Monthly Archives: December 2011

Loudoun’s First Sesquicentennial Year in Review

On Friday, Leesburg Today ran a post by Margaret Morton reviewing the Sesquicentennial events held in Loudoun over the last year.  It is a good note to close out the year.  A few highlights that Morton pointed out:

  • The Mosby Heritage Area Association impressed with an April program detailing Loudoun’s place in the state’s secession
  • Announced at Oatlands, one of Loudoun’s Civil War sites, “This Hallowed Ground” received a $300,000 grant to plant 620,000 trees, representing the men who lost their lives in the war, along US Highway 15.
  • The county Sesquicentennial Committee worked with Visit Loudoun to produce an excellent web site that serves both residents and tourists.
  • Additions of markers around the county interpreting Civil War events.
  • Very successful Ball Bluff 150th commemoration and reenactment.

I would add  the April program at Harpers Ferry (hey, part of the park is in Loudoun!) observing the seizure of the vital military facilities by Virginia; and the John Janney House Tour and Lecture in May.   And of course I’d also mention the excellent presentations at our Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable – most all sesquicentennial themed.  Looking into next year, we have a lineup of great speakers on a range of 1862 topics.

If you haven’t noticed, I enjoy being in the “seat” of the Sesquicentennial here in Northern Virginia.

Have a happy New Year!  See you after the calendars roll over!

What might have been: Atlanta Campaign NHS

Another interesting National Park Traveler article today. This one, by Bob Janiskee, provides a list of National Park Service units that for various reasons were abandoned, dropped, or transferred out of the system. The article links out to more detailed examinations of these thirty-four sites – earlier articles written by Janiskee. Of interest to military historians, White Plains National Battlefield, a Revolutionary War site, never got organized. And Mackinac National Park in Michigan, while among the first parks established and including Fort Mackinac, fell victim to budget constraints.

From the Civil War perspective, Chattanooga National Cemetery and Castle Pinckney became units of the National Park Service due to Federal reorganizations in 1933. The cemetery, which probably shouldn’t have been a separate NPS unit anyway, eventually went to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Arguably Castle Pinckney should have become a unit within Fort Sumter National Monument (which includes Fort Moultrie also). But as reported earlier this year, there are efforts to preserve the fort.

But there is a third “lost” Civil War national park on the list – the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site… or to be exact, Sites. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built five rest stops, complete with picnic pavilions and interpretive exhibits, along the Dixie Highway in northern Georgia. These traced Atlanta Campaign actions (or inactions) at Ringgold Gap, Rocky Face ridge, Resaca, Cassville, and New Hope Church. The WPA pavilions included interpretive metal signs (such as one at Cassville) to which the NPS added the metal markers linked above.

During World War II, the Secretary of the Interior transferred the five picnic areas to the NPS. However, after administering the “Historic Site” for six years, the NPS transferred the property to the State of Georgia in 1950. Janiskee summarizes the ill-fated historic site in his article:

When the Secretary of the Interior issued an order on October 13, 1944, instructing the National Park Service to administer the Atlanta Campaign National Historic Site, it could scarcely have been an occasion for an NPS celebration (not to mention that World War II was raging at the time). You’d have to have been at least one full bubble off plumb to really believe that a scattered collection of interpretive picnic pavilions belonged in the National Park System, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Yellowstone National Park and Gettysburg National Military Park.

However, I’d offer a different take on this.

Many preservationists are familiar with the “Antietam Plan.” In brief, when established the Antietam National Battlefield lacked funding. Instead of purchasing the whole acreage of lands, as was done at Shiloh, Chickamauga, and Gettysburg, at Antietam the War Department worked with right-of-ways and easements. Thus the battlefield became more a tour route than established property. While that sounds like a disappointment, in the long run the plan succeeded, and quite remarkably so. Later parks followed this plan to various degrees and were generally successful.

At the time the NPS received the Atlanta Campaign unit, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield was in the system too, but facing court challenges in its protracted evolution. Only in 1947 did that park become “officially established.” The abandonment of the Atlanta Campaign NHS, meager though its holdings were, left only Kennesaw Mountain as the NPS unit representing one of the Civil War’s most important campaigns.

Since that time development along the I-75 corridor encroached upon the battlefields. Decades later, there is still some hope for these battlefields. Not covered by the original WPA sites, Picketts Mill is now a State Historic Site. Likewise work continues for the Resaca State Historic Site. Ringgold Battlefield received a National Register of Historic Places selection in March of 2011. Markers are in place or going up for Rocky Face Ridge. Organizations like the Georgia Battlefields Association have made strides. But much has been lost since the 1950’s, particularly closer into Atlanta.

Yes, a five-picnic-pavillion park on par with the larger parks does seem outrageous. But on the other hand, logically those five sites could have become part of an extended park with Kennesaw Mountain. As seen at other locations, just “being” a park provides some impetus to further preservation efforts. Perhaps an “Antietam Plan,” but at the broader perspective. I have to wonder if those five pavilions, had they remained in the NPS inventory, could have become the grains of sand to culture a string of pearls?

A River in Danger: Ozark National Scenic Riverway

Back in October,  National Park Traveler reposted a two part series (Part 1 and Part 2) by Susan Flader outlining the history and problems encountered at the Ozark National Scenic Riverway (NSR). The set are worth a read if you have not seen them already (and I do apologize for not mentioning these earlier).  While I could mention some specific Civil War related connections to the park, that particular region of Missouri was a backwater within a backwater of the war.   But I’ve got several non-Civil War reasons to bring these articles to your attention.

Ozark NSR was the first park of its type in the National Park Service when created in 1964.  The first of Flader’s articles details the issues faced establishing the park.  Some of the issues are probably familiar to those versed in the battlefield park histories – land acquisition and park administration for instance.  But since a riverway park was a new concept, the NPS took a long time drafting the overall general management plan.  Although dedicated in 1971, the park didn’t have an approved plan until the 1980s.

Big Springs 005

Big Spring: the largest of several in the park

The plan’s delay was in part due to being the first attempt at preserving a watershed.  There were hundreds of native species, some endangered, finding refuge within the new park boundaries.  There were also some unique geologic features, chiefly the multitude of caves and springs, worth preserving.  Archeologists found numerous prehistoric and historic sites worth cataloging.  Indeed the story of the “hill folks” was interwoven with that of the river.

Alley Spring 2010 067

The Mill at Alley Spring

But on the other hand, there was the question of river use.  Canoeing and fishing were long established activities along the Current River.  The best the park could do is regulate them.  But with time came new activities, such as motor-boating and four-wheeling, along with recreational horseback riding.  The park’s visitation swelled through the 1980s and 1990s (this author included in those numbers), as did the pressure on the park’s infrastructure.  Many visitors saw the park more “recreational” than “preservational.”

Big Springs 086

Old visitor station at Big Springs - Constructed by the CCC

Flader does a better job chronicling the park’s history and these issues than I can (or have space to).  What I will say is that the clear, swift flowing waters I floated along in my youth became a crowded – and in places trashy – secondary destination for many.  Not only did visitation decline, but in May 2011, American Rivers named the Current one of the 10 most endangered rivers in the U.S.

The problem was scope. Flader closed her examination with a quote from then park superintendent Ben Clary to Congressman Bill Emerson in 1996:

We have withdrawn from the rivers, our primary resource and purpose for the park. We have withdrawn from preserving and interpreting the Ozarks cultural heritage which is so important to the area…. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate where we are headed. Are we in fact Ozark National Scenic Riverways or Ozark National Scenic Campgrounds? While all of our activities and visitors are important to us, I think that it is time to start looking at quality and purpose as opposed to quantity.

Although the battlefield parks and historic sites, and even other scenic parks, have perhaps different challenges than that faced in Ozark NSR, there are lessons that may be applied. We are right to ask questions about the focus of treeline restorations; or new roadways; or additional horse trails; or changes to access policies. It is after all not Gettysburg National Tour Parkway nor is it the Great Smoky Mountains National Hunt Club.  (And that is not to say we should oppose such changes, but rather that we should ask if such changes are within the spirit of the park’s purpose.)

The National Park Service has a somewhat thankless role preserving, protecting, and ultimately presenting some of our most treasured public properties and lands.  Each of these gems has a slightly different reason for being.  Each park draws visitors for different reasons.  And each visitor takes away different experiences.

In the end, as Clary said, it is quality and purpose which makes those parks our national treasures.

Easement for Wood Lake Battlefield

From the West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota:

Agreement is reached to protect Wood Lake, Minn., battle site

WOOD LAKE — One of the most important battlefield sites from the 1862 U.S.-Dakota Conflict is being protected as Minnesota prepares to observe the 150th anniversary of the war.

The Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association announced last week that it has signed a conservation easement with a family owning a significant portion of the area where the Battle of Wood Lake took place on Sept. 23, 1862. It allows the nonprofit organization to develop a 53-acre portion of the battlefield site as a memorial to the Dakota warriors and U.S. soldiers who clashed here, as well as to develop an interpretive trail to tell the history, according to Tom Hoosier of Rochester, president and founder of the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association.

The association worked for more than six years toward the goal of protecting the site, and was successful in having it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Why this site — also a U.S. Civil War-era battlefield — was not recognized many years ago for its importance to history remains a surprise to Hoosier….  (Full story)

The article mentions plans to return the battlefield to native prairie along with addition of parking areas, trails, and interpretation.

A job well done by the Wood Lake Battlefield Preservation Association – at a battlefield that many of us know only as the answer to a trivia question.

Rifle Muskets vs. Artillery: A Pre-Civil War Assessment

From John Gibbon’s Artillerist’s Manual:

Since the recent improvements in projectiles and long-range rifles, it has been customary to underrate the importance of the artillery arm on a field of battle, and the assertion is frequently heard, that the use of the rifle will supersede entirely the use of field-pieces in war, since it has a greater range and more accuracy than the field-pieces now in use.  This, I am convinced, is a mistaken view.  It is true that long-range rifles are destined, in the hands of skilful marksmen, to play a very important part in battle, by picking off the cannoneers of the artillery from points beyond the range of this last, provided they can once get their sights properly arranged for that distance; but they have first to get their range.  To do this, as very few men are at all accurate in estimating distances, trials have to be made; and the bullet makes so little dust in striking , and what it does make is scarcely visible at 1,000 yards, that it affords the marksmen but little opportunity to correct his aim.  In the mean time the gunner is getting his range, which he is enabled to coorect from the striking of the ball, which can be seen as far as it goes, and when he once gets it, and that not accurately and precisely, as the rifleman must, but approximately, he is enabled to let loose among his opponents a charge from thirty to eighty musket-bullets at one time, or send a solid shot through them with sufficent force to disable, perhaps kill, half a dozen, and disorganize as many more by its moral effect.

When the rifleman gets his sight adjusted to the proper range, it is an easy matter for the artilleryman to increase or decrease his distance, rendering new adjustments of the sight necessary, and all this in the heat and confusion of a combat.

These facts, to say nothing of the great physical, as well as moral effect of a rapid and well-directed fire of half a dozen guns upon a body of infantry, seem to demonstrate that the importance of artillery upon the field of battle is increased rather than diminished, and should urge to improvement in its range and efficiency rather than to its abandonment and underrating.  (Pages 144-145)

Gibbon assembled the manual prior to the outbreak of the Civil War for use instructing of cadets at West Point.   And Gibbon was the man to produce just such a manual, as he was an artillery instructor at the academy.  He compiled the work over a period of time, and it is not clear when exactly he wrote the section above.  But the first edition of the book was printed in 1860.

I’ve cited the passage from the second edition, dated 1863.  Gibbon noted, in the preface to that edition, making changes and modifications based on wartime service.  But the passage cited above did not change between the 1860 printing and the 1863 edition.  Not to say Gibbon felt no need to change the passage, but simply to point out that he had the opportunity to make changes and didn’t.

Clearly Gibbon would agree with some of the recent interpretations of the tactical Civil War battlefield.  He was already downplaying the impact of the rifle musket on the battlefield before there was a battlefield!

Significantly, Gibbon mentions nothing of the “artillery charges” as a counter to the infantry marksmen.  Our traditional interpretation holds that artillerists of Gibbon’s generation wanted to use artillery “just like Napoleon” but found the rifle musket prevented such.  Yet, in 1859, Gibbon seems to have figured that out already – before the shooting started – and countered with the use of fused projectiles.

Just something to chew on.

The Artilleryman Magazine Winter 2011 Issue

The Winter 2011 edition of the Artilleryman is out this month.  Featured articles include:

  • Civil War Veteran returns to the field: Reenactors of the 1st Michigan Light Artillery use Parrott 10-pdr, No. 23.
  • “Brooke or Dahlgren?”  – comparison of the two types of naval ordnance used in the Civil War, by Roger Campbell.
  • “Fort Monroe’s Lincoln Gun” – look at Rodman’s prototype 15-inch gun, by Bob Ruegsegger.
  • A study of what is likely a U.S. Navy powder container of the type used in the Civil War, by Art Krause.
  • Rules to avoid accidents – “1841 War Department Instructions” for charges, sponging, and stopping vents  written by Benjamin Huger, at the request of Secretary of War J.R. Poinsett.
  • “World War II Tank on the Firing Line” – artillery shooters help the owner of a restored M18 “Hellcat” tank-destroyer fire again.
  • 19th century Russian naval guns on display in Canada (follow up to a 2003 article), by Yuriy Kirpichoff.
  • Trip report for Dover Castle, in Dover, England by Roy Stevenson.
  • A look at Jakarta’s “Si Jaguar” cannon from the 17th century, by Gary Brown.
  • Request for readers help identifying a cast iron signal mortar, from Michael F. Carrick.
  • Report on a stolen bronze Spanish 18th century cannon (This cannon was recently located and returned).

Book reviews in this issue include:

  • “Civil War Ordnance: An Introduction” by Robert H. Gregory.  Reviewed by Peter Frandsen.
  • “Yours for the Union: the Civil War Letters of John W. Chase, First Massachusetts Light Artillery” edited by John S. Collier and Bonnie B. Collier.  Reviewed by Richard M. McMurry.

Two pages of editor’s notes and letters are included in the front of the issue.  Editor Kathryn Jorgensen provides a roundup of news articles which includes mention of the two 24-pdr flank howitzers donated to the U.S. Grant National Historic Site.

Merry Christmas

Light blogging today as I spend time with the family.

Unlike blogging, the Civil War didn’t always stop for Christmas.  For the holiday season, Laura at the Front-Line blog on the Civil War Monitor’s web page has run several posts looking at Christmas themes and the war.  Good reading if you have some spare moments from the day’s activities.

Happy holidays to you readers.  Thanks again for stopping by!