4/23/2016 Battlefield Tour Recap Part III

4 05 2016
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Sharing the Stage with John Hennessy Was a Treat, But Yellow Was a Bad Idea (Photo by Tom Leupold)

Thoughts

Again, all-in-all, I thought the things over which I had control came off alright for the tour. As of now, I have no control over the weather, but never say never.

I really like the fact that no one had to put out any cash, including me, other than for travel, meals, and lodging. Sure, a bus may have been nice, but that comes with a certain lack of flexibility (some folks left early or came late), and the added risk of someone backing out at the last minute and wanting their money back. I think if we do something like this again (and that will depend a lot on you folks), we’ll try to keep a similar format. That is, caravans and no expenses.

I also was pleased to see that most attendees had the handouts I provided here. Some made up nice binders with artwork, and a good number had everything on their phones or tablets. Plus there was no copying or paper expense, and it would have been a real mess to hand those things out in the rain.

I had a lot of material that we just couldn’t get too. Yes, some of it was hardcore military stuff, and a lot of it was “cool stuff.” This time John Hennessy was the guiding force, which was only appropriate given the fact that most in attendance were there to listen to him, not me. I just angled in when I saw and opening. It’s better to have too much stuff than too little.

I was really happy with the give and take along the way. We had a number of very knowledgeable people in the group (at one point, someone came up to me and excitedly, gleefully said, “These guys are all hardcore!”), and many of them chimed in to add to the experience. Thanks to all of you who spoke up. I felt bad after I singled some of you out in the opening remarks, because I know there were accomplished names I left out. My apologies to you.

There were things about McDowell’s plan and how he did and didn’t diverge from it that I wish I had said. Sometimes I get so geared up I forget to say everything. But then, we were covering a lot of ground and a lot of material.

That back door of the Stone House opening apparently all by itself right when John mentioned ghosts was classic. I don’t think I can count on a repeat.

John and a few others prodded me several times about when or whether I am going to write “a book or something,” and by “something” I assume they all meant something other than this blog. I’ve thought a lot about that. As I said before, I think John has written the definitive study of the campaign. There are several possible outcomes when one writes a book:

  1. The result is well written, well researched, and adds to the literature. (This is something rare in Civil War publishing. Very rare.)
  2. The result is well written, marginally researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (This is the stuff that wins Pulitzer Prizes sometimes.)
  3. The result is well written, well researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (So, why bother?)
  4. The result is poorly written, poorly researched, and adds nothing to the literature. (Lots of this out there.)
  5. OK, I think you catch the drift…(We often hear it said, and we may say it ourselves that “we really need a book on fillintheblank.” I think often that’s just not true, and Paul Taylor, Mike Pellegrini, and I had an interesting discussion about that the night before the tour.)

The point is, I’d only want to put something out there if it qualifies as a #1.  I do have ideas for a Bull Run project, more of a reference work I guess, but not like any you’ve seen before. That’s problematic when describing it to publishers. My thoughts along the lines of a narrative history would produce something very similar to John Hennessy’s book. I don’t know if it would be as well written. We differ not so much in our thoughts of McDowell’s plan, mostly in the psychology at the root of it. I suspect it’s more firmly based on military principles/doctrine than John thinks. That alone, I don’t think, justifies a new campaign study – but perhaps an essay/article. However, there’s always the possibility of telling the whole story in a different, compelling way, and I’m always exploring that.

Short answer – who knows?

Most of all it was great meeting everyone, putting faces to names, moving many of you from e-quaintance to friend, and of course seeing old friends again. I’m really sorry if I didn’t get to speak to each one of you – next time, I hope. And I hope there’s a next time. With that…

Feedback

Please take a little time to leave feedback in the comments section if you attended (or even if you didn’t). What did you like? What did you not like? If we do something like this again, what particular aspect of the battle or what particular sites on the field would you like to see covered?

I have a few ideas, including following letters around the field, annotating them as we go. Perhaps touring a Confederate letter and then a corresponding Union letter, covering the same action from a different perspective. Also, among Bull Runnings’s readers I know there are some with extensive expertise to share.

Let me know – fire away. Maybe we’ll do something like this again.

Part I

Part II


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15 responses

4 05 2016
4 05 2016
4 05 2016
Susan McDowell Cole

I was unable to participate this year but I wanted to. Last year I had neurosurgery to implant a Vagal Nerve Stimulator to control seizures at Barrow Neurological Institute. Since my doctor still had me on heavy doses of epilepsy medication, my blood pressure plummeted and I ended up in a wheelchair. So I felt it might be hard to navigate a battleground in a wheelchair. Seriously, I wanted to go. The genealogy I had done at McDowell House says I am a direct descendant of General Irvin McDowell through a relationship he had with a woman named Margaret McDowell, who was either an indentured servant or an Irish slave. Irvin McDowell bought her and sent her to Dublin, Ireland. There my great great grandfather was born in 1842. His name was John Robert Adair McDowell. He served in the Irish Brigades in New York beginning in 1863 and stayed in the US Army for most of his life. He lived mostly in Europe recruiting shipbuilders to come to the United States from Ireland, Scotland and Poland. My grandfather William Victor McDowell and my dad John Connor McDowell were shipbuilders. By 1954, however, my Dad had started his own business. Pretty soon he was making metal molds for rubber parts and had NASA and Department of Defense contracts. His company, Delaware Valley Mfg, made the molds for the rubber soles of the boots that walked on the moon in 1969.

Liked by 1 person

4 05 2016
Stephen Keating

Photographic evidence of Harry explaining McDowell’s Plan. There’s no ducking out of it now guy.

Liked by 1 person

4 05 2016
Drew Wagenhoffer

It’s been rumored that tour attendees have one-by-one been meeting with “accidents.” Soon, there will be no firsthand evidence that Harry ever explained it at all.

Liked by 1 person

4 05 2016
Craig Swain

Yes, explaining McDowell’s “Real Plan” while dressed in a day-glow yellow coat….

Liked by 1 person

4 05 2016
Drew Wagenhoffer

Yellow? Are you trying to stir up Internet controversy with another “what color is the dress” thing? You look like you should be standing on the Clemson sideline. Decidedly orange.

Liked by 1 person

4 05 2016
Paul Errett

I had a blast! There are many battles fought that do not receive their just rewards. Thanks to this trip, one that is often overlooked, has been revealed! I invited my 8th VA re-enactor long time friend. He came all the way from Ohio to be a part of this wonderful program! I also caught the fever and spent over $300 to rent a van to get as many people to have a ride as possible. I learned things that I never knew and so did my friend! This was the first time I ever attended such a structured tour, usually grabbing a Frassanito book or a well written book (with many maps) and striking out on my own. I was also pleased to meet Joe Lefleur, a friend made through the FB group “The Civil War”. I was also tickled pink that Mr Hennessey signed his book for my friend from Ohio, and got his signature on both of his versions books that I own!

This experience will last myself and Rod Herring for the rest of our lives!

Kudos to you and others to make this wonderful experience come alive! I learned that the field did not stop at Jackson’s line, as I had all my life!

I also appreciated finishing with the small group on Chinn Ridge!

Thank you again!!!

Liked by 1 person

5 05 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Paul – glad you both could make it, and the van came in handy!

Like

5 05 2016
Mike Musick

This was an absolutely outstanding event in all respects, reflecting great credit upon both organizer and tour guide. I tried to follow all of Harry’s pre-trip suggestions regarding clothing, handouts, food, etc., and found them all right on the money. My thanks to all involved for this smashing success.

Liked by 1 person

5 05 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Mike – And after all this time, great to finally meet face to face! Sorry for confusing you with Rea Redd, but you have to admit there’s an uncanny resemblance!

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28 05 2016
Sean Dail

Harry,

Sorry to be so late in responding to this – I thought the tour was one of the best I’ve attended (and I’ve toured many times with Bearss, Krick, Gallagher, Greene, O’Reilly, etc.) John Hennessy is truly one of the best, and to tour with him in your company and in the company of folks as knowledgeable as we had that day was a special treat. There was nothing not to like, and I only regret that I ended up having to leave before the final gathering at Chinn Ridge.

Thanks for organizing the tour, and I hope there will be more.

Sean

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28 05 2016
Harry Smeltzer

Thanks Sean. I’m glad you were able to attend and sorry I didn’t get a chance to chat. Maybe next time?

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28 05 2016
Sean Dail

Certainly. I think you just a little bit busy herding us cats…

Liked by 2 people

28 05 2016
Sean Dail

Let me try that again… I think you _were_ just a little bit busy herding us cats…

Liked by 1 person

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