Yesterday finally ended three weeks of insanity.
On Friday morning, I hit the road for Virginia, headed for Culpeper. It’s nearly 435 miles each way, and it’s a LONG drive. I reached the Graffiti House at Brandy Station about 3:30, and then spent the next 90 minutes laying out a driving tour for my Brandy Station book, including shooting GPS coordinates for the stops on the tour (I ended up shooting 36 of them). I then went and checked into my hotel, had dinner in the hotel restaurant, and spent the evening watching the Pens beat the big, bad Red Wings to bring Lord Stanley’s Cup home to Pittsburgh. It was really pretty remarkable.
Last summer, I auctioned off a two-day tour as a fundraiser for battlefield preservation, and this weekend was time to deliver the goods. That’s why I made the trip. Saturday, with the help of Mike Block, who is a member of the board of trustees of the Brandy Station Foundation, who came along to help me lead the tour, we covered the Battles of Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station in detail. We finished at the National Cemetery in Culpeper. This is now the second time that Mike and I have done this dog-and-pony show, and we really work together well. I really enjoy doing tours with him.
I was also fortunate enough to have Prof. Chris Stowe, who teaches at the Army Command and General Staff College’s branch campus at Fort Lee in Petersburg, VA, along. Chris is working on George Gordon Meade’s papers, and he is extremely knowledgeable. Finally, I had the opportunity to have Tim Ferry and Lance Williams along, and we had a great day. After a long, hot day, I then had dinner with old friend Melissa Delcour at a terrific Italian place in Culpeper called Luigi’s that I highly recommend.
The Brandy Station battlefield looks great, with the exception of the hideous McMansion that was built on the crest of Fleetwood Hill. We saw pretty much the whole field, although we didn’t hike out to the stone wall on the Cunningham farm. The ground was too soggy, and there would have been too many snakes and too many mosquitoes out there, and I made the command decision not to expose ourselves to it.
On Sunday, I took Chris, Tim, and the four fellows who won the tour to Trevilian Station. We drove the 45 miles down, toured the battlefield–none had been there previously–and then I took Tim and one of the others back to the Graffiti House, where they had left their cars. While I didn’t go off into the woods to look at the property–no time for that–I was able to confirm that the parcel of property that is going to be the subject of the CWPT’s next fundraising campaign is a key parcel because it connects the first and second days’ battlefields with a pristine parcel to make that link. It’s a pristine, 250-acre parcel that was part of the farm that was a major portion of the second day’s battlefield that was called the Gentry farm in 1864.
I then had to drive home. I left at 3:00, and got home at nearly 9:45. With the trip to Trevilians, I drove about 550 miles yesterday while making the banzai run. By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted, and I am still tired now, even after a decent night’s sleep in my own bed last night.
There’s nothing I love more than battlefield stomping, but after three straight weekends of leading tours and too much driving, I am worn out. I’m thrilled at the prospect of actually being home this weekend for a change. I also haven’t had a chance to see stuff I want to see because I’ve been leading tours non-stop. It would be nice to see something new while having someone else lead the tour for a change.
Anyway, that’s it for the banzai runs for now. I have a talk to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable on Wednesday night, and then nothing again until October. It’s going to be a nice break. In the meantime, if any of my readers are in the Pittsburgh area, I hope you can make the talk on Wednesday night.
At 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, as I was busily working on a draft of a complaint, my laptop suddenly locked up. When I tried to reboot it, it would not boot; the hard drive just made a clicking noise, and I came to the incredibly unhappy realization that I had suffered the same hard drive crash that my wife had suffered 13 days earlier. Apparently, the Fujitsu hard drives that Apple was using at the time (and Sony, too) are prone to zero-sector damages, which lead to crashes.
Of course, my whole life is on that computer. Most of the important stuff had a recent back-up done, but I still panicked. Anything that was sone since the back-up the week before would be lost, and there was a lot of work done during that period of time.
Luckily, everything will be recoverable. I should have it all back early next week. WE went and bought a new 2.5 inch drive for the laptop–Western Digital this time–and it was installed today. The old drive was 120GB, while the new one is 250GB, so I am better than doubling drive capacity. And the best part was that drives have come down so much that it cost me $79.99 for the new drive.
I am using our back-up laptop as I write this. It’s something like 6 years old, and it was the forebear to netbooks. Susan calls it the tiny laptop, for good reason. It weighs like 3 pounds and has a 10-inch screen. However, unlike netbooks, this is a full Pentium II processor running Windows XP, and it will do until I get my machine back Sunday when I get home.
All things considered, it could have been MUCH worse. However, as I told Susan yesterday, I feel like Linus from Peanuts does when he can’t find his security blanket.
I spent the afternoon today laying out the driving tour of the Brandy Station battlefield for my upcoming book, including adding GPS coordinates. I only addressed the publicly accessible portions of the battlefield; the Yew Ridge portion of the battlefield is entirely in private hands, and I have too much respect for the property owners to turn tourists loose on their property.
The battlefield is still beautiful, and I’m so grateful that I know it well enough to be able to lead tours there. I’m leading a tour of Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station tomorrow and of Trevilian Station on Sunday before making the banzai run home Sunday.
Like I said, all things considered, it could be much, much worse.
I’m now home from the annual conference of the Civil War Preservation Trust, which was held in Gettysburg this year. More than 500 people attended, by far the largest event I’ve ever been involved with. I finally got to meet a lot of the CWPT personnel that I’ve worked with over the years in person, such as Tom Gilmore, David Duncan, Melissa Sadler, and Rob Shenk. It was really nice being able to put faces with the names.
There were lots of big name historians present, including Ed Bearss, Kent Masterson Brown, Richard McMurray, Ted Alexander, Jeff Wert, Dick Summers, and others of similar talent. It just wouldn’t be a tour if Ted Alexander didn’t get a bus stuck, and he managed to do so on Friday. So did Ed Bearss. Kent Brown’s bus not only got its front end all dinged up, it also took out a row of mailboxes on the West Virginia side at Falling Waters, undoubtedly earning the undying love of the local landowner upon whose property he and his busload were trespassing.
I had a full day tour of cavalry actions at Gettysburg. We toured South Cavalry Field, Farnsworth’s Charge, Brinkerhoff’s Ridge, and East Cavalry Field I had arranged to bring my group onto the grounds of the Rummel Farm on East Cavalry Field, and Dan and Alice Hoffman, who own the farm, rolled out the red carpet. Dan brought out his Spencer rifle and a Burnside carbine, lots of bullets and other relics, photos of the original house, and other goodies. They allowed the two guns to be passed around, and you should have heard the “oohs” and “ahs” from the assembled crowd. It was hot and muggy, and they had had very heavy rains for the two prior days, so the ground was saturated. Everybody got wet and muddy, but nobody seemed to mind.
I got to see some old friends. J.D. and Steve Stanley were there, signing copies of their new book The Complete Gettysburg Guide, and I got one of the advance copies. Great job, guys. Old friend Marc Ramsey of Owens and Ramsey Books of Richmond was there. Friday night, we had a fabulous dinner at Gina’s Place in Bonneauville, where I got to see a bunch of old friends. Saturday night was much the same.
I can’t say enough good things about the CWPT. This organization, which has more than 50,000 members, has saved in excess of 25,000 acres of battlefield land. There is no more effective advocate for battlefield preservation anywhere, and I wholeheartedly support the organization’s efforts and the fine work that it does. None of the land that has been preserved at Trevilian Station could have been saved without the help of the CWPT, and there is plenty more work to do at Trevilians and at many other locations around the country. I encourage all of my readers–and I know that many of you already do–to support the efforts of the CWPT in any way you can, including donating money to help to acquire battlefield land before it is lost forever.
After the conference ended, we traveled to beautiful Middleburg, VA for a memorial for Deb Fitts, the late wife of my dear friend Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and got to see still more friends, including Cricket Bauer Pohanka, whom I hadn’t seen since her husband Brian died, and John Hennessy, the chief historian at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefields, whom I rarely get to see. We drove partway home last night, found a hotel, and finished the trip this morning. I actually got in half a day at the office, which is important for cash flow reasons.
Friday, it’s back to Virginia, this time to lead tours at Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, and Trevilian Station. I hope that there will be good news shortly to report about our ongoing preservation efforts at Trevilian Station.
Tonight, I’m tired. Imagine that.
Time for another of my infrequent profiles of forgotten cavalrymen. Tonight, we feature Colonel John Beardsley of the 9th New York Cavalry, a scoundrel if ever there was one. He’s one that probably should remain forgotten.
Born on October 12, 1816, in Fairfield, Herkimer County, New York, John Beardsley was appointed to the United States Military Academy in 1837. He graduated 17th in the class of 1841, which included such future luminaries as John Reynolds, Robert Garnett, Richard Garnett, Don Carlos Buell, Nathaniel Lyon and Israel Richardson, all of whom would become generals in the Civil War.
Upon graduation, Beardsley joined the 8th Infantry. Beardsley served in the Seminole War in Florida from 1841-42, and in Mexico. In 1846 with the 8th Infantry, Beardsley participated in the Battle of Palo Alto and in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. On June 18, Beardsley was promoted to first lieutenant.
The 8th Infantry was assigned to serve with the expeditionary force of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, then preparing for an amphibious landing at Vera Cruz. When the invasion began, the 8th Infantry participated in the Siege of Vera Cruz and in the Battle of Cerro Gordo, where their division played an important role in the rout of the Mexican forces. Fighting alongside his comrade in the 8th Infantry, Lt. James Longstreet, Beardsley fought in the Battle of Churusbusco and at the Battle of Molino del Rey, where he was severely wounded in action while leading an assault on the Mexican works.
His conduct at Molino del Rey caught the eye of his superiors, and Beardsley received a brevet to captain for gallant and meritorious service. It took him more than a year to recover from his wound, and he did not return to active duty until 1849, when he was promoted to Captain and company command in the 8th Infantry. After several more garrison assignments, and as a result of visual impairment and lingering problems resulting from his combat wound, Capt. John Beardsley resigned his commission on December 31, 1853, thus ending a twelve year career in the Regular Army marked by regular promotions and meritorious service.
The decorated war hero returned home to New York and took up a career in farming. He led a quiet life on his farm near Athens, New York until the storm clouds of Civil War gathered in 1861. In October of that year, the governor of New York appointed Beardsley as colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry, and gave him the task of recruiting, arming, and training the regiment. His commission was dated November 21, 1861. Interestingly, Beardsley brought two servants with him, Horace, a tall (5’8″) black man with black eyes and hair, and Kip, a dark complexioned male. Due to administrative problems, Beardsley’s command did not receive mounts until the spring of 1862, and had a troubled early history. At one point, while Beardsley struggled to train his demoralized recruits in the tactics of fighting on foot, a proposal was made to either disband the unit, or to assign its men to various artillery batteries. Elements of the 9th New York served with various artillery batteries and infantry regiments during the Peninsula Campaign. Finally, the regiment’s men rebelled and refused to serve with the artillery or infantry any longer. As a result of the near mutiny, Maj. Gen. George McClellan ordered the unit sent north to be mustered out of service in May 1862.
Put aboard ships, the New Yorkers expected to be mustered out of service upon their arrival in Washington, D.C. Instead, the men of the regiment went into camp and were surprised when orders for the regiment to be mounted arrived on June 21, 1862. The newly mounted troopers moved to the front in July 1862, joining Pope’s newly-formed Army of Virginia. Col. Beardsley reported to Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, who assigned Beardsley to command a brigade of cavalry consisting of the 4th New York, 9th New York, 6th Ohio, and 1st Maryland. Given his background as a West Pointer, and his previous record of valor, John Beardsley seemed to be as good a choice to command a brigade of cavalry as Brig. Gens. John Buford and George D. Bayard, who commanded the other two brigades assigned to Pope’s army.
Buford and Bayard did outstanding service during what became the Second Manassas Campaign, prompting Pope to praise their service lavishly. However, the official reports are devoid of mentions of either Beardsley or his brigade. The brigade played a limited role in the campaign, its principal contribution being the capture of the Waterloo Bridge, near Warrenton, Virginia, on August 25. Elements of the brigade served with Buford’s troopers on August 30, participating in the short but fierce cavalry fight at the Lewis Ford, in the closing engagement of the Second Battle of Bull Run.
The rest of Beardsley’s command was assigned the hopeless task of trying to stem the stampede to the rear after Beardsley’s old comrade in arms, Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, launched his massive counterattack against the Union left on the afternoon of August 30. Thereafter, Beardsley ordered his men to form line of battle (in a single rank) to the east of Henry House Hill, astride the Warrenton Turnpike, to cover the retreat of the army. Beardsley’s brigade eventually followed the broken army off the field.
Beardsley’s report on the conduct of his brigade during the campaign is brief and cursory. His summary of the action ends by stating, “It would be difficult to enumerate all the duties which my brigade performed. It could not have done more. Without transportation, without supplies, almost constantly in the saddle day and night, frequently engaged with the enemy, they bore all without a murmur.”
Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel, Beardsley’s immediate superior, wrote only, “…the commanders of our small cavalry force have assisted me under all circumstances cheerfully and to the utmost of their ability…” Sigel’s failure to recognize Beardsley as the commander of his cavalry forces, and his insistence upon referring to all of the cavalry officers under his command perhaps demonstrates the corps commander’s displeasure with the brigade commander’s performance.
After the ignominious defeat at Second Manassas, Beardsley’s brigade returned to Washington, D.C. with the 11th Corps, where the unit served in the city’s defenses during the Antietam Campaign. Beardsley and his brigade rejoined the reconstituted Army of the Potomac in November. Sometime in late 1862, Col. Beardsley was put in command of the cavalry Convalescent’s Camp near Hal’s Farm in northern Virginia, where he remained until late February 1863. On February 24, 1863, General-in-Chief Henry Halleck sent a curious order to the Army of the Potomac’s commander, Major General Joseph Hooker. Halleck, via his Assistant Adjutant General James Barnett Fry, directed Hooker’s attention to the Convalescent Camp under the command of Colonel Beardsley, and instructed Hooker to issue the necessary orders for Colonel Beardsley to join his proper command, the 9th New York Cavalry. Why would the apparently low profile assignment of a relatively unknown colonel attract the time of the General-in-Chief of all federal armies, his able A.A.G. (who was described by Ulysses S. Grant as one of the best staff officers in the army ) and the recently appointed commander of the government’s principal army (Hooker was appointed in early February 1863)?
Fry’s order generated a brief and furious reaction. On March 10, 1863, Major Charles McLean Knox of the 9th New York Cavalry preferred court martial charges against Colonel Beardsley claiming disloyalty, cowardice and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman resulting from a series of incidents occurring between August 6 and November 4, 1862. Major Knox alleged that Beardsley proclaimed, in the presence of enlisted men of his command, on August 6, that “we have no government that we are fighting for – no government; Congress is a mean, abolition faction; the Constitution is broken – we have no Constitution; the abolitionists of the North brought on this war; the Republicans are abolitionists.” Similarly, Beardsley allegedly said, “I would rather fight under Lee than under an abolition leader” on September 12 when he was informed that General Robert E. Lee had invited the conservative portion of the North to join Lee in putting down the administration in Washington.
Major Knox preferred more serious military charges regarding Colonel Beardsley’s actions in the face of the enemy. Knox alleged that Beardsley left his command while it was skirmishing with the enemy on September 1, 1862, when the brigade was serving as the army’s rear guard near Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia. Knox similarly alleged that, on November 4, 1862, during the 11th Corps advance from Centerville, Virginia toward Warrrenton, near New Baltimore, Beardsley precipitately retreated when his command first encountered enemy resistance, with Beardsley “manifest[ing] trepidation and fear . . . placed himself at the head of the retreating column and finally ordered the column to trot . . .” Knox pointed out that 40 men of the 9th New York Cavalry stopped the enemy advanced and drove the Rebels back to New Baltimore while Beardsley conducted his retreat.
Knox’s most serious charge related to Beardsley’s conduct on the battlefield at Second Manassas. Knox alleged that on August 30, 1862, Beardsley publicly berated Lt. Col. William Sackett, commanding Beardsley’s own 9th New York Cavalry, while Sackett tried to form line of battle “to stop a stampede that had commenced on the battlefield.” Beardsley allegedly interrupted Sackett’s dispositions of the troops, stating “[w]hat in Hell are you doing with the Regiment there – bring it around here – bring it here, I tell you – by file, march – trot – march – by God, you do not know how to handle a Regiment – I will put someone in command of it that does know how to form a line”. Remember, Beardsley was a career infantry officer whose cavalry regiment had received horses only a little over two months previous to this event. Knox believed that Beardsley’s words and actions indicated that Beardsley “was too much excited to know what he was doing.” Knox went on to allege that Beardsley then left the 9th New York and went to the rear, leaving the command under fire without orders. Lt. Col. Sackett kept his command in place until no more stragglers came his way, and then retired the regiment across Bull Run until he found Colonel Beardsley, from whom Sackett requested instructions. Knox alleged that Beardsley told Sackett to form on one side of the road, but then ordered the 9th New York to the other side of the road while retreating artillery was passing on the road. Knox inferred that Beardsley used the subsequent chaos in the road to abandon his command once again, and that he then rode off to Centerville, leaving the 9th New York formed without orders.
Finally, Knox alleged that Beardsley arrested Lt. Col. Sackett on September 8, 1862 while Beardsley was under the influence of alcohol. He averred that the inebriated colonel berated Sackett in an abusive and ungentlemanly manner. This episode involved a matter in which Beardsley never preferred charges against Lt. Col. Sackett.
Some support for Major Knox’s charges can be found. Lt. Col. Charles Wetschky of the 1st Maryland Cavalry stated in his official report dated September 17, 1862 that, on August 30, his command was ordered to stop stragglers until Colonel Beardsley subsequently ordered the 1st Maryland to form a line of battle on the right of the retreating column. Lt. Col. Wetschky stated that the line was promptly shelled by artillery, causing Beardsley to pull the line back behind a hill. Beardsley then ordered the 1st Maryland to remain in position until it received further orders. Wetschky reported that “the regiment was left without orders until the bridge over Bull Run had been nearly destroyed, when the officer in charge of the party who were ordered to destroy [the bridge] sent a message for the cavalry to come up in great haste – that he had just discovered that they were still in the rear.”
The report of Colonel William Lloyd of the 6th Ohio Cavalry, Beardsley’s final regiment, dated September 13, 1862, recites a consistent story of being formed to stop straggling infantry, and then being shelled by artillery while in position. Lloyd then states “[w]e were shortly thereafter ordered to withdraw, and with the brigade, conducted by Colonel Beardsley, we moved on toward Centerville with the then retreating army.” Is this a clever use of the passive voice, indicating that Beardsley was present during the retreat but that he did not give the order to withdraw from the battlefield proper?
Major Knox’s charges were sent to the 1st Cavalry Division on March 10, 1863. On March 12, Brig. General Alfred Pleasonton forwarded the charges to the Cavalry Corps. Pleasonton’s endorsement stated that “Colonel Beardsley . . . is not a proper officer to command a brigade, to which his rank entitles him and from the gravity of these charges, it would evidently be of advantage to the service if he was out of it.” The speed at which Pleasonton’s headquarters forwarded Major Knox’s charges seems to indicate that no deliberation was required before deciding that Beardsley should be removed from command as the spring campaigning season got underway.
Beardsley must have realized that he had little chance of retaining his command. He resigned as Colonel of the 9th New York Cavalry on March 14, 1863, and his resignation was speedily accepted by divisional headquarters and sent to the Cavalry Corps on March 16. Corps headquarters was obviously forewarned of the issue, because Colonel Beardsley’s resignation was accepted a mere one day later. Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Cavalry Corps, took time out of his busy schedule (the Battle of Kelly’s Ford was fought between Federal and Confederate cavalry on March 17, as blue clad horse soldiers forces under Brig. Gen. William W. Averell sallied south of the Rappahannock) to accept Beardsley’s resignation with the following endorsement: “Respectfully forwarded with the recommendation as strong as English language can express that it be excepted [sic].”
Even more remarkable than the events surrounding Beardsley’s resignation are the efforts made by many people to sweep these ugly incidents under the rug. Instead of elaborating on the reasons why Beardsley left the service, the regimental history of the 9th New York states only, “March 9….Col. Beardsley…rejoined the regiment…June 4, Lieut. Col. Sackett returned from Washington with a Colonel’s commission for himself and a Lieut. Colonel’s commission for Maj. Nichols. Col. Beardsley had resigned.” There were no other references to Beardsley in the balance of the 9th New York’s fine regimental history. An obituary of Beardsley that appeared in a West Point alumni publication simply stated, “Immediately after [Second Bull Run], he came back to the Regiment and assumed command and remained with it until he resigned his commission at Acquier (sic) Creek, on the Potomac, April 8, 1863.” There were no other references to the circumstances underlying the resignation stated.
Beardsley returned to New York, where he resided for the rest of his life. In the years after the war, he worked as a farmer and as a trust agent. He died in Athens, New York on February 18, 1906, and was buried in Athens Rural Cemetery. Despite the disgrace that marked the end of his military career, the obituary that appeared in a West Point alumni publication stated, “Colonel Beardsley was highly respected by all who knew him for his excellent qualities of mind and heart.” The cover-up of the circumstances surrounding the end of Beardsley’s career with the 9th New York Cavalry was complete. It is, perhaps, without precedent in American history that a West Pointer with such a distinguished pre-war service record would have his career end so ignominiously, followed by so extensive an effort to sweep the incident under the rug.
What happened to John Beardsley on August 30, 1862 that turned the hero of Molino del Rey into a brigade commander who reportedly shied away from combat and apparently abandoned his troops under fire? Perhaps the sight of the Union army being pushed off the plains of Manassas for the second time in 14 months, combined with Beardsley’s obvious contempt for the Republican administration, broke his will resist. Beardsley’s position, at the rear of the army, with all the normal incidents of tales of woe and defeat compounded by the very real success of Longstreet’s attack, could only lead an experienced soldier to the conclusion that John Pope, the Republicans’ hand-picked savior of the East, had badly mismanaged his command. Alternatively, Beardsley could be yet another anti-Pope Democratic old Army officer who fell before Edwin Stanton’s winnowing of the officers corps, as most poignantly exemplified by the Fitz John Porter court martial. This alternative may provide a reason for the involvement of Halleck in this affair.
Thus ends the strange saga of Colonel John Beardsley. A Civil War career that began with such great promise ended with secrecy and cover-up. Perhaps he should have remained a forgotten cavalryman.
I haven’t said anything about this publicly, because I wasn’t sure precisely what I was going to do with it. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that the best way for me to REALLY learn something is to research and write about it. Last year, after leading a tour of the Battles of Kelly’s Ford and Brandy Station for a busload, I realized that I didn’t know Brandy Station quite as well as I wanted. Consequently, I decided to do some more research on Brandy Station and to write about it in more detail than I’ve ever done previously.
My book The Union Cavalry Comes of Age: Hartwood Church to Brandy Station, 1863 contains three chapters, totaling about 21,000 words, on the Battle of Brandy Station. It provided me with a good starting point, so I decided to expand on it and turn it into something more substantial. After several months of work, I’ve now got about 65,000 words on the Battle of Brandy Station. I’ve actually been working on this on and off since September or so, although it hasn’t been much at all recently because of the completion of the baseball project.
The idea is to do something very similar to my book Protecting the Flank: The Battles for Brinkerhoff’s Ridge and East Cavalry Field, Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. That book contains a 65,000 word tactical treatment, lots of maps and illustrations, and a detailed walking/driving tour. Steve Stanley, the superb master cartographer who does the maps for the Civil War Preservation Trust, has, with the blessing of the CWPT, given me permission to use his excellent maps of the battle in the book.
What this project is NOT intended to be is the definitive work on the Battle of Brandy Station. My friend and mentor Clark “Bud” Hall has been working on that for a long time, and what I’m doing is not intended to compete with what Bud’s doing. If anything, I hope that what I’m doing will whet readers’ whistles for Bud’s project, which is nearing conclusion. Indeed, I intend to steer readers to Bud’s book. I’m hoping to donate at a portion of the royalties/proceeds to the Brandy Station Foundation for a fundraiser, and I expect that it will be sold in the BSF’s little gift shop at the Graffiti House so that the BSF can garner the profits from the sales of the book.
Bud’s reviewing the manuscript for me now, and I have yet to put together the tour. I’m planning on doing that this spring when I go to visit Bud in Virginia. Since it’s been so well received with One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863, I intend to include GPS coordinates in the tour. The problem is that a significant portion of the Brandy Station battlefield remains in private hands and is not generally accessible to the public, which means that I will only be able to include a partial tour.
The thing should be finished in the next couple of months. I need to find a publisher for it. It would be a natural for Ironclad Publishing’s Discovering Civil War America Series, but we’re already backed up by four books, and with the publishing business being the way it is at the moment, it’s going to be quite a while before we could publish it. I also don’t want to use Ironclad as my own vanity press. Consequently, I am looking for a publisher for this work, and I welcome any suggestions that any of you care to make. Please feel free to pass on any suggestions.
In the meantime, I will keep everyone posted as to the progress of the completion of the project and the hunt for a publisher.
I’m back home after Mother of All Gettysburg Seminars. It was a jam-packed few days. Here’s a run-down on the event.
WEDNESDAY: I put half a day at the office and hit the road at little after noon. It took me 5.5 hours to get to Chambersburg. JD beat me there–his trip is shorter than mine–so he was waiting for me. We had dinner together, and then there was an opening session. After it was over, we went to visit the traveling bookshop set up by old friend Jim McLean of Butternut and Blue. I spent WAY too much money on books this trip. It was good to see folks such as Ed Bearss, Jeff Wert, Tom Clemens, Blake Magner, Sean Dail, David Martin, Andy Waskie, Patrick Falci, and others. I also finally got to meet fellow blogger Ethan Rafuse. I did some client work and got to bed at a reasonable hour.
THURSDAY: JD and I had a full-day bus tour of a portion of Stuart’s Ride. It’s basically the tour at the end of our book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg. We had about 20 people, and while we’ve got this tour down to a science at this point, it makes for a LONG day. I got to see the new Custer monument at Hunterstown, which is pretty nifty. We left at 7:00 and got back to the hotel in Chambersburg at 5:30. There was a dinner and then a bunch of additional sessions, including a panel discussion on George Gordon Meade that included Jeff Wert, Kent Masterson Brown, Ethan Rafuse, Rick Sauers, and me. That was lots of fun.
FRIDAY: Friday was a full day of lectures. Neither JD nor I could bear the thought of sitting through them on a nice day, so we went and did our own thing. We left early and headed to the Monocacy National Battlefield, as we were going to follow Jubal Early’s route to Washington. We stopped into the new visitor’s center there, and, having forgotten that my pocket had a big hole in it, lost my digital camera. Fortunately, the ranger found it and kept it for me, but it meant I didn’t have a camera that day, which made me mad.
We followed the Georgetown Pike into DC, and then went to Rock Creek Park. Ranger Ron Harvey gave us some useful information there, and we then went and found the nearby and well-preserved Fort DeRussy, which was one of the circle forts around Washington, and which is remarkably well preserved. It saw action during the attack on Fort Stevens.
From there, we went and found what’s left of Fort Stevens. There’s not much there, but it was nevertheless cool to see the spot where Lincoln stood (which is not where the marker is, but rather where the dumpster is–not very dignified). From there, we went to nearby Battleground National Cemetery, which holds the remains of 41 men killed during the fighting for Fort Stevens, as well as four handsome regimental monuments. It’s the smallest national cemetery, but a cool site nevertheless.
After lunch, we went to Abraham Lincoln’s cottage on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home. We visited the nearby national cemetery, and visited the graves of Generals Henry J. Hunt, John A. Logan, and David S. Stanley, and then we had our tour of Lincoln’s cottage. It was a wonderful tour, and, quite coincidentally, guided by an alum of my alma mater, Dickinson College.
From there, it was back to Monocacy to retrieve my camera, and then back to Chambersburg for the annual auction to raise money for battlefield preservation. I donated a tour for four of Brandy Station, Kelly’s Ford, and Trevilian Station. It raised the largest amount of money of the night, which I felt good about.
SATURDAY: On Saturday morning, JD and I had the morning free, so we bummed around Gettysburg for a while. After a lap around the battlefield, we went to the bookstore at the Farnsworth House, where I once again spent too much money. We also went to the Antique Center downtown, and spent even more money on books.
After lunch, with JD’s help, I led a tour of Merritt’s attack on South Cavalry Field, Farnsworth’s Charge, and Fairfield for a group of 7. The group included a woman named Rae Anne McDonald, who is related to Elon J. Farnsworth, which was very cool. It was very hot and somewhat sticky, and I was drenched with sweat by the time we finished the tour. Climbing the hills was a real challenge with my ongoing Achilles tendonitis problem, but I forced myself to do it.
After the tour, we left the group–none of us could bear the thought of yet another tour of the new visitor center at Gettysburg (which I’m not really terribly impressed by anyway), so JD, Jeff Wert, and I traveled to Fairfield to meet Dean and Judy Shultz and our friends Dave and Carol Moore for a fabulous dinner at Dave and Jane’s Crab House. We had several dozen Maryland blue crabs and an amazing meal, and we were all blown away by JD’s session of truly prodigious eating (if I ate the way he does, I would weigh 600 pounds). We got back late, but in time for the final session.
The problem was that there was a bad combination at the hotel: a hillbilly wedding with lots of drunken rednecks and a large batch of mostly unsupervised teenage boys run amok. It made for quite an evening. The hotel, by the way, was a dump. The toilet in my room–probably the second most important thing in a hotel room after the bed–was broken and had to be flushed by taking the lid off the tank and pulling up the flap until it was finally fixed yesterday. Ted got lots of complaints about the hotel, so hopefully, this was the last time it’s going to be used.
SUNDAY: After a leisurely breakfast, we caught the last couple of sessions, followed by a final panel on Stuart in the Gettysburg Campaign featuring J.D., Jeff Wert, and me. It was a good wrap-up to the weekend, and then I hit the road.
I’m glad to be home–if not excited about going back to work tomorrow–and also glad that I’m pretty much done with my conferences for the year–I have only one left, and it’s in November. I’m pretty burned out on them, and I’m definitely burned out on the travel, and just ready to enjoy being home for a while.
Tomorrow, it’s back to normal.
The Civil War Preservation Trust released this statement today:
PRESERVATION TRUST MOURNS LOSS OF JOURNALIST AND PRESERVATIONIST DEBORAH FITTS
For many years writer served as the voice of the Civil War community
(Washington, D.C., 2/18/2008) – The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) learned yesterday of the death of journalist, history lover and passionate preservationist Deborah Fitts, following a lengthy battle with cancer. CWPT President James Lighthizer made the following statement recalling Deborah’s work and legacy:
“Today the entire Civil War community mourns the loss of a truly beloved figure. Every individual with more than a passing interest in Civil War history was aware of Deborah’s byline and knew it stood for quality reporting. Her monthly work with the Civil War News, and in numerous other publications, brought the Civil War alive for thousands of people.
“Deborah was an absolutely wonderful person and a first rate journalist. I knew her, both personally and professionally, for almost a decade. I have the highest respect, not just for her journalistic professionalism and ability, but also for her as a human being. She was unfailingly fair and unbiased in her work, but still managed to let her passion for Civil War history and preservation come across in her writing.
“Few people know that in addition to her writing career, Deborah also served on the staff of the Civil War Trust, one of CWPT’s predecessor organizations. Even once that tenure ended, Deborah continued to contribute to the cause of preservation in her own way. She was unflappable but also humble, and never sought credit for herself. Instead she strove to educate others about events she found important. Hands down, Deborah was the best and most important journalist on Civil War issues, especially preservation. The entire Civil War community is much the poorer for her passing.
“The Civil War Preservation Trust’s Board of Trustees, members and staff join me in expressing our deepest sympathy to Deborah’s husband, Civil War historian and preservationist Clark B. “Bud” Hall, and to the rest of her family. Although she is gone, I know that Deborah’s passion for educating the world about history and its preservation will live in the hearts of both those who knew her personally and her loyal readers for years to come.”
With 65,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s endangered Civil War battlefields and to promote appreciation of these hallowed grounds. CWPT’s website is www.civilwar.org
Deb was a friend of mine. Last month, her husband, Bud Hall, was supposed to help me lead a tour of Kelly’s Ford, Brandy Station, and Culpeper, but what became the end stage of Deb’s very lengthy and very courageous battle with cancer began that week. For obvious reasons, Bud could not get away from Massachusetts; his place was with his wife, not on the battlefield with me. From what he told me then, I had a pretty good idea that this was not going to end well, and yesterday, when I got to the office, there was a voice mail waiting for me from Bud’s son, Brian, who is a ranger with the National Park Service. I’ve only met Brian once, and it was years ago, so I knew that there was only one reason for him to be calling me.
Between her familiar and excellent journalistic work with Civil War News and her unwavering support of preservation causes, Deb was unique. She had the bully pulpit at her disposal and I cannot think of anyone who used it more effectively or more frequently than she did, constantly promoting preservation and making sure that it stayed in the public eye.
The Civil War community, and, in particular, the battlefield preservation community, has lost a great friend in Deborah Fitts.
Rest in peace, Deb. You deserve a rest after that long and terrible battle you just fought. However, as I wrote to Bud last night, I’ve never known anyone who bore the burden with the grace that you did, and I likewise have never known anyone to be so resistant to the idea of going quietly into that good night.
And to her family, and, in particular, my friend and mentor Bud Hall, condolences and sincerest best wishes for your loss.
I’m home. Again. For three days again. And then it’s on the road again….
Here’s a report on the weekend.
I left here on Thursday morning. I left early, intending to spend a couple of hours at Cedar Creek on the way. Just as I hit Winchester, it started to rain, so my stop at Cedar Creek was just to see whether I could buy a pin (they don’t sell them). I remain absolutely horrified and repulsed by the decisions made by the Cedar Creek Foundation. Maybe it’s a good thing it was raining.
I got to Culpeper at about 4:00 (it’s a 7.5 hour drive of nearly 450 miles to Culpeper) and tracked down Mike Block, who is a trustee of the Brandy Station Foundation. Mike was my good right arm this weekend, and I couldn’t have done it without his help. We had to finish up getting permissions from landowners to go on private property. Once we finished that, I had dinner with Ken Ramsey, who was filling in for Bob Maher as the official representative of the Civil War Education Association. Never mind that Ken lives here in Columbus and that we could have dinner together any time. We had to go to Culpeper to do so. I then did an overview and met the tour participants.
Friday, we hit the road. We began the day atop Pony Mountain, which was an important signal station for both sides during the entire war. It has a spectacular view. From there, it was out to Kelly’s Ford, followed by a hike out to the Pelham marker at Wheatley’s Ford. Once we did that, we covered the Battle of Brandy Station. We must have hiked the crowd five miles, much of it through fields. I told the participants to wear long pants due to ticks, but one particularly adventurous woman did all of this hiking in capri pants and a pair of sandals. I was impressed. We took folks on a number of parcels of private property, and they got to see things at Brandy Station that only a tiny percentage of visitors ever see, including a picnic lunch at the Graffiti House and being the first tour group to spend time on the latest land acquisitions at Fleetwood Hill. One of the highlights of the day was a visit to Auburn, the John Minor Botts house. I’d never been on the grounds before, and it’s a cool spot that probably saw more cavalry fighting than any other house in North America.
My friend Karl Fauser joined us Friday, and Karl did a fabulous job of documenting the day. His photo essay can be found here.
I would be terribly remiss if I didn’t mention the absence of Bud Hall. Bud was supposed to be with us, but a family situation prevented him from being there. This tour was at least as much his as it was mine. What I know about that battlefield, I learned from him. My tour is based on his. The contacts that got us onto private property were his contacts, developed over a quarter of a century. He was definitely missed. I can only hope that we did him justice there.
When we got back, Ken and I had dinner again, and while at a local place getting ice cream, I ran into old friend Melissa Delcour, who lives just outside Culpeper. Melissa was also supposed to be with us for the weekend, but she’d also had something come up that prevented it. It was great to see her, and we made plans to have dinner together last night. I was asleep by 10:15 after a LONG day in the sun.
Saturday, it was off to Trevilian Station. I had something happen on Saturday that has never happened before, and which, to be honest, weirded me out. We had a father and son along with us for the entire tour, as they have an ancestor who fought with the 5th Virginia Cavalry in all three of the major engagements that we addressed. The son is 17, and a nice young man. His mother was along, too, as the family was going somewhere after the weekend of touring. The mother is such an overwhelming helicopter parent that she insisted on following the bus 35 miles to the Trevilians battlefield, just to make sure that the area met with her approval. My first stop on this tour is at a place called Ellis Ford, which is the next ford on the North Anna River to the west of the one that Sheridan used, as the ford he used, Carpenter’s Ford, is under Lake Anna, and Ellis Ford is good for illustrating the crossing. The Ellisville Road gets little traffic, and I have had numerous busloads out there, often standing in and along the road. The mother evidently didn’t like the fact that we were in the road, and after she finally left, she evidently lectured her husband on the dangers of being in the road last night. Fortunately, she only stuck around for one stop on the tour, or I would have insisted that she leave, because it was distracting to the group. Also, she consistently tailgated the bus, which was unsafe and which Tommy the Wonder Driver found very disconcerting. I’m not sure whether to be amused by this ridiculous, outrageous conduct or horrified by it. All I could think of was, “that poor kid.”
The tour was great. I’ve long been extremely comfortable with leading that tour, as I’ve done so many times. We hit all of the spots on my standard tour, which includes about a dozen stops. Ed Crebbs, a former president of the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation came by at lunchtime to talk about the preservation effort at Trevilian and do a little fundraising, and was very successful in his efforts. I added a new stop today, at the Exchange Hotel Civil War Museum in Gordonsville, which was the first time I’ve gotten there early enough in the day to stop and take the group in to see the museum (the Exchange Hotel was a hospital for most of the Confederate wounded from Trevilian Station). It was very warm and humid, and it’s also exhausting having to be “on” all day, so it was a tiring day. We got back early, and I grabbed a shower and had a delightful dinner with Melissa Delcour at a delightful restaurant in downtown Culpeper called The Hazel River Inn. I was again asleep by 10:15 or so last night.
One of the highlights of the day yesterday was having my friend Scott Patchan along. Scott and I spent a lot of time discussing lots of interesting things over the course of the day yesterday, including his very intriguing theory about Sheridan’s lack of active participation while serving as the commander of the Army of the Potomac’s Cavalry Corps. I was really glad to have Scott along, and I really enjoyed chatting with him. It’s been a while since I’ve last seen him, and I enjoyed it.
This morning, we covered the September 13, 1863 Battle of Culpeper Court House. We had two stops, at Greenhill, where much of the fighting occurred, and at the train depot in Culpeper, where the battle ended. Our final stop of the day was the Culpeper National Cemetery. There are battle dead from Brandy Station and Trevilian Station there, and it just seemed like the ideal place to end the tour. We were back at the hotel by 10:00, and I hit the road almost immediately.
Some of the tour participants mentioned going to visit the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, so I decided to do the same, for a very quick visit to add a pin to my hat. I drove over to New Market, bought the pin and some maps of several different battles and then headed north. I got off I-81 at Tom’s Brook and took the Valley Pike (Route 11) north all the way up to Kernstown. Towns like Strasburg are just gorgeous, and I really enjoyed going past all of the many battlefields that line the Valley Pike between Tom’s Brook and Winchester (Kernstown, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek, Tom’s Brook, among others). And then home.
I’m home until Thursday, when I hit the road again, this time for Mark Snell’s retreat from Gettysburg seminar at Shepherd University next weekend. It’s going to be another week of cramming five days’ worth of work into three before I finally get to rest.
I’m going to bed early again tonight, only in my own bed this time.
I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge the 145th anniversary of the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent. Today is the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Brandy Station, and it was my honor to spend yesterday on the battlefield with Bud Hall. In the process, I got to see things that hardly anyone else ever gets to see. As we were in Bud’s SUV, we did some serious four-wheeling across farm fields to see some of the sites.
As just one example, we went down to the site of the Green farm, which served as Alfred Pleasonton’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1863-1864. The house is gone, but Bud retrieved two bricks for me and for J.D. from it. Bud also showed me the spot where Wesley Merritt had his fencing match with Rooney Lee on the eastern slope of the northern end of Yew Ridge. It’s not a spot I’d seen before, and it’s one that required (a) Bud’s unlimited access to the ground and (b) a good four-wheel drive vehicle to locate.
I also got to see the two new parcels of land on Fleetwood Hill that have just been acquired by the Brandy Station Foundation. They’re mostly pristine, and they give the BSF the transitional area between Buford’s fight and the great melee for the southern end of Fleetwood Hill. We also visited the northern end of Fleetwood Hill, where Buford’s troopers briefly gained the summit before being driven off by the Confederate horsemen. It’s quite a spot, and it’s on private property, so I would never have been able to see it without being with Bud.
Then, as I noted last night, I spent the night at Kelly’s Ford, the site of so many crossings of the Rappahannock River during the war. Kelly’s Ford played a major role in the Battle of Brandy Station, and it was very cool waking up on a portion of the battlefield on the anniversary of the battle. I did a quick lap around Buford’s sector of the battlefield before heading out this morning. As I stopped at the site of St. James Church my mind’s eye had no problem seeing five companies of the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry come thundering across that open field, galloping to glory among the guns of the Confederate horse artillery.
The preservation of that battlefield happened because of the efforts of many people. However, nobody contributed more, and nobody has done more to make it happen, than Bud Hall. Bud is far too modest to accept credit for his efforts, but he deserves all the credit that can be bestowed upon him. It’s my honor and privilege to call him friend and to walk those fields with him.
I’m sitting in the A.P Hill Room (yes, I thought of you immediately when I heard which room I’d been assigned, Jenny Goellnitz) in the very lovely Inn at Kelly’s Ford, meaning that I am again spending the night on a battlefield this evening. It was 97 here today, with high humidity, which is just ghastly. It’s hard to believe that it’s only June 8 with such weather.
Here’s a quick recap of the weekend. I left Columbus at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon, arriving at Dr. Dave Moore’s house on Herr’s Ridge about 8. We proceeded to sign 175 books and another 80 or so book plates for our special edition. I then went to Stan O’Donnell’s mansion on East Cavalry Field for some greatly needed shut-eye. I had to be up WAY too early the next day.
On Friday, it was up at 5:30 to make breakfast at my favorite breakfast place in Gettysburg, The Avenue Restaurant. Phil Trostle and Rick Allen joined Stan and me, and after breakfast, we spent most of the day following the tour associated with Stuart’s Ride. When we got back to Gettysburg, it was time for our first signing, at the muster of the Gettysburg Discussion Group. After BRISK sales there, we headed off to a signing at Gallery 30. From there, we had a “Book and a Beer” signing at the Reliance Mine Saloon, a favorite hangout.
Saturday was just as busy. We got to sleep in a bit later, and then had a signing from 10-12 at the new Visitor Center at Gettysburg. This was my first time inside the new VC. I have very mixed feelings about it. On one hand, it’s gorgeous–all state of the art, and it fits into the surrounding terrain perfectly. It looks like a barn, and you can’t see it from most places on the battlefield. On the other hand, while the museum exhibits are spectacularly done, only a small fragment of the total collection of artifacts is on display, and the layout of the museum leaves a LOT to be desired. The gift shop is huge, but over half of it is taken up with the hawking of crap. The selection of book titles is only about 1/3 of that in the old VC, so it means that it’s no longer a MUST stop for any book buyer. There was, however, lots of traffic, and we signed quite a few books. After that, it was a signing at the old Wax Museum, at the Farnsworth House bookstore, dinner, and, for the first time on the visit, a quick visit to the south end of the battlefield. We concluded with another “Book and a Beer” signing at the Mine. Lots of old friends came by as well as some new ones (thanks to Sarah Adler’s parents for letting her come and meet us). We had lots of laughs and lots of fun.
Today, I met the gang for breakfast and then did another lap around the battlefield and headed south. I met up with Bud Hall and Mike Block, a trustee of the Brandy Station Foundationat the Graffiti House to plan out my tour for the tour I’m leading in two weeks. I got to see a number of things I’ve never seen before, and am now really excited about leading the tour. It’s going to be a great time, and it was great to meet Mike and see old friend Bud again. Tonight, it’s here at the Inn. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to make a very quick side trip to the visitor center at Manassas National Battlefield Park to pick up a pin for my hat, and then it’s time for the long drive home to Ohio.
It’s been a fun, profitable, and exhausting trip, but I’m ready to go home. I’m home for three days, and then I hit the road again…..
More tomorrow night from home. Tonight, it’s sleep time…..