Back in the 1990s when I had the time and was better located to study such, I devoted a lot of weekends to tracing Sherman’s March to the Sea across Georgia. Fun stuff. But after a while I noticed what many researchers have discovered. Sometimes there are major discrepancies between the oral histories or at least the commonly accepted version of events.
Simply put, if all the stories were true, then “Uncle Billy” covered more ground than recorded in the records. As one of my fellow researchers pointed out, Sherman must have used a fast car to get around during that march. All too often, we’d conclude “Uncle Billy” was nowhere near the site in question. But that was in part an exercise dealing with collective and inherited memories. Certainly a bit of revision along the way.
But I must report another “revision” involving William Tecumseh Sherman introduced to me today. But it was not down in Georgia, but rather here in Virginia on the Manassas battlefield.
While our roundtable toured the Manassas battlefield today, lead by park historian Henry P. “Hank” Elliott, we passed this marker for Farm Ford along Bull Run.
Sherman’s brigade cross Bull Run at Farm Ford on the morning of July 21, 1861. From there he led the brigade to Matthews Hill and eventually out to the fighting on Henry Hill. Many of Sherman’s men used Farm Ford in their retreat later that day.
Hank related that continuing research and analysis has led the park historians to believe the ford was instead about a hundred yards upstream from this site. Summer growth prevented a clear view of the ford site during our visit today, but here’s at least a view through the trees.
The ford crosses Bull Run in the face of a very prominent bluff. Indeed the slope reminds me of Balls Bluff in terms of the sharp incline. Or perhaps even the bluff opposite Burnside Bridge at Antietam.
So with this steep, commanding bluff, why would a military force cross Bull Run at this point? Because the ravine that cuts this bluff offers a covered route up to the high ground north of the Van Pelt house.
The trail along Bull Run branches off along the ravine at this point and loops back towards the Van Pelt house location.
Hank noted that the park plans to install, perhaps in the fall, a new marker at the now “new” site of Farm Ford. Yes, just a difference of a hundred yards. But the finer our understanding of the terrain and how it related to the battle, the better interpreted the story.
So…well… perhaps Sherman was just in close proximity to the “old” ford site.
For me, I’ll have to monitor the park’s progress and log the new marker in the Historical Marker Database. I’ll also add this site to my list of places to visit in the fall when the leaves are gone.