Sunday, August 2, 2020

Sentinels to McNeill's Last Charge

More than 150 years ago, a small group of Confederate soldiers led by Capt. John Hanson McNeill charged against a hundred man detachment of American soldiers near a bridge in Mt. Jackson, VA. Most of the Confederates were captured, and their leader was mortally wounded.

A plaque honoring that battle was erected in 1999 (38°43'44.2"N 78°38'41.4"W), and today farmland surrounds the area.

I stopped by that plaque in order to examine the large tall grasses that crowded close to it, on the periphery of cultivated fields.

The grasses were nearly 2 meters tall, with purple panicles, very large white midribs on their blades, and membranous hairy ligules.  I tentatively identified them as Sorghum halepense.

S. halepense is also called Johnsongrass here in the USA, after one of  the men who helped spread the species as a forage crop in the 1830s and 1840s.

Like quite a few plants that were somewhat thoughtlessly introduced to the country during that early era, the grass soon became a major weed, especially of agricultural land.

When I was driving down the local highways between Mt. Clifton and New Market in Virginia, stands of this grass were quite evident along the roadsides that passed through cultivated areas, their erect forms standing tall like sentinels in front of expansive cornfields.

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