Seminar in the Woods 2011

13 11 2010

Dave Powell has announced the schedule for the next Seminar in the Woods at Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park.

On Friday (March) 11 the group will travel by bus to McLemore’s Cove to spend the whole day looking at the action - and inaction – there.  Saturday will be a car-caravan first to the Viniard Farm and then to Mendenhall’s artillery line.

NPS Historian Jim Ogden and Dave are the guides.  Other than the cost of the bus on Friday, there is no charge for the tour.  Meals and lodging are on your own.





Manassas NBP 11/5/2010: Sudley Springs, Sudley Road, Thornberry House, Ballou

8 11 2010

This past Friday (11/5) I made a quick trip to the Manassas National Battlefield Park to do some research for an upcoming installment of Collateral Damage.  I met up with Ranger Jim Burgess and he helped me with some work in the park archives, then we met up with friend Craig Swain and headed to the northern end of the park boundary. 

Among other sites, we visited the area where (it is likely) Sullivan Ballou’s body was recovered after its mutilation, burning, and reburial by the 21st Georgia (click the thumbs for larger images):

   

The Thornberry House, used as a hospital after both battles of Bull Run (the large tree to the left of the house in the second picture appears on the Barnard photo from 1862):

 

A trace of the original Sudley Road:

 

And Sudley Springs Ford over Catharpin (Little Bull) Run.  This is the same view as in the Barnard photo Jim is holding – you can see the modern remains of the Springs on the opposite bank.  Hunter’s division crossed Bull Run to the east at Sudley Ford, then crossed here to reach the battlefield:

    

Thanks so much to Jim Burgess for all the valuable assistance he has provided over the years – a good guy.  Also thanks to Craig for his always valuable commentary.  As a last bit of coolness, and much to Craig’s satisfaction, Jim took us down to the basement of the VC and showed us one of the original 200 lb Parrott shells from the Battle Monument.  It turns out that these shells were live, and not discovered to be so until the monument’s renovations in the 1970′s.  One of the disarmed shells survived (the shells had been de-fused but not disarmed as the black powder and case shot show):





First Bull Run Tour

26 09 2010

Here’s an interesting recap of a recent tour at Manassas NBP with the students of Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College, led by Jim Burgess of the NPS.





149th Anniversary of First Bull Run

6 07 2010

Activities at the park July 17 & 18 for the 149th anniversary of the battle (from the NPS site):

See Union and Confederate troops portrayed in an encampment representing the raw soldiers of the summer of 1861 on the Henry Hill battlefield.  Demonstrations of musketry and artillery firing will echo over the grassy fields where the combat raged 149 years ago.  Soldier life demonstrations will describe the experience of citizen soldiers, naive amateurs in their baptism of fire, encountering their “first gunpowder christening.”  U.S. Marine Battalion exhibits will illuminate the uniforms and equipment of Civil War Marines.  Replica colors or flags of regiments in the colorful confusion of the battle will be unfurled, and impressions of Union and Confederate uniforms will depict the “fog of war” the muddle of confusion in the reek of smoke on the battlefield.  Park Ranger tours will be conducted over the ground where bravery and sacrifice was witnessed in what the raw troops, “as green as grass” believed would be the “only battle of the war,” only to be sobered by the carnage revealed in the brutal combat. 

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How Will Historic Sites Be Interpreted?

30 06 2010

A wonderful, thought-provoking post by John Hennessy at Fredericksburg Remembered.  Static, on site interpretative devices like the battlefield wayside exhibit will likely be replaced by wireless digital media in the not too distant future.  And consumers will also likely have a number of sources from which to choose.  While it’s true that such services will not be cheap to produce, I’m not sure that means all of them will be commercial ventures.  I suspect there are a number of folks out there who might be motivated to develop these programs by the same forces that compel them to share their research free of charge in the forms of websites and blogs.  Giving it away is still a great way to stick it to the man.

Those guys at Fredericksburg always provide great food for thought.





Live Blogging from Gettysburg

26 06 2010

Gettysburg battlefield stomper and photographer extraordinaire Will Dupuis intends to blog live from the Gettysburg Battlefield during the upcoming anniversary battle walks.  This should be interesting and visually impressive.  Check it out here (sorry, I had the wrong link in there before).

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Fredericksburg Remembered

5 06 2010

The good folks at Mysteries and Conundrums have started a new blog, Fredericksburg Remembered.  From the About page:

This blog, Fredericksburg Remembered, focuses on stories, ideas, memory, and the challenges of bringing them before the public.

Fredericksburg Remembered is a collective effort to illuminate and discuss in a public way the challenges, adventures, and occasional triumphs involved in bringing the story of the Fredericksburg region’s vivid history to both a local and national audience. We’ll offer something of a behind-the-scenes look at exhibits and programs in development and some of the issues we wrestle with as we take them from idea to reality.  (We’re focusing here on the really interesting part of our jobs; we’ll spare you the mundane.)  We want to engage you the public in something of a conversation about what we do and how we do it, stimulating along the way from you what we hope will be some useful, illuminating commentary and feedback.

Fredericksburg is blessed with an uncommon abundance of historic resources and sites–from battlefields to the boyhood home of Washington to the plasterwork of Kenmore to the newly expanded Fredericksburg Area Museum to no fewer than four sites owned by Preservation Virginia. Some call it “the most historic city in America” (sounds like a good topic for a blog post and discussion). Bringing that story and these sites to the public is an intensely interesting and challenging undertaking–one that compels some of us to long hours of toil punctuated by triumph when we touch a chord or change the world just a little bit.

We, like the society around us, struggle with distinguishing memory from history, and we constantly hunt for the right balance between narrative and interpretation, objects or sites and ideas, and “good history” and the expectations of the “heritage tourism” industry. Little does the public realize how powerful they are in shaping what we do; if you don’t show up at a program, then you can be sure you’ll never see that program repeated again. The public historian who talks only to himself is doomed to a very short career.

Like our sister site, Mysteries and Conundrums, our purpose here is to share the best and most interesting of what we do. The blog is the domain of no single organization, nor will it be confined solely to the Civil War.  Rather staff at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania NMP, the Fredericksburg Area Museum, and hopefully the George Washington Foundation and others to help lead the conversation.  And if you have a thought, reaction, or insight, we hope you will share it.  As is the case with all we do, our hope is to use local examples and case studies to illuminate larger ideas of memory and public history.

The NPS staff who contribute to Mysteries and Conundrums have been cranking out consistently top-notch stuff, some of the best the Civil War blogosphere has to offer.  I’m confident that Fredericksburg Remembered will be of similar quality, if the first series of posts on Fredericksburg’s Disputed Auction Block is any indication.

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Interview: Ed Bearss “Receding Tide”

17 05 2010

On April 8th I interviewed NPS Historian Emeritus Ed Bearss (via telephone) about his new book, set for release tomorrow, May 18.  I’ll get to the interview in a minute, but first here’s what I submitted to America’s Civil War for my July 2010 previews, courtesy of the good people at the magazine:

Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the Campaigns that Changed the Civil War, Edwin C. Bearss with J. Parker Hills

Ed Bearss is known as the Pied Piper of the National Park Service.  His battlefield tours are legendary, as are his photographic memory, stentorian voice, and physical stamina.  If there has been one criticism of Mr. Bearss’s work it is that his ability to spellbind tourists on the battlefield has not translated to his writings.  The good folks at National Geographic tried to remedy this deficiency – if it can be called that, since Bearss’s The Vicksburg Campaign is a tour de force after 25 years – with 2006’s Fields of Honor, which consisted of transcriptions of Bearss tours of about twenty Civil War sites.  This year they follow that up with Receding Tide, which uses more detailed transcriptions to focus more narrowly on the period from the end of 1862 through the early days of July and the twin Union victories at Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

I was a little nervous about the interview, which was set up courtesy of Penny Dackis at National Geographic.  I bought a digital recorder for the event, and like most of you I really hate the way I sound on tape (or digital).  Add that to the fact I was going to be talking to possibly the most recognizable name – definitely the most recognizable voice – among students of the war, and you see where I’m coming from.  I tried my best to throw my questions in quickly, step back and let the man speak.

BR: Your new book, Receding Tide, covers a broad period and is concerned with more than simply the campaigns of Vicksburg and Gettysburg.

EB: It starts with the Union setbacks of Fredericksburg and Chickasaw Bayou, when the Union has run into severe difficulties.  It follows through to the early stages of the Vicksburg Campaign when the Confederates are doing fairly well, and through Chancellorsville, playing [the two theaters of operation] off against each other, and ending for all practical purposes on the Fourth of July, 1863, though Gettysburg doesn’t really end until Lee crosses [the Potomac] and Vicksburg doesn’t end until Sherman drives the Confederates out of Jackson.

BR: The concept behind this book is similar to that of Fields of Honor, which National Geographic published in 2007?

EB: Yes, both books are basically transcriptions of recordings of my tours at the various sites.  In Receding Tide, [co-author J. Parker Hills] edits them down and fills in the connecting parts.

BR: In what ways do these projects differ from traditional works, like your Vicksburg Campaign?

EB: I’m standing on the spot when I’m talking about what happened there.  People who liked the first volume said it comes across like I’m talking, that it’s like being on the field with me.  Talking in the field, you can get more emotions in than if you’re writing and footnoting everything.  People who like oral presentations like it the best.  Fields of Honor has sold better than any book I’ve written.

BR: How do you think the two types of works, the tour transcriptions versus traditional works like your Vicksburg set, differ – that is do you like one better than the other, or are they really apples and oranges?

EB: The three-volume Vicksburg study is for people who want to know everythingReceding Tide looks more at the highlights, interesting facts and personalities.  It has more of an emotional appeal.

BR: Would you say it tells a better story?

EB: Yes.

BR: What different challenges are presented when conducting a tour of Vicksburg versus Gettysburg?

EB: Gettysburg is much better known – in the English language, there are more books on Gettysburg and Little Big Horn than any other campaigns because they sell well.  Little Big Horn sells well because nobody really knows what happened in those last thirty minutes or so.  Gettysburg sells well because so much has been written and is known about it, particularly the controversies.  I can do a complete tour of Vicksburg, for a well-informed group, in about three days: two on the campaign up to the seige, and one on the seige.  Gettysburg, because of the knowledge of the general public and the interest in the personalities, the fighting of the Lost Cause, the Meade/Sickles controversy, and the fact that more people know a lot more about Gettysburg, it takes longer to tour.  The buffs know a lot about Vicksburg, but the general public doesn’t. 

When I took the job with the National Park Service at Vicksburg in 1955, I did so because it was the only Civil War site that had an opening.  If I had had my choice, I would have said “Give me an eastern battlefield, give me Gettysburg”.  That’s what everyone wanted, what everyone was writing about.  Catton had just finished his trilogy, and Lee’s Lieutenants focused primarily on that.  But when I got out there I found out Vicksburg had a lot going for it.  I’d more or less become convinced that the Vicksburg Campaign is why Grant became General-in-Chief in February of 1864.  Meade’s result after the Battle of Gettysburg was not what the President wanted.  In his mind, Vicksburg was a more important victory than Gettysburg – except for the address he gave there.

You can argue that the worst day of Meade’s life was when he issued the congratulatory order to his troops on July 7th, where he calls on them for “further exertion to drive the enemy from our soil.”  Lincoln will say “My God, my God!  What does the man mean?  It is all our soil!”  On the same day, Lincoln gets the message from Grant that Vicksburg has fallen.  And not only had Grant accomplished the military objective, he has opened the Mississippi river to divide the Confederacy, and has destroyed a Confederate army of 40,000 men.

BR: The letter that Lincoln wrote to Meade, the one he never sent, it has always struck me that we can give so much import to a letter like that, one that Lincoln thought better of and didn’t send, when we don’t have any idea how many other letters like that were written and to whom.

EB: We only know about this one because he kept a copy.

BR: And because Nicolay and Hay made sure it was preserved.

EB: Right.

BR: Are there any similar studies like this from National Geographic in the works?

EB: Yes.  Because of the increased interest in the Revolutionary War, we’re considering doing a book on those conflicts similar to Fields of Honor, which will again be based on my battlefield tours.

There was more, but we moved far afield from the focus of the book, talking a lot about Meade and the bad spot into which he was put after Grant was named General-in-Chief and how history has perhaps misrepresented what Meade would or would not have done had Grant not come east; the influence of surviving correspondence (or lack of same) on the way history has treated various commanders; and even an interesting tidbit regarding why he doesn’t spend much time on the internet and what influenced his decision to retire from the NPS (in short, in the 1940s real men didn’t type).  Maybe at some later time I’ll cover that material here.

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I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Stangers

1 05 2010

OK, well maybe not strangers, but certainly folks who are under no obligation to help me.  I’m back from my day trip to Antietam.  NPS historian Ted Alexander provided me with more information on my In Harm’s Way subject house than I could ever fit into an article of under 1,000 words.  I could have read through the material all day, but I only had a couple of hours and with the help of my buddy Mike waded through the material and made copies of the most essential stuff.  Cultural Resources Specialist and historian Keven Walker took us over to the house and gave us a fine tour of the structure along with detailed history of the building and its occupants.  Thanks to both Ted and Keven for their expert and enthusiastic assistance.

We decided to drive back to Pittsburgh via Gettysburg (kind of like Uneasy Rider driving to LA from Jackson, MS via Omaha).  We ran into Antietam ranger John Hoptak on the street there, outside the Farnsworth House bookstore.  It was a beautiful, warm day – lot’s of folks milling about.  Curiously, many merchants stuck to their 5:00 PM closing times.  Of course I’m not privy to their financial records, but it seems odd to me, especially considering many of these are small businesses actively staffed by their owners, implying more flexibility in scheduling operating hours (that is to say, “Look Marge, the hotel parking lot is full and there are a bunch of people eating outside O’Rorke’s.  Maybe we should stay open until 6:00 or 7:00″).  I’m just sayin’.

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Day Trip to Maryland

29 04 2010

Tomorrow early AM I’m off for Antietam National Battlefield with my friend Mike.  I have some work to do with NPS historian Ted Alexander at his office, then will spend some time at one of the farmhouses on the battlefield.  We should have a little time to bum around before heading for home, but this trip is feels more like work than fun.  Fun work, nonetheless, and it pretty much beats anything I do in my “real job”.  This is for a future installment of In Harm’s Way for Civil War Times, which is going very well thanks for asking.  I admit to preferring the subjects of the articles which allow me to visit the site and look through the files myself.  The subject of the article which will appear in the next issue that hits the stands - I submitted it last week and reviewed the edited pdf file yesterday – is on a Western Theater battlefield, and I had to write it remotely, with the help of others (a friend on the NPS staff sent me copies of the file, and another friend took photos – they did right by me).  I feel more connected to the house if I can crawl around it, measure it, and take photos - lots of photos - myself.  But I’m not complaining; this is a good gig.

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