Monthly Archives: November 2009

Guns of the CSS Georgia

I lamented the use of fuzzy 35mm photos to support the post regarding Confederate 24-pdr Howitzers earlier this month, in particular that of the 24-pdr Howitzer recovered from the CSS Georgia.    Well good friend and fellow marker hunter Mike Stroud, of Bluffton, South Carolina, made a trip to Fort Jackson, outside Savannah recently and offered a few photos.

Confederate 24-pdr Howitzer - Fort Jackson

Again, this weapon matches to an unmarked weapon reported on the CSS Georgia, produced by Savannah founder Alvin N. Miller.  The weapon is currently mounted on a naval-style truck carriage.   Mounted over the forward spar deck, the weapon was likely only useful for close quarters combat.

Trunnions of the Howitzer

Trunnions of the Howitzer

The howitzer’s form includes a step just in front of the trunnions.  Rather typical for the time period, the simple cylindrical rimbases connect the trunnions to the tube.

Muzzle of Howitzer

Muzzle of Howitzer

The muzzle shows signs of damage.

The CSS Georgia had a rather uneventful history.  Built with funding from the Ladies Gunboat Association, she was launched in May 1862.  On paper the CSS Georgia was a major component of the Savannah River Squadron.  The ship boasted the capability of ten guns – four on each broadside and one each for and aft.  In reality, the ironclad was underpowered and little more than a floating battery.  With railroad rail iron instead of the intended rolled iron plate, the ship was too heavy for its weak machinery.  As result, only four heavy guns, the 24-pdr seen here, and a 6-pdr were mounted.  First hand accounts indicated the ship was rather leaky with a low freeboard.  Little wonder, when scuttled on December 20, 1864, the CSS Georgia quickly disappeared into the Savannah River.

Corps of Engineer surveys documented the location of the wreck site as early as 1866.  Other than one attempted salvage in the 1860s, the wreck lay ignored, but marked, for over 100 years.  In 1979 an accurate survey of the site was completed.  Additional surveys in the 1980s and 2003 have mapped much of the ship’s remaining superstructure and debris field.   In addition to the 24-pdr, underwater archeologists have recovered one other cannon from the CSS Georgia – a 32-pdr Navy Gun, rifled and banded.

32-pdr Gun Rifled and Banded from the CSS Georgia

Note the breeching loop on the breech instead of the knob found on most field pieces.  The right side trunnion is badly battered.  But the left side bears the initials of the inspecting officer.

Inspector Initials - CWS

These correspond to Charles W. Skinner, Navy inspector who worked the position in 1852 (only) checking ordinance at Cyrus Alger of Boston, Bellona Foundry (Virginia), and Tredegar Foundry (Virginia).  Secondary sources state this weapon is registry number 714, produced in 1852 by Bellona.  It’s recorded weight was 58-2-00.  Well under the “hundred weight” system this is 6552 pounds (58 * 112 plus 2 * 28, with the zeros indicating no remainders).

Confederates took this particular piece in hand for rifling early in the war, adding a reinforcing band to compensate for the added pressures.

Muzzle of the 32-pdr

The bore of the 32-pdr shows just a hint of rifling.  Likely the lands and groves suffered corrosion due to 100 plus years in the brackish Savannah River.

In addition to the guns, divers have recovered ordnance and various fittings.  According to the surveys, three other guns lay in the river at the wreck site – a 6-pdr cannon, an VIII-inch Navy Shellgun, and another banded 32-pdr Rifle.  Any one of which would be interesting exhibits at the Fort if recovered.   The detailed sonar mappings of the wreck  indicate significant portions of the casemates lay in the mud also.  Perhaps one day the remains of the CSS Georgia can be raised and examined in more detail.

Again, thanks go out to Mike Stroud who contributed these photos.

White’s Ford Park Update

As mentioned in earlier postings, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority identified a tract of land north of Leesburg for development into a park named for Civil War partisan ranger and local businessman Lt. Col. Elijah “Liege” White at the site of White’s Ford.  Plans call for a 275-acre addition to NVRPA which will include a home once occupied by White, in addition to river side tracts where the actual ford was located.  But the nearby residents are now expressing concern over the park’s creation, voicing them during a November 19 meeting:

Neighbors Worry About Potomac River Park Plans
By Erika Jacobson Moore

While a park can be established within current zoning rules on land north of Leesburg along the Potomac River specific plans for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s White’s Ford Park are raising concerns for many residents who live along the rural roads in the area.

During its public hearing Thursday, the Planning Commission heard comment on the commission permit to approve the park use and the special exception application to allow for a boat rental facility and launch into the Potomac River, and many residents living along Limestone School Road and Hibler Road, where the park would be located, said they were worried about the impacts such a use would have on their properties and quality of life.

One of the main concerns brought forward by residents was the ability of the two two-lane roads to handle the increased traffic the park would bring. County staff members have recommended the addition of a right-turn lane from Rt. 15 onto Limestone School Road, a condition neither NVRPA nor the residents feel is proper.

“[Hibler] Road is not designed for the traffic this will bring,” resident Andrea Bendo said. “Anyone can purchase a season pass, received a gate key and come and go as they please.”

Many of the residents pointed to the traffic on their roads during Temple Hall Farm’s Corn Maize event in the fall as evidence another park would only bring additional issues.

“There is a real issue with traffic safety, but the rural character will be negatively impacted with the improvements needed, a Catch-22 that is shown through the proposed high-intensity uses,” Taylorstown resident Patrick Ryan said.

Many of the residents expressed concerns with the use of motorboats on the Potomac River, even with the limitation that prohibits any boats with more than 10 horsepower. Colleen Gillis Snow, the attorney representing NVRPA, said the authority envisions at least 60 percent of the boats to be non-motorized.

“I would not object to canoe rental and concessions, but I am here to object to the ruining of our beautiful Potomac River with motorboats,” resident Betsey Brown, a former representative of the Catoctin District on the Board of Supervisors, said. “The Potomac River is one of Loudoun’s most important natural assets. Please preserve it.”

NVRPA presented county staff with an assessment by the Williamsburg Environmental Group that showed, with five motorized boat launches anticipated per day during peak usage times, the potential for streambank degradation is minimal.

Residents were also concerned about a part of the application that is not before the commission: proposed campgrounds. The campgrounds would only be considered by the Board of Supervisors because it only requires a minor special exception application. But for many of those at Thursday’s hearing, the campgrounds are a major concern.

“While we understand the proposed park is meant to operate and normal waking hours, who is there to stop the late-night partying and drinking around the campfire?” Mike Miller, president of the White’s Ford Neighborhood Association, asked.

Another resident noted that “camping, bass fishing and beer drinking go hand in hand” and another was concerned about the disposal of beer cans along the rural roads as campers leave the site.

“This is not the place to put this kind of park,” Doug Scott, who lives outside the area, but came to give his opinion as a former campground owner. “I have a lot of great experiences, but I also have a lot of not so great experiences. It’s about the ability to manage the people who come to the park. To think that you can control the atmosphere in this campground and not allow people to drink is na•ve at best. This kind of atmosphere invites that kind of behavior.”

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the minor special exception would allow for the development of a maximum of 10 cabins. As proposed, camping would cost $30 per day, for a maximum of 14 days consecutively, Snow said.

Many of those present, even those requesting denial of the application as proposed were in favor of a park at the location.

“We have the opportunity have a park run by a responsible manager,” William Wilken, a history teacher at Stone Bridge High School, who noted he was not representing the school, said. Wilken urged the commission to work to create a middle ground between NVRPA and neighboring residents. “Find a way to get this beautiful piece of property into stewardship for my students and their children and grandchildren.”

“I hope you can figure out a way to make this work. Loudoun County has very little public land,” Bill Niedringhaus said. “I’d like to hear some ‘can do’ talk. I think we can figure out a way to deal with some of the legitimate issues here. If we don’t find a way to get a [multi]-hundred acre park the chance won’t come again.”

Before the commission voted to send the application to committee for further discussion, Snow encouraged residents to continue working with the NVRPA to find the best solution and while no dates have been set, Snow said the authority is still committed to working with the residents.

“We’re serious. We think that it’s an important enough mission for NVRPA not to just throw up our hands and walk away,” she said. “But with that in mind, the interests of the residents are also important enough to continue to work on this.”

From my perspective, I agree that something should be done with regard to traffic flow off US 15 to the proposed park.  The nearby Temple Hill Farm park, while excellent in concept and presentation, strains the ingress routes during the busy fall season.  Temple Hill Farm park is located on Limestone School Road (CR 661), which also would support the proposed White’s Ford park on Hibler Road (CR 656).  Often the turnoff requires traffic control officers posted on US 15, adding more congestion to an already heavily traveled corridor.  Certainly something must be done to ease the impact on traffic.

Maybe it is not this simple, but Loudoun is having difficulty finding “projects” to apply approximately $1.5 million in stimulus funding.  I figure a turn lane on US 15 at the intersection is a “shovel ready” type project.  Gotta hurry though, we only have two more weeks to apply for the funds!

I would note that NVRPA has a long track record of engaging “friends of…” groups in the area to help protect the parks.  Such might allay fears regarding the upkeep and appearance of the park in years to come.

The good note, as mentioned at the end of the article, parties are looking for ways to make this park happen.  There is nothing here that good planning (and a little bit of funding) cannot overcome.

Third Winchester – Seivers and Locks Fords on the Opequon

Last weekend the staff and I rode out through Clarke County for a day trip.  A friend offered an itinerary highlighting sites related to the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign, specifically the battles of Berryville and Third Winchester.   Two points we chose to highlight were Seivers and Locks Fords on the Opequon, where Federal Cavalry crossed during the battle of Third Winchester on September 19, 1864.

On that day in 1864 the main body of Sheridan’s Army crossed at the Winchester-Berryville Turnpike, and advanced westward toward Winchester through the Berryville Canyon.  But, tasked with interdicting the Confederate line of march north of Winchester, the 1st Division of Cavalry under Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt crossed 2-3 miles downstream from the Turnpike over two fords.   Merritt split his force with Devin’s 2nd Brigade and Lowell’s 3rd (or Reserve, I’ve read both in the primary sources) Brigade to cross at Seiver’s Ford;  Custer’s 1st Brigade of the Division crossed at Locks Ford further downstream.  Confederates contested both crossing points, delaying the Federal Cavalry in occupying a decisive flanking position.  While the main Federal force remained locked in an infantry fight just east of Winchester, the 1st Cavalry Division fought with a pesky Confederate rear guard.  Only in the afternoon, joined with Averill’s 2nd Cavalry Division, did Merritt’s Division mass on the Confederate flanks to deliver a crushing assault.

A War Department map commissioned in the 1870s marked Seivers Ford clearly, but Locks Ford lay outside the study area.

Detail from the War Department Map (North seeking arrow pointing right)

The “Old Charlestown Road” leading to Leetown (just outside of the detail, to the top) crosses the Opequon at “Ridgeway Ford or Seivers Crossing.”  Today the road is numbered CR 761, and crosses the river over a one lane bridge at the ford site.

Bridge at Seivers Ford from the West

The high ground and the mouth of a creek just upstream (left) of the bridge help pinpoint the location.  Based on the War Department map, McCausland’s cavalry held the ground on the far side.

Looking from the opposite bank:

Looking East at the Bridge

Note the ground on the eastern side does not afford the attacker much cover.  According to Gen. Merritt’s report on the battle, the 2nd Massachusetts and 5th US Cavalry made the crossing dismounted, followed by a mounted charge by the 2nd US Cavalry.  The 2nd US then advanced on Confederates defending along a railroad cut. [Note 1]  Although not indicated on the War Department map, the bed of the railroad mentioned was likely close to the modern line which runs about 300 yards north of the crossing point.

Downstream from the Bridge

The Opequon resembles other intermediate watercourses of the lower Valley at this point – a narrow flood plain with a step off the banks and shallow but rocky bottom.  Creeks such as this always seem to accumulate deadfall along the banks.

The War Department map indicates a building near the ford point, labeled “D. Clevenger.”   An older Federal style house stands in that general area today.

House Overlooking Seivers Ford

Custer’s crossing point, Locks Ford, does not appear on the War Department map.  Custer, in his official report, stated his command advanced from Summit Point (now West Virginia) some five miles to reach the Opequon at the ford.  [Note 2]  Secondary sources indicate Custer used Brucetown Road, matching to the location modern CR 672 crosses the creek.

 

Brucetown Road Bridge over Opequon

 

This view looks from the east at the narrow 1917 concrete bridge over the creek.  At this particular point, the creek passes between a low ridge line on the right (east) bank, and a set of high ridges on the left.  Confederate defenders had the advantage in terrain, as seen looking from the bridge to the ground on the west side.

 

High Ground to the West of Bridge

 

I am told there are remains of Confederate rifle pits on the high ground overlooking the bridge (private property).  If so this further confirms the site.

The ground on the west side, much as at Seivers Ford upstream, exhibits a narrow flood plain.

 

West Bank of the Creek at Locks Ford

 

In high water, of course, this low ground is easily inundated.  And there is the deadfall.

 

Looking Upstream from the Bridge

 

To me, that deadfall offers the most formidable natural impediment to mounted crossing, forcing the attacker to use cleared fording sites or risk losing many animals.

Further in regard to the crossing points, I was struck with the similarity between these sites and those on Antietam Creek in Maryland.  Indeed, the Opequon and Antietam somewhat mirror each other, on opposite sides of the Potomac River, with very similar courses – just in different Cardinal directions!  But of course the Antietam featured several stone bridges, while the Opequon offered mostly fording points.

Touring these sites, I fell into the battlefield stomper’s gaze, imagining the troopers attempting to file through the creek to the far side.  So in closing, allow me to recall Merritt’s description of the morning action:

The rich crimson of that fine autumnal morning was fading away into the broad light of day when the booming guns on the left gave sign that the attack was being made by our infantry.  The glorious old First Division was never in better condition. Officers and men, as they saw the sun appear bright and glorious above the horizon, felt a consciousness of renewed strength, a presentiment of fresh glory to be added that day to their already unfading laurels.  The felt like men who were willing to do and die; that they were not deceived the history of the day proves. [Note 3]

Sort of makes you want to rig up a McClellan right now and splash out across the creek, doesn’t it?

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Notes:

1.  Report of Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt, U.S. Army, Commanding First Cavalry Division, October 12, 1864.  OR, Series I, Volume 43, Serial 90, p. 443.

2. Report of Brig. Gen. George A. Custer, U.S. Army, Commanding First Brigade, of Operations September 19.  dated September 28, 1864.  OR, Series I, Volume 43, Serial 90, p. 454.

3.  Merritt, pp. 443-4.