Recap: In the Footsteps of the 69th NYSM

12 06 2019


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At 9:00 AM on May 11, 2019, about 50 folks assembled in the parking lot at Manassas National Battlefield Park’s Stone Bridge to follow guides John Hennessy, Joseph Maghe, Damian Shiels, and me as we retraced the steps of the 69th New York State Militia during the First Battle of Bull Run.

The structure was simple: we followed the First Manassas Trail and walked along Bull Run from Stone Bridge and picked up the regiment’s route on the battlefield (west) side of Bull Run at the site of Farm Ford, where the men crossed on the morning of July 21, 1861. (Their route to the ford lies on the east side of the Run, over the grounds of the present day Winery at Bull Run.) At each stop, I contributed some framework of how we got to and what happened at that point using reports from the official records and other correspondence from participants. John Hennessy provided deeper context, again drawn from participants and from his years of research and experience on the field. Then Damian Shiels expanded our understanding of these men (and in some cases Irish soldiers of other regiments on the field as well) and their families in New York and Ireland, using the vast and poignant materials he’s gleaned from widows’ pension files. Consistent with the data set used, these accounts typically ended tragically, and Damian will forever be known as the George R. R. Martin of the First Battle of Bull Run. He drew us in with the stories of these men and women, got us to care about them, and then, well, bad things happened.

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John Hennessy discusses the advance to and crossing at Farm Ford

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After Farm Ford, we continued roughly west by north toward Matthews Hill, stopping to get some perspective and a view south to Henry Hill.

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Damian Shiels at Stop #2, a view south to Henry Hill from Sherman’s route of march toward Matthews Hill. John Hennessy and Joe Maghe, in green, look on.

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View south – MNBP Visitor Center in middle distance

The next stop was further west to the point of first contact between Sherman’s Brigade and the Confederates of Bee and – purportedly, possibly, perhaps – Wheat, and the death of Lt. Col. Haggerty. Damian continued the story of Haggerty’s widow. The ripples from pebbles tossed on that June Sunday were many and far reaching.

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Discussing the death of Haggerty

We then moved, still westerly, past the site of the Carter house “Pittsylvania” and the Carter Family cemetery.

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Carter Cemetery

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MNBP Superintendent Brandon Bies and his family joined us for the day

We took a jog south and discussed the Confederate collapse on Matthews Hill.

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View South

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View North to Confederate Line

Continuing farther west, we walked past the Stovall Monument and the site of the Matthews House to Matthews Hill where the 69th’s advance down Sudley Road toward Henry Hill was covered.

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Site of Matthews House

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View from Matthews Hill to Henry Hill

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The crew moves south to toward the Stone House and the Sudley Road/Warrenton Turnpike intersection.

After crossing the busy road (Warrenton Turnpike, today’s Lee Highway), we ascended to Henry Hill where we broke for lunch and to view Joe Maghe’s fine collection of 69th NYSM artifacts inside the reconstructed post-war Henry House (a big shout-out to MNBP for making the facility available).


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Joe Maghe fields questions from one of the dozens of folks on the tour and park visitors who stopped in the Henry House to view his collection. (Photo by Pat Young)

After lunch, but prior to setting out for the return trip to the Stone Bridge, we gathered for a group photo in front of the Henry House. A few opted not to do the return walk and are not pictured.


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After lunch, we discussed the 69th’s action on Henry Hill and the fight for Ricketts’s guns.

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John Hennessy describes the fighting on Henry Hill

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Occasionally participants contributed, in this case Pat Young of “The Immigrant’s Civil War”

We shifted base slightly down the hill, and covered the retreat.

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Here, I (green hat at center) discuss the retreat, prisoners, and the 69th’s forming of an infantry square

After that, we again picked up the First Manassas Trail, making our way along the back side of Henry Hill. Eventually we reached the site of the Van Pelt House, and wound our way down to the Stone Bridge parking lot where we started. FYI, my fit bit clocked in at right around 20,000 steps for the day.

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Guides (left to right) Damian Shiels, John Hennessy, Joe Maghe, and Harry Smeltzer

I think, all in all, the tour was a great success, and most important we all learned a good deal about these men, their families, and their circumstances before, during, and after the battle. Thanks to everyone who turned out, to our intrepid guides and exhibitor, to Debi Faber-Maghe who held down the fort in the Henry House, to the Bies kids who were super-troopers, and to my sister Patrice who really helped me out.

I’m mulling over a few really good – IMO – ideas for future First Bull Run tours (if you have any, I’m all ears), so check back here, every…single…day.


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4 responses

12 06 2019
steve reilly

I think, you should re-think doing the same tour over. Many were disappointed that they could not join us, because it was the Mothers Day weekend.

Liked by 2 people

12 06 2019
Harry Smeltzer

Perhaps at some point. If the stars align again.

Liked by 2 people

12 06 2019
Joe Maghe

All I can say is, “Many thanks for making this happen, Harry.” Yourself, John, and Damian provided a fantastic opportunity for Bull Run enthusiasts, as well as, Irish enthusiasts to gain more knowledge and insight into what occurred that day. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for myself.

Liked by 1 person

13 06 2019
Patrick Young

Thanks for the great event Harry.

Liked by 1 person

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