26 July 2010 by Published in: Battlefield stomping 20 comments

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. :-)

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Steve Basic
    Mon 26th Jul 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Eric,

    Glad you had a great couple of trips. Pea Ridge blew me away when I visited out there and Wilson’s Creek is a great battlefield to visit as well.

    Trips like that remind me there is more to the Civil War than Gettysburg.

    Take care.

    Steve

  2. bill
    Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 12:38 am

    An excellent read. And I tell yah, your vivid account of the summer heat and humidity has me rethinking my plans pursuing for a job in northern VA.

  3. Scott Stemler
    Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 8:36 am

    Eric,
    Sounds like an awesome trip, despite the heat. I would love to visit both Pea Ridge and Wilson’s Creek on day. Would one day be enough for each battlefield? I did get to see the improvements made in the Brawner farm area at Manassas last year, and it was a great job done by the Park Service.
    Thanks for sharing your photos!
    Scott

  4. Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 9:06 am

    Bill,

    It wasn’t just northern Virginia. There was plenty of heat and humidity in Missouri and Arkansas too. I think it was worth it though.

    Eric

  5. Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 9:07 am

    Scott,

    You’re very welcome, and I’m glad you enjoyed the photos.

    Eric

  6. Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 9:50 am

    Eric,

    I sure wish I could have been with you in Virginia and Maryland. Sounds like you had an awesome time.

  7. Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 9:52 am

    Mike,

    But for the heat, it was pretty much a perfect trip. The heat was sapping, but to walk the fields with Ed Bearss is always a treat.

    Eric

  8. Mike Peters
    Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 10:10 am

    Eric,

    Bellefontaine is also the final resting place for Confederate General A. P. Stewart.

    Welcome back!

    Mike Peters

  9. Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 11:04 am

    Great trips, thanks for the reports. Been on a Trans Mississippi reading binge since this year, and can’t wait until I can go west to see Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Really intrigued by the service of the 2nd OVC and the ground they covered during the war. Those boys sure got around.

    Phil

  10. Chris Evans
    Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks for the fascinating report. I’ve always wanted to visit Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Wilson’s Creek. It’s great that there are still such wonderfully preserved battlefields of the conflict to visit.
    Chris

  11. Todd Berkoff
    Tue 27th Jul 2010 at 9:48 pm

    Given the weather during your time at Manassas Battlefield, it gives new meaning to being at the very “Vortex of Hell.” I recently visited SD Lee’s position near Brawner Farm on a similarly hot day and that spot always seems to be the HOTTEST place on earth! I feel your pain. I think I am most impressed that 87-year old Ed Bearss was able to hike from Brawner to the Deep Cut. Wow, I am soft.

    At least the weather during your trip to Cedar Mountain matched the actual weather conditions during the battle — over 100 degrees in the shade. It must have been brutal for those boys in wool.

    Sorry I missed you,

    Todd Berkoff

  12. ROSS LYMAN
    Wed 28th Jul 2010 at 10:26 am

    Great discription of truly brutal conditions in Virginia & Maryland, but worth it.

    Great to see you again.

    Ross

  13. Wed 28th Jul 2010 at 5:59 pm

    I always enjoy reading accounts from travelers who have made the trek to the battlefields west of the Mississippi. If you haven’t already done so please check out my blog “The Trans-Mississippian” at http://www.transmississippian.blogspot.com/

    My posting of 21 June 2010 with quotes by Union soldiers about the hot weather in the trans-Mississippi may be of particular interest…

  14. Thu 29th Jul 2010 at 4:32 am

    That’s a great trip. Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove are two of my favorite battlefields. I enjoyed reading your report. When the Civil War Forum visited Wilson’s Creek, that museum was still called the General Sweeny Museum — what an impressive collection.

    One thing about the relentless heat in Southern Missouri and Northwest Arkansas — it helps take your mind off the ticks.

  15. Keith Toney
    Thu 29th Jul 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Eric,
    I assume you’re talking about Trailhead, right on the corner in the St. charles old town. It IS excellent, a required stop every Feb. when I’m out there.
    Regards,
    Keith

  16. Fri 30th Jul 2010 at 9:00 am

    Keith,

    I am indeed referring to Trailhead. Neat place.

    Eric

  17. Fri 30th Jul 2010 at 9:01 am

    David,

    That museum collection is indeed very impressive. I went into it with low expectations, simply because I had never heard of it, but that is a fabulous collection. I’m glad that the Park Service now owns it so that that terrific collection won’t be split up.

    Eric

  18. Raphe A. Whaley
    Fri 30th Jul 2010 at 10:31 am

    I love this post about your tour of the western theater sites. Outstanding commentary! I live in northwestern TN, and there are so many wonderful sites related to the war in our area. Thanks again for your wonderful posts…………..

  19. Tue 03rd Aug 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Agree with your assessments of Wilson’s Creek and Peas Ridge battlefields. That view at Pea Ridge is terrific. And we had 97 degrees and high humidity at Wilson’s Creek, so I sympathize. We cooled off at the Fantastic Caverns in Springfield afterwards. Sounds like a couple of great trips. I’d love to tour a battlefield with Ed Bearss.

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