Below are the details of the Brandy Station sesquicentennial tour, set for Saturday, June 8, 2013. ONLY THOSE WITH CONFIRMED RESERVATIONS ARE PERMITTED TO ATTEND. RESERVATIONS WILL NOT BE ACCEPTED AFTER THURSDAY, JUNE 5.. For a larger version of the map, please click on it.
A Message from Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable:
Dear Tour Registrant,
Thank you for registering for the Brandy Station 150th Anniversary Tour hosted by the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable (LCCWRT).
As the date for the event is fast approaching, please make note of the following information:
1. Our first “rally point” on June 8 will be the Civil War Trust’s property on the north end of the Culpeper Airport. Please refer to the directional map shown below for detailed directions from US Rt. 29 to the initial staging area for the tour. For your convenience, the web link below may be used to determine the best route to the designated parking area for the initial staging area for the tour:
Tour registrants are instructed to check in at the registration tent upon arrival and pick up an individual tour field packet containing battle maps and other historic information. After picking up the field tour packet, each registrant should proceed to the designated assembly area for an initial tour orientation by the guest historians. Portable toilets will also be available at the initial staging area for the convenience of tour attendees.
2. In order to cover the necessary ground for this special Sesquicentennial event, the tour will begin promptly at the initial staging area tour stop at 8:30 AM sharp on Saturday, June 8. Please make appropriate travel, parking, tour registration and hiking preparation arrangements, accordingly.
3. Although we have planned for adequate parking accommodations at the various tour stops for this event, it is highly recommended that tour participants consolidate vehicles where possible to reduce the number of vehicles on the battlefield roads and at designated parking areas for the individual tour stops. This will also facilitate rapid movement and parking of vehicles at each tour stop and provide more time for enjoying the tour that has been prepared by the guest historians.
As part of this effort, tour participants are requested to consolidate vehicles at the initial staging area parking area at the beginning of the tour if you are driving alone or with only one additional passenger. Return transportation will be provided to personal vehicles left at the initial staging area parking area at the end of the day. Be sure to lock your vehicle before leaving any personal items in the vehicle.
We also highly encourage tour registrants who have purchased multiple tickets on the Eventbrite website to carpool with friends as much as possible before arriving at the battlefield. There are several “park and ride” commuter lots with ample parking space on weekends located nearby where tour registrants can meet friends in order to consolidate transportation before arriving at the battlefield.
4. Handicap and Special Transportation: Those tour participants that need special transportation requirements between tour stops should plan to provide their own specially equipped vehicles for their special needs. Every effort will be made to accommodate these special vehicles at each tour stop and those tour participants with special transportation needs.
5. Please follow the designated lead “tour stop” vehicle that will lead the tour car caravan to and from each designated tour stop. Please follow the parking directions and instructions of the tour parking staff/traffic control attendants wearing yellow florescent jackets at the designated parking areas for each tour stop.
6. After leaving the initial staging area parking area, please be alert for directional tour signs posted at key intersections, along the side of the road and open fields identifying the LCCWRT Tour Route and location of the designated tour stops for your information and convenience. These tour signs will have the logo “LCCWRT TOUR” at the top.
7. For your safety and enjoyment of the tour, please obey all traffic signals/signs at intersections and all speed limits while moving from one tour stop to the next. The tour will not start at each tour stop until all tour participants have parked their cars and have arrived at the designated meeting place for the beginning of the tour.
8. For the convenience of tour attendees, adequate portable toilet facilities (both male and female) will be available to tour participants at various tour stops throughout the day. The locations of the portable toilets are identified on the tour stop itinerary map included in the tour field packet for your convenience.
9. The tour will traverse some moderately difficult grassy terrain and old farm roads. Please wear appropriate clothing including comfortable hiking shoes/boots (no open sandals), broad brimmed hats, sunglasses and (preferably) light colored tan khaki long pants (to avoid problems with pesky ticks). Be sure to tuck pant legs into socks and spray with insect/tick repellant. You may wish to bring a change of clothing for the end of the day at the last tour stop located at Rose Hill.
10. This tour will take place rain or shine. Please check local weather in the area prior to arriving at the battlefield and include rain gear if inclement weather is anticipated.
11. General Field Packing list – plenty of bottled water, insect/tick repellant, sunscreen, and packed lunch.
12. LCCWRT has charted an outstanding program which will take tour participants to places that tour groups have never visited before. Our guest historians will share unique vignettes in time that will enthrall the listener and carry you back to a time of plumed hats, bold cavaliers and swift horses. In order to include these important and rarely seen historic locations and share the wonderful stories that are associated with these sites, please be aware that the tour may extend up to ten hours in length. Tour attendees are free to leave the tour at any time during the day if their personal schedule does not permit them to complete the entire tour. But for those who do choose to remain with the tour through the final tour stop at Rose Hill, a special treat will be waiting.
13. If you know of anyone who has not registered for this special Sesquicentennial event, please encourage them to complete the proper registration for this event by clicking on the following web link and follow the instructions shown thereon:
By registering, tour planners will be better able to properly plan for the logistical requirements of the tour.
14. Emergency LCCWRT Contact Phone Numbers:
Cecil Jones (President) (571) 217-9816 (cell)
James Morgan (Vice President) (571) 225-2812 (cell)
15. Disclaimer: Although this is an easy outdoor hiking event without any known physical hazards, participation in this event is at tour registrant’s own personal risk. The Loudoun County Civil War Round Table and its members as well as all associated event historians, guides and support staff provided for this special Sesquicentennial event will not be held accountable or responsible for any personal injuries or damages to personal property incurred by participants while attending this event. All personal property belonging to individual tour registrants is the tour registrant’s sole responsibility. All personal items left in vehicles while participating in this event are the sole responsibility of the individual owners involved. Travel to and from this special event is at tour registrant’s personal risk.
Again, we thank you for registering for this special 150th Anniversary event and we look forward to seeing you on the battlefield on Saturday, June 8.
Loudoun County Civil War Round Table
This will be a once-in-a-lifetime tour. I encourage all interested readers to register. I hope to see some of you there!Scridb filter
For those interested in attending the June 8 sesquicentennial tour of Brandy Station, we’re nearly done with laying out the itinerary for the tour. I’m confident that it’s going to be a once in a lifetime tour.
Stand by just a bit longer, and we will announce the details here as soon as the final details are pinned down. It will definitely be prior to the tour date.
We thank you for your patience.
For those interested in attending this free tour, please click here.Scridb filter
From today’s issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Rescued ‘Silent Sentinel’ Civil War statue going to Laurel Hill Cemetery
EDWARD COLIMORE, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: Thursday, May 23, 2013, 5:52 AM
For nearly a century, the Silent Sentinel watched over the graves of Civil War veterans at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Yeadon and Southwest Philadelphia.
The bronze figure of a Union soldier clasping the end of a musket stood at rest amid long, neat rows of white marble headstones.
Then, as though deserting its post in fall 1970, the statue disappeared. Thieves pulled it from its granite base and tried to sell it to a Camden scrap dealer, who alerted police.
Silent Sentinel was recovered, repaired at a Chester foundry, and stored out of public view for more than 40 years, until a secure location could be found and money raised for a granite base.
On Wednesday – just days before Memorial Day, an observance with Civil War origins – the monument was moved to Laurel Hill Cemetery on Ridge Avenue to take up a new post and an old mission.
By this time next year, it will be affixed to a 10- to 12-foot-high granite base and illuminated at night at the Gen. George Gordon Meade Post No. 1 Grand Army of the Republic burial plot at Laurel Hill, officials said.
The figure is a natural fit for the Victorian-era cemetery, a kind of Civil War Valhalla where dozens of generals and admirals are buried, including Meade, the victorious commander at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 150th anniversary of that epic clash will be marked with a reenactment from July 3 to 7.
“We’re returning this monument to its sacred task,” said historian Andy Waskie, a member of the board of the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery and an associate member of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), which owns the statue.
In its new location, “the statue will add a new dimension to the Civil War and arts collection of the city,” said Waskie, a Temple University professor and author of Philadelphia and the Civil War – Arsenal of the Union.
The move to Laurel Hill is “a wonderful outcome,” said Jon Sirlin, a Philadelphia lawyer and associate member of MOLLUS who wrote the transfer agreement. A statue “that was otherwise hidden from view is now coming to light.”
The bronze will eventually be visible to passersby on busy Ridge Avenue, illuminated at night “like an eternal flame in Philadelphia, honoring all veterans,” Waskie said.
Also known as Silent Sentry, the monument has a colorful history. It was the work of a French immigrant, Achille Bureau, who served in the Union Army and was buried at Laurel Hill.
During a Memorial Day-related ceremony at noon Sunday, reenactors and others will dedicate a marble headstone at Bureau’s grave and a bronze-on-granite marker at the grave of another Union soldier, Lt. Charles Waterman. They’ll also fire volleys at each site and over Meade’s grave and Grand Army of the Republic burial plot.
Bureau’s statue was commissioned in 1883 by the Soldiers’ Home of Philadelphia, a civilian organization that helped care for indigent and disabled Civil War veterans, Waskie said. The home bought a plot at Mount Moriah for soldiers who died while under care there.
The 700-pound monument was dedicated in 1884 and remained in place until October 1970, when the thieves stole it, then tried to break it up and sell the bronze as scrap.
Finding a safe home for the statue delayed its move to a public site. MOLLUS wanted to prevent another theft and further vandalism, so it stored the statue, valued at $20,000, at the foundry until Waskie proposed the move to Laurel Hill.
“It was too much of a risk to take it back” to the unfenced Mount Moriah, said Adam Flint, commander of the Pennsylvania Commandery of MOLLUS.
Laurel Hill “is a National Historic Landmark that’s well secured and safe,” said Waskie, who formed a fund-raising committee for the transfer.
Nearly $25,000 has been collected for a granite base, plaque, installation, and lighting, said Alexander “Pete” Hoskins, president and CEO of Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries, and executive director of the Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery.
“First, we’re part of saving an important monument that’s been out of view for more than 40 years,” Hoskins said. “This also helps remind the world that we are one of the most important Civil War burial sites.”
The statue, standing up to 18 feet high on its base, will be placed in the Meade plot amid the graves of about 24 Civil War veterans, including some who fought at Gettysburg. It’s now on display in the cemetery’s gatehouse office.
“It’s a gorgeous monument that is finally being returned to its mission,” Waskie said.
I’m tickled to see this soldier return to duty, as he should be. I’m sure he will do a fine job of standing guard over the grave of George Gordon Meade.Scridb filter
Shown in the photo with me is my friend David Raymond, who wrote the foreword to You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players. Unless you’re either a long-time, die-hard Phillies fan, or a die-hard fan of the University of Delaware’s football program, the likelihood is that you don’t know who Dave is. Click on the photo to see a larger image.
The other photo is Dave’s alter ego, the Phillie Phanatic. Dave was the original Phillie Phanatic. He wore the green suit from the time that the character was introduced in 1978 through the 1993 World Series season, and then he passed the suit on to the current Phanatic’s Phriend, Tom Burgoyne. Dave then founded Raymond Entertainment Group, where his self-bestowed (but very accurate) title is Emperor of Fun and Games.
One of the products delivered by the Raymond Entertainment Group is fun. And by fun, I mean The Fun Department. Since 2006 The Fun Department has been delivering Fun to corporations throughout the tri-state area. “We are out to make corporate America smile one face at a time”, says Dave. The Power of Fun is a message that Dave delivers everyday with Raymond Entertainment and The Fun Department. Dave regularly gives his Power of Fun speech to groups in the hope of teaching them that bringing joy, laughter and fun to every day life is not only therapeutic, it is good business. After years of delivering this message in person, Dave decided that it was time to deliver the message of Fun to the masses by writing a book.
And then Dave asked me to be his co-author for the project, which will be called The Power of Fun. We’re still mapping out the contents of the book and precisely what it will cover, but Dave and I both think that this collaboration will be great fun, and that it is important for us to preach the gospel of Fun.
And so, I will be tackling a project very much unlike anything else that I have ever done. Life is all about challenging oneself and stretching one’s limitations. There is much to learn by this project, and there is much for us to teach. I’m greatly looking forward to working with Dave to spread the word about the Power of Fun. Please stay tuned for periodic updates.
In case any of you are interested in booking Dave for a presentation on the Power of Fun, you can reach him by clicking here.Scridb filter
The photo at the left is of Brig. Gen. John Buford, whom I freely acknowledge is my single favorite figure of the Civil War. I’ve long harbored a fascination with Old Steadfast, as his men called him, and have had four articles on his role in the Gettysburg Campaign published in Gettysburg Magazine. Three of my books also touch on Buford’s career heavily. But I’ve never done a monograph on Buford at Gettysburg, which is the topic that got me started on him in the first place.
About three weeks ago, I realized that I have published something book-length on every major cavalry action that took place north of the Mason-Dixon Line during the Gettysburg Campaign but one: John Buford’s actions at Gettysburg. I am now in the process of correcting that oversight. I am doing a monograph on Buford’s role at Gettysburg, June 30-July 2, 1863. It will include 16 of Phil Laino’s excellent maps, a lot of photographs (including some rare, seldom-seen images), and a walking/driving tour with GPS coordinates. There will be three appendices: one addressing the myth of the Spencers, another discussing whether Buford’s defense was a defense in depth or something else, and one addressing the question of whether Lane’s Brigade formed square to defend against a feinted mounted charge by Buford’s two brigades at the end of the first day’s fighting at Gettysburg. J.D. Petruzzi will do an introduction for the project for me. I don’t expect it to be a terribly long book, but it will be jam-packed with useful information.
I have been researching this for more than 20 years, and I am confident that this is going to be a quality project. In many ways, it’s like visiting with an old friend, and I’m enjoying coming back to what has always been my first love with respect to the Battle of Gettysburg. Sit tight–I will update as to progress.
And, in a few days, I will have an announcement about another fun project that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Civil War. Stay tuned…..Scridb filter
Clark B. “Bud” Hall, who is the individual most responsible for the saving of the Brandy Station battlefield, has a good column on the preservation of the battlefield that appears in the current issue of Civil War News, which I commend to anyone interested in the history of the preservation effort there.
By Clark B. Hall
(May 2013 Civil War News – Preservation Column)
Col. John S. Mosby certainly knew more than most about fighting on horseback and his conclusion that the Battle of Brandy Station, June 9, 1863, was “the fiercest mounted combat of the war — in fact, of any war,” must today receive weighty consideration.
A staff officer to Jeb Stuart concurred when adding, “Brandy Station was the most terrible cavalry fight of the war” and the “greatest ever fought on the American continent.”
It is indisputable that Brandy Station was the largest cavalry battle of the war but we also concur with another distinction posited by a battle participant. Summoned in 1888 to offer dedicatory comments for the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry Monument at Gettysburg, Col. Frederick Newhall asserted the following:
“From my point of view, the field at Gettysburg is far wider than that which is enclosed in the beautiful landscape about us …. The larger field of Gettysburg … is the great territory lying between the battleground and the fords of the Rappahannock in Virginia.
“And while Gettysburg is generally thought of as a struggle which began on the 1st and ended on the 3rd day of July, 1863, the fact will some day be fully recognized that it had its beginning many miles from here …. It was at Beverly Ford then that Gettysburg was inaugurated.”
So with Brandy Station acknowledged as the grandest cavalry battle of the war and equally renowned as the inaugural action of the war’s threshold campaign — both matters of no small distinction — we who serve Brandy Station do “fully recognize” that the Sesquicentennial recognition of such a momentous battle must be commensurate with the import of this “sudden clash in Culpeper, precluding the thunder at Cemetery Hill.”
It is further emphasized that 20,000 soldiers fought at Brandy and many of them never departed as they are buried there yet today.
There is a myth suggesting that soldiers killed at Brandy were all disinterred after the war and given a “proper burial” elsewhere. This is a cynical myth, and one advanced by those who aimed to treat the battlefield as a utilitarian commodity.
So, our foremost duty 150 years later mandates we not only memorialize the courage and sacrifice of horse soldiers who fought and died at Brandy Station, but that we also tenderly treat the battlefield as a combat cemetery — because this is exactly what it is.
As one who has been on duty at Brandy Station since a California developer and a New York Formula One racetrack promoter deigned to destroy America’s greatest cavalry battlefield in the late 80s, I can tell you from long experience that the preservation path which led us to this point of a largely-preserved battlefield has been both tortuous and intense. Briefly, I’ll describe this heavy backdrop.
After the war, the Brandy Station Battlefield went “back to crop,” an appropriate economic configuration considering the large, open and well-watered fields have been farmed since the Colonial Era.
Indeed, when I first tried to comprehend this huge battlefield in the mid-‘80s, much of the land was comprised of several large farms, most in excess of 500 acres.
I became friends with area farmers and they granted me permission to stroll their farms with my maps in hand. It was a farm owner, in fact — my lamented friend, Bob Button — who first informed me in late 1987, “Bud, someone from California just bought my farm.” (This farm, the wartime “Cunningham Farm,” comprised John Buford’s attack platform on the morning of June 9.)
I can still recall today the uneasy feeling that washed over me when I considered Bob’s words, “someone from California….” Well when Fred Gordon shortly thereafter sold his adjacent farm (Rooney Lee’s defensive position, the “Green Farm”), I determined to find out exactly who was buying these farms.
It didn’t take long to reveal that the new owner of these two farms and, soon, several more nearby — amassing almost 6000 acres — was a commercial developer from Irvine, Calif.
We often hear the axiom that timing is everything, and for once, timing favored the good guys. Brian Pohanka, Ed Wenzel and I had previously formed the “Chantilly Battlefield Association” and we had just fought a mostly losing battle when trying to protect that sanguine battlefield from commercial development.
As a direct result of this failed preservation ordeal, a new nationwide battlefield preservation organization had formed and was solidly in place just before Brandy Station was slated for wholesale destruction.
Dr. Gary Gallagher, President of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc. (APCWS), asked me to give the board a briefing on this terrible threat to Brandy Station.
Following that long update, Dr. Gallagher and the board authorized me (ordered me, actually) to meet with the developer and determine his plans.
The developer’s expressed intentions: “To farm the property.” Did we believe him? Not hardly. In fact, we girded for the battle to come.
And when considering that singular APCWS decision to become involved in Brandy Station’s preservation over 25 years ago has resulted in so much that has proven eternally good, it is appropriate that you consider the names of these few, good men who made that fateful decision on May 15, 1988:
Gary Gallagher, Bob Krick, Jack Ackerly, Merle Sumner, Don Pfanz, Alan Nolan, Will Greene, Dennis Frye, Brian Pohanka, Chris Calkins and Ed Wenzel… Brandy Station heroes, all of them, and but for their courageous decision to “get involved,” Brandy Station would now be an industrial office park, or a Formula One racetrack.
Point being APCWS showed preservation leadership when it most counted.
Many contentious years of lawsuits ensued against the developers by the APCWS-created and funded Brandy Station Foundation and finally resulted in developer bankruptcies. And after sweeping away our collective tears at the “tragic” demise of these star-struck developers, APCWS purchased hundreds of battlefield acres for millions of dollars in 1996.
Today, the Civil War Trust — the extraordinarily effective successor organization to APCWS — controls almost 2,000 acres at Brandy Station. But, although much has been accomplished, it is a reality that yet remains to be accomplished.
The hallowed ground CWT presently owns and controls at Brandy Station is vitally significant ground, to be sure, but the most significant military acreage on the entire battlefield has remained in private hands all these years, to wit: Fleetwood Hill.
Fleetwood Hill is without question the most fought over, camped upon, and marched over real estate in the entire United States.
From March 1862 to May 1864, Fleetwood Hill — especially the southern terminus — witnessed hotly-contested actions and heavy troop occupation as both Blue and Gray armies jockeyed for control of the strategically significant “Rappahannock River Line,” situated just three miles north of Fleetwood.
As one Confederate officer put it, “Fleetwood Heights … commands the country and … there was no movement of troops across Culpeper that artillery did not blaze from its summits, and charging squadrons … did not contend for supremacy.”
Recently, the Civil War Trust has undertaken steps to secure the 61 precious acres that comprise the entirety of the southern terminus of Fleetwood — Gen. Jeb Stuart’s Headquarters during the battle.
The price tag is steep and there is no guarantee of success, but for the first time in modern history Fleetwood Hill is for sale and CWT is doing everything in its power to close the deal.
We can help, each of us, to make this happen and I urge you to do your part, if you can. Here is how:
Please visit the Trust’s website, www.CivilWar.org, and click on the link, “Civil War Trust Announces Preservation Opportunity on the Brandy Station Battlefield.”
After reviewing the details, and if you are so inclined (and I sincerely hope you are), please click the “Donate” link and join with many others who believe saving Fleetwood Hill is a national preservation priority of the highest rank.
On June 8, by the way, the esteemed Loudoun County (Va.) Civil War Round Table is hosting an all-day tour at Brandy Station to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the battle. For tour details, please see their website, lccwrt.wordpress.com. And if you attend, we promise you a cavalry battlefield outing that you will not soon forget.
To donate to our efforts to save Fleetwood Hill, please click here.
I had quite a rare treat today. Sharon McCardle, who is an officer of the Rockton, IL Historical Society, stopped by my office to visit. Sharon and her husband Karl had been in Gettysburg at the conference of the Company of Military Historians, where she set up a prize-winning exhibit on Brig. Gen. Elon J. Farnsworth. Farnsworth’s charge and death are the cornerstone of my book Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions: Farnsworth’s Charge, South Cavalry Field and the Battle of Fairfield, so he’s long been of great interest to me.
Sharon brought a number of very cool items for me to see, but none cooler than Farnsworth’s saber–the one he was carrying when he was killed. I’m holding it and its scabbard in the photo. I’ve only had one cooler photo of me taken, which is of me holding John Buford’s Henry rifle, taken many years ago.
That’s Sharon in the photo with me. What a very neat thing to experience. Thanks to Sharon and Karl for coming to visit and giving me such a neat memory to savor.
Click on the photo to see a larger image.Scridb filter
Regular reader Lee Hutch has started a new blog that looks like an eclectic mix of Western Theater Civil War history. Check it out here.
I have also added a link to it.
Welcome to the blogosphere, Lee.Scridb filter
I’m pleased to invite all of you to attend the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the Battle of Brandy Station, to be held on Saturday, June 8, 2013.
In conjunction with the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable, the 150th anniversary of North America’s largest cavalry battle will be commemorated. The precise details are still being worked out, so I can’t provide you with an exact schedule yet. However, we will be conducting an all-day walking tour of the battlefield that day. And the best part: it’s FREE!!!
However, we want to recommend that, in lieu of paying for the tour, everyone who participates makes a donation to the Civil War Trust’s campaign to save Fleetwood Hill. The amount can be your choice, but we would like to see everyone who attends the tour make a donation of some sort.
Bud Hall, the nation’s leading expert on the Battle of Brandy Station, will be conducting a uniquely rare walking tour of remote battlefield sites that have never before been visited by any tour group. Craig Swain, yours truly, and some of the other folks who have been involved in the fight to save Fleetwood Hill will also assist in leading the tour. Priceless anti-bellum homes and bucolic river fords are just a few of the historically significant sites that will be visited on this special tour. Bud Hall told me today that he will be leading a tour group into the area on Yew Ridge where Rooney Lee had his fencing match with Wesley Merritt for the very first time that day. This is an exceptional Sesquicentennial event that you will not want to miss! All tour materials including maps and handouts will be provided. A bag lunch, hat, sunscreen, bug spray and walking shoes are suggested for this tour which will take place rain or shine. Come join us as we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station!
To RSVP, click here. Please note, while this is a free tour, we do ask for you to RSVP so we can obtain an accurate headcount. We will use the site to disseminate detailed information about the event. The site simply asks for your name and email address. You will receive a “ticket” via email.
What: Battle of Brandy Station Tour
Where: Brandy Station, Virginia
When: Saturday, June 8, 2013, 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Please mark the date on your calendar!
I hope to see some of you there!Scridb filter
Yesterday, I was one of the presenters at the “Gettysburg Before and After” conference put on by Hagerstown Community College. Dennis Frye, the chief historian at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, gave a very interesting talk on the role that Harpers Ferry played in the Gettysburg Campaign.
Part of what he discussed caught my attention, as it lends some fascinating new insight into the decisions made by the Army of the Potomac’s high command on July 12, 1863. These insights have caused me to re-evaluate some of those decisions. The facts are worthy of presenting here.
By way of background, the Army of the Potomac’s high command considered throwing a pontoon bridge across the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry because the river was too flooded to ford. Doing so could allow Union troops to get around behind the Army of Northern Virginia’s position. The question was when. Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, the army’s chief engineer, had this responsibility. He corresponded with Lt. Col. Ira Spaulding, the chief engineer at Harpers Ferry, who was responsible for the pontoons. The exchange between Warren and Spaulding is worth repeating here.
Here is the first, sent by Warren:
HEADQUARTERS ENGINEERS, ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
July 10, 1863–10:30 a.m.
Colonel Spaulding, Engineer,
Events are yet to determine where we shall want the bridge across the Potomac and when. Directions will be sent to you in time. I have ordered the transportation train to join you, and to load up to 200 feet of bridge, which we may require on the Antietam Creek.
G. K. Warren,
Brigadier General of Volunteers, Chief Engineer
O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 628. Spaulding responded the next day.
July 11, 1863–11:45 a.m.
General G. K. Warren:
Lieutenant [Ranald S.] MacKenzie is absent with General Naglee, and I opened your dispatch to him.
The Potomac above the railroad bridge at this point has fallen 4 feet within the past forty-eight hours, and is still falling slowly. It is still 4 to 5 feet above the stage of water which renders it fordable here.
The troops of the Engineer Brigade under my command now here have been constantly at work or making forced marches ever since the army left Falmouth, and I take it for granted they are liable at any moment to be called up for extraordinary exertions. Is it desirable that they should be kept incessantly at work here by General Naglee upon work not indispensable to the efficiency and success of the army?
Lieutenant-Colonel, Volunteer Engineers
O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 646. The emphasis is mine. This is a critical piece of intelligence. If the river had fallen 4 feet in 48 hours, and it had only another 4-5 feet to drop in order to be fordable, then at the very latest, the river would be fordable within 48 hours, and probably much less if it continued to be dry. In other words, at that rate of dropping, the Potomac would be fordable no later than July 13. And the Williamsport crossings are upriver from Harpers Ferry, meaning that they would fordable before the crossings at Harpers Ferry.
On July 13, as the Army of Northern Virginia was preparing to cross that night, Warren wrote:
July 13, 1863–5 p.m.
We may want a bridge across the river before long. If sending away the 100 men to repair the canal will not interfere with laying the bridge, it is desirable to have it done.
G. K. Warren,
Brig. Gen. of Vols., Chief Engineer, Army of the Potomac
O.R. vol. 27, part 3, p. 672. The pontoon bridge was laid the next day, AFTER the Army of Northern Virginia had already made it to safety across the Potomac. Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg’s Second Cavalry Division had a major engagement with Confederate cavalry at Sandy Hook, near Harpers Ferry, the next day.
There’s some real food for thought here. Specifically, on July 11, Spaulding advised Warren–the Army of the Potomac’s chief engineer–that the Potomac River was dropping and would be fordable no later than July 13, assuming no more rain fell. Once the Potomac could be forded at Williamsport, which is 15 or so miles upstream from Harpers Ferry, the Army of Northern Virginia could cross to safety. This means that Lee could escape unless the Army of the Potomac moved quickly to attack it.
On the night of July 12, Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the Army of the Potomac, held a council of war with his officers. Meade was anxious about whether to attack the Army of Northern Virginia’s entrenched positions along the Potomac, the strength of which was obvious to anyone caring to look. Meade, his chief of staff, Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, and his corps commanders all attended. They included: Gens. James Wadsworth (filling in for an ill Gen. John Newton, temporary commander of the 1st Corps), William Hays (in temporary command of the Second Corps), William H. French (commanding the 3rd Corps after Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Sickles was severely wounded at Gettysburg), George Sykes (5th Corps), John Sedgwick (6th Corps), O. O. Howard (11th Corps), Henry W. Slocum (12th Corps), and Alfred Pleasonton (Cavalry Corps). Also attending were Gen. William F. “Baldy” Smith, who commanded a division of emergency militia troops that had joined the Army of the Potomac, and chief engineer Warren.
Meade strongly favored an attack on July 13, but he wanted the support of his corps commanders before issuing the orders to do so. Wadsworth, Howard, and Pleasonton favored an attack. So did Warren. Sedgwick, Slocum, Sykes, French, and Hays opposed it. However, none of Humphreys, Pleasonton, or Warren were permitted to vote, meaning that a majority of the commanders with a vote opposed the attack. While Meade could have overridden the vote and could have ordered the attack anyway, he reluctantly took the advice of his commanders, which was to spend the 13th probing the Confederate lines and to attack on the 14th. Nobody knew that Lee’s army would steal away on the night of the 13th and that the general advance of the Army of the Potomac on the morning of the 14th would find the trenches empty and the Confederates gone.
The record fails to indicate whether Warren advised the council of war of the critical intelligence forwarded by Colonel Spaulding–that the Potomac was steadily dropping and would be fordable the next day if the rains continued to hold off. Warren was a conscientious officer, and presumably he did pass on that important piece of information. But we do not know for sure. Had he failed to do so, one cannot help but wonder whether that critical piece of information might have changed the outcome of the July 12 council of war.
Conversely, if Warren did, indeed, pass along that critical intelligence, that makes the vote of the five corps commanders who opposed an attack all the more puzzling. And it also makes Meade’s decision not to override their vote and order the attack anyway all the more perplexing. It is a cliche that councils of war never vote to fight, so the outcome of the July 12 council was somewhat predictable. Another cliche comes to mind: for want of a nail, a kingdom was lost.
In the end, I remain convinced that short of ordering the attack on July 13–an attack that had no guarantee of success, given the incredibly strong position held by the Confederates–there is little, if anything, that Meade could have done to prevent the Army of Northern Virginia from making its escape once the depth of the Potomac River dropped enough for it to become fordable. And, in the end, I cannot fault Meade for not wanting to attack that incredibly strong position–bristling with artillery behind earthworks–without having a better idea of its make-up and without having some idea if there were any weak spots to exploit or particularly strong points to avoid. A good army commander would not make such decisions rashly, and Meade was not a rash man. It’s entirely possible, then, that this critical piece of intelligence might have made no difference whatsoever in the big scheme of things. But it is tantalizing.
This is an incredibly fascinating twist, and it demonstrates how the smallest scrap of information can have far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. Thanks to Dennis Frye for passing this information along.Scridb filter