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2017 Civil War Travelogues — Emerging Civil War Symposium

Welcome to my 2017 travelogue pages. This page is my report of my attendance at the 4th annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge, Spotsylvania, Virginia. To see the entire list of my 2017 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 sometimes 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.

Thursday, August 3

I flew to Washington Dulles, on United Airlines and stayed at an airport Hampton Inn. As usual, getting to the East Coast in time for a late afternoon program start is not possible unless you take a redeye, so I had to fly out the evening before. Dinner was at Buon Appetito in Chantilly, whose pizza I would rate as only moderately good. (This was my first trip to the Dulles area in which I did not get a Stromboli. Argh!)

Friday, August 4

On my way down to Stevenson Ridge for a 4 PM symposium start, I made two stops. First, I stopped by the Manassas battlefield. I watched the video, which is really pretty good, and basked in the bookstore, where there were two large shelves in which I had done the maps for probably a quarter of the books. They had a rich collection of Emerging Civil War titles. I joined in a volunteer-ranger led talk about Henry Hill, but had to drop out because it was focused on the 10-year-old children who were in attendance. So instead I drove over to the unfinished railroad and wandered around, contemplating Stonewall Jackson’s defense at the second battle. Then I drove to Fredericksburg, had lunch at an OK Italian place called Orofino, and walked up Hanover Street to Marye’s Heights and back. It was about 90°, but the humidity was not debilitating, so I had a nice time–nicer than the Union soldiers had on December 13, 1862. I also checked into the Hampton Inn, South Fredericksburg.

When I got to Stevenson Ridge, I was surprised to find that this symposium was a much bigger affair than I had expected. It was in a large ballroom and 110 people were in attendance. Somehow I had thought it was going to be lightly attended, but my pals in the ECW had done a great job marketing the event and their reputation had obviously spread farther than I had anticipated! We had a nice selection of hors d’oeuvres and there was also a cash bar. Chris Mackowski welcomed everyone and then the program began.

Chris Mackowski Kris White

Kris White—Great Defense Stands of the Civil War: An Introduction

Chris talked about the concept of a great defense (which I will have to say no one over the course of the symposium defined very well) and how Civil War officers learned defensive tactics, including the program at West Point and some of their influential instructors. He went through a whirlwind catalog of great defenses; some of these were not successful (the Alamo, for instance), and I thought that some of them were more famous because of the offensive they were defending against (Pickett’s Charge, for instance). He discussed earthwork technology. He also opened the door to a wide dilution of the conference theme, by saying that great defenses included non-battle aspects such as defending liberty, defending reputations, etc.

Dr. Kelly Mezurek—“Rebel Soldiers and Darkies on Guard over Them!”: Race, Retaliation, and Black Soldiers as Civil War Sentinels

This was an interesting presentation about a topic you don’t usually hear about, which was how black Union soldiers were used in a number of prison guard situations. Although she was not able to cite specific numbers, we got the impression that black soldiers were used proportionately heavily this task, and she opined that Union authorities wanted to get these soldiers out of the way and thought they were more tolerant of the bad conditions this duty entailed. There was also the effect on the morale of the Confederate prisoners, who were subject to retaliation and humiliation. She talked about the prisons at Ship Island, Point Lookout, and Elmira, New York.

Kelly Mezurek Brian Jordan

Keynote speaker Brian Matthew Jordan—The Battle of South Mountain

Brian gave a very animated talk about the defenses of South Mountain, in two aspects: the battle itself and postbellum analyses of it. He gave a brief description of the Maryland campaign leading up to the battles. He criticized the actions of Jeb Stuart and went against conventional opinion by suggesting that George McClellan was aggressive enough both before and after he encountered Lee’s special order 191. After the battle (and war), D.H. Hill referred to the battle as a Confederate Thermopylae, which implied that it was a successful defense; Brian said that in fact the battle ensured that Lee’s Maryland campaign was effectively over.

Author/Speaker Roundtable Discussion Emceed by Chris

The panelists were Brian Jordan, Paige Gibbons-Backus, Phill Greenwalt, Stuart Henderson, and Chris Kolakowski. I did not take detailed notes on the questions, but I thought the discussion went astray when they tried to keep to the topic of great defenses because, once again, the term was not well-defined. There were discussions of defending against disease, defending the reputations of officers after the war, civilians defending themselves (such as the civilians of Vicksburg moving into caves), and African-Americans defending their liberties.

Panel: Brian, Paige, Phill, Stuart, Chris

Saturday, August 5

Daniel Welch: “Boys, give them rocks”: Jackson’s Stand at Second Manassas

This was coincidentally topical because I had just been to this location the previous morning. Dan gave a very thorough and professional description of Jackson’s part of the battle. He pointed out that the railroad cut was not the primary defensive line, conflicting with what I think has been the conventional wisdom; the cut was occupied primarily by skirmishers and was unsuitable for a general defense. The Confederate defenders were primarily on Stony Ridge behind the cut. He criticized Jackson’s attack at Brawner’s Farm before the Confederate army consolidated on the field. He pointed out that the Federal attacks were piecemeal, and even though Jackson’s line was pierced three times, it recovered in each case because of well positioned reserves. Jackson’s men suffered 4500 casualties, which is a higher percentage than would be typical for a defensive force.

From time to time, the program introduced folks to make statements that were not on the regular agenda. Rob Orrison of the Prince William County battlefields was the first of the parade, and I am embarrassed to say I don't remember what he talked about in his brief remarks.

Dan Welch Rob Orrison

Kevin Pawlak: “Water to his Front, Water to his Rear”: Robert E. Lee Defends the Confederate High Water Mark at Sharpsburg, September 17, 1862

I was really impressed by Kevin’s talk. He has the appearance of a really young guy, but the professional demeanor of someone with a lot more experience. His talk covered the Maryland campaign up through the battle of Antietam. Robert E. Lee chose to fight at Antietam because he needed to save the isolated force of Lafayette McLaws. Antietam Creek allowed Lee to split the Federal attack into three sections. By 10 AM, 90% of the Army of Northern Virginia was in the northern part of the battlefield, north of Sharpsburg, demonstrating that Lee was attempting to retain the initiative even as he was getting pummeled by McClellan. He discussed the failed flanking attack that was assigned to Jeb Stuart, and the September 18 plan to cross the Potomac at Williamsport and swing around to Hagerstown.

Kevin Pawlak Chris and Doug Crenshaw

Chris Kolakowski: “I Will Die Right Here”: The Army of the Cumberland at Stones River

Chris gave a blow-by-blow description of the battle, which was quite lucid, but might have been improved if he had used some maps. He was very impressed with William Rosecrans’s actions on the battlefield, always staying in view of his soldiers, an impression I have also shared.

Richard Lewis talked briefly about the Civil War Trails program and initiative. Ray Redd talked about his efforts to memorialize Jonathan Letterman’s birthplace in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Jay Jorgensen, an author of a variety of books, talked about the Robert E. Lee Roundtable. Dwight Hughes talked about his book on the CSS Shenandoah.

Chris Kolakowski Richard Lewis
Ray Redd Jay Jorgensen
Dwight Hughes

Eric J. Wittenberg: “The Devil’s to Pay”: John Buford at Gettysburg

Eric gave some brief biographical background on Buford and then talked about his defenses on the first day at Gettysburg. He emphasized that the battle was not a classic meeting engagement, but one in which the Union Army had prepared defenses. Buford’s actions meet the definition of a covering force and Eric demonstrated how well executed that force was.

Carolyn Davis made some brief remarks about the Navy, but I am embarrassed to say that I cannot read my handwriting and have forgotten what she said! (Oops!)

Eric Wittenberg Carolyn Davis

Matt Atkinson: The Confederate Defense of Vicksburg

Matt gave a very humorous presentation, with one eye always focused on tweaking the C-SPAN audience. He gave an overview of the Vicksburg campaign and described the assaults on May 19 and May 22, and then went into a lot of detail about the nature of the siege fortifications.

Matt Atkinson Dave Powell

David A. Powell: The Fight for Horseshoe Ridge at Chickamauga

Dave gave a brief overview of the battle of Chickamauga and a thorough look at George Thomas’s defense of Horseshoe Ridge.

Dr. Chris Mackowski: “We Must Strike Them a Blow!”: Lee’s Defense of the North Anna River

Chris gave a good overview of the movement from Spotsylvania Court House to the North Anna River and how the Confederate defensive line was an effective trap set for Ulysses S. Grant, failing primarily because Robert E. Lee was ill and could not direct his forces to attack. For some reason, Chris did not make full use of the maps from his book, but wandered around the room describing a variety of landmarks in relation to the tables the audience sat at.

Ryan Quint: Determined to Stand and Fight: Lew Wallace and the Battle of Monocacy, July 9, 1864

Ryan was another young guy who particularly impressed me. His presentation on the background of Lew Wallace and the details of his defense at Monocacy were excellent. He did a great job establishing the importance of how Wallace delayed Jubal Early—a great defense that failed tactically, but succeeded strategically—and therefore prevented the capture of Washington, DC.

Ryan Quint

At the end of the formal program, Chris Mackowski took a small group of interested folks on a walking tour of Stevenson Ridge, focusing on the well preserved Union earthworks on the property. I was then fortunate enough to be invited to join the group of ECW authors who hung out for pizza, beer, and cigars that evening (although I partook of only the first of those three).

Sunday, August 6

The final morning was an optional field trip to the Brandy Station battlefield, operated as a carpool. Eric J. Wittenberg and Dan Davis were our hosts. We started in the Confederate artillery park next to the little airport, and first visited Buford’s Knoll. Next was St. James Church, where Eric described the attack of his favorite unit, Rush’s Lancers. On Fleetwood Hill, we got to stand on the location of the infamous Tony Troilo McMansion, of which there is no longer any trace, and heard about all of the charging and counter charging. The view up there is amazing. Finally, we drove to the Wellford property, a mansion constructed in 1790 and now called Farley. Bud Hall met us there as a surprise guest presenter and told us the history of the mansion, which witnessed many of the Civil War armies passing by. It was also the headquarters of the Union VI Corps during the winter encampment of 1863–64. Bud talked about some of the recent preservation efforts and revealed a large number of easements nearby, protecting a good part of northern Fleetwood Hill.

Eric, Dan, and Dave Powell Marching up Buford's Knoll
Panorama from Buford's Knoll
Panorama from Fleetwood Hill
Eric at St. James Church Bud Hall at Farley
The former front of the mansion, but considered the back door ever since John Sedgwick moved it Group photo

I drove to Warrenton for lunch (a forgettable sandwich shop downtown) and then did some driving on the terrain of the 1863 Bristoe campaign. I visited Auburn, which I had always envisioned as a small town, but is actually only a handful of houses. I also tried to visit Buckland Mills, but found it is essentially a US Highway with not much to see. I checked into the same airport hotel in preparation for my very early morning flight out on Monday. (Dinner at Famous Dave’s, my favorite barbecue chain, offering Memphis style baby backribs.)

The weekend was a great success and I was very happy I attended. Normally, I tend to shy away from relatively brief weekend events on the East Coast because of the travel logistics from California, but I really wanted to attend this one to meet so many of my colleagues/clients for the first time. I have worked on mapping projects with the majority of them and it was a real pleasure to finally get to know them in person.