Month:

August, 2009

20 Aug 2009, by

Dahlgren’s Out!

I got three cases of my biography of Ulric Dahlgren, Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly: The Short but Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, today. I have actually held a copy in my hand and can confirm that the book exists. 🙂

To those who helped me along the way, your copies will follow in the next week or so. For those waiting to buy it, just be patient a bit longer and your Amazon orders will be filled.

Finally!

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As I have mentioned here previously, my book manuscript on the Battle of Brandy Station is complete and is in the hands of the publisher. A couple of days ago, the publisher advised me that the book will released right around Memorial Day 2010, in time for the anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9. Stay tuned. More details to follow.

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I received an e-mail from CWPT President Jim Lighthizer today, announcing another battlefield preservation victory, this time at Davis Bridge, Tennessee:

Dear Friend,

It gives me great pleasure to report to you that CWPT has successfully closed on 643 acres at Davis Bridge, Tennessee, helping to create one of the largest Civil War state parks in the state!

As you may recall from our appeals earlier this year, the Battle of Davis Bridge, sometimes known as Hatchie’s Bridge, was fought on October 5, 1862, the final significant action of the operations around Corinth, Mississippi, one of – in my humble opinion – the most neglected theaters of the entire war.

CWPT was able to purchase this important 643 acres for $1,979,000, utilizing a federal battlefield preservation matching grant of $948,600, and a grant of $864,000 from the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund. Plus, generous CWPT members “dug deep” despite the bad economy and donated just enough for us to put in our required portion of the match – $166,400 – meaning that we saved this pristine battlefield with a $12-to-$1 of your donation dollar. CWPT will hold the land until the state of Tennessee is ready to assume it from us.

Thank you again for all you have done to help advance the cause of battlefield preservation, and I look forward to accomplishing even more before this astounding year draws to a close.

Sincerely yours,
Jim Lighthizer
President

This is a terrific result, and one that was accomplished through some brilliant usage of government grants for land acquisition. Kudos to all involved.

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The following letter to the editor appeared in the August 14, 2009 edition of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star:

In the July 31 article titled “Orange schedules Wal-Mart do-over,” the author indicates that the proposed Wal-Mart site, while not on National Park Service land, is “in an area designated for study for possible historic significance.”

In fact, the area in question has been accepted as part of the battlefield since the early 1990s.

In 1990, a Congress concerned with the rapid private development of historic battlefield land appointed a blue-ribbon commission of Civil War scholars and educators to study the conditions of and threats to battlefields across the country.

As part of its study, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission mapped the “maximum delineation” of more than 350 battlefields nationwide, including the Wilderness. The commission called this boundary the “Study Area.”

The Study Area, or maximum delineation of the battlefield, contains terrain and resources known to contribute to the battle and the intervening landscape that connects them.

This concept of battlefield includes areas where troops maneuvered and deployed; where they established command centers, communication posts, and medical services; the routes troops took from one location to another; and of course, locations where they fought.

Historical accounts, military terrain analysis, and on-the-ground feature identification informed the delineation of the Study Area.

The parcel Wal-Mart proposes has fallen within the Wilderness Battlefield Study Area since 1993.

The commission’s Study Area boundary also included the National Park Service’s lands. The commission designed the Study Area to be a planning tool that would inform federal, state, and local decisions about grants, development, and land protection.

Paul Hawke

Washington

The writer is chief of the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program.

All the more reason to fight the Wilderness Wal-Mart. I don’t know that there’s much of anything further that can still be done, but I would encourage all of you to write to Wal-Mart and to the Orange County supervisors and let them know that you’re opposed to this blight being built on the battlefield.

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16 Aug 2009, by

Back Home Again

We’re back home after 8 wonderful days in California. As I said before we left, there was no Civil War this trip. Instead, the trip was all about family and relaxing, which I desperately needed.

We flew Southwest. For those of you unfamiliar with Southwest, it’s kind of like the Greyhound of the sky. There is no assigned seating, and there are typically multiple stops on every flight. Our flight on the way home started somewhere else, had its first stop in San Jose, where we got on, went to Burbank, to Las Vegas (where we got off), San Antonio, and then on to Philadelphia, where it ended.

We changed planes in Las Vegas and flew home to Columbus from there. The flight crew that we had from San Jose to Las Vegas also changed planes and ended up on our same flight. Along the way, we had made friends with one of the flight attendants, who lives in York, PA, and whose husband is ex-military and is interested in Civil War history. She asked for a card with the name of Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg written on it.

When we got into Columbus, the flight attendant not only gave us a shout-out for having been with them all day, she gave my historical work a shout-out, too. I was shocked by it, and was also incredibly embarrassed by it. That has to rank in my top five embarrassing incidents. At the same time, it was incredibly flattering, and it was very thoughtful of her to do that.

That was pretty much the full extent of the Civil War stuff for the entire trip, except for my finishing up an article for Dana Shoaf for one of his magazines. It’s nice to be home, and it was really nice to get a break from both life and from my historical work.

Tomorrow, this blog will get back to its regular business. I hope you’ve enjoyed your break from my rantings. I know I did. 🙂

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This morning, Susan and I leave for a much-needed vacation. We’re headed to California for a week. There will be no Civil War on this trip, and I intend to take a much needed break from work, researching, writing, and, yes, blogging, too. We will be back on the evening of the 15th. Posting will resume on the 16th. Have a good week and enjoy your respite from me.

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Just to show that I’m not just committed to the preservation of cavalry battlefields, here’s an opportunity to do some real good for the preservation of the battlefield at Franklin AND a way to gain a $10,000 corporate donation, too.

The Franklin’s Charge organization www.franklinscharge.org of Franklin TN is currently conducting a fundraising campaign to purchase the famous Carter Cotton Gin property, epicenter of the Nov. 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin and site of the death of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne. A large payment on the property is due in early September and Franklin’s Charge is in the midst of a special urgent appeal.

Christie’s Cookies will donate $10,000 to whichever charity receives the most votes in an online “election.” You can help Franklin’s Charge win the $10,000 by taking 2 minutes of your time and voting.

Please go to http://www.ilovechristiecookies.com/contest/form.asp in the charity name field type “Franklin’s Charge”, in the city field type “Franklin” and in the state field type “Tennessee.”

Do some good. Take a minute and vote, and help to preserve one of the most important parcels of the battlefield at Franklin.

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The Land Trust of Virginia issued this press release today:

THE LAND TRUST OF VIRGINIA CREATES THE
DEBORAH WHITTIER FITTS BATTLEFIELD STEWARDSHIP FUND

Middleburg, Va. (August 6, 2009) – The Land Trust of Virginia Board of Directors has created a new fund, called the Deborah Whittier Fitts Battlefield Stewardship Fund, as a means of recognizing and providing financial support for landowners interested in protecting properties where Civil War battles took place. Grants from the fund will be used to offset some of individual landowner’s expenses associated with putting battlefield acreage into easement.

The Land Trust of Virginia (LTV) currently holds easements on 25 Civil War battlefield properties covering more than 1,500 acres, including 912 acres of the Battle of Upperville, 517 acres of the Battle of Unison, 70 acres of the Battle of Aldie, and 33 acres of the Battle of Middleburg. LTV’s Board of Directors anticipates that LTV will pursue and accept even more easements on Civil War sites as the Deborah Whittier Fitts Battlefield Preservation Fund becomes more widely known.

A long-time professional journalist who reported for both the Loudoun Times Mirror and the Civil War News, Ms. Fitts was considered by many to be the nation’s leading journalist covering Civil War preservation issues. For more than a decade, Fitts wrote eloquently about the struggle to protect Virginia’s hallowed Civil War landscape. She covered many major Civil War preservation battles that made national headlines, such as the proposed Disney theme park near Manassas and the successful preservation of Brandy Station, as well as many other nationally significant Civil War battlefield preservation efforts.

Childs Burden, a member of LTV’s Board of Directors and a close friend and colleague of Deborah’s, said: “The preservation of the history of this beloved Commonwealth of Virginia played such an important part of Deborah’s life. She has played an equally important role in preserving our Commonwealth’s heritage. Deborah devoted much of her life’s work to writing and educating others about Manassas, Chantilly, Unison, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Brandy Station, Aldie, Middleburg, Upperville, The Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House, Mount Zion Church, and many other Civil War sites threatened by development.”

Last year, the Civil War Preservation Trust honored Deborah’s memory by conveying her, posthumously, the distinguished “Lifetime Achievement Award,” bestowed for journalistic excellence in educating her readers about the fragile status of our nation’s sacred battlefields. The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) Board of Trustees also voted in June 2009 to render a $30,000 grant to the Land Trust of Virginia for the purpose of inaugurating the Deborah Whittier Fitts Battlefield Stewardship Fund. Another $15,000 has already been pledged, bringing the total fund to $45,000.

Jim Campi, spokesman for CWPT, asserted: “I speak for everyone on the CWPT staff when I say she has left a lasting legacy of education and preservation for which we are extremely grateful. Through her work at The Civil War News, Deborah spread her love of history and her passion for preservation to an army’s worth of readers across the country. Through her admiring readers, Deborah’s impact will continue to be felt for many years to come. Now, with the Deborah Whittier Fitts Battlefield Stewardship Fund, her work will live on through the preserved land she helped to save.”

For further information about the Deborah Whittier Fitts Battlefield Stewardship Fund, contact LTV Executive Director Don Owen at donlandtrustva@earthlink.net or LTV Board member Childs Burden at CBurden338@aol.com.

That’s Deb and her husband Clark “Bud” Hall in the photograph, taken not long before Deb was diagnosed with the cancer that took her life last year.

I can’t imagine a better tribute to her, nor can I think of a better way to honor her memory.

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Time for another in my infrequent posts on forgotten Union cavalrymen. Today, we’re focusing on a little-known officer who commanded an even more obscure unit. Erastus Blakeslee was born to Joel and Sarah Marie Mansfield Blakeslee in Plymouth, Connecticut on September 2, 1838. He attended the Williston Seminary at Easthampton, Massachusetts for his college preparatory studies, and entered the freshman class at Yale University in the fall of 1859. He was on his spring vacation in 1861 when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, and he was one of the first from Plymouth to enlist in response to President Lincoln’s call for volunteers.

He enlisted in Company A of the 1st Battalion Connecticut Cavalry Volunteers on October 9, 1861. Nine days later, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the same company. On November 26, just over a month later, he was promoted to first lieutenant and was appointed regimental adjutant. On February 28, 1862, he was promoted to captain of Company A, which he commanded in the field.

On July 14, 1863, he was promoted to major, and assumed command of the regiment. On May 21, 1864, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and six days later, was promoted to colonel in a remarkably rapid rise. He went from private to colonel in two-and-a-half years. He was wounded in battle at the Battle of Ashland, Virginia on June 1, 1864, and returned to duty in time for the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He mustered out on October 26, 1864 upon expiration of his term of service. Blakeslee was brevetted to brigadier general of volunteers on March 13, 1865 for gallant conduct at Ashland, Va. on June 1, 1864. “He was a brilliant fighter,” observed one writer. “The General is the idol of his old regiment.”

Although the 1st Connecticut is a not a well-known regiment, it was engaged in a great deal of fighting during the Civil War. The State’s first cavalry regiment was organized as a battalion under Maj. J. W. Lyon in September 1861, and became a full regiment under Col. William S. Fish in November. It was sent to western Virginia to fight bushwhackers in March, 1862.

In the winter of 1862-1863 the regiment moved to Baltimore, Maryland for reorganization, and was serving there during the Gettysburg Campaign as part of the forces assigned to the Middle Military District. It moved to Harper’s Ferry, W. Va., July 5, 1863, and skirmished with southern cavalry in that vicinity until January, 1864.

After Blakeslee was promoted to colonel, the regiment became part of the Third Cavalry Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac, fighting throughout the Overland Campaign, including at the Wilderness, Todd’s Tavern, Yellow Tavern, Meadow Bridges, throughout the Wilson-Kautz Raid, and then served in Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign from August to December 1864, fighting at Tom’s Brook and Cedar Creek. It then participated in Lee’s retreat from Petersburg, including fighting at Sailor’s Creek. The 1st Connecticut escorted Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to receive Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The 1st Connecticut suffered 772 casualties during the war, representing 56% of its strength.

Blakeslee was also an inventor. With the advent of the Spencer repeating carbine, Blakeslee realized that his troopers would run out of ammunition quickly unless they had a way to carry large quantities of ammunition available to them. Blakeslee addressed this problem by designing the “Blakeslee Box”, which held ten ammunition tubes for the Spencer, meaning that each trooper could carry 70 rounds in tubes, ready to be loaded. More than 10,000 Blakeslee Cartridge Boxes were manufactured and distributed to the Federal cavalry during the course of the Civil War.

After the war, Blakeslee engaged in business in New Haven, Connecticut and then in Boston. In 1876, he resumed his studies, attending and graduating from Andover Theological Seminary. After graduating from there in 1879, he held Congregational Church pastorates in New Haven, Connecticut and Spencer, Massachusetts. While in Spencer, he became interested in an effort to improve the methods and result of Bible study in Sunday schools and among young people, and set about developing a system of study. In the summer of 1892, he resigned from his pastorate and moved to Boston, where he devoted his efforts to developing further improvements in the methods of Bible study.

He published numerous works on the Bible, including a nine-part study titled The Gospel History of Jesus Christ, that were translated into ten different languages, and were used in nearly all of the evangelical denominations in North America.

General Blakeslee lived the rest of his life in the Boston area, where he was active in veterans’ affairs, and regularly attended reunions of his old regiment. “At such times the Custer tie is the dominant color in the old cavalry organization,” noted a reporter in 1895.

He died July 12, 1908, and was buried in Walnut Hills Cemetery in Brookline, Massachusetts. He is one of the few officers to rise from private to colonel and regimental command. His genius led to the development of his cartridge box, and he then devoted his life to preaching the gospel. Here’s to Erastus Blakeslee, forgotten cavalryman.

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I have finished my Brandy Station manuscript, and submitted it to the publisher over the weekend. I am waiting for my editor to let me know what the projected release date is, but I am told that there’s a reasonably good chance that they will get it out before the end of the year.

The manuscript features a walking/driving tour of the publicly accessible portions of the battlefield, 11 of Steve Stanley’s superb maps (published with the permission of the Civil War Preservation Trust), and about 50 other illustrations. It will also feature a foreword by Jim Lighthizer, the president of the CWPT, that discusses the fight to preserve the battlefield.

Part of my motivation in writing this book was that there be a good, reasonably detailed tactical overview of the battle, with good maps and an order of battle, that folks can purchase at the Graffiti House, which is the Brandy Station Foundation’s visitor center, and which can be used by the BSF as a fundraiser for its preservation efforts.

I’m going to take a month or so off from my Civil War research and writing duties–I am scheduled for a multi-day jury trial on September 1–and then I will begin working on the Yellow Tavern study in earnest once I get through that trial.

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