July, 2010

From the June 28, 2010 edition of Fredericksburg Daily, I am pleased to report another important preservation victory at Brandy Station:

Brandy Station win

Another victory for preservationists at Brandy Station

Date published: 7/28/2010

IMAGINE: It could have been a 3.4-million-square-foot development of condominiums, a multiplex theater, a water park, an equestrian center, a hotel and asphalt, lots of asphalt. Instead, thanks to some generous landowners, 443 acres in Culpeper County, part of the Brandy Station battlefield, has been preserved.

The property, owned by brothers Chuck and Pete Gyory, joins another piece of battlefield land–349 acres owned by Beauregard Farms LP–placed in conservation easements. These two parcels bring the total property in Culpeper and Western Fauquier counties donated by landowners in recent years to more than 2,000 acres. Civil War buffs are rightfully overjoyed.

It’s difficult to imagine a 19th-century field of conflict when houses and shopping centers have overcome the land, hence the value of conservation easements. These leave the land in the hands of the property owners, who give up the rights to develop it in exchange for tax credits.

The 1863 Battle of Brandy Station marked the beginning of the Gettysburg Campaign. Gen. Robert E. Lee had amassed his army near Culpeper, preparing to make the march north. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry was centered at Fleetwood Hill near Brandy Station.

A Union cavalry detachment in Fauquier County discovered Stuart’s presence and, early in the morning of June 9, initiated a surprise attack. What followed was a 12-hour, saber-on-saber battle around St. James Church and all over Fleetwood Hill–the largest calvary engagement of the Civil War. One Confederate cavalryman later wrote that the Union attack on the guns positioned at St. James Church was “the most brilliant and glorious” cavalry charge of the war.

The fascination with the Civil War only seems to grow. Motives and methodologies, strategies and personalities come to light as we study and learn. America’s great family feud created heroes and villains and left scars that still linger. Binding up the nation’s wounds is made easier when battlefields are preserved. Now, thanks to landowners, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the Civil War Preservation Trust, part of the Brandy Station battlefield will withstand one more attack–from 21st-century development.

However, the funds still have to be raised to pay for these conservation easements, and although there is a major matching grant, the BSF and APCWS still have $67,000 to raise in order to meet the requirements for the matching grant funds. Please visit the CWPT’s 2010 Brandy Station Campaign page and do what you can to help save nearly 800 acres of prime battlefield land.

And thank you for your continuing support of our efforts to forever preserve this jewel in Culpeper County.

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I was gone for two straight long weekends. Both were spent stomping battlefields, and there was one common theme through both: beastly heat and high humidity. That sort of heat saps your energy and your strength.

The first trip:

I flew to St. Louis on Thursday, July 15, and my friend Mike Noirot picked me up at the airport. We had lunch at a really neat microbrewery in St. Charles, which is a growing suburb of St. Louis, and then, after checking into my hotel, we went to check out some of the famous Civil War graves in St. Louis, and there are plenty of them worth visiting.

Our first stop was at Calvary Cemetery, where we visited the graves of William T. Sherman, Dred Scott, the playwright Tennessee Williams, and a Civil War Medal of Honor winner. We then crossed the street and went to Bellefontaine Cemetery. Bellefontaine Cemetery is well worth a visit, as it has formal tours laid out, including a Civil War-only driving tour. Among the graves we visited there were Sterling Price, Don Carlos Buell, Francis Blair, John Pope (who has a surprisingly modest grave that we walked by twice before figuring out which one it was), William Rogers Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, his Confederate general son, Meriwether Lewis Clark. It’s definitely worth a visit.

From there, we had great seats in the Redbird Club at Busch Stadium, where we watched Manny Ramirez dog it in the outfield. The Cards beat the Dodgers 7-1. It was 95 with high humidity that day, and it was hot, let me tell you.

Friday, we were off to Springfield, Missouri for a visit to the Wilson’s Creek battlefield. I had never been there before. It’s a really compact but well preserved and well interpreted battlefield. It was 95 again, and again with high humidity, and it was thoroughly unpleasant getting out of the car, but we did. We hiked a lot of the battlefield. I really enjoyed the visit in spite of the heat, and would gladly go back again. We made a stop at the outstanding battlefield museum, where, to my great surprise, the ranger in charge not only recognized me from my photo but is a regular reader of this blog (so, too, is the ranger in charge of the park library at Wilson’s Creek, who knew my name immediately when I said it). That always weirds me out when that happens, as I never realize how wide the readership of this blog really is.

We then took a ride over to the town of Newtonia, where there were battles in 1862 and 1864 (during the Sterling Price raid). Just before we got to Newtonia, a hellacious thunderstorm blew up, and it was raining sideways when we got there. It was so bad, in fact, that I kept checking the clouds to look for rotation. The heavy rains meant that we never got out of the car there, so we didn’t get a chance to read the interpretation on the battlefield. I will have to go back some time.

We checked into our hotel and asked for a restaurant referral, and had an absolutely spectacular meal at the Flame Steakhouse in Springfield. It was, without question, one of the best meals I have ever had. That ended a long but terrific day.

On Saturday, we were up early and drove the 1.5 hours down to the Pea Ridge battlefield near Bentonville, Arkansas. Again, I had never been there previously, so it was all uncharted territory for me. It became one of my very favorite battlefields after just one visit. For those who have never been there, it is an absolutely gorgeous field with lots of excellent interpretation and good tours. There is a spectacular overlook on Big Mountain that provides a gorgeous view of the entire Elkhorn Tavern sector of the battlefield that is well worth the time to take in. I had read the good book on the battle by Shea and Hess years ago when it first came out, but I didn’t remember it well (and I am now re-reading it). It’s a fabulous place to visit, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in what turned out to be one of the most important battles in the Western Theater of the Civil War.

Again, it was beastly hot there. We pretty well wilted hiking in the heat, but we kept after it. When we finished the tour, we had a quick lunch in Bentonville, and then drove down to the Fort Smith Historic Site, which was another 1.5 hours southwest of Bentonville. We visited the National Cemetery, and then spent about twenty minutes in the beastly heat there. It was just too hot there, and there is no shade, and when we figured out that there was little of interest there, we left. 98 degree heat with high humidity and no shade is not fun.

We then headed to the excellent Prairie Grove State Battlefield Park near Fayetteville. I had just finished Bill Shea’s excellent book on the battle, so it was fresh in my mind. There’s a nice visitor center there and lots of really good interpretation. There’s a 1.5 mile walking tour and a driving tour, and we did both. After Perryville, it’s probably the best state park battlefield I’ve ever visited.

We got there at 4:15, at the height of the heat, and it was horrific. I thought we were going to melt while taking the walking tour–no air movement, hot sun, and black asphalt. It makes for a BAD combination. But I really enjoyed the place, which is definitely worth a visit. The combination of the twin defeats at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove meant that Missouri was forever lost to the Confederates.

We then drove the 6 hours back to St. Louis, arriving at my hotel at 10:40. It had been a VERY long day. Sunday morning, we made a quick visit to the Jefferson Barracks Historical Site for a visit to the National Cemetery, and then a quick stop to take a photo of U. S. Grant’s Hardscrabble Farm house, which is now part of a large nature preserve owned by Anheuser Busch. A mammoth thunderstorm delayed my return flight, but I got home Sunday afternoon. We covered more than 1000 miles, and had a blast. Mike is an excellent traveling companion, and he knew those battlefields well. I think he’s going to do a book on Wilson’s Creek, and I think he will do an excellent job of it.

The second trip:

I was in the office for 2.5 days last week, and then Wednesday, it was on the road again. This time, it was for Ted Alexander’s annual summer soiree, which was titled “From Cedar Mountain to Antietam”, and focused on the Second Bull Run Campaign. I got to Chambersburg in time for a good talk on the first half of the campaign by old friend John Hennessy.

Thursday morning, it was off to the battlefield at Cedar Mountain in Culpeper County, which I had never before toured. The tour was led jointly by Ed Bearss, John Hennessy, and Clark B. “Bud” Hall. We had to move quickly, but we saw much of the battlefield, including the seldom-visited monument to the 10th Maine Infantry, which is on private property and not part of the park. Again, it was very hot and humid, which sapped all of our energy.

After lunch, we then stopped at St. James Church at the Brandy Station battlefield to discuss the movements of the armies and the fighting along the Rappahannock River on the way to Manassas. We then stopped at Jeffersonton Church, site of a meeting between Lee, Stuart, Jackson, and Longstreet. Our final stop that day was at an overlook for the Thoroughfare Gap battlefield. Then, it was back to Chambersburg and a fun dinner with Ted Alexander, John Hennessy, Ed Bearss, and Bud Hall. It doesn’t get much better than that in terms of company.

Friday was lecture day. I gave a talk on Pope’s Horsemen, and Bud did one on Stuart’s cavalry in the campaign. Dennis Frye gave a fascinating and thought-provoking talk on Ambrose Burnside and his role in the campaign, and pointed out that Burnside was actually George McClellan’s go-to guy during the Maryland Campaign. The long day was capped by the annual battlefield preservation fundraiser auction. I auctioned off a personal tour for the winner and five friends, which I was happy to do.

Saturday was more battlefield touring, with the whole day being spent at Second Manassas. Ed and John led the tour, and according to a sign next to Henry House Hill, it was 106 degrees out, with high humidity. After a very quick stop at Stuart’s Hill, we began at Brawner’s Farm, which is a fascinating battle. I had not been there since about 80 acres of trees were cut down, and it has REALLY changed the viewshed at the battlefield. As just one example, the spot where S. D. Lee’s guns were was always in deep woods and couldn’t be seen. Now, it’s wide open, as is the area of the Deep Cut attack, and it dramatically changes the battlefield by showing just how close together these sites are, when it was previously impossible to visualize that due to the thick, dense woods. The effect is much like the effect of the tree cutting at Gettysburg. Kudos to the park superintendent at Manassas for pursuing the tree cutting program.

The downside is that there is not a stick of shade out there, and with that kind of heat, it was draining. Ed led us on a 3.5 mile hike all the way to the Deep Cut, and everyone about melted. After lunch, we covered the August 29 attacks along the unfinished railroad cut, the Deep Cut attack, and then visited the New York Reservation, known as the Vortex of Hell for the tremendous casualties taken by the 5th New York Infantry there–25% KIA during this fight. We then went to Chinn Ridge, and finished on Henry House Hill.

From there, we had a dinner with a short program in the Mumma Farm barn at the Antietam National Battlefield. The ambiance is great there, and the view is nothing short of spectacular, but it was just too hot and we were all too hot from the long day to really enjoy it. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Saturday’s lunch was a special treat. I sat next to Ed, and asked him what he thought of the HBO production The Pacific (he really didn’t like it). One of the other guys asked Ed about how he was wounded on New Guinea during World War II, and he regaled us with the story of his wounding and rescue. Ed is now 87 and is a true force of nature. He’s a national treasure who has forgotten more than I can ever hope to know.

It was just awful out there in terms of the heat. I drank something like 60 ounces of Gatorade, two big bottles of water, and 3 larges glasses of Diet Coke at lunch, and I was still dehydrated when I got back to the hotel. I was asleep by 10:30.

Yesterday morning, I got up and made a quick trip to Fairfield, PA to shoot photos for the new edition of Gettysburg’s Forgotten Cavalry Actions that will be published by Savas-Beatie next year, and then drove home.

It’s been a pretty remarkable run. I took lots of photos. They can be found here. I hope you enjoy them.

As for me, I need a vacation from my exhausting vacations. 🙂

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Brig. Gen. William W. Averell left behind this excellent description of the traditional role of cavalry:

Reliable information of the enemy’s position or movements, which is absolutely necessary to the commander of an army to successfully conduct a campaign, must be largely furnished by the cavalry. The duty of the cavalry when an engagement is imminent is specially imperative—to keep in touch with the enemy and observe and carefully note, with time of day or night, every slightest indication and report it promptly to the commander of the army. On the march, cavalry forms in advance, flank and rear guards and supplies escorts, couriers and guides. Cavalry should extend well away from the main body on the march like antennae to mask its movements and to discover any movement of the enemy.

Cavalry should never hug the army on the march, especially in a thickly wooded country, because the horses being restricted to the roads, the slightest obstacle in advance is liable to cause a blockade against the march of infantry. Moreover, in camp it furnishes outposts, vedettes and scouts. In battle it attacks the enemy’s flanks and rear, and above all other duties in battle, it secures the fruits of victory by vigorous and unrelenting pursuit. In defeat it screens the withdrawal of the army and by its fortitude and activity baffles the enemy. In addition to these active military duties of the cavalry, it receives flags of truce, interrogates spies, deserters and prisoners, makes and improves topographical maps, destroys and builds bridges, obstructs and opens communications, and obtains or destroys forage and supplies.

Good stuff.

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Last weekend, I traveled to Missouri and toured Calvary Cemetery and Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, caught a Dodgers/Cardinals game, toured Wilson’s Creek, Newtonia, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove battlefields, and also made a visit to Fort Smith.

Tomorrow, I leave for Ted Alexander’s annual summer soiree, which will include tours of Cedar Mountain, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and part of the Antietam battlefield. I’m doing a talk titled “Pope’s Horsemen”.

Next week, when I’m back and the dust has settled, I will write up both trips and post some of my photos from Missouri and Arkansas. Please be patient. I hope it will be worth your while.

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With many thanks to Jim Schmidt for bringing this little gem to my attention, I give you more dumbass re-enactors…

From the July 6, 2010 issue of the Morris County [NJ] Daily Record comes these candidates for dumbass re-enactors of the year:

Hanover cops: 2 injured when mistaken Civil War gun powder tube explodes


HANOVER — A 66-year-old Livingston man was burned when a man asked him for a light and, instead of lighting a cigarette as he thought, he lit a paper cartridge filled with gun powder.

Police said Joseph Princiotta, 42, of Jersey City, obtained the cartridge from his friend, a Civil War re-enactor, who had the tube of gun powder with some of his re-enactment gear.

The incident occurred last Wednesday around midnight.

Police said Princiotta thought it was a firecracker and asked the alleged victim to light it as he was walking through the parking lot of the Brookside Diner, Hanover Detective Earle Seely said. The gun powder ignited, flared up and burned the man’s arm. He was taken to St. Baranabas hospital and released. Princiotta had slight burns on his hand as well.

Princiotta was charged with simple assault.

Amazing. Can you say “dumb-ass”, boys and girls?

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I was asked this question:

When did Albert Jenkins’ cavalry brigade arrive on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Could part of the reasoning on Lee’s and/or Ewell’s part have been to keep Governor-elect Billy Smith out of harm’s way, thus using his brigade to watch the flank? Or, did they not trust Jenkins’ brigade? Or, maybe a little of both?

Here’s my answer:

Good questions all.

Let me answer the last one first. The Gettysburg Campaign was the first so-called “regular” service of Jenkins’ command, which had been considered to be partisan rangers prior. They were largely an undisciplined and unproven commodity. In addition, they were not armed with normal cavalry weapons. Instead, they carried two-band Enfield muzzle-loaders, which meant that they were more mounted infantry than anything else. Hence, they were largely unknown to Robert E. Lee, who didn’t really trust them as a result.

For purposes of the invasion of Pennsylvania, the command consisted of the 14th, 16th, and 17th Virginia Cavalry regiments and the 34th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, commanded by the very colorful Lt. Col. Vincent “Clawhammer” Witcher. Lije White’s 35th Battalion of Virginia Cavalry of Grumble Jones’ Brigade was also sent with Jenkins’ command.

The command escorted Jenkins into Pennsylvania, and then split when Early’s division went toward York and the Susquehanna River. White’s battalion and part of the 16th Virginia escorted Early all the way to great covered bridge at Wrightsville and back. The other two full regiments, the rest of the 16th Virginia, and Witcher’s guys, with Jenkins in personal command, went with the rest of Ewell’s Corps to Carlisle and on to Camp Hill. In fact, the detachment with Jenkins had two skirmishes at Camp Hill. The first one, on June 29, was at a place called Oyster Point. Then, the next day, after Ewell received orders to go to Gettysburg, the cavalry served as a rear guard for the infantry and had a pretty large engagement with infantry from Fort Couch and Fort Washington at a place called Sporting Hill, which is on the southern edge of what is today Camp Hill.

The detachment with Jenkins led Ewell’s way south through Carlisle and then on toward Gettysburg. If you read John Buford’s dispatches to Reynolds on the night of June 30, he talks about encountering enemy cavalry in the area of Heidlersburg. These would have been Jenkins’ command leading the infantry south, serving the traditional role of cavalry.

Elements of Jenkins’ command traded picket fire with elements of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry of Devin’s brigade at the Samuel Cobean farm, well north of Gettsyburg, very early on the morning of July 1. I believe that it is quite likely that the first shots of the battle were actually fired by either by a member of the 17th Pennsylvania at one of Jenkins’ guys, or vice versa, and not by Lt. Jones on Wistler’s Ridge.

So, Jenkins and his men arrived very early on the morning of July 1, and then they pretty much disappear. We know that about half of the brigade spent most of the battle doing provost duty. That detachment, commanded by Col. Milton Ferguson of the 16th Virginia, operated in the vicinity of Lee’s headquarters on Seminary Ridge for most of the battle.

The whereabouts of the rest of the brigade for most of July 1 and 2 is unknown and undocumented. All we know is that they were operating in the vicinity of Blocher’s (now Barlow’s) Knoll on the morning of July 2, and Jenkins was wounded by a chunk of shell fragment. For reasons that are a complete mystery to all of us, nobody informed Ferguson that he was now in command of the brigade, and we don’t have any idea where the men with Jenkins went or what they did for the rest of July 2, because there are absolutely no records or reports to tell us. It’s like they just disappeared, only to reappear with Stuart on East Cavalry Field the next day. Witcher would have commanded that detachment (which he did on ECF on July 3), so the blame probably must be placed squarely on his shoulders.

The wounding of Jenkins and resulting breakdown in command left the Hanover and Carlisle Roads unpicketed, and Ewell had no choice but to detach the Stonewall Brigade and Extra Billy’s brigade to do that duty. That’s how they ended up where they ended up. I often say that the only military aspect of the battle that was impacted by Stuart’s absence on July 1 was that there was no cavalry picketing the roads to the north and east on July 2, and that the detachment of those two veteran brigades of infantry to do duty that should have been done by cavalry may well have tipped the balance in the fighting for Culp’s Hill and East Cemetery Hill on July 2, as neither of those brigades was available to participate in the Confederate attacks. One can’t help but wonder whether the addition of those two veteran brigades might have made the difference in two assaults that nearly succeeded without them.

As a general rule, I don’t much care for “what-if’s”, but even I have to admit that this one is an especially tantalizing one. Would those two veteran infantry brigades have given Ewell’s twin assaults on East Cemetery and Culp’s Hills sufficient oomph to succeed? We will never know, but it is fascinating.

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I wanted to take a moment to wish all of my readers a happy and safe Independence Day, and to take a moment to thank all of our veterans, past, present, and future, for the sacrifices that they have made to give us a country where we can celebrate our independence not through martial displays, but through family gatherings and happy times spent with family and friends.

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