Two Days with the U. S. Marine Corps

15 12 2021

On December 9 and 10 I was honored to share the history of the Civil War in general and the First Battle of Bull Run in particular with members of our United States Marine Corps. Specifically, 38 young officers of 2nd Platoon, Echo Company, of The Basic School at USMC Base Quantico. I did so at the invitation of their commander Captain Zachary Byrd, and for me it was quite an experience. I can only hope they learned as much as I did.

After a quick scout of the field with Capt. Byrd, Thursday started off at the crack of noon with a Sand Table Exercise (STEX). In brief, in a STEX a field of operations is recreated in a big, elevated sandbox. Individuals are assigned tasks, and in the case of historic events, are cast in the roles of the actors. So the platoon was broken up into Confederate and Union teams, and roles of generals assigned accordingly by the teams. Then, using the sandbox with general terrain, road, and waterway features represented, each “side” determined actions based on the information provided regarding strengths, armaments, and positions, as well as on scenarios presented on the fly by the CO. I would step in every now and again and provide historic info, but the exercise focused very much on what the teams would do and not so much on what really happened.

Marines, as you may know, are an aggressive lot, so it wasn’t surprising to find that the Confederate team behaved very much as P. G. T. Beauregard would have.

The platoon graduates on the 17th, so this exercise and the battlefield tour the next day were more low-key and informal than what they had been going through for the past six months. You may be able to pick that up in the photos.

Setting up the STEX
Lines deploy
Me, pointing at something
Still pointing

Afterwards, we all retired to 2 Silos Brewing Co., a cool brewery/restaurant/concert venue. Try the Goat 2X.

2 Silos

The battlefield tour was Friday, the 10th. There were a total of six platoons in five busses. Ours was the only bus with an outside guide (other platoon tours were student led), and so the only bus not to go directly from the base to the park visitor’s center on Henry Hill. This was news to our driver Donna, who was game for it and proved a real trooper – three cheers for Donna. We stopped first at the Stone Bridge, then Sudley Springs Ford, Matthews Hill, and finally Henry Hill. We spent the most time on Matthews Hill, where we discussed first contact, the strong impact of Rhode Island on the battle, how to fire a civil war cannon, and made a trip to the Stovall marker for a dose of social history and, well, romance. We traversed Henry Hill (did not go to the Robinson House) and spent some time covering the USMC Battalion at the battle, as well as the antebellum Marine Corps and the changes it went through in the wake of secession. I had prepared WAY more material than I had time in which to cover it, and most of Henry Hill was a whirlwind. I told them that what happened actually was very confusing, so if they were confused, my job was done!

Me still pointing, this time at the bridge in case they missed it
Going through the loading and firing procedure on Matthews Hill. I think they got a kick out of it.
Walking back from Stovall. The weather was surprisingly mild for December.
At Imboden’s position forward on Henry Hill
The obligatory group photo.

It was a fun and interesting two days. The class asked great questions and had a sharp sense of humor. I learned a bit about how the USMC officer education process works, but still know very little. I also learned some things about leading a tour for folks who don’t necessarily have the Civil War knowledge base that I’m used to. On the one hand it required more explanation, but on the other I didn’t have to deal with breaking down preconceived notions.

I think the Corps is in good hands with young men and women like these. Thanks to Capt. Byrd for the opportunity to meet them. I wish them all the very best as they move forward in their lives and careers.

Me at the corner of Belleau and Montezuma at USMC Base Quantico




15 Years Blogging

3 11 2021
No, I’ve never had it. But, if you want to send me a bottle (or case or pallet), feel free!

And then one day you find 15 years have got behind you.

Yeah, that’s a long time for a blog. A really long time for a Civil War blog. As they say, if you spend enough time in a train station you’ll see a lot of trains come, and a lot of trains go. Although, these days I’m seeing fewer and fewer trains.

It’s been fun and I’m happy I’ve been able to pretty much keep my focus (here, at least). I still have plenty of material to post, lots of letters and news items from the papers of the day. And I have a couple of other irons in the fire, including another field trip to the battlefield in the spring (I’ve lined up the guest guides, and we will be spending a lot of time on Henry House Hill this time) and a collaborative presentation project that you’ll be able to watch right here.

So, thanks for reading, and keep checking back.

Every.

Single.

Day.





Boat Howitzers of Co. I, 71st New York State Militia

7 08 2021

I wrote a bit about the newly installed boat howitzers to represent those of Co. I, 71st NYSM, on the left of the James Rifles of Reynolds’s Rhode Island battery on Matthews Hill (see here). And I shared a video I shot with Dana Shoaf of Civil War Times magazine and Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies at that site here. The day before that video, I stopped by the guns and took a few photos, which follow.

First, the wayside marker:

Next, a shot from the rear of each gun, looking towards Henry Hill.

You may notice the “hammer locks” on the breeches. One on the left of one gun, and on the right of the other. These guns didn’t use the friction primers that were inserted into holes in the breeches of most other guns you’ve seen. Instead, they had hammers which were brought down to fire these howitzers, similar to a musket. One lock being on the left and one on the right indicates that one of these guns was produced after 1864. Thanks to friend Craig Swain, who wrote about this type of cannon in a series of posts here. Below are a couple of images of the “hammer locks.”

Here’s a head on shot of one of the guns.

Last, here’s a view of the boat howitzers in line with Reynolds’s battery. Beyond is the Sudley Road, and beyond that, on Dogan Ridge, the first positions of Griffin’s and Ricketts’s guns. Take a look that way next time you’re out there. Few ever do.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Jackson’s Gun Line, Wrap Up, 7/21/2021

29 07 2021

Our seventh and final stop on Thursday was a cannon on Jackson’s gun line on Henry Hill. It was the end of a long day. It was hot. It was humid. I was going on 2 hours sleep and a Cliff bar. I ran out of gas and lost my voice. Then it started to rain – which felt kind of nice. There were a few things I had prepared as a wrap up, including the myth of the “death” of the idea of a “single grand victory” with this defeat for the Union (it didn’t die – as John Hennessy has pointed out, the notion that the next fight was “the big one” persisted throughout the war). But I couldn’t get to them. All in all, it was a great day. Thanks to Dana, Melissa, and Brandon for having me along. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf, Civil War Times director of photography Melissa Weeks, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: The Robinson Farm and Family, Hampton’s Legion, 7/21/2021

28 07 2021

Our sixth (penultimate) stop on Thursday was the site of the Robinson house and the farm lane/driveway down to the Warrenton Turnpike. Here Brandon Bies related the fascinating and complicated story of James Robinson and his family (here’s a website that discusses archaeology at the site). Then I spoke briefly and extemporaneously on the actions of Hampton’s Legion in this area. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times Magazine editor Dana Shoaf, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Preservation Issues, Tree Clearing, the Battlefield in Quadrants, 7/21/2021

27 07 2021

Our fifth stop on Thursday was on Henry Hill, below the Henry House near the wayside describing the activities of John Imboden’s battery. Here we discussed Stone House rehab, threats to the battlefield view shed, recent tree clearing, and viewing the battlefield in quadrants (correction: Imboden’s Staunton Artillery was with Johnston’s army, not Beauregard’s – read his memoir and his after action report). Appearing in this video are Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Artillery Demo, 7/21/2021

26 07 2021

Our fourth stop on Thursday was behind the Henry House, where the NPS was putting on a living history artillery demonstration of Ricketts’s Battery. Appearing in this video is Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf. Director of Photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera. I’m somewhere offscreen opening my mouth as wide as I can.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: A Dead Letter Soldier and Ranger Cameo, 7/21/2021

25 07 2021

Our third stop on Thursday was the Henry House, which is a reproduction of a post war structure. There we learned about a soldier in the 1st Ohio Infantry, commanded by Alexander McDowell McCook – gotta look into that middle name a little closer – in Schenck’s brigade of Tyler’s division. We also get to hear from Ranger Anthony Trusso of the battlefield staff. Appearing in this video is Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf (who also stands behind the camera for the very first time), director of photography Melissa Winn, and MNBP Ranger Anthony Trusso.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Bartow Monument, 7/21/2021

24 07 2021

Our second stop on Thursday was the monument to COLONEL (NOT Brigadier General) Francis Bartow on Henry Hill. There we spoke about the first monument on a Civil War battlefield (I think), the man in whose memory it was erected, as well as a little about the incidents surrounding the naming of “Stonewall” Jackson and his brigade. See here for a nice article on that by John Hennessy. You can also read more about the Bartow monument in the April 1991 issue of Blue & Gray Magazine (the one with friend Clark “Bud” Hall on the cover), in an article titled The Civil War’s First Monument: Bartow’s Marker at Manassas. Appearing in this video are Civil War Times editor Dana Shoaf and myself. The magazine’s director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.





Anniversary Video with Civil War Times: Matthews Hill, 7/21/2021

23 07 2021

Our first stop on Thursday was the gun line on Matthews Hill. Until just recently, this meant the five James Rifles of Reynolds’s Rhode Island Battery. But just last week two 12-pdr Dahlgren Boat Howitzers were installed at the site of those of the 71st New York State Militia, then under the command of the Captain of Co. I, Augustus Van Horne Ellis (read his brother John’s account of the battle here).

Appearing in this video are Civil War Times Magazine editor Dana Shoaf, Manassas National Battlefield Park superintendent Brandon Bies, and myself. Civil War Times director of photography Melissa Winn is behind the camera.