2007 Civil War Travelogue

Welcome to my 2007 travelogue page. Due to job changes this year, I have been able to take considerably fewer trips this year. Check out these links:

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.

Civil War Preservation Trust Meeting, Portsmouth, Virginia

Norfolk Navy Yard

View from my hotel room — Norfolk Navy Yard

Well, after a long drought of Civil War travel (I have a new job at a startup company, which restricts the amount of time I am able to spend on travel like this), I have hit the road again and attended the annual Civil War Preservation Trust meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia. It was great to see a number of old friends and to visit an area of Virginia that was new to me. As is my habit, when I go touring to a new area, I use the discipline of researching and writing Wikipedia articles to get me up to speed on what I'm going to see. In this case, my emphasis was on George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles, so I expanded all of the articles in that series. (If you are interested in the individual battle articles, click on either of those two campaign links and you will see a list of all of the articles in a box near the top.)

Thursday, April 19

The long weekend started off with a morning of tours for CWPT Color Bearers (the folks who donate more than a minimum amount annually to the Trust). The organizers were surprised and pleased to see that over 50% of the attendees this year were Color Bearers. Our tour guide was once again Ed Bearss, still hanging in there despite a recently broken arm, which does not seem to have slowed him down a bit. I was a bit unprepared because about half of the tour covered the Siege of Suffolk, of which I knew little and have not written a Wikipedia article. I will get to that one of these days. In this minor 1863 campaign, James Longstreet took two divisions from his First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and besieged Suffolk, Virginia, part of southeastern Virginia that was Union occupied from early in the war.

We had two stops on this part of the tour. The first was to see where, on April 14, 1863, a Confederate battery fired on Union gunboats in the Nansemond River, an action that is sometimes called the Battle of Norfleet House. This was an amusing stop because the CWPT had not bothered to coordinate with the property owner in the suburban housing development overlooking the river and a lady ran out of her house wanting to know why a giant bus unloaded a group of gawkers on her property. When it was explained, it turned out she did not even know there was any Civil War connection to her property at all and she was quite pleased to find out. (Maybe she will now embed a fake cannonball in the side of her house to attract more tourists.)

Cannonball in the Yorktown Nelson House

Ed Bearss

Dam Number One

Hal ready to be chauffeured

(Note: I normally don't have pictures of myself in these reports, but the two in here and the one of Ed in the cart were taken by Don Wiles and looked pretty good. Thanks, Don.

The second stop was to the Nansemond River Golf Course, the vantage point for the Battle of Hill's Point. Once again we winged it. Ed and David Duncan asked permission of the golf course for us to look at the river—the backup plan was to stand in the parking lot a mile away—and they enthusiastically volunteered their fleet of golf carts to transport us. We paired up and started a caravan of 20 golf carts to the 17th hole. There, we were able to get a good look at Fort Huger, a Confederate battery, where a minor action took place on April 19. Afterwards, we saw a small case in the golf clubhouse that had various battlefield memorabilia. I will have to say that virtually everyone thought the golf carts were more interesting than the battle!

Two more stops were planned, although unrelated to Suffolk. The first was Fort Boykin on the right bank of the James River, the artillery anchor to the western end of the Warwick Line, which was John B. Magruder's defensive position on the Virginia Peninsula, extending to Yorktown. It was moderately well preserved and had interesting views of the river. The final stop was supposed to be yet another Fort Huger, farther up the river, also with the mission to prevent Union gunboats from ascending the James. We did not get to see that because we started getting lost and time was running out. If anyone thinks that there is no place in the military universe Ed Bearss has not visited, they should have taken this tour.

After returning and having lunch, we had an interesting panel discussion and Q&A on the Peninsula Campaign featuring Ed, J. Michael Moore, Dick Sommers, and Bobby Krick. And then Craig L. Symonds gave a talk on the Battle of Hampton Roads (Monitor versus Virginia/Merrimack). I had seen Craig give a very similar talk to the Sacramento meeting last November, but it was still quite entertaining. He is a superb speaker. Interestingly, both versions of Craig's talk were marred by PowerPoint failures. (I talked to him afterwards and he is thinking about changing over to a Macintosh.) The day ended with a nice reception and dinner for the Color Bearers, followed by a dessert reception open to all, with entertainment by a small period musical group, Southern Horizon. At the dinner, Bobby Krick talked briefly about the Battle of Glendale and how important it is to preserve battlefields. The point that really struck home was that battlefields that have not been preserved adequately are rarely the subjects of modern books, and thus fade from our memory even faster. He said that there are no good books on the Battle of Seven Pines primarily because the battlefield is essentially gone. (That may inspire me to start working on one. We'll see how my employment situation works out. At the very least, I am going to make a major effort to improve the Wikipedia article on it.)


The meat of this annual conference is the two days of major touring. I will have to say that I misjudged the geography of this conference, which was obviously selected to highlight the USS Monitor and its new museum in Newport News. It seemed like everyone else took tours by boat of the Battle of Hampton Roads, while I concentrated on the land battles of the Peninsula and the Seven Days. Somehow I looked at the tiny finger of land on the map and assumed that Portsmouth would be a convenient jumping off point to most of the Virginia Peninsula. Well, I did not figure on 70-mile drives and severely congested tunnels and bridges going through Norfolk and across Hampton Roads. We spent all too many an hour on the bus; on Friday, the return drive from Eltham's Landing was 2.25 hours! (Fortunately, Saturday traffic was much lighter.)

But despite my logistical grousing, the tours were well organized and informative. Kudos to Melissa Meisner as usual. Despite Ed Bearss likening her to Dracula and Chris Kolakowski referring to her as Feld Marshall Meisner, she and the CWPT staff did a fabulous job making the buses run on time and all the other conference aspects work flawlessly.

Hal and Ed Bearss

Hal and Ed (Thursday)

Cannonball in the Yorktown Nelson House

Cannonball in the Nelson House

The Friday tour I selected was "Peninsula Campaign, Part Two" and Bobby Krick was the guide. (I am referring to Robert E. L. Krick, historian at the Richmond Battlefield National Park, son of Robert K. Krick.) Despite its name, the tour concentrated on the lower Peninsula and overlapped quite a bit with Part One. After our bus driver, "Big Willie," took a wrong freeway exit, we started with an ad hoc tour of old downtown Norfolk and saw the house where Walter H. Taylor (chief of staff to Robert E. Lee) grew up, and the Dr. Seldon House, where Lee visited in 1870. Our first scheduled stop was in Yorktown at the National Park Visitor Center. The Peninsula must be where the schizophrenic NPS employees work because their ground covers multiple historic eras. Yorktown, unfortunately, is a lot more famous for the American Revolutionary War than it is for the Civil War, so there is very little focus on the latter. We walked on some impressive entrenchments, which is something you generally do not get to do in a national park, but since the CCC rebuilt these during the Depression, I guess they figure they can always be rebuilt again when they erode. (Suggestion to Jim Lighthizer: create a "CWPTCC.") The funny thing is that these entrenchments were actually built by John B. Magruder in the Civil War, taking advantage of some of Cornwallis's entrenchments. I don't think that any of the original English entrenchments remain anywhere after 200 years. Walking around in the picturesque, tiny village of Yorktown, we were able to find one building with Civil War significance, the Nelson House, which was used as a hospital.

The siege of Yorktown took place in April 1862 and had no impact on the town itself. George B. McClellan brought up all of his siege artillery, but the Confederates withdrew in early May a day before he was ready to open fire. The only combat activities for the month were at Lee's Mill on April 5 and Dam No. 1 on April 16. (I was surprised to find that these were separate actions because my favorite book on the Peninsula Campaign, by Steven W. Sears, treats the two names as synonyms for the April 16 action. Confusion can result because the same Vermont Brigade regiments participated in both battles, or skirmishes really. Bobby Krick told me that the Sears book is great for politics and overall strategy, but lacks accurate detail in its battle descriptions. He said that until 10 years ago, information about the Peninsula Campaign was not deeply studied and a lot of new materials are coming to light. Unfortunately, he had no recommendations for me on alternative, newer books. The bad news for me is that I wrote my Wikipedia articles leaning heavily on Sears, so I will need to do some backpedaling and correcting.)

Dam Number One
Crossing the reservoir near Dam No. 1

We drove to the site of Dam No. 1, which is maintained as part of a nice county park. The Warwick River here has been dammed up and is considerably wider than it was at the time. We crossed a long footbridge and walked the path around the hill on the northern shore, seeing where four companies of the Vermont Brigade crossed over in a rather pointless reconnaissance in force, losing 213 casualties for no discernible gain. The area is nicely interpreted by Virginia Civil War Trails signage. In a lucky coincidence, our tour was accompanied by members of the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and one of its members (his name now forgotten) did his masters dissertation on this battle. He was able to provide us with interesting additional details about the battle and its aftermath. During the action, William F. "Baldy" Smith twice fell off his horse and a court of inquiry investigated whether he was drunk on duty. The standard historical answer is that they exonerated him, but our guest cited a letter that Baldy wrote to his wife, indicating that he was in fact drinking that day. He supposedly swore off drinking for the rest of the war.

Our next stop was historic Williamsburg, but we never entered the town. We visited Redoubt 14, one of the fortifications that Magruder built for his backup defensive line. During the Battle of Williamsburg, Winfield S. Hancock occupied this fortification (along with Redoubt 11) and fought off a counterattack by Jubal Early and D.H. Hill, the action in which he received his nickname, "Hancock the Superb." I think this fortification may be the most well preserved I have ever seen from the era. It is off the beaten path, in the NPS right of way for the road called the Colonial Trail, and is obviously rarely seen by tourists. George Custer exhibited one of his early acts of impetuosity by riding his horse into this fortification before he was fully convinced that there were no Confederates in it.

Then, closer to town, we visited the site of Fort Magruder (Redoubt 6). This was quite a disappointment because there is literally nothing left of the site. All that remains is a stone monument inside an empty lot surrounded by a wire fence; Bobby was able to get the key so that we could walk inside. But you really have to use your imagination to understand what the battle or the fortification may have been like. This is an area where colonial history has completely obliterated the Civil War.

Our final stop was a long drive to Eltham's Landing, where William B. Franklin landed his troops from the York River in an aborted attempt to cut off the Confederate retreat toward Richmond. There was not a lot to see here except for a large open field, but a local man who specialized in the battle gave us a detailed description of what Sears calls a "heavy skirmish." Due to time constraints, we were not able to drive to see the actual landing site on the river.

After a lot of standing in the warm sun and the 2.25-hour drive I mentioned, I was completely exhausted. My friend Don Wiles and I were scheduled to continue that evening with a tour of Fort Monroe and dinner, but we saw the miles of traffic backed up and bailed out. (Others who attended said that the fort museum was interesting, but the dinner was served outside where it was dark and cold, so we were not disappointed.) We took a paddlewheel ferry over to Norfolk and found a nice steakhouse for dinner.


We returned to the Peninsula for highlights of the Seven Days Battles, the second half of the Peninsula campaign in which Robert E. Lee drove McClellan away from Richmond. Fortunately, Saturday traffic in the area was light and we only had to contend with sunburn as an obstacle for the day. There were two tour guides for the two buses, Chris Kolakowski, a historian who used to be employed by the CWPT and is now concentrating his efforts in Kentucky on the Battle of Perryville, and Mike Andrus, a historian with the Richmond Battlefield National Park. Mike was not able to join the drive up on the bus, so our bus had Chris on the drive up and the other bus had him on the drive back. This was good for our bus, because we got the overview and background of the Peninsula Campaign before the battles, not after them.

Cold Harbor cemetery

Cold Harbor Cemetery

Chris Kolakowski and Mike Andrus

Chris Kolakowski and Mike Andrus

First stop was the Cold Harbor Visitor Center, which of course is on the field of the 1864 battle, but is only yards away from the battlefield of Gaines' Mill. There we essentially puttered around the bookshop and wandered off to see some Confederate entrenchments. We skipped the first two battles of sthe Seven Days (Battle of Oak Grove and Battle of Beaver Dam Creek) for reasons of time and lack of preservation and went directly to the Battle of Gaines' Mill, which was the largest battle during this campaign. The national park boundary covers only a small portion of the battle, the left flank of the Union line. Although Chris and Mike gave a good explanation of the battle, it was disappointing that we could not see more of the scene. A good part of the battlefield is in the private hands of the Adams family. I was able to visit that farm last year with Gary Gallagher's University of Virginia seminar about Cold Harbor; I hope the land eventually gets preserved and made accessible to the public. It was too bad we missed Beaver Dam Creek (also known as Mechanicsville) because I would have liked to have seen the terrain that the Union defended and because that battle was the event that caused McClellan to start planning his retreat, even though it was a victory for the Union. Our tour guides did not give a very clear explanation of the timeline for those decisions.

Next we visited the Battle of Savage's Station, or at least we got pretty close. The site of the actual battle is now covered by a giant freeway cloverleaf. This was a relatively minor battle, although it could have been very important if Stonewall Jackson had shown up in time and attacked the rear end of the Union column as it retreated. Jackson had a simply awful performance during the campaign, which many historians blame on his fatigue from the recent Valley Campaign. Our tour guides neglected to mention the colorful story of the Land Merrimack, which was the first use of railroad mounted artillery. We stopped at the White Oak Swamp Creek bridge and discussed yet another failure of Jackson's, his inability to attack as Lee intended in the Battle of White Oak Swamp, part of the Battle of Glendale. We had lunch in the Glendale cemetery. A first for me.

lunch in the cemetery

Lunch at Glendale Cemetery

The Battle of Glendale represents a recent success for the CWPT in that it has contracted to preserve 320 acres right in the most important area of the battlefield, a transaction that will cost $4 million when it is completed. Glendale was Lee's last great opportunity to destroy the Army of the Potomac during its retreat and he came pretty close, but poor staff work and poor performances by his subordinates made the difference for the Union. There really is not a lot to see on this battlefield because it is densely wooded, but driving around gives you a good idea of the road network, which was critically important during the Union retreat.

The final battle of the Seven Days was the Battle of Malvern Hill, which ranks with Pickett's Charge as a major blunder by Lee that resulted in terrible casualties. This battlefield is beautifully preserved and you can see exactly why the Confederates were slaughtered by massed Union artillery as they went up the hill. I was surprised that the slope on the Hill is as gentle as it is. Chris made the outlandish statement that it was a 45° angle, but he is a historian, not a mathematician; I estimate it was a 5% slope or less, not much different than Cemetery Ridge. The slope on the river side of the hill, which is known as the Malvern Cliffs, was considerably steeper.

Malvern Hill

Looking down Malvern Hill

Wildcats band

The Wildcats

All in all, this was a great day for me because these were some of the most significant Civil War battles that I had not had an opportunity to visit before. At night we had the traditional closing banquet in which we were serenaded by a band in period uniforms, the Wildcats of the 105th Pennsylvania. Jim Lighthizer gave out 10 preservation awards and we had a jolly old time. I had an early flight in the morning, so I retired early and had to skip some of the closing activities Sunday morning, such as a Q&A. Next year's conference will be in Springfield, Missouri. I will have to take a look at a map and see whether the battlefields they have chosen to visit are within reasonable bus commuting distance before I decide whether to attend.

Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce Seminar on Antietam

[Note: I must apologize for the quality of some of the photographs for this trip. I stupidly forgot to take my camera battery charger and had to buy a disposable film camera as a substitute. Then, I stupidly left the disposable camera in my checked luggage, which undoubtedly got partially damaged by x-rays at Harrisburg airport.]

For the last few years at the Civil War Institute in Gettysburg, friends there have recommended that I try Ted Alexander's Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce seminars. (Ted is chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield Park.) So this year I did, attracted by the very strong program on the Battle of Antietam. My bottom-line assessment of the seminar is that it is smaller, more intimate, more focused, and very much more intensive than the Civil War Institute. I had an excellent time and learned a lot.

Unlike many of the seminars, which are typically held in hotels in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, this was held relatively near to the battlefield in Hagerstown, Maryland. The Plaza Inn was a comfortable if unremarkable hotel. Wait a minute, let me amend that. The Plaza Inn is located at 1718 Underpass Way, which has got to be one of the most mundane addresses for a commercial enterprise I can imagine, so that's remarkable to a degree.

The seminar officially ran from Thursday through Sunday, but I attended an optional day of touring on Wednesday and chose to skip the wind-down exercises on Sunday so that I could get back home in time for a partial weekend.

Wednesday, July 25

From a small selection of optional tours, I selected an all-day tour called Antietam off the Beaten Path, conducted by Ed Bearss and Ted Alexander. This was a lot of fun. The premise was to take us to places that few people ever visit and I can assure you that I have never visited any of these places prior to this. Here is the blow-by-blow:

  • Mural
    Ted and Ed at the Rochester mural
    We started in downtown Hagerstown and visited the Nathanial Rochester house. Well, we visited the mural painted on the side of the parking lot that was erected after they demolished the house in the 1950s. Nathanial Rochester achieved fame by having a city in northern New York named for him. It was relevant for the tour because the house was a hospital after the battle and a wounded Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. stayed there for five days while he recuperated. Ed told an amusing anecdote about Holmes getting a serious crush on a young woman named Ellen and then meeting her again late in life, only to find that his youthful ardor had dissipated. And it was mutual.
  • Next was the Washington (County) Confederate Cemetery, which is a fenced off portion of the regular Hagerstown Cemetery, dedicated for the interment of Confederate dead from Antietam (Sharpsburg, as they would insist on calling it), but not too close to the Union dead. It is a very odd cemetery because it contains a detailed plot map on a small monument, which gives the location of many graves by name, but there are no markers on any but two in a large field.
  • Heading over to Sharpsburg, we stopped at the Manor Church of the Brethren, which is the mother church of the Dunkers; the Dunker Church, of course, is the famous landmark on the Antietam Battlefield. Another church I found interesting was the "Ground Squirrel Church," which has got to take the cake for the most unusual church name available. The exciting event at the Manor Church was a skunk sighting. Apparently my fellow tour attendees were mostly city slickers. They also got all hot and bothered about three deer that they saw later in the day at the C&O Canal. I didn't tell them that I have more deer than that living in my own yard in California.
  • In downtown Sharpsburg, which is a very small, very quiet town that does not appear to have reached the 20th century yet, we marched past a number of famous houses, including the Grove House, where General Lee slept one night and had meetings during the battle. Some accounts say that John Bell Hood's famous quotation that his division was "dead on the field" was spoken at the Grove House.
  • We ducked down a small alleyway and found a surprise—an underground spring whose water was apparently one of the reasons the town was founded there.
  • Lunch was in the recreation room of the Christ Reform Church, which was notable for the numerous stained-glass windows that had been donated by veterans groups. It is amusing to see stained-glass windows with cannonball images in a church.
  • Mural
    Newcomer farm
    Privately built Lee statue
    Out on the actual battlefield, we visited the Newcomer Farm close to the Middle Bridge over Antietam Creek. The farm is now being restored, but it does not have a truly important heritage that I can tell. It appears in a few historic photographs of the region. (Some Civil War guys are like CSI technicians when they're given old photographs, trying to interpret every last pixel in the context of the present day.) And it was also near the location where two brigades of George Sykes's division of the V Corps sat around without doing anything. An obscure roadside marker records the event for posterity.
  • Just southeast of downtown, we visited Magraw Mill, which was part of the IX Corps assault late in the day, and it was also fed by the stream that was the same as the spring downtown. It is now a very attractive inn. (One of the guys told me breathlessly that it recently sold for $1.6 million! I didn't know whether he thought that was expensive or inexpensive. By California standards, it is dirt cheap for a property of that quality.)
  • We headed south to the Potomac River and visited Boteler's Ford, which was Lee's primary escape route. Ed described how he had actually forded the Potomac himself at that point a few years earlier (in his late 70s), but nobody took him up on it to duplicate his feat today. This area was right next to the C&O Canal, and we got into a nasty spat with a local park ranger about blocking the towpath; he was really sort of a jerk, but no harm was done other than ruffled feathers. However, Ted Alexander got the big political guns booming and John Howard, the superintendent of the Antietam Battlefield, later issued an apology to us and said he would take it up with his fellow superintendent on the C&O.
  • We visited the driveway of the Grove Farm, which was the location of the famous photograph in which Lincoln is greeting McClellan with a number of generals and staff officers posing for the camera. (This is probably not the location for the other famous photograph of Lincoln and McClellan conversing inside a tent, which was probably at McClellan's post-battle headquarters. We actually saw that building a little later in the tour.)
  • One of the highlights of the day was driving past the building where General Burnside made his headquarters after the battle, a stately brick mansion. It is now Dennis Frye's house and many an Oooh and Aaah was heard as we passed.

That evening, we had dinner on our own and a very elaborate chocolate-fountain buffet dessert reception. We then went a couple of hours into the night. I told you this was intense. There were three speakers:

  • John Howard, the superintendent of the Antietam National Battlefield, who gave the typical superintendent talk about how great his people and volunteers are. There was no particular news. I found out that, unlike Gettysburg, trees have not grown up to obscure the battlefield and the program at Antietam is to actually plant more forests to restore the original 1862 condition. The National Park Service is also very concerned about recent legislation authorizing large-scale power line installations in the Northeast.
  • Bob O'Connor, who is apparently the man who originated the practice of setting out commemorative luminaria on the battlefield, talked about his new book about Lincoln's bodyguard.
  • Stephen Recker gave us a preview of a beta release of his software product, Virtual Antietam. Stephen is an interesting character who has for many years been a professional musician as well as a battlefield enthusiast and photographer. An interesting mix.


Mess Hall
Philadelphia Brigade Park Mess Hall

I, still on Pacific time, got up at 5 a.m. to get on the 5:45 a.m. bus departure. I think the organizers had a good idea to get the touring done early in the day, particularly since thunderstorms were forecast, but it was still quite jarring to get up that early, particularly with an unused five dollar hotel breakfast voucher burning a hole in my wallet. The published excuse was we wanted to arrive on the battlefield at the same time the soldiers started their attack. We arrived to find a nice hot breakfast was being served in a tent at the Philadelphia Brigade monument in the West Woods. (These Chambersburg guys have their logistics down cold. Too bad John Bell Hood's Texans did have their services.) We used this location is our central dispatching point for tours the rest of the day.

Ethan and Tom on the Lee tour

My morning tour was with Tom Clemens and Ethan Rafuse, Lee at Sharpsburg. Tom is a professor at a Hagerstown community college who is very knowledgeable about the campaign and Ethan is a well-known author (and McClellan expert) who works at the Army's Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth. Although there was not a lot of substance to the tour — riding around in the bus to see where Lee spent time personally during the campaign — there was a lot of good discussion about strategic issues during the campaign and I found it quite enjoyable. One of our guides' basic premises was that Lee actually did not intend to fight at Sharpsburg, which explains why his army did not build entrenchments. We started off in Keedysville, spend some time overlooking the Middle Bridge, and then Cemetery Hill and the oak grove in which his actual headquarters tents were erected. An interesting insight was that Jeb Stuart didn't perform substantially better at Antietam than he did the following year at Gettysburg, and both Tom and Ethan had some disparaging things to say about him, as did General Lee. Apparently Stuart was effective only south of the Potomac River.

Pat Falci
Pat Falci at lunch

After a box lunch, I joined Ed Bearss for his walking tour, The Cornfield to the Bloody Lane. We started at the Joseph Poffenberger farm and followed the advances of the I Corps (Hooker), XII Corps (Mansfield/Williams), and II Corps (Sumner, Sedgwick's division). One insight I obtained on this tour was that the actual Cornfield (Miller's cornfield) is a good deal smaller than the acreage you normally see planted in corn on the battlefield today. The historic Cornfield was only 30 acres and occupied a very small section near Cornfield Avenue.

The heat started to rise and everyone got pretty wiped out, although we were thankful that the 60% chance of thunderstorms the National Weather Service forecast did not hit us. We had a few hours to relax at the hotel, dinner on our own, and then resumed in the evening. There was a raffle and then a panel discussion on Antietam Commanders: The Best and the Worst. The panelists were Ed Bearss, Ethan Rafuse, a guy who looked familiar but whose name escapes me, and Pat Falci (a professional actor who goes around dressed as A.P. Hill, playing him in the movie Gettysburg). The answers from the panel were rather varied. Two of them named Edwin Sumner as the worst, two of them named A.P. Hill as the best. No one named McClellan as the worst, which caused a question from the audience, bringing a lot of comments from Ethan about how McClellan did very well in the campaign. (This was a topic that would come up again during the seminar.)

There were a number of tours that conflicted with each other, so I was not able to attend any of these interesting opportunities:

  • Longstreet at Sharpsburg
  • Sedgwick's Attack in the West Woods
  • Alexander Gardner's Photo Views of Antietam
  • Antietam's Lost Battalion: Greene's Division and Tompkin's Battery
  • The Attack of the Texas Brigade
  • The Irish Brigade at Bloody Lane
  • Artillery Hell
  • Lincoln's Antietam Visit
  • Antietam the Soldier's Battle
AP Hill
Pat Falci as A.P. Hill
(Note: photo copied from
Chambersburg website)

There were a couple of evening sessions that were scheduled too late for me to attend; I lack some of the late-night stamina necessary for this conference.

  • Up Came Hill: General Ambrose Powell Hill in the Maryland Campaign with Pat Falci.
  • 10:30 p.m. Insomniacs Session: What if? Counterfactual history at Antietam with Ed Bearss "and friends."


Today we stayed at the hotel all day for numerous seminars. It was difficult to choose the appropriate ones because many seemed of interest and as many as four were going on simultaneously. Here's a full list, with some commentary about the ones I was actually able to attend:

  • Antietam: A Photographic Journey in Time. Keith Snyder of the National Park Service gave a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that was simply superb. He expertly showed both period and modern photography, sometimes seamlessly transitioning from the past to the present, or from photograph to etching. Very, very effective.
  • Lincoln, Antietam and the Emancipation Proclamation. A panel discussion led by Dennis Frye, with Ethan Rafuse, Ed Bearss, and Edna Medford (a history professor at Howard University). Edna repeated a number of her points in a formal presentation later in the day, but an interesting statistic that Ed offered was that, near the end of the war, the Union had more black servicemen under arms (Army and Navy) than the size of the entire Confederate Army.
  • Civilian Eye for the Rebel Guy: First-Hand Accounts of the Confederate Occupation of Frederick.
  • The Dignity of Free Men: The Story of Tolson's Chapel and Sharpsburg's African-American Community.
  • Drums along the Towpath: The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the Maryland Campaign.
  • The Life and Times of Brigadier General James Nagle.
  • Defending the Bridge: the Second Georgia Infantry at Sharpsburg.
  • Incidents and Anecdotes of Antietam.
  • Mr. Lincoln's Army Prepares to March: The Military Buildup around Washington on the Eve of the Maryland Campaign. Tom Clemens, our tour guide on Wednesday, gave a lengthy presentation on the order of battle of the Army of the Potomac and the challenges McClellan faced in organizing it. One key point I took away was that the cavalry was very weak during the campaign due to losses at Second Manassas.
  • The African-American Response to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Edna Medford read from a written speech that covered both the rapid erosion of slavery that happened organically following the Emancipation Proclamation, but also the blacks' elevated expectations of civil rights that were unstated in the Proclamation, but which they assumed would apply.
  • Ethan Rafuse
    Ethan Rafuse
    Poor Burn: Little Mac, Fitz John, and Fighting Joe: Friendships and Funks at Antietam. Ethan Rafuse also read from a prepared speech that debunked the controversies associated with Burnside's performance during the campaign, that are sometimes blamed on a conspiracy against him by McClellan and Fitz John Porter.
  • Replanting Historic Wood Lots and Preserving the Battlefield Landscape.
  • Battlefield Shrine: the Dunker Church.
  • CSI Antietam: Unraveling the Mysteries of a Historic Battlefield.
  • George B. McClellan at Antietam: Pros and Cons. This was a panel discussion, moderated by Tom Clemens, with Vince Armstrong, Ethan Rafuse, Dennis Frye, and Mark Snell. The majority of the discussion centered on the decision to launch the Union offensive in phases (an en echelon attack) rather than as a single attack across all fronts. This led into some discussions about whether McClellan's reserves were actually as large as conventional wisdom say they are. Hal Nelson in the audience argued pretty strongly that the V Corps and VI Corps had very small casualty figures, which support the conventional view. Dennis pointed out that the Stephen Sears account that shows the VI Corps to the east of Antietam Creek throughout the battle was wrong and that the casualties they took were from Confederate artillery due to their actual position to the west of the Creek. Dennis argued that if McClellan had attempted to attack on September 18, Lee's position was so strong that it would have been Malvern Hill in reverse. Someone asked why Lee didn't use that more concentrated formation on the 17th and Ethan explained that doing so would have severely limited his options for movement, because Lee wanted to retain the option of moving to the north, as in his original plan. I was very surprised that no one brought up the controversy of the lost order; by the time I realized this, the session had expended all of its time for questions.
  • Confederate Artillery at Sharpsburg: Reassessing the Long Arm of Lee. Robert E. L. Krick gave an excellent overview of the artillery considerations of the battle from the Confederate view. Bobby called this one of the very few battles in which the Confederates could say that they had a good day for artillery. They had about 300 cannons in their army at the start of the campaign, managing to get about 220 to the battlefield, but only 32 Napoleons and at least a quarter of the cannons were antique 6-pound smoothbores from the Mexican War. All of the batteries had mixed tubes, which made resupply very difficult. Another interesting tidbit is that Nicodemus Heights is the same elevation as the Cornfield. (It continues to amaze me that McClellan did not deploy cavalry on his flanks, which could have harassed Stuart's horse artillerymen and possibly changed the outcome of this part of the battle.)
  • The Best Dressed Soldier: Uniforms, Weapons and Equipment of the Army of the Potomac.
  • Antietam Commemorations. I stumbled into this one by mistake because of a scheduling mishap. It was a discussion of the dedication of the monuments and the different reunions and anniversaries of the battle, focusing on memorabilia that Steve Recker has collected over the years.
  • The Myth of McClellan's Reserves. I had intended to go to this one by Mark Snell, but that same scheduling mishap intervened. The premise was that he believes the conventional wisdom of McClellan having 20,000 to 40,000 men in reserve is mistaken. Not only does he believe that the numbers are too high, but many of those reserve troops were green, without any combat experience.
  • Lee at Sharpsburg. Once again, scheduling intervened and I wound up in this one by mistake. I had intended to skip it because it was by the same presenter — Ethan Rafuse — as the tour of the same name from yesterday. However, it turned out to have a different focus, of the Confederate strategy of the war before and after Lee's assumption of command of the Army of Northern Virginia. It was pretty interesting, although I take exception to Ethan's dismissal of progress in the Western Theater, 1862-64.
  • Tactics at Antietam. I missed this one by Perry Jamieson, although I was told after the fact that he changed the subject.
  • Unfurl Those Colors: Sumner and the Second Corps at Antietam.
  • Intelligence and Covert Operations during the Maryland Campaign.
  • A Revolution in Field Medical Care: Dr. Jonathan Letterman at Antietam.
  • The Antietam Staff Ride.

We concluded the day with a banquet and auction (over 150 items, almost all donated to benefit battlefield preservation). The surprise dinner speaker was the editor of America's Civil War magazine, who told an interesting anecdote. His magazine and its sister publication, Civil War Times, were recently purchased by the Canadian family that started an enormous health and body building empire, including Shape magazine. I told people at my table that we could expect to see Photoshopped portraits of James Longstreet with sixpack abs in future issues. I sat next to Vince Armstrong and we had a discussion about Wikipedia. He asked me about what I wrote on Edwin Sumner in the Antietam article. When he found that I had written the conventional story about Sumner's participation, he gave me a copy of his book, Disaster in the West Woods, so that I could get the story straight. I knew that Wikipedia stuff would pay off someday. :-)


Another early morning on the battlefield, but we got an extra 30 minutes of sleep in comparison to Thursday. Positively leisurely.

Hal Nelson in Cornfield Keith Nelson and map Hal & Keith at Burnside Bridge
Hal Nelson in the Cornfield
Keith Snyder and his rope map
Hal and Keith at Burnside Bridge
Old Simon statue
"Old Simon" in the national cemetery

After another hot breakfast at Philadelphia Brigade Park, my morning tour was the Antietam Staff Ride, with Hal Nelson (BG USA Ret.) and Keith Snyder. I selected this one because I have been on a few really interesting staff rides with the Blue and Gray Educational Society (see here and here), so I thought I would give it a try. Hal and Keith were very knowledgeable and experienced in the genre — and Ethan Rafuse came along to add his expertise as well — but it was really impossible to do a formal staff ride on a three hour tour. It took on the flavor of "Well, on a real staff ride we would discuss the following thing here. ... Let's get back on the bus." But it turned out to be an enjoyable overview of the battle, something that is always good to reinforce our memories. Keith started us off with an unusual way of discussing the terrain, using very lengthy colored ropes and some tiny props to create a giant map on the ground next to the visitor center. Then we made the typical stops: North Woods, Cornfield Avenue, West Woods, Bloody Lane (with insufficient time to climb the observation tower, which is ironic because that tower was built specifically by the War Department for staff rides), Burnside Bridge, and a ride through the area of the final Union attack. We finished up, as Hal says all staff rides do, in the National Cemetery. When senior officers finish up their staff rides, it is a good thing to remind them of the cost of the theoretical maneuvers that they have been planning.

Dennis Frye
Dennis Frye (right) on Burnside tour

We had an excellent box lunch again and the afternoon tour I selected was Taking Burnside Bridge with Dennis Frye. (Once again, Ethan Rafuse attended the tour. I guess he has been stalking me.) This was an interesting and unconventional walking tour because we spent over two hours before we ever got close to the bridge itself. We climbed up the heights on the Union side of the creek and spent that time discussing McClellan's and Burnside's strategies. Something I didn't know is that Burnside was performing a defensive role for McClellan, guarding the Army in case any Confederate units came up from Harpers Ferry on the eastern side of the creek. The picture we got of the battle was rather different from the conventional story. In a nutshell, the conventional story is that Burnside dithered away time attempting to cross the creek over Rohrbach Bridge, throwing regiment after regiment into futile frontal assaults that were repulsed by Confederate infantrymen firing down from the heights above the bridge like a mini Marye's Heights. Some maintain that it would have been easy for Burnside to bypass the bridge and have his infantry ford at a number of places nearby. (It seems that that story was promoted by Henry Kyd Douglas, a Sharpsburg resident who was on Stonewall Jackson's staff, to make Burnside seem ridiculous.) Finally in the conventional story, Burnside makes it across the bridge, delays further movement, has some success against Lee's right flank, but is hit by A.P. Hill in a surprise attack on his own flank, which brings the Union offensive, and the entire battle, to a halt.

The version of the story we heard today was that Burnside promptly began attacking as soon as McClellan ordered him to, and after a couple of regiments ran into heavy resistance, his men spent two hours trading rifle fire across the creek while the division under Rodman was moving to cross at Snavely's Ford. Once Rodman was on the other bank, Toombs ordered a withdrawal, which was seen by Union signalmen, which caused Burnside to order an assault by the 51st New York and the 51st Pennsylvania. That assault, although it ran into difficulty crossing a sturdy fence, essentially sailed through. Burnside had successfully flanked the Confederates with only about 500 casualties up until that time. Both Dennis and Ethan agreed that the two hours spent organizing the IX Corps to proceed from the bridge crossing was reasonable. From there, the story reconverges. As we roamed around the area waiting for the bus, it was amusing to see a dog fording the Creek next to the bridge and barely getting his chest wet. A few Civil War reenactors also did some partially skinny-dipping. The last time I visited Burnside Bridge, it was practically at flood stage.

Here are the tours that I was not able to attend:

  • Defending Lee's Left (Bobby Krick)
  • The Federal Assault on the Sunken Road (Vince Armstrong)
  • Up Came Hill (I talked with someone who said this was excellent.)
  • The Final Union Assault
  • Antietam Monuments
  • Bloody Lane to Burnside Bridge (Ed Bearss)
Kevin Walker
Kevin Walker emoting at the Mumma Farm's spring

After returning to the hotel for a rest, we boarded the buses again to return to the battlefield, this time to the Mumma (pronounced MOO-ma) Farm. We had a very nice buffet dinner prepared by ladies in period costumes. (Kevin Walker claimed that they used period ingredients, adjusted for modern tastes, but it seemed pretty modern to me all around. The giant chicken breast that I had came from a chicken that probably would have been considered a mutant freak in 1862.) Then we walked down to the Roulette Farm on a lantern-lit pathway and encountered some candlelight vignettes of soldiers chatting after the battle. And we got to visit the Roulette house, which is not normally open to the public and has allegedly not been modified significantly, other than getting electrified, since 1833. All the while we were concerned about an impending thunderstorm. We were getting a lot of lightning and some of the guests were vocally nervous about going outside. It all worked out, however, and the first significant drops of rain were encountered on the bus ride home.

There was an "insomniac" session with Bobby Horton singing, but it was way too late for me.


There were a few sessions scheduled for Sunday, but I got a very early start (3:15 a.m.) to the Harrisburg airport to make it home for a partial weekend. The sessions were scheduled to be:

  • This Hallowed Ground: the History of Antietam National Cemetery.
  • Numbers and Losses at Antietam, by David Martin. (Since I enjoyed his similar work about Gettysburg, I regret missing this one.)
  • Ask the Rangers, panel discussion.

All in all, the Chambersburg seminars were outstanding. My only complaint is that there were too many choices because of overlapping sessions. A number of those seminars and tours would have been interesting to attend. But I can see why they don't want to extend the schedule past the current 3-4 days. I don't know what the seminar will be next year, but I will definitely consider attending again.

Mosby Heritage Area Association, October

After a relatively long hiatus, I am back in the Civil War saddle. I attended the annual Mosby Heritage Area Association seminar in Middleburg, Virginia, the Conference on the Art of Command in the Civil War, focusing on August 28-30, 1862: The Second Battle of Manassas. I am embarrassed to say that, unlike many of my previous Civil War trips, I was unable to spend the time to do a complete rewrite of the Wikipedia articles about the area I was going to be visiting (and to create a T-shirt based on the maps that I drew). I was able to rewrite the Northern Virginia Campaign and took what I thought would be a brief interlude to update the First Battle of Bull Run, but I ran out of time to do research and mapmaking for the Second Battle of Bull Run article and all of the related battle articles of the campaign. I have set myself a goal to get all of these updates done before my birthday in November, so come back from time to time to see what updates I have been able to accomplish. There are a number of maps that I need to draw to make sense out of this complicated battle and campaign. I was able to complete my reading of John Hennessy's Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas and found it to be excellent, a new addition to my list of top five Civil War books in my library. Now I have a considerably better idea of what went on and the book was very helpful to me in preparing for the seminar.

Friday, October 12

Chantilly graves
Chantilly monuments

I arrived the night before and was picked up by my good friend Don, who drove down from New Jersey and provided the car transportation for the trip. Many thanks, Don. Today, the program did not start until 5 p.m., so we had a day free to do wild and crazy things in the Civil War world. Since we were staying in a motel in Chantilly, Virginia (the tony town of Middleburg does not deem to have chain motels or other modern conveniences), the obvious first stop was the Battle of Chantilly. This battle was the final one in the Second Manassas Campaign, although people don't pay very much attention to it. It is mostly remembered for the deaths in battle of two Union generals, Phil Kearny and Isaac Stevens, and for its violent thunderstorm during the fighting. It took us awhile to find the battlefield park, which is maintained by the county and is quite tiny. It consists primarily of a small field hidden in the woods with a tiny graveyard that has two headstones for the two fallen generals. Well, it looks like a graveyard, but in fact, neither general is buried there.

Since we were in the vicinity, we took a major deviation from our Civil War itinerary and visited the new Smithsonian Institution Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center on the Dulles airport grounds. This was simply fabulous! Don was personally involved in the space program and I was a pimply faced teenager during its formative years.

Smithsonian Dulles

Smithsonian Dulles Annex

Enola Gay

Enola Gay

I have visited the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in downtown Washington and the Dulles Annex has hundreds of exhibits that could not fit into that space, some of heroic scale. The new facility, which supposedly cost $311 million of private funds to construct, is large enough to fit a modern aircraft carrier into the hangar, which is over 1000 feet long. It is just crammed with exotic airplanes and spacecraft.

Space Shuttle Enterprise

Some of the highlights I enjoyed were the Space Shuttle Enterprise (much, much larger than I ever imagined), a Concorde supersonic passenger jet, the prototype for the Boeing 707, an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, the Enola Gay (the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima), and the Langley Flyer. We took a tour that was supposed to last 90 minutes but the tour guide got overly enthusiastic and we had to bail out finally at 2 1/2 hours. Very interesting and highly recommended. Admission is free, but the Dulles Airport requires them to charge $12 for parking.

We concluded our independent touring by driving north of Leesburg to visit the Ball's Bluff battlefield. Readers of my travelogues will remember that I have driven past it many times on the way to Gettysburg, but never had the time to stop to visit. This battle of October 1861 was very minor by later standards during the war, but it is interesting for two aspects: (1) It has a major cliff overlooking the Potomac River and there were many Union casualties when soldiers were driven over the edge and drowned in the river, with their bodies sometimes floating as far as Washington, D.C.; (2) It was the only instance of a sitting United States Senator killed in battle—Colonel Edward D. Baker of Oregon (and the founder of the California Brigade)—and this so shocked the Congress that they formed the infamous Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which meddled with Union generals and inflamed the political climate for the remainder of the war. The battlefield is a county park and it is very quiet and pleasant, with a number of trails that pass by moderately informative signage and also lead down to the very dramatic cliffs. Unfortunately, as with many battlefields, it is very difficult to take photographs that give you a good idea of the true nature of the terrain. (The picture below really gives you no idea how formidable the cliff above the Potomac is.) It is quite a good deal more wooded than the battlefield was at the time. Just a few days ago, I ran in my first marathon at Portland and I'm still suffering some knee tenderness, which made some of the steep downward slopes difficult to maneuver.


Ball's Bluff National Cemetery


Potomac River at Ball's Bluff

Finally, Middleburg, a delightful little town on US 50, the site of a minor cavalry battle during the Gettysburg Campaign. It is rather tony and I cannot imagine how much it costs to buy a horse estate in the vicinity, nor can I really imagine dealing with the heat and humidity in the summer, but otherwise it would be a great place to live. :-) The Mosby Heritage Area Association is dedicated to preserving the heritage of primarily Loudoun County and they have employed rather strict zoning restrictions to keep the area in a pristine state, not so dissimilar from its 1860-ish flavor. We met in the town community center and started with wine and hors d'oeuvres. (I was surprised that they did not cough up some Virginia wines, but they limited themselves to the safer California varietals. Since John S. Mosby, the "Gray Ghost" Confederate guerrilla, lived in San Francisco after the Civil War, perhaps that is the appropriate connection.) Then it was two interesting lectures to start the ball rolling. Childs Burden, who organizes the conference, had to announce that John Hennessy was not able to attend due to medical issues (he is expected to recover very soon) and that his two presentations had been substituted by others.

Bill Styple

William B. Styple: General Phil Kearny: The Last Days of the One-Armed Devil

Bill is the author of the recent book, Generals in Bronze, and is a very animated and entertaining speaker. He emphasized the early biography of Kearny, spending not too much time on the Second Manassas connections (nor even Chantilly, for that matter). He asserted that "everything that has been written about Kearny is wrong." The first example is his birth date. I will need to do some additional research on this for the Wikipedia article. He called Kearny the "Patton of the Civil War" in response to an audience complaint that Kearny was too rude to his commanding officers. He believes there is strong evidence to suggest that Kearny was poised to be named the commander of the Army of the Potomac after Second Manassas if he had not been killed at the Battle of Chantilly.

Jeffry D. Wert: Lee and Longstreet During the Second Manassas Campaign

Jeff Wert enjoying the Sunday tour

Jeff is a longtime Civil War author and I have enjoyed his work, including The Sword of Lincoln and his biography of James Longstreet. He also is an animated speaker with a great grasp of the material, requiring no notes to present or answer detailed questions. He maintains that in the Second Manassas campaign, Lee's intent was simply to outmaneuver Pope, not to defeat him in battle unless he could do it at low cost to his army. I thought about asking him for his reaction to the famous quote from Douglas S. Freeman about Longstreet's actions in the battle: "The seeds of much of the disaster at Gettysburg were sown in that instant—when Lee yielded to Longstreet and Longstreet discovered that he would." However, he beat me to the punch and addressed it directly, saying that he believed that it was incorrect and that Longstreet and Lee worked closely together in planning actions during the battle. Longstreet adopted the attitude he would show at Gettysburg not from the delays on the afternoon of August 29, but from the end result of the battle—understanding the value of luring your opponent into attacking you under circumstances favorable to you. He stated that "Not until Gettysburg did soldiers of the Army of the Potomac get leadership they deserved."

Saturday, October 13

We had a day full of interesting lectures at the community center. Lots of snacks, too. Don't go to this seminar series on a diet.

Gary Ecelbarger: An Evaluation of Stonewall Jackson’s Generalship in the Three Days of Battle of the Second Manassas Campaign

Gary Ecelbarger on Stony Ridge

I had not encountered Gary's work before, but based on this presentation and his tour-guiding on Sunday I am very impressed. He also is an excellent speaker and I found his analysis of Stonewall Jackson to be insightful. I have recently started to sour on my overall evaluation of Jackson. Although he is rightly venerated for his "standing like a stone wall" at First Bull Run and his innovative Valley Campaign of 1862, he was a rather poor tactician and had poor results in the Seven Days Battles and the individual battles of the Second Manassas Campaign. His defensive battles at Antietam and Fredericksburg were arguably a lot bloodier for his own soldiers than they should have been. It was not until his masterful flanking march at Chancellorsville and his subsequent death that he returned to the level of achievement his reputation warrants. I would say that Gary agrees with this assessment. He emphasized the piecemeal offensives in the Valley Campaign and indicated that his performance at Second Manassas—particularly Groveton, or Brawner's Farm—were consistent with that model. He was mediocre in facing a smaller force and generally took at least four hours to develop a battle. (He speculated later in the week that the famous "what if" about Stonewall at Gettysburg would have resulted in Stonewall being unable to take Cemetery Hill, because he had insufficient time before darkness to line up his attack. He also thought that Ewell's attack on July 1, 1863, was masterful and that Stonewall would not have been able to duplicate it.) Gary gave detailed analyses of all the actions within the Second Battle of Manassas. He likened the defense of the railroad grade to that of his subsequent defense at Antietam, noting that the famous photograph of the dead Confederates on the Hagerstown Turnpike indicated that Stonewall's men were not ordered to use fence railings, abatis, or other barriers to improve their defensive positions.

Bud Hall
Bud Hall at the Sporting Library

Clark B. Hall: Southern Cavalry Performed Splendid and Vital Service toward Achieving the Fine Result—J.E.B. Stuart, His Gray Cavaliers, and the Second Manassas Campaign

Clark, or "Bud," gave a detailed timeline of the Second Manassas Campaign. He did not spend as much time focusing on cavalry actions as I might have expected from the title of his talk. He did mention the cavalry fight at Lewis's Ford, which is an often overlooked part of the battle.

Peter Carmichael: So Far From God and So Close to Stonewall Jackson—The Execution of Three Shenandoah Valley Soldiers

This was a superb presentation on what I assumed to be a relatively minor subject. Although I knew Peter's name, I had never read his work, but I will now look for it. He was animated, emotional, and forceful in making his points about the methods of discipline in the Army of Northern Virginia, focusing on the fate of three soldiers during the campaign who were executed for desertion. Desertion, or extended AWOL (or "French furlough"), was a very common problem in the Army during the war, particularly during those times when soldiers were stationed somewhere near their homes and farms. Jackson had been scolded by Lee about the discipline in his corps and the implication was that these three soldiers probably got more severe a punishment than warranted. Just as with the civilian justice system sometimes, it seems that only the poorest, dumbest, and least connected of soldiers ever paid the most severe penalties for transgressions. Carmichael implicitly criticized Jackson's actions in not forwarding the conviction to Robert E. Lee for approval prior to executing the men. He gave a vivid description of the ceremony in which the men were executed. Chilling.

Peter C
Peter Carmichael

Kim Holien: Pope and Lincoln: A Divided Command

Kim is a historian with the U.S. Army at Fort Myer. His major point was that you have to understand politics to understand how generals were selected and how they performed their duties in the Civil War. He considered the most important problem at Second Manassas to be the lack of unified command in the Union Army—elements of two armies were present. He pointed out that many of the soldiers from the Army of the Potomac, returning from the Peninsula, were weakened by malaria, typhoid, and mental exhaustion. This may have been the reason that their immediate commanders were reluctant to employ them in battle as quickly as Pope wanted. Kim had a habit of using frequent analogies to World War II generals and actions, something that Childs singled out as being a good thing. I, for one, would have preferred Civil War related analogies.

Jeffrey D. Wert: Twilight Horror: The Battle Opens at Brawner’s Farm

Jeff was filling in for John Hennessy in this lecture and he did an excellent job. This is a relatively straightforward action that was a virtual slugfest. High casualties, little subtlety in tactics. Jackson deployed his men piecemeal and did not take full advantage of his greater numbers. This was a battle in which Ewell lost his leg and a number of field grade officers of the Confederate side were put out of action. Jeff provided some good background on John Gibbon and how he was hated by his men for his strict discipline; after this battle, the animosity subsided. An interesting observation is that of the four highest percentage of losses of Confederate regiments in the Civil War, this battle had numbers three and four: 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg, 1st Texas at Antietam, and the 21st Georgia and 21st North Carolina at Brawner's Farm. Jeff made a number of references to the Iron Brigade on this weekend and he noted that all four of those regiments went up against the Black Hats.

Scott P
Scott Patchan at Thoroughfare Gap

Scott Patchan: The Union Defense of Chinn Ridge, August 30, 1862

Scott is the author of a recent book about a portion of the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. (He was recently interviewed on Civil War Talk Radio if you would like to check their archives.) He also has experience taking Marine Corps officers on staff rides. He turned out to be an excellent tour guide and speaker. It was good to get into the details of Chinn Ridge, because many authors frankly spend little time in describing the battle on August 30 beyond "and then Longstreet launched a massive attack that swept the Union defenders aside."

Panel Discussion

The panel discussion with six of the speakers was entirely free format—it was all in response to questions from the audience. Some of the topics that were discussed, which were too numerous to describe in detail, were: medical treatment during the war; the relationship of the Second Manassas Campaign to the Maryland Campaign; the ability of one Civil War army to destroy another; Pope's inattention to intelligence and his delusions about how he wanted to see the battle proceed despite evidence to the contrary; training programs at West Point and Indian War experiences; the legality of secession (which the audience member described as "Why didn't they let the South succeed?"); the moral aspects of total war (and one of the panelists brought to our attention that Jeb Stuart in the Peninsula Campaign destroyed all of the civilian infrastructure in his withdrawal from Yorktown to prevent the Yankees from accessing it).

William Bergen: Southern Generalship and Union Politics

After a break to walk around and stretch our legs, we attended a brief ceremony at the National Sporting Library to see their statue of a sad horse (75% scale), honoring the 1.5 million horses and mules who died during the war. Bud Hall presided. Then we adjourned to the local American Legion Hall for cocktails and a buffet dinner. Bill Bergen, whom I first met at the most recent Gary Gallagher seminar, substituted for John Hennessy and read a speech about Stonewall Jackson and comparisons with Union commanders. It was a long day and we were all pretty tired. And did I mention cocktails? ...

horse statue

National Sporting Library monument

Bill Bergen

Bill Bergen

Sunday, October 14

We spent the day touring, and what a delightful day it was, weatherwise. Clear and sunny with a maximum temperature in the low 70s. We started by driving to Thoroughfare Gap, where the Union division of James B. Ricketts attempted to prevent Confederate General James Longstreet's corps (wing) from crossing the Bull Run Mountains and linking up with Stonewall Jackson. Unfortunately for the Union, Ricketts was sent too late, and Longstreet had little difficulty getting through. The gap is difficult to imagine because it has been widened by the addition of Interstate 66, but you can still see how formidable the mountains on either side remain. We climbed up the hill and saw the remains of the historic Chapman's (Beverly's) Mill, which had recently been damaged significantly by fire. Climbing further, we saw the scene of what has been described as a "battle on the rooftop," where the two forces confronted each other on either side of a high ridge line.

Gary & Hal
Hal watching Gary joke around
on Stony Ridge

Then we drove to the Manassas National Battlefield Park, our venue for the rest of the day. We started at the Sudley Methodist Church and walked about a mile along the unfinished railroad grade on Stony Ridge, the scene of Stonewall Jackson's defensive actions on August 29-30. Many call this the "railroad cut," similar to the famous railroad cut in Gettysburg, but that is inaccurate. In some places the grade causes a depression, other places an elevation. The other misconception is the nature of Jackson's defense. His soldiers generally did not stand exclusively inside or behind the railroad grade in a static defense. Gary Ecelbarger likened the railroad grade to a tennis net, a feature that simply happened to be in the middle of the battlefield. Meanwhile, Jackson received Union attacks with aggressive counterattacks, what von Clausewitz described as defense by a "shield of blows." This was the same tactic he used at Antietam and Fredericksburg.

The Brawner Farm was our next stop, the site of the short but bloody battle on August 28, also known as the Battle of Groveton. The Park Service has recently rebuilt a house on the site, but a visiting ranger told me that it is actually a postbellum house that was rebuilt, not the literal one that farmer John Brawner lived in with his family. We marched out to the site of the battle and split ourselves into two lines so that we could illustrate how the two sides approached each other and delivered continuous rifle fire from 80 yards apart. Although Jackson was the technical victor of this fight, Gary had little good to say about his tactics, the performance of the Stonewall Brigade, or the results. His officer corps took a big hit. After the battle petered out due to darkness, 11 Confederate regiments were led by company officers. Gary attributed some of the problems of straggling in the subsequent Maryland Campaign to the lack of supervision that these inexperienced officers were able to give.

We had boxed picnic lunches on Stuart Hill, so named because Jeb Stuart took a nap there. The remaining focus of the day was on Longstreet's assault and Scott Patchan led us; Scott has almost completed a book on this phase of the battle. We drove to the New York monuments that face Chinn Ridge, where the 5th and 10th New York Zouave regiments were so badly mauled. (One of the monuments says that the 5th blunted the Confederate assault, but Gary chimed in that it was more like a speed bump. Cold. As both Scott and Gary pointed out, however, the defense of Chinn Ridge was a battle for time and the Union regiments were able to delay the Confederate advance long enough to save the Army from total destruction.) At this point, we were only a few hundred yards across Young's Branch from Chinn Ridge and some of us wanted to walk it, but in the interest of time, we got back on the bus and drove around to Chinn Ridge proper from the other direction. Scott took us through a detailed explanation of the regimental movements on the Ridge and we saw the monument to Fletcher Webster, Daniel Webster's son, who was killed there during the battle.

Jackson statue
Jackson (*) on steroids

Our final stop was the obligatory shopping fest at the Visitor Center. I wandered around outside and took a photograph of Stonewall Jackson in his later steroidal period. (Gary said that they should put an asterisk on the statue. Hee-hee.) I was a little disappointed that we had to skip by some of the later aspects of the battle, such as the details of Porter's attack and of the final defense of Henry House Hill on the Sudley Road. We also did not cover the cavalry action near Lewis's Ford or anything about the Battle of Chantilly on September 1. And we didn't get to see where Lee fell off Traveller and injured both of his hands; I was wondering whether they had imprints like at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Well, doing all of that would have been an exhausting 12 hour day and some of us just don't have the stamina. Maybe on a return visit ...

All in all, I had a really great time. The conference was very well organized with excellent speakers and I learned a lot about a campaign that doesn't get enough attention. I understand that next year's conference will be on Antietam and I will consider going to it, although it will have to be based on an interesting itinerary, because I have spent a lot of time at Antietam over the last two years.

This probably wraps up my Civil War travel for 2007. I don't have any specific plans yet for 2008, although I am considering a March trip to Vicksburg and I will have to see what the Civil War Preservation Trust is up to. Happy holidays!

Blue and Gray Education Society Walking Tour of Perryville

Although I had assumed that I had finished my Civil War traveling for the year, I found a last-minute opportunity to join the Blue and Gray Education Society for a Walking Tour of the Battle of Perryville, featuring Kenneth W. Noe, the author of Perryville: This Grand Havoc Of Battle. My work schedule opened up, my lovely wife did not object, I cashed in some frequent flyer mileage, and I was off. (This will definitely be my last 2007 Civil War travel.)

My previous outings with B&GES were staff rides, so I was a little suspicious of this "walking tour" concept, but Ken had written a great book on the battle, and this was promised as an intensive three-day experience, so I took a chance and was very happy that I did. This was now the second occasion in the last month I had not written a Wikipedia article on a battle before I visited the battlefield! (If you look at the Wikipedia article Battle of Perryville, you will see that it is quite different than a number of my battle other articles because I had absolutely nothing to do with writing it. I intend to correct that pretty soon.)

UPDATE 1/2/08: I have completely rewritten the Wikipedia article and drawn a number of maps of the battle. I really regret not doing this before the trip as I think I missed out on a number of aspects that I would've liked to have explored in more detail.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Len (left) and Ken at the Confederate Cemetery

I flew to Lexington, Kentucky, leaving my poor wife Nancy at home to manage the hordes of trick-or-treaters. We were headquartered in Harrodsburg at the Beaumont Inn, a lovely 19th-century property that used to be a girls' college. That evening, I met up with the group: Len, Angela, and Eddie of B&GES, Ken Noe of Auburn University (I tried calling him Dr. Noe but got no humor traction from that), and 15 other participants. I knew two of the guys from previous staff rides; one of the men had been on 22 B&GES trips before this! We had a nice fried chicken dinner at the hotel and Len gave an overview of the Civil War in 1862. It was quite wide ranging and an impressive performance without any notes, although I thought that he emphasized Robert E. Lee a lot more than a Perryville program needed to.


We took two 12-passenger vans for the 10-mile drive to the Perryville battlefield. The weather was beautiful all three days, but I foolishly paid attention to only the projected high temperatures, not the lows. So I dressed for the high of 68, not the low of 32. A quick trip to Wal-Mart that evening fixed me up with a cheap sweatshirt. Our first stop was the Crawford House, which was Braxton Bragg's headquarters during the battle. We got a good overview of the campaign up until the battle and a general orientation of the units and where they started out. We drove out the Springfield Road to the site of a cavalry battle on October 7, 1862, the day before the main battle. Then we followed the route of the Union III Corps as they approached Perryville. (The III Corps of the Army of the Ohio was interesting in that it was commanded by Charles Champion Gilbert, who had been a captain only a few days earlier. All of a sudden he was promoted to "acting Major General" and given command of a corps, following the murder of its commander, William "Bull" Nelson, by fellow Union General Jefferson C. Davis.)

We drove to the site of the Dorsey House, next to which Union Major General Don Carlos Buell had his headquarters in a tent. It was here that Don Carlos spent the entire battle unaware that battle was going on, the victim of an "acoustic shadow" and some less than competent subordinates. Buell, who had been injured earlier, spent the day of October 8 in his tent, reading and entertaining all the visiting officers with meals. None of them chose to, or were able to, convince him that a major battle was underway.

Another drive to the farm of Darrell Young, who was our host for the remainder of the day. Darrell is a delightful local man who has lived here all of his life and who gave Ken invaluable information for writing his book. And he gave us access to areas of the battlefield not open to the general public. He had an easy, southern style and a sparkle in his eye indicated he enjoyed talking about the history of the area very much. (Later that day we saw a DVD video about Simon Bolivar Buckner and Darrell appeared in an interview, labeled as a "local relic Hunter," which he may be, although I think local amateur historian would be more accurate.) We found out from him that Perryville is actually pronounced PURRvul and that he finds it easy to identify people who are not local to the area by the way they say it.

Darrel+Ken Open Knob

Darrell and Ken

Looking up Open Knob

We took a lengthy walk on Darrell's farm of 138 acres and visited Peter's Hill and Bottom's Hill, where the initial fighting occurred in Phil Sheridan's division early on the morning of October 8. We also found out that the local stream, Bull Run, is actually named for the farmer, Bull Watson. My major discovery about Perryville that morning is that the terrain is like a washboard, all well-defined ridges with steep slopes that are closely spaced. This was favorable terrain for offensive operations, although assaulting up those slopes would have been difficult and it was generally impossible to understand what was in front of you, just over the next ridge. (Perryville, like Gettysburg, was a meeting engagement to start, in which the armies really didn't know where the other one was located or what its strength was.)


Darrell at the town cave entrance

We adjourned to a picnic area at the battlefield park headquarters and had a nice picnic lunch—fried chicken again. (I think that Abraham Lincoln, if he had been more patient, could have simply waited for the South to die of coronary disease.) We spent about 40 minutes wandering around the Park Visitor Center, which is one of the smallest I've ever seen, including watching a video documentary about the battle. That afternoon we went to the town of Perryville, which is really quite tiny, lacking most of the facilities that tourists would expect, such as restaurants or hotels. It does have two gas stations. We met up with Chris Kolakowski, who had recently given me a tour of the Seven Days Battles during the Civil War Preservation Trust meeting in Portsmouth, Virginia. But Perryville is his normal stomping ground and he is a big guy in the local preservation association. He explained how the association has been helping the state of Kentucky to preserve the battlefield, which is now at 669 acres, covering a large portion of the fighting area at the northern end of the field, which represents the majority of fighting during the battle. (Of the three Union Corps of the Army of the Ohio, only the I Corps was fully engaged on October 8.) We walked around the Merchants Row area, which has a small number of period stores, most waiting to be restored. Darrell showed us a fascinating cave whose entrance is right downtown, which extends more than a mile. We finished up the day by driving to the southern end of the battlefield, where the II Corps arrived and had virtually no involvement in the battle.


Ren tractor

Ren's Hay Ride

Today I understood what the song Dixie means by "early on a frosty mornin'" and I was glad for my Wal-Mart sweatshirt. I had been a little disgruntled on Thursday because the walking tour had turned into more of a driving tour and those 12-passenger vans are pretty crowded, even with 10 people. But the situation turned around today because we did a lot of vet satisfying walking. We started at the farm of Ren Hankla, also a longtime local resident, who helped us visit another area that is not accessible to the general public. On his property, we walked down the "Dug Road" and met Ren driving his 1948 vintage tractor. We needed to cross the Chaplin River, which was only 6 inches deep or so, so we jumped onto a trailer piled with hay bales and had a nice hay ride into the area known as "Walker's Bend," from where Ben Cheatham's Confederate division started their attack. The bluffs on the far side of the Chaplin River are quite formidable and the Dug Road was the only reasonable way to get over them. We took a tour through his partially renovated Walker House and also saw the site of the Goodknight House as well as a small Confederate cemetery, which was unusual because it was built by the United States.

Returning to west of the river, we followed the track of Maney's Brigade in their attack against the I Corps. We climbed to the top of the Open Knob and saw where Capt. Charles Parsons' artillery gallantly, but unsuccessfully, defended that critical spot on the Union left flank. Then, it was time for lunch break. We got back in the vans, drove back to Harrodsburg, and had lunch at, of all places, Wal-Mart. We drove back to the battlefield and resumed our walk from Open Knob to Starkweather Hill, where Colonel John C. Starkweather's brigade continued the defense as the Confederate assault moved forward, ridge to ridge. Then we moved to the third ridge, sometimes called Last Stand Ridge, but we could only view it from afar because the local goat and llama farmer who owned it would not allow us access. We had to take a rather lengthy walking detour and came up behind the property, where we could see a stone fence about 100 yards away. This area has come to be called the High Water Mark of the Western Confederacy, comparable to the Angle at Gettysburg. It was the position at which the offensive power of the Confederate attack gave out. Perryville, which is also known informally as the Battle for Kentucky, was the place in which Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky failed, and this stone fence was the closest he came to succeeding. It is really unfortunate that the local property owner is depriving the general public of access to such an important landmark.

Our last stop on the field today was a view of the "sinkhole" and depression that cause so much trouble for Jones's Confederate brigade. It was a great day walking on the battlefield and we all felt pretty worn out. We concluded with a group dinner at the Shaker Village, about 7 miles from Harrodsburg. A compound of Shaker buildings had been turned into a tourist attraction, including a hotel and restaurant. We had a delicious, but simple, dinner in a southern style.


It took us the morning to finish out the Battle of Perryville. On Friday, we concentrated on Cheatham's assault, and today we followed Buckner's division. We started with the Squire Bottom House and the Chatham House. The latter was in the area that later became known as Sleettown, where a slave family that was owned by the Bottoms formed an African-American community after they were freed. We climbed up a ridge to see what Bushrod Johnson saw when he was ordered to attack the Federals on the neighboring ridge. Then we encountered what was probably the most unusual aspect of our three days—right in our path was a sheepdog trial. As we came over a ridge, three sheep ran toward us, chased by a small sheepdog, racing like the wind. Before a collision occurred, the sheepdog steered the sheep away from us. But the trainer, who was whistling and shouting at the dog, was obviously not happy with us. Soon, another man urged us to bypass the field and go around a fence to stay out of the way of the dogs. As we did so, a rather angry woman confronted us and accused us of scaring her sheep. Rather than have a confrontation, we took a further detour down into a ravine and got out of their way.

sheep McBride cemetery
Sheep waiting for dog trials
Steve McBride at Camp Nelson
Ken at Camp Nelson Cemetery

We walked to the Dixville Crossroads, which was the final defensive line of the I Corps, where the two prongs of the Confederate assault linked up. We also saw the site of the Russell House, which is no longer there, but was prominently mentioned by many of the soldiers in the area. Then, it was back to Harrodsburg and Wal-Mart for lunch. Afterwards, we drove along the retreat route of Braxton Bragg's Army of the Mississippi to Bryantsville, where he found that the supplies he had expected to find at Camp Dick Robinson were insufficient, so he ordered a retreat back to Tennessee. This stop was rather disappointing because there is no trace of Camp Dick other than a faded roadside sign.

Our final stop, only indirectly related to Perryville, was not far away. We visited the site of Camp Nelson, which was a 3000 acre federal logistics and recruiting depot formed for the Knoxville Campaign. We met Steve McBride who is the archaeologist in charge of the site. I had never heard of it, but it was very interesting. Although there is little left of it today, it had many warehouses, ammunition magazines, hospitals, and 14,000 horses and mules. It was the largest recruiting depot in Kentucky for the United States Colored Troops, the third-largest nationally. It also had an innovative animal rehabilitation facility, where they tried to nurse battle weary horses and mules back to service. We visited an interpretive center that wasn't completed yet, but that had interesting exhibits on quartermaster affairs, African-Americans, medicine, and the freed slaves who were refugees at the camp. They also had a very nice reproduction bronze Napoleon 12-pounder smoothbore. We trooped around looking at some of the forts that defended the camp, although the primary defensive mechanism was that it was mostly surrounded by the Kentucky River, bordered by high limestone palisades. The connection to Perryville was that Camp Nelson has a beautiful national cemetery and a number of the Perryville dead are buried there. That's where we ended our visit, quietly contemplating the cost of the battle.

All in all, this was an excellent opportunity to become immersed in Perryville and the Kentucky campaign, which were very important to the Civil War, but not very well studied or understood—most tours of Perryville are one day or less and are limited to the areas accessible to the public, mostly in the battlefield park itself. Ken was apprehensive that he had never given a three-day tour of the battle and he warned us that there might be errors and other glitches. He was wrong, or at least as far as we could see. His tour guiding was outstanding and we all learned a lot. I think it is possible that the Perryville battlefield portions of the tour could have been compressed into two full days if there were alternatives to driving back to Harrodsburg for lunch, but that is only a quibble. If this program is repeated, I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Civil War.

I think my most interesting insights were to understand the terrain and a brief conversation I had with Ken as we trooped along. I asked him whether Kentucky was generally Unionist or under Union occupation in the years after Bragg's failed campaign. He said that two thirds of the Kentucky men who volunteered fought for the Union. But there is a saying that was popular: "Kentucky joined the Confederacy in 1865." It was a slave state that did not ratify the 13th Amendment and it was treated in Reconstruction almost in the same manner as the seceded states were. There was a resentment of this that lasted a long time. It's a good thing the early days of the war worked out as they did.

Once again, it's been a pleasure writing up my experiences. Happy Holidays and see you in 2008.