September, 2008

15 Sep 2008, by

A Perfect Storm

We had something close to a perfect storm here yesterday.

Three things converged to create a disastrous windstorm. The combination of a shift in the jet stream, a powerful cold front, and the remnants of Hurricane Ike all came together north and west of Ohio to create a windstorm of absolutely epic proportions. For nearly four hours yesterday, the winds howled like nothing I have ever heard. 75 mile per hour gusts–Category 1 hurricane winds–were recorded at Port Columbus International Airport, which is about five miles from my house. The destruction and devastation is remarkable.

Trees are down everywhere you can imagine. About 500,000 homes in Central Ohio are without power here today, including mine. Virtually all of the schools in the area are closed. There’s no power at my office or at Susan’s. I’m sitting in a hotel room–we came here last night with our dogs–so we would have the basic amenities of life–power, hot water, air conditioning, and Internet access. When I heard it might be several days before power is restored, I elected not to check out of the hotel this morning, figuring it was better to pay for an extra day than to not have the room tonight if our power is not restored today.

Things could have been much worse for us. A limb from my next door neighbor’s oak tree came crashing down, missing my Jeep–parked in the driveway–by three or four inches. They had a tree completely uprooted by the wind. Our neighbors behind us lost about half of a 40-year-old sycamore tree, and a big chunk of it crashed down on their roof. I was out in the backyard when it happened, and I saw it come down and crash.

We lost a tree in our yard. I was outside with the dogs when one of the four main limbs of the tree came off. I had Susan come out to help me because I was trying to keep the thing away from our fence. I was just reaching up to grab the limb when the next one snapped off and came down on top of both of us. I absorbed a lot of the blow when it smacked into my shoulder and neck, but it took Susan to the ground and I had to get her out from under it. We’re both okay. A bit battered and bruised, but okay.

I hope not to ever experience anything like this again so long as I live. It was frightening. I hope all of my readers are okay. For all we experienced, we didn’t have the rain or flooding that they had in Galveston. My thoughts and prayers are with the residents of Galveston and Houston today.

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The closing of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. has opened up a new opportunity to save a significant portion of the Fort Stevens battlefield. For those unfamiliar with the fight at Fort Stevens, Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s Confederate army arrived in Silver Spring, Maryland on July 12, 1864, ready to try to assault the works and then enter the defenses of Washington. The proximity of the Confederate army prompted a response by Grant, who sent the 6th, 19th, and 8th Corps to defend the nation’s capital. Elements of the 6th Corps arrived on July 12, as Early was preparing his assault, and a very significant skirmish, witnessed in person by President Abraham Lincoln, occurred. Early, realizing that the presence of the Federal infantry made it pointless to try an all-out assault on the works, broke off and withdrew back across the Potomac River. It was the only fighting of any consequence to take place in the defenses of Washington, and the only instance where an American president came under fire on the front lines of combat.

Sadly, only a small fragment of the works of Fort Stevens survives, and the overwhelming majority of the battlefield is today a fully-developed urban neighborhood along Georgia Avenue in the District of Columbia. Only the small fragment of Fort Stevens and the Battleground Cemetery, the nation’s smallest national cemetery, survive. Unfortunately, the fragment of Fort Stevens includes a powder magazine that provides an attractive target for the area’s many homeless persons.

Steve Stanley’s fabulous and invaluable map of the battle for Fort Stevens can be found here. This is, without doubt, the best map of the battle for Fort Stevens yet tackled. Be patient–it’s a big file that takes a moment to load. It’s well worth the wait, though.

A significant portion of the Confederate assault on Fort Stevens passed across the grounds of what is today Walter Reed, and there is even a marker on the grounds of the hospital to commemorate the fighting that occurred there. The Civil War Preservation Trust is launching a new campaign to preserve that portion of the Fort Stevens battlefield that lies on the grounds of Walter Reed, and I want to wholeheartedly endorse that effort. Please do whatever you can to encourage the Federal government not to sell the front portion of Walter Reed to commercial developers; help us preserve another fragment of an important Civil War battlefield.

Keep up the good work, guys.

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11 Sep 2008, by

Lest We Forget…

Today marks seven years since the terrorist attacks that changed our world forever. Consequently, I’m going to stray into contemporary events for one day before returning to the normal business of this blog tomorrow.

I’ve already recounted my experiences on 9/11 here, so I won’t bore you with doing so again.

Instead, I want to focus on another issue.

In prior conflicts, it was always easy to define “win”. In the Civil War, for the North, “win” meant putting down the rebellion. In the South, “win” meant separation from the rest of the Union. In World War II, it meant defeating the forces of fascism and removing the militaristic regimes. Even in the Korean War, “win” meant to maintain the sovereignty of South Korea and, under MacArthur, eliminating the Communist regime.

In this Global War on Terror, as it’s called, we don’t have that luxury. People say we have to “win” in Iraq before we can leave. My problem is that I have no idea what that means. What does “win” mean in Iraq? What does it mean in Afghanistan? It seems to me that the definition of “win” is different in Iraq from what it is in Afghanistan. And those who question such things are accused of not being patriotic and not supporting the troops. Senator McCain, for whom I have always had a great deal of respect, can’t define these terms, either.

I don’t want to be overtly political here, but my antipathy for the Bush Administration is no secret. I can’t wait for him to leave office; tomorrow would not be soon enough. In 2004, I said I would have voted for a cinder block if the Democrats had nominated one, and I meant it.

Let’s never forget the sacrifices of the victims of 9/11 and their families. Let’s honor them appropriately, as happened today. I laud both Senator McCain and Senator Obama for setting aside petty partisan politics for one day today and for appearing together in New York. We are, after all, all Americans. At the same time, though, we need to define these terms and understand what it means to “win” this war on terrorism before more tens of billions of dollars are squandered with no real strategy or end game in mind.

Hopefully, our leaders will learn these lessons of history so that their mistakes will not be repeated. Or so I hope.

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From the September 5 edition of Winchester Star newspaper, it appears that the fight against the mining company is heating up at Cedar Creek. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, unlike the Cedar Creek Battlefield Association, has stepped up to the plate to use the courts to try to prevent the demolition of the battlefield’s viewshed. The Association unfortunately sold its soul for eight lousy acres of marginal land.

National Trust seeks to join quarry litigation
By Erica M. Stocks

Winchester Star (VA)

Winchester — The National Trust for Historic Preservation is seeking to join 20 local property owners in challenging the Frederick County Board of Supervisors’ decision to allow the expansion of a Middletown quarry.

The trust filed a motion in Frederick County Circuit Court last week asking to intervene as a co-plaintiff in the landowners’ complaint, which questions the supervisors’ approval of a request from O-N Minerals Chemstone to rezone 394 acres to the north and south of its quarry from Rural Areas to Extractive Manufacturing

The rezoning, which will allow the company to mine high-grade limestone from property that it owns, was approved in May.

Opponents of the rezoning, including the National Trust, have argued that the quarry’s expanded operations will threaten nearby historical sites, including the Cedar Creek Civil War battlefield and Belle Grove National Historical Park.

The trust owns Belle Grove, which is open to the public as a 283-acre historical site. The property is within the boundaries of the Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park south of Middletown.

“We have a lot of concerns, not just as a property owner, but as the manager of a historic site open to the public,” Elizabeth Merritt, deputy general counsel for the National Trust, said in a phone interview Thursday.

Twenty people who own adjoining land, or land within 1,500 feet of of the Chemstone property, filed a complaint in Frederick County Circuit Court in June, asking that the court declare the rezoning decision of the Board of Supervisors void because it did not comply with state laws.

“Plaintiffs request that this Honorable Court declare that the zoning decision by the Board was improperly advertised; that it violated the law of Virginia; that the board had no jurisdiction or authority to act on May 28, 2008, on the rezoning; that the rezoning is null and void and of no effect,” the complaint states.

Merritt said the property owners’ complaint raises a number of issues that National Trust officials also think are important.

“We wanted to express our support and make it clear that we are directly supporting them,” she said of the organization’s decision to sign on as a co-plaintiff.

In its motion filed last week, the trust states that the expanded mining operation will consume nearly 400 acres of land on the battlefield property, potentially leading to direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts on the historical park.

“The National Trust, like the existing plaintiffs, seeks a determination by the Court that the rezoning decision is unlawful, and therefore null and void,” the organization states in its motion.

Merritt said the Board of Supervisors specifically failed to provide the type of public access and notice required by the county’s bylaws in approving the rezoning request of O-N Minerals Chemstone, a subsidiary of Carmeuse Lime & Stone based in Belgium. “It raises a number of procedural concerns,” she said.

The property owners’ complaint, as well as the National Trust’s decision to intervene, is in its early stages, Merritt said. “At this point, nothing has really happened.”

Nord Wennerstrom, director of communications for the trust, said Thursday that the rezoning is not an issue his organization takes lightly.

“Belle Grove has been a historical trust site for 44 years, so it’s important,” he said in a telephone interview.

In June, trust and Belle Grove officials announced that they were ending their involvement with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Association because of the foundation’s failure to fight the quarry expansion.

Belle Grove Inc. said that in April, the foundation reversed its previous opposition to the expansion and arranged with the quarry owner to accept a land gift of eight acres.

Kudos to Belle Grove and the National Trust for taking a stand and in particular for taking a stand against the traitors at the CCBA, who have abdicated the sacred trust entrusted to them.

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Susan and I live on the border between the City of Columbus, and its neighboring suburb of Reynoldsburg. Reynoldsburg touts itself as the “Birthplace of the Tomato”, although I’m not entirely sure why. Every year, the city hosts the Tomato Festival, a celebration of everything tomato.

For reasons that are completely lost to me, they’ve included a Civil War encampment this year. What reenactors and tomatoes have in common is really a mystery to me, but somebody has made that connection.

I learned about it at 9:30 tonight, when they started night firing artillery at their encampment, which is less than a mile away. It rattled the windows, scared the living daylights out of Nero and Aurora, who started barking like mad, and caused me and many of my neighbors to stumble outside to make sure that none of the neighborhood houses had blown sky high like that post office in my home town did one night my senior year in high school (which is a whole other story for another time).

Now, I like Civil War re-enactors as much as the next guy. They definitely play a role, and if what they do interests a single kid in the Civil War, then I’m all for them. However, what possible reason is there for firing their guns on a Saturday night in a suburban, densely populated neighborhood? I mean, please……

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On September 1, 1862, the important Battle of Chantilly was fought in Fairfax County, Virginia. The battle was a classic meeting engagement, where Pope’s bedraggled Army of Virginia and Stonewall Jackson’s command tangled in a blinding rainstorm. Two important Union generals, Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny and Maj. Gen. Isaac Stevens, were killed in the confused fighting that day. Unfortunately, the bulk of the battlefield was lost to commercial development in the 1980’s, and only a small fragment of the battlefield, featuring twin monuments to Kearny and Stevens, was saved. Our friend Paul Taylor has written an excellent book about the Battle of Chantilly that I commend to you.

Only one good thing came out of the loss of the Chantilly battlefield. Three dedicated locals, Clark B. “Bud” Hall, Ed Wenzel, and Brian C. Pohanka, were outraged by the loss of the battlefield, and they decided to do something about it. Consequently, they formed the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (“APCWS”). About ten years ago, APCWS was merged into a similar organization, the Civil War Trust, to form the Civil War Preservation Trust, which does great work saving battlefield land around the country. So, but for the loss of most of the battlefield, we might not have the CWPT to do such a great job.

In any event, Ed Wenzel has remained dedicated to the preservation and marking of the battlefield at Chantilly, and after a lot of work, his efforts have finally paid some dividends. On Monday of this week, the 146th anniversary of the battle, a ceremony was held. From the Washington Times newspaper:

Ox Hill battlefield saved by locals
Restored site to be dedicated on fight’s 146th anniversary

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Battle of Ox Hill on Sept. 1, 1862, the only battle fought in Virginia’s most populous county, has been virtually ignored for years.

That will end at 10 a.m. Monday, when the Fairfax County Park Authority dedicates a newly restored park 146 years to the day since about 15,000 soldiers met at a battleground called Ox Hill by Confederates and Chantilly by the Union. It has been a long time coming.

Many historians and preservationists thought the battlefield was important enough to save because it was the site of one of Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s independent actions just after the Battle of Second Manassas, the main thrust of which was to prevent Gen. John Pope’s retreating Union army from reaching the defense line of Washington.

The somewhat demoralized Confederate army, which had marched 10 miles in eight hours the previous day, could not accomplish its objective – but about 1,100 Rebels were lost before that became apparent. At the same time, the Union lost two seasoned leaders, Gens. Philip Kearny and Isaac Stevens.

Death in the rain

The battle began in the afternoon and did not end until dark. It was the scene of massive thunderstorms – lightning strikes and rolling thunder that almost overshadowed the rifle fire.

The rains that Monday were so heavy that the order was given to use sabers instead of rifles because the rain had made the paper cartridges unusable. When one officer sent a message to Jackson asking that his regiment be taken out of line because of his troops’ wet cartridges, Jackson’s acerbic reply was that he was sure the enemy’s ammunition was just as wet.

Kearny’s death came partially because of his own impulsivity. He was confident there were no Confederates in the immediate area, but after receiving a message from Gen. David B. Birney that there was a gap in the Union line, he rode furiously through a cornfield to reconnoiter. He rode directly into a line of Rebels, realized his error and tried to escape. At the same time, some of the Southern troops shouted, “That’s a Yankee officer! Shoot him!”

The order to halt was sounded. It was ignored, and a dozen muskets rang out. It was all over for Kearny. The 49th Georgia regiment is credited with the shot that killed him.

It was about 150 yards from two present-day granite monuments, in a cornfield. Kearny had come into the battle with a handicap, which did not lessen his abilities: During the Battle of Churubusco in the Mexican War, his left arm had been amputated as the result of wounds.

Stevens, another West Point graduate, entered the Union Army as colonel of the 79th New York Highlanders, later called the Cameron Highlanders. Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington is named for him. He was made a brigadier general on Sept. 28, 1861, and fought at Port Royal, S.C. He was transferred with his IX Corps to Virginia to serve under Pope and took part in the Northern Virginia campaign and Second Manassas.

His rather picturesque death came after he picked up the fallen colors of his old regiment and shouted, “Highlanders, my Highlanders, follow your general!” He was struck in the head by a bullet and died instantly with the colors still in his hand while leading the charge against Confederates massed in the woods (near present-day Fairfax Towne Center).

The Union sustained a great loss from these two deaths alone.

Flag of truce

Finally, as darkness closed in, the fighting had almost ended. With wet musket cartridges, the battle had disintegrated into one of clubs and bayonets. About that time, troops arrived in the area to support Jackson and his weary men.

For all intents and purposes, the battle was over; the Union forces were withdrawing to the Warrenton Pike with some of their wounded, coming on to Fairfax and Alexandria.

Kearny’s body was sent back to the Federal lines under a flag of truce. The ambulance bearing the body was escorted down the turnpike by Maj. Walter Taylor of Gen. Robert E. Lee´s staff and five or six men and delivered to pickets of the 9th New York Cavalry at Difficult Run. That site today is at the Route 50 and Interstate 66 interchange, according to Ed Wenzel, a local preservationist.

Lee’s men may have been in control of the battlefield, but the battle would go down in history as a draw, with tactical advantage to the Southerners. In the following days, Confederate and Union forces would clash again at Dranesville and then Leesburg, which set the stage for the Maryland Campaign. That would lead to the final and bloodiest battle of them all, Sharpsburg (or Antietam), on Sept. 17.

Still, Ox Hill was an important fight, and the little battlefield deserved more recognition than a brown sign and the historical marker erected in 2000.

Saving the field

As encroaching development threatened to eradicate the battlefield, a group of preservationists and historians intervened. In 1986, Mr. Wenzel, a local resident, spotted bulldozers and graders at work near the site. His warning led to the formation of the Chantilly Battlefield Association, Chantilly being the name of a nearby mansion and the name favored by Union troops. Confederates called it Ox Hill because of a 503-foot rise.

When plans were unveiled recently to move the granite markers for the two generals as well as a memorial pile of boulders, the Chantilly Battlefield Association redoubled its efforts to find a way to preserve the site.

Shopping centers and malls, high-rise office buildings, town houses and four-lane highways came closer and closer to the relatively small combat area left undeveloped from the 500 acres the battlefield originally comprised.

The remains of a Confederate soldier were found during the construction of nearby town houses as late as 1985. Uniform buttons identified him as being from South Carolina, and authorities there came to reclaim the body for burial in his home state.

To save what remained of the battlefield, a determined band of preservationists swung into action, including Mr. Wenzel, Clark B. Hall, Brian Pohanka and members of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, who had formed the Chantilly Battlefield Association.

Mr. Pohanka’s words, spoken several years before his death in 2005, became the mantra of all: “Some kid a hundred years from now is going to get interested in the Civil War and want to see these places. He’s going to go down there and be standing in a parking lot. I’m fighting for that kid.” His widow, Cricket Pohanka, serves on the CBA in his place.

A compromise

Builders and developers have deeper pockets than preservationists or park authorities, and it was a one-sided battle, with ideas for additional construction along Route 50 being considered and the CBA laying plans to block it.

A compromise finally was reached, resulting in 4.8 acres of Fairfax County parkland. It is not enough – it never is. Some say the battlefield has been destroyed – that with just 1.4 percent of the core combat area protected, the result is minuscule. Some opine that people can’t interpret a battle from a postage-stamp park. Yet an effort is being made to do just that.

The memorial markers for Stevens and Kearny are the biggest attraction. They were erected in 1915 by the Ballard family, which owned the farmland at the time, and the nearby pile of boulders was left to the memory of the two men, both of whom are buried elsewhere.

John Ballard was a former Confederate cavalryman who had ridden with Mosby’s Rangers and had lost a leg in 1863. He married Mary Reid Thrift, the young heiress to the farm where the battle was fought. There they raised their family and farmed the land.

In 1883, Charles Walcott, formerly of the 21st Massachusetts, and Hazard Stevens, who was wounded at Ox Hill and was the son of Isaac Stevens, returned to the battlefield to retrace their steps and find the places where the two generals had fallen. They visited the Ballards, enjoyed their hospitality and walked the fields, identifying the spots where Stevens and Kearny were killed.

Ballard later marked the place where Stevens died with a white quartz boulder and other rocks. Years passed, and in 1915, John and Mary Ballard deeded a 50-by-100-foot lot at the site of Stevens’ death to three trustees from New Jersey (the 1st New Jersey Brigade Society) and three from Virginia for the placement of monuments or markers.

Subsequently, two monuments, one for Kearny and one for Stevens, were dedicated at a ceremony attended by dignitaries, local people, Union and Confederate veterans and the children and grandchildren of the two generals. The monuments were surrounded by a small wrought-iron fence. That ultimately would be the only protected area on the entire battlefield, handed down through generations.

The price tag

A large concrete marker, called Kearny’s Stump, also was left intact. It replaced the original tree stump, which had rotted away, and bears his name and a large cross. The pile of boulders was preserved by the park authority, to the extent of being covered over with dirt and a tarp to prevent its harm or destruction, and will become part of the park.

Ultimately the park authority reached an agreement with Centennial Construction Co. to leave the boulders where they were and to donate 2.4 acres to the county for a battlefield park. The Fairfax County Park Authority agreed to match the acreage. Costs to complete the park are estimated at about $400,000, of which the authority has just $274,000 budgeted. Public fundraising will be essential to complete the park, and the CBA remains optimistic it will be found.

The park contains a hiking trail, interpretive exhibits and three hexagonal information kiosks that tell the story of the battle and its significance to the war in Virginia. The visitor will step into a portion of the original cornfield, within two reconstructed split-rail fences that follow the actual fence lines of the fields. The adjacent cornfield will be planted with grasses that will give the impression of corn, as the latter is deemed too labor-intensive to be used.

A celebration

Mr. Wenzel worked closely with the park authority each step of the way, and he praises the master plan.

“To a great extent, the planning and work has resulted in an undulating landscape,” Mr. Wenzel said, “and the topography rises and falls across the fields, giving the battlefield a realism that is not apparent on a flat map.”

The new park comes with a wheelchair-ready trail surfaced with paving blocks, compliments of the regulatory process. So much for 1862 and the historic landscape – though the more urban and unsteady among us might welcome the trail.

In truth, the attractive pavers, even when surrounded by pea gravel, make walking on them difficult even with the lowest of women’s heels. Some also think the large concrete park benches are a contemporary distraction. The hexagonal information kiosks endeavor to match the color theme of the war, the gray (Confederate) sides or columns being topped with blue (Union) roofs.

Finally, 14 years after the last parcel of land from the battlefield was acquired, the Fairfax County Park Authority is ready to dedicate the new park.

Public information officer Judith Pedersen, who played a large role in the project, said of the dedication ceremony to be held Monday: “We want it to be a celebration – it would not be here if it were not for the true passion and dedication of those who care about the history and heritage found here.”

She learned firsthand of the depth of their devotion at the groundbreaking ceremony some time ago.

“It began to rain,” she said, “and it kept on raining. I couldn’t help but think that that’s the way it was back in 1862 with the storms. I kept thinking we might have to abbreviate the ceremony, leave something out, but all the participants stayed. They all had thoughts to share and knew how important the day was. I knew then I was talking with dedicated people.”

Miss Pedersen added, “It’s very unusual for us to do anything regarding cultural resources in a park. Our main thrust is recreational, and we don´t have much experience in the cultural, but this has been a wonderful project. I can’t wait for it to be open and ready for use.”

Future monuments

Another Park Authority employee, Michael Rierson, emphasized that the interpretive signs and panels will help casual visitors as well as Civil War enthusiasts to better grasp the importance of Ox Hill.

While acknowledging that he and others wish more of the battlefield could have been preserved – it runs from Fair Oaks Mall all the way to Fair Lakes – Mr. Rierson added: “Even though we did not save more of the original battlefield, it will be a great little park site.”

Plans call for a fundraising drive to erect two large granite monuments to honor the contribution of the common soldier because only the two slain officers are recognized and no attention is given to the Confederate troops who fought and died there. The Union monument will carry the name of Chantilly and the Confederate one Ox Hill.

To paraphrase the title of a famous children’s book, the little battlefield that could finally did. It survives, in large part, thanks to a group of determined local residents who would not give up the fight and to a park authority that seized the opportunity to work with them.

Somewhere up in heaven, Mr. Pohanka is raising his arm in the air and saying, “Yes!”

cMartha Boltz is a frequent contributor to the history page. She thanks Ed Wenzel for sharing his research.

I suspect that Martha is right about Brian Pohanka. Nice work, gentlemen. A little bit of the battlefield is better than none at all.

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