Monthly Archives: August 2010

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of August 30

Twenty-seven additions to the Civil War category of the Historical Marker Database over the last week.  The new entries cover Civil War related sites in Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia:

- On the campus of the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, the observatory, known as Maxwell Hall, was among the few buildings remaining after a Federal raid in April 1865.

- Another memorial from New Haven, Connecticut.  This one honors the Connecticut Light Battery along with the 6th, 7th and 10th Connecticut Volunteers.

- Two entries from Kingston, Georgia this week.  The Rome Railroad played a role in the Great Railroad Chase in 1863 and the battle of Allatoona Pass in 1864.  General Sherman was in Kingston when he received orders to start his March to the Sea.

- According to the marker, the Philadelphia United Methodist Church near Eatonton, Georgia was saved from destruction during Sherman’s March to the Sea by a strongly worded warning.

- A somewhat battered marker indicates a stop on the Underground Railroad near Westpoint, Indiana.

- Outside Tullulah, Mississippi is a marker noting the battle of Milliken’s Bend, an action fought in June 1863 associated with the Vicksburg campaign and the second battle involving US Colored Troops.

- In Plaquemines Parish, down river of New Orleans, Louisiana is Fort Jackson.  The fort played a key role in the capture of the city, but is undergoing restoration due to recent hurricane damage.

- On the Vicksburg Battlefield in Mississippi is a monument to the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry (US) for their service in the Vicksburg Campaign.

- Markers in Independence, Missouri note the First (August 1862) and Second (October 1864) battles of Independence.  The Jackson County Jail was used as the US Provost Marshal Headquarters during the war.

- A memorial in Sparta, New Jersey honors those 27th and 33rd New Jersey Volunteers.

- A marker in Edenton, North Carolina discusses a naval action there which left the CSS Albemarle badly damaged.  A nearby marker discusses the Edenton Bell Battery, with two field pieces used by the battery on display.

- A memorial in Chicora Cemetery near Dunn, North Carolina honors the Confederate dead from the battle of Averasboro.

- The McPherson Post No. 48, Grand Army of the Republic placed a memorial to the Union war dead in Miami, Oklahoma.

- “Loyalty to the Union” is the title of an entry from Comfort, Texas.  The subject is a group of German immigrants  with Union sentiments killed in August 1862 while attempting to reach Federal lines.

- The Bingham City Veterans Memorial outside Copperton, Utah notes the final resting place of several Civil War veterans.

- Pearisburg, Virginia witnessed fighting in May 1862 as future President Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Confederate General Henry Heth.

- Two new NPS markers from the Richmond Battlefields.  One discusses the Federal use of balloons to reconnoiter the Confederate lines.  The other discusses the strong Federal position at Gaines’ Mill.

- Federal troops occupied the grounds of “Rural Plains” in 1864, near Mechanicsville, Virginia.  The plantation was home to the Shelton Family for three centuries.  Soldiers at the time took note of the ground’s association with patriot Patrick Henry.

- A marker at Virginia Beach, actually at the entrance to the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, discusses the naval activity during the war at the mouth of the Chesapeake.

- A new Civil War Trails marker in Upperville, Virginia relates more details of that June 1863 battle.

- Another Civil War Trails marker notes the location of Mitchell’s Ford, Manassas, Virginia.  The site is associated with the First Manassas campaign.

- A state marker notes Princeton, West Virginia saw action in May 1862 as General Cox’s Federals moved into the Kanawah Valley.

Mississippi River Placenames

Years ago in college I happened upon a useful Mississippi River reference – Marion Bragg’s Historic Names and Places on the Lower Mississippi River.   At the time I was studying all sorts of “local” history around the Memphis area,  and found it invaluable to figure out the twists and turns of old river lore.  The paperback copy was in the non-circulating reference section, so I spent about $20 photocopying the book.  But those were the old days….

A few weeks back I found the entire work on to PDF and posted to a Corps of Engineers site (a bit of warning, it’s on the .mil side of the internet and may pop up a certificate warning or even respond “access is denied” when changes are made on the server end).

The Mississippi River Commission published Bragg’s work in 1977.   The format follows the river from Cairo, Illinois to the Head of Passes, Louisiana, sequentially with references to river miles “above Head of Passes” or “AHP.”    Along the way, Bragg discusses treacherous river bends with deadly snags, vanished riverboat towns, and engineering changes to the river.  Civil War buffs will find mention of many battles fought along the river.

Placename entries vary between a paragraph to a couple of pages.  Yet there is enough information there to aid follow on research.  Unfortunately, while the river mile references are handy, the river’s course has changed enough since the 1970s to cause some confusion over exact locations.  And the map references included by Bragg don’t match the more recent navigation charts.  So readers must do a bit of translation.

While not quite Twain’s Life on the Mississippi in terms of literary style, Historic Names and Places is still entertaining.  And useful for those looking for historic sites in the old river bottom!

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Rowlesburg, West Virginia

Rowlesburg, West Virginia was another stop on my recent trips to see Civil War sites in the Mountain State.  I’ll admit before the visit my familiarity with the battle was limited to the name, date, and leaders.    And there is not a lot out there in the way of resources.  There isn’t even a battle summary from CWSAC!

At the time of the Civil War, Rowlesburg was (and still is) a railroad town.  The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (B&O) passed over the Cheat River just east of town. Then the railroad crossed multiple viaducts over the mountains while heading west.  Both sides recognized the importance of these structures early in the war.  Federals garrisoned the town in 1861 to protect the valuable rail line.  General Robert E. Lee considered the bridges “worth to me an army.”

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Modern Railroad Bridge at Rowlesburg

In April 1863, the Confederates launched a much delayed raid into western Virginia (as West Virginia was not yet a state!).  General William E. “Grumble” Jones led a brigade to raid the rail lines between Oakland, Maryland and Grafton, Virginia.  Concurrently General John D. Imboden targeted the Tygart Valley with his new command.  The Confederates aimed to destroy facilities along the railroad, disrupt communications with the Unionist government in Wheeling, and gather new recruits.  The raid looked good on paper, but heavy rains delayed departure.*

Jones arrived outside Rowlesburg on April 26.  After assessing the situation, he opted for a two-pronged attack on the town’s garrison.  One force, seen in red on the map below, proceed up the River Road (modern West Virginia Highway 72) .   A smaller detachment, depicted in black on the map, proceeded over a hill to the east end of the railroad bridge with orders to burn the structure.

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Rowlesburg Battle Map

Major John Showalter with 250 men, reinforced with civilian volunteers from the town, defended the town at the time of the raid.  Showalter took advantage of the terrain and placed barricades along the River Road and placed artillery on a hill overlooking the town.  Their positions are shown in blue on the map above.

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Cannon Hill from Rowlesburg

A mixed force of soldiers and townspeople, supported by artillery fire, thwarted the Confederates attacking the east end of the bridge.  Meanwhile along the River Road, the 6th Virginia Cavalry under Colonel John S. Green ran into a Federal barricade.  Instead of rushing through the defenses, Green opted to dismount and skirmish.  The Confederate attack then stalled.  With terrain restricting movement, a stalemate developed.  Despite repeated attempts, Green’s men could not push through the Federal defenses.

Rowlesburg 24 Jul 10 297

River Road near the Site of Barricades

Jones withdrew at night and continued his raid in the direction of Oakland.  While damaging the rail facilities there, the main targets of the raid were left untouched at Rowlesburg.  Jones laid the blame for failure on Green, pressing formal charges.  The bridges and viaduct intact, the B&O continued to support the Federal war effort in western Virginia.  And within a matter of weeks, the area would formally become West Virginia.

Touring Rowlesburg today,  five markers provide interpretation.  Four are recent additions by the Rowlesburg Area Historical Society.  I will say that, while thankful for the markers, I found them quite wordy.  Just seemed as if a dissertation was pasted onto the displays.

The community has an active revitalization movement which has also secured an overlook on Cannon Hill, occupied by Federal artillery during the war.    I didn’t make it up to Cannon Hill, saving that for another visit.  However I did attempt to view the viaducts on the west side of town.  Unfortunately heavy summer growth prevented a good photo.  An archival photo of these impressive structures will have to do for now (more are here from the Historic American Building Surveys).

B&O Viaduct near Rowlesburg

Overall I was impressed with the work done by local groups at Rowlesburg.  Reenactments and other activities have raised awareness.  The townspeople I spoke with were rightly proud of their history!

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* Recall at that same time, rains also delayed Federals launching a raid into central Virginia and way out west, rains disrupted Marmaduke’s raid on Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  Someone would do well to offer a study of how weather affected the campaigns of 1863.