A Hot Time on Anniversary Weekend, July 20-21, 2019

17 08 2019

This past anniversary of the First Battle of Bull Run was spent by me, for the first time, in Manassas. I was booked for two talks on Saturday and a bus tour on Sunday, the actual anniversary of the battle which, as you know, was fought on a Sunday. I’ve never really felt the attraction of anniversaries like some, maybe most, of you do – the earth just happens to be in a very similar position to one star in a vast, endless sea of stars as on the day of the actual event. I know, I have no soul. But the fact that this anniversary fell on a Sunday seemed to be a big deal, and lots of activities were planned by the NPS for the day. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.

Saturday started off hot and sultry, and the weekend kept that up through the end. My morning talk, for the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division (PWC), was scheduled for a tent outside historic Ben Lomond south of the battlefield, along the trace of the historic farm road that led from Manassas Junction to Liberia, past Ben Lomond, past Portici, to the Henry House and the Warrenton Turnpike. I’ll have more on Ben Lomond in a future post. Luckily for me and the 25 or so folks who attended, my talk on McDowell’s plan for the battle was moved indoors (it was 102 degrees Fahrenheit outside). The talk went well though I had to rush through the conclusion due to time constraints. Nobody threw anything at me. It was great to see some old friends and folks who have attended some of the Bull Runnings Battlefield Tours. I appreciate your continued support. Thanks to Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak for the invite. I completely forgot to take my usual pre-talk selfie, but here’s one courtesy of Rob.

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Me talking about Johnny Caspar from Miller’s Crossing, who plays an integral role in explaining McDowell’s Plan.

After my talk, I was taken to lunch by Kim Brace of the Manassas Battlefield Trust (MBT), which was hosting my talk at the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP) visitor’s center later that evening. After a change of clothes, I repaired to The Winery at Bull Run for a pleasant, if muggy, sit-down on the patio with Kim and my good friends Dan and Kathy Carson.

After yet another change of clothing, it was off to the visitor’s center, where the MBT had invited me to talk about Peter Conover Hains and his 1911 account of his experiences at First Bull Run. I saw a few familiar faces in the crowd, including former U. S. Army historian Kim Holien and MNBP museum specialist (and long-time Friend of Bull Runnings) Jim Burgess, who joined me for dinner afterwards. Again there were about 25 people in attendance. Not too many glitches, and I think everyone enjoyed the presentation and learned something (I know I did). Thanks to MBT and Christy Forman for the invite.

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Pre-talk selfie. Sorry to those folks blocked by my big giant head.

Bright and early Sunday morning it was back to Ben Lomond for a bus tour of sites on and off the battlefield. This was a fundraiser for PWC and was led by Kevin Pawlak of that group and myself. We had ten people, including Civil War TImes Magazine’s editor Dana Shoaf and his media guru Melissa Wynn, and old friend and Licensed Antietam Battlefield Guide Jim Rosebrock (look, if you’re gonna hire someone to guide you about Antietam, hire an ALBG – it just makes sense). Yes, it was hot on Saturday, but it was hotter on Sunday, as my dusty dashboard attests.

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One Hundred and Three Degrees!!!

It was in fact so hot that the NPS cancelled most of the events they had scheduled for the day. But we few, we happy but sweaty few, vowed to endeavor to persevere.

Kevin and I conducted the tour kind of like a sporting event broadcast – at each stop, Kevin laid out the action, rather, the play-by-play, and I provided the color. We had to cut out a couple of stops due to time. I’ll lay out the route of the tour in photos:

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First Stop: Old Stone Church in Centreville, where we talked about the Confederate dispositions, the Federal approach, and some after-battle incidents. Kevin Pawlak in dark blue.

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Quick stop in Centreville McDonalds to pay respects to the Centreville Six. Someone will do an Abbey Road take on this. But not us.

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Blackburn’s Ford

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Blackburn’s Ford – View south

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Panoramic view south at Blackburn’s Ford

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Signal Hill monument

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Kim Brace (white beard, red shirt) provided a little more info on E. Porter Alexander

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Kevin saying something worthwhile at the Stone Bridge.

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Me – in white hat – trying to think of something worthwhile to say at the Stone Bridge. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Group shot at Reynolds’s guns on Matthews Hill. A couple folks did not make the trek from the bus at this stop.

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View south from Matthews Hill

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Reynolds’s guns (James rifles). There were only six Federal smoothbores, all howitzers, that crossed Bull Run that day. The other 20 were rifles.

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Me, on Matthews Hill, pointing. Others, looking. Photo by Rob Orrison.

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Dana Shoaf and me, trying to figure out what direction we’re facing, on Chinn Ridge, our final stop.

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Kevin Pawlak wrapping things up on Chinn Ridge.

Afterwards, upstairs at air-conditioned Ben Lomond, Dana and Melissa introduced me to Facebook Live. Enjoy Dana, Rob, Kevin, and me in all our technicolor glory.

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Behind the scenes: Videographer Melissa Winn, Dana Shoaf, and Kevin Pawlak

Afterwards, Rob, Kevin, and I enjoyed a couple of cold ones at the 2 Silos Brewing Co. in Manassas. A cool place, check it out.

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Rob Orrison and Kevin Pawlak show the way to the 2 Silos complex.





Previews: More from Savas Beatie

30 07 2019

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The good folks at Savas Beatie, prolific publishers of our peculiar predilection, have been busy this year. Over the past couple of months, they’ve cranked out a number of new books, and I think I’ve received most of them. Due to time restraints, I’ve provided titles, authors, and links for info and ordering.

 

 





Previews: Emerging Civil War

27 07 2019

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I apologize for the brevity of this, but I’m digging myself out of a hole and this seems to be the only practical way out. Over the past few months I’ve received five new entries in the Emerging Civil War series from Savas Beatie. Luckily, the titles are all self explanatory, so I’ll give you those, the authors, and links to ordering and other info. Not perfect, but my world is far from that.

“Let Us Die Like Men”: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864, by William Lee White.

“All Hell Can’t Stop Them”: The Battles for Chattanooga: Missionary Ridge and Ringgold, November 24-27, 1863, by David A. Powell.

“Attack at Daylight and Whip Them”: The Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862, by Gregory A. Mertz.

“The Most Desperate Acts of Gallantry”: George A. Custer in the Civil War, by Daniel T. Davis.

“Call Out the Cadets”: The Battle of New Market, May 15, 1864, by Sarah Kay Bierle

 





Trying to Catch Up

27 07 2019

Hand drawn So Many Things in To Do List, business concept on bla

Well, it’s been a hectic four months. Work – my real job – has been hectic, and I had 6 speaking/tour events, which is a lot for me. Other things have suffered as a result, not least of which this site. So, in the next few days I hope to catch up, somewhat. I have recaps of five of the events to write up, and lots of books. As always, I need to make a dent in the dozens and dozens of letters I still have (as always, if you have anything you’d like put into the resources here, send it on).

First up, the books. I’ll do that in two posts.





Army Strengths During the Seven Days

23 07 2019

I was asked a few times this weekend for the name of the person who prepared a study of the relative strengths of the opposing armies during the Seven Days in 1862, which contradicts the traditional notion of Lee being outnumbered there. The author is Leon Walter Tenney, his 1992 Master’s Thesis entitled Seven Days in 1862: Numbers in Union and Confederate Armies before Richmond. It can be found at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.





This Anniversary Weekend

17 07 2019
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I’ll do my best to keep it together

Just a no frills reminder about this coming weekend at and near the Manassas National Battlefield Park (MNBP). On Saturday morning at 10:30 I’ll be speaking under a tent outside Ben Lomond Historic Site on McDowell’s Plan for the battle. No fee for this. Than on Saturday evening at 6:00 PM I’ll be speaking in the MNBP visitor center auditorium on Peter Conover Hains’s 1911 memoir of the battle. Again, no fee. Neither of these events require any walking on your part, other than to and from your seats.

On Sunday, at 9:00 AM I’ll be leading a bus tour of the battlefield and environs with Kevin Pawlak, who works for Prince William County and also happens to serve on the board of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation with me. The bus will leave Ben Lomond at 9:00 AM. There is a fee for this event. To book, follow the links I provided in this post.

I really hope to see you this weekend. Please come up and introduce yourself if you see me.





Gettysburg’s Leister Farm

3 07 2019


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An edited version of this article appeared as the first of a series I wrote for Civil War Times magazine, beginning in the June 2010 issue. The column was first called In Harm’s Way, and later as Collateral Damage.

The Leister House

The Leister house is best known for serving as the headquarters of Union Major General George Gordon Meade during the battle of Gettysburg – particularly as the site of the famous council of war held in its cramped interior on the evening of July 2, 1863.

The 1.5 story log house on Taneytown Rd. south of the town of Gettysburg was built no later than 1840, by Thomas Nolan. The farm at 10 acres was small for the day, as was the house at about 390 square feet plus floored attic. The main living area consisted of two rooms: a kitchen and a living/bedroom. Nolan sold the farm to Henry Bishop, Sr. in 1840, and Lydia (Study) Leister purchased it from Bishop for $900 on March 30, 1861, apparently with funds left her by her father but held in trust until her alcoholic husband’s death. Lydia and her husband James moved to the Gettysburg area from Maryland in 1850, and James died on Dec. 11, 1859, leaving behind his wife and six children, at least two of whom were living with Lydia on the farm at the time of the battle.

On July 1, 1863, Lydia and young Hannah and Matilda were advised by a mounted Union officer to leave the farm for their safety. They eventually found shelter on the Baltimore Road. The farm’s location was ideal for communications; the house and outbuildings were occupied and the grounds used as a signal station, the fields crossed frequently by troops, messengers and staff. On July 2nd and 3rd, Meade established his headquarters there. By the afternoon of the 3rd, it was being used as an aid station. Gettysburg resident Daniel Skelly visited the farmhouse on July 6th:

“In the front room of the house was a bed, the covers of it thrown back; and its condition indicated that a wounded soldier had occupied it. I was told that General Butterfield, Meade’s chief of staff, who had been wounded, had been placed upon it before being taken to a hospital.”

When Lydia and her children returned, they were greeted with devastation. In 1865 she described the scene to author John T. Trowbridge:

“I owed a little on my land yit, and thought I’d put in two lots of wheat that year, and it was all trampled down, and I didn’t get nothing from it. I had seven pieces of meat yit, and them was all took. All I had when I got back was jest a little bit of flour yit. The fences was all tore down, so that there wasn’t one standing, and the rails was burnt up. One shell came into the house and knocked a bedstead all to pices for me…The porch was all knocked down. There was seventeen dead horses on my land. They burnt five of ‘em around my best peach tree and killed it; so I ha’n’t no peaches this year. They broke down all my young apple trees for me. The dead horses sp’iled my spring, so I had to have my well dug.”

Trowbridge reflected on Leister:

“This poor woman’s entire interest in the great battle was, I found, centered in her own losses. That the country lost or gained she did not know or care, never having once thought of that side of the question.”

Lydia was eventually able to repair her house, even building a two story addition. She also expanded the farm, purchasing additional acreage from neighbor Peter Frey. She sold the bedroom table used by Meade during his stay to an Edmund Cleveland of Elisabeth, NJ (the table subsequently made its way back to the Park’s collection), and also sold for fertilizer the 750 pounds of bone from the dead horses, from which it took over 18 months for the meat to rot. She lived on the farm until 1888, when poor health caused her to move into town. At that time, the Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association purchased the farm from Lydia for $3,000.

The original farm house was lived in continually by tenant farmers into the 1920’s. In 1933 the property was taken over by the National Park service, at which time it ceased to operate as a tenant farm and the buildings used for storage. In 1961, extensive excavation and reinforcement of the foundation was done, and the house was fully restored in 1966.

Upon selling her farm to the GBPA, Lydia had the two-story addition removed to a lot she purchased in town. She lived in that dwelling, which today is known as the Gettystown Inn near the Dobbin House on Steinwehr Ave., until her death at the age of 84 on Dec. 29, 1893, and is buried in Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. Over the years Lydia Leister had filed claims against the War Department totaling just over $1,311 for damages to her farm during the battle. Settlement was made for $52.50.

[See here for some photos of the Leister house and farm. Thanks to GNMP and Ranger Troy Harmon for access to the house on a very, very cold day.]

Sources: Gettysburg National Military Park files; http://www.dobbinhouse.com; National Park Service Cultural Resources Management Bulletin Vol. 5, #4, December 1982, “The Mystery of General Meade’s Table,” Ronald Sheetz, http://crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/05-4/5-4-all.pdf; “A Strange and Blighted Land,” Gregory Coco; “A Vast Sea of Misery,” Gregory Coco; “The South: A Tour of its Battle-Fields and Ruined Cities,” John T. Trowbridge.