This is a continuation of my 2012 travelogue page. Return to part 1.
|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.|
I am in Gettysburg for another annual Civil War Institute, my fourth year of attendance (and my 13th visit to Gettysburg since I got the Civil War bug in 2003, my 45th trip to a battlefield). I arrived the night of June 20 to get in some extra touring before the formal program starts on Friday afternoon. I always seem to find a different hotel to stay in here, and this time it is the Travelodge on Baltimore Street, which seems fine for the purpose intended. My second floor room has a balcony overlooking bustling Steinwehr Avenue, so if I choose to do so and can stand the heat, I can be serenaded by a little Civil War band right across the street, or watch ghost believers lining up with their ice cream cones.
As I usually attempt to do, I will be making nightly updates to this webpage. If you don't like to see a work in progress, please return on June 28. In some cases, I may not have enough time to upload my photographs on any individual day.
Before I immerse myself in the Civil War, let me express my appreciation to my lovely wife, Nancy, who is graciously accepting my absence on our 36th wedding anniversary today.
I had hoped to go running this morning because the battlefield is a great place for that, but a giant heat wave is sweeping through the area and it was over 80°F when I woke up, heading for 100°, so I will try again tomorrow.
Since the theme of this year's conference is 1862 and I am scheduled to be on the bus to Antietam on Monday, today I decided to capitalize on that and visited some other locations of the Maryland Campaign.
My first stop was Harpers Ferry, which is about an hour from Gettysburg. I had visited here once before, but it was a rainy day and I did not get the full experience. The National Park Service parking lot is quite a ways from downtown. The shuttle bus took me first to Bolivar Heights, which I found is pronounced locally like Bolliver, rather than like the South American revolutionary. It was one of the key locations in Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Battle of Harpers Ferry. There is a long ridge with a short walking loop and a few cannons, as well as the usual wayside interpretive signs. You can see the town of Harpers Ferry well in the distance, but it is obscured by numerous trees and, today, quite a bit of haze to go along with the heat wave. Downtown, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, most of the quaint buildings are occupied either by the Park Service—bookstore, exhibits, movies, etc., as well as the historic John Brown's Fort—or by cafés and ice cream stands. There is a brief, interesting walk across the railroad bridge to reach the remnants of the C&O Canal. Amtrak was going through as I took the walk. When you get to the other side there are a number of hiking trails, but it was way too hot for that. I might actually consider a 4–6 hour hike up stupendous Maryland Heights someday, but the weather is going to have to be a lot more cooperative than it was today. There is a scenic rock visited by Thomas Jefferson, called Jefferson Rock (so you can see why he was interested to visit it), but somehow I let that opportunity slip through my fingers.
My next adventure was to follow A.P. Hill's route of march from Harpers Ferry to Sharpsburg. I mentioned this to a teenage volunteer ranger and was delighted that she had a handout with directions instantly available. This great attitude was in contrast to an actual adult ranger whom I asked about these directions, and who suggested dismissively that there are faster ways to reach Sharpsburg, so why would I bother? This was the same ranger who sent me to an exhibit that said the Gettysburg Address was September 22, 1863. So if Pres. Romney is looking for some fat to trim, here is one place he can look. I really enjoyed the drive up to Sharpsburg, winding around on country roads near the Potomac River, through some interesting farmland. I did not follow the literal route because cars cannot cross at Boteler's Ford, but I was able to look at the site. I suspect the actual location might be somewhat tentative because there are signs on both sides of the Potomac and they don't really line up. The one on the Maryland side is at a very pleasant little area preserved of the C&O Canal. The detour necessary to take a real bridge across the river was through Shepherdstown, West Virginia, which is picturesque and pleasant.
I spent some time in the bookstore at the Antietam visitor center and bought a few books, including one that had a number of Jedediah Hotchkiss maps. Uncle Sam, if you are reading this, my modest career as a professional cartographer now makes this a tax-deductible item! I also bought a T-shirt with the famous political cartoon showing candidate for president George B. McClellan riding on his saddle on the USS Galena while his men were fighting the battle of Malvern Hill. (This was apropos because I just finished creating and delivering a presentation about the Seven Days Battles for one of my local roundtables.)
For the remainder of the day, I visited the South Mountain battlefields, using Ethan Rafuse's battlefield guide. First, Fox's Gap, where the monument to Jesse L. Reno stands. Then Turner's Gap on the old National Road, and Crampton's Gap in Burkittsville. This was an enjoyable sojourn through very picturesque country and cute-as-a-button little towns, but I can't say that it is all that easy to see the terrain and picture the battle sequences. There are too many leaves in the way (which is why my photographs are a little sparse). But Ethan's book has very good descriptions and maps.
There were two very interesting non-battle things to see along the way. Washington Monument State Park features a 30-foot stone tower that was built by the residents of Boonsboro—in two days!—in 1827. It was used as a signal station during the war. You climb a modest slope to reach it and get a very nice view of the Shenandoah Valley. They did an interesting crowd control experiment in putting this site together, in that the winding path up the hill is marked with periodic signs about important events in the life of George Washington, so you have a good feeling for how far it is to the top as you see the years tick by. A minor disappointment was that there is supposedly a museum at this site and I saw a sign that the museum was open, but I could not find it. The sign was in front of what looked like a garage next to the ranger's house, but another building that looked more like a museum seemed to be undergoing renovation of some kind. The other interesting site was the giant Townsend Monument honoring 157 Civil War war correspondents and artists near Crampton's Gap.
Back in Gettysburg after a long day, I dined at my most recent favorite local restaurant, Bella Italia. Super stromboli.
At 6 AM, it was only about 75°F, so I decided to take my run. (I am training to run another marathon—Richmond in November—with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program. If you would like to make a charitable contribution to sponsor me in the race and support blood cancer research, please see my fundraising page.) I ran from the hotel over to Oak Ridge and around the big peace monument loop, then down Confederate Avenue, next to the Round Tops, and back up Cemetery Ridge. The total course was about 11 miles, but I walked the final 2.5. It was overcast and not terribly warm, but the humidity was the real killer and I felt like I had a warm Niagara Falls in my hat. I also made the mistake of not having anything to eat before I set off, which is something I almost never do. Well, another lesson learned on the cruel roads of America.
After I cleaned myself up—and it took a long time to stop sweating after I got out of the shower—I went over to the visitor center and took advantage of my Friends of Gettysburg membership to get a freebie ticket to the movie and cyclorama. I have seen the movie before, last year, but didn't seem to remember anything about it except that the narrator was Morgan Freeman. It was really pretty decent and a very visually interesting, although the battle details were slim. The cyclorama continues to look nice, although the don't make much of an effort to point out any of the interesting details on the painting. But they flash the lights a lot of big recorded artillery explosions.
I took a swing through the museum, which is very nicely done. They have a lot of nice battle maps, which they have helpfully mounted so that people 5 feet tall have a very good view. There were two movies shown that describe the Civil War action before and after Gettysburg and I have a strong suspicion that Scott Hartwig was the narrator for both. I was surprised to find a number of errors in the second film. For example, in talking about the battle of Chickamauga, their animated map showed Bragg advancing from Atlanta. They also referred to John Bell Hood attacking the Union Army at Nashville. And they said that Ulysses S. Grant was promoted to general in chief six weeks after Chattanooga. I think there were a couple more, but I should have taken notes.
The first conference activity was a preparatory session for my Monday Antietam tour, which will be using a staff ride format. For readers of my travelogue, you will know that I have attended a few staff rides with Parker Hills and also one with the Army's Combat Studies Institute (which you can read about here), but on Monday we will be apparently following the U.S. Army War College staff ride format, so it will be interesting to see what differences there may be. Dr. Christian Keller of the USAWC gave us an introduction to some strategy topics based on von Clausewitz and briefly talked about the strategic motivations of both sides in the campaign.
At 4 PM the regular conference opened with a welcoming speech by CWI Director Peter Carmichael, who also introduced Gabor Borritt to read his traditional poem about fireflies and friends at Gettysburg. Gabor looked a lot better than he did last year, although he complained about having a dental problem, so did not linger on the stage, despite getting a very warm welcome from the audience.
Note that, as usual, these indoor pictures are pretty bad because they keep the auditorium dimly lighted and I don't carry a big flash with me.
Harold Holzer, the Lincoln historian currently with the Museum of Modern Art, gave an interesting slideshow entitled "Images in Blue and Gray: George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee in Popular Prints." I was really amazed at how many photographs, lithographs, and engravings that he found of the two generals that I had never seen before. It was interesting to see that virtually all of likenesses of McClellan were scowling or at least dour. These portraits were widely collected by regular folks during the war, providing them some patriotic inspiration. He also showed a number of political cartoons, including the one on my T-shirt, and many of them were pretty biting. In responding to a question, Dr. Holzer said that in his experience the most popular photographs and portraits during the war were of Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee. As an aside, he talked briefly about his new book on the Emancipation Proclamation.
There was an evening session from 7 until 8:15 PM, Mark Grimsley on "Race and the American Military Tradition," but I was feeling pretty tired from my run this morning and chose not to come back after dinner. (Most conference attendees are staying in the dormitory and have a full meal plan at the college cafeteria next door, but for reasons stated in my previous conference reports, I am off the grid.)
The weather is much better today—scattered clouds with lots of sunshine, but not as hot or humid. So, the best way to deal with that is to spend all day in the classroom. :-)
Our first session was Brooks Simpson, "The Emergence of Ulysses S. Grant." He made fun of his own title by admitting that it made sense only because we knew what was going to happen to him after 1862. You would never have a talk about the emergence of Irwin McDowell or the emergence of Don Carlos Buell. He characterized 1862 as a year that started with promise for Grant, but then dealt him a number of setbacks. Although anyone in the room would have pointed to Grant as the obvious candidate for general in chief at the end of 1863, virtually none of us would have said the same thing at the end of 1862. So how did he manage to reemerge in the face of this adversity? One aspect was obviously luck—he escaped death on a number of occasions, particularly at Shiloh. He understood the value of cooperation with the Navy in joint operations, much more than many of his contemporaries. He greatly improved the professionalism of his staff during the year. He learned from his mistakes (although sometimes it took two mistakes in the row, such as being surprised that Fort Donelson and then again at Shiloh, for it to sink in). He was able to achieve reactive victories, making the best of a serious situation. And he was persistent. Brooks, as usual, had a number of amusing asides, some of which I will record here. He characterized Henry W. Halleck as having the attributes of an associate college dean, always ready to penalize someone for not having their paperwork completed. John A. Rawlins was responsible on Grant's staff for all of the swearing. George Gordon Meade attempted to advance his career by flirting with Mary Lincoln, according to a letter he wrote his wife. A serious point that Brooks made was that he characterized William Rosecrans as a rival to Grant who had to be disposed of, whereas other historians portray this relationship more as Grant having an unreasonable dislike of Rosecrans.
Next was Craig L. Symonds, one of my favorite presenters, on "River Operations in the Western Theater in 1862." He gave an overview of most of the important naval events and battles of the year, including the creation of the brown water fleet and the building of the first ironclads, which were not the Monitor or the Virginia. He reminded us that there were no joint commands during the war (and in fact there were none until the Defense Department was created in 1947) so that any cooperation between the Army and the Navy were voluntary relationships between the commanders. He discussed the relative merits of forts fighting ships, which before the war usually meant that the fort would prevail, but improved naval ordnance (rifled cannons) and steam-power maneuverability reversed this equation. The most effective joint operation of the year was the capture of Island Number 10, which he described as a prototype for the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign. He also described the action at Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and New Orleans. One of the insights he gave us was new to me—the Confederates not only lacked the resources to create a big fleet of ironclads, but they were unlucky enough that the Union captured two of their major shipyards (Memphis and New Orleans) before many could be produced. Two interesting snippets: the phrase "unconditional surrender" was actually used first in the capture of Fort Hatteras, not by Grant at Fort Donelson; the Navy was much more integrated than the Army, and Civil War ships on average had about 15% African-American sailors.
Megan Kate Nelson of Harvard University spoke on "Looking at the Dead at Antietam." She covered a number of related subjects that involve the reactions of soldiers and civilians to depictions of war dead. She talked about the devastating telegrams that were received by relatives, casualty lists in newspapers, soldier portraits, and mostly about the exhibition in Mathew Brady's studio of Alexander Gardiner's Antietam photographs.
After lunch we got to choose one of three concurrent sessions. The two I did not attend were "And So the Murderous Work Went On: 1862 Frontal Assaults" by Jennifer Murray of the University of Virginia at Wise (I was told afterward she discussed Fort Donelson, Gaines's Mill, Malvern Hill, and Marye's Heights); and "The Peninsula Campaign, 'Black Confederates,' Military Intelligence, and the Necessity of Emancipation" by Glenn David Brasher of the University of Alabama (and I have no idea what that was about). I chose to attend Keith Bohannon's talk on "The Confederacy's Survival Seemed Bleak: An Overview of 1862 Military Campaigns in the Civil War's Western Theater." This was held in a building called Masters Hall, which houses the college's physics department, and I was amused to see a technical poster about a research project entitled "The Fast and Slow Neutron Flux in the Gettysburg College Neutron Howitzer." Anyway, Keith gave an overview of the battles in the Western theater and it was interesting that he used quite a number of my Wikipedia maps. The good news for me was that he introduced me to the crowd with thanks, but the bad news was that this was the first time he ever used PowerPoint and he really mangled some of those maps putting them into his presentation. Some of them look really awful. The other bad news was that I got to sit there and watch them for an hour and a half and I noticed that I misspelled the name of John C. Breckinridge on almost all of them! OMG! I will fix those next week.
Back in the big lecture hall, Peter Carmichael spoke on "Executing Stonewall Jackson's Foot Soldiers in 1862." Peter is one of my other favorite lecturers and is always quite animated and articulate about his subject matter. In this case, it was the story of three soldiers who were executed for desertion on August 19 near Clark's Mountain, Virginia. Peter was quite outraged by their stories, for which he provided details for two of them, based on rare Confederate court-martial proceedings. This was part of a program of new severity, a more intrusive government involvement in people's lives that spring, associated with the first imposition of a draft and the very significant problem of absences from the Confederate Army. Many of the soldiers were comfortable taking what he called French furlough (I am more used to the term French leave), where the soldier left to go home for a few weeks and then returned. He told us that a perennial complaint of the soldiers was that they were not being paid on time and a ramification of this was that it kept many of them from leaving their units because they could not afford to travel. Peter's underlying message was that the popular notion of Stonewall Jackson and his soldiers being motivated by faith in God's support of the Confederacy was misplaced because the soldiers were actually, eventually motivated by the "barrel of Stonewall Jackson's gun."
After dinner was a panel discussion, "Debating Emancipation." Peter was the moderator and the panelists were Kevin Levin, Keith Harris, Anne Marshall, Glenn David Brasher, and Craig Symonds. I find it difficult to write good descriptions of panel discussions because the opinions and counter opinions are flying back and forth, but I will say that I hear few new insights about the subject. Virtually every question brought some degree of disagreement among the panelists. For instance, was the Emancipation Proclamation a revolutionary document? Yes and no. Was emancipation a necessity of the war or an opportunity? Former and latter. One area on which most agreed was that describing Lincoln as a politician (versus a statesman, placing moral considerations first) causes a lot of discomfort among students. Another is that we need to differentiate between emancipation and the elimination of racism. Projected on the wall behind the panelists was a photograph of the statue in Lincoln Park, near the US Capitol, of Lincoln and the emancipated slave. The design of this statue was opposed by Frederick Douglass and the panelists seem to share his discomfort with the symbolism, which portrayed the African Americans as having no role in their liberation. One interesting discussion centered around the counterfactual idea of what would have happened if the war had ended before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, restoring the Union without outlawing slavery in the South. Craig Symonds said that a second war would have undoubtedly followed to finally resolve the issue of slavery. He gave humorous admiration for George McClellan, who lost the Peninsula campaign and thereby extend the war enough to allow Lincoln to issue his proclamation.
We concluded the evening with an ice cream social, featuring the wares of Mr. G's Ice Cream Parlor. A lovely way to end a long day.
The weather was beautiful this morning, so since the program had a late start, I took a hike on the battlefield, walking from the hotel to Culp's Hill observation tower, and then down the Union line back to the Baltimore Pike. Even though it seemed relatively cool, I sweated enough to float a Pook's Turtle.
Our first presentation, at 10:30 AM, was John Hennessy of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. His topic was "Fredericksburg's Civilians." He described how war "touched every cranny of Southern society" (which makes me wonder what touched the nooks). In 1862, the citizens of Fredericksburg were subjected to two impositions: the Union occupation from April through August, followed by the bombardment and invasion/battle in December. These events were traumatic enough that civilians were known throughout the Confederacy as the "Fredericksburg Sufferers" and they were the recipients of $250,000 in charitable donations because of their plight. The occupation starting in April was relatively benign and it evoked different reactions from the free and slave residents of the city, many of the latter of whom knew that their independence would be at hand. He said that by 1864 two thirds of the slaves in Spotsylvania County were gone. In December, 70% of all the citizens abandon their homes, creating one of the most intense refugee crises of the war. It is interesting to note that during both periods, those homeowners who stayed in the city were subjected to fewer property losses than those who departed. As the suffering of the civilians increased, Hennessy noted that their determination to achieve victory only increased. He quoted a woman who wrote that the Southerners should do three things: fear God, love the South, and live to avenge her.
Anne Marshall of Mississippi State University read a lecture, "'A Manifest Aversion to the Union Cause' in post-Civil War Kentucky." She started with the old expression that Kentucky did not secede until 1865 and proceeded to demonstrate how that occurred. In 1862, Lincoln's emancipation policies and a general military crackdown sowed the seeds of the Lost Cause sentiment. Oddly, many Kentuckians who supported slavery thought that the federal government would be the best agency for protecting their rights to maintain the practice, although they soon were disappointed. In 1862 Kentucky was a police state and civil liberties began to disappear. She gave an example of a woman who waved a handkerchief in support of John Hunt Morgan, only to be arrested and her family exiled across Confederate lines. The citizens were particularly annoyed by the 1862 Confiscation Act and the emergence of black Union soldiers. After the war, the veterans eventually created 70 Confederate monuments, but only 10 Union.
I don't always describe my meals, but I had a particularly good lunch today. There used to be a restaurant on the southeast corner of the main square in town, but I forget the name, because I only went there once. It has changed hands and is now called the Blue and Gray Grill. It is a bit schizophrenic because the interior is like a typical American sports bar with lots of big TVs, but the menu is all-in battle of Gettysburg. I had the Jubal Early Burger, one of about a dozen burgers honoring named Union and Confederate generals at the battle. It came with a big Confederate flag sticking out the top and was one of the best hamburgers I have had in quite a long time. (It was a rather odd recipe, including bacon, fried egg, and a "lumberjack" sauce that essentially tasted like maple syrup, and I really enjoyed it.)
Back to the serious topics, we once again were given a choice of three lectures to attend. One was "Civil War Blogging" with Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, and Keith Harris. The second was "Lost Then Found: The Evolution, Reclamation, and Interpretation of Fredericksburg's Sunken Road" with Eric Mink. I chose "Rise and Fall of Hood's Texas Brigade: From Gaines's Mill to Antietam" with Susannah Ural of the University of Southern Mississippi. Susannah presented last year and I thought she did great job, and I am happy to say that she repeated her performance this year. She really knows her material about Hood and is well spoken and quite humorous. She spent less time talking about the battles themselves than giving us a thumbnail impressions of a variety of soldiers and officers. The brigade was unusual because it had a higher percentage of slave holders than a typical Confederate brigade, but this was probably because the regiments were recruited primarily from the heavier slaveholding districts of East Texas. They were highly motivated, ideologically, not only as Texans but as Confederate nationalists. Many of them were not actually born in Texas, so they did not have a fully state centric view. They were also fierce fighters who fought hard to keep up their great reputation. They were a feisty bunch, and rejected some of the commanders who were placed above them, but Hood was their favorite and they insisted on being called "Hood's Texas Brigade" under subsequent commanders. Susannah gave a very colorful description of the battle of Gaines's Mill, and touched on their contributions at Second Manassas and Antietam rather peripherally. The big effect of that latter battle was the severe casualty rate. The brigade was virtually destroyed and one of its regiments, the 1st Texas, suffered 82% casualties, which is the highest figure for any regiment in the Civil War. A question arose about how they continued in the war with so few men, but it turns out that quite a decent number of the casualties survived their wounds in the hospital and returned to duty. Attempts to recruit additional Texans for the brigade were not successful because most men at that time wanted to stay and fight closer to the state.
Caroline Janney of Purdue University spoke on "The Root of Sectional Bitterness: Slavery, Emancipation, and Civil War Memory." Carrie is another long-time favorite speaker of mine, and I enjoyed her presentation as well. She talked about the complexity of reconciliation which she described in a nutshell as both sides agreeing to remain silent about the slavery issue, emphasizing the gallantry on both sides and that we were all one people now, shaking hands over the stone wall, etc. She said that it was only the ending of slavery that allowed this reconciliation to proceed, as roughly as it did. She had a very interesting description of the dedication ceremonies for Chattanooga and Chickamauga National Military Park in 1895, in which William C. Oates, then governor of Alabama, but most famous for his attack with the 15th Alabama against Little Round Top, surprised all of the gathered veterans with a lurid speech about the causes of the war, blaming the Puritans in the North for oceans of blood, honing to the Lost Cause line. The 1887 and 1888 Gettysburg reunions were also contentious and the Confederates did not feel welcome. She described how Chickamauga was designed to remedy that situation by having joint planning from both sides for the monuments. During the question period, she said that Confederate veterans used the Spanish-American War as a vindication of the Lost Cause, demonstrating that they could fight just as well as the Union soldiers.
After dinner there was a panel to discuss Mark Grimsley's Hard Hand of War, which was the assigned reading for the conference. The panel included Mark, Susannah Ural, Keith Bohannon, Megan Kate Nelson, and Brooks Simpson. All of the panelists had very complimentary things to say to Mark because his book was very innovative and influential when it was published and it remains the seminal work on the topic of Union military policy toward civilians. Kate said that Peter had told her in advance that it was going to be a roast, which was certainly a joke, but throughout the evening she landed a few zingers nonetheless. For example when she found that the book was almost 20 years old, she compared it to the shelf life of a Twinkie, as both are still vital and compelling. Susannah made the point that last year's book panel was easier for the participants because the author, Edward Porter Alexander, was no longer around to hear the praise or criticism. (That would have been a really fascinating panel.) Some of the praise for the book included its inclusion of a broader context, such as conduct in other wars, primarily in Europe. Mark made a point of praising two professors of European history who helped him with his dissertation and recommended that budding historians reach out to people who are not necessarily in their exact line of work.
Keith Bohannon raised the issue that Mark states that the conciliation phase of the Union policy collapsed after the Peninsula Campaign, but questioned whether the public opinion that Mark cited was actually measured. Mark responded by saying that there are good dissertations and then there are finished dissertations, stating that there is always room for additional research in these areas. Brooks Simpson raised some interesting points about how during the hard war period toward the end of the war, the Union actually ameliorated its policy in a few key areas, such as restoring the prisoner exchange cartel and the magnanimous terms that Lee and Sherman offered at Appomattox and Bennett Place. Peter asked whether the subtitle of the book about "Union policy" was actually appropriate in that there were many actions taken by Union soldiers that were certainly not policy directed from the top. Mark responded that he wanted to rename the book "Johnny Reb, You Got off Light." He thought that what was important was to understand what were the actions a military commander needed to take to win and that in his analysis of Union actions, he is generally satisfied that they stayed within that line.
Today is touring day and I selected the Antietam staff ride with Christian Keller of the U.S. Army War College. I was a bit surprised to find that the subject was actually of the entire Maryland campaign, rather than simply the battle of Antietam, so that means I duplicated some touring on Thursday. Fortunately, the staff ride concentrated more on strategy than on the details I examined on Thursday. You'll see that I took very few photographs. First, I did not want to duplicate work I did on Thursday, and second, I find Antietam to be rather difficult to photograph because most of it is just wide open fields and rolling hills, rather than distinct landmarks. And I have visited the battlefield before and taken a lot of photographs of monuments, cannons, etc.
Our first stop was Bolivar Heights at Harpers Ferry and we discussed the command and control disconnects between Henry W. Halleck and George B. McClellan in regards to defending or abandoning the garrison there. Since the Union decided to defend the garrison, this was a decision that had both campaign and strategic war ramifications because it cost time for Robert E. Lee's army, which came to bite him in preparing for the battle of Antietam. Halleck expected McClellan to relieve Harpers Ferry, so his decision to order Milroy to defend it does not seem so idiotic. (There was a guy on the staff ride who, whenever there was a question about a potentially poor decision on McClellan's part, shouted "He's an idiot!" That got to be fun after a while.) Everyone was excited about how good the weather was going to be until we were interrupted by a rather strong 10 minute thunderstorm with big lightning bolts. The weather cleared up after that and we had a beautiful day.
The next stop was Fox's Gap at the Reno monument. We discussed how D.H. Hill was selected to defend Fox's and Turner's gaps—he happened to be the closest division. Lee's contingency plan was to have Longstreet coming up after him. The two Confederate brigades defending the gap attempted a swinging envelopment movement, but it was poorly coordinated. Chris thought that if the defense had actually held, Lee might have changed his strategy to reinforce the gaps and keep the McClellan on the eastern side for an extended period. It was therefore what is called a "contingency point." We discussed Lee's operational style and the difference between Napoleonic maneuvering versus Napoleon's tendency to arrange decisive battles. McClellan was example of a general who employed the former (a "war of posts"), Lee the latter. We walked down a narrow road named Lamb's Knoll, which I did not do on Thursday. A few hundred yards away is the North Carolina monument at the Wise farm. If we had gone a little farther down the road, we were told there is a supersecret government installation and no one knew what went on there.
We stopped at the visitor center and had lunch on the lawn. At the 20th New York monument we talked about McClellan's lack of trust in his subordinates. He only visited the battlefield once, staying at the Pry House a couple of miles behind the lines, from where only portions of the battlefield are visible. (Chris had planned to take us to the Pry House, but we were starting to run short on time.) Lee had better visibility in the battle and was willing to move around to see important points. A surprising insight to me was that the Army of Northern Virginia was still mostly loyal to Joseph E. Johnston, Lee not having proved himself yet to the rank and file. We discussed McClellan's failure to attack on September 15 and 16 (for reasons that sounded pretty reasonable to me). We criticized his positioning of cavalry in the center of his lines, ignoring the need for intelligence operations. We discussed the pros and cons of Lee's position with his back to the Potomac River. Although I thought it was rather odd, we then had a lengthy discussion about ethnicity in the Army of the Potomac. From 40 to 45% of the soldiers were not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Chris emphasized the importance of this because influencing those same ethnic groups in the voting population was a vital consideration for Lincoln and continues to be important in modern times. (He has also written a couple of books about ethnic troops.)
We drove to the Joseph Poffenberger farm, which was the area of the North Woods in which Joseph Hooker's I Corps started his attack on September 17. There was a Clara Barton monument there, so we had a lengthy discussion about medical treatment, and I was astonished that Chris emphasized Barton as such a fabulous influence and did not mention the crucial contributions of Jonathan Letterman, the Father of Battlefield Medicine, as he is called. We had to have a little argument about that one. Next we went to Miller's cornfield and discussed John Bell Hood's counterattack and the arrival of the XII Corps. Joseph Mansfield was mortally wounded in his attack and we discussed the ramifications of the loss of the corps commander. Something I was not really familiar with was the action by George S. Greene's division, which advanced to the Dunker Church and, lacking further orders, just hung out there for the rest of the day. We discussed the complexity and general lack of success of echelon attacks. Next, it was to the West Woods, where we discussed the disastrous attack by Sedgwick's division (Sumner's corps), which was destroyed by a surprise flank attack from McLaws and Walker. Sumner's advance was a failure of timing as well as command coordination. The corps commander chose to accompany Sedgwick's division, which resulted in his other two divisions wandering off in a different direction—the sunken road.
Speaking of the sunken road, we headed there next. We walked down the Roulette farm lane and then cut across country to follow the route of the Irish Brigade as it approached the sunken road and suffered enormous casualties. Continuing with the theme of ethnicity in the Army, Chris described how these losses at Antietam and two months later at Fredericksburg completely soured the Irish immigrant community on the war effort. Although they were mostly Democrats already, and entire voting bloc was lost. This was also one of the factors leading to the 1863 draft riots in New York City. A question was raised about the effect of the battle on the Republicans in the 1862 election and folks pointed out that Republicans lost by a smaller margin than is typical in a non-presidential year. We lamented the choice that McClellan made in not capitalizing on the success at the sunken road, as he unfortunately listened to the whining of Porter about the "last reserve of the last Army of the Republic."
By this time it was after five o'clock and we were seriously behind schedule. Because we had a catered dinner to attend in Boonsboro, we have limited flexibility on returning late, so we drove to Burnside Bridge and described the action there, but had no time to get out of the bus. Everyone had a pretty negative opinion of poor Ambrose. (I am actually a bit more sympathetic to him than my colleagues.) We also had to skip the traditional visit at the end of a staff ride to the national cemetery and did what is called the "integration phase" on the bus instead. I will have to say that the energy of the crowd was pretty much dispelled by this point—I have often found it hard to understand why riding in a bus is so exhausting—so it was not a particularly insightful summary of our opinions of the day. The catered barbecue dinner at the public park in Boonsboro was very nice and we got back to Gettysburg little bit before 8 PM, as scheduled.
Overall, the staff ride was very well done, although I think some poor choices were made in using the 12 hours allotted. Perhaps the time for the Harpers Ferry and Fox's Gap excursions could have been better used on the Antietam battlefield, with some of the strategic campaign issues left to driving time, or even more time in the classroom. Peter Carmichael jumped onto our bus and said they were considering a staff ride next year to Chancellorsville, but I am rather leery of that because of the great driving distances involved. That would probably mean five hours on the bus and that has a way of really sapping my enthusiasm.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Mechanicsville!
My final day in my favorite place and the weather is beautiful once again. This morning is a Gettysburg tour and I selected Mark Grimsley's "Visions of Victory: Gettysburg and Strategic Leadership: July 2 in the Peach Orchard, the Wheatfield and the Lower Cemetery Ridge Area." This one was not much like I expected from the title—we never did visit the Wheatfield, for example—although I should have been clued into the word strategy. We started at Cemetery Hill, to the surprise of most, and talked about the importance of its physical location and a couple of concepts: strategic vision and leadership and the use of trusted agents. Lee's strategic vision was a decisive victory and, according to Mark, Meade's was (1) protect Washington; (2) expel the invader; (3) destroy Lee's army. (I and Abraham Lincoln would disagree about the importance of the second item in relation to the third.) The trusted agents on the Confederate side were Longstreet and Stuart, on the Union side Hancock and Reynolds (and later in the morning he included Henry J. Hunt). We discussed the famous "practicable" issue for Richard S. Ewell on July 1 and Mark thought that this was a reasonable decision, although not the correct one. One interesting insight was that Lee could not assume a defensive strategy because he did not have enough food to allow the army to sit around and wait to be attacked.
We drove to the monument for Battery C, 1st New York Light Artillery, just north of Little Round Top, and discussed the various choices that Daniel Sickles had in laying out his defensive line. Then it was across the battlefield to Confederate Avenue, stopping at the Longstreet Tower, where we discussed Longstreet's attack orders from Lee and the disagreement with Hood about how to proceed after the intelligence turned out to be wrong. We discussed the claims that Sickles made about saving the battle because of his insubordinate maneuver, and claiming that Meade was ready to retreat from Gettysburg anyway. Across the battlefield again, we stopped at the 71st Pennsylvania monument at the Angle. Here we lamented that Meade elected not to counterattack with the VI Corps. So this morning tour had a lot of bus riding and very high-level content, like a "Scenic Bus Ride of Gettysburg with Tweets by Edwin Coddington." I chose to walk back to the campus rather than riding the bus because it was a beautiful day and I stopped at Tommy's Pizza for a sausage sandwich. (By the way, my old hangout Dino's Pizza was closed and has a new sign that calls it King's New York Pizza.)
This afternoon we had a series of mini lectures/discussion groups similar to last year's conference. There were 12 discussion leaders and topics and we were assigned to a random selection of them, with a new leader arriving at our assigned room every hour. The first person to show up was Jackie Robinson (don't get too excited, baseball fans), an instructor on religion at Gettysburg College, and the topic was "African American Religion and the Meaning of Freedom." The most interesting part of this discussion was a film clip from the movie Glory about slave prayer meetings. She found this on YouTube and did not realize that it was dubbed into French until we got a third of the way through it. We discussed the call/response format of the meeting and read some snippets from Frederick Douglass and others. Our room was in the science building and there was a large Periodic Table of the Elements on the wall that kept me busy trying to remember which symbols are which elements.
Next was Kent Gramm, also of Gettysburg College, who battled with a balky audio system attempting to illustrate "1862 in Song and Story," although he started out by saying there wouldn't be any stories. He played snippets of a variety of Civil War songs and the big take away was that some of these were quite melancholy or downbeat, more so than one might expect for 1862 songs; i.e., songs that early in the war. People in that era were much more comfortable with death, or at least were more familiar with it, and took more comfort in the concept of an afterlife. The most popular song of the year was "Weeping Sad and Lonely." He had an interesting perspective that, given the differences in population size between then and now, the Civil War experience was like undergoing 9/11 every day for four years.
Finally, Elizabeth Parnicza, a young historian from Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, spoke on "Will the Real Angel of Marye's Heights Stand up?" This concerned the incident in which Confederate Sgt. Richard Kirkland allegedly went between the lines to administer comfort to wounded Union soldiers. The "allegedly" was the entire point of this session because she went through all of the evidence for and against the incident being true and the bottom line is no one knows for sure, but they have a large memorial for him on the battlefield and all the tourists are interested in it. This produced a lot of spirited discussion in the group, although I was rather blasé about it because I think it is a good story that generates interest in the battlefield, so don't mess it up. It is certainly no more problematic than many of the tales told about Gettysburg, such as shoes. (I spoke to Beth afterward and urged her to go down to Steinwehr Avenue and apply some of her historical investigative techniques toward the many ghost tours available on the street. I did this in good humor because I also complimented her on being very well spoken and doing a good presentation.)
Dinner was a barbecue on the lawn with some vocal entertainment, but I didn't feel like paying $25 extra, or having a second barbecue buffet dinner in two days, so I ate on my own. The final sessions were back in the auditorium. There was a very moving set of tributes to Brian Pohanka by Peter, Patrick Schroeder (the historian at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park and a close personal friend through reenacting), and Bud Hall of Brandy Station fame (who talked about Brian's work in battlefield preservation). Brian completed a manuscript before he died in 2005 and they are finally ready to publish it. It is a history of the 5th New York, Duryée's Zouaves, entitled "Vortex of Hell." You cannot beat that for a Civil War title. Peter gave the book a very strongly positive review and read some colorful snippets. Patrick talked about Brian's long history with the modern 5th New York reenactors and his work as a movie consultant to Glory, Gettysburg, North and South, and others, all accompanied by a lot of snapshots. Bud talked about Brian's "unyielding integrity" and said that he was able to harness his outrage at development of battlefields by taking effective action and he urged us to follow in his footsteps.
Finally, there was a wrapup panel, "The War in 1862." Nine of the historians from the week answered freewheeling questions from the audience, although I sensed that some of the steam had run out by this late in the evening on the final day. There was no lengthy queue of people eager to give long-winded statements masquerading as questions as there had been all week. I was not able to attend the entire session because I was looking at a long drive to Dulles that evening. The panel was asked about the most egregious error of the year (my answer would have been John B. Floyd at Fort Donelson, but except for Keith Bohannon, these folks are mostly Eastern Theaterites). Mark Grimsley had a really good answer, though: Abraham Lincoln, who reacted hysterically to Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley and withdrew an entire army corps from McClellan's Peninsula Campaign. There was also a spirited discussion about the typical kind of counterfactual question often posed in a forum like this (what would've happened if Lee had won Antietam) and Keith Harris jumped in with the somewhat typical response that we have enough to worry about with what really happened, let alone what didn't happen. The more patronizingly tolerant on the panel generally agreed that Lincoln would have shrugged and issued the Emancipation Proclamation after some future victory. Fredericksburg? Mark Grimsley answered another question to indicate that Great Britain was actually closer to considering military intervention than many people realize. The selection of the most important woman of the year was Clara Barton.
I checked into a cheapie motel at Dulles after 11 PM and flew out on an early flight Wednesday. I had another excellent time at the Civil War Institute, being particularly impressed with the agenda changes and scholarship standards that Peter Carmichael has instituted. At the final session on Tuesday, we were all surprised to be given a fully detailed agenda for the 2013 conference: presenters, session titles, and specific times. I was impressed enough by this agenda that I pulled out my credit card and registered on the spot. So July 21–25, 2013, I will return to Gettysburg College for my fifth year of attendance, and hope that I get out early enough to avoid being stampeded by the millions of visitors for the sesquicentennial of the battle. (By the way, Peter indicated there will be another conference next year in March, and that they have 110 speakers lined up for it!, but that no details would be available until September.)