2018 Civil War Travelogues — Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College

Welcome to my 2018 travelogue pages. This is my report of the annual Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. It was my 8th CWI and 19th visit to Gettysburg! To see the entire list of my 2018 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.

Thursday, June 21

I flew United Airlines to Dulles, overnight in a Hampton Inn. Since the CWI starts at 3:30 pm, there was no way (other than a red-eye) to get there from San Francisco on time, so I always fly out the day before.

Friday, June 22

I drove to DC to visit the National Building Museum, which is a gorgeous building that used to be the US Pension Bureau, designed by Civil War Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. There was a very interesting exhibit about the Manhattan Project, called Secret Cities, telling how Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos were designed and built, including a lot about city design and residential housing/dormitories. I find the whole project fascinating. There was also an exhibit with a model house, showing innovative approaches to fitting people into small, configurable spaces—Murphy beds, collapsible walls, etc. There were various tours I could have taken, but I only had about 90 minutes. The drive to Gettysburg was about 100 minutes, where I checked into the Federal Pointe Inn, the converted Meade School building I have stayed in previously, primarily because of its convenient location to the college.

Interior of the National Building Museum (with some construction going on)
Montgomery C. Meigs is peeking out of the employee lounge
Posters for the Manhattan Project National Historical Park

The college continues its construction frenzy and this year our regular meeting building (CUB) is being renovated, so we gathered in the gymnasium down the block (which is a lot more convenient to the parking lot anyway). Peter Carmichael introduced the proceedings and we started with a talk by William Marvel on Mercenary Soldiers, which is apparently an upcoming book. He built up slowly, but his premise was eventually revealed to be that a lot of Union soldiers were in it for the money, not the Union or anti-slavery. Two thirds of the soldiers were from families below the median wealth. He relied on a number of anecdotes to get beyond that data point. For instance, men he studied from his home of Conway, NH, were pulling in about $1300 for a year’s service—including regular pay, supplements, state and city bonuses, etc.—about four times what they could get as civilians. He also found that there was a currently-unstudied recession over the Secession Winter, and a shoemakers strike in Massachusetts, both of which meant a lot of unemployment, making service attractive. In the Q&A, he stated that the Confederates didn’t have this same temptation because their currency was so weak and they were more ideologically driven.

CUB, the previous meeting location, under renovation
Our temporary digs in the gymnasium
Peter Carmichael
Bill Marvel

After dinner, Susannah Ural did an interesting talk called Hood's Boys: The Texas Brigade and the American Civil War, the subject of her new book. The talk did not cover their battle history, but instead the men, officers, and their families back home, including a number of bio sketches of colorful characters. She described their pride and determination and how they valued their service in the Eastern Theater, which they considered the most important. Slavery was an important consideration for many of them, but not the only one. They suffered tremendous casualties, but somehow kept bringing in new men and maintained their unit identity throughout the war, never consolidating with others. More Texans were killed in battle than by disease, which is the opposite of the typical unit. Their families were very supportive. Their desertion rate of 6% was very low, which is partially explained by how far away their homes were from Virginia. And after Vicksburg’s fall cut the Mississippi, they couldn’t get much mail begging them to come home anyway.

Susannah Ural
Pete and Bud Robertson
Bud Robertson

Finally, Peter Carmichael had an hour long conversation with Dr James I. “Bud” Robertson, who is always entertaining. They talked about his early career in the US Air Force; studying under Bell Wiley at Emory; getting writing advice from Bruce Catton; his dissertation and later book about the Stonewall Brigade, the first modern brigade history; the Virginia Sesquicentennial and how he assembled the book Civil War Echoes from all the donated letters; Virginia Tech; how he rescued the Centennial commission; A.P. Hill and gonorrhea research; how there were 36 biographies of Stonewall Jackson, each progressively worse, before he wrote his, a process of seven years that he called the most glorious of his career; and (very favorable) impressions of the key actors of the movie Gods and Generals, which he loved. The evening concluded with an ice cream social, featuring Mr. G’s, the local brand.

Saturday, June 23

We started with a choice of Concurrent Sessions:

(1) Stonewall Jackson's Maps at Chancellorsville, Beth Parnicza (Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park)

(2) Slave Medicine, Deirdre Cooper Owens (Queens College-The City University of New York)

(3) "Know It When You See It": Pornography, U.S. Soldiers, and the Civil War, Judith Giesberg (Villanova University)

(4) Roundtable Conversation: Prisoner of War Experiences (with four authors I’d never heard of)

I picked #1. Beth is a well prepared, well spoken presenter. The subject was a hand drawn map from Stonewall that very crudely depicted the Chancellorsville battlefield and the question was whether he used it with Lee in planning the May 2 flank march. The map was pasted into a 1863 bio book of Jackson that Lee was given. The final answer seems to be we don’t know, but probably not. A few landmarks were shown, but not the location of enemy forces.

Beth Parnicza
Kent Masterson Brown

Meade at Gettysburg, by Kent Masterson Brown. Kent is working on a big Meade book and this talk concentrated on July 1 and how the battle started. It is conventional wisdom that Meade sent John Reynolds to Gettysburg with (1) no particular orders, or (2) with orders to determine whether it was a good battlefield and to defend on Cemetery Hill. Kent pointed out that there were no topographic maps of the area; the army was using county residential maps without any hill features, so Meade couldn’t have know about CH. In the National Archives, Kent found an envelope with the contents of the personal effects found on Reynolds’s body, which were given to Oliver Howard. Included was a handwritten letter from Meade that told JFR to get onto the enemy’s line of communication (the Chambersburg/York Pike) and to withdraw to Emmitsburg if they got into trouble, where they would be reinforced. Kent related this to the tactics of Dennis Hart Mahan from West Point (and Jomini and Clausewitz) in sending an “advanced guard” to disrupt the enemy, cause him to gather before you, and then lead him to follow you to the battlefield of your choosing, which in this case would have been the Pipe Creek Line. Very interesting insight. He also very briefly spoke well of Meade in managing ten divisions directly on July 2—something never done before by an Army of the Potomac commander—and of his use of Councils of War as team building exercises (what the modern army calls staff meetings).

The War for the Common Soldier, by Peter Carmichael. Pete gave one of his animated talks, working off research for his upcoming book, and came to the conclusion that there was no single model for the average soldier. He relied heavily on letters from Charles Biddlecom (the book No Freedom Shrieker, which I worked on peripherally with Katie Aldridge years ago) and Charles Bowen, the latter of which he said he would have taken with him if the Soviets had invaded. He cautioned historians about using soldier letters to wives as a “transparent window into the past,” saying it was a mistake, because many understandably wanted to be perceived back home as brave and determined. And he said that soldiering was not a single state of being, but a process of becoming.

Eisenhower at Gettysburg, by Michael Birkner (Gettysburg College). I first encountered Michael at the 2017 CWI when he gave a talk on James Buchanan. Today’s was an interesting one, about Ike’s Civil War connections. He started with boyhood in Abilene and then talked very briefly about the rest of the pre-WWII career, including his intellectual apprenticeship under Gen. Fox Conner in Panama. Ike loved military history and gravitated to great leaders of lost causes, such as Hannibal. He idolized two Americans—George Washington and Robert E. Lee—and thus was a big fan of Douglas Southall Freeman. In the 50s he usually referred to the War between the States, saying that most of his colleagues over the years were southern officers. There was a minor scandal in 1957 when he gave Gen. Montgomery a tour of Gettysburg and remarked that if Montie had done what Lee did on July 3, he would have sacked him. The South went ballistic over this and he finally wrote a letter explaining how much he loved the general, although he made no mention of the Confederacy and slavery. Mike then slid into civil rights and the Little Rock high school integration crisis. He concluded with two speeches in 1963. The first, in July, was criticized as ignoring civil rights on the 100th anniversary of Gettysburg, but the second, on November 19, admirably echoed Abraham Lincoln. I had not thought about this, but JFK was the first choice as speaker that day, but chose to travel to Texas instead…

Michael Birkner
A. Wilson Greene

The Battle of the Crater, by A. Wilson Greene. Will gave a very good tactical talk about the Crater, including its construction, the command screwups, and the disastrous battle, but there was little I didn’t know already. One exception: he said that the conventional wisdom that the USCT troops originally scheduled to lead the attack were thoroughly trained is false—they were really green troops and there is some evidence that no training at all occurred.

Gettysburg Battlefield Tours, from 5:45 to 8:45 p.m., like a sunset dinner cruise without the booze! We had five to choose from well in advance:

(1) The Seminary Ridge Museum, Daryl Black

(2) "No Troops on the Field Had Done Better": The Counterattack of Caldwell's Division Into the Wheatfield, Scott Hartwig

(3) Hood’s Texas Brigade, Susannah Ural

(4) Controversies in Stone: Union and Confederate Monuments at Gettysburg, Dan Vermilya

(5) The 12th New Hampshire and the Fight for the Klingle Farm, John Hoptak

I signed up for #3. All day long my various weather apps had predicted thunderstorms this evening, but they changed a lot and we eventually had fine weather—mid 70s and just a bit humid. Susannah gave an excellent tour, mostly walking. We bussed to S. Confederate Ave to talk about Longstreet’s countermarching and the start of his July 2 attack. We walked over to the Bushman farm and the small peach orchard where Hood was wounded. We saw how the 3rd AR and 1st TX advanced toward the triangular field, although we did not take the cross-country trek ourselves to duplicate their route. Then we bussed to Round Top and walked a path north over the little foothill/saddle toward Devil’s Den, following the 4th and 5th TX. Finally, we bussed to the summit of Little Round Top to describe the actions there and wrapped up. The Texas Brigade suffered about 54% casualties that afternoon.

Susannah on S. Confederate Ave.
Confederate artillery looking toward the Bushman farm
Following the Texas Brigade
Hood was wounded near here
Devil's Den
Sunset Panorama from Little Round Top
Susannah reading soldiers' accounts on Little Round Top

Sunday, June 24

We started at a leisurely 9 a.m. with Concurrent Sessions:

(1) USCT Desertion, Jonathan Lande (Brown University)

(2) The Civil War Defenses of Washington, Steve Phan (Civil War Defenses of Washington)

(3) Arming the Union: Springfield Armory in the Civil War, Susan Ashman (Springfield Armory NHS)

I chose #2. Steve read a talk that was focused on a lot of PowerPoint photos of the forts and batteries, a number of which I had not seen before, so it was interesting. I think he intended to go over the battle of Fort Stevens, but he ran out of time.

Steve Phan (my photo did not turn out, so this is from Steve's Facebook page)
Brooks Simpson

The President and Two Generals: Lincoln, McClellan, and Grant, by Brooks Simpson. Brooks is always entertaining and continued his streak today. The talk was broadly divided into how the two generals were treated similarly and how they differed. Both were restricted in which subordinates they could appoint. Both had to deal with the difficult Henry Halleck (Brooks remarked that almost every general seems to have a revisionist historian lined up to defend him, but not Old Brains). Both had plans to bypass the Overland approach against Richmond and both were opposed or nitpicked. Both were haunted by the Shenandoah Valley and the need to protect Washington. And for both, there were instances of their superior undermining their positions with subordinates (McClellan having troops removed to oppose Jackson—with incompetent commanders—and Grant with McClernand). Now to differences. McClellan openly criticized Lincoln. Grant didn’t, even in private—there aren’t any letters to Julia complaining about Lincoln. McClellan (and Lincoln for that matter) was new to the job; Grant admitted that McClellan was very smart and was probably promoted too quickly to get needed experience along the way, as he did. Grant had empathy for the positions of Lincoln and his government, and was the only army commander to invite Lincoln to visit his command. As an aside, Lincoln’s enthusiasm for Grant in the early years is overstated. The quote about “I can’t spare this man—he fights” didn’t emerge until 1890. And Lincoln had a spy in Grant’s HQ.

Roundtable Conversation: Reflecting on Grant's Memoirs. Panelists were Brooks Simpson, John Hennessy, Jennifer Murray (University of Virginia—Wise), William Marvel, and James Broomall (Shepherd University, moderator). Surprisingly, I didn’t find this lengthy panel too interesting and took few notes. (Panel discussions move back and forth so quickly that they are hard to record anyway.) One interesting topic was the relationship between Adam Badeau’s three volume military history of US Grant and the subsequent Memoirs.

Panel: James, Jennifer, Brooks, Bill, John
Elizabeth Varon

Union Spy: Elizabeth Van Lew, Elizabeth Varon (University of Virginia). Van Lew was a Unionist in Richmond who ran a spy ring that, among other things, helped prisoners who escaped from Confederate prisons. Part of the reason she escaped detection was she developed a reputation for eccentricity, and was known to her social enemies as Crazy Bett. Called an abolitionist, she was actually in favor of gradual, voluntary emancipation, and she also supported efforts to relocate blacks to Africa. George Sharpe, the head of the Bureau of Military Intelligence, said she was his only asset in the Confederate capital. She supposedly interacted daily with Gen. Grant and his City Point HQ, and was responsible for the reburying of Ulric Dahlgren after his failed raid. After the war she was appointed by Grant to be the Postmaster of Richmond, a prestigious political post, and served for nine years. This of course was not a way to endear her to the locals. There is a lot more info on Van Lew in an article I found https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/elizabeth-van-lew-an-unlikely-union-spy-158755584/, which was more interesting than this talk.

Movie Discussions.

(1) Cold Mountain, James Broomall (Shepherd University)

(2) Andersonville, Angela Zombek (UNC-Wilmington)

(3) Ride With the Devil, Michael Gray (East Stroudsburg University)

(4) Free State of Jones, Elizabeth Varon (University of Virginia)

I chose #1. (I had seen 1 and 4, and didn’t like either, but I decided it would be a waste to go to a discussion of the other two movies I had not seen.) We previewed all the gory introduction about the Battle of the Crater, which had a number of inaccuracies, but was dramatic. After the lights came on I found myself in a room full of liberal arts majors who volunteered to talk about every emotion and feeling and nuance that crossed their minds. During the next dimming of the lights, I escaped out the back.

James Broomall discussing Cold Mountain

Dinner at my favorite Gettysburg restaurant, Bella Italia on the York Pike. Then I wandered over to the Angle for a brief visit, followed by the National Cemetery. There is a program running from Memorial Day to Labor Day called One Hundred Nights of Taps put on by the Lincoln Fellowship. Tonight SFC Mitch Mummert (retired) was the bugler. I recorded a video, which Facebook inexplicably said was copyrighted music, so I had to do some clicking and agreeing to get it accepted.

Monday, June 25

Our touring choices were:

(1) In the Footsteps of John Brown, Dennis Frye

(2) 2nd Manassas, John Hennessy & Brooks Simpson

(3) Photography at Antietam, Garry Adelman

(4) Meade at Gettysburg, Kent Masterson Brown & Christopher Stowe (Marine Corps University, Quantico)

(5) Civil War Defenses of Washington, Steve Phan

I chose #2. We left on the bus at 8 a.m. and I was concerned about the traffic, but was surprised to find it was quite light all the way down US 15. In addition to John and Brooks, we also had Bill Marvel along, who is working on a new biography of Fitz-John Porter. We first drove to Thoroughfare Gap to discuss Jackson and Longstreet passing through and the latter having a minor battle on August 28 (but the Union troops arrived too late to do anything effective). There’s a neat dirt road in Georgetown that we drove down and saw the hill Lee and Longstreet camped on. We drove b Chapman’s Mill, where the majority of the minor fighting occurred. We drove through Haymarket and Gainesville, which John said are on track to be merged into an “edge city” like Tyson’s Corner.

Our first stop was Stuart’s Hill for a bathroom break and a brief talk up on the hill, where you can see Brawner’s Farm in the distance. This was Lee’s HQ during the battle and also a signal station. The talk was about the military-political situation, the coming of a harder war against civilians with the arrival of John Pope and the temporary eclipse of George McClellan. At Brawner’s, we did a full tactical run through. Brooks said that Lee’s tactics throughout the war could be described as Pin, Flank, and Attack, which is what he did at Second Manassas for sure.

Brooks and John on Stuart's Hill
Brawner's Farm house (not original)
Battle site of Brawner's Farm

Then we drove to the picnic area for a bag lunch, which is where our bus broke down—something to do with the emergency brake. A new bus was ordered causing about a 2.5 hour delay. This resulted in some modest program shortening and a late return to the college. We had a comfortable picnic pavilion to sit in—and the weather was really pleasant—where we discussed a variety of topics, such as the motivations for the war, Confederate statues, the Fitz-John Porter controversy, and Longstreet’s delay in attacking (which John described as perfectly reasonable, despite some Lost Cause opinions to the contrary).

At 3:30 we finally made it out and went to walk Porter’s assault of August 30, crossing the field to reach the Deep Cut. I have been to this area a few times, but had never crossed in the way the Union soldiers did, so this was illuminating for me. We stopped at the old Groveton Monument and then walked down almost to the Dump before returning to the bus. We drove to “New York Avenue” to discuss Hood’s mowing down Warren’s brigade on August 30, including the 5th and 10th NY regiments, both of which have monuments here. Our final stop was China Ridge, where we got an abbreviated version of the complex attacks that happened here, as well as a brief description of the final Union defense on the Sudley Road. We had dinner at a very nearby Golden Corral and then hit the road, arriving back at the college about 9:20.

Porter's Assault route
Groveton Monument
Bill Marvel and John Hennesey
Brooks on New York Ave
Chinn Ridge
John and Brooks on Chinn Ridge

Tuesday, June 26

Breakout Tours In the Footsteps of Soldiers and Civilians

(1) Embattled Civilians, Ashley Whitehead Luskey (Gettysburg College)

(2) Alexander McNeill, 2nd South Carolina Infantry, Keith Bohannon

(3) Slocum's Second Interior Line on July 1, Troy Harman

(4) Gettysburg Off-the-Beaten-Path, Garry Adelman

(5) Meade's Pursuit to Williamsport, Jennifer Murray

Of these the first three were half-day tours, the other two full-day. I chose #4. I always enjoy Garry’s tours, but I won’t try to record too many details because he’s really like a firehose and it’s very difficult to take adequate notes. This was a wide-ranging 4-mile walking tour of places most haven’t seen before, concentrating primarily on July 2 and 3 locations. (I had seen most things of these previously, unless otherwise noted, but Garry always puts an entertaining spin on them.) We started by busing to the Valley of Death (Plum Run Valley) and then walked to Geary's position on July 1. We climbed Little Round Top and took a small dirt path which at one time was the original Sykes Avenue and stopped at the 155th Pennsylvania Monument. In the early days of the park, this was as far as the road went up the hill. By this time I realized that many of the topics we discussed were unrelated to the battle itself, although the audience of the tour persisted in asking primarily military questions about tactics and what if's, such as the Sickles controversy and Ewell's if-practicable order. Garry does a very brisk walking tour. I can usually stride right along, but every time I looked up at him he was about 75 yards ahead of me. We went to the saddle between Round Top and Little Round Top and then to Devil's Kitchen. Down in the Slaughter Pen, we discussed Tipton Park, where a photo studio was next to a feature now called fountain rock. In Devil's Den I learned something new: that name formally applies only to a tiny cave on the western end of the rock formation, the location for the legendary giant snake that was known to the residents as the Devil. We discussed the famous Confederate sharpshooter photo and talked about the actions in the triangular field featuring the 124th New York (the Orange Blossoms). Garry said that he is certain this unit was the one portrayed in the Red Badge of Courage. At this point he went into a rant decrying all of the ghost tour industry; although he said he had no opinion about whether ghosts exist or not, he knows that all of the stories being told by these tour operators are fabrications. Then we spent a little time in the Wheatfield, the site of 9000 casualties in about 2 1/2 hours.

Garry in the Valley of Death
Garry on Little Round Top
Garry sure likes rocks
One of the earliest battlefield monuments
Devil's Kitchen
Fountain Rock
Devil's Den
Devil's Den
But this is the real Devil's Den
Confederate Sharpshooter

We had a nice picnic lunch south of S. Confederate Ave. and then spent some time analyzing photographs on the Rose farm. He said that there are only 97 known photographs of Civil War dead and 37 of them were from Gettysburg. We drove to Culp's Hill. Garry used this opportunity to reiterate his contention that every time the Confederates started off with a favorable attack, they always seemed to run into larger Union defending units, fresh troops that arrived just in time. (I guess this speaks well of George Meade's generalship.) The next part of the tour that I had not done previously was a walk along the Iron Brigade's line over to Stevens Knoll. From there we walked to East Cemetery Hill for a brief description of that battle. He pointed to a 4 acre piece of ground between the Baltimore Pike and the Oliver Otis Howard statue and said that that was the original preserved battlefield, purchased in August 1863. We walked over to the Soldiers' National Cemetery where Garry talked about the Gettysburg Address. Finally, we walked over to the Brian farm just north of the Angle and Garry organized about half of the group to do a demonstration final charge of Pettigrew's troops approaching the wall. They were pretty energetic. I was behind the wall yelling "Fredericksburg, Fredericksburg!"

On Culp's Hill with George S. Greene

Then back to the college. Unfortunately, none of the remaining CWI agenda worked for me. The Feeney lecture and the Roundtable were scheduled during the Adelman tour, and the book panel was late in the evening, while I was driving to Dulles for my early morning flight back home. Too bad I missed them (the Roundtable in particular). I had an excellent time at this year's Civil War Institute and look forward to future attendance.

Disabled Civil War Soldiers, by William Feeney

Roundtable Conversation: Lee & His Lieutenants. Panelists were Brooks Simpson, John Hennessy, Keith Bohannon, A. Wilson Greene, and Peter Carmichael (Moderator)

Final Panel: Essential Classic Books on the Civil War. Panelists were Jennifer Murray, Peter Carmichael, Ashley Whitehead Luskey, Keith Bohannon, and Scott Hartwig