Monthly Archives: February 2009

Goose Creek Battery – Defenses of Leesburg, Part 6

As mentioned before, the purpose of Fort Evans was to cover approaches to Leesburg from the east, specifically the two most likely avenues of advance – Edwards Ferry Road and the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike.  Just as the defenders posted outer works to strengthen the defense of the former, the later received attention also.  About a mile and a half  southeast from Fort Evans, the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike (modern Virginia 7) crosses Goose Creek at a fairly tight bend.  High ground dominates the crossing from the west bank.  This was a natural choke point that any defender was apt to take advantage of.

Goose Creek on a Cold Day

Goose Creek on a Cold Day  (Looking Downstream, north, from the modern bridge)

Goose Creek can be favorably compared to Bull Run in regard to topography, except that it runs north instead of south.  (The Goose drains a much larger area however, and originates west of the Bull Run Mountains in Loudoun Valley.)  The creek was not terribly difficult to cross, with several ford and ferry points along its course.  At the outbreak of the war, a wooden bridge spanned Goose Creek at the Alexandria-Leesburg Pike.  However by late summer the bridge was destroyed.  Both sides referred to the site as “Burnt Bridge” in correspondence around the time of the Battle of Balls Bluff.

Old Truss Bridge at the Original Pike Crossing

Old Truss Bridge at the Original Pike Crossing

In the late summer or early fall, the Confederates constructed a set of gun pits on the high ground overlooking the creek at this point.  The Documentation of Eight Civil War Forts and Earthworks indicated two gun pits on top of the bluffs in the survey.  These pits were constructed about 60 to 70 feet from the creek’s west bank.   As with the other sites, I offer this diagram, based in part on the Milner Associates survey and my site notes, busy though it is:

Goose Creek Battery (Not to Scale)

Goose Creek Battery (Not to Scale)

The southern-most of these gun pits is only a few feet from the trail.  Again note the three “humps” forming embrasures for the cannon.

First Gun Pit

First Gun Pit

Here’s a closer view of the works:

The Gun Embrasures

The Gun Embrasures

The second gun pit is a bit harder to make out, due to some tree fall.

Second Gun Pit

Second Gun Pit

Not mentioned in the survey, but something I would include just for sake of discussion, is a soil disturbance to the north of the position.  The rise of ground has the same look as the other two pits, with raised earth on the creek facing side.  In this view, looking down the slope to the creek, the profile of this mound is clear.  Just beyond the mound to the left is the trail stairway.

Third Gun Pit?

Third Gun Pit?

The survey mentioned infantry entrenchments or at least rifle pits supporting the artillery positions.   On site I did notice several areas that might pass as such.  However none were “photogenic” enough to post here without a caption “picture of some woods and leaves outside Leesburg….”  However, the mound mentioned by the survey, which stands in front of the first gun position, seems more a natural feature than anything man made.  Today the mound is covered with briers.  It is seen here behind the picnic table along the trail.

The Mound

The Mound

Likely defenders would have incorporated this in their line, if for nothing else to cover the front slope in front of the gun positions.  The view to the east from this point is a bit obstructed by tree growth, but at least in the winter time one can appreciate the line of site given to the defenders.

Looking Over the Creek

Looking Over the Creek

During the 19th Century, a tavern stood on the far side.  For some reason the tavern picked up the name “Fiddler’s Green.”

Several guidebooks recommend taking the trail from the “Keep Loudoun Beautiful” Park on the south side of the highway.  Personally I found the passage from the park under the highway bridges difficult if not outright dangerous.  A better way to access the site is through the sub-division on the north side of the highway.  If one parks discreetly along Battery Point Place, an easy grade paved walking trail passes through the battery.  The works are decently well preserved.  Although the housing development is very close, the ground is set aside for within a local preserve (I cannot confirm but I believe it maintained by the home owner’s association).

The battery might be another site associated with the Battle of Balls Bluff.  But there is no documentation to tie in the works with Confederate activity around that time.  The works were never directly tested, and certainly not during the battle.  Instead the fortification was manned to block a suspected advance down the pike from Dranesville, which never developed.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 23 February

Around a hundred entries and updates again this week.   Represented are Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Here are a few of the highlights:

- Seven markers from Atlanta, Georgia discuss the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

- In Warsaw, Indiana, the Kosciusko County Civil War Memorial features a replica of a cannon.  The original gun was scrapped during the World War II scrap drives.

- Fort Caswell on the coast of North Carolina was a third series masonary fortification defending the Cape Fear River.  The Confederates used the fort during the war, and abandoned it in 1865.   Well after the war the Army renovated the facilities, adding then-modern disappearing guns.  Today the fort serves as a youth camp.

- Further down the coast in Georgetown, South Carolina stands a marker honoring Confederate General Aurthur Manigault.  Manigault died due to lingering complications from a wound suffered at Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1864.  So would you consider that a seventh Confederate General killed or mortally wounded during the battle?  Well technically….

- The single West Virginia marker this week details a hospital used by Union forces in Wheeling.

- Among a large number of Virginia markers this week were several from the Cold Harbor Battlefield Park.  We related these into a virtual tour showing the markers along the walking trail.

- In the Valley, thanks to Cenantua, we now have a virtual tour of the Cross Keys Battlefield by way of markers.

- The Green County Civil War Memorial in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania is yet another impressive example of out-door sculpture memorializing the war’s veterans, rivaling those memorials placed on the battlefields.

- Speaking of the battlefield, my numbers were a bit down this week for Gettysburg at 31.  Those entered continiued the march down Cemetery Ridge.  With a good effort, I should complete the ridge this week and move on to other locations.

Lastly, let me mention a marker from Benicia, California, discussing the Benicia Arsenal.  The army built the post in 1849, with Capt. Charles P. Stone, future Federal General and Ball’s Bluff scapegoat, in charge.  If you scroll down to photo number five of the set, you’ll notice the guard house.  Of the many men who spent some time in the guardhouse was an army officer serving punishment for a small offense.   The Lieutenant “cleaned up” a bit and later became General of the Army and President – U.S. Grant.

Crossroads of the Conflict Review

crossroads-of-the-conflictA few weeks back I purchased yet another Gettysburg reference book for my collection.  For my “Gettysburg Project”, as discussed in earlier posts,  what I desire – a catalog of markers, monuments, tablets, and memorials from the battlefield within the HMDB system.   Toward that end, I’m casting my nets over any work that provides information about the subject.  So when my post-Christmas Amazon purchase cycle came up, I had Crossroads of the Conflict: Defining Hours for the Blue and Gray:  A Guide to the Monuments of Gettysburg, by Donald W. McLaughlin waiting in my cart.  Mr. McLaughlin was a Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg until his death, and clearly had a large volume of notes.  The work has been well reviewed on Civil War Librarian, and by Brett at TOCWOC.  Instead of plowing over the fields they have already sown, allow me to simply add how the book has worked for me in my project.

When I first opened the book, I was quite pleased.  The format is, to put it bluntly, “raw information.”  No illustrations or photos, but rather a straight listing of the tablets, monuments, and memorials on the battlefield.  Not every bit of text from these battlefield displays is reproduced, in most cases just the sections detailing activity from the battle.  For instance for the 121st Pennsylvania Monument on Cemetery Ridge, which I entered just yesterday, McLaughlin reproduced the text from the left side, with the number engaged and casualty figures from the right side.  In the case of the War Department tablets, the “headers” spelling out the unit’s parent formation and subordinate units is omitted, and only the day by day narrative is presented.  I would note also that McLaughlin was not as rigid with regard to punctuation as I am (and I appear to be the only one!).  However, I have not noticed any point where the punctuation added significantly alters the understanding of the text.

McLaughlin organized his listing in the order of the battle events for the most part.  There is no grand table of contents or groupings, but a map of the battlefield offers page number references to key the reader to specific sections.  For each section of the battlefield, strip maps orient the reader and visitor to the locations of markers, monuments and tablets.  In some cases flank markers are indicated.  One great example is the New Jersey Brigade (Torbert’s) position.  Not only is the location of the monument cited in reference to the horse trail and Sedgwick Avenue, but also the War Department tablet for the brigade and the flank marker stones.  McLaughlin included the stone walls to provide an excellent visualization of the area.  In other words, beating around the brush to find a “stone” is much easier now!   But, as detailed as the strip maps are, they suffer from the inherit flaw in that means of visually conveying information – lack of scale.  In the case of “well off the beaten path” items, the lack of scale may be frustrating to visitors in a hurry.  Personally I find it forces me to take a deep breath and really take in the battlefield instead of rushing through it.

But there are some faults I found with the book.  First off, as a raw information presentation it has several typographical errors and formatting issues.   Take it for what it’s worth.  The book comes from a self publishing outlet and likely did not receive a lot of pre-publication support.  Second off, I found several points where the text from a monument or tablet was omitted.  For instance, while the entry for the High Water Mark monument contained even the names of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association from the back, about a dozen lines of text were omitted from the other sides.  Something I would attribute to editing.  However, most annoying is the omission of entire monuments!  For example, McLaughlin noted the location of the 143rd Pennsylvania monument on Cemetery Ridge on the strip maps, but the monument is not discussed in the text.  But in his defense, the monument is weathered and worn.  Most other references only mention the regiment’s monument near the McPherson Barn, but forget about the second and third day position monument.   Lastly, at least in my copy, the index is truncated.

Separate sections at the end of the book cover the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s 1940s era Gettysburg Campaign markers, the War Department’s hospital tablets, the Gettysburg Foundation hospital markers, and some of the War Department itinerary tablets.

After a week of using McLaughlin’s book, and making one trip to the battlefield with it in hand, I declare it a good buy.  It isn’t the “all knowing” reference (nor is there one on this topic, in my experience).  But I use it in conjunction with several other references to confirm or supplement field notes in order to form a full entry in HMDB – title, text, date placed, organization that placed it, location, and additional details.

We should consider McLaughlin’s work in context of the delivery.  Crossroads of the Conflict is in essence a “notebook” collection from a licensed battlefield guide.  As with any rough, raw format, it will have errors and omissions.  But having it at hand on the battlefield or at home while reviewing field notes is much like having said licensed guide beside you to answer a question or two.  Personally I think the work is a diamond in the rough.  A publisher might well massage out some of the issues and present a most professional product with only a limited effort.