Monthly Archives: February 2008

Antietam Markers Update

For the three people who occasionally browse by my blog, I’ve been tardy with updates, what with the day job getting in the way. What free time I’ve had since the weekend was devoted to uploading Antietam markers. You can see the “march down Cornfield Avenue” with periodic additions to the site, show off the RSS feed to the right.

Right now I can claim progress. About 90 plus markers or monuments are in the system, out of my estimate of 400 (including the National Park Service interpretive markers). There are just over 100 that I either haven’t documented (and happily will venture to Sharpsburg again to complete) or are physically missing.

The later has my thoughts. There’s got to be a story behind some of these. For instance, the War Department posted several tablets outside Shepherdstown, near Pack Horse Ford in the 1890s. A couple remain. References dating to the 1960s annotate the rest as “missing.” So this isn’t a recent occurrence. What happened here? Flood? Removed due to inaccurate content? Motor vehicle crash? Ghost of A.P. Hill? Who knows?

At any rate, the Cornfield Avenue set is going nicely. The base set will be lumped into a geographic relation (as was done with the Sunken Road). Then will be groupings by divisional assignments (Hood’s Division, DH Hill’s Division, Ricketts’ division, etc.). After that, I’ll start looking at state by state groupings for the monuments. Another swipe I’ve thought of is, given the confusing nature of the morning phase of the battle, is a phase by phase grouping. Might not be useful, as the markers are often roadside instead of at the point of action. We’ll see how it breaks out first.

UPDATE: The base collection for Cornfield Avenue is complete. Again a geographic grouping for now. Strictly, what you would see if you were to walk from tour stop four back to tour stop three, down Cornfield Avenue.

The Bridges of Washington County

Sort of keeping with the Antietam theme, or at least staying within Washington County, Maryland…The county has erected several rather plain brown, single pole markers with tan text to designate historical sites not referenced by (or in some cases in addition to) state historical markers. An example is this marker for the Gettysburg Campaign in Smithsburg, referencing action during the retreat through Maryland:


I personally discovered these rather inobtrusive markers last summer while visiting some of the sites related to the Antietam Campaign. While the Civil War interpretation is nice, the county also placed markers at most of the thirty-one odd stone bridge, culverts, and aqueducts standing in the County that date to the 19th century. Recently other correspondents at HMDB have added more of these markers referencing bridge sites. Additionally, Christopher Busta-Peck has posted an excellent writeup on the Antietam Bridges on his National Road blog.

The bridge, culvert and aqueduct sites are (with references to the Marker Database where applicable):

Leitersburg Bridge No.2 over Antietam Creek

Old Forge Bridge over Antietam Creek – Lee considered destroying this bridge during the retreat from Gettysburg, according to the county’s web site.

Hager’s Mill Bridge over Antietam Creek

Funkstown Turnpike Bridge over Antietam Creek – Old National Road bridge, much renovated and expanded. Used during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Funkstown Bridge No. 2 over Antietam Creek – used during the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg.

Roxbury Mills Bridge over Antietam Creek – Another crossing point factoring into the Gettysburg Campaign.

Rose’s Mill Bridge over Antietam Creek

Claggett’s Mill Bridge over Antietam Creek

Claggett’s Mill-Race Bridge over Antietam Creek

Booth’s Bill Bridge over Antietam Creek – Here on July 12, 1863, General Meade gathered his generals to weigh options in the pursuit of Lee’s Confederates in the retreat from Gettysburg.

Hitt Bridge over Antietam Creek – Braddock passed a ford here in 1755. Civil War historians note this as the “Upper” or “Hooker” Bridge upstream from Pry’s Ford.

Pry’s Mill Bridge over Little Antietam Creek – Between the Hitt and Hess Bridges. Also a crossing point during the Antietam Campaign.

Hess’ Mill Bridge over Little Antietam Creek – In the town of Keedysville. Also associated with movements during the Antietam Campaign.

“Felfoot” Bridge over Little Antietam Creek – The east approach to Keedysville.

Middle Bridge over Antietam Creek – No longer standing, but an Antietam battlefield landmark.

Burnside Bridge over Antietam Creek – The one everyone knows.

Antietam Iron Works Bridge over Antietam Creek – Near the mouth of the creek.

Antietam Aqueduct over Antietam Creek – Along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.

Monroe Chapel Culvert over tributary of Antietam Creek

Wilson’s Bridge over Conococheague Creek – among the oldest along the Old National Road.

Price’s Bridge over Conococheaque Creek

Broadfording Bridge over Conococheaque Creek

Conococheaque Bridge over Conococheaque Creek

Conococheaque Aqueduct over Conococheaque Creek – Along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Witness to Confederate crossings of the Potomac during the Antietam and Gettysburg Campaigns, and several other smaller operations.

Devil’s Backbone Bridge over Little Beaver Creek – Braddock passed through on a ford here en-route to his demise.

Kline’s Mill Bridge over Little Beaver Creek

“Cool Hollow” Culvert over branch of Little Beaver Creek

Marsh Run Bridge over Marsh Run

Marsh Run Culvert over Marsh Run

As a set, I’d argue you can not get a better sampling of American History. There are events dating to the colonial times, Revolutionary War, Civil War, westward expansion, the National Road, and well everything but space travel!

Antietam Sunken Road Markers

After a surge here late in the week, all the markers for the Sunken Road from my “to do” queue are posted to HMDB. There are some gaps that need filling in. First off, the NPS was running maintenance on several of the War Department Tablets at the time of my site visit. So tablets for French’s Division are missing as are those for a couple of brigades from D.H. Hill’s Division. Additionally my documentation and photos for 130th Pennsylvania’s Monument was not to standard. So these are on the list for the next quarterly Antietam visit.

I’ve grouped the markers at this time with two logical relations in mind. First the overall “Trip Down the Sunken Road.” Next I’ve provided relations of the tablets and monuments by divisions – Richardson’s and DH Hill’s are set now. French’s will have to wait until the tablets are collected properly. The map presentations of these markers just doesn’t have as great effect as the Maryland Heights or Balls Bluff Set. Mostly because Antietam is a road bound tour, with most of the interpretation and monumentation close to vehicle paths.

Next on the agenda during these cold days of February…. The Cornfield.

Antietam’s Collection of 10-pdr Parrott Rifles

When documenting the artillery on site at a battlefield, I’ve found there are often stories behind how the guns got where they are which are worthy of note. For instance at Gettysburg there are six rifled 12-pdr Model 1857 “Napoleon” pieces on display. All cast in 1862, these were used for experiments, never used in combat, and thus escaped dispersion and scrap drives. Externally they look just like any other smoothbore Napoleon. Its only when examined up close the markings don’t line up with standard examples, and of course the rifling is apparent. They are an oddity that one in a thousand visitors would notice. At Antietam, there are eight 10-pdr Model 1863 Parrott Rifles on display, all of which are numbered low in the registry count. The tally includes the near contiguous entry of 1,2,3,5,7,9,10, and 11. So of about 280 manufactured, eight of the first eleven are still together at Antietam.

Number Seven with an “easter egg” (Model 1863 3-in Parrott, Registry Number 7, with”Easter Egg.”)

Before going deeper, allow me to explain the difference between the 10-pdr Parrott Models of 1861 and 1863. It can be summed up as 2.9-in compared to 3-in bore. Doesn’t take General Henry Hunt to figure out with all those ammunition chests on the battlefield, having a 2.9-inch bore Parrott and a 3-inch bore Ordnance rifle is an accident waiting to happen. Want to know what a 900 pound pipe bomb looks like? Ever try to remove a lodged round in a gun tube? Let’s just say that’s a third echelon maintenance support task and leave it at that. So in the middle of the war, the great minds at the Ordnance department decided to standardize the 3-inch bore. In the fall of 1863, the directive went forth to stop issuance of 2.9-inch bore Parrotts. Presumably, a similar directive was sent to West Point Foundry (where the Parrotts were produced) to cease the 2.9 inch production and switch to a 3-inch version.

So the West Point Foundry made the tooling changes, and a few new design changes were made. Then the Model 1863 started rolling out of Robert Parker Parrott’s works in 1864. The “New” Parrott 10-pdrs lacked the muzzle swell of the older version. But since this was a rather gradual change, the breech was marked with “3 IN BORE” in large font, and the muzzle markings likewise listed the caliber as “3 IN.” Interestingly about half of the “old” 10-pdr Parrotts were taken in hand for reboring to 3-inch. Considering the depth of rifling on the orginal, this had to be a very deliberate process. A simple tenth of an inch isn’t much to work off when working a bore depth of nearly six feet on a gun tube weighing nearly 900 pounds. To the best of my knowledge, none of these “reworks” has been located. Officially, the “new” Parrotts were called 3-inch rifles, as opposed to the weight of shot designation.

Secondary sources indicate the weapons were in a batch delivered in November 1863, the first lot of the “new” Parrotts. The registry numbers were 1 to 18. Confusingly, the next batch from February 1864 started anew at registry number 1 again. Thus explaining two number 11s, one at Antietam and one at Gettysburg.

Getting back to the guns at Antietam, in the late 1890s, the Antietam Battlefield Commission placed a monument by the railroad station south of Sharpsburg. In the monument were eight Parrott Rifles. A photograph from a historical marker at that location shows weapons in the size range of 3-in or 10-pdr Parrotts. The caption from the marker’s photo indicates the cannon were removed when the monument was dismantled in the 1930s, but the base remains beside the railroad today.

Now for my speculations:

  • Logically, if the cannon at the monument survived the scrap drives of the 1940s, the pieces should have ended up on display at the battlefield or national cemetery.
  • These guns were part of an early production batch or pre-production batch for proofing, testing, or evaluation. Although why an already proven design would need eighteen proofing examples is up for debate.
  • These guns were, following any trials mentioned above, placed into storage and not issued to combat units. When suitable weapons were required for the monument, these eight identical pieces were selected.

Beyond the simple tracking of the pieces, there’s another question that I could raise. The old saying goes that the Parrott rifle was so widely used the parrot bird should have replaced the eagle as the national bird. Yet here are eight, possibly more examples that, at the height of the war, were arguably held back from issue (not to mention the 100 plus re-bored examples). One then wonders if the Ordnance department officers had grown suspicious of the Parrott system. The larger bore weapons, such as the Swamp Angel, displayed well known tendencies to burst. With 900 of the more durable 3-inch Ordnance Rifles produced, perhaps the Parrott 3-inch models were rendered superfluous, to a degree, after 1863.

Antietam Markers

I just started the first round of Antietam battlefield historical markers and monuments for HMDB. Prior to this weekend, the site was under-represented. Mostly as the sheer number of markers, monuments, and things to photograph and track is simply too daunting to tackle without some method and measure. There are well over 240 War Department tablets alone, counting those at Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and Shepherdstown sites. Add in the monuments, memorials, and NPS interpretive markers and the tally probably exceeds 380 if not 400.

One clarification, however, from an editorial standpoint, HMDB started life defining a “marker” as a permanent, outdoor device that relates an aspect of history. A general exception was made early on for “war memorials” to avoid splitting hairs. Instead of hashing over the details, I’ll just go with my rule of thumb – a marker should stand out with a text narrative relating an event. So while many of the unit memorials fit well within my personal definition, some of the memorials may not. We’ll have to send “Old Simon” to the editorial board when the time comes, for adjudication for example.

The approach taken is similar to that used for Chancellorsville (which is about 80% complete, scroll down to see the “virtual tours”) . Myself and a few other contributors divided the markers and memorials geographically to form “virtual tours.” Each of these tours were then linked off a master trail head. The same system was used, but scaled up from, battlefields at Monocacy and Third Winchester. The system presents well for the map displays. If the user is so disposed, can opt to print out the series to a PDF writer. Such could make a handy, if rudimentary, tour guide.

For Antietam, I’ve opted to add a new aspect to the documentation. While “virtual tours” grouped under the trail heads will work for some associations, it would be nice to track a unit through the battlefield by its markers. Or perhaps view all the memorials from a particular state. To achieve this, I’m leveraging the features for both related markers and defined series. The War Department tablets (or Antietam Battlefield Board markers as some have called them) are grouped under their own separate series – Antietam Campaign War Department Markers. As these and others get fleshed out, I’ll work in relations as done here for Manning’s Brigade.

The intent, beyond just having the place-markers of the battlefield documented, is to provide a place where the information surrounding the points of this battle can be resourced – links to other sites, comments, and the all important photographs.

Mine Run

I can thump my chest today and report visiting portions of four major battlefields (and a couple more skirmish sites) in one day. Then again, living in Virginia, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel! I briefly visited the Upper Pontoon Bridge Site at Fredericksburg before heading to Chancellorsville to walk a section of trail I’d missed earlier. After some time spent on the Wilderness Battlefield, I closed out the day on the Mine Run battlefield to answer some questions left open from a visit last month.

I’ve heard Mine Run called the biggest battle that never was. Perhaps that is true. Following the bloodletting of the summer of 1863, Mine Run seems a small affair. In spite of over 130,000 total combatants, only about 1,300 casualties were recorded for both sides for the whole campaign (November 26 to December 2, 1863). As the closing actions in a long, hard year of campaigning, Mine Run was a fizzle rather than a bang.

Today the battlefield is difficult to understand just looking at the maps, and I would rate it among the most difficult to grasp even looking at the terrain in person. Several factors limit the modern visitor. Foremost, the battlefield is almost completely within private property. Most of the key areas cannot be seen up close without express permission, and even from a distance the ground is often screened by tree lines and modern buildings. Secondly, save a handful of state markers and two lonely National Parks Markers, no interpretive displays offer the great unwashed masses any indication there was a battle. In other words, you want to visit Mine Run, BYOB – Bring Your Own Books! This is strictly a tour for the intrepid Civil War enthusiast willing to stop and savor the field with topographical map in hand.

Everybody seems to love to “what if…” the Civil War. Personally I could live the rest of my days without another speculative account of what could have happened at Gettysburg. There’s just a finite number of events that could have occurred up there in Pennsylvania that really could have changed the course of events. On the other hand, Mine Run is fertile ground for such speculation:

  • III Corps has that extra pontoon boat, and crosses on the morning of the 26th, placing a strong force on Lee’s flank. Odds are Lee doesn’t give battle and instead falls back to the North Anna. Now the “what if?” involves Grant starting the Overland Campaign there instead of on the Rappahannock.
  • French is a bit more aggressive and pushes Prince instead of holding him back, thus breaking up Edward Johnson’s defense. With Confederate forces committed to blocking the AoP now, this would have precipitated a pitched battle, perhaps a “Wilderness” of sorts with widely separated columns. Even if a tactical stalemate, the repercussions of some 20,000 casualties would have been felt militarily and politically through the winter.
  • Sykes arrives a little earlier with V Corps to reinforce the cavalry. Catches Heth’s division flat footed and drives drives them beyond Mine Run. Now Federals not only have turned the right, but are closer to Richmond than the ANV.
  • Warren doesn’t come to the conclusion that the proposed attacks scheduled for the morning of the 29th were hopeless. Or perhaps Meade overrules him. He throws II Corps forward, and it is another Fredericksburg. Meade ended up on thin ice for backing down as it was, his position would be even more tenuous had he returned to the Rapidan with a command thus bloodied and nothing to show.
  • Lee energizes his subordinates to attack the Federal right (which was weakened in preparation for Warren’s attack). With a little more intelligence on enemy dispositions, and that well known audacity, Mine Run could have been “Chancellorsville II” or perhaps worse. With the AoP trapped blow the Rapidan, a move on that flank might have pried lose the valuable hold on Germanna Ford.

I’ll stop before ending up further afield. But the point is Mine Run deserves more attention that receives. Perhaps some day portions of the battlefield will be preserved and used for something a bit more interesting than paint ball wars.

Civil War Engagements in Clarke County, Virginia

Clarke County, Virginia sits at the lower end of the Shenandoah Valley, tucked against the Blue Ridge, bordering West Virginia. During the Civil War, the county was traversed by both armies on several campaigns. It was also in the heart of Mosby’s Confederacy. The state Department of Historic Resources (and its predecessors) has placed six markers dedicated to Civil War activity (Battle of Berryville-J30, Berryville Wagon Train Raid-J1, Castleman’s Ferry Fight-T9, Crook and Early-T10, Lee’s Bivouac-J14, and Signal Station-B7). The Civil War Trails system offers a single interpretation, for the Battle of Cool Springs (July 18, 1864).

Predating both these marker and interpretive programs, in the 1890s, the J.E.B. Stuart Camp of Confederate Veterans marked ten locations in Clarke County considered worthy of mention. Simple granite markers were placed stating the name of the action, date, and participants. The marker stone for Cool Springs is typical:

Cool Springs

The veterans clearly leaned toward sites of Southern victories. But in their defense, they only placed stones where the engagement site was properly documented. Either by design or accident, the ten markers covered events from the summer-fall of 1864, save one. The ten marked sites were (with links to HMDB entries):

Battle of Cool Springs, July 18, 1864, Early and Crook (battle also noted on the Castleman’s Ferry Fight state marker and the Civil War Trails marker).

Fight at Berry’s Ferry, July 19, 1864 Imboden and Crook. (UPDATED. See below)

Double Toll Gate Fight, August 11, 1864, Imboden and U.S. Cavalry.

Buck Marsh Fight, September 13, 1864 (actual date August 13), Mosby’s Attack on Sheridan’s Wagon Trains (action also noted on the Berryville Wagon Train Raid state marker).

Col. Morgan’s Lane, August 19, 1864, Mosby’s Attack on Custer’s House Burners, No Prisoners.

Battle of Berryville, September 3, 1864, Early and Sheridan (battle also noted on the Battle of Berryville State Marker).

Fight at Gold’s Farm, September 3, 1864, Mosby and 6th New York Cavalry.

Mt. Airy Fight, September 15, 1864, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Vineyard Fight, December 16, 1864, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Mt. Carmel Fight, February 19, 1865, Mosby and U.S. Cavalry.

Personally, I’ve located nine of the ten. I have visited the site of Berry’s Ferry on several occasions, with no luck finding the stone. The highway through that section (modern U.S. 50)  has shifted grade over time, and it may still stand off to the side somewhere. But pending a discovery or assistance from another visitor, I must list it as “missing” for now.

UPDATE:  One of our frequent contributors at HMDB tracked down the Berry’s Ferry marker.  It was “hiding in plane sight” to some degree – laying flat just off US 50 at the entrance to a private road, to the west of the bridge.

Of these, the Battle of Cool Springs was the bloodiest, with just over 800 casualties on both sides. The Battle of Berryville, preceding the Third Winchester, was the largest in terms of combatants involved. Most of the remainder involved Mosby’s Rangers and their operations. None of the sites are what I’d consider major battles, and finding mention of them in the history books is rare. Yet, I do have to feel gratitude towards those veterans who had the foresight to leave behind some physical indicator of these events. Otherwise, the knowledge of the locations, and possibly of the engagements themselves, may have been lost to history.