Life After People…What’s Left Behind

Ok I shouldn’t have been watching (un)history on the History (channel), but I’m caught.  After my staff had retired for the night, I was channel surfing for something good to watch wile entering markers.  I stopped on one of those “the Apocalypse is here” docu-fantasies on the History Channel.  “Life After People” the series, episode two.  If you haven’t had the (dis)pleasure, the premise is what if people just disappear in the middle of the night.  I mean just flat “poof” no people left on earth.  So what would happen to all the “stuff” in our world?  The show walks through the deterioration of various buildings, structures, and such – showing how nature reclaims the world.  The show bounces around differnt localities with snapshots in time – moving out months and years then decades from the “poof”. 

What caught my eye in the episode description were the subjects.  Tonight we watched the demise of Chicago’s Wrigley Field, while Atlanta is overcome by a giant Kudzu vine.  Ok, as a life long Cardinal fan, I’ll admit that watching that scoreboard fall at the intersection of Waveland and Sheffield was a bit entertaining.  But the part where I stood up and took note was with Atlanta.  Anyone who’s done battle with Kudzu knows sooner or later it WILL win.  But the vine has one weak spot.  It is not drought tolerant.  The show speculated, after the Kudzu had blanketed Atlanta, that a long term drought would turn the city into a major fire hazard.  Of course, that provided by a thunderstorm in the graphically generated post-Apocalypse Atlanta soon started a fire to put Sherman’s bummers to shame.  The scene then shifted to Stone Mountain, with the light of the fire dancing over the faces of Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. 

At that point the narration shifted to a discussion of the mountain.  For those not familiar, Stone Mountain is a monadnock of erosion reistant granite.  With the granite surviving rather well against the elements, the narrator speculated that the artwork sponsored by the United Daughters of the Confederacy would actually outlast the skyscrapers, highways, bridges, and other traces of mankind in the area. 

Imagine that… human-kind is cleared off the face of the earth.  Centuries later beings from another world happen along, investigating things.  Searching for artifacts, they find the “Faces on Earth” which are none other than Davis, Lee, and Jackson….

HMDB Civil War Updates – Week of 27 April

Another week, another batch of markers entered by the contributors at the Historical Marker Database.  This week, 63 new entries from the states of Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.  Each major theater of the war is represented!  Here’s the highlights:

– From Tybee Island, near Savannah, Georgia is what I term a “placeholder” marker discussing the Federal batteries involved with the reduction of Fort Pulaski.  A nearby informational sign shows an artist concept of a project aiming to recreate one of the batteries.

– East of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is a cluster of markers indicate nearby points of interest.  Two relate the history of the nearby “Rough and Ready.”  Another of the set explains how civilians were evacuated out of the city of Atlanta after the Federal occupation.

Six markers around Jonesboro, Georgia discuss the August 31 – September 1, 1864 battle which helped seal the fate of Atlanta.

– From Maryland this week is the impressive Union Soldiers and Sailors Memorial in Baltimore.

– Also from Maryland, a new Civil War Trails marker placed outside the Monocacy Battlefield visitor center tells the story of the “Lost Order” from the Antietam Campaign.

– A couple of markers in Clinton, New Jersey indicate the final resting spot of General George W. Taylor.  Taylor was mortally wounded on August 27, 1862 leading his Brigade in one of the actions leading up to Second Manassas.

– Yet another impressive, if weathered,  Civil War monument stands in Delaware, Ohio.

– Our single Pennsylvania entry this week is not from Gettysburg, but rather in Bucks County north of Philadelphia.  Hiram Williams Pursell was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at Fair Oaks, May 31, 1862.

– From the Trans-Mississippi Theater, two new marker entries support my posts on Chalk Bluff (part 1 and part 2).    One marker is on the Missouri side of the St. Francis River, where most of the fighting occurred.  The other marker, on the Arkansas side of the river, cites an action which occurred on May 15, 1862, a year before the battle.  All told four markers relate the activities at Chalk Bluff in the Civil War.

Four entries this week explain the Battle of Island No. 10 from the Tennessee shore.  One marker probably relates more about the battle than most books on the subject, and includes a map.  These complement the only marker on the Missouri side to the battle, at New Madrid.  I have a trip report in my queue.

– Just north of Aldie is a small marker for Loudoun Agricultural and Mechanical Institute, one of the first (if not the first) agricultural college.  Why is it here on our Civil War updates?  Well John S. Mosby overnighted there during the battle of Aldie.

– Ten markers this week detail Civil War activities in Powhatan County.  Three indicate Gen. R.E. Lee’s last camp site on the Appomattox Campaign  –  A Civil War Trails Marker,   A Virginia State Marker, and an SCV plaque.  “…The last night he spent under canvas….”

– Other markers in Powhatan County point to Derwent, were Lee stayed after the war until accepting an appointment to Washington College.

– In Goochland County, Virginia several markers this week relate to the Dahlgren Raid.  These include Sabot Hill, home of James Seddon, Confederate Secretary of War, where Dahlgren stopped on March 1, 1864.

– A couple of state markers (here and here) outside Suffolk discuss action in the April-May Siege of Suffolk.

– Almost on the Southeast Virginia border, a marker in Franklin, Virginia discusses the war in the Blackwater-Chowan Corridor.    This is one in a set of markers at a kiosk, which also relate the town’s importance as a supply center.  Other markers in the Franklin area mark the Blackwater Line at both Joyner’s Ford and Blackwater Bridge.

Generals George Thomas and William Mahone were born ten years and nine miles appart outside Franklin in Southhampton County, and of course fought for opposite sides in the war.

– And anytime we have a new marker for Wade Hampton’s Beefsteak raid, I’ve got to mention it!  We’ll have a set of related markers for this later.

– Lastly, eleven additions to the Manassas Battlefield Park sets.  Sorry, Harry, these are all from the 2nd Manassas field, along the Deep Cut and Brawner Farm trails.  Note the effect of tree clearing in these photos.  While criticised by many, as at Gettysburg, the clearing has opened new vistas on the battlefield.  The entire northern trail system just seems more inviting.

Closing this week, you’ll notice there were no Gettysburg entries.  The project is at a convienent pause point.  Every tablet, marker and monument I can locate on the battlefield has been entered.  (and if anyone knows of more that have escaped my camera, please do contact me.)  There are several spots further afield associated with the campaign that I need to visit in order to collect some markers.    Closer to the field, only a small number of markers in Gettysburg itself are in the database.  That will require a “street by street” trip.  And another un-represented set are the Hospital signs placed by the Historic Gettysburg – Adams County Society.  At this time I don’t know if those should be “markers” or just locations mentioned on the main marker entries.   At any rate there are still a lot of markers for other “hunters” to chase down on their visits to Gettysburg.

In the mean time, after taking this week off, I’ll start populating and refining the supporting Gettysburg marker pages on this blog.  First off is the partially completed “Battlefield by Locations” page.  Next up are sets related by order of battle.

Chalk Bluff Battlefield, Part 2

The last post looked at the Battle of Chalk Bluff in the context of Marmaduke’s Cape Girardeau Raid with the emphasis on the tactical level.  In terms of numbers involved, 13,000 by some counts, the battle was among the largest fought in Missouri.  However, as noted at the closing of yesterday’s post, likely many of those troops were never directly engaged as the casualty numbers seem rather low.  The restricted battle-space likely had much to do with this.

Moving up from the tactical level, looking at both the raid and the battle from an operational perspective, one could see the action as a side operation associated with the larger Vicksburg Campaign.  Events in that campaign matching the Marmaduke Raid’s time line include Admiral Porter’s running of the Vicksburg defenses, General McClernand’s Corps crossing the Mississippi, and, on May 1, the battle of Port Gibson.  Clearly the operations of Marmaduke did not slow Grant’s advance into Mississippi.

However, the reaction in Missouri to Marmaduke did cause enough concern to slow the transfer of troops to Tennessee.  Major General Samuel Curtis, commanding the Department of Missouri,  saw the Confederate raid as a serious threat, and delayed previously scheduled troop transfers.  Brigades which had been directed to take part in the Vicksburg operations, Rosecrans’ central Tennessee campaign, and to Southwest Missouri were detailed instead to contain Marmaduke.  This created a gap between the requirements for and the presence of the troops, not realized until the later half of the summer.  While I could not argue that Grant’s capture of Vicksburg was delayed significantly, I might make the case that the Army of the Cumberland was deprived of additional forces needed in the advance on Chattanooga. Curtis and General Halleck at Army Headquarters conversed by dispatches throughout the campaign with regard to troops destined to reinforce Rosecrans.  Curtis stressed the danger of the situation, even as late as May 4.   Curtis’ tone did not endear him to his superiors.   Curtis, who’d had a falling out with the Missouri governor, was later reassigned.

On the other side, Marmaduke’s command was certainly much worse for the wear.  It is a bit outside this blog entry’s scope, but the entire raid was mismanaged.  Marmaduke brought along several batteries of artillery and a wagon train of supplies.  And when confronting fortifications around Cape Girardeau, complete with heavy artillery, the cavalry was just not prepared for the task.  After escaping by way of Chalk Bluff, the Confederate column slogged through the Arkansas swamps for several days, perhaps losing more material and horses there than to enemy action.  Recovery and remounting took some time.  Even a couple months later, Marmaduke’s command had not fully recovered when engaged in the Battle of Helena (July 4, 1863).

Of course the actions in the West did not occur in a vacuum.   While Marmaduke was heading north and Grant turning south around Vicksburg, the Chancellorsville Campaign was underway in the East.  What I find coincidental, reading the reports, is the weather.   Considering the prevailing winds and normal course of storm fronts from west to east, it is possible the same storm systems that flooded the St. Francis those last weeks of April also delayed the start of Stoneman’s Raid in Virginia.   April showers didn’t just bring May flowers that year.

Today Chalk Bluff is partially preserved, but the landscape has seen some drastic changes since the war.  To start with, the swamps that confined movement to the ridge were drained in the early 20th century.   Levees further constrained the St. Francis to control flooding.  And military road no longer runs the ridge line.    Enough remains, however, to afford an interested battlefield stomper a few sites to consider.  For those interested, I’ll describe a tour (with map here).  The total driving distance is about 16 miles, requiring about an hour.

I suggest starting any tour of the battlefield at Campbell, Missouri (waypoint A on my map), which sits at the intersection of US Highway 62 and Missouri Highway 53.   Head north out of Campbell on Missouri 53.  About a mile from town, the road climbs Cowley’s Ridge (a noticeable incline in the otherwise table top flat surrounding countryside).  Towards the crest, notice on the left an electrical substation and take the dirt road leading beside it (waypoint B).

Four Mile
Four Mile

The town of Four Mile stood here at the time of the war.  Carter’s Texas Cavalry Brigade stopped the lead elements of McNeil’s column here on the morning of May 1.  Looking back north along Missouri 53, here Caldwell’s 1st Iowa ran into the Texans.

Crest of Crowley's Ridge
Crest of Crowley’s Ridge

I can only guess where the old Military Road passed, but following the gravel road a short distance is the Four Mile cemetery.

Four Mile Cemetery
Four Mile Cemetery

Oral tradition says Federal soldiers were buried in the cemetery.   If so, no stones mark the burials.  One alibi here also.  You’ll notice a lot of downed trees in the photos, the result of this winter’s major ice storm that hit Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky.   Also on the ridge at this point is a wartime structure known as the Taylor House or Hotel, which was used as a field hospital.  It stands on private property, and with the downed limbs I could not take a good photo from the public road.

As the gravel road only loops back to the main road, the visitor can backtrack to Campbell, taking a right on North Avenue (waypoint C).  After a few blocks, turn north (right) on Woodlawn Drive.  Woodlawn Drive turns west (left) and becomes County Route 228.  After just over a mile of ruler edge straight road, CR 228 climbs up Crowley’s Ridge and assumes the course once used for the Military Road. About another mile on CR 228, on the left (south) is Gravel Hill Cemetery, with a small parking area (waypoint D).

Gravel Hill Cemetery
Gravel Hill Cemetery

Marmaduke’s second line formed across the ridge here.  Again, local lore holds that Federals were buried here, but I’ve never seen any headstones.

Marmaduke's Second Line
Marmaduke’s Second Line

Looking east down CR 228, the Federals advanced into breastworks built across the top of the ridge.  No trace of breastworks here stand today (or at least none anyone speaks of).  Both sides sparred here until about mid-afternoon.

Continue west on CR 228 through a couple sets of elbow turns, for about a mile and a half.  At the second elbow turn, traces of Federal earthworks are said to stand north of the road.  The remains, if they are that, are on private property and not easily seen from the road.  At about two miles from Gravel Hill Cemetery, on the right, is a parking area and overlook for the St. Francis River boat ramp.  A marker and sign stand at the west edge (waypoint E).

Missouri Side Interpretation
Missouri Side Interpretation

Marmaduke’s last line formed just to the east of this parking area.   The fighting continued here from about 5 p.m. until dark.   The marker actually stands on one of the “chalky bluffs”, and in the ground below the Confederate dismounted artillery to make the river crossing.   But I’ll say up front, the Southeast Missouri version of “bluff” is not exactly a “Cliffs of Dover”:

The "Bluffs" from the River Bottom
The “Bluffs” from the River Bottom

A boat ramp at the end of the road is the only access to the river on the Missouri side close to the site of Thompson’s Bridge.  The actual crossing site was further downstream, and better viewed from the Arkansas shore.

St. Francis River from Missouri Shore
St. Francis River from Missouri Side

From the boat ramp, return east for about mile on CR 228, and turn south (right) on CR 232 (waypoint F).  After a left turn to the east for a short distance, then turn south (right) onto CR 217.  Follow CR 217 south to US 62.  At any point on CR 217 you may want to stop and look back at Crowley’s Ridge (a view seen in part 1) to appreciate the terrain.

At the intersection with US 62 (waypoint G), turn west (right) and cross the St Francis River into the town of St. Francis.  In the town turn north (right) on Church Street (waypoint H), then turn west (left) onto Cleveland Street.  At the west end of town, turn north (right) onto CR 340 (waypoint I)  and follow as it skirts the edge of the river.  After about a mile, turn north (right) again on CR 338, and follow that road through a turn west.  After a mile, turn north (right) onto CR 347 (waypoint J), which passes back up onto Crowley’s Ridge, and near the course of the Military Road.  Just over a mile, enter Chalk Bluff Battlefield Park (waypoint K).

Chalk Bluff Battlefield Park
Chalk Bluff Battlefield Park

Technically speaking, very little of the May 1-2 action occurred on the Arkansas side of the river.  But as discussed in part 1, the crossing site saw a lot of activity before the battle.  Several state historical markers detail the history of Chalk Bluff, with emphasis on the Civil War.  A trail loop, of a few hundred yards, circles out from the parking area down to the river to the crossing site.

St. Francis River from Arkansas Side
St. Francis River from Arkansas Side

From the old ferry site, the military road passed up a defile to the top of the ridge.  Marmaduke had a defensive line constructed on the ridge line to defend against any sudden Federal rush across the river.

Defensive Line on Arkansas Side
Defensive Line on Arkansas Side

As you can see from this view, the damage to the ice storm was extensive.  Several depressions have from time to time been cited as remains of wartime earthworks.  I don’t doubt some traces exist, but are not easily identified even for a frequent visitor.  A fortification stood just south of the park boundary, used by both sides from time to time.  But the area today is a cow pasture, and often visitors mistake a nearby cow pond dam for the traces of the fort.

That concludes a tour of the battlefield. While Chalk Bluff was a small, minor engagement compared to the major battles occurring at the same time in Mississippi and Virginia, it was one of the largest in Southeast Missouri.   Likewise, while the battlefield is not as well preserved as others, it is the only site even partially protected in Southeast Missouri.  As such, if you are in the area, and have some time, the short excursion is worth it.