Month:

April, 2013

General-Buford-002The 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…..

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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.

Brandy Station
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.

To register for the June 8, 2013 tour of the battlefield, please click here. I look forward to seeing some of you there.

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22 Apr 2013, by

A rare treat

photoI 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.

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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.

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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!

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