Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours: Iron Brigade

19 05 2015

This past weekend I attended the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours event, On the Trail of Those Damn Black Hats: Weekend with Lance Herdegen & The Iron Brigade. I did so as the guest of friend and facilitator Ted Alexander, in return for coverage of the event on my Twitter and Facebook accounts. Hopefully you are all followers and were kept up to date of all the happenings – if not, just subscribe using the links over to the right. But I’ll give a recap here.

Friday featured presentations at seminar HQ the Hampton Inn by Lance Herdegen (see an interview with him here) on The Iron Brigade at Gainesville; Tom Clemens (see an interview with him here) on the Black Hats’ Memories of Antietam; and Dan Welch (with the Gettysburg Foundation) on Beyond the Sobriquet: The Men of the Iron Brigade. After a break for dinner, the evening concluded with Lance and “Forward! Forward! Charge! Align on the Colors!”: The Unfinished Railroad Cut at Gettysburg.

Bright and early Saturday the 40 or so attendees boarded a bus bound for South Mountain (where we stopped on the National Road at Mt. Tabor and Bolivar Roads where Lance described the brigade’s move on Turner’s Gap.) Then it was on to Antietam, and discussions at the Visitor’s Center and the Miller Farm. Finally we arrived at Gettysburg, and after lunch at the Dobbin House Lance held court near the Reynolds Wounding marker and covered the brigade’s actions in Herbst Woods and the Railroad Cut. Of course, time in the bus was spent talking about the brigade’s actions on other parts of the field, and Lance unleashed a small portion of his vast knowledge of the men and events of the Iron Brigade as well.

I decided to stay over Saturday night for a slate of talks on Sunday morning, and I’m glad I did. Lance kicked off with a more complete history of the Iron Brigade (by the way, Lance is one of the most upbeat, happy guys I’ve ever seen on tour, and it wasn’t just this time – a hail fellow well met); fellow Save Historic Antietam Foundation board member and founder of the National Civil War Medical Museum Dr. Gordon Dammann gave a delightful presentation on Civil War Medicine Hollywood Style: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly; and Gettysburg Association of Licensed Battlefield Guides President Joseph Mieczkowski concluded the formal talks with a really interesting talk on Rufus Dawes & the 6th Wisconsin at Gettysburg and Beyond. Joe is apparently a “thread puller” like me and shared some fascinating tidbits.

The seminar and tour were well-organized. Raffles and auctions held Friday and Sunday raised about $500 for battlefield preservation, which will go toward purchasing available land at Antietam (see Civil War Trust info here.) And to top it off, I got to spend some time with a couple of fellows whom I had not seen in ten years, friends from prior battlefield stomps.

Next up for Civil War Seminars & Tours is The End of the War: Richmond, Petersburg, & Appomattox, July 22-26 (see brochure here.) Speakers feature Ed Bearss (see interview here) and friend and blogger Jimmy Price (see interview here), among others (like Bud Robertson, Richard Sommers, R. E. L. Krick, John Coski, Chris Calkins, the list goes on.) Sounds like a great event – register soon if you agree!

Blogging (and Tweeting and Facebooking) From the Field

11 05 2015

This coming Friday and Saturday I will be attending a Weekend with Lance Herdegen & the Iron Brigade, as a guest of Ted Alexander and the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars & Tours. I’ll be covering the event on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not too handy with the mobile WordPress app, so I’ll lug along my computer and make one or two posts on Friday or Saturday. To keep up live, subscribe to my Twitter feed or follow Bull Runnings on Facebook. Both links are over to the right. Should be fun!

For an interview with Lance Herdegen, see here.

Preview – Alexander, “Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg”

6 05 2015

51At1BPGMzL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Breakthrough at Petersburg has a special interest for me, because my great-grandfather, John B. Smeltzer, a private in the 205th PA Infantry/9th Corps, was wounded there (see here.) So when I received Dawn of Victory: Breakthrough at Petersburg, March 25 – April 2, 1865, by Edward S. Alexander, I was pretty excited to see how the action was described. This is an entry in Savas Beatie’s Emerging Civil War series, and exhibits those features with which we have become accustomed: Hal Jesperson maps (7 of them); 129 pages of text taking the reader from the beginning of the siege through the fall of Petersburg; plentiful period and current photographs; orders of battle; field fortifications definitions; and an appendix on Pamplin Historical Park. Nice and compact. However, this study suffers from what afflicts most studies of the Breakthrough: it stops with 6th Corps and does not continue to the right to cover 9th Corps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? Does it have anything to do with the fact that 9th Corps operations took place outside the current boundaries of Pamplin Park? I have my foil hat ready for the investigation…

Van Pelt House

24 04 2015

Preview: Davis & Greenwalt, “Calamity in Carolina”

23 04 2015

k2-_cd42791b-693d-41b5-a4ab-e4ed7596c686.v2About ten years ago I took a little trip down to North Carolina for a series of tours with an email group to which I still belong. We hit up Monroe’s Crossroads, Averasboro, Bentonville, and Forts Anderson and Fisher. (You can read a bit about the Bull Run connections to Bentonville here.) It would have been nice to have had Daniel Davis’s and Philip Greenwalt’s Calamity in Carolina: The Battles of Averasboro and Bentonville, March 1865, from Savas Beatie, along on that trip. Yet another of the ever growing Emerging Civil War series, Calamity covers those closing battles that pitted the forces of William T. Sherman against the who’s who of the Confederacy presided over by Joe Johnston. The convoluted movements of the armies before, during, and after these engagements could use considerably more than the six maps provided in this slim volume, but let’s keep in mind these are overviews, and you can always pick up a copy of Mark Moore’s Historical Guide to The Battle of Bentonville, which includes Averasboro, if you need to visualize.

Along with numerous period and contemporary illustrations and compact narratives of the actions (91 pages), Calamity includes driving tours and orders of battle for both battles, and appendices on Sherman’s March, Mower’s Attack, a sketch of Joseph A. Mower, the road to Bennett Place, the relationship between Sherman and Johnston, and the story of the preservation of Bentonville Battlefield.

Preview: Dunkerly, “To the Bitter End”

22 04 2015

51iUxctypFL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_If you read yesterday’s post and are looking to learn more about Bennett Place, you can find it in Robert M. Dunkerly’s To the Bitter End: Appomattox, Bennett Place, and the Surrenders of the Confederacy, new from Savas Beatie. This is part of the Emerging Civil War series, and as such follows a familiar format. Softcover, 169 pages of text, including seven maps, numerous illustrations, and five appendices. No index, however.

The bulk of the narrative takes the reader to Appomattox, then to Bennett Place, covering the movements of the armies and the mechanics of negotiation and surrender. It follows Jefferson Davis is his dash to…wherever he was dashing, and his eventual capture. Then the fall of Mobile and the surrender of Taylor to Canby; the end in the Trans-Mississippi at New Orleans (proxy Simon Buckner to proxy Peter Osterhaus); a few other lesser known capitulations; to the coup de grace in Indian Territory.

Appendices include The USCTs in the Appomattox Campaign, The Long Road Home from Appomattox, and The Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah.

Very cool and convenient to have summaries of all the surrenders in one place, with modern photos of the sites discussed. Handy.

On the Anniversary of the Surrender at Bennett Place

21 04 2015

This article ran in my Collateral Damage column in Civil War Times back in December, 2010, as Bennett Place, Where the War Really Ended. Click on the thumbnails for larger images I recorded over the years.


Original road trace

Original road trace

The knock came unexpectedly at just about noon that sunny spring day, April 17, 1865. James Bennett and his wife, Nancy, opened the door to their modest three-room, two-story home and were greeted by Union Major General William T. Sherman and Confederate General Joseph Johnston, along with their staffs and escorts, several hundred soldiers in all. Johnston thought the farm which he had passed earlier looked like an appropriate place for them to sit down and talk and Sherman had deferred to his judgment. The Bennetts left their guests and repaired to their detached kitchen, leaving the two men in possession of the main room, which was described as “scrupulously neat, the floors scrubbed to a milky whiteness, the bed in one room very neatly made up, and the few articles of furniture in the room arranged with neatness and taste”. What followed was the first of three meetings between the army group commanders; three meetings that would end – after no little drama – with the surrender on April 26th of nearly 90,000 Confederate soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

353James Bennett (he would change the spelling from “Bennitt” after 1860: to avoid confusion the later spelling will be used here) was born in Chatham County, NC on July 11, 1806. In the 1820s he moved to Orange County, and on May 23, 1834 he married Nancy Leigh Pearson. The union produced three children: son Lorenzo in 1832, daughter Eliza Ann in 1834, and son Alphonzo in 1836. After years of struggling financially, in 1846 James was finally able to borrow $400 and purchase a 325 acre farm with an existing cabin along the Hillsboro Road outside Durham, NC, in eastern Orange County. They added siding to the cabin, and by 1854 James was able to pay off the loan, later selling 133 acres for $250.

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

Reconstructed Bennett Farm

James had several sources of income. He did some contract hauling; sold food, liquor and lodging to travelers on the Hillsboro Road; and made and sold shoes and clothing. But the family’s primary business was agriculture, and they grew corn which they both consumed and sold. The Bennett farm also produced cantaloupe, watermelon, oats, wheat, and sweet potatoes. Bennett owned no slaves, but hired helpers, including slaves, when he was able.

The war was hard on the Bennetts. Lorenzo, who had enlisted in the 27th NC, fell sick and died in a Winchester, VA army hospital in October 1862. Alfonso died that same year, though it isn’t clear if he died in military service. In August 1864 Eliza’s husband Robert Duke – a brother of Washington Duke for whom Duke University is named – of the 46th NC died of illness in a hospital in Lynchburg, VA. Soon after, Eliza returned to live at Bennett Place with her and Robert’s son, James.

Interior of reconstructed farm house

Interior of reconstructed farm house

When the “Terms of a Military Convention” were signed by Sherman and Johnston on April 26th, James Bennett was invited to join the generals and their staffs in a celebratory toast. Afterwards, a Union private offered to purchase the table cover on which the agreement had been signed, but Bennett refused. One reporter wrote that relic hunters were so thorough that there would soon be little left to indicate where the house stood.

Two days later, a detail from Kilpatrick’s cavalry division arrived and made Bennett an offer of $10 and a horse for the signing table and cover, with the caveat that they were under orders to take them if he declined the offer. Not surprisingly, he accepted, but despite turning over the table the payment never materialized. In 1870, after learning that the table had subsequently sold for $3,000, Bennett wrote to the governor of North Carolina seeking compensation for it and other items taken from his home, but to no effect. In 1873 he filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission, but was denied restitution because he had supported the Confederacy.

While his land was spared the ravages of fighting, after the war the productivity of Bennett’s farm dropped off significantly. By 1875 sales of various parcels of his land left him with 175 acres, all of which he sharecropped out in early 1876. James Bennett died in 1879, followed not long after by his wife. By 1889 Eliza’s daughter Roberta Shields was the sole owner of the farm: she sold 35 acres including the house to Brodie L. Duke, a black-sheep son of Washington Duke, in 1890.

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

The chimney is all that remains of the original dwelling

By the early 1900’s the farm was reported as deserted, the house in a state of severe 359disrepair. A protective structure was erected around the house in the latter half of the first decade of the 20th century. Richmond businessman Samuel T. Morgan purchased 31 acres and the house around 1908, but he died in 1920 before anything was done to preserve the structure. In 1921, the Surrender site burned to the ground under mysterious circumstances. All that remained was the stone chimney.



In 1923 a 3 ½ acre plot including the Surrender site and a new monument (Unity) was donated to a non-profit organization, The Bennett Place Memorial Commission, by the Morgan family in return for its promise to maintain the site in perpetuity. But while small improvements were made in the first decade, the site was relatively unvisited for more than 20 years. In 1961, Bennett Place became an official NC State Historic Site. The reconstructed house, kitchen, smokehouse and split rail fence lining the historic Hillsboro Road trace were dedicated, and Bennett Place’s life as a public historic landmark began. Today the site also includes a visitor center with theater, museum, and gift shop, the Everett-Thissen Research Library, and a bandstand.



Thanks to Tonia Smith for her assistance in the preparation of this article. See Arthur C. Menius, James Bennitt: Portrait of an Antebellum Yeoman in The North Carolina Historical Review, October 1981 and the same author, The Bennett Place, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, July 1979


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