We love exploring America’s back roads because you never know what hidden gem, lost in history, you’re going to find. At the intersection of State Routes 3 and 14 near Gloucester, Virginia, I spotted this cannon and the sign for Fort Nonsense Historical Park. Really? A fort named Nonsense? How could we not stop?
During the Civil War, Matthews County, Virginia was important for its salt production and as a destination for blockade-runners between Virginia and Maryland. Although no major battles were fought in the county, Union forces made several raids in the area to disrupt salt production, which was considered a contraband trade.
In 1861, slaves working under the supervision of Second Lieutenant William Henry Clark constructed a pair of earthworks that were intended to block Union forces from advancing west from the Chesapeake Bay toward the Confederate capital in Richmond.
Not a fort in the traditional sense, it was actually a series of earthen breastworks designed to allow soldiers to stand or lean against the interior slope to fire at advancing enemy troops. Two gun platforms were located at the point where they came together, with the cannons’ field of fire centered on the road from nearby Matthews Court House.
Originally called the Smart’s Mill or the North Mill Fortifications, the locals began calling it Fort Nonsense. Sparsely manned with mostly old men and young boys who were unfit for duty elsewhere, the fort never came under fire and was soon abandoned.
In October, 1863, Union forces under General Isaac J. Wistar came through the area to seize and destroy Confederate supplies and put a halt to smuggling, and camped at what they called “the old Rebel breastwork.” By then any defenders were long gone.
The Union soldiers seized 80 head of cattle, took 100 prisoners accused of being involved in smuggling, and destroyed about 50 boats. Their only casualty was one soldier, who was shot by an elderly farmer named Sands Smith, one of the county’s most respected citizens. General Wistar reported that “One man was murdered by a bushwhacker named Smith, who was promptly hung for his crime.” This was as close to action as Fort Nonsense ever came.
Today not much is left of the old earthen fort, but we spent some time on the nice walking trail that winds through the property, reading the interpretive signs to learn more about it. The trail is mostly gravel and fairly level so it is not a strenuous walk, and there are a few benches along the way to rest.
Compared to larger, more famous Civil War locations like Gettysburg and Charleston, Fort Nonsense doesn’t have much to offer. But it’s still a part of our country’s history and worth a stop when you’re in the area, if for no other reason than to stretch your legs and maybe look for the geocaches hidden there.
Be sure to enter our latest Free Drawing. This week’s prize is an RV camping journal donated by Barbara House. Barbara makes several variations of these, and they all have pages where you can list the date, weather, where you traveled to and from that day, beginning and ending mileage, campground information including amenities at RV sites, a place for a campground rating, room to record activities, people met along the way, reminders of places to see and things to do the next time you’re in the area, and a page for notes for each day. To enter, all you have to do is click on this Free Drawing link or the tab at the top of this page and enter your name (first and last) in the comments section at the bottom of that page (not this one). Only one entry per person per drawing please, and you must enter with your real name. To prevent spam or multiple entries, the names of cartoon or movie characters are not allowed. The winner will be drawn Sunday evening.
Thought For The Day – People who say you can’t get blood out of a stone have obviously never tried hitting somebody in the head with one.