Brooks (brooksmoses) wrote,

A random story

This is a bit of local history that I was reminded of this morning, and so I decided to tell it. It concerns a particular mountain; specifically, the tall peak on the left side of this picture:

Nominally, it's Salt Pond Mountain, although we always called it Mountain Lake mountain, after the name of the lake at its summit. Mountain Lake is claimed as one of only two natural lakes in Virginia; a clear lake improbably situated on the top of the mountain, nearly a thousand feet above the surrounding mountains. There are many theories about how it was created, most of them undoubtably false, but possibly one of them is true. There's also a resort next to the lake, which has been there since the 1930s or thereabouts, but this story takes place well before it was built.

The story concerns a Union raiding party in the Civil war, who had found themselves having to make a retreat over Salt Pond Mountain after several days of rain and having not done an especially good job of accomplishing their goals. There's a fair bit of the high drama of war in their foray into the top edge of Virginia and their soggy and muddy retreat, but that's not the story I'm telling; if you want that one, it's here, near the bottom of the page.

No, this story is about pettiness, and about one man, whose name I once heard but have forgotten, and the relative worth of spite and country. For, you see, he was (as the story goes) the man who the Union army hired to guide them over this mountain; he lived in the valley below -- on the opposite side of the mountain from where this picture was taken -- as did his neighbor. And, for some reason he didn't like his neighbor; we can surmise why, perhaps; his neighbor had a fine mansion which still stands today, whereas this man presumably had none. Perhaps it was resentment of that, or perhaps it was some long-held grudge, or some fresh argument.

Whatever it was, this man was willing to lead an enemy army over the mountain -- I must presume he would consider them the enemy, as this was the Confederacy by 40 miles, but this is perhaps only circumstantial -- but, whatever his alliance to country was, his alliance to his grudge was greater. His price, they say, was but one thing: at the top of the mountain, the Union army would take one of their cannon, and fire it at his neighbor's mansion.

It is, of course, a hearsay tale; over a hundred years old when I heard it, and no doubt changed in the telling. But there is one thing that seems reliable: when the current owner of the mansion in question was clearing it out in preparation for rebuilding it, he found, in the basement, a Union cannonball.

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