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Virginia 400: America on the Half Shell

A BGES’ Americana Field University Program

November 1-10, 2018

With Neil Mangum and Len Riedel from Norfolk, VA

It was England’s premier colony named after the virgin queen Elizabeth I–Virginia. It bought England wealth and innovation, joy and heartbreak and when she made common cause with other colonies she became the home of a new nation–four of America’s first 5 presidents were from the Old Dominion and the trend continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. When America engaged in a great Civil War she became the epicenter of fighting with a former president now firmly aligned with the fate of Virginia and her confederacy. Over the years she continued to innovate and lead–electing the first African-American as governor. She was integral to America’s space exploration and for years continues to host some of the nation’s most important and strategic military installations. Virginia is truly a central and luminescent diamond in America’s crown.

Over the years, Virginia has developed its own heritage identity. There are so many places to see that fundamental Americana is often overlooked. No more–join us as we hit a wide variety of oft overlooked sites in Virginia’s heritage. They are sites so important that anywhere else they would be central to any tourist trail; but, in Virginia they are just another item on the bucket list. This is our Virginia–a personal insider’s look at the state we know and love. Come on and join us–we will open your eyes.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

7:30 PM: Check in at our headquarters hotel in Norfolk. Neil and I will meet you in the lobby and distribute readings and other information about the program. We will break the ice with a pizza party and adult beverages before calling it a night. Hotel and reception included.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Mount up at 8 AM, you are in for a treat as we move rapidly through important and often overlooked aspects of Virginia and American history. We are en route to First Landing State Park where the first settlers initially set foot on American soil. From this vantage point we will also discuss the decisive 1781 Battle of the Capes in which the French triumph sealed Lord Cornwallis’ fate at Yorktown. From here we will head to Old Point Comfort where the settlers moved inland, en route we will point out Lynhaven Inlet where the French fleet hid while awaiting the British and Little Creek where US Navy Seals learn the trade. At Old Point Comfort we will visit historic Fort Monroe and the Casemate Museum where Jefferson Davis was held prisoner after the Civil War.

Our afternoon takes us to the Mariner’s Museum–one of the most important maritime museums in the world where you can see the relics, including the restored turret and a full scale model of the USS Monitor. We will then skip over to the southside of the James River to visit Bacon’s Castle. Here supporters of Nathaniel Bacon’s seventeenth century rebellion holed up. We will overnight for two nights in Williamsburg. Hotel, breakfast and lunch are provided.

Saturday November 3, 2018

Leave your bags at 8:30, we will depart for Jamestown Festival Park where we can see replicas of the vessels that bought the settlers to the New World, we will then pop over to Yorktown where we will visit the new Revolutionary War Museum. Our return to Williamsburg will allow you several hours to explore the Colonial area on your own. We will finish the day with a brief look at the fortifications and discuss the 1862 Battle of Williamsburg. Hotel is included but meals are at your pleasure. May we recommend you book a table at one of the Colonial Taverns? We will provide information on that in due course.

Sunday November 4, 2018

This morning we will start with a visit to the Wren Building on the Campus of the College of William and Mary, the second oldest college in America (behind only Harvard). We will then go to the original site of Jamestown for a short visit to see the archeology done at that singular destination. A walking tour of the grounds of President John Tyler’s home, Sherwood Forest concludes the morning. Tyler was the first vice-president to ascend to the presidency of the United States after the death of a president and he died a reviled man because of his service in the Confederate Congress during the Civil War.

After a lunch, at Charles City Court House, we will travel along the River Road (VA route 5) past other plantation homes to the battlefield of Malvern Hill where Federal troops escaped the trap set for them by Robert E. Lee on July 1, 1862. We will finish the day touring the restored Confederate White House in Richmond. We will have a group dinner and then head to our hotel in Chester. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and your hotel are provided.

Monday November 5, 2018

There is so much to see and today is no different, we will start by driving through the Petersburg National Battlefield–here was conducted the longest siege in US military history. We will stop at the site of the July 1864 Battle of the Crater and will view some earthworks that Neil has a personal connection to. We will burst out of the park and follow Lee’s retreat to Appomattox where we will see the reconstructed village where the country was reunited.

After lunch we will drop down to Red Hill, Patrick Henry’s retirement home–located in a remote section of Virginia this is, one of those sites, never visited by most heritage tourists. Our next stop is another overlooked but critical site: Booker T. Washington’s plantation, where born a slave, he grew and became a giant of his race after the war and emancipation. We then go over to Bedford to visit the National D-Day Memorial. This is an important site made all the more special by the sacrifice made by the town during World War II. We will overnight on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Peaks of Otter Lodge. Breakfast , lunch, dinner and lodging is included.

Tuesday November 6, 2018

Not as many miles today but sites of abiding interest and importance on the agenda–Natural Bridge–one of the Natural wonders of the world. Then it is to the essential city–Lexington. Here is the center of Virginia and southern heritage. The educational institutions–Washington and Lee and the Virginia Military Institute, magnificent museums, Jackson’s home and burial site, Lee’s burial site. We will have recommendations but you are on your own. Breakfast, dinner and the hotel are included.

Wednesday November 7, 2018

Today we move down the Shenandoah Valley stopping first in Staunton where Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential Library and Museum await–the last Virginia President, Wilson was deeply affected by the Civil War and his efforts with the League of Nations were an unrealized ambition. We will also visit the Frontier Museum–a very appropriate site as much of the migration west from the original colonies passed through this region. We then head over to Charlottesville and the Michie Tavern for a colonial luncheon before visiting James Madison’s palatial and restored country home, Montpelier–here was drafted the American Constitution. Madison would also be our 4th president. We will overnight in Quantico, Virginia. Breakfast, lunch and the hotel are included.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Another shorter day mileage wise but important sites to see–lets start with the Museum of the United States Marine Corps. What could be more significant than to experience the Halls of the Montezumas and the shores of Tripoli? It is a short ride down to Fredericksburg and the Irish Brigade Restaurant where we will have lunch after visiting “The Wall” on Marye’s Heights, site of the great and tragic attack by Federal forces in December 1862.

Our afternoon takes us over to George Washington’s childhood home at Ferry Farm. Archeology there has helped us better appreciate the formative experience of our great founding father. Perhaps you will bring a silver dollar and see if you can toss it across the Rappahannock River? We cannot permit you to cut down any cherry trees no matter how honest you may be! We will overnight in Fredericksburg where you can dine at your leisure. Breakfast and lunch are included along with your hotel room.

Friday, November 9, 2018

As we pause to think about what we have seen think of all we didn’t visit–those spots that would be routine tourist stops on practically any other tour. I think you are bound to have seen things you have not ever seen before and most likely never considered. Today we will add to that list with a trip over to Washington’s birthplace followed by a trip to Stratford Hall where Robert E. Lee was born and raised. This middle neck trip on the Peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers is really special and we know you will enjoy it.

Another really nice stop will be at Lowrey’s where we will have lunch in Tappahannock. Virginia. You will love the atmosphere. Their oysters are a nice treat. Afterwards we will drive past the home of the most decorated marine of all time–General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller. It is a simple site and at the last check was for sale in Saluda. It should be a museum–there is a retirement opportunity for you! We will then move back to our overnight in Yorktown stopping at the Revolutionary War and Civil War fortifications on that important land overlooking the York River. You will perhaps want to walk the Yorktown battlefield later this afternoon and have dinner overlooking the river. Breakfast, lunch and the hotel are included.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Our last day is full and we will do a drive through the Yorktown battlefield where we will discuss the two great military encampments there and then will head over to Langley Air Force Base, home of Air Combat Command for a drive through and to point out some historical sites related to aviation and space exploration. A visit to the Virginia Air and Space Museum will complete the morning–you can catch a bite of lunch there. We will then head back into Norfolk where we will do a drive through of the US Naval Base–the world’s largest before heading downtown to Waterside to tour the battleship USS Wisconsin. We will return to our originating hotel and dismiss by 4:30 PM. Flights after 6 PM should get you home this evening or if you wish to stay a night you will be able to return refreshed on Sunday the 11th. Thanks for coming–whew!


Neil Mangum is one of the nation’s foremost historians and is an expert on frontier life. However, Neil is a Virginian who grew up in the shadow of the Petersburg National Battlefield which was one of his very first assignments in the NPS. He still has deep ties. A retired National Park Service official, Neil served as Superintendent at the Little Big Horn National Battlefield as it transitioned from Custer National Battlefield. The popular Mangum only allows himself four or five tours a year and BGES is fortunate to enjoy his favor. He enjoys the cliental and the small folksy nature of the group that is usually well prepared. Neil is author of The Battle of the Rosebud: Prelude to the Little Big Horn. He has a following and most people on this trip will have travelled with him before which makes this event even nicer.

Len Riedel is the Executive Director of the Virginia based non profit, Blue and Gray Education Society. Len is a transplanted Virginian who was raised in Norfolk, went to school at both VMI and Old Dominion University and who wrote his masters thesis on the Defense of the Virginia Peninsula. He has lived 42 of his 64 years in Virginia. He has walked the backwoods of the state and is a worthy companion to Neil in this backstage look at Virginia in its 5th century of settlement. Len is the editor of the National Geographic’s best selling guide The Civil War, A Travelers Guide.

Hotel Information

Your registration fee includes includes 9 nights single or double occupancy lodging. Hotels will be announced and contact information provided before the event.


Our servicing airport is Norfolk International (ORF). Our headquarters hotel will provide transportation to and from the airport. If you drive to Norfolk we will make arrangements for you to leave your car parked there–an additional charge may apply or you may want to park in long term parking at the airport and take the hotel shuttle back to the hotel. Amtrak services Norfolk.

Key Publications and Recommended Reading

You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. We recommend the following books to enhance your preparation for this tour. has a program to support non profits IF YOU SIGN UP to support Blue and Gray Education Society (EIN 54-1720582) at AmazonSmile. When you sign up there rather than the normal Amazon site one half of one percent of your purchase price is provided to BGES as a donation from Amazon. This will apply not only on this purchase but others you may make at other times.

You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. The following books are suggested to enhance your readiness for the program. We cannot compete with Amazon and the on line dealers for a few books but if you register with AmazonSmile a portion of any purchases you make for this program or other books will be given to BGES

  • Ronald Heinemann and John Kolp, Old Dominion, New Commonwealth, A History of Virginia 1607-2007
  • Virginius Dabney Virginia, The New Dominion, A History from 1607 to Present
  • Virginia Department of Historical Resources: A Guidebook to America’s Historical Markers
  • Thomas Jefferson: Notes on the State of Virginia
  • Alex Kershaw: The Bedford Boys, One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice


Registration includes 9 nights lodging, 8 breakfasts, 6 lunches and 4 dinners, a reading book with maps, the academic program, support of a professional historian, tour director, all admissions and transportation. We will also provide snacks, bottled water and a limited selection of sodas.

Register for this program online using our secure Sutler’s Tent ecommerce site: Register for Virginia 400: America on the Half Shell.

Register by mail, or fax

Download a printable itinerary and registration form.