Tour Bull Run and Centreville in Photographs

18 03 2018

Here’s an update on where we stand with our second Bull Runnings tour, on Saturday, April 7. I’ve created this Facebook Event Page where you can register to attend and get more frequent updates. I realize some of you don’t “do The Facebook,” so you can let me know here or via email if you’re coming. Remember the tour is rain or shine, so dress appropriately, and if you’re a photo geek by all means bring your camera and take your own “now” images to pair with the “thens.” Below is the initial announcement on the event page, and an itinerary. Remember – car pooling is a must.

Tour the battlefield of First Bull Run and Centreville, VA using period photographs. Visit the sites of the photos and learn the stories behind them and their subjects from experts John Cummings and Dennis Hogge. This is a free event.

Our itinerary for the tour, from guest guide John Cummings [my comments in brackets]:

We’ll start the day (9:00 AM) in front of the Visitor’s Center, where we will begin by examining some problematic interpretations of photo locations on Henry Hill. While there, we will discuss other images taken during the first century after the battle, and the history of the park. Later we will proceed to the Sudley Church area and visit the exact location of some Union burial sites. We will proceed to a surprise Second Manassas feature [I know some of you have been yakking at me to cover the second, less important little skirmish outside Manassas, so here’s your bone!], and then to the Stone House, and Stone Bridge before breaking for lunch. After lunch we will meet with Dennis Hogge for an exploration of Centreville and the numerous photographs that document its Confederate occupation.

[During the tour, I’ll have various letters and memoirs ready that feature the sites we’ll be visiting. I’m checking with the Bull Run Winery to see if they can handle our group perhaps stopping there after the conclusion of the tour – let me know if that would be of interest to you.]


Bull Runnings Battlefield Tour 2018

31 01 2018

Bull Runnings tour attendees 2016

Ladies and gentlemen! The moment you’ve been waiting for… the pride of, well, something…the not-very-regular Bull Runnings tour at Manassas National Battlefield Park (and environs)!!!!

Our last tour, in 2016, was, I think, a success, so I’ve decided to try another. A little different take this time, but one I think you’ll dig.

On Saturday, April 7, we’ll meet at the battlefield for a unique experience touring the field (and environs) through photographs. Our guest guides:

John Cummings is a Visual Historian with a primary focus on Civil War era image analysis. He is the author of three books on the Fredericksburg/Spotsylvania region. He has also written for several national and local magazines and newspapers, and provided historical research and commentary for four documentary films. He provides battlefield guide services, and research assistance to visitors. He served on the former Spotsylvania Courthouse Tourism and Special Events Commission, and is the chairperson for the Friends of the Fredericksburg Area Battlefields, (FoFAB). Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, where he spent a great deal of time on the Manassas battlefield, he now lives with his wife, Karen, in Spotsylvania County. He publishes a the Spotsylvania Civil War Blog.

Dennis Hogge is the author of Matthew Brady’s First Manassas: A Biography and Battlefield Tour. A lifelong resident of Northern Virginia, he is a member of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, the Friends of Historic Centreville, the Historic Centreville Society, the Lane-Armistead Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Williamsburg Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.

John describes the tour thus:

We will discuss wartime photo documentation of the battlefield, examine camera locations, true and false, and place late 19th century images used to illustrate memoirs published by the Century Magazine in their “Battles and Leaders” series. From the battlefield we can regroup at Centreville, site of Confederate winter camps and fortifications.

I can make no promises, but if last time is any indication there should be plenty of very experienced and knowledgeable Civil War scholars in attendance. That will leave lots of opportunity for back and forth between not only attendees and guides, but between attendees themselves. Remember though that this tour is for folks with all levels of experience.

Caravan tour. Consolidation of passengers and vehicles is vital. No charge, but everything is on your own.

More details to follow. But for now, save the date, April 7, 2018. I’ll need to get a feel for how many folks are planning to attend, so I’ll set up an event page on Facebook. Facebook is free. If you’re reading this, you have access to a computer. Don’t be a curmudgeon.

Just for giggles, who thinks they’re in for this? Comment here.



Recap: Brandy Station Foundation

30 09 2017

On this past Sunday, Sept. 24, I delivered my Kilpatrick Family Ties program to the Brandy Station Foundation down in Culpeper, Virginia. This is a pretty long (4.5 hours) drive for me, so I turned it into a weekend trip and stayed in Warrenton. So let me recap my trip, with special emphasis on items of First Bull Run interest. Click on any image for a larger one.

I got into Warrenton around 6:00 PM, checked into my room, then headed to the historic district. I’ve never visited Warrenton before, so it was all new to me. First up was what is touted as the post-war home of Col. John Singleton Mosby though, based on length of residence, it may better be described as the post-war home of General Eppa Hunton, colonel of the 8th Virginia Infantry regiment at First Bull Run (read his battle memoir here, and his after action report here). Hunton made “Brentmoor” his home from 1877 to 1902, after purchasing it from Mosby.


In the “law complex” section I found California, the pre-war home of William “Extra Billy” Smith, who commanded the 49th Virginia battalion at First Bull Run (memoir here, official report here). After the war, this building housed Mosby’s law office. Smith was a pre-war and wartime governor of Virginia.


A few blocks away at 194 Culpeper St. is “Mecca,” a private residence built in 1859. It served as a Confederate hospital to the wounded of First Bull Run, and later as headquarters to Union generals McDowell, Sumner, and Russell.


The Warrenton Cemetery is the resting place for many Confederate soldiers, most famously Mosby. Also there is William Henry Fitzhugh “Billy” Payne, with Warrenton’s Black Horse Troop at First Bull Run.


Saturday was spent touring the battlefield of Brandy Station and sites associated with the Army of the Potomac’s 1863-1864 winter encampment with two experts on both, Clark “Bud” Hall and Craig Swain of To the Sound of the Guns. I admit to knowing very little about either of topic, but was given a good foundation for further exploration. I also learned that some red pickup trucks can go absolutely anywhere, and there is good beer around Culpeper.


L to R – Me, Bud Hall, Craig Swain

Not a whole lot of First Bull Run stuff on the field, though. But the first thing I saw when I got to Fleetwood Hill was “Beauregard,” the home in which Roberdeau Wheat of the First Louisiana Special Battalion recovered from his Bull Run wounds, first thought to be mortal. The name of the house at the time was “Bellevue.” Wheat recommended the name change, in honor of his commanding general and in recognition of the similar translation of both names.


View of “Beauregard” from Fleetwood Hill

Sunday found me back in Culpeper at the Brandy Station Foundation where, as I said, I presented Kilpatrick Family Ties to a modest audience. I made some late changes to the program on Saturday night, adding one pertinent site from Warrenton (the Warren Green Hotel where one of the characters in the presentation lived for a year) and “Rose Hill,” the home Kilpatrick made his HQ during the winter of 1863-1864. But I did run into a couple of Bull Run items. First, the monument to John Pelham that was previously located near Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahannock River (it was in a really bad location) has been relocated to the Graffiti House, home of the Brandy Station Foundation. Pelham, if you recall, was in command of Alburtis’s Battery (Wise Artillery) at First Bull Run (personal correspondence here).


As most of you know, the Graffiti House at Brandy Sation was occupied by both Confederate and Union soldiers during the war. Over its course, soldiers of all stripes inscribed on its walls with charcoal signatures, drawings, and sayings of an astounding quantity. These were both obscured and preserved by whitewash after the return of its exiled owners, and were rediscovered in 1993. The Brandy Station Foundation has lovingly restored and preserved much of the dwelling, and you should make the Graffiti House a bullet point on you bucket list.


Graffiti House, Brandy Station (Culpeper), VA

I’ll end this post with a shot of the signature of a prominent First Bull Run participant on one of the second floor walls. Can you see it? Here is his official report.


Signature of Joe Johnston’s First Bull Run cavalry chief


A Heck of a Trip Out West, With a Way Cool Ending

1 08 2017

For nine days at the end of July, I took a little trip out west with some like-minded history geeks, most of whom I’ve known for a long time, and some of whom are now new friends. I thought about how – or even if, given its nature – I would post about it here. This trip wasn’t Bull Run related, nor was it even Civil War related, at least not directly.

The long and short of it is that I visited Yellowstone National Park for the first time;


At Artist Point. Clockwise from me in the Penn State hat are three Gettysburg area residents and my car-mates on this adventure: Bob George (who knows everything); Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide and trip organizer Chris Army, in his magic hat; and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide/thespian John Zervas. The background is real.

and the Buffalo Bill Cody Center of the West, in Cody, Wy., for the first time;


Yep, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

and Fort Phil Kearney, including the fields of the Fetterman Massacre and Wagon Box Fight, also in Wyoming, for the first time;


and Buffalo, Wy., near the famous Hole in The Wall, and seat of the Johnson County War, for the first time;


Nate Champion, casualty of the Johnson County War. If you’re gonna be remembered, there are worse ways than this.

and the Rosebud Creek battlefield in Montana, for the first time;


The hardy bunch who trekked to the top of the Rosebud battlefield’s Conical Hill. Me in the red, white and blue hat. Clockwise from Kendra Debany are James Hessler, Don Caughey, Rosebud historian Bob O’Neill, Bill Burkman, and Rosebud historian Neil Mangum, our guide.

and Pompey’s Pillar, a site visited by William Clark on his return trip, which overlooks a campsite of George Armstrong Custer and his men during the Yellowstone Expedition of 1873, for the first time;


and the sites associated with the Battle of Little Bighorn (LBH), for the first time;


Medicine Tail Ford from the battlefield side of Little Bighorn. Yes, that’s a sweat lodge. With lawn chairs nearby.

and had I gone to the rodeo, across the street from our hotel in Billings, Mt., it would have been my first time, too. But I didn’t, because we simply had no time.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot to cram in at once, and I’m still trying to process it all. So I’m going to just point out two cool tidbits from a trip full of cool tidbits.

Our guide for Little Big Horn and Rosebud was former Little Bighorn National Monument superintendent Neil Mangum. Through his efforts we were able to visit some sites not typically accessed, including battlefield spots Sharpshooter’s Ridge (special permit from the park) and Medicine Tail Ford and Nye-Cartwright/Luce Ridges, which are on private property. Another site is located on private property in the Rosebud Creek Valley. This is in the area of the Sun Dance, held in the month leading up to the Rosebud and LBH battles, in the mobile village of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe. During this, Hunkpapa Sioux spiritual leader Sitting Bull had a vision of Soldiers Falling Into Camp, which was interpreted as an impending victory over the U. S. Army. This vision was then recorded in pictograph on a formation which had been used for such a purpose for many years, Deer Medicine Rocks. Here’s an image I recorded of the glyph for Soldiers Falling Into Camp:


“Soldiers Falling Into Camp”

Fascinating stuff. The rocks are visited to this day by individuals who leave offerings and prayers, which take many and colorful forms.

On Sunday, we completed our two-day tour of the Little Bighorn Battlefield. We recorded the last of many group photos, this one on Monument Hill (you may know it as Last Stand Hill):


The whole shootin’ match on Monument Hill, Little Big Horn battlefield. Tour leader Neil Mangum seated.

It was after this that a great trip, meticulously planned and organized by friend and Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guide (one of four on this trip) Chris Army, wrapped up just about as perfectly as it could. One of the last stops on our tour was the site of the death of Captain Miles Keogh of the 7th U. S. Cavalry. Keogh had served in the Civil War on the staff of General John Buford at Gettysburg, and so is of particular interest to the Guides in attendance, three of whom stand near Keogh’s marker:



Licensed Gettysburg Battlefield Guides Chris Army, James Hessler, and Wayne Motts at the marker for Miles Keogh.

Later, before mounting up for the ride back to the hotel and the farewell dinner to follow, attendees took some time around Monument Hill to visit sites not on the tour or cruise the Visitor Center bookshop. I was doing the latter with long-time fellow battlefield stomping friend John (he’s completely off the social media grid so will remain last nameless). We were discussing the relative merits of various Little Bighorn titles – I was by far the dumbest of this group when it comes to Indian Wars – when a young man approached John and asked his opinion of a book. The book was about Keogh, and he informed John that he was a collateral descendant of the Captain. Overhearing this, I spotted Neil Mangum and brought him over to meet Philip, who spells his name Kehoe. Then I sought out Little Bighorn student and LGBG James Hessler, and things snowballed from there, with even the Park staff joining in. It turns out Philip was visiting the field with his brother Brendan and cousin David, who lives in Keogh’s boyhood home.  Brendan and David share the middle name Miles. All three are teachers and were visiting from Leighlin Bridge, County Carlow, Ireland.  I’m not sure the lads anticipated the attention, but it was a great way to end our last day on the field!


On the steps of the LBH Visitor’s Center with, front row left to right Brendan Myles Kehoe, Eric Wittenberg, David Myles Kehoe, and Philip Kehoe; back row left to right me, Neil Mangum, Kendra Debany, and James Hessler.

I managed to do the whole trip without buying a single book (other than a small one on the art museum in the Buffalo Bill Center). But I took photos of plenty of books that caught my eye. Has this western trip spawned a new obsession? Only time will tell.


Petersburg: Fort Mahone, 10/2/2016

13 10 2016

Our last stop at Petersburg was the vicinity of Fort Mahone, now built over with dwellings and businesses (for some Craig Swain photos of the ground, see here). It was during the 9th Corps assault on this work that my great-grandfather was wounded on April 2, 1865. Good luck finding out much more about their action that day. The site lies outside NPS boundaries, and outside Pamplin Park boundaries, and is hopelessly built up. If you do run across any info, please feel free to share it in the comments. I’m intrigued, personally. And while I’m wary of the pitfalls of ancestor worship, I may just have to look into this myself.

The monument to John Hartranft’s 3rd Division of the 9th Corps (great-grandpa’s 205th PA was in the 2nd Brigade) can be found “in the median of Wakefield Street about 350 yards west of the intersection of South Crater Road and South Sycamore Street.” (For more on the monument, go here.) The monument is referred to on the NPS maps as “The Pennsylvania Monument.” It is the most tangible of the little evidence of their service on April 2, 1865.



My big bro and me

Petersburg: Fort Stedman 10/2/2016

12 10 2016

The reason I opted for a trip to Petersburg as opposed to a whirlwind tour of Seven Days on my return home from Williamsburg is that my great-grandfather John B. Smeltzer had fought there with the 205th Pennsylvania. I was in Williamsburg with my brother, who lives in Charleston, SC, and whom I see only sporadically, so it seemed like a cool family trip, and not too far out of either of our ways home. The first stop was Fort Stedman, which lies within the confines of the battlefield park.


Found this image of J. A. Mathews at the U. S. Army Heritage and Education Center a few years back

The Battle of Fort Stedman – also known as the Battle of Hare’s Hill – took place on March 25, 1865, and has been described as “Lee’s Last Offensive.” In brief, feeling that “to stand still was death,” Robert E. Lee ordered Much of his army, under the direction of John B. Gordon, against a point in the Union siege line occupied by Fort Stedman and batteries X, XI, and XII, manned by Napoleon B. McGlaughlen’s 3rd Brigade of Orlando Willcox’s 1st Division of John G. Parke’s 9th Corps. Fort Stedman and the batteries were quickly overrun, but were retaken with the help of John F. Hartrnaft’s 3rd Division, the 2nd Brigade of which great-grandpa’s regiment was a part, under the command of Joseph A. Mathews. From the maps in Volume XXV, #1 of Blue & Gray magazine (maybe 8 years ago), it looks like the 205th PA’s involvement was around Batteries XI and XII. But it’s all very confusing, with post-war fighting for accolades fogging up the picture. Regardless, thanks to my typical piss-poor planning, I only stopped for photos at Fort Stedman proper, and here they are. Click on the images for larger ones.



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 few of 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