Monthly Archives: August 2008

Good News? Maybe…

Reading one of our local papers, I came across this article from Leesburg Today:

Power Companies Eye Another Loudoun Transmission Corridor

(Created: Friday, August 15, 2008 4:02 PM EDT)

Numerous PATH-Allegheny engineers and transmission experts were on hand at Lovettsville elementary School last night to explain three routes being considered as part of a new 500kv high transmission, one of which might pass through northern Loudoun just over a mile north of Lovettsville.

The PATH-West Virginia line is designed to run from the Amos substation near Charleston, WV, to a new substation, Kemptown, MD. Two of the three routes will be selected, and it is possible the most southerly route, which passes across the top of Loudoun, could be selected to avoid the heavy concentration of historic and cultural sites to the north, including the Antietam battlefield.

The transmission line will “help avoid the overload of existing transmission lines, which could threaten the electric power supply and lead to blackouts,” the company said in the fact sheet, proposing the $1.8 billion project as a “backbone expansion” to the regional electric transmission system. The project is targeted for completion in 2012.

According to a company fact sheet, the proposed 250-mile line has been approved by the PJM regional interconnection group, which designates where lines should be constructed, and is designed to maintain reliability of the regional electric grid.

PJM authorities say new lines must be built to address reliability concerns, citing nine power lines at risk of overloading between 2012 and 2022 in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The PATH-Allegheny portion of the project will feature twin 50-mile circuit 500kv circuits, at a cost of $600 million.

The open house, which featured different booths explaining various features of the proposed line, was lightly attended, with PATH-Allegheny staff far outnumbering residents who had stopped by to view the maps and receive information. About 30 members of the public showed up.

Among those who did attend were Del. Joe T. May (R-33), Loudoun Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin) and Lovettsville Mayor Elaine Walker. The three elected representatives were given a presentation by PATH-Allegheny staff.

According to project General Manager Mike Hosier, contracts were awarded in February, engineering and surveys were completed in April and the company spent June identifying possible corridors. Open houses in the affected areas are being held this month and the preferred route will be chosen by the end of next month, Hosier said. Final route selection will be made in October or November, with filings before the different state commissions scheduled by the end of the year.

Hosier said he hoped to have the commissions’ approvals by January 2010, followed by construction starting in February 2010 and completion in June 2012.

If the line through Loudoun were to be selected it would involve using an existing Allegheny right of way that is adjacent to the Dominion Virginia Power Company right of way.

The new 500kv line would be an “overbuild,” in which the existing 138kv line that provides local power would be redesigned and the new line built above it. Because the existing right of way would be used, only another 100 feet of right of way would be required, for a total of 360 feet in total, according to company representatives.

Both Walker and Kurtz expressed relief that option would be used.

“At least I’m glad to hear they’re not going to take another 200- 400, or 500-foot swipe down the mountain and across the countryside,” Walker said this morning.

She also said she hoped the company would follow up on May’s proposal that they choose a more aesthetically pleasing tower than the huge lattice towers, which Walker bluntly told the company staff were “monsters.”

May said he thought the H-shaped monopole towers were much more graceful, calling the lattice towers ugly, and asked the staff to seriously consider that option.

“The tubular monopoles are much nicer, if you’re not having to have them underground,” he said.

May also asked that the company not follow the “scorched earth” clear-cutting practices of some power companies in the past, noting that in Denmark he had seen the vegetation “tapered” into the woods and meadows so effectively that one almost did not know whether the right of way began.

“Don’t clear cut, it just aggravates the problem,” he said, noting that legislation he had sponsored last year in the Virginia Assembly included provisions to soften the appearance of the right of way.

He also said that softening the appearance of the substation is important, noting that Dominion has worked to improve its planned Hamilton substation for the 234kv line from Pleasant View east of Leesburg by erecting an earthen berm around it and planting it with low growing native species.

Kurtz said she was thankful that the poles suggested would be side by side, and the build over lines to minimize the impact. But she also was concerned about viewsheds, noting that to a tourist that equates with something beautiful. She also noted that the line will cross the two major northern entrances to Loudoun-Rt. 287 and Rt.15.

Kurtz recommended that area residents check the Web site for information on the project and to review the relevant maps.

May said today his initial conclusion was the line would be relatively painless to Loudoun, because if that route is selected, it only cuts through a small portion. He was pleased, he said, that PATH-Allegheny seemed to have been affected by the public opposition to the Dominion line over the past few years and had done its home work.

“If they can make the right of way aesthetically pleasing, that would be to everyone’s benefit,” he said.

He also appreciated the presentation before the three elected representatives, noting “we’re hearing the same thing all together.”

One of the problems with the Dominion line was that “we didn’t have a unified, consistent source of information,” May said, adding he hoped the company would repeat the exercise in December.

A leading proponent of underground cable, May said he did not see any real expectation that could occur in this instance.

But, he disputed an assertion by a PATH-Allegheny engineer earlier that the technology for undergrounding a 500kv line did not exist.

“It does exist,” May said, citing projects in Japan and China.

While on a trip with his grandson to Atlanta, May said he fell into conversion with a man who turned out to be an engineer with South Wire, which has been testing underground cable for nine years, and who had heard of Virginians’ efforts to put transmission lines underground.

“It’s on its way,” May said.

The power line issue is related to several endangered battlefields designated by CWPT.  Seems like the right questions are being asked, and to a degree answered.  Power companies are at least acknowledging the concerns raised with regard to preservation and viewsheds.  Nice ideas about overbuild, using aesthetically pleasing towers, and tapered tree lines.  Only 100 feet of new easement. But after navigating around the web site which was referenced by Supervisor Sally Kurtz, because I’m inquisitive, I cannot locate the referenced maps or project information.

Which is why I say this may be good news.

Cannons…. Cannons

If you read Ranger Mannie’s blog frequently, you know he can post set of photos to illustrate a point better than many magazine editors.  One of his latest installments is a look down the mouths of various types of Civil War artillery pieces.   Good stuff!

Mannie hit some excellent points on that post.  Each of these “makes and models” of artillery had unique attributes which set them apart, not just visually, but operationally.  Some of these attributes were related to construction techniques.  Others were related to performance considerations – rifling and powder chambers for example.  Some were “good” attributes others were bad.  For instance, as Mannie points out, the Parrott rifle lent itself to rapid production, but had a nasty habit of bursting.  Some weapons gained a reputation for dependability with few vices (say the Ordnance Rifle).  Others were quickly discarded once better pieces were available.

Something we tend to do, with our distance of nearly 150 years, is to gloss over and say “a cannon is a cannon.”  Well, at the time, on the field of battle, the men often made decisions which factored the positive and negative attributes of these various artillery pieces.  Which battery or section should be posted to bolster an infantry skirmish line?  Do the guns of that battery have the range to counter an enemy’s battery on the opposite ridge?  Are those bronze rifles accurate enough for employment in counter battery fire?  If the fighting gets close, will we need the smoothbores?

And that is just at the tactical level.  Imagine being an ordnance officer trying to decide if the use of puddled iron would be preferable over traditional casting.  Or if the wrought iron construction implemented by the fine folks at Phoenix Iron Works was better than Robert Parrott’s guns?  Or on the Confederate side, if one can depend on a railroad equipment shop, turning to cannon production, to deliver dependable products?

All of which leads me to those cannon on the battlefield.  As you can probably tell from a few of my postings, I’ve got a spot next to my marker hobby for the study of the artillery pieces.  You can usually pick me out at the battlefield as I’m the guy taking dozens of photos of markers, monuments, AND various angles of the cannons.  Often the story of the gun unfolds just reading the markings, or in some cases scratching, upon these old gun tubes.

Here’s an interesting scar in front of the trunnions on a Napoleon (Revere Cooper, Registry # 72) upon Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg.  Wonder where that came from?

Shot Scar on 12-pdr Napoleon

Scar on 12-pdr Napoleon

Or in other cases, the piece was altered post war, offering a less romantic but still interesting story.  Here’s an example of a 6-pdr Field Gun, altered to a James Rifle during the war, then altered to look like a Napoleon by the park staff at Gettysburg, circa 1890.  Note the enlarged bore, forming a “lip” in the muzzle.  Then about six inches into the “mouth,” the rifling starts.  From the breech end, we see the base ring normally seen on standard 6-pdrs has been turned off.  As has the step in front of the trunnions, were the reinforce meets the barrel.  All intended to present a smooth, Napoleon-like appearance.  Except one thing – the gun is far too small for a 12-pdr!

Bore of "False Napoleon"

Bore of False Napoleon

Breech End of False Napoleon

Breech End of False Napoleon.

Of course there are also the “rock stars” of the cannon world.  John Calef identified this gun as the weapon which opened the Battle of Gettysburg.  It is easily identified by the registry number “233” at the 12 o’clock position on the muzzle face.

3-in Ordnance Rifle, Registry #233

3-in Ordnance Rifle, Registry #233

As Ranger Mannie says, these are “mute witness in iron and bronze.”  We would be remiss if we didn’t listen to the stories these guns have to tell.

Gettysburg Daily

I just added the Gettysburg Daily news site (or is it a blog?) to my reference pages.  Not that it is a reference, failing to have a good bucket to drop it in for now, I’ll place it in that category for now. 

I was unaware of the site until doing some background information queries for a monument at Gettysburg.  I’ve only scanned through the at a couple dozen articles.  Looks to be non-partisan in approach, but I haven’t poked around too much in that regard.  Positive points for inclusion of videos from the ranger programs in some posts. 

Here’s one of my favorites – Markers Return to East Cemetery Hill.  Ok, I’m a Marker Hunter, what would you expect me to be reading?

HMDB Civil War Updates – 25 August

A total of fifty-three marker and monument entries this week.  The entries are rather exclusive to the eastern seaboard – Maryland, DC, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia.  But a few interesting markers along the way:

  • A handful of markers covering the eastern section of the Washington circle forts.  Forts Greble, Ricketts, Carroll, and Chaplin.  These add to the Washington Defenses series.  More markers are in the vicinity, but this writer would prefer the assistance of a “spotter” to share the trail with at a later date.
  • A couple of markers from Newnan, Georgia discuss the Confederate hospital there and the nearby Battle of Brown’s Mill.
  • And we have the Capture of 23 Old Men at the Ebenezer Church, McIntosh County in Georgia.  A small event in the war.  Confederate home guard, the “sole protection of” the county, “which was constantly being plundered….”  The Confederate reaction was to post a company of the 3rd South Carolina Cavalry in the county.  Defending a bridge along the South Newport River, the detachment was  attacked by the Federals and nearly wiped out.
  • Of course, there were additional markers appearing for the battles around Atlanta.
  • Virginia’s Williamsburg isn’t just about the 18th Century.  One of our frequent contributors posted a set of markers, mostly in the Civil War Trails set, for the battle of Williamsburg and related Civil War activity.

This marker, updated this week, was actually posted in December.  Nice to know we have tracked the details of Mr. Davis’ baggage!

My personal contributions this week were mostly markers related to the Lackawanna Iron Furnaces in Scranton, PA.  I’ve always found interesting the story of the iron industry in America.  Partly because it leads into the story of the young nation very well – starting as more a cottage industry and building up to a massive post-industrial revolution economic powerhouse.  In the case of Scranton’s iron furnaces, these production sites provided a substantial amount of the iron used by the Federals during the Civil War.   Not much of a reach to say the Yankee war machine rolled on Lackawanna “T” rails.   Reading the interpretive signs nearby, I also find interesting the different techniques used to extract iron then modify it to fit different requirements.  The discussion of puddling and rolling is worth a read.

Gettysburg Retreat Tour Notes

Last weekend, still a few chapters shy of completing One continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg, a family trip gave me the opportunity to follow one of the tour sections outlined in the back of the book. The two driving tours (and GPS coordinates for waypoints) offered could have easily been paired off as a separate offering, with a short campaign narrative. It is of great benefit to the reader’s pocket book the authors and publisher did not pursue that option. To me, Appendices A and B (the tours) help to bring what would be just another account of the Gettysburg Campaign (although a great one on an aspect covered sparingly) out of the black and white text and into the light against the background of the real terrain the campaign was fought over. What follows are my notes from that driving tour. So I would not call this so much a review, as much as a trip report with annotations of the tours from the book.

For my day trip, planning factors worked against the strict adherence to the plotted driving tour. The retreat moved from northeast to southwest. I was driving to meet the wife’s relatives to the north of my home in Virginia. As such, my course ran counter to the author’s tour. Perhaps, however, that is a good litmus test of a tour guide. If I can convert “lefts” to “rights” and “souths” to “norths” within the driving directions, and read things backwards, then I’d dare say the authors were on the money with regard to their tour! After carefully plotting locations on the maps, I opted to generally follow “The Wagon Train of the Wounded” tour with one exception. To round out my drive, I used a section of “The Retreat from Gettysburg” tour from Hagerstown to Boonsboro (also in reverse mind you) as a lead in to join the wagon train tour just outside of Hagerstown. From there I followed the wagon train tour as described up to Cearfross, MD then to Greencasatle, PA, and on through the back roads eventually passing through Cashtown before ending up at Gettysburg. Again, a course exactly opposite of the authors intent, forcing me to translate directions and odometer readings, all self-imposed of course! I will reference the authors’ original waypoints as a measure of reference (and keeping me honest). Their standard was to use “RW” as Retreat tour waypoints and “WTW” for the Wagon Train tour. And again for effect, my personal approach reversed the order, so my numbers count down instead of up.

Picking up the trail in Boonsboro, there is a Washington County Historical Advisory Committee “little brown” marker located along the Old National Road (Alt U.S. 40) just north of Boonsboro. The first additional stop I made beyond the book’s tour was between waypoints RW 49 and RW 50 near that marker, pulling off to the rather generous shoulder to look northwest across the open ground in front of the church toward the main area the battle was fought across:

Federal Cavalry Rear

Boonsboro: Federal Cavalry Rear

Heading north, again in reverse of the book’s tour, I can suggest some pull offs for better views of the battlefield area, but only on a light traffic day and with a lot of caution. Suffice to say, the safest spot to view the battlefield is at the “Auction Square” (RW 49) near the Civil War Trails marker for the battle.

From that stop, the National Road passed through the site of the Battle of Benevola (RW 47) at Beaver Creek. Probably the only bridge in Washington County, Maryland without some sort of historical marker! I did not spend much time in Funkstown, as I have explored that battlefield and historical markers earlier. Likewise my tour around Hagerstown was cut a little short to avoid traffic. As mentioned above, just outside of Hagerstown I picked up the wagon train tour, roughly at waypoint WTW 32. At Cearfross (WTW 31) I paused to look over Cunningham’s Crossroads. Here’s the white barn mentioned as used by Captain Abram Jones’ detachment as cover for the ambush of the wagon train on July 5, 1863:

Jones' Ambush Position

Jones' Ambush Position

The next major stop on my trip was in Greencastle, just over the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. There I was pleased to learn that George Washington also slept here and in fact had breakfast at a tavern just off the square while out to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion. the historical marker is partly blocked by the tree on the right:

McCullough's Tavern

McCullough Tavern

On the other side of the building (north) is a state marker mentioning Ulric Dahlgren’s little ambush on July 2, 1863. To the east of the square is the Antrim House, mentioned as the location the street was baracaded by civilians on July 5, and the spot an attack was made on the wagon train. The building is a restaurant today:

Antrim House

Antrim House

The next stop on my reverse tour was the Rihl Monument, to the north of Greencastle. While the road’s shoulder is generous, the visitor should be cautious, as traffic can be heavy. Continuing backwards on the tour I found the Hege Farm (WTW 18 ) and the Snyder Farm (WTW 15) exactly where the authors directed me. I did lose some time backtracking from a wrong turn in New Franklin (WTW 13) however. As noted in the book, the five way intersection is confusing. However, one benefit of “reversing” this tour was continually looking up to see South Mountain and orienting to the passes.

A View of South Mountain

A View of South Mountain

The next major points on the trip included Caledonia State Park (WTW 9), the Cashtown Inn (WTW 7), and Herr’s Tavern (WTW 5). At that point, I was right at the west edge of the Gettysburg battlefield and dropped off the tour.

One additional stop I would suggest for anyone doing their own “Retreat” tour is the Longstreet Observation Tower. While most visitors are looking to the east at the round tops, take a look out over the Eisenhower Farm to the west:

South Mountain from Longstreet Observation Tower

South Mountain from Longstreet Observation Tower (See comment 6)

I found this offering a good view looking toward Fairfield and beyond. Understandably, the authors probably did not wish to force the readers into backtracking through the battlefield and needlessly around several back roads.

Lastly, as stated in Appendix A from One Continuous Fight, the driving distance on these tours is deceivingly short. On paper, these are hour-and-a-half to two hours at typical speed. But you will want to stop and visit several sites along the way. Plan this as a day trip. In my case, I hit the first waypoint around 9 a.m., but didn’t get to the Gettysburg Battlefield until 2 p.m. And even then, consider I bypassed a lot of stops in Funkstown and Hagerstown (seen on previous occasions) which are key sites to understanding the retreat.

Overall the driving directions are easy to understand. The descriptions of the intersections, waypoints and sites to see along the way are consistent, clear, and concise. Granted, the visitor should read the book prior to making the tour in order to properly understand the context. Optional stops are discussed and offered, providing more than just a “Point A” to “Point B” tour. The inclusion of GPS coordinates should be applauded, and sets a precedence I hope is followed by other writers. I could nit-pick and cite a half-dozen historical markers the authors could have mentioned for the tour, but to be honest I located quite a number that I didn’t know about myself while following their tour!

Recommendation – get the book, read the book, then take the tours.

The Wilderness and Wal-Mart

No doubt many readers are aware of the emerging threat to the Wilderness Battlefield.  I won’t pretend to say I’m some expert on the situation around that battlefield, nor of the local situation in Orange and Spotsylvania Counties.  But here is what I do know:

1.  Proposed location will exacerbate the already painful traffic problems at the intersection of Virginia 3 and 20.  Anyone who has walked around the Wilderness can attest that with much of the local traffic is at times dangerous.

2. The Wilderness and Chancellorsville battlefields as they are today are patches of preservation within a growing series of housing subdivisions.  The Park Service and preservation organizations have done a noteworthy job protecting the views and reducing the impact.  But all that could fall like a house of cards with the addition of a major shopping plaza and associated development, in some cases yards away from the major battlefield areas.

3.  Already a significant “strip mall” to include fast food and gas stations exists at the site.  The site of Grant’s and Meade’s headquarters is now just behind someone’s dumpster.

4.  The “convenience” factor of the location is questionable at best.  Again, I’m not a local, but know some of the area.  If you draw a circle from around the proposed site, there are similar stores within 20 miles of the site, in either direction.  I’m sorry but I grew up in “fly over” country.  Having a Wal-Mart a half hour from home is acceptable! Heck I currently live just a couple of miles away from our local Wal-Mart, but with traffic it takes near on 15 minutes to get there on a Saturday!

5.  None of the major news outlets in the Northern Virginia area have picked up on this story.

The last item is a thorn in my craw.  A few days ago, the Washington Post ran a piece on the tree cutting at Manassas (covered also on Harry Smeltzer’s blog).  The major complaint, expressed by individuals interviewed for the article and by comments on the article, seemed to be an objection to “killing the trees.”  For Manassas, even the most ardent Civil War enthusiast should agree, two themes, preservation and environmental concerns, seemed to work at cross purposes.  However in the case of the Wilderness and Wal-Mart debate, the two themes should work in parallel.

Another question I would raise is the motives behind the development.  Is this a case of “getting the door cracked just a little more,” which would lead to more encroachment down the line?  I’ve seen the effects of similar tactics in Eastern Loudoun County in even the few short years I’ve lived here.  The concept of “development now, infrastructure later” doesn’t play out well over time.  This year it will be a Supercenter.  Next year will be another extension of strip malls.  Then three years out everyone will complain about the traffic, and require bypasses, overpasses, and expressways.  In time there will be a narrow strip of “globally uncommon to rare, basic oak-hickory” tree line separating the battlefield from the bowling alley.

But on a good note, I am quite impressed with the CWPT resource page for this effort.  I work on information management and collaboration solutions all the day long, so I CAN speak somewhat authoritatively on this.   The information is well arranged, but with a depth and breath not often seen for a preservation topic.  Maps, I like maps.  And here we have the always detailed CWPT maps along with historical maps.  Even imagery showing the ground in question.  There are links to National Park service sites, official reports from the battle participants, and related news.  The only squib that I’d mention are some links to what I’d call politically affiliated sites.  But taken as a whole, the resource page is a workman-like product.   Don’t take my word for it, visit the site.  Even if you are not impressed, consider supporting this cause and the efforts of this worthy organization.

HMDB Civil War Updates – 18 August

More markers this week, but in fewer states.  All told ninety markers in six states.  Most of which are from the Old Dominion.  A few markers of note:

  • Battery Jones just south of Savannah, posted by frequent contributor Mike Stroud.  The battery was part of the Savannah defenses, and saw some activity heralding the arrival of Uncle Billy and friends.  The marker stands along U.S. 17, locally known by many things but most often the Coastal Highway. If visiting the area, I’d recommend a day trip down U.S. 17 to at least Brunswick, GA.  You’ll pass marshes and many sites of significance – Colonial, Revolutionary, Civil War, and beyond. 
  • Where Hood Watched the Battle of Atlanta.   One of a continuing group of markers detailing the battles around Atlanta.  Others in the group this week include a marker at Fort Walker, one of the few remaining earthworks that once ringed the city. 
  • Old Velasco, CSA.  From down in Texas.  We tend to forget there was more to the Civil War than the big battles, or for that even the small battles.  The non-military aspects of the war, in particular the financial side, are seldom mentioned on historical markers.  Here’s one of many places where the Confederacy’s cotton-for-guns strategy played out. 
  • Fort Monroe.  Another frequent contributor, Bill Coughlin, offered up several entries collected recently in the Hampton and Newport News area.  One of the Fort’s attractions is the Lincoln Gun, a 15-inch Rodman.  Hard to believe smoothbores like this one were still the front line of U.S. Coastal defenses even as late as 1898!. 
  • Lee Hall.  Also from Mr. Coughlin.  What might also be titled “Where Johnson watched the Siege of Yorktown.”  Note the reference to Confederate balloon activity. 
  • Continuing with the Peninsula Campaign – The Battle of Williamsburg.  Several markers in the area, particularly those in the Civil War Trails system, indicate there is much more than just basket weaving to see at Williamsburg.  I’ll collect these into a related set as time permits. 
  • And more additions to the Lee’s Retreat trail from Laura Troy. 
  • Mosby’s Boyhood Home keeps us on a “Rangers” thread for the second consecutive week. 

My focus this week has been documenting and posting markers related to the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  I’m on the down hill run, and should have several related sets to add to the battlefield collection here shortly.  Additionally, I found several markers to post for the Washington Navy Yard (and fodder for several blog entries, later on).  Leutze Park is a “must see” for those with a taste for muzzle loading artillery.  Of note, photo five is a Spanish gun which changed hands during the Civil War.  If those old guns in the Navy Yard could really speak, we’d have stories to record.