150 year ago: Bridges over the Rappahannock

I’m often inclined to put emphasis on the activities of the supporting arms in campaigns such as Chancellorsville. Not that I want to reach past the activities of the combat arms (particularly the artillery!). But the activities of signalers, engineers, and quartermasters are some of the “parts,” and in many cases valuable parts, that add up to that sum total of effort.

Henry W. Benham


I’ve mentioned – just mentioned a part of – the signal troops in the Chancellorsville campaign. Another branch that played a critical and often overlooked role were the engineers. Specifically those involved with bridging operations to support the advance over the Rappahannock… and then the retreat back. The official reports from Brigadier-General Henry W. Benham, commanding the Engineer Brigade, provide a table detailing bridging operations during the campaign. Here’s a reproduction of that table:




Benham listed fifteen bridge operations. One of these, number nine, did not have a bridge laid but rather noted the movement of bridging equipment to Bank’s Ford. The Engineer Brigade used nine bridges, relaying five of them twice, for a total of fourteen bridge placements. And fourteen bridges pulled up when the army no longer needed them. All within the span of nine days. These bridges spanned the Rappahannock at points over thirty (river) miles apart.


Completion times – which I think were “weighted” to the short side – are not excessive. Benham’s table indicates most of the Fredericksburg bridges required less than an hour and a half from start to finish. That is, of course, not to say the time from initial movement to finish. Or for that matter does not address the “ordered” time for completion. Regardless, the times reported for some of these operations, such as 45 minutes at Kelly’s Ford or 1 ½ hours at United States Ford, speak to the efficiency of the engineer bridging troops.



Several of the bridging operations were conducted under Confederate guns. At Fredericksburg the engineers didn’t face as stiff resistance as the previous December, but were certainly not unopposed. Bank’s Ford crossing also saw Confederate resistance. In all the Engineer brigade casualties were one killed and three wounded. (I’d rather suffer the sore back of an engineer over the lot of some infantryman at Chancellorsville. How about you?)

In his reports, Benham relates problems, lots of problems. What part of those problems came from the friction within the army, and what part came from Benham’s flask, is hard to decide. But each of these bridges had great operational importance. Even being late and delayed, the bridges in place at Fredericksburg caused the Confederates pause. And those placed at United States Ford were “golden” when the Army of the Potomac retreated.

Looking at the number of bridges built, the times in which those were completed, the units involved, and some of the responsible officers, I cannot help but consider what those same men, officers, and equipments would be doing a little short of two months later on the Potomac.


(Benham’s report and the table are in OR, Series I, Volume 25, Part I, Serial 39, pages 204-216.)


150 years ago: Telegraph wire to support the campaign

This week is “Chancellorsville Week.” So away with the Charleston stuff.

Major-General Joseph Hooker’s spring offensive called for quick movement of wide-ranging columns. Doesn’t take a stay at the War College to conclude such operations require solid communication links. Even the best general, commanding the best troops, cannot work effectively on a campaign of maneuver if orders move at the pace of a dispatch rider. In the 1860s, communication technologies being what they were, state of the art was the telegraph wire.

Given more space I would recount the lessons taught in the Army Signal School, even today, about techniques for laying field wire. The “physics” behind laying wire has not changed much in 150 years. Hooker’s “wire dogs” probably would find this illustration from a World War II manual familiar*:


So how good was Hooker’s telegraph network?

In his official report of the campaign, Captain Samuel T. Cushing, the acting Chief of Signal for the Army of the Potomac, provided a day-by-day accounting of the signal support during the campaign. I’ll focus on his remarks regarding telegraph wire support.

At the start of operations, on April 27, he received instructions to run telegraph lines to Bank’s Ford and Franklin’s Crossing. “Upon inquiring what rules should govern these lines, I was merely told to have them extended by night.” Cushing therefore did not extend the lines any further than explicitly ordered. No attempt was made to start wire runs along anticipated lines of advance. No attempt was made to stockpile wire where it might be needed.

The following day, Cushing received new orders to extend the line to United States Ford. In order to accomplish that run, he reused line recovered from the winter’s encampments. “I was obliged to use wire in which I had but little confidence, it having been in constant use for four months upon the line from general headquarters to Belle Plain.” Cushing complained that he requested to pull up that wire earlier, but was refused. So his troops pulled in 11 miles of wire, carried it to Bank’s Ford, then strung that wire back out to United States Ford, “making the aggregate distance marched by the party about 35 miles.” That’s 35 miles while placing wire. Cushing credits Captain F.E. Beardslee with the success of this operation.

But all for all the effort to run the line to United States Ford on April 28, no signals passed that evening. Cushing explained that, “owing to an accident to one of the instruments, communication was not opened that night. The wire was in bad order, and the instrument was not sufficiently strong to work through the wire with success.” I would guess this was due to kinks and bends in the recently recovered wire, which would add to attenuation of signal. Worse the wire, the stronger the power source needed. Not until 9 am on April 29 was the line working.

The woes continued on April 30. With a stronger set of batteries at Bank’s Ford, that telegraph station worked somewhat better. However, Cushing’s U.S. Military Telegraphers stood down when civilian operators arrived. “I was merely held responsible for the wire, subject partially to orders or instructions from the citizen operators.” Later that day, the wire was extended across the Rappahannock at United States Ford.


On May 1, Cushing received a detachment of eight officers, flagmen, and fifteen miles of wire. As the great battle was opening, Cushing was up in the air as to where that new wire would be best employed. Headquarters called for five miles of wire sent to Bank’s Ford. Cushing sent all fifteen.

With Federal headquarters at Chancellorsville on May 2, the signal troops completed the wire run to that point. While that was being done, an urgent request came to run wire to Brigadier-General John Gibbon’s headquarters in Falmouth. Not long after that line was run, Gibbon moved to cross the river. However, Cushing did establish a team to provide Major-General John Sedgwick’s headquarters with telegraph support when that Corps moved forward.

Now we all know that on the morning of May 3, Hooker was knocked unconscious by Confederate artillery fire. But at the same time the army commander was down, the communication infrastructure lapsed due to confusing orders. General Daniel Butterfield, Army Chief of Staff, ordered all units to stop using signals, complaining that the Confederates were reading them. “As all the important dispatches had heretofore been sent in cipher and as General Butterfield had been informed by me some days previous that we had a cipher in our possession, I do not understand why this order was sent. Suffice it to say that it had a most disastrous effect upon signal duty during the day.” This order effectively left the army communications at the speed of the dispatch rider during critical phases of the battle, and with elements engaged on separate fronts.

The signal team supporting Sedgwick placed wire across the Rappahannock and established a telegraph with his headquarters on the evening of May 3. Another team swam the river at Bank’s Ford and placed a telegraph station there. “This movement, though bold and daring, was of no immediate importance, and the instruments and wire were brought back in the evening.”

The communication woes continued through May 4. The signal flags, not the telegraph wires, were more useful communicating with Sedgwick. The “no signals” order remained in effect. Only late in the day did signal flag operators establish direct communications. (Allow me to save full discussion of the debilitating cipher problem for another post.)

On May 5 suffered, not from enemy action, but to the storm which blew threw. Cushing related that it “…greatly damaged the telegraph lines, tearing the poles down, and greatly deranging the instruments.” As the army retreated back across the Rappahannock on the following day, the signal troops recovered telegraph wire and equipment and fell back in turn.

Supporting an army on the move with wire-based communication – be that 1863 or today – requires good planning and mindful execution…. speaking from some experience with such matters myself.

(Cushing’s report is found in OR, Series I, Volume 25, Part I, Serial 39, pages 217-223.)

* However I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that most wire today is insulated, allowing for more installation options.  Especially burying.

The stalemate of April outside Charleston, Part 2

First off, let me update the map provided in part 1 of this set (looking at the situation outside Charleston in late April 1863):

I’ve added the place-names for the islands held by the Federals.  Also depicted the units deployed to James, Morris, and Folly Islands.

Second, let me better describe Brigadier-General Vogdes’ command.  The brigade  consisted of 6th Connecticut, 36th Illinois, 4th New Hampshire, 100th New York, 62nd Ohio, 67th Ohio, and 85th Pennslvania infantry regiments.  The Third Battalion of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry (Companies I, K, L, and M) accompanied the brigade.  Also attached to Vogdes’ command was one company of the 3rd New York Light Artillery, two companies of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery, and Battery C, 1st U.S. Artillery.  Rounding out the formation was three companies of the 1st New York Engineers.

On Seabrook Island, just off the map to the left, Brigadier-General Thomas Stevenson had the 10th Connecticut, 24th Massachusetts, 56th New York, and 97th Pennsylvania, along with additional supporting troops.  All told, nearly 7,500 Federals occupied the barrier islands south of Charleston.

On the Confederate side, General P.G.T. Beauregard’s calls for assistance, prior to and after the April 7 ironclad attack, resulted in an increase in troops around Charleston.  On March 21, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley’s 1st Military District (Charleston, Fort Sumter, James Island, St. Johns Island, and posts to the north of Charleston) numbered 12,345 troops present, up from 8,663 reported at the middle of the month.  On April 7, when the ironclads attacked, that number was roughly the same.  But by April 23, Ripley reported 18,351 present for duty.  But this was a temporary increase in strength.

Although not engaged in any major fighting, the troops were far from idle. In the weeks after the April 7 attack, Beauregard feared a Federal landing at Bull’s Bay might expose the flanks of Sullivan’s Island.  One brigade shifted to Christ Church Parrish in response.  At the same time, Beauregard ordered Brigadier General S.R. Gist to occupy Black Island, behind Morris Island, with field artillery (see the map above for location).  Fear was that Federals might occupy that island and take in flank both the Morris Island defenses and Secessionville (Fort Lamar).  But to fortify these points the Confederates needed time and labor.  As mentioned before, they were coming up short on the later.

By the first days of May, troops were departing Charleston for other threatened sectors.  Among those departing were the brigades of Brigadier-Generals S.R. Gist and W.H.T. Walker. Pressed to send Brigadier-General Nathan Evan’s Brigade on top of that, Beauregard argued with some success to retain at least 13,000 troops in front of Charleston (both 1st and 2nd Military Districts).

Reflecting on the situation and the results of the April 7th engagement, Beauregard offered advice to Colonel John Forsyth, responsible for the defenses at Mobile Bay:

I place great reliance, however, on three things – heavy guns, Rains torpedoes, and, in deep water, rope obstructions.  I have also introduced here Lee’s (one of my officers) spar torpedoes, attached to row-boats, which ought to be used in flotillas on all our large rivers.

In the days after the attack, Beauregard had followed his own advice.  He temporarily held up some heavy guns, including Brooke rifles, moving by rail to Savannah.  But unable to retain those, he looked about for other options.  One was to modify more of the heavy smoothbores into rifled guns – particularly the 8-inch columbiads which had little effect on the ironclads – in a manner similar to the 42-pdrs.  This program eventually expanded to 10-inch columbiads.  But the process took time.  None of the guns would appear in the harbor defenses until mid-summer at the earliest.

The number of rifled guns in Beauregard’s entire command as of the end of April was 113, as indicated on an April 24 report:


The majority of rifled guns were field artillery, and an odd assortment at that (Wiards, Blakelys, Parrotts, James, and Whitworths).  The converted 42-, 32- and 24-pdrs were marginal at best. Of the Brookes, three of those from the report were earmarked for the CSS Atlanta at Savannah.

But the Charleston defenders would receive, as the spoils from the victory on April 7, two additional heavy guns.  With the USS Keokuk sunk in shallow waters (see the blue mark just to the lower right of the map), Confederate engineers deemed it possible to salvage the ship’s XI-inch Dahlgrens.  That work took place between mid-April and the first week of May.  As result, Beauregard added the heaviest guns in all of the South to his defenses. (I promise more details on that operation in posts to follow.)

While working the wreck, the Confederates needed to support the salvage crew from any Federal interference.  At least twice during the salvage, Confederate ironclads moved up to cover the operation.  On April 20, the CSS Chicora exchanged shots with the Federals.  Guns on Morris Island also covered the operation, particularly a Whitworth field gun.  Although of light caliber, the gun could fire a solid bolt accurately to extreme ranges.  Beauregard wanted a second gun of this type, but was denied.

With respect to torpedoes, after the ironclad attack the Confederates wanted to determine the reason for the “big torpedo” failure.  As related earlier, the determination was excess cable played out during the laying of that weapon, thus rendering it incapable of firing.  That issue identified, the defenders soon placed more of the large torpedoes.

But Beauregard was most interested in employing the spar torpedoes.  Writing to Adjutant General Samuel Cooper in Richmond, he lamented that, “The work on the marine torpedo ram is at a stand-still for want of material and money.”  The funding for the project was expended and more was needed. While the Confederate navy provided some materials, much of the needed iron-plating went to the ironclads then under production in Charleston.  Pressing the point, Beauregard added:

Meantime the great value of the invention has been demonstrated so as to secure general conviction, and Captain Tucker, commanding Confederate States naval forces afloat on this station, declares unhesitatingly that this one machine of war, if finished, would be more effective  as a means of defense and offense than nearly all the iron-clads here afloat and building, a fact of which I am and have been fully assured.  Had it been finished and afloat when the enemy’s iron-clads entered this harbor several weeks ago but few of them probably would have escaped.

In early May, Confederates in Charleston received reports of “400-500 tons of iron mailing plates” in Nassau.  Circulars went out offering up to $1,500 per ton to blockade runners transporting the iron.  Beauregard went to the extreme measure of denying cotton to any runner who refused to carry the iron.

During the lull through the end of April, Confederates angled for an opportunity to mount a row-boat spar torpedo attack on the Federal vessels anchored in the Stono River near Folly Island. But these efforts came to naught.  Naval crews sent to Charleston in anticipation of capturing a monitor were soon sent back to Richmond.

As April closed, both sides maintained a stalemate outside Charleston.  Yet as both sides shouldered for leverage on the coastline, particular points gained prominence for future operations.  Folly Island would be the toe-hold needed to secure Morris Island.  Morris Island would thence become the key to reducing Fort Sumter.  Beauregard’s spar torpedoes would indeed succeed in damaging the Federal ships outside the harbor.   And the stationary torpedoes would keep the fleet out of the harbor.  The stalemate in April was but a brief respite before the next round of operations.  There would be few such respites in the next two years of war as Charleston became a very active theater.

(Citations and table from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 906, 917, and 927.)

The “all purpose” shell gun: XI-inch Dahlgrens

If pressed to name the most important, or most useful, weapon in the Dahlgren family, I’d make the case for the XI-inch Shell Gun.  The Navy employed that weapon in every possible guise during the Civil War (and beyond).  The weapon served widely across the fleet in some of the most historic engagements.  The USS Monitor carried XI-inch guns into action at Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862.  Other ironclads employed XI-inch guns in the attack on Fort Sumter on April 7, 1863.  XI-inch Dahlgrens of the USS Kearsarge smashed the CSS Alabama in the Battle of Cherbourg on June 19, 1864.  I’d make the case the XI-inch Dahlgrens were the most “storied” of the family.


The XI-inch gun requirement rose from practical considerations of the advances in ship propulsion technology in the 1850s.  In his book, Shells and Shell-guns, published in 1856, John A. Dahlgren wrote:

The earliest steamers were driven by the sidewheel, and so continued for man years later.  This arrangement conflicted directly with the system of broadside armament, both as regarded the number of guns and their position.

In the first place, it was impossible to carry the customary proportion of pieces in a vessel of this description, because the steam power occupied so much of the space commonly allotted to stowing provisions and water, that the crew required for a full broadside, could not be provided for.  Therefore, it was necessary to reduce the number of men, and as a consequence, the number of cannon; independently of which, the latter could not be accommodated in the broadside, because the huge wheels and their fixtures not only covered much of its extent, but they interfered with the training of those guns for which there was room.

Thus Dahlgren suggested the largest possible caliber shell guns be mounted on pivots at either end of the ship.  Such worked around the issues mentioned and at the same time met the long standing American preference to carry the heaviest possible weapons into the fight.  So Dahlgren added the 11-inch caliber to the shell guns of his design.  He considered that caliber the heaviest which could be worked at sea.


The first production batch came from West Point Foundry in 1856.  Of these early guns, at least one was expended in extreme proofing.

However, the XI-inch shell gun met with some skepticism among the Navy’s ship captains.  After all, a XI-inch shell weighed some 136 pounds!  To settle this, Dahlgren went to sea with one of the XI-inch guns on the training ship USS Plymouth in 1857.  Successful trials convinced the Navy’s senior officers that crews could work the XI-inch guns.  Mounted in pivot, the gun required a crew of 25.


The XI-inch guns also served as broadside guns, most notably on the USS New Ironsides, where the screw propulsion system removed the limitations Dahlgren noted in the pre-war discussions.

At the start of the Civil War, the Navy was just beginning to equip ships with the heavy shell gun.  West Point Foundry delivered 50 by the end of 1862.  Included in that lot were numbers 27 and 28 which served on the Monitor. Number 40 went to sea on the Kearsarge.

XI-inch Gun on the Kearsarge

In 1862, other vendors received contracts for XI-inch shell guns.  During the war, Fort Pitt Foundry cast 70; Cyrus Alger provided 89; Builder’s Foundry of Providence, Rhode Island delivered 100; the firm of Hinkley, Williams and Company of Boston, Massachusetts added 100; Seyfert, McManus and Company’s Scott Foundry produced 49; the Portland Locomotive Works in Maine cast four before shifting back to engine production; and likewise the Trenton Locomotive Company in New Jersey dabbled with naval ordnance, but only delivered three guns.  Overall the Navy received 465 of the XI-inch Dahlgrens.

The XI-inch gun design conformed to Dahlgren’s “soda bottle” exterior shape.  The guns were cast solid with excess metal around the chase, then bored out.  As the table above indicates, the bore ran 131 inches including an 11 inch chamber.  The chamber used a modified Gomer profile, being rounded at the bottom instead of flat.  The only major variation among the castings was with the muzzle.  Contemporary records indicate the first deliveries had a “bulb muzzle,” describing the shape of the muzzle swell. Later deliveries used a “tulip muzzle.”  Yet many survivors have no muzzle swell at all or at least part of the swell shaved to clear the firing ports.

Charleston 4 May 10 067
Muzzle of XI-inch Gun from the Keokuk

The muzzle alterations continued postwar when the Navy ordered some guns converted to rifles.

Patriots Point 3 May 2010 066
XI-inch Gun converted to 8-inch Rifle

The XI-inch guns served as pivot guns, broadside guns, turret guns, and even seacoast defense guns during the Civil War.  In short, every conceivable position one might use a 16,000 pound gun!

Hold Folly Island without attracting attention: The stalemate of April outside Charleston, Part 1

After the Ironclad attack of April 7, 1863, major activity around Charleston slowed. Several reasons for this. Admiral Samuel DuPont was, naturally, reluctant to expose the ironclads again. General David Hunter was content to leave the status quo. On the Confederate side, in spite of the pleas of General P.G.T. Beauregard, the focus shifted to other threatened theaters. Troops, cannons, and other resources were dispatched or diverted to Vicksburg and Virginia.

But that is not to say there was no activity. To understand the next round of operations at Charleston we must consider the actions taken to improve positions by both sides of the contest through April and into May. Turning again to the wartime maps, let me offer a rough depiction of the dispositions towards the end of April:


At the time of the Ironclad attack, the Federal troops on Folly Island prepared to dash over Light House Inlet and onto Morris Island. But with the withdraw of the ironclads, Hunter – with no great reluctance – ordered the troops to stand down. All indications are, had that assault taken place, it would have overwhelmed the southern end of Morris Island. But I won’t speculate (here at least) about the potential to capture Battery Wagner.

Those troops remained on Folly Island and extended the “beachhead” out to nearby Coles Island and Long Island. Recall back in March Confederate commanders desired those same islands as leverage to close off any access to James Island. The very presence of Federal picket lines at those points touched on a sore point in the Confederate defenses. This left the Stono River open for Federal gunboats (with some risk of course).

But the Federals did not press any advantages there. Brigadier-General Israel Vogdes commanded just 4,200 troops on Folly Island. While he had an interesting array of field artillery (Wiard rifles and boat howitzers included in the mix), he was not allowed to place any heavy guns. Further down the coast, Briadier General T.G. Stevenson commanded another 3,200 troops on Seabrook Island. Vogdes’ troops occasionally exchanged shots with the Confederates. The biggest skirmish occurred on the night of April 10. But generally both sides were content to simply observe each other. Vogdes’ reports contain several mention of Confederate works and artillery seen on Morris Island.

Despite detailed requests to improve the defenses of Folly Island and even erect heavy guns, Vogdes received no encouragement. His superior, Brigadier-General Truman Seymour, concluded, “A work at the mouth of Folly River seems undesirable just now. The object is to simply hold Folly Island, without attracting too much attention to it, until projected operations can be recommenced.”

And what was recommenced? Mostly just posturing. Hunter did make a proposal for what might be called a “reverse March to the Sea” to take 10,000 troops “through counties in which, as shown by the census, the slave population is 75 per cent of the inhabitants.” Proposing the operation to Lincoln, Hunter added, “Nothing is truer, sir, than that this rebellion has left the Southern States a mere hollow shell.” Perhaps a winning strategy, but some eighteen months too early.

At the end of the month, Vogdes became convinced an opportunity existed to his front. On April 29 he reported, “I have been reconnoitering pretty carefully, and putting everything together have come to the conclusion that most of the enemy’s force have been withdrawn from Charleston.” Vogdes mentioned a disappearance of Confederate troops and newspapers passed between the lines. Vogdes desired a fortification on the north end of Folly Island. As he saw it, if the next operation was defensive, then such works would firmly secure the island from attack. But if the next phase was offensive, then Vogdes wanted overwhelming firepower to suppress any Confederate defenses on Morris Island. In all, the theater commander seemed oblivious to any opportunity that existed between Folly and Morris Islands.

Another point which Federal commanders overlooked was the wreck of the USS Keokuk. When the ironclad sank in shallow waters on April 8, the Federals made a few abortive attempts to destroy the vessel. Both sides paid visits to the wreck afterwards. The Federals felt salvage operations were not feasible, particularly in close proximity to the Confederate guns. On the other hand, Confederate engineers saw the two XI-inch Dahlgrens in the Keokuk as prizes for the taking.

I’ll look at the Confederate activity in the next part.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 446-57.)

“The troops in Virginia and Tennessee have generally built [forts]…”: Slave labor for seacoast forts

Last month, while discussing the issues facing the Charleston defenders, I mentioned the shortage of labor needed to build the defenses. General P.G.T. Beauregard and other military officials complained the planters failed to supply the numbers required to complete the works. Often when interpreting this particular issue, we bring up the irony that in order to preserve States Rights and the “peculiar institution” the Confederacy came to some rather “federalist” policies. Not to take away from that, I’d offer a side path to consider.

The requirement for labor remained, even after the ironclad attack of April 7, 1863 – if nothing else, the requirement was even greater. At Savannah, officials estimated the need for 1,500 slaves. But in the previous month only 132 were “engaged upon the earthworks near Savannah. Of these 102 will be discharged this week.” In South Carolina, the army called upon the state for 3,000 laborers. Yet, officials reported receiving only a fraction of that number.

And I would point out this was not just a practice unique to South Carolina and Georgia were Beauregard commanded. Fellow blogger Jim Schmidt recently discussed slave labor employed to build the defenses of Galveston, Texas (both Federal and Confederate use, BTW).

While the military complained the planters were not answering the calls, the planters had grievances of their own. A letter from state senator A. Mazyck to South Carolina Governor Milledge Luke Bonham, later attached to correspondence to General Beauregard, offers ample enumeration of those:

South Santee, April 21, 1863.
His Excellency M. L. Bonham, Governor, &c.:

MY DEAR SIR: While I was in Charleston, on my way home from Columbia, I met my neighbor, Dr. A. E. Gadsden, who told me that some 7 or 8 negroes that he had had there for some months in the public service had been without employment fur a week or ten days because it was said there was nothing for them to do, and were at length discharged and sent home to him, yet notwithstanding this a notice is published that negroes will be called for from this district early in May. The fact stated by Dr. Gadsden will be generally known in this part of the country, and cannot fail to make the impression that the labor is not really wanted, and that the planters are harassed and their business interrupted for nothing. Most of the negroes on this river have been removed. A few of us, however, have kept ours at home, and are endeavoring to plant a crop, which we cannot do if our negroes are taken away in May. In the course of the winter a good many of them were employed in constructing a battery on North Santee, which has been a long time finished, but not a single gun has yet been mounted on it, and it does not seem that any will be, so that this, like all the rest of our work, is wasted. Under these circumstances I do not think it likely that any negroes will be obtained here. The facts I have stated show that there must be some gross mismanagement on the part of the military authorities. I do not know that you can do anything to remedy the evil, but I think it right to bring it to your notice, as you may not otherwise lie aware of it.
Very respectfully and truly, yours, &c.,
A. Mazyck.

Given the inefficiency of the system, and the ever present need for labor on the plantation, little wonder the planters were reserved with their support.

In Georgia, Governor Joseph E. Brown added his concerns in correspondence with Brigadier-General Hugh Mercer, commanding at Savannah, on April 24, 1863:

… It was believed that the Confederate generals in command had no more right to call on the State government to impress negroes for them than they had to call on State officers to impress provisions, forage, or any other thing necessary for the Army, as the act of Congress makes the one as much the duty of Confederate officers as the other. It was also believed that the negroes now called for could not be collected in time to erect new works which might be completed and ready for use before the time when the enemy will be forced by the heat of the climate to abandon further offensive operations against Savannah this spring…. If we are to continue the war successfully it is of the most vital importance that our fields shall be cultivated and provisions made for the Army and the people at home, including the families of our brave soldiers. It is now the time of greatest necessity for labor in the fields. A hand taken from the plantation for the next two or three months had as well be taken for the whole year, as he can make no crop unless he works now….

The State troops last year built the line of fortifications constructed by order of General Jackson, including Fort Boggs, with the exception probably of the masonry, without any additional compensation and without complaint. The troops in Virginia and Tennessee have generally built the fortifications ordered by our generals in the same way.

The letter from Brown carried considerable sting. However his prediction about Federal operations proved incorrect, at least in part. The “enemy,” apparently undeterred by the heat, continued active operations outside Charleston through the summer. Although, as far as Brown was concerned Savannah remained safe.

Now having offered these citations, I could then invite you down the path to discuss the practical failure of states rights in a Confederacy at war. But you’ve probably read the “died of a theory” quote before.

Instead, consider the ready example offered by Brown when insisting the troops do more of the work. Virginia and Tennessee? Both states had seen heavy campaigning the previous year. The Armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee had carried the war into the North during 1862. And…And, more importantly the rank and file had seen the “total war” being waged.

We shouldn’t just isolate discussions about “total war” to blusterous John Pope or William T. Sherman. That mode of warfare had implications in the Confederacy as well.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 14, Serial 20, pages 902, 914, and 915-16.)


Cool Springs Battlefield preservation: A win all around

From the Civil War Trust:

Commonwealth of Virginia, Civil War Trust and Shenandoah University Announce Public-Private Partnership to Protect Cool Spring Battlefield

Former golf course will become outdoor classroom offering university students hands-on experience in outdoor leadership and education, history and environmental studies; public will retain access to scenic property

(Clarke County, Va.) – This morning, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech joined representatives of the Civil War Trust and Shenandoah University to celebrate the successful completion of a public-private partnership to permanently protect 195 acres along the Shenandoah River that played a crucial role in the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring.” The event was part of the Commonwealth’s celebration of Earth Week 2013 and highlighted the project’s unique intersection of environmental benefit, educational opportunity and economic growth potential.

“I can think of no better way to honor the Commonwealth’s commitment to ensuring the protection and care of our state’s natural resources this Earth Week than by celebrating our partnership to conserve this site,” said Secretary Domenech. “With its sweeping views of the Virginia countryside, Shenandoah River access and historic pedigree, this land will be appreciated and enjoyed for generations to come.”

Virginia Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick agreed, adding, “Through this preservation partnership, the Cool Spring Battlefield will be far more than a passive historic site — this land is poised to become a dynamic, multi-faceted learning environment that will enhance educational opportunities in a variety of fields.” (Full Story Here)

And how did this all come together?

This portion of the Cool Springs Battlefield was part of the Virginia National Country Club (the other side of the battlefield, where some of the most significant fighting took place, is part of the Holy Cross Abby). When the country club fell into bankruptcy, the Trust and other parties first proposed adding the facility to the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority (NVRPA)system. The plan dropped when the Clarke County Board of Supervisors voted down the option to join NVRPA in March of last year. At the time, the supervisors left open other options to preserve the portion of the battlefield in question. I hoped that was the opening needed to follow through with another preservation plan.

Indeed, it was. In September, the Trust announced that Cool Springs was among seven battlefields benefiting from a generous state grant. Funding remained incomplete, so the Trust worked their magic:

Protection of the Cool Spring site was made possible through generous, competitively awarded preservation matching grants from both the federal and state governments. The American Battlefield Protection Program, administered by the National Park Service, contributed $200,000 toward the $2 million total purchase price, while the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund — the most successful state level grant program of its kind in the nation — put forward another $800,000. Remaining funding was secured through a significant landowner donation and contributions from Trust members.

But this won’t be just some battlefield park with associated overhead costs. Instead, the battlefield, while remaining open to the public, was transferred over to Shenandoah University:

In 2012, the Civil War Trust negotiated to acquire the 195-acre former Virginia National Country Club following its bankruptcy. Recognizing the site’s unique potential as a community resource, the Trust began investigating a variety of partnership opportunities for long-term stewardship of the battlefield, before settling on what Lighthizer calls the “perfect solution” — transferring the property to Shenandoah University….

The university is currently evaluating options and developing proposals for specific programming to take place at the Cool Spring site. The property and surrounding environment has the potential to serve as an experiential learning campus for academic programs in the fields of outdoor leadership and education, environmental studies and history.

In addition, numerous possibilities are being considered to integrate the campus community as a whole through opportunities developed and implemented by Shenandoah University’s Division of Student Life. These co-curricular pieces are fundamental for enhancing a connection to the region, while promoting environmental stewardship. Furthermore, the Cool Spring site will afford local schools and the public at large with opportunities to explore the region through historical and natural interpretation.

At a minimum, this is a win for all concerned. What I do hope is this is further transformed into a greater victory with the university’s use of this property as an educational resource. Hopefully the curriculum which leverages Cool Springs will aid the development of preservation and conservation oriented planners.