Earlier this month we here in DC area were hit by what felt like a week of heavy rains. The remains of Tropical Storm Lee merged in with other storm systems. Parts of Northern Virginia were under flash flood alerts for what seemed like a solid week. Floods washed out several roads. And some bridges are still closed for repairs.
At the time (while unfortunately stuck in traffic), I thought of several Civil War connections. Often we read in wartime accounts were heavy rains made creeks impassable. Well here’s a graphic depiction of impassable:
My friend Jim Lewis passed this video along. The location is along the Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail Park just east of Hunter Mill Road where the old railroad line crossed Difficult Run.
Here’s a photo of the bridge in normal (fall) weather conditions.
Normally Difficult Run is a placid stream.
That is the same power line tower seen at about the 0:30 second mark in the video. As you can see, the freshet forced the creek well past its banks.
The Washington Post’s weather gang posted a detailed early analysis of that week’s weather on September 9th. The writers cited 11.97 inches of rain that week (September 5-9) in nearby Reston, Virginia. While this “storm” was not noteworthy in the larger historical sense, I find the breakdown of the events offered in the report rather useful. With my historian’s robe on, the analysis offers insight into what was behind those dispatch reports citing “heavy rains” and “impassable streams.” I’ve written a bit on this before regarding the creeks and the Potomac River (here and here).
Bringing the Civil War context to the front center, this particular section of the Washington & Old Dominion saw considerable activity during the war. Just a short distance east from Difficult Run is the site where Mosby’s Rangers executed Reverend John B. Read in October 1864. Troops on the march during 1862 and 1863, heading for the great battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, stopped to drink from Difficult Run… but Difficult Run was not as difficult to cross when they marched through as it was on September 8, 2011.