Monthly Archives: December 2008

Happy Birthday General Meade!

Darn it! I intended to post this earlier, but forgot until reminded by the Gettysburg Daily entry for today.


A Foggy Day at Gettysburg
A Foggy Day at Gettysburg

Earlier this week  I posted entries for Meade’s Equestrian statue and the NPS wayside at Gettysburg.  Meade might not have been a Napoleon, but he was certainly no McClellan.  I always felt history was not fair to him regarding the follow up after Gettysburg.  Opportunities were lost, to be sure, but place it in context.  Having Meade assume command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863 was somewhat like elevating the batting coach to the manager’s spot for game 1 of the World Series.  On July 1,  he “rode to the sound of the guns,” and made a fateful decision to stand and fight. 

Some historians have made hay over the friction between Grant and Meade during the final half of the war.  However, consider that on several occasions during the Overland Campaign and the Petersburg Siege, Grant was reluctant to step away from the field for any long period of time, partly because someone OTHER than Meade would step up with overall control of operations against the Army of Northern Virginia. 

George Gordon Meade, born on this day in 1815 in Cadiz, Spain.  

Places That Need Markers

Or perhaps better stated, my personal list of places that require some or better on site interpretation.

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a copy of  The Golden Age of Battlefield Preservation, by Timothy B. Smith (which I heartily recommend).  Smith details the establishment and evolution of the five original battlefield parks in the 1890s.  One common stage I noticed for the early park incarnations was the placement of simple, often wooden, signs on the field to denote key locations in the battles.  These of course later evolved into the metal tablets and markers generally attributed to the War Department, which stand even today as the primary on site interpretive resource for Antietam, Gettysburg, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Vicksburg.   I couldn’t help but make the inference that the “signs” or rudimentary markers helped frame and in some ways feed the preservation efforts.

That thought brought me back to a comment I often make about sites I visit – “There ought to be a marker here!”  Looking back through my notes, here’s a handful of such sites I’ve visited over the last year:

Potts “Old Burnt” Mill, Hillsboro, VA.  Just outside of the Hillsboro historic district are the ruins of an old mill, destroyed shortly after  Sheridan’s “burning” of the Shenandoah Valley.  Before the war Loudoun County rivaled the counties of the great valley for its richness of agricultural products.  Corn and wheat were common exports from the lush Loudoun Valley farms, with dozens of mills to process the grain for market.  Mosby and other partisans used Loudoun’s resources every bit as those over the Blue Ridge.  So when Sheridan was ordered to burn out the “breadbasket of the Confederacy,” it was only natural that Loudoun Valley would see some of the flames.   Sheridan dispatched Merritt’s Division for the task in December, 1864 (conveniently after the elections).  In the operation the Reserve Brigade alone destroyed 230 barns and 8 mills.  In spite of all that, the “burning of Loudoun” receives only short mentions on a few markers in the area.  I say these ruins outside Hillsboro would be a great place to tell that story.

Mill ruins outside Hillsboro

Mill ruins outside Hillsboro

Monterey Pass, Pennsylvania.   With so much activity related to the Gettysburg Campaign, it is hard to believe only one historical marker stands in the area (for  The Battle of Fountain Dale).  Despite dozens of roadside markers related to the Gettysburg campaign, the state of Pennsylvania somehow neglected this area.  In lieu of on site interpretation, the Monterey Pass Battlefield Association offers information about the battle and touring the area.  In the print world, the retreat from Gettysburg received due attention this year in One Continuous Fight, by Eric Wittenberg, J.D. Petruzzi, and Michael Nugent.

Manassas Gap or Wapping Heights, Gettysburg Campaign.  Another point along the Gettysburg Campaign that is just not interpreted well.  Along Virginia Highway 55 in the gap one marker discusses a bivouac site on the road TO Gettysburg, another indicates the birthplace of Brig. Gen. Turner Ashby.  None discuss the July 21-23, 1863 actions which were probably Meade’s last chance to catch Lee on the retreat.  The cast of characters included Merritt’s cavalry brigade and the Excelsior Brigade on the Federal side, and portions of Pickett’s and Hood’s Division on the Confederate side.

Manassas Gap

Manassas Gap

Castleman’s Ferry, Cool Springs,  and Berry’s Ferry.  A series of actions fought in the summer of 1864 along the Shenandoah River has gotten some marker attention.  Still I think the greater story of this phase of Early’s Valley Campaign is untold.  Much of the ground is preserved within the bounds of the Holy Cross Abbey in a rather tranquil site along the Shenandoah River (and and new interpretation on site should respect the Abbey’s privacy in my opinion).  The action at Berry’s Ferry, several miles to the south of Castleman’s Ferry, is supposed to be marked, but I’ve yet to find the stone.  And only fleeting mention is made of Gen. Rutherford Hays’ column which pressed down from Harpers Ferry.  The actions would make a great study in the breakdown of communications among disjointed commands.

Berry's Ferry

Berry's Ferry

Unison, Va.   I’ve mentioned this site once before with regard to preservation efforts.  Sadly, one single marker, well away from the main actions, summarizes McClellan’s (slow-motion) pursuit of Lee down Loudoun Valley.

Mine Run Battlefield.  I’ve mentioned this a couple of times before.  Mine Run should be remembered as the other great battlefield within the “Wilderness” of Spotsylvania and Orange  Counties (along with Chancellorsville, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania).  Yet it has only gotten a handful of interpretive markers.  If you missed it, there was a detailed discussion on TOCWOC earlier this year on the campaign.

Berryville, Virginia.  I would advance that the actions around Berryville on September 3-4, 1864 should be considered round one of the Third Winchester.  While the fighting was brief, the forces engaged were primarily those which would fight weeks later at Winchester and Fisher’s Hill.  While the site of the heaviest fighting is developed, enough of the battle line locations are still rural farmland to allow some perspective.  Presently a Veterans Stone and a Virginia State marker serve as reminders of the battle.

Berryville Battlefield

Berryville Battlefield

Hunter Mill Road, Fairfax County, Virginia.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the road saw a tremendous amount of activity during the war.  I hesitated mentioning it as a “place needing markers” as, although none stand today, the Hunter Mill Defense League intends to place interpretive displays in the future.  Still I’d like to mention the League’s plans and take the opportunity to push a link to their site again!

A slanted list, due more to my geographic wanderings than any slight to the Western Theater.  For every site offered here, I could probably leaf through dusty trail notes and mention a dozen or more sites in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Missouri, and Arkansas that also need some on site interpretation.  Most of these sites mentioned above already have been preserved or have some preservation efforts ongoing.   But some, like Berryville, could easily be lost within a generation of development.  I joke sometimes that I advocate placement of markers to allow more additions to my collection.  However, as I think the veterans in the 1890s understood, simply securing the land does not complete the action.  A preserved battlefield may be sacred to us today, but without any context or point of reference, becomes an ordinary, mundane, meaningless tract of land to the next generation.  The placement of the markers and monuments reaches through the generations to provide that needed point of reference.   Yes, there are cases where markers have been plowed over by development.  But those are the exception thankfully.  I would contend in most cases the “marker” serves as a lodgement against development.

My bottom line – If we can’t preserve them all, can we at least interpret these sites?

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 29 December

Typically on holiday weeks, marker entries slide up the scale a bit.   This week seventy-six entries and updates supports that observation.  The states covered include Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and one each from California, Delaware, and D.C.  As well as one update from Maryland. Here are some of the highlights:

– The sole California entry this week is a memorial with a unique twist.  Trees from southern battlefields were transplanted to a memorial park in Sacramento by the Ladies of the G.A.R. from California and Nevada.  The transplanting was likely done in the 1890s with young trees.  So I guess you might say these are “sons and daughters of witness trees.”

– The Rhode Island-Brentwood Metro Station in Washington, D.C. was built over the site of Columbian Harmony Cemetery.  The cemetery, which had fallen into disrepair by the 1950s, was a segregated cemetery which included many USCT veterans.  The remains were moved to nearby National Harmony Memorial Park when the metro station was constructed.

– I always like it when separate marker entries from different correspondents have some linkage in events or participants.  One of our prolific editor-contributors entered a marker covering Camp DuPont, Wilmington, Delaware.  The camp was the muster site of the 4th Delaware Infantry in 1862, and the re-muster site for the 1st Delaware in 1864.  The 1st Delaware is honored by a monument near Ziegler’s Grove at Gettysburg, which I entered later in the week.

– One of the few Georgia markers this week relates the story of Governor Joseph Brown.  Note the fifth photo in the entry.  Yes, the handicapped parking sign that looks like a marker.   Hope that isn’t a new trend.

– For the Birthplace of Joseph Wheeler marker entry, our contributor referenced a link to Wheeler’s questionable promotion to Lieutenant General.

– And the “Sherman burned this place” marker for the week comes from Warren County, Georgia.  The Shoals on the Ogeechee marker discusses a mill complex burned by “Uncle Billy’s Boys” during the march to the sea.

– A memorial in Chillicothe, Ohio was erected by Richard Ederlin.  At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, Ederlin was serving as a private in the 73rd Ohio Infantry, and risked his life to carry a wounded comrade laying between the lines to safety. Enderlin was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. The man he saved, George Nixon, was the grandfather of President Richard Nixon.  Aside from that noteworthy bit of history, I find it interesting this memorial was placed BY Ederlin to honor his comrades. 

– Nearly twenty markers this week from North Carolina.  These are centered around three sites – Averasboro, Bentonville, and Durham.  Averasboro and Bentonville have growing numbers and time willing I’ll dress out those related sets.

– More markers from around Petersburg, Virginia this week.  Nine detail the White Oak Road Battlefield (CWPT).   Four markers relate the action around Swift Creek during the Bermuda Hundred campaign, for all intents a “lost battlefield.”  Only one marker serves to tell the story of the battle of Globe Tavern.   Forts Davis and Wadsworth are still well preserved all things considered. 

– And the last entry for Fort Mulligan at Petersburg, WEST Virginia is a monster.  Three times the size of your average marker. 

– My Gettysburg project continued with fourteen entries around Ziegler’s Grove on Cemetery Ridge.  

Lastly this week I was able to do the equivalent to archeology with regard to markers.  One of my “quests” is to capture the location and text details for the various Happel Panels from the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania Battlefields.  The Happel Panels are named for historian Ralph Happel who wrote the text and was responsible for their placement.  For many years these were the main interpretive markers on the four battlefields (Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Wilderness, Spotsylvania), designed for viewing from automobiles on the tour loops.  However in recent years, the National Park Service has begun replacing these “vintage” markers with new waysides.  While the “new” markers offer better formats, with options for photos, drawings, and maps, I’m sort of nostalgic with regard to the older types.  Unfortunately I have not found, even after inquiries to the park, a definitive listing for the panels.  So I’ve been sorting through old 1980s and 90s vacation photos and various web sites looking for photos showing the old rectangular markers.  Thus far I’ve entered four “documented”  but missing Happels, and found information on an additional ten.  This week, I’ve added two of the now replaced panels.  For one which stood at Hazel Grove, Chancellorsville, Bruce Schulze at Civil War Album offered a photo of the marker posted to his site by Brian Duckworth.  However a similarly replaced Happel at the Harrison House on the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield is short a good photo for now.

Well that’s the week’s report.  I apologize for the scarcity of posts last week, but Santa had some work to do around the house!