> Main Civil War Page

> Civil War Maps

> Civil War Round Tables

> Hal's Personal Page

> Send email to Hal

2004 Civil War Travelogue

This page includes three articles I wrote about Civil War activities in 2004, originally in my "blog" at Sun Microsystems. My trips in 2004 were:

(I actually started traveling on Civil War topics in 2003. My first trip was to Gettysburg, without any seminars or tours involved. I took a full day tour with a licensed battlefield guide and even though it rained most of the day, I was hooked.

National Park Service seminar, April 2004

My second Civil War trip was April 3–4, 2004, although I did not write a travelogue and do not remember any of the logistics of the trip, such as the hotel. It was to attend the National Park Service seminar, "This has been a terrible ordeal": The Gettysburg Campaign and First Day of Battle. The conference papers are available here.

CW Vacation, Summer 2004

Here's a brief report on my most recent vacation, indulging my interest in the American Civil War. The first part was the 2004 muster of the Gettysburg Discussion Group, which is an active e-mail alias and web site for a few hundred aficionados of the battle of Gettysburg. You can sign up for the group here. Every year, the discussion group has a gathering at the battlefield, which consists of tours conducted by members of the group, as well as a few social activities. About 100 of us made the trip to Gettysburg, PA, but very few flew in from remote places, as I did.

GDG muster
Scene from the Gettysburg Discussion Group muster

I realize that some readers might not have a deep interest in Civil War topics so I'll describe the tours very briefly and invite you to contact me directly if you would like to discuss or get more information. Here are the lectures or tours this year:

I had a great time at the muster, but one significant downer was the weather—about half the outdoor tours I mentioned were conducted in pouring rain and 50 degree temperatures. I seem to be a jinx because my last three visits to the battlefield have all brought rain.

After I finished with the muster, I headed south to Virginia for brief visits to a few other battlefields. Unlike Gettysburg, these battlefields do not have nearly the same interest for tourists. Gettysburg is very well preserved and you can get a good idea of the scope of the battle. And there is a large tourist infrastructure built up to give tours and other information. The Virginia battlefields are all very small plots of land interspersed with housing developments and commercial properties. So it takes a lot of imagination to picture what happened. But, just trodding on this historic, hallowed ground is interesting enough for me.

Columbus Day Weekend in Gettysburg

I spent the Columbus Day weekend in Gettysburg again. The draw was a conference and tour organized by the Civil War Society (Keith Poulter, who publishes North and South magazine). This was my third trip this year; yes, I am truly obsessed, and yes, I have a very understanding spousal unit. :-)

The great news this time was the weather, a gorgeous fall weekend. This was my first trip to the 'Burg in two years unmarred by rain.

But the program was pretty decent, too. It featured talks by Tom DesJardins, author of These Honored Dead: How the Story of Gettysburg Shaped American Memory and Stand Firm, Ye Boys of Maine; Troy Harmon, a park ranger and author of Lee's Real Plan for Gettysburg; and Mike Miller, an instructor of military history and tactics to Marine officers at Quantico, and author of The North Anna Campaign; Even to Hell Itself (Virginia Civil War Battles and Leaders Series).

The tours were all day Saturday and Sunday and till noon on Monday; dinner and lectures took up Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings. The tours were not the traditional battle overviews and took us to some of the more obscure places. Here are some of the places and topics:

I really enjoyed hanging out with the two guides, Troy and Mike, and a very friendly and somewhat knowledgeable group. (I will wager that I fell in the upper third of Gettysburg and general Civil War knowledge of these folks.) One tip to Burg visitors: we stayed at the Eisenhower Inn and Conference Center, which isn't too great. Moderately comfortable, but inconveniently far south on Steinwehr Avenue. All-in-all, a great weekend and I plan to go to the next CWS event in Gettysburg, June 17-19, 2005.

Killer Angels on Stage

I recently returned from a trip to Chicago, where I was able to see one of the final performances of the Killer Angels on stage at the Lifeline Theatre.

This was an enjoyable adaptation of Michael Shaara's novel (which was the basis for Ted Turner's movie Gettysburg), and quite an unusual performance. The Lifeline Theatre is a tiny venue in northern Chicago, near Loyola University. When I say tiny, I mean a stage about the size of a living room and only about 50 people in the audience. So, the cast was tiny too—only nine people portrayed the entire battle of Gettysburg. Of course, the cast of the novel is small, too, and the play stuck very closely to it. Words and sound effects were used to enhance the action scenes, such as the defense of Little Round Top (six guys) and Pickett's Charge (four!). (Oddly enough, the biggest scene in terms of actors on stage was a poker game in Longstreet's camp.)

The set stayed constant throughout the performance and consisted only of two giant flags, Union and Confederate, a table, a couple of simulated campfires, a tall bookshelf with a ladder, and a small map of the battlefield. Cast members rushed in and out, sometimes right through the audience, and participated in a whirlwind of costume changes. Many of the cast members portrayed four or more different characters. For example, one actor portrayed both Gen. Lee and Buster Kilrain, using the appropriate accents for each. Amusingly, another actor was cast as both Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock!

One of the nice touches was the use of music. Many of the scene changes were accompanied by Civil War songs, sung mostly a cappella or with a single guitar or banjo. In this intimate setting, it was hard not to join in!

I think the action would be a little difficult to follow if you were not familiar with the battle or the novel or movie; I know my wife was perplexed in some parts. One way they attempted to get around this was by using the map, moving unit markers around as the battle progressed. So I imagine this play will never become a Broadway hit, but I did think it was quite worthwhile and hope it moves to small theaters around the country. It would certainly be an inexpensive production for a small theater group.

After saying a number of good things about the play, now I get to make a few mildly critical remarks, with the understanding that overall I enjoyed the evening quite a lot. There were three somewhat annoying aspects to the production:

  1. They completely omitted Gen. A. P. Hill! I don't know whether this was merely an economy in casting, but they never mentioned the man's name. And, all of the early action on Day One was incorrectly attributed to Gen. Ewell, such as advancing to the "shoe factory" and beating back the Union First Corps. (I have not read the novel in quite a while and don't remember whether Shaara made the same mistake.) They also omitted Henry Heth, but mentioned J. Johnston Pettigrew at least twice in this context, denigrating him as merely an "author, not a fighter."
  2. "Gen. Lee's" performance was quite good, with one exception: the scene with Jeb Stuart was played like Gen. Patton flying off the handle, which I cannot imagine Robert E. Lee really doing. (By the way, the actor playing Gen. Longstreet did better job than Tom Berenger in the movie Gettysburg, in my humble opinion. And he had a real beard, as did most of the cast members.)
  3. Perhaps due to budgetary considerations, there were a number of wardrobe malfunctions. (Not in the Janet Jackson sense!) On the Confederate side, all of the generals wore colonels' rank insignia, so perhaps the wardrobe department looked only at a photograph of Robert E. Lee when they designed the costumes. Gen Ewell wore a Union cavalry officer hat. On the Union side, Col. Devin appeared as a captain, and Buford was promoted to Maj. Gen. And from the British Coldstream Guards, Col Fremantle wore a Confederate uniform.

All minor quibbles. As I said, I enjoyed the Killer Angels and hope others get to see it in some future performance.