Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center

3 02 2008

In June of 2007 I met up with some good friends to spend a few hot days stomping the battlefield of Shiloh.  (I wrote a little bit about it here.)  Our base of operations was in Corinth, MS.  Corinth saw more than its share of action during the war, and is a pretty cool destination for the ACW traveler itself.  The NPS recently opened the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, and it’s one of the spiffiest NPS facilities I’ve seen.

The entrance to the building, situated on the site of Battery Robinett which featured prominently in the battle of October, 1862, is via a winding footpath, along which are strewn bronze replicas of the detritus of battle, like the cartridge box and shell jacket below (click on the thumbnails for larger image):

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Just outside the entrance is a sculpture in relief of soldiers on the march.  I was told by the staff at the center – by the way, just about the prettiest staff I’ve seen at an NPS facility – that all of the figures are based on NPS employees at Shiloh.  Below is a shot of the group, and details of the Tim Smith and Stacy Allen based soldiers:

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Inside the Interpretive Center is open, bright and airy.  It features multi-media presentations on Corinth in the Civil War and the battle of Shiloh.  There’s a bookstore, where I purchased a print that I later had framed and now hangs over the fireplace in my family room (I wrote about it here).  And there’s a research library for public use, with a full set of ORs and essential reference sets like the Southern Historical Society Papers and The Union Army.

There’s also a cool display of the colors of the 6th Missouri Infantry (Confederate).  The flag was sewn by the wife of Col. Eugene Erwin, who was wounded at Corinth and killed at Vicksburg in June 1863.  She smuggled the banner and her husband’s uniform jacket out of Vicksburg after the city fell on July 4.  Below are images of the flag, Col. Erwin, and his jacket (I apologize for the poor quality – I’m buying a digital SLR so stuff like this won’t happen anymore):

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One of the most attractive aspects of the center is the water feature courtyard.  The feature consists of a water course, which begins with a waterfall flowing in 13 streams from a block etched with the words of the preamble to the Constitution.  The stream flows through tumbled blocks representing the major engagements of the Civil War, and ends with the reflecting pool of the reunited nation:

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Outside the center are some monuments to and gravesites of Confederates who fell at Battery Robinett.  Prominent among them is an obelisk to Col. William P. Rogers, an Alabamian who led Mississippians in the War with Mexico, signed the Texas Ordinance of Secession and fell at the head of the 2nd Texas Infantry at Corinth.  Included below is the only known photo of Confederate dead in the Western theater.  Col. Rogers has been identified as one of the bearded men in the foreground (here’s a link to his diary and letters):

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Learn more about the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center here and here.

Another interesting site in Corinth is the train station at the vital crossroads (nice museum inside):  

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Also nearby is the site of the Corinth Contraband Camp, set up to accommodate the influx of African Americans into the Union occupied town after the issuance of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.  The Contraband Camp started out as a tent city in the fall of 1862, and by mid-1863 took on the characteristics of a small town with a church, hospital, and dwellings.  Many of the adult males enlisted for military service, and the camp residents who remained behind collectively farmed 400 acres with cotton and vegetables.  At its peak, the camp was home to an estimated 6,000 people.  When the army pulled out of Corinth in January 1864, most of the freedmen abandoned the camp to follow.  Here’s the entrance to what remains of the camp:

Taking nothing away from the charm of Savannah, TN (the other base used by Shiloh pilgrims), Corinth has lots to offer the ACW traveler.  Be sure to block out some time to tour the town when you visit Shiloh.

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Society of Civil War Historians

7 01 2008

 

unionleague1.jpgToday I received confirmation that I am registered for the biennial meeting of the Society of Civil War Historians, to be held this coming June at the Union League in Philadelphia (see my photo at left).  Participation in the meeting is limited to members of the society, but membership in the society, according to their website, is limited to “anyone interested in the Civil War era”.  So I joined ($50, which gets me a subscription to Civil War History - which I already get – and the society’s newsletter) and registered for the meeting ($75).  But, you don’t have to be a member to attend the meeting ($100 without member discount).  Keep in mind attendees must abide by the Union League dress code.

guide.jpgI have some friends who are delivering papers at the meeting, and also have a good friend who lives within walking distance of the Union League, so this should be a fun and relatively inexpensive couple of days.  I hope to see some of you there.  If you’re planning on this being your first trip to Philly, or if you’re otherwise unfamiliar with the city’s rich Civil War heritage, I recommend Richard Sauers’s Guide to Civil War Philadelphia.





The House of Meade

8 11 2007

Reader Pete Peterson commented that he recently drove past the home of George Gordon Meade at 19th & Delancey  in Philadelphia while passing through the city.

I took these photos a few years ago (click on the thumbnail for a full size image): 

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The house (now an apartment building) was a gift of the city to the Meades. It sits right around the corner from the former Civil War Library and Museum on Pine St (today it’s the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum), where you can find Meade’s uniform, sword, the stuffed head of his horse, Old Baldy, and this portrait:

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Meade died in this house on November 6, 1872.  Here’s a link to a New York Times article on his funeral procession through the city.  I’ll be in Philly this weekend for the Penn State-Temple game.





A Few Charleston Civil War Sites

15 10 2007

 

Last week my family spent a few days visiting with my brother in Charleston, SC.  He lives on the water just off Ft. Johnson Rd., on James Island.  On April 12, 1861 artillery at Ft. Johnson opened fire on Ft. Sumter in Charleston Harbor to initiate hostilities between the Confederacy and the United States.  From my brother’s dock you can see the local landmark Morris Island Lighthouse.  Morris Island is the site (now submerged) of Battery Wagner.  Across the street from my brother’s house, on private property, is the remnant of a Rebel battery, which was part of the island’s defenses.  I believe this battery was Ryan, Tatom or Haskell, but I have to check into that more.  Only a few yards from his backyard is the site of one end of Hatch’s Bridge, which ran to Secessionville during the war.  And a quick jaunt across Clark’s Sound brings you to Secessionville Manor, used as a hospital after the Battle of Secessionville (here’s a picture…click the thumbnails for larger images). 

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The long and the short of it is you can’t swing a dead cat in my brother’s neighborhood, or in Charleston for that matter, without hitting some piece of Civil War history.  I could literally spend weeks down there sightseeing.  While I only seem to be there for a few days at a time, I always manage to work in little CW excursions, not always an easy task when accompanied by a nine-year-old son and his mom who has little interest in my hobby.  This time we saw three Bull Run related sites.

As part of an hours long afternoon on the water we worked in a sea tour of Castle Pinckney, where Bull Run prisoners were briefly held (see here and here).  Below are three views, including a close up of the overgrown interior.  Note the curved wall which I believe gave the fort its medieval name.  Access to the island (Shute’s Folly) is restricted, but I hope to get permission to go ashore the next time I visit.   

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Toward the end of our cruise we looped by the Morris Island Lighthouse.  Though not constructed until 1876, the lighthouse has a pretty strong Bull Run connection.  Its foundation was designed and built by Major Peter Conover Hains, who as a lieutenant and graduate of the West Point class of June, 1861 fired the first shot of the Battle of Bull Run from a 30-pdr Parrott rifle.  The lighthouse is suffering the ravages of time and the sea, but an organization is actively trying to save it, and procedures are under way. 

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The next day we had some time to kill, and to my surprise the family agreed to kill it by taking the cruise out to Ft. Sumter.  It was a beautiful day, if a little hot.  This time I got a picture of the storm flag, which flew over the fort during the bombardment.  The larger garrison flag, damaged in a storm earlier, is on display in the NPS visitor’s center near the aquarium, but flash photography of it is verboten and you can only view bits of it at a time.  Here are some images of the fort, the parade ground, the big guns, the storm flag, and my son.   

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To round out the afternoon, we drove over to Magazine St. to see the Old City Jail.  When the Bull Run prisoners were moved out of Castle Pinckney, the officers were sent to the City Jail and the enlisted men wound up at the Race Course on the outskirts of town.  During the fire of December, 1861, the guards abandoned the jail to help fight the flames, and the prisoners, including Colonel Michael Corcoran of the 69th NY State Militia, were left to fend for themselves.  They escaped out a window and spent the night huddled together for safety.  I don’t know if it was this window. 

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The next time I visit, I must try to find the site of the race course – as described in David Blight’s Race and Reunion, it was also the site of the earliest Memorial Day ceremony – and Magnolia Cemetery, where the only Bull Run prisoner to die in Castle Pinckney was buried.  But in Charleston, it’s always so much to see, so little time.





Blast from the Past

4 10 2007

Thanks to Brooks Simpson over at Civil Warriors for pointing us all to this gem from the 80’s, Gettysburg performed by The Brandos:

Thanks to my buddy Larry hipping me to this a long time ago, I know that the lead singer of The Brandos is non-other than David Kincaid, probably known better to readers of this blog as the artist behind The Irish Volunteer: Songs of the Irish Union Soldier 1861-1865 and The Irish American’s Song: Songs of the Union and Confederate Irish Soldiers, 1861-1865:

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If you haven’t had a chance to hear this wonderful period music, you should check it out.  I also had the pleasure of seeing David perform live at the Pittsburgh Irish Festival.  Good stuff, and from what I gather he is a dedicated student of the war.  Here are a few snaps of him in action a couple of years ago (click on the thumbs for full size):

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Rafuse: McClellan in the Maryland Campaign

19 09 2007

Just in case you’re wondering, this blog is ostensibly about the campaign and battle of First Bull Run.  I’m sure that may come as a surprise to some of the unusually large number of readers who have visited here over the past few days, what with all this Antietam talk.  But I promised fellow blogger Dmitri that I would post a recap of the talk given by Ethan Rafuse this past Saturday evening (Sept. 15) in the ANB visitor’s center on George McClellan in the Maryland Campaign.  While what follows are Rafuse’s views, I can’t say that they vary greatly from my own on this subject.

Rafuse recapped McClellan’s career up to his critical 35th year and the circumstances surrounding his taking command of the combined forces of the Army of the Potomac, Army of Virginia, and the Kanawah Division on Sept 2, 1862, pointing out that he did not have the support of the War Dept. in his appointment and that half of his new command consisted of soldiers with whom he had no previous experience.  His new army also included dozens of raw, untrained regiments.

McClellan was authorized to take field command of the army on Sept. 5.  He promptly recommended abandoning Harper’s Ferry and releasing the garrison to play a more threatening role as Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia made its way across Maryland.  Not only did Commanding General Henry Halleck deny this request, he admonished McClellan to move more slowly.

Rafuse recounted the movement of the AotP toward Frederick, and the finding of Lee’s Special Orders 191.  He summarized the steps taken by McClellan in the wake of the discovery, arguing that there was little unnecessary delay.  While SO 191 and the situation at Harper’s Ferry indicated that the enemy army was divided, this information needed to be confirmed.  [One of my few complaints with McClellan’s War is that it did not seem to consider recent scholarship that indicates the famous “will send trophies” telegram was not sent by McClellan until midnight on the evening of the 13th as opposed to noon the same day.  I was going to ask Ethan about this later, but decided against it.]  He also alluded to the poor performance of J.E.B. Stuart during the campaign, something I’ve argued elsewhere though I’m surely not the originator of the notion.

After the fighting at the gaps of South Mountain (Rafuse pointed out the great risks involved in negotiating mountain passes), Rafuse faulted Franklin and Burnside for failing to act with celerity on the 15th.  As a result, when Mac arrived at Keedysville on the 15th, he had only 2 divisions with him.  The day and evening of the 15th was spent consolidating his forces.

Fog obscured the battlefield on the Sharpsburg side of the Antietam on the morning of the 16th, therefore a recon could not be performed until later in the day.

Rafuse asserted [rightly, I think] that the best place for McClellan’s HQ given the wide front over which his army was to attack was indeed the Pry House.  He also dispelled the annoyingly persistent idea that McClellan never left his HQ, and described his foray to the East Woods in the afternoon of the 17th.  He argued that, while Mac’s decision not to launch an attack in the center may have been a bad one in retrospect, it was probably a good one based on what was known at the time.  I was glad to hear him say that there was little that happened on the 17th to indicate that Lee’s army was inferior in size and close to being beaten.

Consultation with his generals convinced McClellan not to renew the attack on the 17th.  He fell ill on the 18th, and while he issued orders to renew the conflict on the 19th, Lee’s army had already withdrawn.

In summary, McClellan had taken a beaten, disorganized, and partly inexperienced army, and used it to conduct a campaign that ended the best chance Lee’s veteran, victorious forces had to win a great victory.

Rafuse also pointed out the different circumstances under which the Union and Confederacy operated.  Lee and his army needed to win a victory north of the Potomac – time was the enemy.  Not so for McClellan, except where Lincoln was concerned.  And here was the problem: Mac wanted to ultimately grind the Confederacy down.  After Antietam, he wanted to return to the line of the James, the same line that would be revisited by Grant in 1864 and which would lead to ultimate Union victory.  But the James was the last place Lincoln wanted his army to go.  The James meant a siege, and “sieges were boring”.  After Antietam, either McClellan or Lincoln had to go.  They could not work together, and Lincoln was not going anywhere.

I think I have fairly represented Ethan Rafuse’s presentation here.  Hopefully those in attendance left with some food for thought.





Antietam Weekend Continued

17 09 2007

I don’t want to turn this blog into a travelogue, but my last post seems to have generated a lot of interest if the hits I received today are any indication.  So I’ll finish up the story for you. Once again, click on the thumbnails for a full size image.

OK, where was I?  Oh yeah.  Early Sunday morning, I enjoyed a nice fresh waffle breakfast with Tom, Angela and young Joe Clemens – and Bomber, the famous Clemens battlefield hound.  I can’t thank the Clemens Clan enough for their hospitality.  Finest kind.

pry.jpgI headed out from Keedysville just before 9:00.  I wanted to at least check out the new West Woods trail at the park before starting for home.  But between Keedysville and the park is the Pry Farm, and I remembered that the Medical Museum in the house had a copy of the Personal Memoirs of John Brinton: Civil War Surgeon for sale.  Brinton was a cousin of George Brinton McClellan who served throughout the war.  So I made the right into the farm.  There was a reenactor encampment there, but all but one fellow seemed to have been off elsewhere.  The museum was closed, but I noticed that the barn door was opened, and I had never been in the barn before so I poked my head in.  Inside were three people, and one of them turned out to be George Wunderlich, director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.  It turned out he was conducting a seminar on the antebellum banjo, something on which he is an expert.  George took the time to give me a little history lesson and I found the whole business fascinating.  I even got to hold one of the beautiful instruments.  George told me that the museum didn’t open until 10:00 AM, and that the seminar would be kicking back up around then and there would be jam sessions later on, so I decided to head over to the park and stop back at the Pry Farm later. 

I checked the schedule of events for Sunday and found that there was a 10:00 AM Ranger Walk on the 2nd Corps that would include the West Woods trail, so I walked over to the New York monument where Ranger Mike Gamble was mustering the troops.

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 Once again we had a beautiful day.  Look at that sky behind my favorite Antietam monument.   

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Our walk took us to the West Woods, where this ledge demonstrates the sloping terrain west of the Hagerstown Pike that Lee used to his advantage to shuffle troops from point to point unseen by the enemy.

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This small monument is just south of the 15th MA lion on the new Hagerstown Rd.  Ranger John Hoptak, who was assisting Ranger Gamble on this walk, told me that this fellow Stetson is a relative of the originator of the famous hat of the same name.  There’s a thread for you to pull, Brian!  Read John’s account of the weekend here. 

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Leaving the west woods and heading toward the parts of the field traversed by the 2nd Corps divisions of French and Richardson, we visited the Mumma Farm – only the stone spring house dates from the battle.  A descendant of the family works at the park, and I did see him a couple of times over the weekend. 

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Then we passed through the Roulette Farm.

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This is the ancient siding of the Roulette Barn.  Mannie has an uncanny knack of making subjects like this interesting.  I, as you can see, do not. 

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North of the Sunken Road, Ranger Gamble formed the Irish Brigade for the assault.  He wrapped things up in the lane.  A fine ending to a fine walk, which was again 2.5 miles and 2.5 hours. 

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After the walk I went back to the Pry Farm, where I picked up the Brinton book and watched some Signal Corps reenactors at work.  Unfortunately, the musicians had moved along their agenda to discuss next year’s conference, which will apparently take place on Anniversary Weekend again.  I’ll have to try to remember that.








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