FALL LINE- JAMES RIVER
what you see here is a photo of a very small piece of a very large map. i really wish i knew more about the Coastal Survey. the map is entitled as a Progress ‘sketch’, showing at the time of its publishing in 1873, how much of the entire Chesapeake Bay had been surveyed by the field mapping section of the department, The United States Coastal Survey. the sketch map is hanging on a wall of my home.
what i do know is that numerous of the best and brightest men graduating from the U S Military Academy at West Point, New York, would almost automatically gravitate to the Army Corps of Engineers and that the U S Coast Surveys borrowed from this source of talent rather liberally. a gentleman named E. O. C. Ord, who was present as a Union Army corps commanding general, appeared in the parlor of Wilmer McLean, at Appomattox Courthouse on 9 April, 1865, as Lee signed the surrender papers. from the annual reports of field activities of the Coast Survey map-makers, it can be noticed that Ord had gotten a job on one of the survey crews and one of his first assignments had been mapping the James River in the early 1850’s.
those folks who are interested in Colonial Heights history can begin to enjoy the tale that unfolds herewith: if you look carefully at the Appomattox River section of the map, you will notice a circle with lines spoking to the north, east, and south, and an annotation, "Brick House", that shows the map historian that the Coastal Survey mappers used one of the house chimneys as a reference point. also on the west banks of the Appo can be seen circles labeled "Walthall", "Hare", "Archer", and "Rosylyn", and even inside the city of Petersburg are circles "Pres. Ch.", and "Meth. Ch.".
this is where the story gets technically interesting…taking a look at the map just to the northeast of Petersburg you can see a thickly drawn line labeled "BASE", not due to any precognition of Fort Lee being nearby oneday in the distant future. a shortline railroad venture, the City Point Railroad, had been run through from Petersburg to City Point, that was apparently financed by merchants of the two communities who were a bit tired of the fact that the siltating of the river prevented many ocean going vessels from getting all the way up-river to Petersburg’s wharves. goods and tobacco hogsheads had to be loaded onto smaller barges to navigate this piece of the stream. why not link things up with the newfangled railroad cars, and bypass the good-old-boys running the river barge companies? so the map-makers were savy enough to use the clearing of this railroad from a point just across the road from the present-day Va Power center, thence up the arrow-straight right-of-way, to another point just shy of where the rails crossed Harrison’s Creek. they measured the heck out of this line, anchored on each end with a small stone monument sunk in the ground with a ‘x’ chiselled on the top, pulling right on the ground surface, marking the ‘pulls’ with small nails, dozens of times, applied in their calculations the proper temperature corrections for their brass metal chains, until they had ascertained that the God’s-Mind distance was no more than 3 hundredths of a foot of difference from the calculated-on-paper distance. this is about 3/8" for carpenters, architects and other civilians…
then the survey crew would build a wood-frame tower over each monument, usually about 75 feet tall. a hole was in the platform flooring at the top and a wood frame was constructed right over this hole. a large brass theodolite instrument was then mounted on the small frame, and a 2 pound plumb-bob was suspended via a strong piano wire from the center of the instrument down the 25 yards to the ‘x’ in the stone monument. then the crew sets an oil lamp with a shiny reflector (you’ve seen an example of one if you have ever been to a Cracker Barrel restaurant) onto the center-plumbed upper frame of the other tower, waits till twilight, climbs up to the top platform of the opposing tower, levels up the theodolite perfectly using the vial bubbles mounted on the plate of the instrument, centering the plumb-bob right over the chiseled ‘x’ down below, and begins the tedious task of turning a multitude of ‘azimuth’ angles from the north star to the center of the oil light on the tower a mile away.
i do not know the exact procedure involved in this operation, but can reasonably guess this process involved doing something akin to what i would do with a K&E transit years ago when i first began to learn the science and art of surveying at the highway department in 1973. the crew would turn the interior angle from Polaris to the other tower’s lamp, with the original setting at ‘0’ degrees. if your ‘eye-man’ is on the western tower, let us say the first angle is 80degrees, 55minutes, 10seconds. the ‘notekeeper’ then has to record in the crew notebook the angle and the exact time of the Polaris observation. when the next observation is recorded a few minutes later, the seconds could have increased or decreased by 1 or 2, due to the fact that Polaris is really appearing to rotate in a very small but significant circle around the ‘true north’ of the exact spin-spot of the Earth’s northern polar axis. all of this observed information will need to be corrected later on, rather laboriously, by using the ‘pole star ephemeris book’, which will contain all of the angular offsets between ‘true north’ and the ‘star position’ of that particular recorded time. over the course of the night the same angle is ‘turned’ dozens of different times. the starting angle which is ‘loaded’ into the instrument will also vary, using 45degrees, 90degrees, 135degrees…and so on till the entire circle of the instrument is utilized, ensuring that the miniscule differences in the machine tooled cuts made by the theodolite maker will be averaged out into a ‘differential oblivion’ that will make the angle as perfect as humanly possible, another "God’s Mind" mathematical derivative that will be used to calculate the exact position on the Earth’s surface of the chiseled ‘x’ on that monument.
once the two exact positions of the ‘x’es have been calc’d, the process kicks into a higher gear, with the survey crew placing monuments and accompanying towers at places along the river banks and bluffs that can later be seen easily from survey boats..at each tower the theodolite is setup, the twilight falls and observed angles are made between the oil lamps mounted on 2-6 other towers, as well as lamps setup on the centers of house chimneys and church belfries, again, and again, and again. then the ‘Laws of Sines and Co-Sines’ will be mathematically applied again, and again, to find the exact positions of all of the survey towers and eventually all of the physical features on the Globe’s surface.
the survey boats that were mentioned earlier will be crewed by 3-4 men… one of whom will be taking depth soundings with a metal-cup sampler tied to a knot-marked line, one of whom will be acquiring separate compass bearings to two of the still erect theodolite towers, or a tall and brightly painted ‘beanpole’ with a signal flag attached on top, suspended by tripod-bracing woodwork over any number of monuments, or a church steeple, or a house chimney near the river bank, one of whom will be recording all the observations being called to him in a field notebook, and two of whom will be rowing the boat along with long poles between observation points and holding the boat still while the others do an observation of the boat-position and the river-bottom compostion. in the time honored and tested tradition of keeping a ‘pilot’s rutter’, or ‘pilot’s rudder’, this process is accomplished by men who take the job of terrestrial and marine mapping very, very seriously, to say the very least….
when they have returned to their lodgings at night, they will probably eat a good meal of the ducks, geese, or deer (or even a few bass) they shot during the course of the day, followed by a few hours of ‘plotting onto a vellum work map’ the day’s worth of notes from the notebook. as any coastal pilot can tell you, you simply take your chart, with a series of compass roses sketched in at various places, your notes giving you either ‘true north’ or ‘magnetic’ bearings from the noted landmark points, your parallel bars ‘walking’ over from compass rose to the area being plotted, and two or three fine-pencil-lines intersecting together to re-establish the point where the observation was made. gradually a very accurate picture of the river banks, the contouring of the river bottom, and the material compostion of the bottom, will begin to emerge on the ‘vellum rough-map’. this can be rolled up in a tube and sent off to the cartographers in D.C. to be checked and plotted onto a huge copper plate which will eventually be used to intagliographically print a map of the Appomattox and James rivers, and it will be sold to pilots and captains for their navigations of the waters of the Commonwealth in a safe and timely manner.
this first ‘scientific mapping’ of the United States was one of our most fundamentally important public works projects, which later on proved extremely important in the mapping of the engagements of the Civil War, the engineering of river channeling and dredging projects, the initiation of the Space Program, the success of the Cold War, and the implementation of the GPS Systems which you now use to find the nearest Cracker Barrel restaurant…
BUT, the real value of the map in the eyes of the modern day observer is that everytime a triangulation tower is constructed, it is also NAMED for the family that owned the land under it. so you have a few names showing up that to the current area denizens are quite familiar to the ears. some of my way-back-in-time ancestors show up; the Farrar, the Cox, and the Strachan family names are on my Father’s side of the tree. and after the Civil War, when Reverend Strachan was trying to get his land back from the US government, i would think that he made some sort of argumentative point that he had allowed the Coastal survey crews to come on his property in the early 1850’s to build one their towers just to the north of Point-of-Rocks, and that perhaps he extended to the various members of the itinerant crews a goodly portion of his Old Virginia hospitality, his smokehouse treasures, and the warmth of his hearth.
THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST SHORT STORIES EVER WRITTEN BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
“…. People say they love a lot of things, but they really don’t. It’s just a word that’s been overused. When you put your life on the line for somebody, that’s love. But you’ll never know it until you’re in the moment. When someone will die for you, that’s love, too.”
Bob Dylan, in interview with Mikal Gilmore, excerpted from Rolling Stone magazine, Issue No. 1166, September 27, 2012
Burial at Sea by Lt. Col. George Goodson, USMC (Ret)
In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time, as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial…
War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it. Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded there, Vietnam was my war. Now 42 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams of Americans and Montangards fought much larger elements of the North Vietnamese Army. Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:
*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.
It was late 1967.. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam. Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth new school, and bought a second car.
A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek, Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine. I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At 5’9", I now weighed 128 pounds – 37 pounds below my normal weight. My uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication, and I think I had a twitch or two.
I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the nameplate on a Staff Sergeant’s desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Goodson.. Here are my orders and my Qualification Jacket."
Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out his hand; we shook and he asked, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, "You must be a slow learner Colonel."
Jolly said, "Colonel, I’ll show you to your office and bring in the Sergeant Major". I said, "No, let’s just go straight to his office…." Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant Major. He’s been in this job two years. He’s packed pretty tight. I’m worried about him." I nodded.
Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major’s office. "Sergeant Major, this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Office. The Sergeant Major stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.
I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt’s stress was palpable. Finally, I said, "Walt, what’s the hell’s wrong?" He turned his chair, looked out the window and said, "George, you’re going to wish you were back in Nam before you leave here. I’ve been in the Marine Corps since 1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam for 12 months… Now I come here to bury these kids. I’m putting my letter in. I can’t take it anymore." I said, "OK Walt. If that’s what you want, I’ll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it through Headquarters Marine Corps."
Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much suffering. He was used up.
Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28 military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory. Four, however, remain.
MY FIRST NOTIFICATION
My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19 year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters Marine Corps. The information detailed:
*Name, rank, and serial number. *Name, address, and phone number of next of kin. *Date of and limited details about the Marine’s death. *Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air Station. *A strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or closed.
The boy’s family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles away… I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store/service station/Post Office. I went in to ask directions.
Three people were in the store.. A man and woman approached the small Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."
I was stunned.. My casualty’s next-of-kin’s name was John Cooper!
I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address.)
The father looked at me-I was in uniform – and then, shaking, bent at the waist, he vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at e. Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I think I caught her before she hit the floor.
The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr. Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began arriving.
I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said,
"Mister, I wouldn’t have your job for a million dollars." I shook his hand and said; "Neither would I."
I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the door, and sat there all night, alone.
My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death notification.
Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals. I borrowed Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how to fold the flag.
When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said, "All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On behalf of a grateful nation…." I didn’t think the nation was grateful, so I didn’t say that. Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t speak. When that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I’m so sorry you have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and kissed her.
Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young PFC.
I drove to his mother’s house. As always, I was in uniform and driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open, a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the yard, screaming "NO! NO! NO! NO!"
I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up and carried her into the house.. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten or fifteen later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel. I have no recollection of leaving.
The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill.
The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook his head sadly.
One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant Jolly held the phone up and said, "You’ve got another one, Colonel." I nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked the officer making the call, I have no idea why, and hung up. Jolly, who had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates telephone numbers into the person’s address and place of employment.
The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my office. I called the Longshoreman’s Union Office and asked for the Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked for the father’s schedule.
The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don’t call him. I’ll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."
I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he’s eating breakfast now. Can you come back later?" I said, "I’m sorry. It’s important. I need to see him now."
She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it’s for you."
A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door. He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said, "J____C_____ man, he’s only been there three weeks!"
Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth… I never could do that… and held an imaginary phone to his ear.
Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got it." and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.
Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland.” The father is a retired Chief Petty Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam…"
Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of day, it’ll take three hours to get there and back. I’ll call the Naval Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I’ll have Captain Tolliver get one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief’s home."
He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father’s door. He opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it, Colonel?"
I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.
He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I’ve gone through my boy’s papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."
My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I have no idea. But I’m going to break my ass trying."
I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at Atlantic Fleet Headquarters?" General Bowser said," George, you be there tomorrow at 0900. He will see you.
I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of Staff responded with a name.
The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you’re going to do a burial at sea. You’ll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this mission is completed…"
He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship, Colonel, call me. You don’t have to sic Al Bowser on my ass." I responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the h-ll out of his office.
I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship’s crew for four days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said, "These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from floating?"
All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the retired guys from World War II hang out."
They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and said, "It’s simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the casket. We can handle that, no sweat."
The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp. General Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.
The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played "Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the head and it slid into the sea.
The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet, stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising from the sinking casket sparkled in the in the sunlight as the casket disappeared from sight forever….
The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me out of here. I can’t take this anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.
I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and too much suffering. I was used up.
Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention, saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."
I felt as if I had received the Medal of Honor!
A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America’ for an amount of ‘up to and including their life.’ That is Honor, and there are way too many people in this country who no longer understand it.
Mr. Bury’s postscript:
The Medal of Honor is a Valor medal and says this on the Medal itself. it is bestowed on men and women in the United States military who, in moments of extreme danger, have been willing to sacrifice everything they have to save the lives of other persons. the word ‘VALOR’ means, in several old languages, that the person possessing it has extremely great ‘VALUE’. but for a moment in the recipient’s life, he or she thought of everyone else in his/her unit as having much more ‘value’ than himself/herself.
therefore, the Medal of Honor does not belong to the recipient of the Medal, but instead belongs to everyone BUT the recipient. it belongs to the people who were serving with the recipient on the day it was merited….
and it belongs to the People of the United States of America, who were being equally protected by the actions of the recipient on that day….
the Medal is a tribute to the extreme and continuing ‘value’ that we still place on Honor…. a singular reverence toward a set of Values and Beliefs and Faith that the Nation was founded upon and that will live Forever…. and the recipient has been recognized by The People of this Country for acting on those Values, those Beliefs, and that Faith ‘above and beyond the Call of Duty’.
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