General News

This Saturday, October 13, 2012, is Ohio Day at the Antietam National Battlefield.

I will be speaking at the Antietam battlefield Visitor Center at 11:00 this Saturday morning on Ohio at Antietam as part of the Ohio Day festivities. If any of you are around and might be able to make it, I hope to see you then and there. Mark Holbrook of the Ohio Historical Society will also be speaking, at 2:00, on the future presidents from Ohio who served in the Civil War. Two, William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes, were both at Antietam. Also, the Ohio Civil War 150 Traveling Exhibit will be set up in the Visitor Center for the day, so please take the time to check out this interesting exhibit of how Ohioans impacted the Civil War.

Antietam has long been one of my favorite battlefields, and I enjoy any opportunity to visit it. Come see me there!

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On Thursday, September 20, I spoke to the Powhatan Civil War Roundtable. We were supposed to tie the speaking engagement to a visit with some Virginia friends, but the visit had to be postponed. That meant that Susan and I had to run-and-gun the trip. We drove out on Thursday and back on Friday. On the way back, we made a brief visit to the battlefield at White Sulphur Springs, where I paid my respects to Capt. Paul Freiherr von Koenig of William Woods Averell’s staff, who was killed while leading a flank attach on the afternoon of the first day of the battle. Susan took the photo that appears here. I am standing next to the monument to von Koenig that marks the spot where he fell. This monument was erected by Bvt. Brig. Gen. James M. Schoonmaker in 1914 (at Schoonmaker’s own expense) and occupies the sport where the German adventurer fell. Sadly, much of the White Sulphur Springs battlefield has been destroyed by the development of a shopping center on the spot. The monument to von Koenig rests just outside a Hardee’s fast food restaurant, and if one did not know that this shopping center sits in the middle of a battlefield, there is no way to know.

Uncovering the facts von Koenig’s life story-and the story of how he died–and telling it in an appendix to my book on the Battle of White Sulphur Springs is, perhaps, the single piece of my historical work of which I am most proud (it turns out that Paul von Koenig became good personal friends with future President of the United States, Brig. Gen. James A. Garfield, which is one of the things that got me interested in Garfield’s service in the Civil War). I owe a great debt to the current Baron von Koenig, whose name is Dominik, and his son Florian, for helping me to put meat on the bones of this otherwise forgotten soldier.

We also stopped at the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in the lovely old town of Lewisburg, West Virginia. The church and its cemetery are pictured here. For those unfamiliar with the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, the law library in the Greenbrier County Courthouse in Lewisburg was the object of Averell’s unsuccessful raid at the end of August 1863. There was one grave that I wanted to visit there, of an officer of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, who was killed during the fight at White Sulphur Springs. Along the way, we found the grave of another officer of the 22nd Virginia who played a significant role in the Confederate victory at White Sulphur Springs.

This is the grave of Maj. Robert Augustus Bailey, who was a Lewisburg native. Nicknamed “Gus,” Bailey was born in Lewisburg in 1839. He was the son of prominent Circuit Judge Edward P. Bailey, which made his defense of the law library all the more notable. Gus Bailey became a lawyer himself and was practicing his trade in Fayette County in what became West Virginia when war came. Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, he served as a captain In the 142nd Regiment Virginia Militia, 27th Brigade, 5th Division. With the coming of war, Bailey became captain of the Fayetteville Riflemen in Charleston on June 6, 1861. The Fayetteville Riflemen eventually became Company K, 22nd Virginia Infantry. The regiment was commanded by Col. George S. Patton, a prominent attorney from Charleston.

On August 26,1861, Bailey led a small scouting party to determine the feasibility of placing artillery to shell the Federal camps at and near Gauley River Bridge. Confederate Brig. Gen. John B. Floyd implemented Bailey’s plan during the fight at Gauley River Bridge in November 1861. Bailey was promoted to major on November 23,1861, and often commanded the 22nd Virginia (or elements of it) in various battles, receiving particular notice for his bravery at Fayetteville, (West) Virginia, September 10,1862. On March 1, 1863, he was major in command of the Department at Lewisburg, (West) Virginia. He led a battalion of the 22nd Virginia at White Sulphur Springs, and played an important role in the Confederate victory there.

Bailey was trying to rally his defeated men at the November 6, 1863 Battle of Droop Mountain when he was mortally wounded. After saving the regimental colors, he was waving the flag when struck by the ball that took his life. He lingered for five days before dying, and was then buried in the Old Stone Church cemetery in his hometown of Lewisburg. Bailey played an important role in the story of the Confederate victory at White Sulphur Springs, and I just happened upon his grave serendipitously. I’m glad I found it and was able to pay tribute to a gallant Southern soldier who received his mortal wound while doing his duty.

Lt. John Gay Carr served in Co. H of the 22nd Virginia Infantry. He was known as “Gay Carr” to friends and family. Carr was born in Albemarle County, Va. in 1830, but had lived in Kanawha County (in what became West Virginia) for many years before the war. He joined Patton’s Kanawha Riflemen as a private in May 1861, and was promoted to lieutenant. He served gallantly in all of the battles of the 22nd Virginia–an active, hard-fighting regiment–until he was killed in action at the age of 31 at White Sulphur Springs on August 26, 1863. He was described as “a promising young man, had exhibited the noblest qualities of a soldier both in the ranks and as an officer, and his death was deeply mourned by his comrades and the people of his home county.”

Carr’s friend, regimental adjutant Lt. Rand Noyes, wrote, “In this battle the gallant Lieutenant Gay Carr, of the Kanawha Riflemen…fell with a bullet through his brain…in whose memory I learn a monument has been erected…in Lewisburg, which was the War Home of the 22nd Virginia Regiment. There were many other brave and gallant men who fell victims of death on this severely contested battlefield and whose memories deserve the richest pandits of tongue and men.”

In 1904, his friends contributed funds to raise the handsome tree trunk monument that stands silent sentinel over his grave in the cemetery of the Old Stone Church, which is pictured herein.

You can see larger versions of the four images that appear in this post by clicking upon them if you so desire.

The story of the Civil War in West Virginia has long gotten short shrift, but it was truly a civil war there, with neighbors fighting each other to the death. If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend any of Terry Lowry’s excellent works on the battles fought in the Mountain State.

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22 Apr 2012, by

It’s out!!!

Susan and I went out of town this weekend, and when we got home this afternoon, she noticed a box on the front steps of our house. When she grabbed it, she saw that it was from the Kent State University Press, which could mean only one thing: I had gotten my author copies of You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players! After 38 years of waiting, I can finally hold the culmination of my idea.

I’m wearing the hat of the 1969 Seattle Pilots in the photo. The Pilots are one of the teams profiled in You Stink!, so I thought it appropriate to wear their hat for the first photo of me holding a copy of the book. In my humble opinion, that’s the ugliest hat ever worn in the history of the Major Leagues, so it’s also appropriate for the subject matter of the book.

Please visit our You Stink!blog for more fun stories, and please contact me if you’re interested in acquiring a copy of the book.

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2012 is a memorable year for the commemoration of historical events. The sesquicentennial of the Civil War continues. The bicentennial of the war of 1812 is celebrated this year. And today marks the centennial of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Given my lifelong fascination with the sinking of the Titanic, I would be remiss if I did not at least mention it here, off topic as it may be.

I’ve long been fascinated by shipwrecks. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the anchor of the U.S.S. Maine rests in my hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, and I went on a childhood search to learn the story of that big anchor in the park. I have a small shelf full of books on the sinking of the Titanic, and we made a special trip to Chicago to see the traveling museum exhibit of artifacts from the sunken liner. The arson fire that destroyed the Morro Castle in 1934 has long fascinated me. I have several books on the sinking of the Andrea Doria in 1959. Even the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald intrigues me. I have read several books on its tragic ending. I’m sure that when the books begin to appear on the wreck of the Costa Concordia, I will invest in them too.

None, however, hold sway over the public’s imagination like the Titanic. Certainly, James Cameron’s movie stirred another generation’s fascination. Personally, I could have done without the distracting love story, but the footage of the shipwreck and Cameron’s slavishly and eerily accurate recreation of the ship made the mawkish story of Jack and Rose tolerable. The scene at the beginning of the movie where the image transitions from the shipwreck to the promenade deck of the recreated ocean liner alone was worth the price of admission.

I’ve read a bunch of books about the tragic ship and her only voyage, and I find myself just as drawn to it today as I did the first time I ever read A Night to Remember as a boy. The story of the bravery of the musicians, as one example, as they continued to play even as they knew they were doomed, has always been very moving to me. The courage, bravery and dignity of the male first-class passengers, such as John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men alive, as they stepped aside to allow women and children to board the lifeboats awes me. The quiet dignity of these men changing into their finest clothes so that they could die like gentlemen inspires me. The story of Isadore and Ida Strauss choosing to die together even though Ida could have taken a spot in a lifeboat has always moved me too. The story of the cowardice of Bruce Ismay, who refused to do the honorable thing and go down with his ship equally repels me. The human toll is what I find most fascinating. And being a dog lover, the story of the dogs of the Titanic is equally compelling. I have always wanted to visit the cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where so many of the victims of the disaster were buried, and it’s on my bucket list of places to go.

Often overlooked in the tragedy of the Titanic is the eerily similar fate of her sister ship, the R.M.S. Britannic. Britannic was the largest of the three sister ships, and she also sank. She was launched just before the outbreak of World War I, and was used as a hospital ship during the Great War. In that role she struck a mine off the Greek island of Kea, in the Kea Channel on November 21, 1916, and sank with the loss of 30 lives. Only the R.M.S. Olympic, the third sister ship, managed to avoid the fate of her sisters.

Let’s not forget the 1,514 souls that departed this earth one hundred years ago today when the Titanic sank.

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As some of you may recall, in January of this year, I commenced an experiment. I purchased a black and white Nook with the intention of using it to download public domain regimental histories and the like from Google Books for use in my various projects. A little over a week later, and on the recommendation of Steve Stanley, I exchanged it for a Nook Color. I then began to experiment with it in the hope that I could make it work the way that I hoped to use it. The experiment proved to be terribly frustrating.

I gave up on the experiment today. No matter what we tried, we were unable to make the thing work with …

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30 Nov 2011, by

On requests…

The other day, I received this e-mail through this blog:

I am serching for info on the 6th georgia calv. company K My 3 great grandfather Andrew Jackson Brigman from walker co georgia was inlisted as a private on the confedrate side. I can find no info on this company, but have found sevral publications on genalogy sites regarding this very company, I am wondering what he did and where he fought. the family folk lore was that he had his 3 fingers shot off, in the war at some point. and was left for dead by the union troops.Or he played dead one or the other. I am wondering how to find this info if it is true. and as well why soon after the war did he move from walker county georgia where he had a plantation and family to lousiville Ky and then to Paducah, was he shipped to paducah because of wounds, Paducah is known for the union hospital sites but not confedrate? Ahh !!! Im so confused I need help if you can steer me in the right direction, Or give me a creditable web site I would be so greatful.

I get at least one inquiry like this per week. While I am flattered that you think I know enough about the war to answer questions about your specific ancestor, the very substantial likelihood is that I don’t. More likely than not, your ancestor served in a unit that I know nothing about. The 6th Georgia Cavalry, being a Western Theater unit, is not one that I know anything about. And while I appreciate your confidence in me and in your taking the time to write, if I did the research to answer every one of these inquiries, I would have no time to do anything else. Consequently, I made the decision that, unless it’s something I can answer in ten minutes of less, I will not do so, and that I will not typically respond to those inquiries for the simple reason that doing so takes time that I don’t have to spare.

I regret it if that offends the folks who make those inquiries, but I simply don’t have time. But I do thank you for your interest and for your faith that I might somehow be able to help. If I can, I will. If not, then the likelihood is that I will not respond.

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18 Sep 2011, by

To Appomattox

Last week, I was asked to join the list of historical consultants for the upcoming mini-series To Appomattox. The series is being written and produced by Michael Beckner, who has been the driving force behind a number of popular movies and television series. The series is intended to focus on the people who fought the Civil War, and not necessarily on the battles themselves. The series has Ulysses S. Grant as its focus, but it is as comprehensive a look at the Civil War as any eight-hour series could hope to be. All of the major engagements east of the Mississippi River are covered, some in more detail than others.

There has been some criticism of this series because it will include cameo appearances by a number of NASCAR drivers and country music performers. I have to admit that I had some of the same questions then too, but I now understand. The NASCAR drivers and country music performers are all folks who have a deep and abiding interest in the Civil War, and many, if not most, of them have ancestors who fought. They’re enthusiastic supporters and participants in order to pay tribute to their ancestors, and I respect that motivation a great deal. None of them will have a major role; serious, talented actors like William Petersen will play the important roles.

The cast associated with this series largely consists of A-list talent. Again, many of them had ancestors who fought, and many are involved to pay tribute to those ancestors. As just one example, Bill Paxton, who is a well-respected actor, has been cast to play Stonewall Jackson. If you didn’t know the back story, that casting choice might be easy to criticize. However, when you learn that Bill Paxton had an ancestor who fought under Jackson in the Stonewall Brigade, then the choice makes a lot of sense. My understanding is that he asked to play Jackson as a result. I believe that may of the other cast members have the same or similar motivations.

Some of the best known names presently working in Civil War history have signed on as historical consultants for this series, including Ed Bearss, Gordon Rhea, Scott Hartwig, Mark Snell, and lots of others, and my good friend and writing partner, J. D. Petruzzi, is the primary historical advisor. All of us are determined to make certain that this story is told as accurately and as fully as possible within the operative parameters. I know that’s my primary motivation here, and I likewise know it’s J.D.’s because we’ve discussed it at length.

I have read the scripts of all eight episodes and have provided feedback on all. I can’t get into specifics, so I won’t. You will just have to take my word for it that I’m impressed with Michael Beckner’s devotion to getting it right and to telling the story as accurately as possible. In some places, some literary license sis needed to keep things moving along, and I’m sure that some hardcore Civil War buffs will be bothered by that. However, while I have pointed out a few things, I am generally very impressed with the level of accuracy involved and with how well Mr. Beckner has portrayed the interpersonal relationships between the key players to this Greek tragedy.

Filming begins in April and will continue for several months. The series is planned to air in 2013. I’m honored to have been asked to be part of it, and I have taken my responsibility of trying to insure that the story is told as accurately as possible very seriously. As more details become available, I will pass them along.

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11 Aug 2011, by

Threads, Part 2

Several weeks ago, I did a post titled “Threads”, which dealt with the family linkages between Brig. Gen. Hugh Mercer, Revolutionary War hero, his grandson, Col. George S. Patton of the 22nd Virginia Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864, and Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., the great World War II hero, who was the grandson of the Civil War officer. In that post, I promised I would pull a few more threads regarding General Patton, who is one of my favorites.

Adna Romanza Chaffee was born in Orwell, Ohio on April 14, 1842. In July 1861, Chaffee, only 19 years old, enlisted in the newly-formed 6th U. S. Cavalry as a private. In early 1862, he was promoted to sergeant, and to first sergeant in September 1862. As a reward for his good service, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton arranged for him to be appointed second lieutenant in April 1863. Although only 21 years old, he was in command of a company of the 6th U. S. by the time of the Battle of Gettysburg that summer.

On July 3, 1863, the 6th U. S. Cavalry was sent on an expedition to Fairfield, Pennsylvania. There, the 6th U. S. took an entire brigade of Confederate cavalry, and was thrashed. Chaffee was wounded and captured that afternoon. The Confederates tried to parole Chaffee, but he refused a parole in the field, obeying a recent War Department directive that the men of the 6th U. S. not give their paroles if captured. The frustrated Confederates, concerned that they could not manage their large haul of prisoners, simply left Chaffee behind with the other wounded. Chaffee was found laying on the ground in the orchard, being tended to by one of his men, a “neatly cut crimson edged hole in his blue pantaloons over the front part of his thigh. He was quite cheerful.” As a reward for his gallantry in the fighting and for his steadfast refusal to give his parole, Chaffee was brevetted to first lieutenant, effective July 3, 1863. He recovered from his wound and returned to duty with the 6th U. S. in early September 1863. He suffered a second combat wound, and was promoted to first lieutenant in February 1865.

He remained in the Regular Army after the war, and was promoted to captain. He spent 30 years fighting Indians in the west and southwest. In July 1888, he was promoted to major and was transferred to the one of the so-called “Buffalo Soldier” units, the 9th U. S. Cavalry. In 1897, he was promoted to colonel and assumed command of the 3rd U. S. Cavalry. He was commissioned brigadier general of volunteers in the Spanish-American War, and then to major general of volunteers after the American victory at El Caney, Cuba, in July 1898. From 1898-1900, he served as chief of staff to the military governor of Cuba, Gen. Leonard Wood.

When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in China in 1900, Chaffee was sent to Peking as commander of the U. S. Army’s China Relief Expedition. He played a major role in putting down the rebellion and then was promoted to major general in the Regular Army in 1901 in recognition of those accomplishments. He served as military governor of the Philippines for a few months, and then assumed command of the Department of the East, a position he held until 1903. In 1904, he was promoted to lieutenant general and became chief of staff of the United States Army, a position he held for a bit over two years. He was one of two old horse cavalrymen to rise from the rank of private to serve as chief of staff of the Army (a profile of the other officer to go from private of cavalry to chief of staff of the army can be found here). Chaffee retired in February 1906 and died on November 1, 1914. He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

His son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr., was born in Junction City, Kansas on September 23, 1884. He graduated from West Point in 1906, and was appointed a lieutenant of cavalry, following in his famous father’s footsteps. Chaffee soon became known as the best horseman in the army. In World War I, he was an infantry major, serving in the IV Corps during the St. Mihiel offensive and then as a colonel in the III Corps during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war ended, he reverted to his Regular Army rank of captain of cavalry and became an instructor at the General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

During the 1920’s, with the help of a young horse cavalryman who had commanded armor during World War I–Capt. George S. Patton, Jr.–helped to develop tank doctrine and tactics. In 1927, he predicted that mechanized armies would dominate the next war and helped to develop the U. S. Army’s first true armored force. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division in 1931, and continued to work on the development of the U. S. Army’s armored forces and capabilities. He soon became the leading advocate for American armored forces.

In 1938, he assumed command of the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized), the U. S. Army’s only armored force. He worked tirelessly for the further development and advancement of armored forces, and his predictions proved true when France surrendered after the German blitzkrieg in 1940.

After the collapse of France, Chaffee finally convinced Congress that the United States needed to develop an effective armored force very quickly. Congress authorized the creation of the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions in 1940, and Chaffee was promoted to major general and was given command of this force. Unfortunately, Chaffee was quite ill. He died of cancer at the young age of 56 on August 22, 1941, just before the United States was forced to enter World War II, and is remembered as the father of the U. S. Army’s armored force. The M24 Chaffee light tank was named in his honor.

In the 1920’s, George S. Patton, Jr., an old horse cavalryman who designed the U. S. Army’s last cavalry saber, also tirelessly worked to advance the cause of armor. He had successfully commander light tanks during World War I, and saw the potential of tanks as a decisive battlefield weapon. He unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to fund an armored force and wrote articles on tactics that were published in the Journal of the United States Cavalry Association, a professional journal for Regular Army cavalrymen.

In July 1940, Patton–now a colonel–was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. He became assistant division commander the following October, and was promoted to brigadier general on October 2, 1940. He served as acting division command from November 1940 to April 1941, and was promoted to major general and given command of the 2nd Armored Division a few days later. Were Chaffee still alive in 1941, he undoubtedly would have been given command of the I Armored Corps when it was formed. However, his premature death opened that slot for George S. Patton, Jr. and he was promoted to major general and appointed to command the I Armored Corps. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, armor serves most of the traditional roles of horse cavalry: scouting, screening, and reconnaissance, and many armored units are actually designated as cavalry units. It has a great legacy for doing so, with direct links to some of the greatest horse cavalrymen of the post-Civil War era of the United States Army. As you will see from the image at the beginning of this paragraph, the traditional crossed sabers logo of the cavalry has been amended to reflect the direct link between horse cavalry and armored service in the modern army.

If you pull the various threads, you find a direct connection between the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps and the legendary commander of the Third Army, George S. Patton, Jr. That direct connection flows through two great horse soldiers, Adna Romanza Chaffee and his son, Adna Romanza Chaffee, Jr.

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My friend and co-author J. D. Petruzzi and master cartographer Steve Stanley (who is doing the maps for my White Sulphur Springs book) have come out with an extremely useful little volume titled The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook: Facts, Photos, and Artwork for Readers of All Ages, June 9 – July 14, 1863 that was just published by Savas-Beatie. I can’t say enough good things about this book.

A couple of years ago, J.D. and Steve brought out their extraordinary guidebook to the Gettysburg battlefield that covers the battle in great detail and which also covers some really offbeat and off the beaten path aspects of the battle. However, some things had to be left out in the interest of space, and the new volume serves as a perfect companion to the Guide.

The new volume–softcover and small, for easy use on the battlefield–is precisely what the title suggests. It’s a very useful tool for anyone interested in visiting the battlefield. It includes lots of useful and interesting tidbits, such as a listing of all 64 winners of the Medal of Honor for the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as a brief description of why each individual was awarded the Medal. It discusses weather conditions during the battle. It includes lots of fascinating factoids about the battle, and it includes a series of quotes by participants that give the reader something to deeply ponder while on the battlefield. There is also a gallery of photos and capsule biographies of some of the more important but less known personalities of the battle, such as Lt. Col. Benjamin F. Carter of the 4th Texas Infantry, who was mortally wounded during the fighting for Little Round Top on July 2, 1863 and was then buried in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. The last part of the book is a reading list for those interested in further reading and learning about the events of July 1-3, 1863.

The most important portions of the book are the extremely detailed order of battle and the descriptions of the three days of the battle itself. Written so that even a Civil War novice will understand them, these chapters provide an excellent overview of the battle. They, alone, are worth the purchase price.

The book is done in full color. There are lots of excellent photographs by Steve Stanley, and Steve’s maps are printed in full color. There is no cartographer in the business better or more talented than Steve Stanley, and his maps are presented here in their glory. The layout of the book is handsome and Savas-Beatie spared no expense in using Baxter paper to publish this volume. At only $18.95, this book is a real bargain.

I highly recommend The New Gettysburg Campaign Handbook for anyone with an interest in the Gettysburg Campaign. Everyone–from novice to expert–will learn something new here. It should be required reading.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that today is a very important anniversary. 150 years ago today, the First Battle of Bull Run was fought. On July 21, 1861, the inexperienced armies of Irvin McDowell, Joseph Johnston, and P.G.T. Beauregard clashed near Manassas, Virginia, and the bloody results of that violent clash opened a lot of eyes. Suddenly, it became clear that this rebellion would not be over in 90 days, and that if the Federal government wanted to prevail, a LOT of blood would have to be shed to do so. In many ways, America lost its innocence that day.

For lots of reasons, I’ve never found the battle especially compelling, but that does not make it any less important. The sesquicentennial of that pivotal engagement is most assuredly worth commemorating, and I want to invite you, my readers, to leave comments here as to why you think that First Bull Run is worthy of commemorating.

For those interested in more on this battle, I highly recommend spending the five or six minutes that it takes to watch this excellent presentation (which features the superb maps of cartographer Steve Stanley) put together by the Civil War Trust.

I also commend to you Harry Smeltzer’s excellent blog, Bull Runnings, which is devoted primarily to Harry’s many years of study of First Bull Run.

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