Monthly Archives: July 2012

Second Manassas Sesquicentennial schedule

Manassas National Battlefield Park hosts more than a week’s worth of events while observing the Second Manassas sesquicentennial. The events run from August 25 through the Labor Day weekend to September 2:

August 25 (Saturday)

  • In the Steps of “Stonewall” Jackson: Prelude to Second Manassas Bus Tour – A reservation-only tour following the approximate route of Jackson’s forces on their march to Manassas Junction. Contact the park bookstore at 703-361-6549, ext. 2. Seats are $50 each.

August 26 (Sunday)

  • Thoroughfare Gap: A Walking Tour – Park historian Jim Burgess leads this tour through the ruins of Chapman Mill and other sites. Tour starts at 3:00 p.m. and lasts 90 minutes.
  • Manassas Junction and its Railroads: From Union Lifeline to Confederate Prize – Starts at 7 p.m., a one hour talk at the Manassas Museum, 9101 Prince William Street, downtown Manassas.

August 28 (Tuesday)

  • 7 p.m. – Brawner Farm: the Battle Begins – Park historians guide visitors through the opening phases of the battle of Second Manassas with a 90 minute tour starting at the Brawner Farm Interpretive Center.

August 29 (Wednesday)

  • 10 a.m. – Standoff at the Railroad – A walking tour focused on the fighting near Sudley Church on August 29, 1862. Tour starts at the church, which is Tour Stop 5 of the overall park tour.
  • 2 p.m. – Breakthrough at the Railroad – This tour covers the afternoon attacks at the Unfinished Railroad. The 90 minute tour departs from Tour Stop 6.
  • 4 p.m. – Battling for the Rocky Knoll – A 90 minute tour taking in other sites along the Unfinished Railroad. Tour departs from Sudley Church.
  • 7 p.m. – Clash at Groveton Crossroads – The evening tour, lasting 90 minutes, departs from Tour Stop 9 and focuses on the fighting at Groveton.

August 30 (Thursday)

  • 11 a.m. – Robinson Farm: Behind Union Lines – Sixty minute program focuses on the experience of the James Robinson family, a free African-Americans, during the battle. Tour starts at the Visitor Center.
  • 2 p.m. – Slaughter at Deep Cut – Departing from Tour Stop 7, this 90 minute tour covers Porter’s ill-fated assault at Deep Cut.
  • 4 p.m. – Counterattack at Chinn Ridge – Walking tour focused on the Confederate counterattack leading to the battle’s climax. The 90 minute tour departs from Tour Stop 9, the New York Monuments, and concludes at Tour stop 10, Chin Ridge.
  • 7 p.m. – Battling Until Sunset: The Struggle for Henry Hill – A tour of the final phases of the battle covering the fighting along the Manassas-Sudley Road and Henry Hill. The 90 minute tour starts from the Visitor Center.

August 31 (Friday)

  • On the Battle Lines: Sudley Church at Second Manassas – Evening 90 minute program featuring a guided walk along the Unfinished Railroad and to Sudley Church. After the tour the Sudley Methodist Church offers a vespers service starting at 8 p.m. Tour departs from the church.

September 1 (Saturday) – Lecture Series held at the Visitor Center auditorium.

  • 11 a.m. – Alan Gaff – Author of Brave Men’s Tears.
  • 1 p.m. – Stephen Potter – Editor of Archaeological Perspectives on the American Civil War.
  • 3 p.m. – John Hennessy – Author of Return to Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas.
  • 7 p.m. – James I. Robertson, Jr. – Author of Stonewall Jackson: The Man, The Soldier, The Legend.

September 2 (Sunday) – Lecture Series held at the Visitor Center auditorium.

  • 11 a.m. – Author TBA
  • 1 p.m. – Scott C. Patchan – Author of Second Manassas: Longstreet’s Attack and the Struggle for Chinn Ridge.
  • 3 p.m. – David Blight – Author of A Slave No More and American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era.

A nine day sesquicentennial campaign blending on the field tours and lectures from top scholars.

The park hosted an outstanding program last year for the First Manassas sesquicentennial. Receiving less fanfare from the “outside the park” organizations, this year’s Second Manassas events take on a more “at the park” focus.

Once again, I will take advantage of my location in the seat of the war and take in as much of the events as I can – maybe some tweeting… definitely some blogging. My headquarters will be in the saddle, so to speak. Hope to see you there.

It is time for a “Brandy Station 2012 -Save Fleetwood Hill” Effort

Let me start with a little preservation history for those unfamiliar with Brandy Station.

In 1990s a developer proposed building an Indy Car racetrack at Brandy Station.  A grass-roots effort rallied in opposition to block that venture… and won.  As new development proposals came, a realization set in.  The only way to prevent the eventual carving up and development of the Brandy Station battlefield was to preserve the ground itself.  Promises, easements, and outright purchase secured some, if not all, of the battlefield.  The center-piece of those efforts was the purchase of 944 acres for $6.8 million.

… 944 acres for $6.8 million.  The money came from state and federal grants, yes.  But a sizable sum – over a quarter – came through a coalition of preservation organizations.  The Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the Civil War Preservation Trust, both parent organizations of today’s Civil War Trust, along with the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) – before that organization’s recent break from the focus on preservation – all worked towards this 944 acre objective.  And more to the point, the grant money, which formed the majority, was secured through applications and appeals made by those preservation organizations.

With that, Brandy Station became one of the “crown jewels” in the modern Civil War battlefields preservation wave.  Just as there were turning points in the real war on those same lands, that purchase was a turning point in the effort to preserve the ground.

Yet for all the success, important parts of Brandy Station were left unprotected and open for encroaching development. In recent years Civil War Trust has opened several efforts to correct those shortfalls.  We’ve seen  Brandy Station ’05, Brandy Station ’08 and Brandy Station ’10 preservation efforts within recent memory.  All focused on important ground, and somewhat “nibbling” at the corners of a larger “missing piece.”

Fleetwood Hill, where some of the most important fighting on June 9, 1863 took place, was one of those locations.  The owner of that ground built a rather large house at the crest.    Still the overall prominence of the hill remained.  Even after the land owner attempted to build a pond at the base of the hill, illegally mind you, the ground remained a worthy objective for preservation efforts.  Just as the prominence of that hill beckoned combatants on that hot June day 149 years ago, the hill draws the attention of preservationists today.  It is the “missing piece” to the battlefield.

Still when I read Eric’s recent post highlighting the lack of effort by BSF, I was not surprised.  The tone of Joe McKinney’s letter is clear.  BSF is simply wringing its hands, intimidated by the asking price of the property, waiting for Civil War Trust to move. (Seriously, I don’t understand this “we’ll wait for someone else to lead” attitude from a former Army officer.  Not the kind of stuff I learned while in uniform…)

A few weeks back, I said the time had come for Civil War Trust to sound the clarion.  Reading comments on Eric’s blog and from the emails I’ve exchanged, I sense rank and file preservationists feel the same.  Yes, we all know $2.5 million is a grossly inflated price.  But it shouldn’t intimidate us from acting (remember 944 acres for $6.8 million….).  Certainly a good round of negotiations would bring that number down to a fair market price.  Heck, if McKinney’s letter is correct, the owner has already dropped the asking price significantly!  Always good to be a buyer in a down market.

The air is heavy with anticipation for a “Brandy Station ’12”.   I renew my call for the Civil War Trust to open this preservation effort.

What did soldiers do between battles?

My aide-de-camp and I made a quick overnight camping trip to North Carolina, leaving on Saturday. Good news is we made it to several sites, some Civil War related and some not. Bad new is we were caught up in one of those summer thunderstorms. So I’m typing this from the dry spot we struggled to maintain … Wonders of modern technology allow me to field blog!

One of our stops Saturday was Fort Branch outside Hamilton, North Carolina. The fort displays several rare cannons (pictures of which I’ll share when discussing the guns). And of course there are restored and repaired earthworks to view.

As we took the self guided tour, my aide was focused on the “battle” of Fort Branch. Exhausting all I knew at the time about Fort Branch, I gave him the short version. Still inquisitive, he asked more questions. Eventually we reached the understanding that “soldiers” (at seven he’s still working up to Confederate and Federal) occupied the for for nearly three years…. And they didn’t do much “fighting”.

So the next question sprang from that understanding. “What did the soldiers do between battles?”

As if on queue, we reached the last tour stop – a set of reconstructed garrison quarters.


There we stopped and took in the “company street”. I took that opportunity to explain some of the events filling the average day of an average soldier.

As we started our drive out, I considered that last question in a broader context. All too many of us focus upon the battle lines, without considering the “in between”. And I’d call that mark on many historians, professional and part-timers.

We often forget much of soldiering involves some of the same tasks as any other avocation. Just “being” is fundamental to “being” a soldier in the first place. Like anyone else there is some routine – wake up, eat, do the assigned tasks of the day. Long running projects, be that building a fort wall or drilling to proficiency, tend to dominate the days.

Yes, I know. “Soldier studies” were supposed to bring all that to the fore. But those pursuing that angle seem to have lost their way chasing the fireflies of “motivation”.

So what did soldiers do between battles? Well one thing for sure, they tried to stay dry… Which I mention while writing from a very wet campsite this morning.

A Federal or Confederate mortar? You make the call.

I keep going back to that series of photos from Broadway Landing…

… because they just fascinate me.  Not only are there several guns to identify, but also projectiles and carriages.  These are all fodder for future posts (and many there will be).

And what drew the photographer to capture the scene from a multitude of angles escapes me… unless he had, as I do, a natural attraction to iron guns.  He must have been “framing” something.

One guess is the Navy 32-pdr on a wrecked carriage.  Must have been a story full of cussing and fussing there.

But today I’m more interested in the 8-inch Model 1840 siege mortar sitting in front of that 32-pdr.  And we have a “muzzle view” of that weapon from a stereo view:

Zoom in ad you can see numbers at the top.

From near on 148 years distance, that stands out as “972.”  But… recall the standard weights of the 8-inch Model 1840 mortar.  If that stamp is the weight, it is some fifty pounds over weight.  While not an unheard of variation, that would push the limits of standardization.  Could that be a mis-stamp that should read “932”?  Looks rather clear to me, though.

And of course, were the number appears, by regulations should be the registry number of the piece.  As indicated in earlier posts, the registry numbers of 8-inch mortars never reached above the twenties.  And there are no inspectors initials on this weapon, which should appear at the bottom.  Views of this mortar in other photos do not provide sufficient resolution to read any stamps on the trunnions.

There is another lead on the “972” number.  Tredegar Foundry/J.R. Anderson & Company, while not producing any 8-inch mortars for the US Army, did produce such weapons before and during the Civil War.  Before hostilities, state governments, notably South Carolina, placed orders with Tredegar for mortars.   And during the war, Tredegar produced several 8-inch mortars for the Confederate Army.

Tredegar’s standard company marking system placed the foundry number (not to be confused with a registry number) at the top of the muzzle.  The numbers were sequential and included all cannons – guns, howitzers, and mortars – produced by the company.  So is this Tredegar 972?  Maybe.  If so that indicates this mortar was produced well before the war.  By the time Fort Sumter was fired upon, Tredegar was already up to the 1100 foundry numbers.

So is this an overweight, and poorly marked, Federal mortar?  Or is it a Tredegar pre-war production bought by the Confederates?  You make the call.

150 years ago: Pope picks the right man… Buford!

On this day (July 27) in 1862, Major General John Pope’s headquarters posted Special Orders No. 25. Sections seven and eight of those orders are reproduced in the Official Records:

VII. Brig. Gen. J. P. Hatch, U.S. Volunteers, is relieved from duty with the Second Corps d’ Armée, and will report, without delay, for duty to Brigadier-General King, commanding at Fredericksburg, to be assigned to the brigade lately commanded by Brig. Gen. C.C. Augur.

VIII. Brig. Gen. John Buford, jr. U.S. Volunteers, will report for duty as chief of cavalry to Major-General Banks, commanding Second Corps d’ Armée.

Pope’s order moved Buford out of a position with the Inspector General’s office (which was Buford’s choice if I remember correctly) into a field command.

Say what you will about John Pope. Maybe he was a bag of hot air. But without Pope’s special order this does not happen:

Well… maybe that’s a overly dramatic depiction and interpretation. But you get the picture.

CWT’s Land Saved Map

Check out the new “Battlefield Land We’ve Saved” map page from Civil War Trust.  I’m a sucker for GIS presentations.  This one shows not only the locations of the preserved lands, it also highlights ongoing efforts – indicated in red.

One of those in red is the latest campaign.  This effort targets 120 acres on the Petersburg, Virginia battlefield.  “Three battlefields… five separate battles… turn $1 into $13.58 to save 120 acres of hallowed ground.”

Great preservation opportunity…. great map tool.

The mapping page adds to a growing collection of Civil War information pages on the trust’s website.

Civil War Trust - Battles of the Civil War

Brought to you by The Civil War Trust

Beds for mortars… for a not so quiet sleep

In discussing the seacoast and now the siege mortars, I’ve mentioned the beds on which the mortars were mounted for firing. The high angle of fire for mortars presented problems which necessitated the use of beds instead of carriages. Since the mortar had to elevate at 45° or sometimes higher, the mounting required a range of movement free of any restrictions to elevation. And once the mortar fired, those high angles transferred the force of recoil directly down onto the carriage and against the ground (unlike guns or howitzers with acute angles of recoil). With that recoil angle, the mortar tended to rebound off the ground. To avoid destroying the mounting after a few firings, the beds had to be of solid construction.

In earlier times, mortars used beds build of, in the words of John Muller, “folid timber” (oh, that is “solid timber”… darn 18th century texts and their ‘f’s and ‘s’s). But by the early stages of the 19th century, armies turned to cast iron construction. Recall the bed used on the British mortar now at Fort Monroe.

9 July 2011 275

8-inch British Mortar and Bed

American siege mortars used a similar bed. One of those is on display at Fort Pickens, Florida today, supporting a 10-inch Siege Mortar Model 1840. Let me borrow this photo from Flickr to illustrate:


10-inch Siege Mortar Model 1840

Alfred Mordecai described the mortar beds in his 1849 Artillery for the United States Land Service:

The beds for 8-inch and 10-inch siege mortars are similar to each other, differing only in their dimensions.

They consist of two cheeks, a middle transom and a front transom, of cast iron, all made in one piece.

Four maneuvering bolts, of wrought iron, are set in the mould, when the bed is cast.

The trunnion bed is accurately reamed, in the cheeks and transom.

Two cap squares, of wrought iron, are fastened to the cheeks, each by two straps held by two bolts passing through holds in the cheeks, and keyed on the outside.

A bolster (oak) is fastened on the front transom by two bolts and two nuts. The bolster has a groove fore the elevating quoin, which is placed in a direction perpendicular to the axis of the mortar.

For firing, the mortar bed sat on top of a wooden platform made of hard wood. By regulation the platform consisted of six sleepers and eighteen deck planks.

The bed for the 8-inch mortar weighed 920 pounds and measured 42 inches by 34 inches. The 10-inch variety weighed 1830 pounds, measuring 51.8 inches by 40 inches. So in terms of weight, the mortar bed weighed about the same as the mortar. Add in the weight of the mortar wagon to transport the setup, and you have a hefty eight-horse load.

Civil War photos show a slightly different bed design with more structure for the cheek plates. One of those appears in the artillery park at Broadway Landing, Virginia at the end of the war. The mortar may be a weapon captured from Confederates, accounting for the differences in the bed.

That crop is from a larger image, one of several showing this rather interesting scene with dozens of cannons. It’s one place I’d like to visit, given a time machine.

At some point, I need to walk through those photos… cannon by cannon… but first the mortars.