Petersburg: The Crater, 10/2/2016

7 10 2016

Last week, on my way home from a golf outing in Willimasburg, Va, I stopped in Petersburg. The original plan was to hit as many Seven Days battlefield sites as I could on the way back home, but since I was with my OLDEST brother Jerry, I opted to visit a the sites at which our great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, had fought with his regiment, the 205th PA. That meant Petersburg. In the process, we also visited The Crater, since it’s within the boundaries of the Petersburg National Battlefield. Below are a few photos from that visit. Click the images for larger ones – I think they’re all pretty much self-explanatory. The crater itself is fairly small, but consider the erosion over the years and the use of the site as a golf course for a while. I suspect the remnants are more impressive from atop the works, but access is for good reason restricted.



Fort Morton, the 14 gun battery from which Ambrose Burnside observed the Battle of the Crater




Fredericksburg – 9/28/2016

6 10 2016

Last week, after stopping in to visit with John Hennessy at Chatham, I set out for Williamsburg. My original intent was to visit the battlefield at Malvern Hill along the way, but the weather was bad and I was burning daylight. So I decided to do a quick turn at the Fredericksburg battlefield’s visitor center and the Sunken Road at Marye’s Heights. I hadn’t been there in quite a few years. Here are some photos I snapped as my phone battery died. Click on them for larger images.


Chatham – 9/28/2016

4 10 2016

Last week, I took a little trip down to Williamsburg, Va, for three days of golf with my brother Jerry. Friend John Hennessy invited me to stop on the way to chat and lunch, so I took him up on his offer. We yakked in his office upstairs at Chatham for a while (said hi to Frank O’Reilly, whom I had not seen in years, and later on the lawn reader Barry Larkin), then had lunch at Foode, which is located in the 1820 National Bank of Fredericksburg building. In fact, we ate in the vault! Abraham Lincoln visited this building in the spring of 1862. All in all I spent about 3 hours talking to Mr. Hennessy – the good news for us is that he was receptive to another Bull Runnings tour, perhaps in the Fall of 2017. I then headed off on my way to Williamsburg. Below are some photos of Chatham and the bank building. Click on the thumbs for larger versions.



Repro pontoon section



The notes of “Home Sweet Home”

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These catalpas may have been described by Walt Whitman after the Battle of Fredericksburg






3 10 2016


Hi all! I just got back from a few days in Virginia, and managed to squeeze some Civil War stuff in around some bad golf (mine) in some bad weather on some beautiful Williamsburg area courses. I’ll have the CW related stuff up soon, including a trip to Petersburg with my oldest brother to follow in the steps of our great-grandfather. Also some Bull Run touring info (we may be looking at two dates next year – shout out if that sounds good to you). But for now, I offer this shot from the first tee of the Black Heath course at Ford’s Colony Country Club. I thought it would be a good idea to hit over those trees on the right. Good idea, poor execution. Theme of the day.

Preview: Powell, “The Chickamauga Campaign: Barren Victory”

24 09 2016

Layout 1The third and final volume of David A. Powell’s history of The Chickamauga Campaign – Barren Victory: The Retreat into Chattanooga, the Confederate Pursuit, and the Aftermath of Battle, September 21 to October 20, 1863, has been released by publisher Savas Beatie. (You can find my notes on the first two volumes here and here.)

This completes the most thorough history of the campaign to date. Volume III is a mixed bag, wrapping up the first two volumes and providing meat and potatoes statistics and research tidbits that all footnote readers will enjoy. The narrative portion of the book picks up on the morning of September 21, with both armies dealing with the immediate effects of defeat and victory. Three chapters follow both armies to the environs of Chattanooga. Two chapters discuss the costs and consequences of the campaign, and appendices deal with rear guard cavalry action in The Last Clash at Chickamauga and the relationship between William Rosecrans, James Garfield, and Charles Dana.

Then the fun begins. In a manner reminiscent of Joseph L. Harsh’s wonderful Sounding the Shallows, Powell offers the reader insight into both the numbers of the thing and the researching and writing process itself. Five appendices include: Union Order of Battle; Union Losses; Confederate Strength with Sources and Methodology (arranged in Order of Battle format); Confederate Losses (Powell provides the most detailed and complete look at Confederate numbers and losses to be found); and a Return for Polk’s Corps for October 22, 1863.

These are followed by a magnificent 85 page (!) bibliography. Powell’s extensive use of newspaper accounts from all points of the compass is impressively displayed. The different contemporary newspapers from which he drew number approximately 150!

The whole book is complimented with bottom of the page, detailed footnotes (with the exception of the Union OOB through Confederate Losses appendices which employ end-notes for purposes of style).

This is a great capstone to Powell’s take on the Chickamauga campaign (and let’s not forget his Campaign Atlas and his iconoclastic look at Confederate cavalry during this time, Failure in the Saddle). Don’t miss it.

Preview: Rasbach, “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign”

22 09 2016

joshualchamberlainandpetersburgcampaignrasbach2016savasbeatieThis just in from Savas Beatie (there is no hyphen in that title, you know): Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the Petersburg Campaign: His Supposed Charge from Fort Hell, his Near-Mortal Wound, and a Civil War Myth Reconsidered, by Dennis A. Rasbach.

It’s hard to read the full title and not get the impression that the book possesses iconoclastic, sacred-cow slaughtering characteristics. In fact the dust jacket notes are peppered with words like presumed, perpetuation, interpretation, mantle of authority, meticulous case, primary evidence, and body of evidence. By themselves not indicative of anything, but consider them and the book’s title together and, well, you start to see where we’re headed. And that’s not a bad thing by any means. This book considers, among other things, the accuracy of the identification of the actual site of the action in which Chamberlain was wounded, generally accepted for many, many years as along the Jerusalem Plank Road between the future site of Fort Hell (Sedgwick) and Rives’s Salient of the Dimmock Line (future site of Fort Mahone). Rasbach contends that the focus of Chamberlain’s attack was more than a mile away from there.

Other, similar theories on other battlefields have been shouted down with references to monument placement and lack of veteran divergence from accepted narratives, but in this case Mr. Rasbach is laying everything out there for consideration. Adherents to the classic interpretation will have to deal with his presentation on its merits.

You get: 176 pages of narrative, including a retrospective tour; plenty of illustrations, primarily maps, though the tour includes many modern day photos; Orders of Battle for June 18, 1864; an appendix on Chamberlain’s wound and treatment; another on the role of maps in evaluating Chamberlain’s account; bibliography, mostly published works but also ten manuscript sources and seven newspaper accounts; and full index. Footnotes are bottom-of-the-page.

A New Old Map of the Battlefield

21 09 2016

Author John Hennessy passed along this heretofore unseen, by him or me, map. It was provided to him by reader Kimball Brace, who found it in the Library of Virginia. Kim has been researching E. Porter Alexander and the signal stations around Manassas and the Bull Run Line.

Mr. Hennessy correctly points out some of the notable features of the map include its depictions of the Beale and Van Pelt houses and details of the topography around the Stone Bridge.

The key (click for large images):


The map (click for large images):


Here is a transcription of the key, provided by a staff member at the Winery at Bull Run. I’ll try to find out more about that part of the story later…

The key:
A. Centreville Road to Stone Bridge
B. Forest each side Centreville Road
C. Enemies long Parrot Gun, Rifled; opening light Sunday Morning July 21st 1861, on Col Wheat’s Battalion (marked by a circle with an X in it)
D. Beale’s House, vacated by family Wednesday July 17th.
E. Shaeffers encampment, of Battalion, Co S Beauregard Rifles, Capt Shaeffer. New Orleans ____ Blues. Capt Goodauyn. New Market ___ Capt H N B Wood.
F. Thicket to which a large force of the enemy were concealed.
G. Cornfield fronting entrenchment Schaeffer’s Battalion
H. Entrenchment left-wing Capt Wood’s __ north side Bull Run.
I. Shaeffer’s Battalion entrenched, s.side Bull Run.
J. Latham’s Battery 2 guns (one marked XX) firing upon enemy at A B & C
K. Albemarle Regt Col Strange Comm at, entrenched on Bluff of Bull Run
L. Wheat Stubble between Albemarle Regt. And front of Enemy advancing at this point, Capt Latham’s Artillery, opening upon them, they commenced the flank to O, all around
M. Stone Bridge
N. Battery, of Enemy (not known invisible) moved with infancy upon Left-Flank of S.C. Army.
O. Advance of enemy, from A,B, (Carrying C.) F & G to O. and direction up to V.
P. Cornfield of Beale’s
Q. Forest Felled by Shaeffer’s Battalion
R. Turnpike to Warrenton from Stone Bridge
S. Bull Run
T. Vanpelt’s House, He having 2 sons in the Northern Army
U. Open fields over which reinforcements passed. Met the enemy, and the result was as the country knows
V. Headquarter’s, Gen E Coucke Lewis House
W. 1 Gun from Latham’s Battery managed by Lieut Saunders New O ____ Blues.
a. *Cannon Shot from enemy into headquarters
b. XX Guns’ supported by Charlottsville
c. X Monticello Guards of Latham’s Battery
d. Cursive X : open fields leading to Manassas from Lewis Farm
X. Circle around an x: Col Wheat’s encampment before 21st July

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