|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.|
|Hal posing at the famous stone wall
on Marye's Heights
IThis is my second seminar with the Mosby folks. See my 2007 report. It was also my second visit to Fredericksburg, but if you look at my 2004 report, you will see I didn't write anything particularly interesting about that trip, which was self-guided. Also, check out my Wikipedia article, Battle of Fredericksburg, which I rewrote just before my trip.
I flew out on United Airlines with some apprehensions about the effects of Tropical Storm Nicole in the Washington area, but the flight was almost on time. There was some moderate rain in the evening. The Mosby seminar is in Middleburg, but there are very few hotel options out there in horsey country, so I checked into the Courtyard by Marriott Dulles Airport in Chantilly. Pretty nice and very reasonable!
I had most of the day free. (The Mosby seminar did not start until 5 PM, which was too early to allow me to fly in the same day.) Nicole was out to sea and the weather was beautiful! So I drove about 80 minutes to the Chancellorsville battlefield and stopped by the visitor center. I had visited here once before, but wanted to renew my experiences. I found their little museum to be quite sparse in terms of exhibits. I was also disappointed at the very superficial automobile tour they offered. It was essentially just a map with numbered stops, but no explanations. Perhaps they were relying on the wayside interpretive signs to provide the necessary information at each stop, but it seems that those were undergoing maintenance because many, many of the signs were empty. It is a good thing I know a lot about the battle already. I enjoyed visiting Hazel Grove and walking on the trail that follows the path of the Confederate artillery fire. I was struck by the number of really elaborate homes that are right on the battlefield, such as on McLaws Drive and the Orange Plank Road. In California, we would call some of these McMansions. It really is a beautiful setting there in the woods, but I wonder how people sleep at night, imagining the cries of the wounded who might have been in their yards.
|Hazel Grove at Chancellorsville||The Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Court House||View of the Mule Shoe (the wooded area)
from Upton's perspective
The ranger at the visitor center told me that there was a Ranger Talk at 1 PM at the Bloody Angle, so I took the Brock Road down to Spotsylvania Court House. While I waited, I walked the trail out to Laurel Hill and found a tiny monument in the woods to the Maryland Brigade. I also saw the site of the Spindle House, which was burned down in the battle on May 8. I found the sign commemorating where John Sedgwick was killed ("They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance ..."). At the Bloody Angle, while I waited, I watched a lady walking her dogs and letting them pee on the 49th New York monument! No ranger showed up, so I called the visitor center and they were embarrassed to say that he called in sick, but they had not noticed that when they advised me it was scheduled for today. So, I set out on my own and took the walking trail that looped around across the field and to the woods out of which the Union came to attack the Mule Shoe. That was pretty interesting. Although I had been to Spotsylvania before, I had only seen it from the Confederate perspective.
|The cute little town of Middleburg, VA||The community center, home for the lectures||Childs Burden and two student-historian
The conference started in Middleburg, which is a cute little horsey town about a half-hour drive from my hotel. There was a reception with wine, cheese, fruit, and ... cupcakes! There was also an extensive used book sale and I was able to find four interesting paperback books for the bargain price of five dollars each. Then, I was delighted to be called out by conference organizer Childs Burden as being the participant who had traveled the farthest to attend and received a prize—a two volume edition of G.F.R. Henderson's biography of Stonewall Jackson!
The first talk of the conference was by Greg Mertz, the supervisory historian of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, entitled "Hurry up and Wait: The Federal Army Initiates the Fredericksburg Campaign." Greg had a number of interesting items of background about how Fredericksburg was selected for the advance toward Richmond. He talked about the sequence of events of relieving McClellan and appointing Burnside. He described how the just-announced Emancipation Proclamation provided pressure for a successful campaign before the end of 1862. He explained some of the bureaucratic issues that delayed the arrival of the pontoon boats—it seems that Henry W. Halleck had assumed that Burnside would cross the Rappahannock up river and then advance toward Fredericksburg on the south side of the river, which meant he did not think the pontoons were very important. Greg revealed that Lincoln proposed that Nathaniel Banks participate with a coordinated attack by ship up the Rappahannock to put the squeeze on Fredericksburg, but this obviously did not work with the urgent schedule.
|Greg Mertz||Frank O'Reilly|
The second talk was by Frank O'Reilly (also of the F&SNMP, and the author of the well regarded book, Fredericksburg Campaign), entitled "Tale of Two Stone Walls." Frank offered a number of "changed perspectives" or vignettes about the battle. His title referred to both the iconic stone wall on Marye's Heights and to Stonewall Jackson, who defended the southern end of the battlefield. Frank described in detail how none of the major participants wanted to fight at Fredericksburg. The original idea was apparently McClellan's, who had ordered up pontoons on November 6 (the day before he was relieved) and had sent a cavalry party under Ulric Dahlgren to reconnoiter possible river crossing points near the city. Burnside was under immense pressure to come up with a campaign strategy immediately after he was appointed and apparently, reluctantly seized upon what McClellan had thought up. Lincoln wanted an offensive, but would have preferred one that followed the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, directly confronting Lee along the way. Lee and Jackson would have preferred to fight at the North Anna River, which would have given them an opportunity to conduct more than a simply defensive battle.
So poor Fredericksburg was everyone's second choice, although it had a number of firsts. It was the first riverine crossing of the war under fire, the first urban combat since the battle of Monterrey in the Mexican War, the first shelling of a city as a military target in the war, and the first battle in which the army commander was connected to his subordinates by telegraph. Frank had some interesting observations about Burnside's strategy of making his main attack on the southern flank. Not only would it avoid the suicidal attack against Marye's Heights, but a breakthrough there would have cut off any Confederate retreat and put the Union Army in between Lee and Richmond—Lee could not have effectively retreated into the Wilderness or across the Rappahannock. Frank thought that General Franklin perceived his attack there as only a feint, a misunderstanding that may have been prompted by a set of faulty maps that made Burnside's order to him seem nonsensical. However, he had choice words for James A. Hardie, who he called the villain of Fredericksburg, the staff officer who delivered Burnside's order, but chose not to bother explaining the motivation behind it. (In 1863, Hardie was the guy who delivered the order to George Meade, appointing him commander of the Army of the Potomac just before Gettysburg.) Frank concluded with moving reminiscences about two critically injured men who showed valor, as well as Richard Kirkland, the "Angel of Marye's Heights."
Today was chock-full of lectures. After a nice continental breakfast at the Middleburg Community Center, Clark B. "Bud" Hall started off with "'Tell General Stuart I'm Getting on Fine': John Pelham's Glorious Day at Fredericksburg." Bud admitted to being a great fan of the Gallant Pelham, the 24-year-old artillerist who held off Meade's division for over an hour at Fredericksburg with essentially a single gun. Pelham commanded Jeb Stuart's Horse Artillery, delivering fast movements and deadly fire, what Bud called "shoot and scoot." Bud claimed that there was not a single battle in which he did not make a game-changing contribution. At Fredericksburg, Pelham was using a Napoleon 12-pounder that was seized from the Yankees at Seven Pines, and although there were as many as 30 Union guns trying to knock him out, he kept firing for as long as an hour. In addition to delaying Meade, he also caused Abner Doubleday's division to face south, preventing it from reinforcing Meade. One of the interesting things that Bud said was about Edward Porter Alexander, whom he called the only officer whose reports you can completely rely upon, unlike many cavalry officers. I don't know who he had in mind. :-)
|Bud Hall||Kim Holien||Bob Krick|
Next was Kim Holien, a historian with the Department of the Army, who spoke on "Burnside at Fredericksburg: Defeated by Both Blue and Gray." Kim told us that much of what we know about Burnside are lies that were written after his death in 1881 and that we needed to avoid the rut of historiography, where historians repeat the same misinformation over and over again. He mentioned Edward Stackpole's 1957 book as misleading a generation of historians. As a veteran player within the Beltway, Kim is always on the lookout for political intrigue and he said that Lincoln and Burnside had numerous conferences, but no records exist of what was said, which he deems to be very suspicious. He called Henry Halleck an arch backstabber, a sheer incompetent, and evil. Discussing the battle, he said that Burnside's tactical idea was similar to Lee's at Chancellorsville: hold the enemy with your right and then swing around with your left. Unfortunately for Burnside, instead of having Stonewall Jackson to swing to the left, he had William B. Franklin, who seemed to be more concerned about not losing the battle than winning it. Kim catalogued a number of reasons why Burnside was suffering from severe stress and sleep deprivation, among those seeing the deaths of two of his key, competent subordinates in earlier battles—Isaac Stevens and Jesse Reno. He judged Burnside's three grand division commanders as all incompetent and referred to Joe Hooker as "an oily man in a uniform" and said that you cannot trust him with a glass of water, whatever that means. He concluded by urging us to reevaluate Ambrose Burnside and called William Marvel's biography of him "magnificent."
Third was our favorite curmudgeon, Robert K. Krick, on "Fredericksburg under War's Savage Hell." Although he frequently injected humor in his typical style, the talk was about the serious subject of the war's effect on the civilians of Fredericksburg. He reviewed some orders from earlier in 1862 that prohibited rape and looting. He said that during the December bombardment of the city, two civilians were killed. He highlighted a few examples of looting and pillaging that went on in the city and said that by mid-1863, the city was only a barren shell. Although senior officers did not approve or make this a policy, the incidents constituted an "ugly catalogue of misdeeds." He mentioned surveys of arrests and court records and said that there were 400 known incidents of rape during the war, but that he considered this to be the "tip of a gross iceberg" of unreported incidents. One of the audience members offered an amusing anecdote about an ancestor who wrote to his wife that he was sorry he was not able to ship home the piano he had looted from a house in Fredericksburg.
After a nice lunch prepared by the Mosby volunteers, which I enjoyed outside on the sunny steps of the community center, Jeff Wert spoke on "Lee and Longstreet at Fredericksburg." Jeff is an excellent speaker who didn't seem to use any notes. He said that one of Longstreet's great strengths was that he was able to see talent in men and that he had the strongest staff in the army. He recommended Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy as an essential book for any Civil War reader. One aspect of the battle that he described was relatively unfamiliar to me. Apparently Longstreet ordered Hood and Pickett to attack the flank of the Union assault against Prospect Hill, but nothing happened. Longstreet wanted to court-martial Hood for disobeying the order, but let the matter drop after the great Confederate victory. Longstreet did not consider Fredericksburg to be an ideal battle because it did not offer the opportunity for the Confederates to crush the Union Army; he thought that Second Manassas was the ideal battle.
|Jeff Wert||George Rable||Panel: Bob, George, Jeff, Frank|
Frank O'Reilly returned to discuss "Into the Slaughter Pen—The Assaults against Jackson's Line." This was quite a detailed look into the preparation for, and the execution of, Meade's division attack on the Confederate right flank. He remarked that Stonewall Jackson was responsible for only one quarter of the Confederate front (about 2 miles out of 8), and he used that limited space to stack up a defense in depth. Meade's attack only pierced the first line of defense. The controversial 600 yard gap in A.P. Hill's line was a decision that was supported by Lee, because no one believed that the Union would choose to attack through that marshy ground. Meade's division of Pennsylvania Reserves had started the war with 10,000 men, but by December 1862 it had withered to 3,800, and all three of the brigade commanders were undistinguished. They advanced with essentially no friendly artillery support. Frank thought that one of the problems with Burnside's order to Franklin was that it was worded as "seize the heights," which implies that he was to simply occupy undefended ground. The correct 19th-century military term would have been "carry the heights." This, along with the order to use a "division at least," may have led Franklin to believe that he was not conducting the main attack, but merely a feint. And Hardie did not bother to ensure that Franklin understood Burnside's intent. He criticized John F. Reynolds, the corps commander, because he said none of the infantry units on the field saw Reynolds during the battle, but every artillery battery reported that he visited them, fiddling with their emplacements. (There was a question from the audience about why Reynolds was so well regarded up until his death at Gettysburg, and Frank could not come up with a reason.)
The final talk of the afternoon was by George Rable of the University of Alabama—Bob Krick referred to him as the Tuscaloosa Demosthenes. George was the author of Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!, a book that was published just about the same time as Frank O'Reilly's. His talk was "Recrimination, Despair and Resilience: Union Soldiers Assess the Fredericksburg Campaign." It consisted of numerous quotations from the letters and diaries of Union soldiers that demonstrated how upset they were at the results of the battle, but also how their patriotism survived because of their resilience. These are men who complained, as all soldiers do, but were able to endure. Many of the Union soldiers were convinced that the northern press was covering up the incompetence of their leaders. They thought the battle was a pointless sacrifice with nothing gained, and Burnside assumed the characteristics of a butcher. The winter following Fredericksburg reminded many of them of Valley Forge. One of the reasons their impressions were so intense was that Fredericksburg was an unusual battlefield that had exceptionally broad open plains, allowing them to see wide vistas and tens of thousands of men engaged in combat.
Four of the historians—Frank, Jeff, George, and Bob—conducted a panel session answering questions from the audience. I didn't attempt to record every question and answer, but here are some highlights. In a question about the Irish Brigade, Bob professed to be annoyed about how they got all the press, whereas two other brigades at Marye's Heights advanced farther and had more casualties, but didn't have "shrubbery tucked behind their ears." Frank said that the brigade made a concerted effort to publicize their contribution and that Fredericksburg was their swan song as a combat unit. He said that Thomas Meagher, their commander, was a drunkard and a lout. George said that the southern papers exaggerated the Union casualties at Fredericksburg by at least 50%. Both George and Frank discussed how politics were intertwined with the Army of the Potomac and said that the battle coincided with a purging exercise to get rid of conservatives and Democrats. McClellan was relieved in November, his right-hand man Fitz John Porter was court-martialed, and his other favorite, William B. Franklin, was relieved after Fredericksburg. George remarked that he was surprised to see from letters how politically aware the individual soldiers were, keeping close track of elections back home. Bob jumped in to say that the congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War was one of the "most loathsome in history," liking them to the political commissars who would follow after lieutenants in the Soviet Army during World War II and shoot those who did not succeed in battle, claiming they were traitors. One final interesting tidbit: the famous stone pyramid on the battlefield, which is usually referred to as Meade's Pyramid, was actually erected by a Confederate ladies memorial group, remembering the defensive action. Frank says that commuter train conductors passing by that pyramid used to tell a story that that was where Meade was killed!
We then had a long break before a cash bar opened at the American Legion Hall. Since I was getting pretty tired after sitting in a folding chair all day, I decided to forsake the banquet program and get a good night's sleep before the early battlefield tour on Sunday. In doing so, I regret to say I missed an after-dinner presentation by Bill Young entitled "Lieutenant Finley: Life of a Prisoner of War."
A great day on the battlefield! The bus left at 8 AM and I was intrigued to be faced with a brand-new experience—a safety video that the state requires bus passengers to watch. It was at least three times as long as a typical airline safety video. Needless to say, I did not see anyone paying attention to it. We drove for about 90 minutes to Fredericksburg and the first half of that was really delightful, going through gorgeous horse country. Mansions and rolling hills with multiple-acre paddocks full of brilliant green grass and only a few horses peacefully munching on it. On the ride I was able to talk to Frank O'Reilly about a variety of subjects. We discussed Army and Marine Corps officers doing staff rides and he said their current primary interest at Fredericksburg was the urban combat scenarios, which certainly makes sense. I asked him about all of the missing wayside signs at the national parks I mentioned earlier, and he said they are in the process of upgrading or introducing 350 signs. They just happened to choose the time I was visiting to take out many of the old ones. Frank led a general discussion on the bus about Phil Sheridan for some reason and he called Little Phil the "most amoral man in uniform." The Sheridan family came from the same county in Ireland as the O'Reillys, and he said that the county was glad that they were gone.
|Frank on the bus (note the video screens for the infamous safety briefing)||Chatham (I forgot to ask what kind
of cannon this was)
|The 2/3-scale pontoons from Gods and Generals|
We had a brief stop at the visitor center at Fredericksburg because about a half dozen people decided to drive themselves rather than take the bus, so we picked them up there and drove over to the Federal headquarters on the other side of the Rappahannock River, an elegant brick mansion called Chatham. Quite a number of famous people including Washington and Jefferson had stayed there, but during the battle it was the headquarters for Edwin V. Sumner and Ambrose Burnside used it as his advance headquarters. Out in the back we had a good view of the city across the river and we spent a long time talking about building the pontoon bridges and the small infantry expedition that eventually had to cross the river to suppress the Confederate sharpshooters before the bridges could be completed. Frank judged that Burnside was too humane to be a commanding general because he was really torn about sending his men across the river in boats, afraid that they would be sitting ducks. There was also an incident where Col. Norman Hall had volunteers willing to cross the river and Burnside tried to talk him out of it right in front of his men. There was a section of pontoon bridge displayed on the grounds, but it turned out that it was built at two thirds scale for the movie Gods and Generals. (They also filled with rain and became mosquito-breeding tanks, so the Park Service had to drill holes in the bottom.) Viewing the city as Burnside did, we could see the ridge called Spotsylvania Heights, but not Marye's Heights immediately in front of it. Frank told a funny story about Bull Sumner: when he barked out orders in his very loud voice, his dentures would fly out.
|View of Fredericksburg from Chatham
|The mighty Rappahannock|
We crossed over to the west side of the river and examined the crossings from the Confederate perspective. Brig. Gen. William Barksdale was in command in the town and was tasked to raise the alarm if the Union started to cross, and then hold them off for at least four hours. Barksdale actually held them off for over twelve hours, making the personal decision to defend the town after the sharpshooters were driven back. Lafayette McLaws, his division commander, was angry that he would not withdraw when ordered to do so. We also heard about a big disagreement between the Mississippi and Florida troops; the latter were in a rather precarious position and chose not to open fire on the Union troops, causing great consternation among the Mississippians.
We drove back over to the visitor center for a sack lunch on the lawn. Being a quick-gobbling eater, I finished in time to visit the bookstore, which hosted for sale probably the worst large-scale map I have ever seen of the battle of Fredericksburg. There was also a large woven throw blanket with portraits of Lee and Burnside and a depiction of the Angel of Marye's Heights statue. I imagined myself using it when I was banished to sleep on the couch if Nancy ever saw me bring such a thing home.
We drove south to the Slaughter Pen Farm, a $12 million acquisition that the Civil War Preservation Trust is so excited about. This now preserves a key part of the southern end of the battlefield, where John Gibbon's division supported the advance of George Meade's division. There is some disagreement about whether any of Meade's division stepped onto this land. The CWPT map indicates that they did not, but Frank contends that the right-hand portion of their advance was on the farm. This is the area of the battlefield that has great vistas. It is so flat and open that you can see from Prospect Hill in the south up to Telegraph Hill (now called Lee's Hill) close to the town. The CWPT has a walking trail laid out and we went over about half of it. We passed over something called a "Virginia ditch fence," which is essentially like a moat that is filled with water, 6 feet deep, 15 feet wide. This was an inhibitor to the Union advance, although Stonewall Jackson chose to hold his artillery fire until they got to within 800 yards of his position, not when they were vulnerable at the ditch farther out. The approach to the wooded ridge was something like Pickett's Charge, although the Union soldiers did not have as many swales or depressions to give them temporary cover along the way. Frank went into detail about Gibbon's failed advance and said a little bit about the Confederate counterattack. The counterattack was highlighted by the advance of Atkinson's Brigade and Frank told an interesting story about a private named David Curriden in the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves who captured Col. Edmund Atkinson. In an ironic turnabout, during the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness, Atkinson and a small group of Confederates were able to capture the entire 7th PAR, but Curriden was no longer with the regiment, having joined the Signal Corps!
|Slaughter Pen Farm
(the Rebels were in the woods in the distance)
|Frank emoting on the farm
(but his dentures stayed in)
We also saw the spot where Meade rode back from the front to berate David Birney, using language colorful enough "to make the stones crawl." And we had a discussion about the casualties from the battle. On the southern end of the battlefield, there were about 5,000 Union casualties, 4,000 Confederate, and someone asked how many of those were killed. Frank said that about one tenth were killed, which he claimed was smaller than the more usual one quarter or one fifth. (In my experience, I have found that one quarter is rather high for a Civil War battle.) The reason for this was that it was a winter battle, and therefore fewer soldiers bled to death. (I find it interesting that no one ever made a claim like this for Fort Donelson or Stones River, which were a lot colder.) As we were leaving the southern battlefield, I felt disappointed that we were not able to see more of the Confederate line in the woods, such as the marshy ground that was a gap in the line, or the previously mentioned Meade pyramid. Unfortunately, outside of the Slaughter Pen Farm, a lot of this ground is now hosting industrial and warehouse facilities.
We returned to the visitor center to see the fabled Sunken Road. This was originally the main north-south Virginia highway, called the Telegraph Road. The Park Service has a nicely rebuilt and maintained stone wall in place to show where some of the hottest fighting occurred. Behind the road is a steep little slope. The Confederates put about 3,000 men in a 600 yard front, stacking them up to three deep so that they could maintain a very high rate of fire. In addition, another 3,000 were up the little slope along with all of the artillery. From his vantage point across the river, Burnside could see that upper slope, but the stone wall was not visible, so he was not aware what his men were getting into. There were two water courses that funneled the Union attack directly to this spot, and since it was relatively narrow, they could never attack with more than one brigade at a time.
Although Frank gave us a high-level description of all of the Union attacks (almost seven full divisions, one brigade at a time), we spent most of our time there talking about Burnside's strategy. An overriding theme of the conference has been to reevaluate Burnside and even here at Marye's Heights there is room to interpret his actions without thinking he was a complete idiot. The first two division attacks (French and Hancock) were launched in support of what Burnside thought was a successful effort on the southern battlefield. After he learned that that advance had failed, however, he kept sending divisions forward. Frank posited that this was done to prevent Lee from gaining the initiative and launching a counterattack that would drive the Union army into the river. Burnside was trying to extricate himself from a crisis, sacrificing some of his men to save the army. (This is in stark contrast to his concern about the handful of infantrymen in their boats two days earlier.) Burnside's actions are somewhat similar to Lee at the Mule Shoe of Spotsylvania, where he had to sacrifice a number of brigades in order to stabilize his line. Of course, Lee was reacting to a crisis, whereas Burnside was reacting to a crisis that he created himself.
One interesting comment was that a number of the letters from Union soldiers spoke of seven Confederate assaults that they had beaten back. Frank's explanation for this was that on seven occasions Confederate troops came down the slope to reinforce or replace ranks that had run out of ammunition. But to the pinned-down Union troops, these movements looked like they were swarming down in an attack, only to be stopped at the stone wall. Another tidbit was that Lee supposedly inflated his casualty figures, probably to allow some of his men to take Christmas leave—count them as wounded, send them home, and have them recover miraculously in early January. The final thought was to understand the impact that the battle had on both Lee and Meade. Frank believes that Lee's notion of his army's invincibility was stoked more by Fredericksburg than by Chancellorsville, and that Meade, having failed in his assault because of the mistakes of his superiors, thought he had something to prove when he took command of the army. Interesting perspective.
We had an uneventful bus ride back to Middleburg and I found myself nodding off a few times. (It probably did not help that we were stuffed full of miniature candy bars throughout the day.) My flight back is early Monday morning. The Mosby conference was an excellent experience this year, as it was my previous time, and I hope my schedule allows me to attend another one in the future.
This is my second Civil War trip within a week! Many of these tour opportunities get stacked up in the fall. I have not done a lot of the Civil War Education Association (CWEA) trips so far, primarily for scheduling reasons when I was employed full-time. My previous experience with them was in Sarasota, Florida, for a 2009 winter conference described here. I flew on American Airlines through Dallas to Raleigh-Durham. I was impressed at the apparently new Terminal 2—very modern with pretty architecture inside.
I drove to the luxurious Blue Ridge Ramada (named after the street address, not the mountains, apparently), just in time for the 7:30 PM opening session, providing an overview of the weekend. (This schedule, by the way, is ideal for me because I can fly in the same day and pretty much guarantee I will be able to make the opening session.) The tour announcement is here. Mark Bradley is recognized as the leading expert on the 1865 North Carolina campaign and he gave us about a 30 minute preview of the two days to come. He did it somewhat in the style of a TV station hawking the 11 o'clock news—see what happens to General Foo, details tomorrow! Mark happened to be one of the speakers at the Sarasota conference, so he has been in the same room with me before, although he did not remember me. :-) He did please me secretly by using my Wikipedia map of the Carolinas campaign in his overview presentation. Bob Maher of the CWEA also introduced me to the group (of about 16) as the writer of this travelogue and a frequent contributor to Wikipedia. He called me a "scholar"! Unfortunately, I do not have the energy to create all of the Wikipedia articles about Civil War battles, and the individual battles of the Carolinas campaign that I will link to below are currently pretty skimpy. I will attempt to work on them this fall after I return from this trip, but I do not have a specific completion date in mind.
Today was an exciting day because of the dynamic nature of our schedule (keep reading...). We boarded an unusual 29-passenger shuttle-type bus and drove about an hour south to Averasboro. (I was surprised to hear that the pronunciation I had assumed was not correct. I had been pronouncing it with a short 'a', like have-erasboro, but it turns out that the 'a' is long, like wave-erasboro. When we visited the museum on the battlefield I saw a number of newspaper articles that spelled it Averysborough, which sounds very much like the correct pronunciation, but Mark assures me that those articles were incorrect and that the town is named after a guy named Avera.) We started south of the battlefield at the Old Bluff Church, where we discussed Col. Alfred Rhett's Union brigade. Mark said that Rhett's brigade lost more men to court-martials and executions than it did in the battle; he was apparently a real martinet. I also notice that when he was captured during the battle, he was replaced by a Col. William Butler, so I wonder whether Margaret Mitchell might have been familiar with this battle.
The battlefield of Monroe's Cross Roads is not accessible because it is on a military installation, Fort Bragg, so we did not get to see that cavalry battle that occurred on March 10, where Judson Kilpatrick was almost captured in his underwear. Mark said that Sherman lost confidence in Kilpatrick after that debacle and after he did not appear to be acting decisively in the run-up to Averasboro. A little later in the campaign Sherman made a pitch to Grant to have him delay his activities at Petersburg and send Phil Sheridan down to help them in the Carolinas, but no one gave any serious thought to the suggestion.
|Old Bluff Church near Averasboro||Most of the Averasboro battlefield looked a lot like this|
We drove to the William Smith house, which was turned into a field hospital after the battle (as were most houses in the vicinity), but this one had the distinction of the doctors using a piano as an operating table. It was here that Col. Rhett was captured in a ravine—before his own men could kill him, said Mark. This part of the battlefield was very much like all of the rest. It was almost completely flat and had many open fields, which are currently planted with soybeans, cotton, and tobacco. It is bordered on two sides by two rivers, so it's theoretically a good field for a defensive battle because the enemy cannot get around your flanks. William J. Hardee used this ground to delay the Left Wing of Sherman's army (Slocum's Army of Georgia) so that Joseph E. Johnston would have sufficient time to concentrate the Confederates at Bentonville. He laid out his defense in three lines, with the less experienced troops in the front, somewhat like the battle of Cowpens in the Revolutionary War (or the battle of Cannae, for that matter).
Next we stopped at the John C. Smith house, Oak Grove, to examine the first line of battle, where someone has helpfully plowed up some fake earthworks so it is easier to visualize. It was here that Col. Henry Case's brigade made a surprise attack on the Confederate right flank, and it was good to see that the Union Army had finally learned how to do flanking attacks by 1865. The second line was in a tree line not too far north, and then the third was where Chicora Cemetery is now located. The battle was essentially inconclusive, but both sides achieved something. Sherman opened the road to Goldsboro, and Hardee delayed him. The latter also used this as a way of testing his newly organized, green army in battle, boosting their morale, at a cost of about 10% casualties. Mark called this battle Old Reliable's finest hour.
We drove to the visitor center and museum (but I do not want to over emphasize the driving aspect because all of these places are spread out only about a mile and I would have been perfectly comfortable walking between these stops). We looked at all of their exhibits and a very well stocked gift shop, and then adjourned for lunch on picnic tables outside. Once again, the weather was beautiful: mid-70°s, not a cloud in the sky. The weather was a good thing because we next started a great logistical adventure. Driving through the small town of Dunn, our bus's alternator failed, which initially manifested itself as a transmission that would not shift properly, but soon we were on the side of the road with a dead battery (and a nonflushing toilet). It took over three hours for the tour company to send out a replacement bus and mechanics to fix the old one. So we sat on the side of the road in the nice weather, taking advantage of the shade of a very large tree. Mark was a real trouper and spent over two of those hours giving us a lecture without notes about a whole raft of subjects: unit movements and engagements after Bentonville; the conference at City Point with Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Lincoln; the surrender negotiations for Johnston's army; a biography of William T. Sherman; a discussion of Sherman's use of the "hard hand of war"; a bio of Robert F. Hoke and a sideline discussion about whether he was anointed by Robert E. Lee as a potential successor in case of Lee's demise (we were skeptical of that); a discussion about the later career of John M. Schofield; the burning of Columbia, South Carolina; Wade Hampton; and Judson Kilpatrick's love-life.
|The disabled bus||Mark adlibbing while we waited for the bus|
On the road again, we discussed how to deal with the lost three hours and everyone agreed that we would run late, until 7 PM instead of 5 PM, and attempt to cover all of the original itinerary. Unfortunately, we had to compromise a bit because the two stops we intended to take would both be closed by the time we reached them. So we headed back to Raleigh, discussing the cavalry actions after Bentonville. Downtown (which is very nice and nearly immaculate) we followed the route of the mayor and his commissioners as they traveled to surrender to Kilpatrick. We saw the Capitol building without stopping or going inside, but paraded the bus in the way that both armies marched in review on April 12. We heard about the 100 foot Capitol dome, from which a Union signal officer, Lt. George C. Round, nearly fell off twice. (Signal officers and their exploits always catch my attention.) We took the Hillsborough Road out of town, following the route of the XV and XVII Corps, and headed toward Bennett Place, through the towns of Cary, Morrisville, and Durham, along with a rather heavy rush-hour traffic. (I was amused to note that the Durham minor league baseball team is called the Bulls.)
|Capitol and Confederate monument
viewed from the moving bus
|The road to Bennett Place|
Our final stop was Bennett Place, which was the house in which the surrender negotiations occurred on April 17, 18, and 26. It closes at 5 PM, so we did not see inside the house, but it was pretty tiny and I doubt that we missed anything. This building is a reproduction because the actual building was burned down by vagrants in 1921. We were able to walk on the same road that the generals walked, which was thought provoking. The visitor center was also closed, but I expect we will make up that experience tomorrow at Bentonville's. We got back to the hotel right at 7 PM, so some of our misadventures worked out perfectly well.
|Bennett House||Mark on the Bennett property
(the kitchen, I think)
We returned to the field today in a giant, comfortable bus, which I am happy to say had no mechanical problems all day. Destination: Bentonville! After an hour drive, we stopped at the visitor center to answer Nature's call, and then discussed the Federal perspective on approaching the battlefield. We drove to Joseph E. Johnston's headquarters, which is on the northern end of the battlefield in the tiny town of Bentonville. Johnston planned a "hammer and anvil" attack in which Braxton Bragg and William J. Hardee would fix the approaching Federals in place and then A. P. Stewart would sweep in on their flank. Only one wing of Sherman's army was present initially—the Left Wing under Henry W. Slocum—so the odds were pretty even. Johnson had 17,000 men, Slocum had 16,000. We drove to the Cole Plantation to discuss the probing attack by Brig. Gen. William P. Carlin's division against what he supposed was a thin cavalry screen, but was actually Stewart's corps. (The Confederate units in this battle were dramatically smaller than their instances early in the war, so a corps was no big deal here.) The Rebels were dug in and Carlin's men made no progress against them. We drove on a dirt road to stop near a ravine, where I got to examine some cotton plants up close for the first time in my life. Very interesting. We charged into the woods in search of the Confederate earthworks, and we actually wandered around in circles about 20 minutes before Mark found them. I had to loan him my iPhone to use as a compass because we got all disoriented in the woods. We discussed the subsequent Confederate counterattack, which Mark characterizes as the Last Great Charge of the Army of Tennessee, which drove Carlin's division from the field in a "perfect rout."
|Bob Maher examining the cotton
|Mark points out the elusive Confederate earthworks||Another view of the earthworks attacked by Carlin's division|
Next we drove to the Cole Farm to discuss Morgan's Stand, where Brig. Gen. James D. Morgan's division got surrounded on three sides, but was able to beat back its attackers (Hoke and Hill). At the Morris Farm we examined the stand of the XX Corps. Alpheus Williams's men withstood from 5 to 7 Confederate assaults, aided immensely by the arrival of 16 artillery pieces. This action brought the battle of March 19 to an end, resulting in a draw. Mark opined that Johnston was reckless to continue the battle beyond that point because Sherman was able to converge his two wings pretty quickly and soon outnumbered him 3 to 1. We went back to the visitor center to enjoy a picnic lunch and I took some time to walk down to and photograph the brand-new Joseph E. Johnston statue. (I needed to do this because there is a sentence in my Wikipedia biography of Johnston that says the only public memorial to him as a statue in Dalton, Georgia, so as of March 2010 there is another.)
|New Joseph E. Johnston statue|
We drove to the site of the Flowers store and heard about the wings of Sherman's army converging. The Confederate generals in this battle were using inaccurate maps provided by the local sheriff and they assumed that Sherman's wings were much farther apart than they were at the time, not much more than 2 miles. Johnston realigned his defensive lines into a two-mile long U-shape that reached as far north as Bentonville, hoping to get one last shot at Sherman. We drove to Sherman's headquarters site. Uncle Billy didn't want to bring on a general engagement—he wanted to simply keep moving toward Goldsboro—but Mark characterized many of his subordinates as being aggressive, and of all of them the most aggressive was Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower. Mower asked his corps commander for permission to do a minor reconnaissance, but it was like a stone soup strategy, where you ask for something very minor and then parlay it into something much bigger that you intended in the first place. Mower's division advanced through a significant swamp, which today is dry but is occupied by a giant hog farm, and one of his regiments, the 64th Illinois, drove within 50 yards of Bentonville, routing Johnston and his staff from his headquarters, and coming perilously close to cutting off the Confederate line of retreat, the road to the Mill Creek Bridge. Hardee counterattacked, which unfortunately resulted in the death of his son, Willie, but which stabilized the line and brought the battle to an end.
In our wrapup session, Mark was relatively critical of Sherman for not pressing the battle to a decisive conclusion. He conjectured that Sherman was too focused on getting resupplied at Goldsboro and was also attempting to minimize the loss of life by letting the Confederates slip away, but it is only through the wisdom of hindsight that we know that no additional major battles would occur in North Carolina and that Robert E. Lee would be surrendering in just a few weeks, which would induce Johnston to surrender a few weeks after that. If Johnston had been defeated at Bentonville, that might have left Lee in a position where he felt he had no alternative strategy after Grant broke his lines at Petersburg.
We got back to the hotel about 3:30 PM and I needed to fill up some time, so Mark suggested to me that I visit the North Carolina Museum of Art, which is only about a half mile away. It is a beautiful museum, very modern, with a very diverse collection of paintings and sculptures, from ancient Greece and Egypt all the way through modern art. Although it was really short on Civil War content (but see the John C. Calhoun bust below, and there also was a tiny Henry Clay), it was a very enjoyable visit. And the entire long weekend in North Carolina was a great visit as well. I think Mark Bradley did an outstanding job, particularly when he had to tap dance for two hours in front of the broken bus. He also went a long way toward making a very complex battle much more understandable. (I have a book of maps about the battle and it takes 28 maps to depict all the action!) Bob and Dave of CWEA provided excellent logistics and I will definitely consider a future outing with this group. They have a very full schedule planned for 2011 (not currently reflected on their website) and I will be mapping out some opportunities when I get my calendar set up.
|North Carolina Museum of Art, which is much more attractive inside than outside||John C. Calhoun||Work from thousands of sewing thread spools hanging from chains|
An uneventful early morning trip back on American. It's great to be home!
My next trip will be in early November to run in the Marine Corps Marathon (see a description in my running webpage) in Washington, DC, on October 31 and will stay over in Virginia until the following weekend. Read my report.