Nineteenth Annual Appomattox CH / Longwood U. Civil War Seminar

Save the date.  The Nineteenth Annual Civil War Seminar, hosted by Appomattox Court House National Historic Park and Longwood University, is on Saturday, February 3, 2018 at Jarman Auditorium on the Longwood University campus, Farmville, Virginia.

Appomattox Court House NHP will post details on their event page, but from the flyer distributed by Longwood University:

  • 8:30 a.m.          Doors open
  • 9:00 a.m.          Introduction by Dr. David Coles
  • 9:10 a.m.          Gary W. Gallager –  Robert E. Lee Generalship: Politics, Public Morale, and Confederate Prospects for Victory

The quality of Robert E. Lee’s generalship has prompted considerable debate since the 1970s.  This lecture will assess critiques of Lee as a parochial Virginian who failed to see the larger strategic picture, waged too many costly battles, never came to terms with the impact of recent military technology, and might have shortened, rather than lengthened, the life of the Confederacy.

  • 10:15 a.m.        Ralph Peters – Leaders Known, Leaders Forgotten: Command and Character in the Civil War

Explores the various styles of leadership on the battlefield and in high command, with special attention to the interactions of character, personal background, generational issues and talent. What are the consistencies and contradictions of successful battlefield leadership?  How often did personal relationships determine outcomes? Are there lessons for today, or is leadership different now? Discussion will focus on commanders from Grant and Lee to Jackson, Hooker, Sheridan, Gordon, Stuart, O.O. Howard and Carl Schurz, with various “honorable mentions.”

  • 11:30 a.m.        Edwin C. Bearss – Recollections of Appomattox

Reflections that delve into not only some historical aspects of Appomattox, but also personal reflections on attending the 100th, 125th, and 150th Anniversary events.

  • 12:30                 Lunch
  • 1:45 p.m.          Judith Giesberg –  Sex and the Civil War: Soldiers, Pornography, and the Making of American Morality

This talk will explore the Civil War origins of the anti-pornography legislation by taking a look at the impetus behind a February 1865 law.  Making use of the wartime letters and diaries of a number of Union soldiers, the lecture considers soldiers’ own experiences with period erotica. What did they have access to, read, circulate? And, what did these materials mean to them? The Civil War was a turning point for the influential rise of postwar anti-vice campaigns.  These also included laws against contraceptives and abortion, newly entrenched legal regulations of marriage, and ever broader social purity initiatives around sexuality.

  •  2:45 p.m.        John W. Montcastle – When War Came This Way: The Woman’s War

The Civil War in Virginia brought women untold challenges, crushing hardships, and great pain. But the conflict which often dashed their hopes for the future also spurred women to step into roles previously denied them. Then, they made significant contributions to their families, their communities, and their state.  When war came this way, women achieved a reputation for sacrifice, selfless service, and leadership that inspires us still.

No reservations necessary.  Signs will be posted on the Longwood University Campus.  For directions to the campus go to  For more information contact Dr. David Coles at 434-395-2220 or Patrick Schroeder at 434-352-8987, Ext. 232.

This seminar is always a favorite of mine.  As welcome as a cup of coffee and a warm fireplace as it comes in mid-winter.  I plan to attend and hope to see you there.  But if you are unable to, I’ll be on Twitter providing some of the highlights.


A Host to the Generals: Farley at Brandy Station

Today (Sunday, if you are reading this late because I am posting it late!) I assisted with a tour of the Brandy Station Battlefield, led by my friend Clark “Bud” Hall. As with many of the tours, Hall brought the group to this battlefield house:

The house is Farley.  I’ve mentioned it a few times before. It stands between the Old Winchester Turnpike (which only exists as a trace today) and the Hazel River.   Almost directly north was Wellford’s Ford, a crossing of note with much activity during the war.   With those terrain features close by, Farley saw more than its share of wartime activity.

The photo above was taken during the Winter Encampment of 1864.  At that time, Major-General John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps headquarters were in those tents.  The house also appears in other wartime photos, particularly with Sedgwick and staff posing for the photographer.

But these were not the only “dignitaries” to visit Farley during the war.  In fact, they were “late comers.”  As Hall has often repeated, most every senior officer of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac visited Farley at some point during the war.  For example, on the day after the battle of Brandy Station, Major-General J.E.B. Stuart moved his headquarters to Farley.   General Robert E. Lee visited him there.

During the Federal stay in the Winter of 1864, Major-General George Meade visited on several occasions.  One of those was occasioned by a visit by members of the Russian Navy.  When Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant came east, he was also entertained at Farley (and reportedly never removed his hat while indoors). So you might say Farley was the place to see and be seen.

With all those important visitors, I always wonder what this doorway might have witnessed:


And how many walked the hallways:


150 Years Ago: Fighting at Upperville

The forth major cavalry action of the Gettysburg campaign concluded this evening 150 years ago at Upperville, Virginia.  As with Middleburg, I’m not going to attempt to improve upon the maps and narrative offered from the ABPP study of the Loudoun Valley cavalry actions.  Instead let me offer some of my favorite photos from visits to those fields over the last few years, with a short narrative for those unfamiliar with the battle.

Upperville actually started in Middleburg.  After securing Mount Defiance along the Ashby’s Gap Turnpike on June 19, Brigadier-General Alfred Pleasonton halted to reset his troopers.  Rains through June 20 provided a good excuse against any aggressive movements. Likewise Major-General J.E.B. Stuart used the break to bring up reinforcements.  Major-General Joseph Hooker still wanted Pleasonton to locate the Confederate main body.  Reports from deserters, refugees, and prisoners was not enough, Hooker wanted someone to see and identify the rebel infantry.  So for June 21, Pleasonton planned to push aside Stuart’s cavalry, essentially continuing the action where it stopped on June 19.  While one force under Brigadier-General David M. Gregg would push down the Turnpike, another column under Brigadier-General John Buford would attempt a flanking march on the road network to the north, generally paralleling the turnpike.  An infantry brigade from the Fifth Corps supported Gregg’s column.  This was Colonel Strong Vincent’s brigade consisting of the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 20th Maine, and 83rd Pennsylvania.

When the fighting began that morning, Confederates on the high ground at Bittersweet Farm prevented Gregg’s troopers from advancing further.  Federal artillery on Mount Defiance dueled with four Confederate guns of Hart’s Battery.  During the exchange a Federal round found one of Hart’s ammunition chests, resulting in a spectacular explosion.

But what turned the position was Vincent’s infantry.  The 83rd Pennsylvania extended the line far enough to the left that Confederate troopers could not bend further.  This started a pattern which repeated throughout the morning.  At Crummey’s Run and Rocky Creek, dismounted Confederates delayed the advance on the turnpike, but at each position were ultimately flanked by Vincent’s infantry.  Appearance of the infantry prompted the 1st South Carolina Cavalry, acting as rear guard, to fall back from Rector’s Cross Roads.

But with that, Stuart deployed on favorable ground overlooking Goose Creek at a stone bridge on the turnpike.  Two Federal cavalry charges failed to clear the bridge.  As the artillery dueled, once again Vincent’s infantry worked into a flanking position. The 83rd Pennsylvania forded the creek upstream of the bridge and again worked on the flanks of the dismounted rebel cavalry.  A third Federal cavalry charge then gained the bridge.  Confederates then began a hurried retreat towards Upperville.  But it was mid-afternoon and Pleasonton’s troopers were still not past Stuart.

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Goose Creek Bridge

While Gregg’s and Vincent’s men shouldered the Confederates slowly down the turnpike, on the Federal right, Buford was likewise delayed by Confederate blocking actions.  Early in the morning rebel skirmishers delayed crossing of Goose Creek at Benton’s Bridge.  Attempts to bypass were thwarted by muddy roads and fields.  After a two hour delay Buford’s troopers forced a crossing at the partially burnt Benton’s Bridge.

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Modern Bridge over Goose Creek near site of Benton’s Bridge

Once across, Buford faced Colonel Lunsford Lomax leading the 11th and 12th Virginia Cavalry (of Colonel John Chambliss’s Brigade).  Lomax setup a series of roadblocks along Millville Road.  Giving ground only when Federal skirmish lines and artillery compelled him, Lomax managed to delay Buford long enough for Briagider-General William E.  “Grumble” Jones to clear his artillery and trains from danger.

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Wellborne / Millville Road

Around the same time in the mid-afternoon that Stuart fell back from Goose Creek Bridge, Chambliss ordered Lomax to fall back towards Upperville.  He’d bought several hours of time and prevented Buford from enveloping Stuart from the north.  Buford now turned his column south off Millville Road onto Greengarden Road.  He wanted to join in with Gregg against Stuart.

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Panther Skin Creek

But Panther Skin Creek was unfordable, so instead Buford moved on Sunken Road parallel to the creek and in the direction of Trappe Road where Chambliss and Jones took up positions.

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Sunken Road

Meanwhile, Stuart fell back to a rise known as Vineyard Hill outside Upperville.  There a square of hedges offered a favorable position on the south side of the Turnpike. He’d used this position during fighting the previous November while also screening the movements of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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Federal View of Vineyard Hill

A charge by Brigadier-General Judson Kilpatrick’s Brigade, supported by the Reserve Brigade (whom Buford had detached to support Gregg’s column earlier in the afternoon) failed miserably.  A second charge by Kilpatrick fared no better.  With the Federals stalled, Stuart’s two brigades defending the turnpike could withdraw without pressure.

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View from Vineyard Hill

To the north, Buford’s column emerged from the bottoms of Panther Skin Creek and was greeted by the cannon of Chew’s battery positioned on the Thomas Farm to the east of Trappe Road.  Buford’s lead brigade, under Colonel William Gamble emerged from a draw to face a Confederate force nearly twice its size.  A see-saw fight broke out over the Thomas and Ayre Farms that drew in both of Buford’s brigades to face those of Chambliss and Jones.  Chew’s guns, while forming the bulwark of the Confederate line, were the targets of several Federal assaults.  Likewise, several Confederate counterattacks parried those assaults.

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Ayre Farm Fields (north end)

Eventually Chew repositioned his guns west of Trappe Road where he continued to harass the Federals.  Brigadier-General Devin’s brigade finally cleared the Confederates off the Thomas Farm.  But the Federals were unable to keep up the pressure.  Chambliss and Jones, with Chew’s battery, withdrew down Trappe Road to Upperville then followed the turnpike up the Blue Ridge into ever lengthening shadows.

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Gibson Farm Fields west of Trappe Road

Before dusk set in, the last action of the battle played out at the western edge of Upperville at the intersection of Trappe Road and the turnpike. North Carolinians from Brigadier-General Beverly Robertson’s brigade held that gate open for retreating comrades.  Pleasonton deployed his last reserve unit, the brigade of Colonel J. Irvin Gregg.  In a close quarter fight devolving into a melee, the Federals wrested control of the intersection.  Although clear of the town, the Federals were spent and could not pursue further in the growing darkness.  Confederates fell back to the gap, dusted but still game.

Thus ended the battle of Upperville and the series of cavalry battles in Loudoun Valley (and my 1000 word summary of the battle).  Unable to cross the Blue Ridge, Pleasonton could not secure the information Hooker desired.  Stuart could say he accomplished the assigned mission, but would receive public criticism for apparently losing three battles.  From an operational perspective, the sunset at Upperville gave away some precious initiative to the Federals.  If Hooker didn’t know where Lee was, at least he knew where Lee wasn’t.  Lee wasn’t going directly at Washington.  This at least allowed Hooker to reposition Stahel’s division.  And while the army’s commander tried to determine where Lee was going, there was enough slack to rest the footsore infantry.

In a broader context, Upperville was like a rite of passage for the Federal cavalry.  Buford said it best, referring to Gamble’s brigade after the battle, “I’ll be damned if I can’t whip a little corner of Hell with that First Brigade.”

New historical markers for opposite ends of the war

Couple of entries from the Civil War historical marker category.

The Annandale Patch reports there’s a new marker in Fairfax:

New Civil War Marker Installed in Mason District Park

Visitors to Mason District Park may notice a new addition to the park not far from the picnic tables near the baseball field. Last Wednesday, a new Civil War marker was installed as part of the Civil War 150th Legacy Project.

The marker, called Mason’s Hill, represents a strategic location used by Confederate Col. J.E.B. Stuart following the First Battle of Manassas. According to the summary graphic, at Mason’s Hill, Col. Edward P. Alexander built a signal observation tower with a six foot “astronomical glass” to observe Washington.

Mason’s Hill isn’t the only new marker in the Annandale area. Ravensworth, a marker located in the Ravensworth Shopping Center in Springfield, was also installed last week. Markers have also been installed in Clifton, Centreville, Vienna, McLean and Great Falls. By late summer or early fall, markers will also be installed in Rose Hill near Alexandria and in Lorton. (read more)

The article goes on to detail Fairfax’s Civil War 150th Legacy Project. The project plans to have five more markers by July 2013. Ron, I think this marker is in your HMDB assignment area, can you get it on your way home this evening?

And from the other side of the Civil War map, out near my homestead, the Paragould Daily Press reports on a new marker in Marmaduke, Arkansas:

Historical marker commemorates Marmaduke’s past

Just outside of the town’s post office sits a historical marker with the name “John Sappington Marmaduke” written in big bold letters….

According to its history, Marmaduke was named after General John Sappington Marmaduke who served as a Confederate major general during the American Civil War.

Marmaduke came to the area during the Civil War, when he crossed the St. Francis River to find a suitable place for camp on level ground. During his period in Arkansas, Marmaduke led several cavalry raids into Missouri before finally leaving and moving to Missouri. Several soldiers stayed in the area and made the camp into a village. As the small village began to form, it was given the name of Marmaduke, after the general who led so many raids. Finally, it turned into a city when the “Cotton Belt” railroad was laid in 1882 and kept the name of Marmaduke. (read more)

The article goes on to mention that Marmaduke went on to serve as governor of Missouri, but died in office in 1887. Some time back I wrote about Chalk Bluff, an 1863 battle on one of the general’s cavalry raids. But I contend Marmaduke’s greatest contribution to the Confederate war effort was to mortally wound his commander, General Lucius M. Walker, in an 1863 duel.

Regardless, the town of Marmaduke is a place name from my youth. In my teen years, it served as an example of the lasting impression left by the Civil War.