess that eventually we’ll find out what happened at the Super Dome last Sunday night.  But until we do, this event was a reminder that while Beyonce and her team were in the spotlight, the value of the facilities team can’t be underestimated.  You can’t take the performance of good building engineering for granted when the stakes are high – that’s when the professionals need to be ready to step up into the breach.  

The Pork Diaries: Found a Half Rack

Here are the finished slow cooked ribs -
with kale on the side.
With butchering bearing down on me - we're set to work the new batch of hogs next weekend - Mary and I have panicked about how full the freezer is.  By surprise, I found a forgotten half rack of ribs in there over the weekend and I came up with a quick recipe to take care of them.

Since we’ve had snow flurries off and on for the whole weekend, I didn’t feel like getting out to fire up the big unit to smoke a half rack. Instead, I decided to try putting them in the crock pot – slow cooking them – and looked up a few random recipes on the web.

More or less, the recipes went as follows – remember, this is for a half rack! –
The ribs at the start of slow cooking in the crock pot.

Cut the ribs individually.  Rub them with your favorite spice mix.  In my case, I used the last of a mix a friend gave me for Christmas, adding a little brown sugar, cumin, paprika, powdered mustard and chili powder.  On a baking sheet, put them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.

Here they are, just out of the oven, before
going in to the crock pot.  (I used Sam Adams
for the half cup of beer>)
Mix up a basting sauce of your favorite BBQ sauce and ½ cup of beer.  I added a tablespoon of honey to this, playing fast and loose.  Put the sauce in the slow cooker, and put the ribs in there too when they come out of the oven.  Make sure they are covered with sauce. 

Cook them on low until the meat is falling off of the bone, which could be up to six hours, turning them halfway through.  These ribs came from the pig Pork Chop and were quite large, so I expected to go the distance. 

As I am writing this, they’re looking good – and the whole house smells great.  I can’t wait to try them!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Brewer's Art

Some of our neighbors are in Vienna, Austria this week.  They’ve already been to a couple museums there, and we’re getting photos back via email – including this one, of a brewer.  Apparently it was an admired skill in ancient Egypt, important enough that a Pharaoh might desire to have one available in the afterlife.

I can only hope that my home brews are as good as that!

Meanwhile, I’ve also been trying out the White House Honey Porter, which has now been in the bottle for two weeks.  The carbonation is coming along – but I think it still needs a little more time before mass consumption begins.

Otherwise, it’s not bad.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Market Battlefield and Civil War Museum

A Union cannon placed overlooking the battlefield.

We found ourselves with unseasonably warm weather on a Sunday morning last month, so after breakfast at the Southern Kitchen in New Market, I suggested that we go on an outing to the Civil War Battlefield there.  Mary and I had chanced upon it in 1993 but hadn’t been back; since we’ve been coming to the Valley I’ve wanted to go and we had never managed it until now.

The museum is a unique modern building.
There is a good museum here, and the battlefield is a state park.  There is a small theater in the museum that offers a couple of films on this topic.  It’s well worth the visit.

What’s significant about the Battle of New Market is its association with the Virginia Military Institute, or VMI.  I’ve worked with VMI alums in the past, and I know of their commitment to the school’s traditions and history – and New Market holds a special place for them.  Cadets from the school marched from Lexington, VA to New Market – just more than 80 miles, in four days during the spring of 1864.

One of two battlefield monuments, this humble memorial
is inscribed:  This rustic pile the simple tale will tale:
It marks the spot where Woodson's heroes fell.
The Confederates were there to stop a Union advance down the Valley, and the VMI Cadets were meant to be a reserve force for the battle.  Eventually, they were called into action, where a number of them were killed and many more injured. 

The Cadet Corps’ story is quite a brave one, well worth checking out in person or via the Wikipedia article linked below (there’s also a link to the museum).  But there are a couple of additional points for me to make in this post.

One of the VMI alums donated the money to acquire this site, which includes the Bushong farm that stood at the battlefield during the Civil War.  It was in this area that the Cadets advanced through what became known as the “field of lost shoes” – the ground was soggy (this field doesn’t appear to have natural drainage, despite its position on a bluff over the Shenandoah North Branch), and as they progressed over the field they bogged down and lost their shoes.

This stained glass panel memorializes the cadets who died.
A sculpture by Moses Ezekiel in the museum hall.
Among the notable cadets at the battle were a relative of Thomas Jefferson’s, and Moses Ezekiel, an internationally renowned sculptor (good bio here:  http://www.jewish-history.com/civilwar/moses_ezekiel.html).

We made our way through the farm and orchard, and across the battlefield, eventually coming upon a cannon placement that reminded me of how vulnerable the troops advancing through that field of fire would have been.  I honestly don’t know how I would have reacted to such a challenge, had I ever been called to do so.

Finally, as I mentioned before, Mary and I visited here in 1993.  The bluffs at the edge of the farm gave me my first look at the Shenandoah River.  How far we’ve come, eh?

Here are the links to the article about the battle, and about the museum.