Monthly Archives: January 2009

Defenses of Leesburg – Part 1

Leesburg, Virginia offers many reminders and place-names echoing the Civil War.  One that has interested me since moving here is the numerous defensive works built in and around town by both sides during the course of the war.   These works span the time from just after the First Manassas to about mid-way through the war.  Some of the works were active during the Battle of Balls Bluff.  Others may be reminders of Federal occupation.    Three historical markers discuss these works:  Virginia State marker T-51 “Balls Bluff Masked Battery“, A similarly titled Civil War Trails Marker, and finally a Civil War Trails Marker discussing wartime activity in and around Leesburg.

The most useful resource I’ve discovered thus far is a report commissioned by the town to survey these works as historical artifacts. Documentation of Eight Civil War Forts and Earthworks in the Vicinity of Leesburg, Virginia was delivered  in 2002, and was prepared by Joseph Balicki and Walton Owen II,  of John Milner Associates.    About a third of the report included actual documentation of the sites and analysis of source material.  The remainder reprinted several Federal advisories with regard to earthwork management.

Source material for the report included the Official Records, but also Confederate Engineer: Training and Campaigning with John Morris Wampler by George Kundahl (University of Tennessee Press, 2000).  Wampler was a native of Leesburg, and originally joined the 8th Virginia Infantry.  Wampler would serve on the staff of General Nathan “Shanks” Evans in an engineering capaicity in the fall of 1861.  Later Wampler was transferred to the west, serving as Chief Engineer for the Army of Tennessee for a time.  He was killed by a Federal bombardment at Battery Wagner, outside Charleston in August 1862.

Eight sites were surveyed – Fort Evans, the Masked Battery, the Richmond Howitzers winter camp, the Goose Creek battery position, an infantry winter camp with entrenchments, Fort Beauregard, Fort Johnston, and a trench line near the Balls Bluff battlefield.  Fort these works, the survey team provided rather detailed site survey diagrams for all but Forts Beauregard and Johnston.  Furthermore, of interest of those wishing to visit the sites today, all but the three named forts (Evans, Beauregard, and Johnston) are either clearly visible from roads or open for on site visits.   I would stress that the three named forts and the masked battery stand on private property.

Fort Evans was the largest, most active, and most important.  The fort today is on the site of an international corporation’s North American headquarters.  While the names and particulars of ownership are easily netted via searches, I’m reluctant to say too much about the owners here.  While the management there is approachable, they are concerned about trespassing.   I was allowed to tour the grounds, but out of respect for their wishes, I’ll only post photos of the grounds that are taken from the public roads.

The Masked Battery and Richmond Howitzers winter camp were built within sight of Fort Evans and lay adjacent to Edwards Ferry Road.  While the Masked Battery is on private property, the road bisects the works, which are easy to see from a passing car.  The artillery camp is within a city “set-aside” further up a ridge line from the battery.  Any earthworks around the camp are difficult to make out except in the winter when undergrowth is dead.  The most significant remains around the camp are depressions from the winter huts.

The Goose Creek Battery position is just north of Virginia highway 7 and boasts two easily identified gun pits.  The position defended the southeast approaches to Leesburg and a crossing point over the creek.  Today the site is part of another “set-aside” sandwiched between the creek, a housing subdivision, and the highway.

The infantry winter camp site extends north from Fort Evans Road, east of the modern Highway 15 bypass (and the large outlet mall complex).  A new strip mall development has encroached upon this site since the survey.  Portions of the works that were indicated by the survey team are not extant today.  However, the city must have required the developers to preserve portions of the earthworks, as today the line is within a “tree preservation area.” The 13th, 17th and 18th Mississippi garrisoned the line at different times in the winter of 1861-62.

Fort Beauregard is more of a place name than an actual fort, in my opinion.  A housing development stands on the site – a ridge line overlooking Leesburg from the southeast.  Sections of the development have the “look” of earthworks, but could just as easily be post war terrain modifications. The location is entirely private property.

Fort Johnson also stands on private property, overlooking Leesburg from the west.  One can only view it from a distance, but the outline of the fort is visible in Google Earth maps.  The fort itself may be the most impressive of the set, but pending close inspection, that remains undetermined.

Lastly, the trench line on the Balls Bluff Regional Park grounds is accessable, but only after a good hike!  The works were not used in the battle of Balls Bluff, but possilbly occupied during the following winter by Confederates and by Federals during different occupation periods.  Portions of the earthwork line were lost to a housing development in the 1990s.  About 300 feet remain.  Just enough to leave an interesting set of questions regarding the purpose and function.

The eight sites represent a loose ring around Leesburg:

Leesburg's Defenses (Based on Google Earth image of town)

Leesburg's Defenses

The image is based on a Google Earth satellite view of the town and surrounding area.  Indicated for reference are the locations of Edwards Ferry, the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike, and the Balls Bluff Battlefield.   Over the next several weeks I’ll present each site in more detail, as my notes can be polished for presentation.

Follow Up Posts:

Part 2:  Fort Evans.

Part 3:  Masked Battery.

Part 4:  Artillery Camp.

Part 5:  Infantry Trenches (SE of Fort Evans).

Part 6:  Goose Creek Battery.

Part 7:  Forts Beauregard and Johnston.

Part 8:  Potomac Crossing Trenches.

For Want of a Period…

I was entering the text for Sweitzer’s Brigade Tablet at the Wheatfield of Gettysburg into HMDB as part of my morning mental calisthenics today.  Maybe it was operating on one cup of coffee at the time, but the description of the brigade’s activities just had me stuck proofing the typing over and over.  As I’ve complained about before, Gettysburg’s Battlefield Commission seems to have abhorred any punctuation on the tablets as a general rule.

sweitzersbrigadetablet

July 2   After 4 p.m. moved from the Baltimore Pike near Rock Creek with the Division left in front to support of Third Corps line Third Brigade was detached to occupy Little Round Top and the Brigade crossed Plum Run followed by First Brigade and went into position on the edge of woods west of the Wheatfield facing partly toward the Rose House First Brigade on the right   Brig. Gen. Kershaw’s supported by Brig. Gen. Semmes’s Brigade having attacked this position and First Brigade having retired the Brigade retired across the Wheatfield Road and formed on the north side of the woods facing the road when by order of Brig. Gen. J. Barnes the Brigade advanced to the support of First Division Second Corps and engaged Brig. Gen. Anderson’s Brigade at the stone wall at the south end of the Wheatfield but the supports on the right having given away the Brigade was attacked on the right and rear and it retired under a heavy fire to a line north of Little Round Top and there remained until the close of the battle

Generally I try to follow explicitly the punctuation used on the marker, tablet, monument, etc.  I’ve compromised that standard a bit to make the text as displayed “in the field” work within a “as displayed on the web” marker entry.   Because ALL CAPS doesn’t look good in the web displays, of course capitalization is modified.  The most apparent change is the use of period punctuation where a period is clearly implied by a leading capitalization.   For example, looking at the actual bronze tablet, while there is no period after “Third Corps line” on the second line of the tablet, the third line leads with “Third Brigade…”, without any conjunctions, as such implying the end of a sentence and the beginning of the next.  In other cases, where the text lists unit after unit, and a comma is flat needed just to avoid confusion, I’ve added those.   I know some sources like to seed in more punctuation where clearly more is needed.   I’m not going to fault them, as it makes the text easier to read.  However, I stick to my purist views and contend the text should be presented as close as possible (to include misspellings) to what is seen on the field.

This tablet, however, pushes the bounds of any rules I might try to craft!  Look at that long run-on third sentence – Brig. Gen. Kershaw’s supported by Brig. Gen. Semmes’s Brigade having attacked this position and First Brigade having retired the Brigade retired across the Wheatfield Road and formed on the north side of the woods facing the road when by order of Brig. Gen. J. Barnes the Brigade advanced to the support of First Division Second Corps and engaged Brig. Gen. Anderson’s Brigade at the stone wall at the south end of the Wheatfield but the supports on the right having given away the Brigade was attacked on the right and rear and it retired under a heavy fire to a line north of Little Round Top and there remained until the close of the battle.

My goodness!  Say that without taking a breath!  Elementary School English teachers are passing out as they read this.  No wonder we find the fighting at the Wheatfield confusing!  This one long sentence sums up about two hours of combat in the Wheatfield for the Brigade.  “They attacked us and we moved there and then we were told to move there and we fought again and were put in a bad spot and moved back over there and stayed for the rest of the battle.”  You still with me?  Every brain cell that still functions in my head calls out to edit this sentence; rewording to pull out passive voice and breaking it into three, maybe four sentences.

But there in lays my point.  I could write a better sentence.  I could possibly relate the actions in the Wheatfield better in the space permitted on the tablet (although better minds than mine have committed volumes to the topic and still not clarified it to the pedestrian level of consumption required for a “public display”).   But I would be tampering with an artifact.  It was written by a team of respected authorities of the battle, who were mostly veterans of the battle, with their perception of what occurred in mind.  In spite of nearly 100 years of further research which might have illuminated the events, could anyone really say the tablet is invalid on its face?  Perhaps the “running and rambling” of the text was actually meant to convey the confusing and fluid nature of the combat in the Wheatfield.  Or perhaps it was just the way a particular member of the board spoke and wrote.   Or perhaps the copy-editor just took the day off when the tablet was sent to the vendor for casting.

But it is a reminder, if you will, that we have to view history with the good and the bad; the proper with the unkempt; the simple with the complex.  Even if the history is written in run-on sentences with no pausing for a breath and with no punctuation and having been written in passive voice with no end to the string covering hours if not days worth of activity mentioning half a dozen units by numerical designation only and referencing three different battlefield positions….

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 26 January

Yet another 100 plus entry week for the Civil War category.   This week the states of Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin are represented.  And the weekly highlights are:

- Another impressive Civil War Memorial from Ohio this week, from Athens County.

- A couple of new entries this week indicate actions the 46th Pennsylvania Infantry fought in.  First the regiment’s monument in Chattanooga.  The second entry is on the Cedar Mountain battlefield in Virginia.  Completing the set is a monument to the regiment at Gettysburg on Culp’s Hill, which was entered back in November.    The regiment was not represented at the Antietam Battlefield by a monument, but is mentioned on Crawford’s Brigade tablet.

- A state marker from La Crosse, Wisconsin details the career of General Cadwallader Washburn.

- Many, many markers from Virginia this week, a preponderance of which detail the defenses and siege lines around Richmond.  First off a set from Fort Harrison and a companion set for Fort Brady.   Napoleons are used to mark the 2nd Line of Defenses and the Inner Defensive line on the west side of the city.

- Before leaving Richmond, a couple of markers indicate some important wartime “infrastructure” sites.  The Confederate Navy Yard’s location is indicated by a bronze plaque on East Main Street.  On East Grace Street, another plaque marks the site of Chimborazo Hospital.

-  Thirteen additions to the collection of markers at Appomattox.  These improve the overall coverage of the Appomatox Court House related set.

- Thanks to Cenantua, we now know that “Stonewall” Jackson was a fair to middling gardener.  The marker says the General grew “lima beans, snap beans, carrots, parsnips, salsify, onions, cabbage, turnips, beets, potatoes, and some inferior muskmelons.”   This entry is one of several from around Lexington, Virginia entered by Robert this week.

- Three more new interpretive markers at the Chantilly / Ox Hill Battlefield Park in Fairfax, Virginia.  Those added this week are at a kiosk at the parking area.  If you visited the site in the past, you know parking was minimal.  Now the park offers more than ample parking.   One focus of the interpretation, beyond relating details of the battle, has been comparing the historical view to that today.

- Over fifty markers, monuments, and tablets this week from Gettysburg.   Included in this week’s set are entries from Warfield Ridge, the South Cavalry Battlefield, the Wheatfield, U.S. Regulars loop, and the Army of the Potomac Itinerary Tablets.

Closing this week, I’ll make a “mini” trip report.  Last weekend, the staff and I walked the trails at Balls Bluff in order to burn off some energy.  Here’s a view overlooking the channel on the Virginia side:

Icy Potomac

Icy Potomac

Ice rafts and cold water.  Personally even if Marse Robert had ordered so, I wouldn’t ford that river in January!