Last night, Gettysburg NMP Supervisory Historian Scott Hartwig presented a program on The First Day at Gettysburg to the Western Pennsylvania Civil War Roundtable. Before the program (which was of course first-rate) I spoke with Scott, and as usual our conversation turned to the status of his proposed 2 volume work on the Maryland Campaign of 1862, which he’s been working on at least as long as I’ve known him (about 13 years or so, I think). Good news: Johns Hopkins University Press will publish Volume I, To Antietam Creek, in time for the 150th anniversary of the campaign this coming September! At 800 pages it will pack a wallop, and I’m sure will prove to be a must have for students of the campaign. Pre-order it here. In the meantime, check out From the Fields of Gettysburg, hosted by Scott, John Heiser, and the staff at the park.
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Tags: ACW Books, Antietam, Articles, NPS, Scott Hartwig
Categories : Articles, Books
A while back I received a book, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier, from its author, Milann Ruff Daugherty. I wrote about it here. As you read (if you followed the hyperlinked “here”), at about the same time I received some news from my friend Mike regarding some relatives about whom I was unaware. That’s the normal relationship between my ancient relatives and me, by the way, unawareness. Of particular interest was Pvt. James Gates, 8th PA Reserves, mortally wounded at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862, died a month later at Smoketown Hospital just north of the battlefield, buried in the national cemetery in Sharpsburg. He served in the same company as the letter writer in Ms. Daugherty’s book. As some of you may be aware, I’m a board member and vice-president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, so my interest in the battle and battlefield is more than passing.
Upon learning of this more tangible relationship with the event, I felt compelled to take a drive down to Maryland (by way of Gettysburg, of course) over the President’s Day holiday back in February. I first drove out to the portion of the field where the 8th PA Reserves saw action. Then I met up with friend Craig Swain and his aide-de-camp Cade Swain and visited my great-great-uncle (how come there’s no “grand” for uncles and aunts?) in the cemetery and took in the million-dollar view of the battlefield from the back of that place. After lunch I drove over to chief historian Ted Alexander’s office near the Pry House. Ted graciously came in on his day off and so I could rummage through the park’s file on the 8th PA Reserves. It was pretty thin, but contained a series of newspaper articles from the turn-of-the-20th century, memoirs of a member of the 8th PA Reserves. In several of those articles, my g-g-uncle played a role, and from the perspective of the history of the battle and battlefield, it was a pretty high-profile role. After making copies (though I’m sure I missed some good stuff and will have to go back), Ted drove me out to the site of the Smoketown hospitals where James died.
The long and short of it is that I took some good photos and got some great info, but I still want to do some more digging before I present my findings to you, dear readers. I hope that when I do post the piece here you all won’t mind the slight diversion from Bull Run.
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Tags: 8th PA Reserves, Ancestors, Antietam, Articles, Descendants, Save Historic Antietam Foundation
Categories : Articles, Family Ties
Antietam National Battlefield’s Chief Historian Ted Alexander has authored The Battle of Antietam: The Bloodiest Day, an entry in The History Press Civil War Sesquicentennial Series. This is a nice, concise account of the Maryland Campaign, the narrative running 139 pages plus appendices including orders of battle, notes, bibliography, and index. While the whole campaign is covered, the bulk of the book is on the battle and its aftermath. Now, quibbles with a 139 page account of an event with the scope of the Maryland Campaign are inevitable, but you really can’t go wrong with this overview written by someone who is generally recognized as an expert on the topic.
Ted also gave me a copy of a new NPS booklet, Hispanics and the Civil War: From Battlefield to Homefront. This nifty guide discusses the roles played by Hispanics on both sides of the conflict, including some surprising folks like Admiral David Farragut (his mom was Spanish) – although I could find no mention of George Meade, who was born in Cadiz, Spain.
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Tags: ACW Books, Antietam, Articles, Hispanics in the Civil War, Ted Alexander
Categories : Articles, Books
I prefer to use the words of the Zen philosopher Leon Spinks: “Freaky Deaky.”
This is a little convoluted, so bear with me.
A few years ago I learned (from a total stranger via a gen group for the Smeltzer line) that my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, served in the 205th PA Infantry and was wounded during the Petersburg breakthrough in 1865. You see, most of my family, if we’re interested in genealogy at all, have always focused on my mother’s side of the family, I think because her father was from Ireland and we have always identified ourselves as “Irish”. We went to the Irish school and the Irish church (as opposed to the German, Polish, Italian, Croatian, or Greek churches and schools in our little town). Yes, with a name like mine that has required a lot of explanation over the years, but my dad was in fact president of our local AOH, and I have the throne from the now defunct group in my garage right now to prove it.
Given my interest in the Civil War, this was pretty cool news to me. I haven’t done much other than get his pension file from NARA (for some reason I forgot to order his service record) and locate his grave in Vicksburg Cemetery in Roaring Springs, PA – though I have yet to visit it (UPDATE – good thing I didn’t visit, as he is actually buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery in Hopewell, PA, Bedford County.) I learned from the gen group that John was born in 1846, his father’s name was Joseph and his mother was Susan. He had, IIRC, four siblings. It looks like he signed up when he turned 18. Later in life, he suffered from pretty much the same physical maladies as do I. Weird how that works.
OK, fast forward a few years and here’s where it gets freaky.
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Milann Ruff Daugherty. She had found a collection of her great-great-uncle’s letters and published them, and wanted to know if I’d be so kind as to review the book here. I informed her, as I inform everyone, that if it was a novel I was not interested, but if it was truly non-fiction and Civil War focused I’d be happy to take a look, and at worst I’d give it a preview. Not long after, Your Affectionate Son: Letters from a Civil War Soldier arrived in the mailbox. I glanced through it and noticed that, while the letters had some good stuff, the letters that have the really good stuff, written before, during, or just after big engagements, were missing (or, less likely, had never been written: really, how affectionate could a son be if he didn’t write home after a battle, if only to let his folks know he was OK?). So I put it aside with the intent of writing said preview when I had the time.
Jump forward about a week. I received an unrelated email from my good buddy and battlefield stomping pard Mike Pellegrini:
Hope all is well with you and your family. Found something on Ancestry.com that might interest you, see attachments for JB Smetlzer. On another note, why haven’t you mentioned your other CW ancestors, one being buried at Antietam NMP Cemetery?
Huh? I too subscribe to Ancestry.com, but simply haven’t had the time to use it much other than to trace down various individuals about whom I write. Really haven’t done anything much with my own family. So I responded to Mike that the reason I never told him was that I never knew. I got this in return:
John Smeltzer’s wife Hannah Virginia Gates had a few brothers: James Gates Co F, 8 PA reserves aka 37th PA died of wounds 16 Oct. 1862 at Smoketown or he died during the battle depending which web site you want to believe and is buried in the Nat Cemetery.
I know a little about Antietam (since I’m on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation I better know a little), and recognize Smoketown as a place where many Union wounded were sent after the battle to recover. Or, as in the sad case of James Gates, to not recover. A quick web search turned up this photo of his headstone, for the above use of which I thank Sharon Murray.
My great-great-uncle James Gates is buried in grave #3717 in Antietam National Cemetery. When I saw this photo I was immediately reminded of something my father said on occasion. His father, John’s son, was named Harry Gates Smeltzer. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Dorr. So my dad quipped, “My father was a Gates, my mother was a Dorr, and I was the Grand Slam.” OK, you had to be there.
Mike hepped me to a little more info on my Gates ancestors:
The Gates family goes way back. I saw a Rev war soldier and it looks like the town of Gatesburg was named for them: it’s out by State College [PA].
Damn, can you imagine me as an SAR? Or my sisters walking into a DAR meeting? I’d PAY to see that! I mean, I suspect that I was perhaps descended from a Rev War soldier, but always thought it most likely would have been from one of the Hessians who stayed here after the war (yes, a couple of them were Smeltzers).
The last little tidbit is even better. I asked Mike if any of my great-grandfather Smeltzer siblings were in the war:
JBS did not have any soldier siblings, but there appears to be a step brother KIA at South Mountain, William Harker Co. E 8th PA Reserves.
[Hmmm...there's that regiment again. Maybe this explains how John B. met Hannah! Wait a minute - step brother?]
When I started looking for siblings I found JBS living with a Miller family in the 1850 & 60 census, so I thought maybe he was orphaned. Next I tried looking at some existing family trees that were posted and here’s what I found: Joseph Smeltzer [my great-great grandfather] married Susan Barley and they had 5 children before she passed about 1850 (then i saw the Joe S and 2 kids living with the Strayer family & JBS with the Miller’s on the same 1850 census page) I guess splitting up the kids with different families was common when the mother of young children passed so the father could still go to work, that happened in my family when one of my great grandmothers died. Joe then married Mary Ann Harker (who had 4 kids of her own). Joe & Mary went on to have 6 more kids. It was like the Brady Bunch on steroids! So it looks like you have hundreds of relatives.
Wow. I’m really indebted to Mike for all this info.
So, I think so far you’ll agree this has been freaky, right?
But I also promised you deaky.
Something about the 8th PA Reserves struck me as familiar, and I looked down to my right as I was typing away during these exchanges and saw Your Affectionate Son. And wouldn’t you know, Millan Ruff Daugherty’s great-great uncle James Cleaver was a lieutenant in the 8th PA reserves (AKA 37th PA Volunteer Infantry, but the Reserves were a proud bunch and liked to go by their Reserves unit number – add 29 to the Reserves number and you get the PAVI number). Not only that, he was in Company F, my great-great uncle’s company. James’s name appears in a roster in the back of the book.
Now, that’s deaky, which makes this whole thing Freaky Deaky.
Stay tuned – more to follow. Your Affectionate Son will be getting a closer look than I at first thought.
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Tags: 8th PA Reserves, Ancestors, Antietam, Articles, James Gates, John B. Smeltzer
Categories : Articles, Family Ties
It would appear the worm has turned at Antietam National Battlefield. From the get-go of yesterday’s all-day hikes, it was apparent that much of the tried and true narrative of the 1862 Maryland Campaign has been scrapped by the National Park Service, at least as far as rangers Keith Snyder and Brian Baracz are concerned. There were quizzical looks on the faces of some of the 125 or so folks on the tour as no mention was made of a cowardly, traitorous, or even just plain stupid George McClellan. These were for the most part veteran tourists of the battlefield, conditioned to the old-line tales of the single greatest threat ever faced by our Union – no, not Jeff Davis, not R. E. Lee, not the Confederate armies, not the fire-eaters, not the KGC, not the Copperheads, not the slaveocracy. Those forces combined could never compare to the evil spectre of the Young Napoleon, especially in September, 1862. The debate was closed.
Or was it? To sum up the gist of the seven hour presentation, the Army of Northern Virginia, while defeated at Sharpsburg (What?) was saved from ultimate destruction by the advantages of a its more experienced soldiery (What?), favorable topography (What?), and interior lines of communication (What?). While the Union commander had a good plan (What?), he also had poor lines of communication (What?), many green troops (What?), and experienced troops in not so great condition (What?). It seemed to me that a few grizzled vets in the crowd were thinking “This is bull. That coward McClellan had 300,000 well equipped and experienced soldiers and Lee’s “battle plans”, this battlefield is flat as a board, just like the maps in Landscape Turned Red, despite what my bursting quads are telling me, and Lee won a victory here with three couriers and a one-armed orderly.” Well, there will always be folks whose minds were made up by Bruce Catton back in the 4th grade. But there were a surprising number of younger (well, not older) folks in the group whose minds are just possibly open enough to consider other lines of thought.
It appears the works of modern-day scholars like Joe Harsh, Tom Clemens and Ethan Rafuse have been making dents in the armor of the Maryland Campaign. And the good folks at the Park are contributing as well. Of course, they only work with the literature, artifacts, and battlefields of this campaign every day all day, so what do they know?
Thank you, Ranger Snyder and Ranger Baracz. It was a great day on the field, with great company including my stomping buddy Mike and fellow blogger Craig (whose thoughts on the day can be read here).
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Tags: Antietam, Articles, NPS
Categories : Articles, Field Trips
Opportunity for a detailed tour of Liberia on November 13. Check it out here.
I will be at the Manassas National Battlefield this coming Friday doing field work for an upcoming Collateral Damage. On Saturday I’ll be at Antietam National Battlefield with the Save Historic Antietam Foundation for our work day and board meeting.
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Tags: Antietam, Articles, Collateral Damage, Liberia Plantation, Save Historic Antietam Foundation, Writing About The Civil War
Categories : Articles, Field Trips, Preservation, The Battlefield, Writing About The Civil War
As I noted here, the October 2010 issue features the third installment of my column which is now titled Collateral Damage. The subject is the Roulette house on the Antietam battlefield. Though I took lots of photos, and also had a few by friends Mike Pellegrini and Mannie Gentile, none were used in the article. So I present them here for your perusal.
Let’s start with some exterior shots. The left side of the front of the house is south, the right north. The second and third photos were taken by my friend Mike.
Here’s the rear of the house. Mr. Roulette kept his beehives in this back yard. Confederate artillery, advancing Union troops, and upset hives combined here for an often repeated story.
The barn sits east of the house. In the orchard to the southeast is a pear tree that survives from the time of the battle.
Here’s the basement door (I call these “Dorothy Doors”) out of which Mr. Roulette burst to encourage the advancing Federals to “Drive ‘em”. The interior photo was taken by Mannie. On the day I was there, my NPS guide Keven Walker warned me that the hot day and cool basement meant lots and lots of snakes, so we opted not to go downstairs. I did see two large black snakes that day.
Inside the house Keven, a historian with the Cultural Resources division, pointed out that many of the fixtures dated from before the war, and could have been installed as early as the mid 1700s.
We entered the house via the kitchen, in the north end of the house. One of the cool features in here is the beehive oven. No flame inside – kind of like a pizza oven. The fuel (wood) was put in outside, via this little addition on the north end of the house. Must have been a pain cooking in winter, but was probably state-of-the-art.
Here’s the large dining/entertaining room in the center of the house. You can see by the shot of the window how thick the walls are in this section of the house. The construction is log at the south end, stone in the center, and frame on the north end.
The south end of the dwelling on the first floor is a living room or parlor. There’s a little problem here with falling plaster, but a collection of the debris on the fireplace mantel shows how the plaster was made in those days. It was heavy stuff.
The main stairway leads up to two smaller bedrooms in the south end of the house.
On Sept. 17, 1862, a bullet fired from the vicinity of the sunken Pig Trough Road to the south of the house entered the window of the southwest bedroom, went through the wall above its door, traveled across the hall and exited inside the closet of the middle bedroom. That’s Keven pointing to where the bullet entered the wall in the hallway.
There is a middle bedroom and a large bedroom at the north end of the house over the kitchen. You can see in the sagging ceilings the effect of the heavy plaster over 200+ years.
The tour of the Roulette house was one of the great perks of my “job”. Much thanks to Keven Walker, who has a book coming out soon on the farms of the battlefield. Be sure to check out this and all the Collateral Damage columns in Civil War Times.
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Tags: Antietam, Articles, Civil War Magazines, Collateral Damage, Photos, Roulette Farm, Writing About The Civil War
Categories : Articles, Civil War Magazines, Field Trips, Galleries, Writing About The Civil War