2014 Civil War Travelogues — Civil War Institute

Welcome to my 2014 travelogue pages, commemorating the fourth year of the Civil War Sesquicentennial! This report covers my June trip to Gettysburg College, June 20–25, for my sixth Civil War Institute (and my 16th trip to Gettysburg). To see the entire list of my 2014 trips, go here.

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.

Since this report is relatively lengthy, here are pointers to the individual days:

Thursday, June 19

I flew from San Francisco to Dulles and rented a car for the drive to Gettysburg. Wow, there was a stupendous traffic jam in the bypass road around Leesburg! I'm staying at the same hotel as last year, the Federal Pointe Inn, which is in the building that used to house the Meade School, built in 1896, and is very conveniently located to Gettysburg College and Dunlap's diner right next door. (In my early days, I would stay at the college dorm, but got really sick of that.) Dinner at my favorite Gettysburg place for pizza and strombolis, Bella Italia on the York Pike. Registration for the Institute starts tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, June 20

With an open morning, I took advantage of excellent weather to go on my favorite run: south on Seminary Ridge, up over the Round Tops, then follow the Union line on Cemetery Ridge back to town, about 8 miles. Along the way I encountered the regrading of Ziegler's Grove, the location of the old visitor center and Cyclorama, which looks to be a project very nicely done.

Renewed Ziegler's Grove

As I often do, I went to the National Park Visitor Center and used my Friends of Gettysburg membership to get free admission into the movie, cyclorama, and museum. There was nothing new to report, although I did notice a typo in a few of the battle maps! ("Zeigler's Grove")

I registered for the CWI and the program began at 4 PM. Peter Carmichael did the introductions of the program and staff, and mentioned that C-SPAN3 will be covering parts of the conference on live TV. (I continue to be annoyed that DirectTV does not carry this channel.) He talked a little bit about his medical problems over the past year and how happy he was to be on stage again this year. I thought he looked really good and I was pleased to think that some of the fundraising I do for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has paid off for a personal friend. He brought Scott Hartwig up on stage to talk about student fellowships that have been sponsored in his name and he mentioned the same thought I had a couple of years ago—Scott still looks much too young to retire.

(Note about these photographs. Somehow I forgot to bring my regular point-and-shoot camera to the conference today, so these are all iPhone photographs and the quality is a bit lacking.)

Peter Carmichael introducing
Scott Hartwig and Peter Carmichael

The first lecture was Overview: The War in 1864, by Brian Matthew Jordan of Gettysburg College. This was a whirlwind summary of the campaigns of Grant and Sherman, as well as a few extra mentions of the Shenandoah Valley campaign, Hood in Tennessee, Fort Pillow, Poison Springs, and Andersonville. Brian is a very animated speaker and it was like having Edward Everett orating to us, where every noun in his talk had an adjective complementing it—square-jawed Sherman, lanky Johnston, fiery struggle, etc.

Brian Jordan
Gordon Rhea and Peter Carmichael

After the dinner break, we had The Virginia Campaigns of 1864: A Conversation with Gordon Rhea, conducted by Peter Carmichael. This was a very entertaining hour, although having spent a week with Gordon last month (see my report), it was not one in which I learned any surprising new insights about the Overland campaign. Peter asked him the inevitable question about his next and final book and once again "I'm working on it" was the response. (I am working with an author to do maps for a book about June 15–18 and he is a bit concerned that Gordon's book might come out at the same time, but that is getting to look unlikely.)

The evening concluded with an ice cream social on the patio (outside the college café with the delightful name Bullet Hole), serving Mr. G.'s ice cream.

Saturday, June 21

Today is my 38th wedding anniversary, so big love and thanks to my wife, Nancy, who gives me no trouble at all about attending conferences like this. (It is also the 154th anniversary of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, no coincidence.)

Today's first lecture was Robert E. Lee & the Search for a Battle of Annihilation, by Peter Carmichael. This was a very interesting lecture, as Pete's always are, about the inadvisability of Lee's 1864 strategy. He started with a discussion of Douglas Southall Freeman and how he presented a version of the "sanitized" Lee. Pete contended that after Spotsylvania, Lee should have taken the opportunity to withdraw to the Richmond/Petersburg perimeter, rather than continuing to fight it out with Grant in a mobile battle of annihilation. His premise is that by doing so Lee would have retained about 20,000 soldiers he otherwise lost, and then put Grant into the situation of having to attack him in a position that was stronger (in terms of soldier strength) than what he ended up having in mid-June.

He mentioned that Lee had a "peculiar lust for combat," but that by 1864, the southern people were willing to accept a defensive strategy after three years of constant offensives. With this opinion, he is essentially aligning himself with Thomas Connolly and Alan Nolan. He described Lee's gamble at Pickett's Charge by saying that Lee carefully calculated the attack, but he was dealing in terms of what was possible, not necessarily probable. He also addressed the popular notion that a siege would mean it was just a matter of time. In fact, there was a definite expiration date for Lee's dilemma—the November election. If the northern public could be discouraged enough by then, the war might have turned out differently, siege or not. He also mentioned that setting Jubal Early loose through the Shenandoah Valley demonstrated that Lee was not resigned to defeat after he was caught in Petersburg.

Peter Carmichael
Brooks Simpson

Next was Contingencies & Circumstances: U.S. Grant and the Problem of Virginia in 1864, by Brooks Simpson of Arizona State University, the noted Grant biographer. Virginia was seen by the government and Grant as the major obstacle to winning the war. Virginia was Lee's home field and he had not lost any major battles there. The river system and the Shenandoah Valley all ran in the wrong directions for the Union invasion. An amphibious operation against Richmond made logistical sense, but was too close to what McClellan did, so it was politically incorrect. And Virginia had the vast majority of press and politician attention.

In 1863, Henry Halleck asked Grant for strategic recommendations about the Eastern theater, and Grant replied with a plan that minimized Virginia, with the Army of the Potomac fixing the Army of Northern Virginia in place, while an amphibious invasion of North Carolina would cut off all of the supply lines to Virginia. Halleck rejected this suggestion, of course, although Brooks stated there were adequate resources available to accomplish it. Grant's 1864 plan was based on a strategy of simultaneous attacks in multiple theaters, which meant that Virginia, although important, was not the only egg in the basket. Grant knew that he could not win in Virginia, so he tried to make sure that Robert E. Lee couldn't win either, knowing that the damage Sherman was creating would apply the necessary pressure to bring down the Confederacy.

Brooks had a number of interesting observations along the way. He talked about the personalities and bickering in the senior officers of the Army of the Potomac and described it as like a modern TV reality show. He suggested that Kim Kardashian could play Gouverneur K. Warren. He said that Cold Harbor was more of a psychological blow to the Army of the Potomac than a physical one, comparing it to larger losses in other battles. He suggested that a particular strength of Grant's was the way he quickly reacted to failed plans, noting the old chestnut about "no plan survives initial contact with the enemy." He told an amusing story about how James H. Wilson suggested how they could win the campaign—get Ely Parker drunk and give him a Tomahawk to go after the rebels. During the Q&A session, he addressed the relationship between Grant and George H. Thomas, and he said that the difficulties they had were a two-way street, with neither liking or wanting to cooperate much with the other. After the Q&A session he congratulated the audience for asking no questions about Grant's drinking habits.

The third lecture of the morning was A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling Over the Memory of Sand Creek, by Ari Kelman of the University of California, Davis. This was a topic that had little interest for me, so I took advantage of its proximity to the lunch break to head out to the battlefield. I had a picnic lunch on Little Round Top and took a few photos of whimsical things. Then I spent some time roaming around Sherfy's Peach Orchard. I have a cousin-in-law with an ancestor in the 141st Pennsylvania, so he asked me for a photo of the orchard. Here 'tis.

View from Little Round Top
Paddy O'Rorke's nose looked particularly shiny today
I had never noticed these two plaques inside the 44th New York monument, Daniel Butterfield and Francis Barlow
Sherfy's Peach Orchard
141st Pennsylvania monument

Back at the college after lunch, we were offered four concurrent sessions from which to choose:

  1. Remembering the Destruction of an Army: John Bell Hood’s Tennessee Campaign in Myth & Memory, Brian Craig Miller (Emporia State University)
  2. The 1864 Valley Campaign & the Origins of Jubal Early’s Lost Cause, Kathryn Shively Meier (Virginia Commonwealth University)
  3. Through the Heart of Dixie: Stories of Sherman’s March, Anne Sarah Rubin (University of Maryland – Baltimore County)
  4. The Battle of the Crater in Memory, Kevin Levin (Civil War Memory & Gann Academy)

And I chose the first (although I have to say all four topics sounded very interesting). Brian gave an overview of Hood's Tennessee campaign. (Well, he actually yelled/shouted/bellowed it—I didn't know how long he could speak that loudly and maintain his voice, but now I know it is at least an hour.) Oddly, he really did not address myth or memory much at all, with the exception of mentioning that there was no evidence of drugs or alcohol involved in the Spring Hill fiasco, and a brief mention at the end about the controversies associated with Hood's combative after action report following the end of the unsuccessful campaign. The first question asked by the audience was whether he had read Sam Hood's new book, and Brian slipped on his tap shoes to answer. He did recommend that the audience read the book, but I felt that he unfairly portrayed it as simply offering a positive spin on Hood, comparing that neutrally to negative spins by Wiley Sword and others. (My opinion of the book is that it is a detailed, carefully documented indictment of sloppy or irresponsible scholarship by a number of well-known historians, not simply a biography with a positive spin.)

Brian Craig Miller
Carrie Janney

A second set of concurrent sessions followed:

  1. Ruins of Revenge: The Burning of Chambersburg, Megan Kate Nelson (Brown University)
  2. "A War Thoroughfare": Confederate Civilians and the Siege of Petersburg, Caroline Janney (Purdue University)
  3. Museum Artifacts: Material Culture & Memory, Catherine Wright (Museum of the Confederacy)

And I chose the second. Carrie talked about how the civilians at Petersburg were affected by the siege. I was surprised to learn that Petersburg was a modern city at the time, prosperous with lighting and plumbing, the second-largest city in Virginia. (I always think of the modern Petersburg, which is rather depressing.) The population was 18,000, which included 3000 free blacks, the largest concentration in the state. She talked about the shelling of the downtown area primarily around the railroad junction. There were 600 buildings damaged and a handful of civilians injured or killed. She had some interesting anecdotes about refugee experiences, tent cities that they set up, and the relative ease in which the civilians moved in and out of the city. (After all, despite being called a "siege," most of the western and southwestern parts of the city were not blocked by Union troops, and some supplies kept coming in by railroad until March 1865.)

After dinner was "Don’t Hurry Me Down To Hades": Soldiers, Families, and Morale in 1864, by Susannah Ural of the University of Southern Mississippi. Susannah is an articulate and amusing speaker whom I have enjoyed in previous conferences. Tonight's lecture was difficult for me to get my arms around. She spent 45 minutes talking about the histories of a half dozen historically insignificant people (with the exception of the Varina Davis), none of whom seem to have any common characteristics. Then she summed it up by saying that the way to understand morale of these people in 1864 was to understand what they went through from 1861 through 1863. Wow.

Susannah Ural

Sunday, June 22

This morning's first lecture was “Atlanta is Ours and Fairly Won”: William T. Sherman in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, by Keith Bohannon of the University of West Georgia. Keith has been doing these Western theater overview sessions each year at the CWI for the sesquicentennial. It was a pretty conventional campaign overview with a few battle highlights, competently done. He emphasized how Sherman was a master of logistics. In discussing the composition of Sherman's Army Group (to use a modern term), he remarked that George H. Thomas was actually more accomplished as a battlefield commander than Sherman was, but of course the former did not get along well with Ulysses S. Grant, and the latter had his full confidence. On the Confederate side, the initial commander, Joseph E. Johnston, obviously did not have the full confidence of Jefferson Davis. Sherman did not deploy his cavalry well, and in fact was not a cavalry fan overall, assuming that his force was inferior to the Confederate side, led by Nathan Bedford Forrest. The second Confederate commander, John Bell Hood, overestimated the capabilities of his army, and although his battle plans were relatively decent, his army was exhausted and his subordinates not up to the task.

Keith Bohannon
Emmanuel Dabney

Next was “Catching Us Like Sheep in a Slaughter Pen”: The United States Colored Troops at the Battle of the Crater, by Emmanuel Dabney, a historian at Petersburg National Battlefield. I am embarrassed to say that I sat next to the presenter in a session yesterday and I actually assumed that he was a precocious high school student. He's a rather small guy and looks really, really young. So today he gets up on stage and I find out that he has a Masters degree and has been a historian with the NPS since 2001! (I am sure that Peter Carmichael had the same thought as I because he asked Emmanuel in front of the audience of 375 whether he started in elementary school.) He gave us an overview of the planning and digging of the Crater, something I know about only at a high level. What I did not know was that EP Alexander guessed that the mining operation was going on and the Confederates prepared a number of countermeasures. They dug backup trenches and bombproofs behind the main line, they positioned 30 artillery pieces to cover the area in question, and they (unsuccessfully) attempted to dig and collapse the mine shaft.

But the primary focus of the talk was the USCT experience and Emmanuel offered a number of quotes that included the rough language of the time, and showed a few interesting photographs of wounded African-American soldiers. Something that surprised me was that he said that a number of the Union soldiers who dashed into the crater itself did so to help the dying Confederate soldiers lying at the bottom. The large majority of soldiers did not go into the crater itself, despite most stories that you hear—it was only 170 feet wide. I was amazed to hear one of the audience questions that ask him whether Gone with the Wind (which he referred to in passing a few times during his talk, as did Keith earlier) should be compared to Nazi propaganda films. Fortunately, Emmanuel had the presence of mind to slough off this question.

Four concurrent sessions again:

  1. “My Sufferings Were For a Good Cause”: Exploring the Civil War POW Story, Eric Leonard (Andersonville National Historic Site)
  2. The First Encounter Between Lee's Veterans and Black Troops: The 23rd USCT and the Fight at Alrich Farm, Eric Mink (Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)
  3. The Battle of Cold Harbor & the Soldier's Psyche: Anticipation, Choice, and Memory on the Front Lines, Ashley Whitehead Luskey (Richmond National Battlefield Park)
  4. "Victory from the Jaws of Defeat": The Battle of Cedar Creek, Jonathan Noyalas (Lord Fairfax Community College)

and I chose the fourth. I am reasonably familiar with the Battle of Cedar Creek, having drawn maps, written the Wikipedia article, and visited the battlefield with Scott Patchan in 2011, so this one hour overview covered familiar ground for me. Jonathan does a good presentation. He discussed the plummeting morale of the Confederate soldiers, particularly those who live in the Valley, because of the Burning. He considered that Horatio G. Wright was culpable for the initial Union setbacks—he moved Wesley Merritt's cavalry division from the right flank to the left, which turned out to be a crucial vulnerability, and despite advice from some subordinates, let his men sleep in late that morning, so that the Confederates were able to surprise them. He addressed the controversial issue of Jubal Early's "fatal halt" after the fight at Cemetery Hill by listing three causes: (1) the men were caught up looting the Union camps; (2) the men were exhausted, and, most importantly; (3) he was concerned about Merritt's cavalry division moved against his flank.

Jonathan Noyalas

Immediately after lunch was Rape & Mutiny at Fort Jackson, Louisiana, by Crystal Feimster of Yale University, but that sounded too violent for me, so I took an extended lunch break by visiting the new Seminary Ridge Museum at the Lutheran Theological Seminary. I visited this building, Schmucker Hall, a few years ago when Wayne Motts took us through the old Adams County Historical Society, but it sure looks different now (inside). They have four floors and you start at the top, where there are six rooms with exhibits about the first day's battle at Gettysburg. There is a brief movie, a number of wall sized paintings, some pretty decent maps of the different phases of the battle (and I only found one typo!), and the typical collection of artifacts—uniforms, bullets, sabers, documents, etc.

Seminary Ridge Museum. The "Peace Portico" in front was built for the reunion (and rebuilt for the museum).

The third floor covers medical care. Six hundred operations were performed after the battle and a couple of famous generals were treated there, James Kemper and Isaac Trimble. They had some very effective life-sized dioramas showing medical care, nursing, and surgical operations, as well as a good collection of medical instruments. Over in a corner is one gruesome story about soldiers who took refuge in the basement during shelling on July 2 and 3, but when it started to rain heavily on July 4, the basement partially flooded and some of the men almost drowned!

Wounded soldiers diorama

The second floor was about religion and the antislavery movement. One tidbit I did not know was that the Brian family, who owned the tiny white house just north of the Angle, were African-Americans. On the first floor was a gift shop and a temporary exhibit about the 50th reunion at Gettysburg. Schmucker Hall was used as a hotel for some of the more important people in 1913.

A significant feature of the museum is the opportunity to climb up into the cupola to see the same view that John Buford saw on July 1. This is done with a reserved tour, and although spaces were available this afternoon, I did not have enough time to fit in on this visit. Outside is a walking trail that goes about a mile, they say, but I had time to walk only about half of it. You get some good views of McPherson's Ridge and the open ground over which Perrin and Scales attacked the afternoon of July 1.

This is where the famous Confederate prisoner photo was taken

Back at the college, more concurrent sessions:

  1. The Long Shadow of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Jared Peatman (Lincoln Leadership Institute)
  2. The Burnt District: Southern Ruins and the Problem of Reconstruction, K. Stephen Prince (University of South Florida)
  3. Rebellions Real & Imagined: Blacks and Firearms in the Confederate South, Antwain Hunter (Penn State University)

and I chose the first. Jared's presentation addressed the reaction to the Gettysburg Address and how it has been used and interpreted over the years. His book looked at four contemporary newspaper accounts. The Gettysburg paper gave it a lot of coverage, Richmond ignored its content, and both New York and London focused on Edward Everett's oration, not Lincoln's address. Over the last 150 years, interest in the address has spread widely internationally, and he showed postage stamps and other examples of foreign countries that have embraced the concept of "of the people, by the people, for the people" (or at least embraced the slogan). The current French Constitution actually includes that phrase on its first page. Two items that surprised me: Abraham Lincoln left the District of Columbia only 11 times while he was president, so the Gettysburg trip was pretty significant, and; the most accurate movie representation of Lincoln's address was in Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. (Jared found little else to like in that film. I thought it was pretty funny.)

Jared Peatman
Barton Myers

After dinner (a sausage sub from Tommy's) was Controlling Chaos: The Guerrilla War in 1864, by Barton Myers of Washington & Lee University. Although guerrilla warfare was a problem throughout the war, it was particularly acute in 1864, raging in every state, over what hundreds of counties. Barton differentiated between bands of bushwhackers and the more officially sanctioned partisan rangers. Of the latter, John Hunt Morgan was described as the model, but John S. Mosby was the best of the lot. The Confederate Congress approved the Partisan Ranger Act in a previous year, and it had some legitimacy that was accepted by the US government, particularly the treatment of partisan rangers as POWs. He told some tales about an Arkansas guerrilla named Bailey, and one from Missouri named Sam Hildebrand. These and others were often psychopaths, committing murder, mutilations, corpse desecrations, and other atrocities. He described an incident in which a number of victims had their heads swapped onto different bodies. He talked in general terms about Bloody Bill Anderson and William Quantrill. Barton concluded by judging that the Confederate guerrilla activity seriously eroded the Confederate command and control, representing more of a problem the South than a solution.

And, a Special Documentary Viewing—Civil War: The Untold Story (Great Divide Pictures). It was a long day and I pooped out before the show started at 7:45. I figure it will be aired on my local PBS station one of these days.

Monday, June 23

The available tours were:

  1. The Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House (Introductory Tour), Brooks Simpson (Arizona State University)
  2. The Wilderness to Spotsylvania Court House (Advanced Tour), Keith Bohannon (University of West Georgia) & Eric Mink (Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)
  3. Staff Ride: The Wilderness, Christian Keller (U.S. Army War College)
  4. Fredericksburg: A City of Hospitals & a Community at War, John Hennessy (Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)
  5. Shenandoah Valley: Cedar Creek & Fisher’s Hill, Jonathan Noyalas (Lord Fairfax Community College)
  6. The Battle of Monocacy, Brett Spaulding (Monocacy National Battlefield)
  7. North Anna River to Cold Harbor, Robert E.L. Krick (Richmond National Battlefield Park). This one actually departed Sunday afternoon and overnighted in Fredericksburg.

I chose the staff ride, #3. It was a long day because of travel time to the Wilderness—3.5 hours down (on back roads, US 15 and 17) and 2.5 hours back (I95, Beltway, I270, mercifully light in evening traffic). I almost considered one of the shorter excursions, such as Monocacy, but I enjoy the staff ride concept so much, I judged it to be worth the extra time. Christian Keller of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle led the ride, and I had found him to be a good guide on a previous occasion. There were only 24 of us, so we took a short bus, which was very convenient. On the long ride down, we discussed the staff ride concept and some very simple looks at Clausewitz and Jomini. We also had a lively discussion about Peter Carmichael's Saturday suggestion of a better strategy for Robert E. Lee (move south after Spotsylvania and arrive at Richmond with 20,000 more troops than he eventually had), and I don't recall anyone taking it very seriously. People pointed out that Grant would also have had additional troops available. I suggested that under Pete's scenario, the Confederacy should have held the line around Richmond and Petersburg while sending Gen. Lee to Georgia.

Our first stop was Grant's headquarters in the Wilderness, which is merely a spot in the woods today with an interpretive sign and no evidence of a Union presence. We spent about an hour there, discussing many campaign subjects: maps, unit movements, command relationships, and the reorganized corps of the Army of the Potomac. Christian pointed out something I had not really considered, which is that many of the corps commanders who were eased out that spring were acolytes of McClellan.

At Grant's headquarters
Saunders Field

Next we drove across the street to stop at the Lacy house, Ellwood, which was Gouverneur K. Warren's headquarters. We had a picnic lunch there and some more introductory discussions. The cavalry general, James H. Wilson, was criticized for his inadequate screening. Christian judged that at this point of the war he was an example of the Peter Principle. We discussed Lee's orders to Ewell, which were either ambiguous or contradictory, although Old Bald Head seemed to deal with them well enough (unlike at Gettysburg). For reasons of health, Lee was not on his game. Although there is not direct evidence of illness here (unlike at North Anna), most seemed to think that he was suffering from the effects of heart ailments and other things that would cause him fatigue and bad judgment.

At Saunders field, we discussed soldier motivation, and Christian surprised some of the attendees by describing the Confederate morale as good at this point. We evaluated the delays in Warren's attack, not too sympathetically. We judged that Ewell did his part to fit in strategically by fixing two corps of the Army of the Potomac in place. In the field south of the turnpike, my mind must have been wandering because the only discussions I recorded were about World War II and Enron Corp. Back on the bus, Christian talked about the May 6 Gordon flank attack (which he forgot about at the previous stand). We drove by the Higgerson and Chewning farms without stopping, because time was flying and there was not much of strategic importance to discuss. (Actually, I am misusing the term strategic here, particularly during a staff ride, but I think you know what I mean.)

Saunders field, looking up at the Confederate position in the woods
Saunders field, south of the turnpike

At the Tapp field, we crossed about half of it—to the site of the widow Tapp's house—and back, which was about the most physically energetic we got during the day, despite quite beautiful weather beckoning us to the field. Here we gave relatively poor reviews to AP Hill, and decided that Lee was faltering at this time, once again raising the issue of illness. (After Hill's attacks came up short, Lee did not agree with suggestions that his men dig in to the defense overnight.) We discussed whether Lee's plan represented a risk or a gamble (the latter being more serious if it fails), putting so much faith in Longstreet reaching the battlefield in time, and collectively decided that it was a gamble. Then we went over Hancock's May 6 attack and discussed in detail how Poague's 16 Confederate guns made such a difference. We went over the famous "Lee to the rear" incident with the Texas brigade and led into a discussion about senior commanders taking personal risks and how important it was for them to have capable subordinates ready to take over—Lee didn't.

We drove to the area where Longstreet was accidentally shot and discussed the flanking attack that came up through the railroad grade. Christian seems satisfied that Moxley Sorrel was responsible for leading the Confederate brigades, whereas I pointed out to him that William Mahone also claimed credit for this after the war and I thought that that seemed a little more likely. After Longstreet was wounded, the Army of Northern Virginia no longer executed any of the bold flanking movements that he and Stonewall Jackson had made famous, and it became increasingly more difficult for the Army to execute the will of its commander. His wounding was a strategic loss, using that adjective correctly in this case.

At the Plank/Brock Road intersection

At the intersection of the Plank Road and Brock Road, we discussed the final attacks of May 6, noting that the Federals were still thinking aggressively even after being "rolled up like a wet blanket" in Hancock's words. Lee attacked on a narrow front, hoping for a punch through, but nothing came of it. We finished up the staff ride by discussing the results of the battle. Christian thought that the battle tactically was a minor loss for Grant, but an operational and strategic Union victory. (My opinion is that the battle was a draw, because neither of the two commanders achieved their tactical objectives.) We stopped for dinner at a mediocre Fredericksburg buffet restaurant called Ryan's and returned to the campus about 8:30 PM. At dinner, Christian and I had an interesting conversation about the different styles of staff rides. The one I am more familiar with is taught at the Command and General Staff College, but the one at the War College level is different in that it does not emphasize making the senior officers do much homework as preparation, role-playing, etc.

Tuesday, June 24

Today's half-day tours were called Gettysburg Through the Eyes of a Soldier and we had to preselect one of six:

  1. Michael S. Schroyer of the 147th Pennsylvania, Sue Boardman (Gettysburg Foundation)
  2. William C. Ward of the 4th Alabama, Garry Adelman (Civil War Trust)
  3. William Henry Francis of the 14th U.S. Regulars, John Rudy (Gettysburg College)
  4. Lieutenant J. Warren Jackson of the 8th Louisiana Infantry (Louisiana Tigers), Ed Bearss & Scott Mingus
  5. Colonel David Ireland of the 137th New York, Jennifer Murray (University of Virginia - Wise)
  6. Private Reuben Ruch of the 153rd Pennsylvania, Charlie Fennell (Licensed Battlefield Guide)

I picked #4 to go out with the legendary Ed Bearss and my friend Scott Mingus. This was a good choice because it bypassed some of the aspects of last year's version of this exercise, in which we read lengthy passages of letters from a soldier and were asked questions like "how did his socioeconomic position affect his thoughts here?" and "did the letters to his wife reveal his frustration with camp life?" Today was pretty much a straight up tour of the Louisiana Tigers with some quotations thrown in. Jackson was a lieutenant in the 9th Louisiana, part of Harry Hays's Louisiana Tigers brigade. Hays was quite a character, the former sheriff of New Orleans, and president of the local temperance society, although Scott told us of numerous occasions in which he supplied alcohol (often laced with gunpowder!) to his men, who apparently went through most of the Gettysburg campaign completely plastered. They had a reputation for drinking, fighting, and womanizing, and an unfortunate reputation of bayoneting and "butchering" prisoners and wounded enemy soldiers.

Ed Bearss and Scott Mingus at Barlow's Knoll
Also Barlow's Knoll

We started at Barlow's Knoll, where Scott and Ed gave us a history of the unit and a description of its colorful members. The Tigers were in Gettysburg on June 26 (or at least on the outskirts, because division commander Jubal Early could not risk allowing them to interact closely with the townsfolk) and had the distinction of the first Confederate to die in Gettysburg, John Shackleford, 19, who died of self-inflicted alcohol poisoning at the Forney farm. The second stop was one block north of Coster Avenue, which is where their battle line was formed in the fight against Coster's brigade. We walked over to Coster Avenue proper and I was disappointed to see that the giant mural about the battle, painted on the side of a warehouse, has been significantly degraded by the elements. (Compare the photograph below with the one shown on this website, which better represents the mural I first saw in 2005.) Ed said that there is a plan to restore the painting next year with more durable paint technology. An interesting fact about this engagement is that 80% of Coster's brigade was captured.

Coster Avenue mural
The Demolition of Gettysburg Middle School

We next drove in the direction of East Cemetery Hill, passing by the location on High Street where the Tigers camped the night of July 1, but we were unable to get to the base of the hill (from where we would have followed the Confederate advance) because the Gettysburg Middle School was being demolished and the whole area was cordoned off. (I asked Scott what was going to replace the middle school and he said that they would be building a new school in the same location. Too bad.) So we had to drive to the top of the hill and see things from the Union perspective. The Tigers were generally convinced that, given the orders, they could have taken this hill the night of July 1, although I doubt that would have been possible. They certainly had a harder time of it on July 2. While they waited to advance, there was constant sharpshooting between the two sides, and Scott said that the brigade lost 45 men before the battle from sharpshooter bullets. During the advance on the hill, Lt. Jackson commanded the skirmish line that preceded the brigade. Ed and Scott gave us a blow-by-blow description of the attack and how many of the Confederates reached the crest and attacked the artillery. There is a dispute between the two sides about how that part of the battle ended. The Tigers state that they had advanced beyond support and decided to withdraw, whereas the Union troops say that they drove the Confederates from the hill.

East Cemetery Hill
Tour near Oliver O. Howard's statue

Rather than ride the bus back to the campus, I decided to walk through downtown Gettysburg. I stopped at Mr. G.'s for some delicious homemade ice cream (which is what they call the variety that is not soft-serve) and at a little French café that I had been meaning to try, Saint-Amand, for a not-too-inspired Croque Monsieur. Not very typical Civil War cuisine.

After lunch we had two seminars, which we selected from the following list:

  1. Partisan Rangers: The End of Authorized Guerrilla Service in the Confederacy, Barton Myers (Washington & Lee University)
  2. Picturing War: Doodles & Drawings in Soldiers’ Letters, Megan Kate Nelson (Brown University)
  3. 1864: Ebb Tide in Gettysburg, John Rudy (Gettysburg College)
  4. Mapping Memory: Digitizing Sherman’s March, Anne Sarah Rubin (University of Maryland – Baltimore County)
  5. “Lee to the Rear”: The Texas Brigade, Robert E. Lee, and the Chances for Confederate Victory in 1864, Susannah Ural (University of Southern Mississippi)
  6. One of These Things is Not Like the Others: Making Sense of the Military Prison Crisis of 1864, Eric Leonard (Andersonville National Historic Site)
  7. “And So the Murderous Work Went On”: 1864 Frontal Assaults, Jennifer Murray (University of Virginia at Wise)
  8. Crisis in Command: Union & Confederate Leadership Challenges in the Wilderness Campaign, Christian Keller (U.S. Army War College)
  9. Re-Thinking Confederate Defeat in the Summer of 1864, Kevin Levin (Gann Academy & Civil War Memory)
  10. Old Litchfield’s Best Sons: The Relationship Between a Connecticut Town & Its Regiment, Peter Vermilyea (Civil War Institute)

Unfortunately, my selections were not very good ones—I made them months in advance—because they overlapped too closely with my Wilderness staff ride yesterday. Once I realized this it was too late to do anything because the sessions were spread out in buildings all over the campus and I had no idea where any of the other seminars were located if I had decided to switch.

Susannah Ural
Christian Keller

The Texas brigade (#5) session was pretty much a rehash of the discussion we had at Tapp field. Susannah is working on a book about the brigade, so she brought a lot of enthusiasm to the discussion, which was good. She also admitted that Kershaw's North Carolina troops deserve a lot of the credit that is usually reserved entirely for the Texans. An interesting tidbit is that the 16 guns in Lt. Col. Poague's artillery battalion only fired three shots each, primarily canister.

Christian Keller's session (#8) was also a rehash of the staff ride material. It was billed as a discussion of the Crisis in command, but it was really just an overview of the relationships between the senior players. Unfortunately, this is too broad a subject to be covered in a 45 minute session, particularly when everyone in the room has opinions about all of the personalities involved and a number of them were unwilling to wait their turn to express them.

The dinner arrangements were a barbecue in the cafeteria. I did this last year and found it underwhelming, so did not bother repeating the experience.

The final event was the traditional wrapup panel discussion/Q&A, The War in 1864. The panelists are listed in the caption of the photograph below, and Peter Carmichael was the moderator. It seemed like the audience members were asking questions that they thought were more academically thought-provoking than in previous years. (Previously, many/most of the questions were of the variety "Who was the worst Confederate general?" or "Would Stonewall Jackson have taken the hill?", which are admittedly shallow, but often offer the opportunity for humorous answers. However, there was only one of that type this year.) In an 80 minute session, there were lots of questions and answers, and I have not attempted to record them all here.

Panel Discussion, Q&A: Jennifer Murray, Katie Meier, Barton Myers, Susannah Ural,

The session started off with a bang when the first questioner reminded Peter Carmichael that the conference had completely neglected the pre-assigned reading, Army Life in a Black Regiment by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, originally published in 1869. (I was not even aware there was an assignment!) From the embarrassed faces and glib comments, it was apparent that none of the eight panelists had read it either. Oops!

What would be the single public history location that best reflects on 1864? Brooks said the soldiers home in DC, Pete said the Wilderness Cemetery, and then later added "some contraband camp," and Keith had the same suggestion as mine, the Plank Road/Brock Road intersection. I was just there yesterday!

How much work is it to prepare a session for the conference? Most said "a lot," and Pete went off on a tangent about how the young whippersnapper historians do not prepare for comprehensive exams in graduate school as much as he did.

Who was the MVP of 1864? Anne Sarah: William T. Sherman; everyone else, Ulysses S. Grant. Someone asked about Confederates and Brooks said that John Bell Hood was the Confederate who was the MVP for the Union.

Assess the Sesquicentennial (predicting into 2015), contrasted with the Centennial? It has more of a focus on reconstruction, and addresses the nation at war, rather than simply battles and leaders. A discussion ensued about whether young people have lost interest in the Civil War, and Katie said that her students were more interested in 20th-century wars. Later one of the young students at the conference got up with a bunch of his friends and said they were definitely interested. But Pete (who actually did a lot more speaking than any of the panelists) said that we should forget about popularity and just do what is right.

What happened to the cavalry in 1864? Union dominance was more apparent, they conducted more strategic raids, and introduced equine hospitals because of horse shortages.

What about blogging and social media? Brooks was the main speaker here because he is known for his popular blog, and the discussion involved trolls and ignorant people who post incendiary comments, as well as the problem of arbitrary changes to Wikipedia articles. He said that for many people, the academic card catalog is now Google, and there is lots of nonsense out there.

What did the two sides learn in 1864? The Confederate command structure is dying. Brooks said that in 1865 the Eastern Army became Grant's own (a comment he might have held until next year).

What are some of the hot trends in historical research projected for the next 10 years or so? Spatial analysis (geographic information systems, etc.), spreadsheet analysis of data, and widespread availability of online medical/ pension records and many small newspapers.

What are the unsolved problems from 1864? Race/class, caring for veterans, a political system that can actually solve problems rather than fall into partisanship, and defining the rights of citizenship.

That brought the conference to an end. Once again, I had a great time in Gettysburg with the Civil War Institute. The 2015 schedule has been posted here; I have not committed to going to it because of the logistical hassles associated with touring Petersburg and Appomattox from a conference that starts and ends in Gettysburg. Perhaps I'll change my mind, or maybe 2016 will be more logistically amenable.