2005 Civil War Travelogue

This was one of my most-traveled years. The trips were:

Here is a reminder about the reason I write these pages the way I do. They record my experiences and impressions of Civil War trips primarily for my future use. Thus, they sometimes make assumptions about things I already know and focus on insights that I receive. They are not general-purpose descriptions for people unfamiliar with the Civil War, although I do link to various Wikipedia articles throughout. Apologies about the quality of interior photographs—I don't take fancy cameras with big flashes to these events. If you would like to be notified of new travelogues, connect to me via Facebook.

U Va: Great Battles and Turning Points of the Civil War

James McPherson and Gary Gallagher
James McPherson and Gary Gallagher

I traveled March 9-13, 2005, to the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina, for an excellent seminar put on by the University of Virginia, hosted in the Mills House Hotel (not such a great hotel, but historic—Robert E. Lee slept there). A great experience with two top CW historians and a small audience, which left plenty of opportunity for interaction. And Charleston is a delight, with lots of picturesque historic districts that trace back to the Revolution, friendly folks, and good restaurants. Here's the agenda:

  • Our Fascination With Turning Points - Gary W. Gallagher
    • Gary and I have a different view of turning points. As I wrote in my Wikipedia article, I think it's valid to view them only in an historical context, understanding what actually happened, and place less stock in what the popular opinion was at the time. So, for example, an important Confederate battle victory wouldn't be a turning point because we know they didn't win in the end. Only an interesting "what-if.". So we had a few lively discussions later in the agenda. (By the way, I wrote that Wikipedia article before the seminar as an intellectual challenge. My original article didn't have Chattanooga or Atlanta in it, but that's the way Wikipedia works, adding other opinions and "improving" articles with multiple viewpoints.)
  • A Civil War `Crossroads'? The 1862 Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam - James M. McPherson
  • A True High Water Mark? Gettysburg in its Time and in the American Imagination - Gary W. Gallagher
    • Although this is widely thought to be the turning point (the High Water Mark), Gary mostly discounts it, once again because of public morale at the time.
  • Fort Sumter Tour
    • This was very interesting. It's a 30-minute boat ride out into the harbor and although the fort is mostly ruins today, it's quite inspiring and thought-provoking. Surprisingly to some, I list this as the first turning point because it was all downhill from there for the Confederacy.
  • The Seven Days Battles and the Emergence of Robert E. Lee: An Unheralded Turning Point - Gary W. Gallagher
  • The Vicksburg Campaign: An Underappreciated Turning Point in the West - James M. McPherson
  • Hidden Turning Points - Gary W. Gallagher and James M. McPherson
    • One surprising turning point that Gary mentioned here was the battle of Ball's Bluff. Look it up. :-)
  • The Spring Campaign of 1864: U. S. Grant at the Helm - Gary W. Gallagher
  • Sherman in Atlanta, Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, and the Election of 1864 - James M. McPherson
  • Should We Look for Turning Points? - Gary W. Gallagher and James M. McPherson
    • Despite its title, this section was a free-wheeling, spirited Q&A and was great.
  • Confederate Submarine C.S.S. Hunley Visit
    • (C.S.S. is actually a misnomer because the Hunley sank before it was officially commissioned.) This was a good deal less interesting than expected.

This was a great experience, highly recommended if something similar comes up. All the arrangements were excellent and the UVa staff was very friendly, even going so far as to invite me to a staff dinner when I asked for a recommendation.

Civil War Society Tour of Gettysburg

A brief mid-June weekend jaunt followed up on the tour I took last Columbus Day, sponsored by the Civil War Society (North & South magazine). I enjoyed the previous tour in particular because I like the two tour guides, Troy Harman and Mike Miller. Since they were conducting the tour again, I decided to make the relatively simple flight to Dulles Airport and drive up Friday night, returning Sunday evening.

Troy Harman and a 3-inch Ordnance Rifle
Troy Harman
Mike Miller on Pickett's "Charge"
Mike Miller

We started on Saturday, June 18, where we left off last Columbus Day, examining the ground over which Pickett's Charge was conducted. Last fall, we ran out of time when we reached the Emmitsburg Road, but this time we marched the entire way, following Kemper's brigade, which was on the extreme right flank of the charge. It is remarkable how the perception of where the soldiers actually marched differs from reality. The common view is that they moved almost straight across the open field, but the reality is that they started considerably farther south than the Virginia monument on Spangler's Lane and wheeled to the left after the Emmitsburg Road, so that they approached the clump of trees almost from the south. From this vantage point, the clump of trees and Ziegler's Grove behind it are in a direct line, which helps to validate Troy's theories on Lee's plan.

We got into a cavalry theme for two stops (which was quite a coincidence considering the event below, one week later). First, the little-known cavalry action on July 2 at Hunterstown, four miles northeast of town, sometimes called "North Cavalry Field" by the NPS guys. The second was the Elon Farnsworth Charge at "South Cavalry Field" on July 3 and we tramped through the woods to see where Andie Custer has pinpointed the actual location of the units involved, not the location next to Round Top where the regimental marker for the 5th NY Cavalry is placed.

On Sunday we had a half day and although the published itinerary said we'd spend it on Culp's Hill, Troy decided to take a vote on where to go. About a third picked Culp's and another third (including me) picked the Wheatfield, so he compromised and we did about 90 minutes of each. Of course, all you can do is a brief overview in that time, so that was a bit disappointing.

There's supposedly another CWS tour on Columbus Day, but I haven't decided whether to go to that one. It's a bit far to travel for an itinerary decided by votes on the bus.

Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College

This is a program that has been conducted for 23 years in which about 300 hundred enthusiasts gather for a week in the summer to learn about a focused Civil War topic. Gettysburg College historian Gabor Borritt has hosted it since the beginning. Many of the guests stay in the spartan dormitory (see below) and all the meals are provided in the cafeteria. Although most CW tours and seminars I've taken have left me feeling confident that I know the material pretty well, this experience was a bucket of cold water. I was easily in the bottom third of this group, with many men and women who have attended 10, 20, and even all 23 weeks, and who know a lot about the Civil War. Despite the casual logistics, this is probably the most prestigious Civil War conference extant.

Sunday, June 26: Arrival midafternoon for registration and a tour led by Chuck Teague on the Gettysburg battlefield. (I know Chaplain Chuck from my participation in GDG, the Gettysburg Discussion Group, over email and last year's muster.) Chuck's topic was a reinterpretation of Ambrose Wright's July 2 assault against Cemetery Ridge, suggesting that, contrary to many recent historians' views, the historical evidence demonstrates that Wright's brigade not only succeeded in reaching the Angle, but that it actually broke through to the top of the ridge, past where the George Meade monument stands today and almost to the Widow Leister's house. A very interesting tour, although it was hot as blazes and very humid, probably similar to what the soldiers experienced, although we had the advantage of not wearing wool uniforms and being fired at. Finished up with a picnic dinner and a cavalry demonstration, including a sabre charge with 6 riders. I bought a CWI tee-shirt that listed all of the annual themes for the conferences on the back and was amazed to see they misspelled Cavalry! Lots of red faces on the staff, although they blame it on a "printer's error." Right.

Monday: Welcoming remarks by the college president and an original musical composition by Gregory Caputo called Gettysburg in the Mist. Ed Longacre gave an interesting overview of cavalry tactics, weapons, differences between the armies, etc. Group photo on the steps of Pennsylvania Hall. Afternoon was a fascinating, free-wheeling panel discussion with Gary Gallagher, Ed Longacre, Eric Wittenberg, and Peter Carmichael—a lively exchange that skewered Phil Sheridan, Alfred Pleasonton, Judson Kilpatrick, and others. Also a session with Gary Kersey in which he deconstructed a photo of Lincoln's house and funeral attendees. (ZZZZzzzzzzz...) But after dinner Gary Gallagher did a terrific speech on J.E.B. Stuart, concentrating on his legacy and perception as a heroic, cavalierly figure.

Ed Bearss
Ed Bearss

Tuesday: An all-day tour with Ed Bearss and Dean Schultz on "Stuart Comes to Gettysburg." (Other choices were Brandy Station and a half-day on Albert G. Jenkins.) Ed, at 82, is a legendary author and indefatigable tourguide and many on the tour knew him personally, causing lots of bantering through the day. (I was inspired enough by meeting Ed this week that I wrote a bio for Wikipedia.) Dean is a Gettysburg resident (and veteran GDGer) who is an expert in area history. We started at 8 a.m. and spent the first two hours heading south through Taneytown, Uniontown (a beautiful little place that looks similar today to what it must have in 1863), Frizzellsburg, and Westminster, backtracking the course various Union infantry corps took. But we got into cavalry land in Westminster by seeing the scene of Corbit's Charge. Then it was off to the Battle of Hanover, to Hanover Junction (where Lincoln changed trains to and from his Gettysburg Address), and the Battle of Hunterstown. We didn't follow Stuart's full course because we didn't have time for either Dover or Carlisle. But we concluded a hot and sunny day at 5:30 after a brief stop at East Cavalry Field (where we will resume on Thursday). After dinner Eric Wittenberg did an interesting lecture on 14 cavalry generals he considers to be failures. Most were pretty obvious, but he raised some controversy by including Fitz Lee and John Hunt Morgan. Later that night there was a big party in our dorm, hosted by FOG (the "Friends of Gabor", a group of frequent attendees who hang out together and cook all their meals in the dorm). Good pizza, lots of interesting, firendly guys. One downer for the day was the death of Shelby Foote last night, one of my favorite authors.

Wednesday: Back to the lecture hall today. Steve Woodworth talked about "Guerillas on Horseback," a brief overview of partisan rangers John S. Mosby, John Hunt Morgan, and William C. Quantrill. Pretty good, but time-limited so that he didn't get into much analysis. Then Tom Carhart had a session on George Custer. This was pretty disappointing. He spoke briefly on Hunterstown and then the rest of the talk was essentially a commercial for his new book, Lost Triumph, Lee's Real Plan at Gettysburg. In the book, he advocates that Stuart's action on July 3 was a third major offensive that was meant to coordinate with Pickett's Charge and Allegheny Johnson's second assault on Culp's Hill. Since Custer blunted Stuart's (Wade Hampton's) advance at East Cavalry Field, Carhart believes Custer won the battle and saved the Union. The talk wasn't well received, more from the style of presentation than the content. Once again, time was limited because everyone wanted to rush off to a book signing by Kent Masterson Brown. After lunch there was a panel discussion about cavalry at Gettysburg with Tom Carhart, Glenn LaFantasie (author of the new book, Twilight at Little Round Top), Noah Andre Trudeau, and Steve Woodworth. It went astray a bit with long sections criticizing Tom's book and general questions about CW scholarship, but was interesting. Then, a three-hour block of open time came up (for those not on one of a series of horseback tours of the battlefield), just as a giant thunderstorm struck. :-) After dinner, "Lives of Horses," a lengthy and dry session on horse procurement for the cavalry, and an odd addition: Marine Corps First Lieutenant John Turner, an artillery officer, did a brief description of deploying to Iraq and then hosted a lengthy Q&A about the insurgency, Marine morale, combat patrols, etc. He was well received and got a Standing O at the end. Interesting aside: I found out today from one of my Pennsylvania roommates that PCN, the state cable channel, carries NPS battlefield walks in Gettysburg. Checking their website, I see that they have 66 videos for sale on VHS and DVD.

Thursday: Up early again for an 8 a.m. half-day tour. The choices were:

  • Beginner's Tour of Gettysburg (a bit late for that, dontcha think?)
  • Culp's Hill (what does that have to do with cavalry?)
  • The First Clash at Gettysburg
  • East Cavalry Field with Ed Bearss
  • First and Last
  • Kilpatrick and Farnsworth with Andie Custer
  • Devin's Brigade and the XI Corps Line

I continued with Ed Bearss and it was good tour, despite the heat and despite our bus getting stuck in a ditch for a while, requiring big adjustments in the itinerary. In addition to the typical explanation of the July 3rd cavalry actions at ECF, we also did Brinkerhoff Ridge on July 2nd and visited the Rummel Farm barn, guided by its owner, Mr. Hoffman. (A lot of the ECF is privately owned farmland with easements that prevents alternative development.) The highlight of the morning was Ed leading us in a running charge to simulate George Custer and the 1st Michigan Cavalry. All we lacked was "1,200 sabers shining in the sun." And, well, horses. But Ed outran us all and is just amazing. The remainder of the day was free time until dinner and I drove to Harrisburg, reported on below. Next time I'll stay in the 'Burg. Dinner was spaghetti in the dorm, courtesy of the FOGs (and later that evening, pizza came out, too). Very generous guys and gals. I spent some time at the annual auction and raffle, in which they raise money so that they can offer full scholarships to some students for next year's program. Unfortunately for me, I have a full suitcase and an airline flight coming up, so I didn't bid on anything. Many of the attendees get here by car. After that I went downtown to see a presentation Troy Harman gave at the Middle School about new interpretations of Gettysburg. Of four topics he presented, I had been exposed to three previously (Andie Custer's theory on the Farnsworth Charge, Alpheus Williams's division distracting Early on July 1st, and Chuck Teague's theory on Wright). The new one for me was how Barlow was deceived by the concelaed position taken up by the Confederates in front of Barlow's Knoll. All interesting stuff and he attracted a pretty big crowd.

Gabor & Gordon
Gabor Borrit and Gordon Rhea
Wayne Wachsmuth
Wayne Wachsmuth

Friday, July 1: The first lecture was Ed Bearss on Nathan Bedford Forrest. He was great. Ninety minutes without notes and I took down dozens of anecdotes to improve the Wikipedia article on Forrest. Oddly, he deliberately skipped the Fort Pillow Massacre and Grand Wizard of the KKK, telling us he was saving them for questions. Obviously a tremendous NBF fan. After lunch we had Gordon Rhea on cavalry actions in the 1864 Overland Campaign. He was superb: very well spoken, super knowledgeable, completely on topic. One of my roommates recommended his battlefield tours and I will definitely keep my eye out for him. In terms of presentations, this was definitely the best day. During breaks today I rode around the battlefield with my roommates (whose names I will suppress for privacy reasons, but they were three great guys) and they helped me find a number of interesting artillery pieces to photograph. And lunch at Dino's on Steinwehr Ave, which has excellent hot submarine sandwiches. Tonight was the big closing banquet and a concert by the 11th PA Fife and Drum Corps. As much as I like period music, I skipped both. Today is the 142nd anniversary of the start of the battle and the NPS put on a lot of battlefield walks. I went over to East Cemetery Hill to take a two-hour tour with Wayne Wachsmuth. There must have been 200 people there and I frankly wonder how most of those bored women and children kept up with it. I am very familiar with that part of the battle and I can't imagine understanding Wayne if one doesn't. But I hear that at the banquet Gabor announced that next year's theme will be Civil War Medicine and Antietam. I may very well attend again, for the latter if not the former.

Saturday: Back to SFO and the arms of my very understanding wife!

General Comments: A great experience with lots of information and insights and the opportunity to meet a number of famous CW people. Only two negatives, which may not be negatives to others. First, it's very socially oriented, dominated by people who come year after year, like guys on a big fishing trip. You need to be reasonably gregarious to break into these groups, although most of the guys in my dorm were outgoing and actively friendly to me. Second, there's a bit of dead time. By squeezing 90-minute meal breaks and eliminating free afternoons, the 5-day event could actually be held in 3.5. But I think most of the repeat attendees like to hang out with their buddies, so I doubt this would ever change. (My roommates tell me the content has been evaporating over the years. Too bad. Still worth attending, but vexing.)

Dorm Living: In case anyone is interested in attending a future CWI, here's some advice on living in these dorms. The registration materials say "This is not a four-star hotel." Well, it's not even a one-star. In the highest-priced option, you have four people with tiny bedrooms sharing a living room, kitchen, one shower, and one toilet. (Lower-priced options include multiple people per bedroom.) You should stop at WalMart on the way there and buy or bring the following, all of which you'd expect the one-star to have: decent pillow, foam pad to fit on top of the wretched twin-sized mattress (essentially loudly squeaking innersprings surrounded by a thin plastic cover), alarm clock, bath towels, face cloth, soap, shampoo, trash bags, coffee, and other beverages. And although the rooms have Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections, they have severe firewalls installed that make it impractical to use the computer network at all if you're not a real student. And there's no telephone in the sleeping rooms.

National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg

Harrisburg is a 45-minute drive from Gettysburg and I wanted to see the National Civil War Museum, which opened in 2000, so I went on June 30. I don't think it was worth a lengthy trip, but I'm torn about my 90-minute travel investment. Here are the plusses:

  • It has a nice collection of artifacts, like pistols, uniforms, rifles, etc. (although not any better than the NPS Gettysburg Visitor Center).
  • It had two particular highlights for me: first, a collection of George Custer's personal effects, captured by the Confederates at Trevilian Station. They were in superb condition. Second, a nice, brief film with veteran reunions.

But the negatives outweigh them:

  • They are very light on facts. Most battles are described in two paragraphs each with an accompanying talking-head video that covers the "The-ay-tor." There are no interesting videos or computer displays that have battle maps, troop movements, etc. (Gettysburg is accompanied by three very fuzzy Bachelder maps.) There are no good bios on important generals.
  • Most of the video exhibits are on large plasma display screens that have very visible discolorations, like a big green blob on a third of the image.
  • The lighting is poor in many areas, making it difficult to read captions on exhibits.
  • Coverage of artillery, cavalry, and naval matters was very weak.

So, all-in-all, too superficial to keep me interested. Too bad. Too bad. Oh, too bad.

Blue and Gray Education Society, Tim Smith Seminars

Back to Gettysburg on September 9 through 11. On the first day, I signed up for two Blue and Gray Educational Society seminars. (This was actually a three-day program consisting of five half-day seminars, but I was able to schedule only the first two, due to the conflict with the ALBG, described in the next section.) Tim Smith was the presenter and I looked forward to his tours of Little Round Top and the Devil's Den. Tim, a Licensed Battlefield Guide and an historian at the Adams County Historical Society, is the co-author of a comprehensive history and tour guide for Devil's Den (along with Garry Adelman) and is a recognized expert on historical photography. To my great surprise, there were only four attendees for Tim's seminar. Apparently, BGES did a poor job of publicizing it, but all the better for me because it was a very personalized tour. And I got to ask questions and wisecrack freely without embarrassing myself in front of a large group.

Tim Smith and Gouverneur Warren statue
Tim Smith on Little Round Top
Devil's Den
Devil's Den

Tim's tours were excellent and I would recommend him to others. He has an energetic, witty style that makes a long day pass very quickly. However, this sort of a tour has a specific focus that is not readily apparent from the context. Tim and Garry focus less on the military aspects of this area and more on post-battle topics: monuments, park history, changing locations of roads and wooded areas, unusual geographic formations, and being a detective with historical photographs. All of this is quite interesting, but not a standard battlefield talk by any stretch. When I was able to engage Tim on military strategy issues, I found that he subscribes to the conventional view that Little Round Top was a key objective of Lee's on July 2 and that the loss of the hill would have been a catastrophe for the Union. In the Wikipedia article I edited, you will see that I do not buy into that. The defense of Little Round Top was undoubtedly gallant, but I believe the hill was strategically unimportant as a position and I believe General Lee would agree with me. (I know that Troy Harman would.)

A few highlights from the tour: We got to scramble through steep, sticker-infested fields. We saw a number of interesting photographs of the Gouverneur K. Warren statue and all the veterans' groups who visited it, crowding onto his sacred rock, despite a sign that says they are forbidden to do so. We got an explanation of York Haven diabase, something near and dear to the hearts of geologists everywhere, and the 19th-century methods for cutting it. We found out how all those giant boulders are perched precariously on top of each other and got to hold our breath when we walked under Table Rock, a 600-ton boulder that is balancing on three tiny points. We visited Devil's Kitchen and found the discarded skin of a large snake. We heard about terrible trolley car accidents near the Slaughter Pen and the two amusement parks in the area. I also got a better insight into Wofford's Brigade and how it was turned back by Crawford's division as it reached Little Round Top.

All in all, an enjoyable day, made even better by beautiful fall weather on the battlefield. Immediately after Tim's tour, he gave me a ride to Seminary Ridge and the opening session of the ALBG weekend.


I recently became an associate member of the Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides, a group whose name should be completely self-explanatory. Every year or so the Association conducts a seminar in which Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides go into depth on various topics around a particular theme. This year's theme ("The war had been brought to our very door: July 1, 1863") involved the retreat of Union forces on the first day of the battle..

The conventional wisdom of the Union retreat is that the XI Corps fell apart on Barlow's Knoll and that this caused the entire Union line to collapse, division after division, counterclockwise to Seminary Ridge. What I learned at the seminar was that there is great disagreement and poor documentation regarding what really happened. There are proponents who suggest that the I Corps troops under Robinson, at the center of the line, folded first, which caused the collapse of the two flanks. Others say that both of the flanks collapsed at once.

Rich Kohr

Rich Kohr

Joanne Lewis
Joanne Lewis

Here is the agenda.

  • Coster Ave.
    Charles Fennell, Warren Motts, Mark Dunkelman, and Wayne Motts on Coster Ave
    Friday evening, "Seminary Ridge in Peace and War", a session at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. Wayne Motts, licensed battlefield guide and the president of the Adams County Historical Society (and the very enthusiastic narrator of the popular recorded automobile tour of Gettysburg), gave an overview of the society's collection and we went up into the attic of Schmucker Hall, where General Buford walked, but could not ascend into the cupola due to safety reasons. (Wayne hopes that repairs will occur pretty soon and that very limited access will be granted by appointment in the future.) Tim Smith presented a high level overview of the Union retreat.
  • Saturday morning, "Running the Gauntlet" with licensed battlefield guide Rich Kohr, which followed the I Corps retreat from Seminary Ridge in detail. Rich is an excellent presenter. I was particularly impressed with his description of Wainwright's artillery retreat, which started deliberately slowly, but eventually was ordered into a full gallop down Chambersburg Street, 17 guns, three abreast.
  • Saturday afternoon, "It Seemed a Furious Hurricane Passed over the Town" with licensed battlefield guide Joanne Lewis, which was a wide-ranging tour of downtown that concentrated on what the civilians were doing during the retreat. (Susan Boardman did the same tour for half of the group.)
  • Saturday evening after a banquet in the Gettysburg Hotel, "Gettysburg, Then and Now" with Tim Smith, which was an interesting slideshow about buildings downtown before and after the battle. (For those wondering, the Gettysburg Hotel is moderately good, although I had a noisy room overlooking the Diamond and the parking was rather inconvenient due to construction. I was pleased to find there was free WiFi access. The seminar included two breakfasts, two lunches, and one dinner at the hotel, and all were passable by Gettysburg standards.)
  • Sunday morning, "The Flying Dutchmen" with licensed battlefield guide Charles Fennell, which covered the XI Corps retreat in detail. This was the best seminar of the weekend. Charlie was an excellent presenter, with lots of enthusiasm and unafraid to state his opinions. We started at the Almshouse, followed the troops through Gettysburg College, and spent a good deal of time on Coster Avenue. Coster Avenue is a rarely visited part of the battlefield where Coster's brigade put up a valiant stand that gave the retreating soldiers some breathing room. On the side of a warehouse is a beautiful and dramatic mural and it turned out that the artist, Mark Dunkelman, had been there all weekend and I was unaware who he was. (I thought to myself "That guy looks like A.P. Hill.") He gave a speech about how he came to paint the mural and discussed a lot of the details. I left the seminar with a much better appreciation for the XI Corps, which turns out to have executed more of a fighting retreat than conventional wisdom implies. Merely the fact that the Corps had a high number of captured soldiers in their casualty lists implies that they were not running away at full speed (otherwise, they would not have been captured).

Overall, I found this an excellent venue for improving my knowledge and I met a lot of nice people. I am considering whether I should take the LBG exam; the next biannual written exam is in December of 2006. From the very best exam scores (recently they have taken less than the top 10%) they select people to undergo some focused training and then an oral exam that consists of giving an actual two-hour tour. Although I am confident I could study enough to pass the written exam in 2006 or 2008, I would not be able to meet the requirements for giving the minimum number of tours in a year afterward, so this would have to be a purely intellectual exercise for me. But I got some good advice from members on the kinds of questions and the suggested reading list to study.

Civil War Preservation Trust, Lexington, Virginia

The Civil War Preservation Trust is a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefields from the encroachment of developers. Since they began operation they have saved over 20,000 acres, often by purchasing easements that will prevent development outside of the original character of the land. I donated some money to them this year and they invited me to attend a special event called the Grand Review. This year's event was in the historic city of Lexington, Virginia, in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Although the program was relatively short considering a cross-country trip was involved, they offered tours of three battlefields that I had not visited previously, so I went for it.

VMI Review

Lexington is three or four hours away from the nearest convenient airport for me (Dulles), so I flew out on a Thursday and drove only as far as Charlottesville, Virginia, to spend the night. It's a delightful small university town that I once visited in 1973, but remembered little of it. The downtown is quaint and quirky in a manner similar to Berkeley, if you can imagine Berkeley with clean streets, 19th-century buildings, and without 10 smelly people per block. The Main Street has been blocked off into a pedestrian mall and is filled with sidewalk cafés. In the morning I drove to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home, and I was duly impressed with the beautiful grounds and buildings. He had quite a flair for architectural design and a tour guide told us that this was the first house on the American continent that was constructed using a written plan.

Friday afternoon was a drive over the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Shenandoah Valley, heading south ("up the valley") to Lexington. The first event was a talk at VMI about the history of the Institute and a background on their weekly parades of the cadet corps. The parade was very well done and it brought back some memories for me of my army days, when I was on the other side of the reviewing stand (although not in such a fancy uniform). (My one beef was the selection of music. The only CW-era tune I recognized was Just Before the Battle, Mother.) We were escorted by a handful of cadets who were dressed in Civil War era Confederate uniforms, carrying their Enfield rifled muskets. The thing that surprised me about these cadets and VMI cadets in general is that only 50 to 60% end up taking a commission in the Armed Forces. The VMI musuem was pretty interesting, with a focus on Stonewall Jackson and the Civil War, of course, but also George C. Marshall and WWII.

Col. Gibson
Col Gibson at New Market
Little Sorrel
Little Sorrel at the Hall of Valor
John Heatwole
John Heatwole at Cross Keys

Saturday was the main day of the event and it included a lot of bus riding and three battlefield tours. My bus was guided by John Heatwole, a local historian who did a superb job of setting the context for the 1862 and 1864 Valley campaigns and went into a lot of good detail regarding the battles of Cross Keys and Port Republic, two great victories of Stonewall Jackson's in 1862. Near Cross Keys, we stopped at the Widow Pence's house, a landmark of the battle and the first major piece of battlefield land protected by the Trust. At Port Republic, we climbed to the top of the Coaling, a very significant hill that dominated the battlefield. I was disappointed to see that someone has built a modern house right on top, but the preserved portions of the hill are adequate to understand its tactical value as an artillery platform. We had lunch in New Market at the Hall of Valor, the visitor center and museum built by VMI to commemorate the battle, in which 257 VMI cadets fought bravely and made the difference in this 1864 Confederate victory. Colonel Keith Gibson, who was apparently associated with VMI, despite never being introduced, gave the battle description. (The previous evening I had the opportunity to see a movie about this battle called "The Field of Lost Shoes", but it was scheduled a little late after dinner for my taste. So I will have to only imagine the blood and valor.)

Saturday night started off with a reception in the Robert E. Lee House, a private residence on Washington and Lee University grounds, filled with portraits of the great general and later University president. We then continued the reception at the VMI Museum and concluded with dinner at Moody Hall. There was a keynote speech by Ron Maxwell, known to everyone in the audience as the director of the movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals. I expected him to give a typical Hollywood speech about the making of the movies (where did they find the roadkill to make the beard that Tom Berenger wore?), but he gave an eloquent, poetic plea to save the battlefields and our historic heritage. So the dinner was a very nice affair and I got to meet a number of interesting people, including Maxwell, the president and chairman of the Trust, Brian Pohanka's recent widow, Cricket, and Bill Trimble, the great great grandson of General Isaac R. Trimble.

Jim and Bud
Jim Lighthizer and Bud Robertson
Lee statue
Lee in repose, Lee Chapel

After a morning off Sunday, we started after lunch in the Lee Chapel, the first building that Lee had constructed after he became the president of the college. James I. ("Bud") Robertson, the noted Civil War historian from Virginia Tech (you have seen him many times on the History Channel's Civil War Journal) gave a stirring speech on Lee and Jackson. We saw Lee's white marble statue that depicts him lying in death as if he were sleeping in his field tent. This is probably one of the most beautiful statues I've ever seen, intricately detailed and sensitively portrayed. After this point a lady from the Visitors Bureau conducted us on the rest of the tour. We went downstairs and saw the Lee family crypt, a portrait gallery, gift shop, and outside, the grave of Traveller. We walked over to the Lee house that we visited last night and saw that there was a stable connected directly to the house. The door is now left open so that the spirit of Traveller can come and go freely. We walked around the campus and town for a while and spent a good deal of time at Stonewall Jackson's house, which is really quite interesting and very nicely restored. Members of the staff give an excellent tour that covers his life and eccentricities. We also saw the pew in the Presbyterian Church where Jackson worshiped and his monument in the cemetery.

Traveller's Grave
Jackson's Grave
Jackson's Grave

All in all, a stimulating and very enjoyable weekend and I will seriously consider attending their next year's event, which will be in Memphis.

Blue and Gray Education Society Stones River Staff Ride

My final trip for 2005 was to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to take advantage of a staff ride program put on by the Blue and Gray Education Society for the Battle of Stones River. A staff ride is a format of analyzing battles in which analysis of and touring the field site is used as a basis for examining military lessons that should have been apparent to the commanders at the time, primarily oriented around the principles of war. Early December was selected for the event in an attempt to simulate the cold weather conditions of the battle, which took place from December 31, 1862, to January 2, 1863. They succeeded on the weather front.

I flew to the dinky Nashville airport the night before and had most of the following day free, so I drove 25 miles west to visit Franklin, Tennessee. The Battle of Franklin was one of the most horrific in the Civil War, featuring a reckless and near suicidal assault by Confederate General John Bell Hood against entrenched Union forces. Franklin is well known in the Civil War preservation community as a place that has been very difficult to preserve. The local citizens seem to have little interest in the effort, perhaps because it was such a traumatic event in their history. There is a famous location on the battlefield where Confederate General Patrick Cleburne (the "Stonewall Jackson of the West") was killed and for years it has been occupied by a Pizza Hut restaurant. Progress had been made just recently to purchase the rights for the property. I had hoped to drop in to the hut and have a slice of pizza before it was torn down, but I managed to arrive in Tennessee the night of the 141st anniversary of the battle, so I missed the big ceremony in which the mayor bulldozed the restaurant, watched by celebrities such as Ed Bearss. The next day, December 1, I was able to get a photograph of the pile of rubble.

Tom Cartwright at Carter House
Tom Cartwright, Carter House tour
Franklin Pizza Hut
Death of the Cleburne Pizza Hut
Carnton plantation
Carnton Plantation rear porch

It is very difficult to track where the battle occurred in Franklin because it is mostly developed into housing, but there are two interesting places to visit. The Carter House was at the center of a partial Confederate breakthrough during the assault and heaviest fighting occurred here. There is a small museum with a very good short film about the battle. I also took a tour of the historic house with a local historian, Tom Cartwright, whom I recognized from programs on the History Channel. It was a good tour, but I was accompanied by 40 high school students, so it was not an historically deep experience for me. The other place was the Carnton Plantation, which served as a Confederate hospital for months after the battle and is prominent for two things: all of the Confederate generals killed during the battle, including Cleburne, were laid in state on the expansive rear porch for the men to see; also, the recent novel Widow of the South was based on the owner of the property, Carrie McGavock, and her experiences interacting with the wounded and developing the Confederate cemetery. The interior of the house, through which I had an excellent guided tour, is gorgeous, one of the most spectacular restorations I've ever seen.

That afternoon the staff ride program began with a five-hour introduction in the classroom, presented by Brigadier General (retired) Parker Hills, owner of a firm named Battle Focus, who has a lot of experience in Civil War battles (particularly Vicksburg and Shiloh, but lots of others as well) and in conducting staff rides for American military officers, foreign military officers, and civilians. We went over the tenets of Jomini and Clausewitz, the nine principles of war (hint: the acronym MOUSE MOSS lists them), and other battle principles important to commanders. We also covered the strategic situation of the Stones River Campaign, and analyzed the abilities and characteristics of all the major generals in the battle. I was amazed and amused to see that Parker used battle maps in his PowerPoint presentation that I had created only weeks before for my Wikipedia article about the battle. He did not realize that I was the artist/topographer/nerd who drew the maps. But he gave me some very nice compliments about them and a number of people in the class seemed very interested in checking out Wikipedia.

On the first full day of the program we met Jim Ogden, chief historian for the National Park Service Stones River and Chickamauga/Chattanooga National Military Parks. Jim was our primary tour guide for the battlefield and is an amazing font of historical knowledge about these battles and the Civil War in general. The day was very cold, or at least it seemed so, because we spent a lot of time outdoors without a lot of movement or physical activity. (The morning started windy in the mid-20s and never went above 40.) We covered the days that preceded the battle and then concentrated on the first part of the December 31 action, most of what occurred until Sheridan had to retreat under heavy pressure. I was relatively disappointed in the battlefield itself. The portion that is managed by the National Park Service is quite small, covering primarily the ground under the small defensive oval into which the Union forces were driven, highlighted by the "Slaughter Pen" and the Round Forest ("Hell's Half Acre"). The rest of the very large battlefield has been almost completely developed and includes elevated highways, broad commercial boulevards, housing developments, strip malls, and lots of traffic. Roads have been rerouted and hills flattened. However, it is relatively easy to understand what went on in the battle if you can keep your sense of direction with all of the road changes. The primary actions on December 31 occurred in an area that was mostly flat, so it is easy to imagine what happened. That evening we all went out to dinner in a building across the street from the first of General Braxton Bragg's headquarters: Hooters! (I hope none of the wives are reading this web page, or if they are, that they cannot imagine the kind of double entendres their husbands managed to invent, connecting Civil War activities to earthy pleasures. Most of the husbands behaved themselves as gentlemen, however. Only a few Joe Hookers in a group of Robert E. Lees)

Jim Ogden
Jim Ogden and Parker Hills' back (but his webpage has his face on display)
Stones River cannon
Cannon disturbed by Stones River limestone outcroppings

On the second day, we concluded the December 31 action by following the route the Confederate attackers took towards the Round Forest and then visited the monument and small cemetery placed by Hazen's Brigade, the defenders. A bit more interesting was a visit to McFadden's Ford and the heights on the east side of the river. The latter was completely covered by a housing development, but it was interesting to see the terrain used for Breckenridge's attack and his bloody repulse by Mendenhall's artillery. Although we had intermittent light rain, the temperatures improved enough so that the day was comfortable. We finished up with a "banquet" at a local barbecue restaurant. I received a "diploma" with my name misspelled. (For some reason, the instructions for the class indicated we would have an exam and I had been looking forward to it acing it, but I guess that was too nerdy and no exam occurred.)

I found the experience very gratifying, a little light on the military analysis (after the classroom session), a bit heavy on standing around listening to lengthy passages being read from the Official Records. The best part was the people. Parker and Jim were excellent, but I also enjoyed the interaction with Don Schafer of the Society and the other eight attendees, all of whom were quite expert in Civil War topics and had many experiences to share about touring other battlefields. The tour was quite intimate and was able to fit into one crowded van; they originally advertised a limit of 25 people, which would have made it a completely different experience. A small group allowed everyone to hear my wisecracks clearly. So I look forward to future Blue and Gray Education Society staff rides. They have a very intriguing selection lined up for 2006 and the only question is how much time I can afford to spend traveling to join them.

Happy New Year!