Monthly Archives: March 2009

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 30 March

This week we continue the slowdown trend.  Only thirty-nine new entries in the Civil War category this week.  While thankful for the break, I like the numbers to be higher.  Markers this week are from the states of Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri.  Here’s the weekly highlights:

– First off an alibi.  Last month we missed a marker from California.  From Benicia, California, a plaque honors Captain Antonio M. De LaGuerra, of the 1st California Battalion of Native Cavalry.  LaGuerra and his unit served in Arizona during the war.  These men were “vaqueros” from Southern California. (and a Thanks! to our California contributing editor for this heads up!)

– From Winder in Barrow County, Georgia a marker discusses the Battle of King’s Tanyard, at the end of Stoneman’s Georgia Raid.

– A marker in Cobb County, Georgia relates the probes and maneuvers as Sherman looked for a suitable crossing of the Chattahoochee.

– The Cotton States Exposition of 1895 marker in Atlanta, is not specifically about the Civil War, but does deserve mention here.  The Cotton Exposition of 1895 is rightly remembered for Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise” speech, and I was rather surprised it was not mentioned.  However, the Civil War angle, if you allow, is the reunion of veterans held at the time of the exposition.  This coincided with the dedication of the Chickamauga-Chattanooga Battlefield, on September 19-21, 1895.   Some historians cite this as the formal opening of the National Military Park system we know today.

– A marker in Chaptico, Maryland makes a linkage to an 1689 Protestant Rebellion in the locality to Confederate leanings in 1861.  The marker features a copy of the oath of allegiance offered to Marylanders.

– The first of my Trans-Mississippi markers comes from Kennett, Missouri.  The marker discusses the settlement, formation, and general history of the “Bootheel” of Missouri, which would be that little “toe” that hangs down into Arkansas.  The “Bootheel” saw a lot of irregular activity during the war.  Kennett was the seat of the “Independent State of Dunklin” formed when the local leaders opted to secede from both the State and the Union.

– From Piqua, Ohio, a 10-inch Rodman gun commemorates Admiral Stephen Rowan.   Born in Ireland, Rowan commanded a relief ship sent to Fort Sumter in 1861.  Later in the war, he commanded different vessels also posted off Charleston.

– Only a couple new Virginia markers this week, both from the 2nd Manassas Battlefield.  The first indicates the position of Battery B, 4th U.S. Artillery on Battery Heights.  Supporting photos show the effects of the tree clearing in that sector of the battlefield.  The second is an older style interpretive marker providing maps of the campaign and battle.

– While not new entries, Robert has offered new groupings of the Shenandoah Valley markers, forming county-by-county virtual tours:  Clarke County, Warren County, Highland County, Shenandoah County, Page County.

– The thirty-one additions to Gettysburg were of course the majority of the markers for this week.  The entries span from the Klingle Farm to the Peach Orchard, and over to the Trostle Farm.  For the first time in months, I have no Gettysburg markers in my queue!  One interesting marker in town details the local G.A.R. chapter.

So while quantity is down, at least quality is not.

Busy Beaver

Last week, sensing that Robert wasn’t posting at his usual rate due to his thesis, I rolled in a couple of blog entries on his site to cover down.  In part one of the set, I confront a Civil War legend of my childhood – the story of Billie Demint.

Update:  And Robert posted part 2.   In the second half, I’ve looked into more an internal facing question, “Why is ‘Confederate’ somehow a more desirable label?”  At any rate, if you have comments or questions, I’d ask they be posted on Robert’s side for continuity.

The 120th New York’s Facing at Gettysburg

While entering my weekly set of Gettysburg entries, I found some contradictions with my site notes, secondary sources, and photos taken on site.  The subject involved was the 120th New York’s fine monument, located just east of the Klingle Farm.

120th New York Monument

120th New York Monument

The 120th was a late attachment to the famous Excelsior Brigade, joining in  September 1862.  As such, the 120th is not mentioned on the elaborate Brigade Monument further south.  Commanded by Col. William Brewster at Gettysburg, in the afternoon of July 2, 1863 the Excelsior Brigade – known also by the less romantic title of Second Brigade, Second Division, Third Corps – was posted just north of the Peach Orchard.  While the 72nd and 71st New York of the Brigade were posted on the Emmitsburg Road, just south of the Klingle farm, the 120th joined the 70th and 73rd New York in reserve behind the main lines.

As Barksdale’s Confederate Brigade collapsed Graham’s defense in the Peach Orchard, the 120th faced southwest.  The 120th was sent in to bolster the faltering line confronting the Mississippians threatening to roll-up the remainder of the Federal line.  Like other regiments fighting in the Peach Orchard sector, the New Yorkers fought just enough to say a stand was made, but could not hold for long with the line collapsing around them.

Federal Line Resisting Barksdale - Behind the 120th Monument is the Kingle farm

Federal Line Resisting Barksdale - Behind the 120th Monument is the Kingle farm

From the official report the regiment  “…advanced across an open field, exposed to a terrific and murderous artillery fire from the enemy, which was kept up without cessation during the rest of the day….  The enemy at last broke the first line, and we advanced to meet him. The regiment soon became hotly engaged, and held its position without flinching until it was flanked. We retired slowly, fighting, across the field, when the brigade again rallied, and drove the enemy from the field at the point of the bayonet.”  (Official Records, Series I, Volume XXVII/ 1 (S#43), Report No. 173, page 568.)   Sounds impressive, but I’ve read enough of the returns from III Corps regiments at Gettysburg to place them in context.

The 120th was commanded by Lieut. Col. Cornelius D. Westbrook going into the battle.  Westbrook was wounded in the fight, and succeeded by Maj. John R. Tappen.  However the official return for the regiment, in August 1863, was written by Captain Abram L. Lockwood (who later advanced to the rank of Colonel, commanding the regiment).  Of 427 men present on the morning of July 2, 204 were killed, wounded, or missing by the evening of July 3.

Clearly there was a lot of confusion as to particulars at the battle, due to battle circumstances and casualties.

But here’s my confusion.  One of the flank markers for the regiment stands just south of the monument along Sickles Avenue.   The other in the field to the east of the monument.  Here’s the flank marker next to Sickles Avenue:

First Flank Marker

First Flank Marker

This marker is labeled “120th N.Y.I.  L.F.”  The other flank marker is barely visible in the field to the right.  Here’s a closer view:

Right Flank

Right Flank

It clearly states “120th N.Y.I. R.F.”  And looking back from this marker to the left flank stone and the monument:

Looking to the West from the Left Flank

Looking to the West from the Right Flank

The monument stands proud.  The left flank marker stone is at the end of the snake rail fence, just left of center.

Problem here, if I have my ‘lefts’ and ‘right’ down, is orientation.  Looking from the right flank marker stone, this is the direction from which Barksdale’s men attacked:

Looking toward the Peach Orchard

Looking toward the Peach Orchard

Note the Excelsior Brigade monument in profile just off the center horizon.

However, standing near the monument with one’s right and left placed in accordance with the flank markers, here’s what must have been in front of the regiment:

Looking North at the Pennsylvania Memorial on Cemetery Ridge

Looking North at the Pennsylvania Memorial on Cemetery Ridge

So if one rigidly orients off the flank markers, the New Yorkers were facing the wrong way!

I know.  Anyone who has studied the ground at Gettysburg knows to take the flank markers with a pinch (if not a pound) of salt.  Furthermore I’m aware of arguments that stop just short of fisticuffs regarding such stones.  So to avoid some “test of honor” I’ll simply say this looks like a case of mis-orientation when the stones were placed.   But who knows, there may well be a valid historical reason for the placement.  If so I’d love to hear the story.

At any rate, since the Park’s stance is flank markers should not be moved or relocated, the 120th New York will likely continue to face towards Cemetery Hill.  If that is historically correct or not, I’ll leave to others to debate.  It just looks confusing to me!

Gabions – The Fashionable Earthwork

I’m not much of the field engineer type, but I do like to keep straight the terminology and techniques used in the Civil War.  Partly to be conversant in the subject, but also since the cannons I like to study were often placed within those fortifications.   One often seen component in the old photographs from the war is the “gabion.”

From the rather useful Dictionary of Civil War Fortifications, a gabion is, “… a rough cylindrical wicker basket open at both ends employed as revetment material to retain the soil of earthwork slopes.”  As to employment, gabions were often used to form walls either reinforcing existing earth, or if stacked properly completely replacing conventional earthwork walls.  As seen in the photo below, with a number of gabions, a defender could install a rather proper traverse within a fortification.

Yorktown Battery

Yorktown Battery

The gabions here are two layers high.  A fascine supports the top layer, which is crowned with sandbags and additional earth.

The great thing about the gabion, from a soldiers point of view, was maintenance.  Standard “mounds of earth” will do what any old pile of dirt will do – erode.  You might build a solid 8 foot wall, but come the next heavy rain, knock off a foot or two.  About the only way to arrest that erosion is with good old sod.  Now it’s hard enough to get a soldier to work a shovel in the first place, but landscaping?  Lets just say spreading Bermuda grass seed was not covered in Hardee’s or Casey’s.

But with a gabion, the erosion issue, while not completely resolved, is abated.   Should some of the dirt filling the bucket wash out, you just add more to the top.  And the gabion was as modular as anything could be in the 1860s.  Gabions “baskets” were often fabricated well behind the lines and forwarded to the point of need.   So your soldiers need not learn the complex task of weaving wicker, all they need know is how to shovel dirt.  And in the event the Army advances, well just dump out that dirt and your gabion is easily transported to the next point of need!  (Granted not exactly an often used option.)

One might cover a weakness in the existing fortification with a stand of gabions, as seen here at Fort Sumter.

Exterior Wall Fort Sumter - 1865

Exterior Wall Fort Sumter - 1865

Or the gabions might help brace up the interior walls, to form firing platforms or other structures.  Looking at the interior of Fort Sumter a couple of views illustrate this use:

Interior of Fort Sumpter

Interior of Fort Sumter

Note what appear to be bomb-proofs or other shelters formed into the wall of gabions.  The walkway and interior slope are braced by gabions.  Also note the cannon in the far center on the parapet.  One of these may be the same seen in the first Fort Sumter photo.   The second view of the fort interior, below, looks at the same wall, but from a different angle.

Another View of the Interior

Another View of the Interior

Yes, a lot of wicker work was done in Charleston during the war.

Anachronistic looking are they not?  Well the gabion has taken a new form these days.  In fact the gabion is often mentioned in news stories from war zones and natural disasters.  We know them by a trade name – HESCO barriers or bastions.

HESCO Barrier wall in Iraq

HESCO Barrier wall in Iraq

The company describes the updated gabion as having, “… a Galfan coated steel mesh framework, lined with non-woven polypropylene material, with integrated cells to provide internal structural integrity….”  Ok, in plain English, it is this thick fabric extended over a collapsible metal framework.  The HESCO barrier lays flat for transport and is easy to configure.  The really difficult part, as it was in 1863, is filling the baskets with dirt!  Thankfully modern power equipment aids in this regard.

Look at this photo from the company web site, and tell me you don’t see a similarity to the Civil War photos –

HESCOs on the Flight Line

HESCOs have uses beyond the military and other security minded users.  The modern day gabions serve well as flood control measures.  And other civil uses include erosion control, coastal stabilization, levee reinforcement, sound walls, and even decorative landscaping.

If it sounds like I’m selling HESCO barriers, well honestly, I don’t get a dime.  However, if I do speak fondly of those tan sand baskets, its because I spent a few years living under their protection.

Reconstructing a Battlefield?

Two news items this week about Gettysburg caught my eye.  First, there is a pile of rubble growing as the Old Visitor Center is reduced to rubble.  As usual, Gettysburg Daily has the photo spread.   Second, there is some discussion about the fate of the Gettysburg Country Club, and that the National Park Service might well acquire this property.  I say there’s a connection between the stories.  And it has nothing to do with using the rubble to fill in the swimming pool at the Country Club!

In the case of the Old Visitor Center, many of us have mixed feelings on the demise of the landmark.  As many, I have fond memories of the place.  I recall the first visit as a kid; the electric map; the movie; the “wall of cannons.”  At the same time, the reason for the demolition does make some sense, to a degree, when viewed in certain light, with a pinch of salt, <insert your own qualifier here>.  The removal of the structure restores part of the historical landscape (and perhaps reduces the park’s overhead expenses a bit).  It certainly cannot be “as it was.”  But the intent is there.

In the case of the Country Club, should the park service acquire the ground, logically the next action would be to similarly restore the landscape as close as possible to the wartime appearance.   Given that, how hard is it to reconstruct a battlefield?  And how high should we place expectations?

Buildings obviously would be removed.  Certainly the lay of the links required some contour modifications, so there’s some considerations there.  The aforementioned pool would be filled in (unless we want to give battlefield stompers a nice swimming hole).  I’m certain some of the tree lines there are not historical.  And that’s just the de-construction.  The reconstruction would include planting of any wartime groves or wood lots; placement of fences.  In other words, a lot of work.  All of which, of course, the park service has vast experience with.  It would cost a great deal, and likely require many years of work.

And of course, the right “goal” would need be set.  There are a few photographs of that area that would aid the reconstruction.  If I recall, however, a hotel stood on the grounds of the Country Club, or at least nearby, during the late 1800s.  That might complicate things a bit.  But with all the mountains of documentation, maps, and photographs available on the battle, I’m certain a goal of “close to what it was” could be attained.   It will never be “as it was” and even “close” will cost substantial money.

More tantalizing for battlefield stompers, consider the history of the Gettysburg Battlefield park itself.  Practically every corner of the field has some monumentation, yet this section of significant ground never received its due.  Given current policies, it is unlikely, should the Country Club be added to the park, that the NPS will allow any major monumentation there.   At most, perhaps trail waysides.   Imagine a section of Gettysburg’s battlefield, restored to near its wartime appearance, with a focused effort to remove the modern intrusions, set aside for study.   No monuments to orient off.  No pesky out of context flank markers to reconcile.  A blank slate!

Brings me back to something I’ve said in the past – battlefield preservation is a zero defects operation.  I say it still is.  But I guess there’s nothing saying we don’t get multiple chances!

And if this works out…. next project is Atlanta!

(Shuh!  You’ll wake Uncle Billy!)

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 23 March

I’m back from a most refreshing and productive vacation.  But for the last week, entries were once again below our 90+ levels seen since the beginning of the year.  Fifty-five new marker entries and updates this week.  The entries are located in Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.  And here are the highlights:

– From Connecticut, Civil War memorials in West Haven and Milford grace their respective towns.

– From the northern part of the District of Columbia, a new marker entry tells the story of Brightwood Community.  Elizabeth Proctor Thomas, better known as “Aunt Betty,” lived near what became Fort Stevens, one of the forts which ringed the Capital.  As soldiers tore down her house for the earthworks, a tall gentleman consoled her, “It is hard, but you shall reap a great reward.”  She later identified the man as President Lincoln.  The President later made a more famous appearance at Fort Stevens during the repulse of the Confederate raid of July 1864.  A marker detailing that episode was updated this week also.  Both markers are part of the Brightwood Heritage Trail, established by Cultural Tourism DC.

– One of our frequent “marker hunters” from Georgia added a “matched pair” of markers titled Stevenson’s Line.  The first is along a public road.  The second is on private property.  With slightly different wording, both relate the details of the Federal 4th and 23rd Corps attempts to get around Stevenson’s Division, Hood’s Corps at Rocky Face, outside of Dalton, Georgia in May 1864.

– Three markers entered this week from Georgia discuss the Battle of Kolb’s Farm.  The first provides the operational level details of the battle.  The second mentions the actions of the 123rd New York and the 14th Kentucky in the June 14, 1864 action.  The 123rd of course made a notable stand at Gettysburg, just under a year earlier, as part of the 12th Corps.  Nearby a National Park Service marker offers a map to orient the visitor.

– Along the Georgia Coast, on Jekyll Island, a marker indicates the location of Confederate defenses.  Built early in the war to defend Brunswick, Georgia, the fortifications were rendered superfluous by the evacuation of the port.  General Robert E. Lee himself requested permission to dismantle the fort.  In early 1862 the guns were moved to Savannah and the fort abandoned.  Later, Federals occupied the location.  Some of the fort’s materials were then removed and used in the defenses at Hilton Head.  The marker alludes to, but does not directly mention, slave labor used to build the fort.

– From Buckhead, Georgia, we have another “President Davis stopped here” marker.  More interesting, at least to me, is the passage of Sherman’s men on their march to the sea.  The mill and nearby ferry were destroyed.  While the smokehouse and livestock were pillage, not a spoon was lifted.  The house was saved from the fires by wet blankets placed by a slave named Cyrus Park.

– A panel from the Veterans Memorial in Branchburg, New Jersey depicts the surrender at Appomattox.

– The memorials mentioned above from Connecticut and New Jersey were placed by either the veterans of the war themselves, or veterans affiliated organizations.  That seems to be the general rule of thumb in the north.  But in the south, a sizable number of “town square” memorials were placed by the women, be that the UDC or other similar organization.  Memorials from Aiken and Columbia, South Carolina are examples of that trend.

– From Piqua, Ohio, a marker discusses the local African-American community’s history, and mentions the service of many in the Civil War.  Several members of the community enlisted in the 54th and 55th Massachusetts to get around restrictions.

– The single Tennessee marker this week discusses the life of John Porter McCown, former Confederate General.  McCown led the defense of Island Number 10.  I’ll have more on that defense in a later set of marker entries, and perhaps  a trip report.

– More markers from Chester and Colonial Heights, Virginia this week.

– Robert grouped a related set for Augusta County.

– I managed to add 23 markers for the Gettysburg project.  These entries rounded out East Cemetery Hill.

Yes a short work week in terms of marker entries.  But on the other hand I have fodder for at least a dozen trip reports, and perhaps six dozen markers to enter, from this vacation week.  All in due time.

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of March 16

A little late posting the update summary this week, due to vacation.  Besides, entries were a little off this week with only fifty additions and updates.  Seems that once the weather turns warm, our marker hunters work their cameras more than the keyboards!  The entries this week are from the District, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Our highlights this week:

– From the Nation’s Capital, a marker discusses the transformation of the site of Carver Army hospital and barracks into an exclusive neighborhood.  A wartime illustration of the barracks grounds appears on the marker.

– Several markers this week from Cobb County, Georgia.  One discusses actions along the Dallas-New Hope line curing that phase of the Atlanta Campaign.  Another details fighting at Latimer’s Farm on June 18, 1864.  Also in the county are two markers near Marietta which highlight activities along Soap Creek during July 1864 – the burning of a paper mills by U.S. Cavalry and later the passing of the 23rd Corps.

– From Lawrenceville, Georgia in Gwinnett County, a marker provides a rather informative account of Garrard’s cavalry raid, July 20-21, 1864.

– One marker from New Jersey this week.  In Bedminster in Somerset County, a marker draws our attention to Lamington Black Cemetery.  Of the 97 identified graves, five are for US Colored Troops.

– A marker in Columbus, Ohio provides background on Asian-Americans who fought in the Civil War.  The marker indicates that the true number may never be known, but the muster rolls of Ohio regiments include many Asian surnames.  In 2003, a Joint House Resolution “was introduced to Congress to posthumously proclaim Civil War soldiers of Asian descent to be honorary citizens of the United States as recognition of their honorable services.”

– Another Columbus, Ohio marker provides a map of Camp Chase.

– And the last of the markers for this week from Columbus, Ohio indicates that General Sherman made his famous description of the nature of war at a veterans reunion.  War he said, “It is all hell.”

– For my Gettysburg project, a low total of 14 this week.  These additions include entries for East Cemetery Hill and along Baltimore Pike.  More additions next week, I promise.

– This week from Colonial Heights, Virginia we have a set of markers detailing Fort Clifton and associated works, defending the Appomattox River below Petersburg.  Two Civil War Trails markers (one and two) discuss the construction of the fort and Federal naval attempts to reduce it.  A nearby marker indicates the location of exterior works defending the land side approaches.

– Another Civil War Trails marker in Colonial Heights points us to Violet Bank, used as General Lee’s headquarters for a time during the Petersburg Siege.  Nearby another marker introduces us to a Magnolia Acuminata, or Cucumber Tree, said to have grown from a slip offered by Thomas Jefferson.

– A batch of markers from around Chester, Virginia discuss sites related to the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.

We’ve made some Civil War stops on vacation.  Enough to provide some good marker entries for later.  Here’s a site that should raise the eyebrows of many artillery aficionados –

Ruggles' Battery - Lot of Cannon!

Ruggles' Battery - Lot of Cannon!