Monthly Archives: June 2008

Gettysburg – More Than Just the Civil War

Say Gettysburg, and most immediately recall high school history classes where the teachers insisted we all memorize the dates – July 1-3, 1863. Or if you are a Civil War “enthusiast” the mind is flooded with a mix of Killer Angels quotes, Gardner photos, and parts of a half dozen Civil War Journals episodes (not to mention a shelf and a half of books in one’s personal collection!).

Beyond the Civil War, the town has a rich history itself. Saturday when browsing through the town, I came across this marker to Eddie Plank, one of the greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history. In a career spanning from 1901 to 1917, Plank notched 326 wins and a career 2.35 ERA. The game was far different back then, than today. Football has its “before the helmet” days, and baseball has the “before the lively ball” days. Plank played at a time when the home run was less a threat, but high average, fast base-running hitters such as Ty Cobb “manufactured” runs. Such is reflected in Plank’s career stats, with only 41 home runs allowed.

Eddie Plank

The game was different in other ways too. Plank, a Gettysburg native, attended Gettysburg College. Between 1900 and 1956 the College provided six major leaguers. Half of which started their careers, however short, for the Philadelphia Athletics. Plank played for the A’s through all but the last three years of his career. Fourteen years with the same team. Likewise, another Gettysburg College alumni who also entered the big leagues in 1901, George Winter, played seven of his eight years in the pitching rotation for the Boston Red Sox. Players often stayed with their teams longer.

Much of this was due to the lock the owners had over contracts. And some of the early resistance to the control over contracts is seen in Plank’s career path. In 1915, Plank jumped from the A’s to the Federal League’s St. Louis Terriers. The Federal League was somewhat of an upstart or “outlaw” league aimed at breaking up the informal monopoly between the American and National League. Plank, like many others, went for the money and moved to a new town. The Federal League eventually flopped. When the Terrier’s owner was allowed to purchase the St. Louis Browns franchise across town, Plank moved back to the American League to close his career.

The legacy of the Federal League was more than a footnote in baseball history. Lawsuits filed by owners of the Federal League teams eventually were heard in the Supreme Court. The story of the legal action is a story all its own (involving delaying actions by a judge, who would later become baseball commissioner – Kenesaw Mountain Landis). In 1922, the court ruled that major league baseball was not subject to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. This of course set up, over the next 80 years, several Congressional panels and hearings regarding baseball. The latest of which probed steroid use.

I marked this post as “non-Civil War,” but then again I did get to mention “Kenesaw Mountain” and (removing hat) Uncle Billy’s half brother. Can I get a half huzzah?

Cedar Creek Rantings

Eric Wittenberg has offered a couple of posts concerning the blow to preservation efforts at Cedar Creek. As most of the details are related on his site, long story short, the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation dropped their objection to the expansion of a mining operation which encroaches upon the battlefield. There’s just no way to spin this right – the goal of preservation took a major blow.

Last summer I personally rediscovered the battlefield during several day trips into the valley. Prior to that, I’d only spent an hour or two cramming in the sites. But over the course of three different weekends, I got to know the battlefield pretty well. Seventeen historical markers, mostly along the Valley Turnpike, interpret the field. Several printed tour guides exist that point out sites well beyond the main road, however. I found the best to be a recent Blue & Gray Magazine article from last year. The battlefield, while mostly private property, is accessible.

The puzzle pieces that I still cannot seem to fit is why Cedar Creek wouldn’t, or hasn’t become a show piece for preservation, at least for the Shenandoah Valley. Limestone? Are we to understand there are simply no other places to mine this rather common sedimentary stone? Is this “magic” limestone?

The limestone vein is reported to be worth $300 million. The going rate of a limestone tabletop is $75 per square foot. Rough figures then we are talking about 4 million square feet of limestone, if all were going to stock home improvement stores. That translates to about 92 acres of land, if all were laid out in a sheet. Common sense says it wouldn’t be that thin. However the quarry operations will extend over some 390 acres. I’m not a geologist, and would differ to a professional opinion, but isn’t that a rather “loose” definition of vein?

With price of oil all the buzz in the news lately, I cannot help but draw a negative comparison with the long running debate over ANWR and the Gulf Coast drilling. Heck, if there’s oil down there under Massanutten, maybe we should drill! Kidding….

Then again, maybe there is another option. When last at the battlefield, I could have swore I noticed a Red Cockaded Woodpecker colony. Also, while my photo is a bit fuzzy, and I’m not trying to alarm any folks, but I may have seen a Polar Bear chasing a heard of Caribou out near the mine. Can’t be sure, but better safe than sorry. Surely there is at least one species of endangered newt, lizard, or bird around southern Frederick County. You’ll excuse me while I finish filling out my donation to the World Wildlife Federation… money that was going to CCBF.

Fort Washington

Coming up for air after several weeks with my nose to the grind stone. Most of this weekend was family time. However, I did work in a stop at Gettysburg on the way to visit some of the wife’s family. Trip report to follow.

I also needed to catch up on some marker series. Several weeks ago I posted a set detailing Fort Washington (list) (map). The fort is a Civil War Trails site, but was never tested during the war. The site was more or less an active component of the defenses of the United States from around 1807 until the end of World War II. As such the site is a great place to study the changes in styles of fortifications and ordnance. Examples of smoothbore 24-pounder Seacoast Guns dating to the 1820s stand near concrete revetments for disappearing guns. During the Civil War period, the fort’s guns meshed with nearby Fort Foote and Battery Rodgers across the river to defend the river approaches to the capital.

Fort Warburton stood at the site during the War of 1812. Bypassed by British maneuvers inland, the fort was abandoned and destroyed. Fort Washington was built on the site in 1824 for a cost of just under half a million dollars. By the time of the Civil War, the fort had been updated in line with the “Third System” of coastal defenses. On improvement was a caponiere, for rear flank defense, added in the 1840s. When war broke out, it was enemy territory across the river:

Virginia Shore

However, with Alexandria and much of Northern Virginia firmly in Union hands early in the war, Fort Washington never saw combat. After the war, the fort remained on the active list. The Endicott System as implemented in the 1890s brought a series of disappearing gun positions, light quick firing water batteries, a seacoast mortar battery, and several command and control structures. The armament featured three pairs of 10-inch disappearing guns, ranging targets out to over six miles. Yet by World War I, that range was deemed insufficient to deal with the dreadnoughts. The 10-inch guns were removed and sent to France for service in the siege train. The lighter guns remained up until 1939. During World War II the fort served as a control station for shipping on the Potomac.

The main “old fort” is an easy walk from the visitor center, the only challenging sections are stair climbs up to the parapets and down to the galleries. The Endicott era concrete structures are accessible from the park roads, near the recreation areas, or by way of hiking trails.

The Fort Washington markers are linked to the ever expanding Defenses of Washington marker series.

First Manassas – Henry Hill Trail

The Henry House Hill or Henry Hill trail at the Manassas Battlefield is surely among the most used trails in the eastern national parks. With its close proximity to major metropolitan areas, the trail sees a lot of local traffic in addition to battlefield visitors. The trail itself is a fair hike, with a few grades but none terribly steep. The length is a little over a mile. The only significant danger I would warn the visitor about is the nasty eight legged blood suckers, which abound.

To interpret the trail, and memorialize the participants, twenty-five markers and monuments stand along the walk. The marker set for the trail is the product of entries and photographs from at least four different contributors on HMDB. Using the map view, in hybrid mode, the cannon on the field are easy to pick out. As are a few of the monuments.

One marker I found interesting beyond just battle facts detailed some stone markers erected by the veterans of the 7th Georgia Infantry. As detailed on the park’s interpretive marker, sometime after 1903 the veterans placed a set of stone markers indicating several locations of note held by the regiment during the battle. Somewhat, but not quite, like the flank markers at Gettysburg.

7th GA Stone

More to follow on First Manassas. Lots of markers to be grouped.

Bad Weather and Markers Don’t Mix

A series of posts on Mannie Gentile’s blog discusses and illustrates the damage done to Antietam during last week’s storm. He reports one of the war department tablets, for Walker’s Division, at the very end of Branch Avenue, was damaged. I do find it remarkable, looking at Mannie’s photos from the National Cemetery, that none of the tombstones were damaged. Perhaps there is material for “Haunted History” outside of the normal episodes on Gettysburg?  Personally, I’d rather see a “History” documentary following the crew that cleaned up Antietam after the storm.  Do we really need another season of “Ice Road Truckers” or “Axmen?”

The Mid-Atlantic states have seen several strong storms throughout this spring. Recently while visiting Fredericksburg, I ran across this unfortunate victim of the spring storms:

Hamilton\'s Crossing

The marker stands, or more accurately used to stand, at the end of the walking trail to Hamilton’s Crossing, on the far eastern end of the park. The marker was an example of the older wood post metal plate types, which I’ve taken to calling “Department of the Interior” type (based on the attribution line at the bottom of each face). Based on some personal photographs dating back to my teen-age years, these markers date to the 1970s or so. I’m told that these markers are being phased out for the more modern “tilted table” wayside types which allow for maps, illustrations, and more than one font setting. At a couple of other places around Chancellorsville, several of these markers have already been replaced. Perhaps the victim pictured here will also be scrapped for a new wayside.

Salt Kettles and Panama City

Business took me down to the Panhandle of Florida the week before last. As a young man, I saw plenty of the beaches in the area. Now as a happily married father, there just isn’t much draw to the beach unless the family is in tow. My schedule allowed me a few blocks worth of side trips into Panama City’s older sections. There I found an “off the beaten path” Civil War relic.

Salt Kettle

Along Business 98 are a couple of old “Salt Kettles” used during the war produce salt from seawater. A small industry sprang up during the war around St. Andrew Bay around this process. The system was simple. Draw seawater into one of these kettles, then bring it to a boil. After evaporation, most of the residue is salt. From St. Andrew Bay the salt was shipped to points north via Eufala and Montgomery, Alabama. Another of these kettles sits in the park in Old St. Andrews, just a bit further west. No doubt several others dot the Florida coast.

And much like the salt works in southwest Virginia, the salt processing became a target of Federal forces. Starting in August 1862 the Navy operated along the coast, looking for the kettle fires. And much like in Virginia, the attempts to destroy or suppress the salt making industry met with only limited success. A nearby marker records a failed naval scouting party that met with local militia at the shores of the bay. None-the-less, Navy Master R.W. Browne reported destroying supplies and works valued at $3,000,000 (presumably in 1864 dollars). Sort of a Shenandoah Valley burning along the coast of Florida?

While conducting some background research for the marker postings, I ran across Dale Cox’s blog detailing Florida’s Civil War history. Of interest is a recent, and detailed, series of entries discussing the sites along the Apalachicola.

Hunter’s Mill Road

Yesterday a major storm system rolled through the DC metro area around 3 PM. Trees went down and power lines fell. The afternoon commuter traffic was governed by anarchy rules. (And incidentally, many of the links for HMDB are still off this morning, due to power issues I suspect.)

Part of my drive home uses Hunter’s Mill Road, running from Vienna, VA through Reston, VA, and movement was at a crawl. After the first ten minutes in traffic, my mind wondered off to Civil War related topics, then I found a great way to pass the time instead of staring at break lights. I’d see how many Civil War related sites I recalled along Hunter’s Mill Road!  Hunter’s Mill saw a great deal of wartime activity.  The Army of Northern Virginia used the road while marching north from the Battle of Chantilly in September 1862.  Portions of the Army of the Potomac marched along the road on their way to a place called Gettysburg.  And Col. John S. Mosby used the route often during other stages of the war.

Right off the bat, after the turn off Chain Bridge Road (Route 123), a tree stands half in the road:

Mosby Tree

Local lore states Mosby hid in the tree, and fell upon passing Union soldiers.   The area around the tree and the intersection with Chain Bridge Road was the site of a March 1865 ambush, by Mosby, of the 16th New York Cavalry.   So there may be some validity to the tale.

“Mrs. Brooke’s House” or more correctly Lanham House, stands about two miles northwest of the tree.  The house was an assembly point for the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry after a February 1862 raid on Confederate positions.

Continuing northwest, Hunter’s Mill passes Lawyers Road and then dips down to Difficult Run Creek.  The crossing point was a common rest stop for wartime marches and patrols.  A skirmish between the 1st Virginia Cavalry and the 14th New York Zouaves occurred here in December 1861.

As the road rises back up from the run, it crosses the old Washington & Old Dominion Railroad, now a rails-to-trails park.  Five skirmishes occurred at Hunter’s Station  during the war.  And the site is frequently mentioned in movement reports.  Mosby executed the Unionist Reverend John D. Read at the station in October 1864, for spying.

Certainly a lot of activity, and I’m only scratching the surface.