Wilderness-Spotsylvania 150ths schedule announced

Several readers have asked about the next round of National Park Service 150th events.  I noticed today that Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park has several dates posted:

In 1864, the eyes of the nation turned to Virginia, where it seemed the fate of the war would be decided. New to the war in the East, Ulysses S. Grant launched a campaign with the determination that “there will be no turning back.” 150 years later, the National Park Service is proud to offer a series of programs, ceremonies, and real-time tours to commemorate the fateful events of May 1864.

More information will become available as we finalize our plans for the event. If you are only able to join us for a portion of these events, we recommend concentrating your visit during the long weekend of May 8-12.

The Battle of the Wilderness

May 3-4, 2014

The commemorative weekend will begin with an opening ceremony, accompanied by walking tours, talks, and bus tours. An evening program on May 4 will set the stage for the battle to come. Historians will staff stations on the battlefield to add detail to the driving tour.

May 5-6, 2014

On the actual anniversary dates, we will offer several real-time tours, including a sunrise in Widow Tapp’s field on May 6, when the battle hung in the balance.

Battle of Spotsylvania Court House

May 8-12, 2014

In 1864, these four days tested the limits of human endurance. To commemorate the climax of the Overland Campaign on our battlefields, we will offer a multitude of commemorative programs, real-time guided walks, bus tours, and living history programs. Our signature culminating moment will be on the evening of May 10, and we will hold a vigil for the 22 hours of continuous combat at Spotsylvania’s famous Bloody Angle on May 12. Historians will staff stations on the battlefield to offer additional information as you tour the field.

May 17, 2014

A Celebration of Freedom–this program will focus on the ending of slavery in Spotsylvania County, as well as commemorating the first combat between soldiers in the United States Colored Troops and the Army of Northern Virginia.

May 18, 2014

The commemoration of the last major attacks launched during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.

May 24-26, 2014

Reverberations: our annual National Cemetery Illumination takes on greater significance partnered with distant communities touched by war, along with our annual Memorial Day program.

The FSNMP staff has two major sesquicentennial events already in the books to brag about.  Start clearing your May schedules now!

Wainwright’s Diary, January 17, 1864: A fine Sunday

January 17 was a Sunday in 1864.  How did Colonel Charles S. Wainwright spend this Sunday during a winter encampment?

Being Sunday when no business is done at Army Headquarters, I am staying at home today, and trying to make it appear different from other days. In the first place, I went to church in the village, where I heard one of the chaplains preach a very poor sermon fifty minutes long; not a good way to induce men to attend….

The need to break up the monotony is something any soldier can relate to.  In Iraq, we often referred to the situation as “Groundhog Day.”  A reference, of course, which would have been lost on Wainwright.

… My other effort was more successful, being a Sunday dinner. On Friday still another box arrived from New York or I might properly say from The Meadows, for its contents consisted of long strings of sausages, pots of head-cheese, and a three-gallon can of okra soup.  By looking after them myself and a constant blowing up I have managed to get “Ben” and “John” into something better than they were. “Ben” is too helped in his cooking by a great tin oven which Bergain sent me in place of a Dutch bake oven I ordered; this the darky pronounces to be “the goodest thing to back in he ever se’ed”  – roast is a word unknown in his vocabulary. Dr. Heard dined with us in honor of the extra spread, which consisted of soup, turkey, potatoes, and beats; then broiled quail; finishing off with nuts, dried fruit, cake, and candy. Backed by the sherry, which we drank out of tumblers in the absence of wine glasses, it made a very respectable feed for camp.

The opulence of Wainwright’s table was mostly due to his station, of course.  But similar “care packages” were supplementing many a soldier’s rations in the Federal camps.  With adequate railroad lines, the Army of the Potomac did not want for sustenance.

There is a bit of contrast, considering Confederate reports from that January. Only a week earlier, General Robert E. Lee complained to President Jefferson Davis about 5,000 pounds of bacon lost in transit.  “At our present rate of issue this is equal to 20,000 rations, and is intolerable.”  In South Carolina, General P.G.T. Beauregard complained on January 12 that, “Troops on James Island have been several days without meat of any kind.”  Both Confederate generals mentioned inefficiencies with the transportation system and commissary officials.

Wainwright continued with his Sunday entry noting his “triple duties as colonel of my regiment, commander of a brigade, and chief of artillery of this army.”

I know but a few of the officers at Army Headquarters well.  Dr. [Jonathan] Letterman, who has proved himself such a capable surgeon-in-chief, has been relieved, a Dr. McParlin taking his place.  Letterman was married not long ago, and I suppose wants to get home post where he may enjoy more of the company of his bride….

Reading Wainwright’s installment of January 17, it seems he accomplished something very difficult for any soldier, at any rank, in a theater of war – to have escaped the war, in even a small way, for a day.

(Citations from Charles S. Wainwright, A Diary of Battle: The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865, edited by Allan Nevins, New York: Da Capo Press, 1998, pages 316;  OR, Series I, Volume 33, Serial 60, page 1076, Volume 35, Part I, Serial 65, page 520.)